A better way to authorize liturgical texts

For the next several weeks, the SCLM will present essays describing portions of our Blue Book report and explaining the thinking that shaped our conclusions. We invite your comments and hope that our conversation here will be beneficial to the legislative committees of General Convention.

This essay explains the SCLM’s response to constitutional and canonical issue that complicate the consideration of many liturgical issues, including some that will come before this convention. As Paul Fromberg writes: “Texts that churches use every Sunday, across the breadth of the Episcopal Church, have very tenuous constitutional and canonical authorization.” The SCLM believes it is time to create a more rational process for authorizing such texts. For that reason it recommends passage of Resolutions A062 and A063.

On the surface, the work of creating beautiful, meaningful liturgy may seem to be all about the poetic. Liturgists are like poets to the degree that we attempt to give a shape, in language, to all of our inchoate experiences of God. But there are also a lot of nuts and bolts to the work of crafting liturgy, and not just rules around grammar or rhetorical structure. The SCLM has found that, at the bottom of our toolbox, one of the most powerful tools we must pay attention to are the Constitution and Canons of the Church – vessels that hold the order of the church for the sake of our shared life.

In the current triennium, we discovered that the church has been working without a canonical net. Article X of the Constitution is clear about the authorized source of our common prayer – the Prayer Book. Canon II.3 is clear about the way to authorize new texts for our use. And neither one allows the kind of latitude the church has taken for granted for generations when it comes to liturgical materials. Texts that churches use every Sunday, across the breadth of the Episcopal Church, have very tenuous constitutional and canonical authorization.

Here’s the bottom line: The Constitution and Canons are silent on whether General Convention can authorize liturgies not included in the Book of Common Prayer, short of amending Article X. Further, it doesn’t authorize a process for authorizing liturgies. However, for at least the past 40 years General Convention has authorized The Book of Occasional Services, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, Holy Women, Holy Men and Enriching Our Worship and voted to “make available” A Great Cloud of Witnesses. The General Convention also has approved liturgies that were not intended for inclusion in one of these compilations.

There are two ways of amending or making additions to the BCP. General Convention may vote to

  1. Amend the Table of Lessons and all Tables and Rubrics relating to the Psalms….
  2. Authorize for trial use…an alternative…to the established Book of Common Prayer or to any section or Officer thereof…

Beyond these two cases, there is no other constitutional or canonical provision explicitly authorizing General Convention to approve alternate forms for any of the liturgies or rites in the BCP.

There is language on page 13 of the BCP, in the section entitled “Concerning the Services of the Church,” which states, “… In addition to these services and the other rites contained in this Book, other forms set forth by authority within this Church may be used.” This may provide authorization, although that is not explicitly the intended meaning.

With all of this in mind, the SCLM decided that one of the most important things we could do for the church during the triennium would be to propose legislation that clarifies – and legalizes – the many liturgies that we already use. We also considered that the way we all make common worship, Sunday by Sunday across the church, would be strengthened by providing a path to authorize the use of additional liturgies to supplement those in the BCP. This practice is already happening in many worshipping communities.

When we recognized that most congregations of the church were operating outside of the Constitution and Canons, the only logical step we could take was to propose amendment. We did debate the precise means for making changes. Among those we considered:

  1. Add a Canon to Title II stating that all liturgies and rites authorized by General Convention are available thereafter for use throughout the Church until the authorization is revoked or modified.
  2. Amend Article X to explicitly allow General Convention to authorize other forms for the liturgies and rites contained in the BCP—in other words, such forms don’t have to be for “trial use.”
  3. If desired, retain “trial use” under Article X as an alternative in addition to (2).
  4. Add a canon to Title II explicitly allowing General Convention to authorize liturgies and rites in addition to those in the BCP (such as Book of Occasional Services, Holy Women, Holy Men, and Enriching Our Worship).
  5. Add a canon to Title II explicitly allowing General Convention to authorize use of Prayer Books of other Provinces of the Anglican Communion and those of denominations with whom we are in full communion. General Convention would specify which ones.
  6. Amend the language in Rite III to allow for use of any Eucharistic Prayers authorized by General Convention.
  7. Clarify the extent of a bishop diocesan’s authority to approve other forms for BCP liturgies, or liturgies not in the BCP somewhere other than or in addition to the language on page 13 of the BCP.
  8. Add a canon to Title II setting out the process, conditions, guidelines, etc. for local experimentation with liturgy—those included in and not included in the BCP.

We believe that it is vital, for the sake of the church’s order, to amend Article X to add the following:

Authorize for use throughout this Church, as provided by Canon, alternative and additional liturgies to supplement those provided in the Book of Common Prayer.

And likewise, to amend Canon II.3 to add Section 7:

Whenever the General Convention, pursuant to Article X(c) of the Constitution, shall authorize alternative liturgies to one or more liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer or additional liturgies to those in the Book of Common Prayer, the enabling Resolution shall specify the precise texts thereof, and the terms and conditions under which such liturgies may be used.

We consider that we’ve landed on language that is straightforward, honest, and the least likely to perpetuate disorder in the Church.

As with all things liturgical, the development of texts has to be relational; the wisdom of many is always stronger than the opinion of the few. We believe that these amendments honor this principle of shared wisdom in the ordering of our common life.

One task that is left is figuring out terms of use for these liturgies: do they go on forever or have an expiration date? And, as with so much of our life in liturgy, we will need to figure out how bishops will authorize the use of liturgies.

We welcome your comments!

The SCLM Report on Prayer Book Revision: Welcome to the Conversation!

As the Blue Book report and resolutions proposed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music become available online, the SCLM will present essays about its work at the rate of no more than one essay per week to allow for focused conversation. We invite your comments and hope that our discussion here will be beneficial to the legislative committees of General Convention.

Through resolution A169, the 2015 General Convention directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music “to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the current Book of Common Prayer and present that plan to the 79th General Convention.”

At the outset, it’s important to remember that General Convention did not ask the SCLM to begin revising the Book of Common Prayer! Rather, it asked for the construction of a plan for revision for the 79th General Convention to consider. The request was for a thorough and linear process. No efforts to revise the Book of Common Prayer took place this triennium, because that was not what the SCLM was asked to do. The Episcopal Church, through General Convention, has yet to decide whether to revise the prayer book. It will have that conversation this summer at the 79th General Convention in Austin, Texas (July 5-13, 2018). To convey your opinions about prayer book revision, it will be important for you to speak directly with the elected deputies from your diocese, and your bishops.

In its report to General Convention, the SCLM proposes two options: a) a comprehensive plan for full-on prayer book revision, and b) a plan for a deeper, church-wide engagement with our existing prayer book, which includes a proposal for translations in Spanish, French, and French Creole. In providing more options than General Convention asked for in its enabling resolution, the SCLM hopes to call our church into mutual and reasoned discernment about the future of our prayer book, and infuse that conversation with as much information, historical context, and theological consideration as we could muster. In the SCLM report, both proposed options are parsed out in great detail, and include: theological rationale, descriptions of proposed methodologies and tools; timelines; and detailed budget estimates.

The SCLM’s decision to offer two options rather than one is the result of extensive and thoughtful conversation, theological and historical inquiry, research, listening throughout the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and focused discernment about how we could best support the church in making a clear and unifying decision about the future of our current prayer book. We also understand that there are options that we did not consider, and look forward to the gathering of our church in Austin where ideas not yet expressed can be brought forth and considered.

Option One is a comprehensive plan for full prayer book revision over the course of nine years (three triennia). The first part of the process focuses on gathering information from across the church, listening carefully and sharing with each other our dreams and hopes for a revised prayer book. It includes a bulletin collection project (to get a good idea of how faith communities are currently using the prayer book); a grounded theory research project; small groups and hosted conversations; academic conferences; continued conversation with, and coaching from, the wider Anglican Communion; all coordinated by the SCLM with the guidance of a project manager.

Option Two takes a slower pace, leaving the 1979 Prayer Book as is for the time being, and presenting General Convention with tools to encourage and facilitate a church-wide deepening of our engagement with our current prayer book. As one SCLM bishop said: “it may be possible that we have not begun to mine the depths of our current Prayer Book and what it has to offer.” Option Two, which is open to the possibility of prayer book revision in the future, uses many of the methodologies proposed for Option One, yet proposes to use them in different ways so as to facilitate the objectives of Option Two.

There are, of course, pros and cons of each option, and we hope that conversation—both on our blog and at General Convention—will focus on weighing their merits and drawbacks and lead to a heightened, unifying experience of discerning “to what is God calling our church” in this moment, with regard to worship and liturgy.

A significant consideration, for example, is funding. In 1997, General Convention asked the Standing Liturgical Commission, as it was then called, to come back to the 2000 General Convention with a comprehensive plan for prayer book revision. The SLC complied and sent a plan back to General Convention, which then passed the plan but failed to fund it. While the lack of funding halted any revision, the 2000-2003 SLC accomplished exceptional work in advancing the Enriching Our Worship series. Its goal was “not to supplant the Book of Common Prayer, but rather to provide additional resources to assist worshiping communities wishing to expand the language, images and metaphors used in worship.” (Enriching Our Worship I, 5).

As in 2000, so it will be in 2018: it will not be enough for General Convention to affirm one of the options regarding our prayer book without also ensuring appropriate funding, which will be challenging as each option comes at a cost. Option One is estimated to cost $1,917,025 for the first of three triennia. Our ballpark estimate to the total cost over nine years (three triennia) is between $8 and $9 million. Option Two is estimated at $1,180,625, which includes $201,000 for translations of the 1979 BCP, and is a one-triennium project.

Many people believe that this summer’s General Convention will be largely focused on the budget. How will we use our resources to propel the work and ministry we want to accomplish in the world as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, and how will we prioritize competing, yet similarly important, opportunities and initiatives? The significant price tag associated with both Option One and Option Two elevates the prayer book conversation into the wider debate about the church’s resources, budget, and finances.

However General Convention discerns the call forward regarding our common worship, it cannot be in a vacuum, unrelated to the pushes and pulls of other worthy ministry. In some ways, it heightens the importance of real discernment regarding our prayer book leading up to, and during, General Convention. To what are we being called as a church? How clearly and passionately do we hear that call? Is the way forward clear enough to warrant the allocation of funds to bring it forth?

Another consideration is the question of justice and racial reconciliation in regard to translations. Soon after its publication in 1979, the Book of Common Prayer was translated into Spanish and French. At the time, the translators were directed to make literal translations, which, as a result, lacked the quality and poetry of the English version. Since then, the texts have been criticized by speakers of these languages as awkward, unidiomatic, and, in many instances, grammatically incorrect. The SCLM believes that these flawed translations send a clear message to Episcopalians whose first language is not English: their cultures and mother tongues are not valued enough to warrant the investment of resources necessary to address this problem professionally, in order that in keeping with Anglican principles, public prayer may take place in a language “understanded of the people.” (Article XXIV, Preface to The First Book of Common Prayer (1549), Book of Common Prayer 1979, 872). Option Two includes a specific route to rectifying this injustice through literary translation of our prayer book into Spanish, French, and French Creole. If, as Option Two proposes, we are to go deeper into our existing prayer book, part of going deeper should include offering a prayer book in the language of those who want to pray it.

The contours and considerations of the SCLM Report on Prayer Book Revision are plentiful and varied. We hope you will take the time to read the report, and use this blog to ask questions as well as offer your insights and opinions. Welcome to the conversation!

Interview with the Rev. Canon Ian Paton of the Scottish Episcopal Church

Resolution A169 of the 2015 General Convention directed the SCLM “to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the current Book of Common Prayer and present that plan to the 79th General Convention.” To gather information and opinions to shape its conversations, the members of the SCLM are interviewing Anglican partners who have recently revised their prayerbooks.

Sixth in the series is an interview with the Rev. Canon Ian Paton, former convener of the Scottish Episcopal Church Liturgy Committee.

Download a transcript of this video.

Interview with the Rev. Keith Griffiths, a member of the Provincial Liturgical Commission in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa

Resolution A169 of the 2015 General Convention directed the SCLM “to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the current Book of Common Prayer and present that plan to the 79th General Convention.” To gather information and opinions to shape its conversations, the members of the SCLM are interviewing Anglican partners who have recently revised their prayerbooks.

Second in the series is a January 2017 interview with the Rev. Keith Griffiths, a member of the Provincial Liturgical Commission in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, which is currently undertaking liturgical revision.

Download a transcript of this video.

Interview with the Rt. Rev. Harold Miller, bishop of Down and Dromore in Northern Ireland

Resolution A169 of the 2015 General Convention directed the SCLM “to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the current Book of Common Prayer and present that plan to the 79th General Convention.” To gather information and opinions to shape its conversations, the members of the SCLM are interviewing Anglican partners who have recently revised their prayerbooks.

First in the series is an October 2016 interview with the Rt. Rev. Harold Miller, bishop of Down and Dromore in Northern Ireland, who chaired the Church of Ireland’s Liturgical Advisory Committee during the development of its 2004 Book of Common Prayer.

Download a transcript of this video.

Four Possible Paths for the Book of Common Prayer

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) will be sending to General Convention 2018 four different paths forward for its consideration in regards to the Book of Common Prayer and liturgical renewal.  It will request that General Convention 2018 select one of the four paths that will chart the SCLM’s course for the 2018-2021, and 2021-2024 triennia.  The SCLM is looking for a clearly articulated (and funded) mandate for its work going forward.  The four paths are:

1) Full and comprehensive revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer beginning after the 2018 General Convention;

2) Creation of comprehensive Book(s) of Alternative Services and no revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, with work beginning after the 2018 General Convention;

3) Intensive church-wide conversation between the 2018 and 2021 General Convention about whether a revision of the Book of Common Prayer is needed or desirable; to what extent; and whether, if revision is not desirable, the Episcopal Church should instead develop significant supplemental liturgical resources, such as a Book of Alternative Services;

4) A step back from efforts toward comprehensive liturgical revision or creation of new liturgies, and an accompanying commitment to deepening the collective understanding of – and engagement with – the theology of our current liturgies.

In shorthand, four possible paths forward are:

  • Revise Book of Common Prayer
  • Create Book(s) of Alternative Services, and leave the BCP 1979 alone
  • More talking, listening, researching, and discerning
  • Deepening our relationship with the 1979 BCP

In addition, General Convention 2018 could choose to combine path #2, #3, or #4 with another option, which is to develop “technical fixes” to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.  Technical fixes are adjustments in grammar, punctuation, and word choice that do not change the theology, poetry, or intended meaning of the text.  (for example: in Eucharistic Prayer C – changing “you made us the rulers of creation” to “you made us the stewards of creation” or adding the matriarchs along with the patriarchs).  The SCLM will offer to General Convention 2018’s consideration a clear and detailed definition of the meaning of “technical fixes” and a list of specific examples.

The option that General Convention chooses will shape the ways in which the SCLM gathers information from the wider church after 2018.

A news release regarding our plans, and describing some of the methods of data collection we envision, was sent on December 5 to the wider church.

Resolution A169 of the 2015 General Convention directs the SCLM “to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the current Book of Common Prayer and present that plan to the 79th General Convention.”