Revising the calendar of commemorations: Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2018

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 work of the sub-committee that worked on creating “a sanctoral calendar that addresses the many resolutions passed at the last General Convention.” As Paul Fromberg writes, the task “was complicated by the many good resources that General Convention has given the church for commemorating the saints and the lack of clarity regarding the status of these resources.”  The resolutions to which the report pertains are A065, A066 and A067.

In the Episcopal Church, we remember the saints because they show us how to make and remake our lives, following the Way of Jesus Christ. They do this by messing things up; they mess up our preconceptions about God and ourselves so that we can be transformed in both our self-understanding and in the ways that we know God.

In their lives, valiant witnesses of the Risen Christ asked dangerous questions about the world in which they lived. They questioned the common assumption that history was either an inevitable ascent by human will, or devolution into chaos or an exercise of power over weakness. In their lives, the saints lived out the Gospel in ways that so captured the imagination of their friends (and sometimes their enemies) that we continue to tell their stories. The saints’ stories are repeated as a part of our own sacred stories, giving us, year after year, a way of listening anew to the Gospel, and then speaking Gospel in our lives.

All of this means that the lives of the saints, and the ways that we organize telling their stories, matters tremendously. A part of the Church’s mandate to the SCLM is to “receive and evaluate requests for consideration of individuals or groups to be included in the Calendar of the Church year and make recommendations thereon to the General Convention for acceptance or rejection.” During this triennium, the calendar sub-committee of the SCLM took this mandate, prayerfully and faithfully working to produce a sanctoral calendar that addresses the many resolutions passed at the last General Convention.

Our efforts at calendar revision attempt to create a calendar that reflects the diversity of the Church. This work is important; our diversity as a Church is one of our great strengths. Welcoming commemorations of saints who look like, talk like and live like us in our diversity gives new ways of hearing the Gospel, and new ways for us to speak the Gospel in the world.  The hope of remembering a more diverse company of saints is that their lives will give us new stories by which to live, new ways to understand the world around us, and new ministries to take up in the world. We hope that adding greater diversity of persons to our calendar we will find new ways to work for the reconciliation of all things.

The task wasn’t always easy; it was complicated by the many good resources that General Convention has given the church for commemorating the saints and the lack of clarity regarding the status of these resources. Following on the trial use of Holy Women, Holy Men, during the 2012-2015 triennium, the SCLM prepared a new volume, A Great Cloud of Witnesses, which was intended as a replacement for Holy Women, Holy Men. This new text was not intended to be a sanctoral calendar, but rather an extended family history. However, the last General Convention declined to authorize A Great Cloud of Witnesses, directing instead that the resource simply be “made available.” This meant that the calendar of the church reverted to Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006. At the same time, there was an expectation by General Convention that the SCLM would continue significant calendar revision this triennium.

We took up this complicated challenge, and offer the church a new version of Lesser Feasts and Fasts that can either stand alone or also be used in cooperation with A Great Cloud of Witnesses for those who would like a more exhaustive list of commemoration. We are asking General Convention to authorize Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018 “for optional use throughout the church.” This language reflects the fact that the calendar is an optional document, and that individuals and congregations may choose to make use of all of it, some of it, or none of it. We have deliberately refrained from using the language of “trial use” because the canons of the Episcopal Church only recognize trial use as something to do with revisions of the Book of Common Prayer and not with other authorized liturgical resources. That being said, we hope that those who use this resource, if it is authorized by General Convention, will give us feedback, so that we can use it to make suggested revisions to General Convention 2021.

We are grateful to have had the opportunity to do this work. We have done our best to fulfill the directives given to us by General Convention. We invite your comments.

A Note Regarding the Episcopal Church’s Calendar of Commemorations

Since the 2015 General Convention the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has received several requests for clarification concerning the calendar of commemorations. The confusion stems from the convention’s decision regarding A Great Cloud of Witnesses, which the commission had proposed as a new and expanded volume of optional commemorations of significant figures in the history of our church.

The commission intended A Great Cloud of Witnesses to replace Holy Women, Holy Men, the volume of optional commemorations that was authorized for trial use in 2009. The convention, however, declined to authorize A Great Cloud of Witnesses as an official liturgical resource, while at the same time allowing the authorization of Holy Women, Holy Men to lapse.

As a result of these actions, the volume Lesser Feasts and Fasts, last published in 2006, remains the Episcopal Church’s official calendar of optional commemorations, but without the trial-use commemorations that appear in brackets in the Calendar section in the 2006 edition.

However, in Resolution A056  the convention chose to make A Great Cloud of Witnesses “available” for “devotional or catechetical use, or use in public worship.” The volume, which will be available from Church Publishing in September, includes all of the commemorations in Holy Women, Holy Men, although some entries have been revised. A Great Cloud of Witnesses also includes commemorations added to the calendar at the 2015 General Convention.

In addition, local parishes retain significant discretion regarding optional commemorations. The Guidelines and Procedures for Continuing Alteration of the Calendar in the Episcopal Church (pages 491-493 in Lesser Feasts and Fasts), specify, “it should normatively be the case that significant commemoration of a particular person already exists at the local and regional levels before that person is included the Calendar of the Episcopal Church as a whole.” Therefore, commemorations made available in Holy Women, Holy Men and A Great Cloud of Witnesses may be observed by local parishes, just as commemorations arising from the experiences of particular communities may also be observed.

During this triennium you can contact the commission via email at sclminformation@gmail.com. Please direct questions about making additions to the calendar of commemorations to