This week was the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Every three years, a bicameral legislative body (House of Bishops and House of Deputies, made up of priests and laypeople) get together and make decisions about the church. This year, aside from big news about the diocese of Cuba (we welcomed them fully into the church, yay!), there was also forward movement about same sex matrimony.
Basically, even though we’ve had provisional rites for same-sex matrimony (written by my now retired Rector), Bishops were able to refuse them to be performed in their diocese and they were basically in a ‘trail period.’
Now, the wheel of the church grind slowly, but this week at the General Convention, things at least started to move:
This sets the stage for creation of new liturgical texts to respond to the needs of Episcopalians across the church while continuing to use the Book of Common Prayer that was adopted in 1979.
Resolution A068 originally called for the start of a process that would lead to a fully revised prayer book in 2030. The bishops instead adopted a plan for “liturgical and prayer book revision for the future of God’s mission through the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement.”
The bishops’ amended resolution calls for bishops to engage worshipping communities in their dioceses in experimentation and creation of alternative liturgical texts that they will submit to a new Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision to be appointed by the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies.
It also says that liturgical revision will utilize inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity, and will incorporate understanding, appreciation and care of God’s creation.
One line in the bishop’s proposal prompted questions in the House of Deputies. The resolution “memorializes” the 1979 Book of Common Prayer “as a prayer book of the church preserving the psalter, liturgies, the Lambeth Quadrilateral, Historic Documents, and [its] Trinitarian Formularies.”
Here’s some more of the nitty gritty of what will actually happen:
The resolution now calls for creation of a Task Force on Liturgical Prayer Book Revision to be made up of 10 lay people, 10 clergy and 10 bishops, appointed by the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies. The members ought to reflect “the expertise, gender, age, theology, regional, and ethnic diversity of the church.”
This task force is to work with the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons to give the 2021 General Convention proposed revisions to the constitution and canons for more flexibility in liturgical choices.
- Liturgical revision will utilize inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity; and will incorporate understanding, appreciation and care of God’s creation;
- Bishops are to engage worshiping communities in their diocese in experimentation and creation of alternative texts;
- Every diocese is to create a liturgical commission to collect these diocesan resources and share with the proposed task force; and
- All materials are to be professionally translated into English, Spanish, French and Haitian Creole.
So things are starting to move, and it was a compromise. Bishops themselves can opt out of the same-sex matrimony, but any person will be able to call upon a different bishop for ‘oversight,’ finally opening this sacrament to every single person in the church.
It’s also slow going, but as someone pointed out, when the next version of the Book of Common Prayer comes out (slated for 2030), which is pretty much the defining document of our church (and also responsible for what most people think of when they think of the church for the wording used in marriages and funerals), it may (hopefully will) include the more gender neutral language. It’s a long process, but it’s progress.
Interestingly, there was a separate Resolution that provide an apology for those who were hurt by the wording of a hymn that was included:
offers this apology in recognition of the pain our liturgical language may at times inflict.
The same could, and should be said of sacraments that for decades, excluded the same sex couples in the church. But, progress is progress, and we’re making good, forward progress, even if it’s not as quickly that I’d like. It’s more progress than I actually expected to see, for that, I can be thankful.
All my best,