Today consisted of early morning (7:30-9:00) and mid-afternoon (2:15-4:00) committee meetings, together with a joint session of the two Houses for purposes of having a "conversation" about church structure, plus a late afternoon (4:30-6:30) legislative session.
In Committee 11, we spent most of the morning session, and a large part of the afternoon one, dealing with A044, Maintain the Primacy of the Eucharist. The impetus behind this resolution comes from the reality that there are smaller and/or remote parishes that, for one reason or another, do not have access to a priest every Sunday. The fallback is to have a licensed Worship Leader officiate at Morning Prayer. The resolution as originally offered asked for permission for bishops to license laypersons to preside at a Liturgy of the Word followed by the administration of Holy Communion from the reserved sacrament.
While I am not unmoved by the plight of such congregations, I found this resolution highly problematic from the moment I laid eyes on it, beginning with its title. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer is unprecedentedly clear in affirming the celebration of the Holy Eucharist as "the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord's Day." Over the generation that the book has been in use, this aspiration has become a reality. Episcopalians did not used to feel deprived if they could not receive Holy Communion on a weekly basis. Now they do, and this has created the kind of problem that gives rise to A044.
The problem is, the reception of Holy Communion is not tantamount to the celebration of the Eucharist. It's only the tail end. It is the Eucharist, not Holy Communion, that is the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord's Day. So the resolution is misnamed, and a great deal of its language was just plain theologically incorrect. Plus, it could never accomplish what its proposers wanted, since the restriction on laypersons administering from the reserved sacrament in in the Prayer Book itself, and cannot be worked around except through Prayer Book revision.
I would have preferred to refer the whole matter to the House of Bishops Theology Committee for further study, but such a motion would not have carried. Instead, one of the Deputies proposed a substitute that was much shorter than the original, and eloquently expressed the pastoral need at the heart of the resolution, leaving the matter in the hands of diocesan bishops, where it actually belongs.
In other news ... the committee also, to my rather great horror, passed a resolution calling for a process that would lead to the next thorough revision of the Book of Common Prayer. I argued that we simply do not have the institutional bandwidth for such a project at this time, given the other conflicted issues we are dealing with (structure, decline, sexuality and marriage). But the motion carried. Proponents voiced the concern that the present Prayer Book is heavily laden with masculine pronouns for God, along with terms like "Father" and "Lord" that are in the present moment ideologically offensive. The resolution calls for the SCLM to develop a process that would be presented to the 2018 convention. We still have to hold a hearing on it, and then it has to make its way through both Houses. Perhaps it can yet be derailed. Yet, realistically speaking, the soonest we could see a draft of a new BCP would be 2021, but it would more likely be 2024 or later. Still, the prospect is chilling. The kind of Prayer Book TEC would write in this era would not be one I would want to use.
The joint session consisted of table discussions, with eight or nine people representing two different dioceses talking about a set of questions proposed by the Committee on Structure, beginning with the churchwide programs and structures, then taking it down to provincial and diocesan levels. We were asked to respond to what we would like to keep and what we would like to change at each of these levels. To share our responses, we were to post to the Twitter hashtag #gcgas (the latter part standing for "governance and structure," yet a possible alternate interpretation was not lost on people). As I was the only one in my group with a Twitter account, I was the scribe. (If you are on Twitter, you can, of course, see the 600+ responses by filtering for that hashtag.)
The HOB legislative session continued to work through the now growing number of resolutions that are being reported out by committees. Among these was the resolution Committee 11 passed yesterday regarding the liturgical calendar. I gave voice once again to my conviction that we are settling for half a loaf, and that we deserve a full-bodied sanctoral theology and calendar. But there was only a handful of other dissenting votes in addition to mine.