The headline news coming out of convention today is that the House of Deputies, by a relatively narrow vote-by-orders, sent to the House of Bishops a resolution calling for a thorough process of revising the Book of Common Prayer. By all accounts, there will not be a first reading of a revision until 2027; hence, if this goes forward, it would become the 2030 Prayer Book. I will be 79 years old by then, so my personal stake is a diminishing one.
The bishops will get it sometime soon, maybe as early as tomorrow, certainly by Monday, I would say. I'm not going to handicap the outcome of that debate. Every bishop I've spoken with about it is skeptical at the very least, but I may just not be hanging out with the right people to get a different result.
In any case, this is very troubling. Again, no hard data to substantiate this, but the anecdotal evidence suggests that the primary impetus for revision comes from aging/aged Baby Boomers, and that the lower you go in the age demographic, support for revision decreases. I'm not a big fan of my own generation. Having been told we were "special" our whole lives--they even build a raft of new schools just for us--we were initiated into adulthood by bucking the establishment, and now as we still hold many (most?) of the reins of power across government and societal institutions, and before that power slips away, there seems to be a keenness to leave one final lasting mark in our wake. What's better than a Prayer Book that will shape the public prayers of at least a couple of generations?
I am not, in concept, absolutely opposed to the notion that the 1979 Prayer Book could be improved. I have my own list of recommendations, though I expect they would not track very closely with those that the supporters of revision have in mind.
But I simply have no confidence that the Episcopal Church of today, or of the next several years, is capable of producing a (literal or digital) volume that can bear the freight that it needs to carry. The 1979 book is the fruit of a sort of "perfect storm" of theological ferment, historical research, and ecumenical warmth that had been brewing for decades and peaked just a few years after it was issued. Now we are in an era of ideological purity instead of rich theology, academic stagnation instead of paradigm-shifting scholarship, and an ecumenical winter with the ecclesial rock from which we as Anglicans were hewn, the one with which we have the most in common in the area of liturgy and sacraments, the Roman Catholic Church. The Episcopal Church remains in sharp decline. We are battle-scarred from a decade-and-a-half of conflict and litigation. The great majority of those who voted in the House of Deputies today, and the great majority of now-sitting bishops, will be at least retired in 2030, if not pushing up daisies. How is this not the worst possible time to undertake something as arduous, incendiary, and expensive as revising the Book of Common Prayer?
As youth, Baby Boomers chafed under the authority of establishment adults. But we counted on the fact that there were adults, people who knew how to fix broken stuff, to take charge and make things happen. Now we're supposed to be the "adults in the room," but we're not. We may use a cane to walk, or be clients of the Scooter Store, but we too often behave like entitled young punks. We demand justice for every conceivable oppressed group, but we don't know how to actually be just. When I was 19, I was sure the "revolution" was coming. Now in my mid-60s, we finally seem to have confected it in the Episcopal Church, but I feel alienated from my own generation.
The reluctance of the majority to even be kind, let alone just, toward the theological minority in TEC arises, perhaps, from acute annoyance about the secular political environment. The progressive orthodoxy that is so regnant among Episcopalians, now having long shed the moniker "Republican Party at prayer," is deadlocked in a stalemate with the populist-conservative axis. Theological conservatives (some of whom are socialist-leaning Democrats!) present an appealing target for ths pent-up ire. Revolutions have little tolerance for ideological complexity, and they eventually consume their own.
Of course, Prayer Book revision comes with a price tag, estimated to be nearly $2 million, just for the coming triennium. Multiply that by four for the length of the projected process, and that's without actually having printed a single copy of the new book! All resolutions that ask for funds in the budget of the DFMS eventually end up in front of the Joint Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance (PB&F). We're seeing several resolutions that call for the creation of new staff positions, each of which runs $300,000-400,000 for the triennium. There's eventually going to be a train wreck at PB&F. So, even if the Bishops follow the lead of the Deputies, Prayer Book revision still has to run that gauntlet. This is not a done deal yet. Or I may just be thinking wishfully.