Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Piecemeal Prayer Book Revision

Maybe I'm paranoid. Or perhaps not.

In 2006, General Convention adopted the Revised Common Lectionary (slightly tweaked) as the official lectionary of the Episcopal Church for celebrations of the Holy Eucharist on Sundays and Holy Days. Apparently, the constitution specifies that, which the body of the Prayer Book is part of the constitution, and therefore takes two General Conventions to amend, the lectionary, while for the sake of convenience bound with the Prayer Book, is not actually part of it, and can therefore be amended by resolution at one convention. And that's what we did.

Except ... it seems to have escaped everyone's attention that the section of the BCP labeled Proper Liturgies for Special Days sets forth scripture readings for Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, and the Paschal Triduum. So Prayer Books printed since 2006 manifest an inherent conflict between the lectionary as printed in the back of the book (RCL) and the readings in Proper Liturgies for Special Days.


So, along comes the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music with the solution: Resolution A-059, which proposes revising the Book of Common Prayer to fix this anomaly: swap out the RCL lections for the ones printed presently in the body of the book. This is presented without concealment as Prayer Book revision, which is a constitutional change, and therefore requires two readings at successive conventions.

This afternoon, Committee 13 (Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Church Music) considered A-059. Now, quite apart from my general lack of fondness for the RCL, which I have not hidden, I have a deep concern about the process being followed here. In the history of the Episcopal Church, the process for Prayer Book revision has been reserved for ... actual Prayer Book revision. And there have been only four, beginning with the original 1789 model. We have resisted the temptation to "fix" it bit by bit, piecemeal. 

Until now. Proponents of A-059 insist that this is a one-time deal, an inelegant but necessary patch to take care of an unforeseen development. Color me skeptical. The machinery of Prayer Book revision could well turn out to be an addictive drug for those with access to the controls. If this one works, it won't be too difficult shoot up one more time, and then once more, and in a handful of triennia, we could have a substantially different Prayer Book. The liturgy for Marriage would probably be the first to go, but it wouldn't be the last.

To my dismay, though not to my surprise, my efforts were to no avail, and A-059 was referred to the House of Bishops (customarily the "house of initial actions" for all matters liturgical). But there's more. Instead of being sent over merely with a "recommendation to adopt," it will arrive tomorrow morning in the HoB as part of something called the Consent Calendar, which is a time-saving device to dispatch resolutions that are thought to be non-controversial and will not elicit debate. This means it won't even get discussed. In order to remove the resolution from the consent calendar, I will need to find two other bishops to join me in asking for such, and then it would require a majority vote of the house. That would enable us to at least talk about it, but I'm not optimistic. 

If any Deputies are reading this who share my concerns, you also, by the rules of the HoD, have an opportunity to remove it from the Consent Calendar and give it a fair hearing. But you will need to be vigilant, and ready to pounce on the microphone stand just at the right moment. 


Anonymous said...

No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.
Gideon J. Tucker in Final Accounting in the Estate of A. B. (1866).

Updated: No one's soul, faith, or church is safe while General Convention is is session.

Actually, our souls, faith, and church are safe in Jesus. The Episcopal Church, not so much.


Anonymous said...

This kind of ignoring one's own rules, and then abusing rules of order to shortcut any deliberative process, is not encouraging to those of us looking at the Episcopal church from outside.

Scott said...

As a member of a parish still using the 1979 BCP lectionary, thank you, Bp. Martins, for this resolution. I will be watching its progress with interest!

John Richmond said...

And here I thought there must be something wrong with *me* for not liking the RCL.

To slightly alter some familiar words: Can anything good come out of General Convention?