Friday, June 26, 2015

The Second Legislative Day

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.


Richard+ said...

I nominate myself, Richard S. Reynolds, for President of the Society to Preserve the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

Anonymous said...

Saw the tweets about "keeping" church camps. Was the question about selling them or about moving their control/ ownership from the dioceses to the DFMS?

Unknown said...

Dismayed to hear that anyone is seriously talking about Prayer Book revision. Through the ups and downs of the past 20 years, I have pretty much held to the 1979 BCP with the conviction that "prayer book revision" was the third rail of church life, and no one would touch it and expect to survive. I have seen enough of EOW liturgies, the precious "Hear what the Spirit is saying...." and so forth. A new prayer book -- or even the revision process itself -- will tear up the church. Let's hope the suggestion disappears quickly. Dick Mitchell

Whit Johnstone said...

A survey about revision to the 1982 Hymnal produced a resounding majority in favor of no change. And surely the hymnal is less contentious than the BCP? I admit that I am suprised that this was even proposed, but I do not expect it to get very far, especially if they try to eliminate Rite I.

Bishop Daniel Martins said...

Re camps: I was fulfilling my role as scribe for my table group. We were asked what we would like to "keep" in the programs of our dioceses, and the Easter Oregon people we were partnered with are very fond of their camp.

Anonymous said...

This is indeed horrifying. I've come to feel (too often) that the process by which we poor fools suffering in the pews get our ruling class of bishops and whatnot (no offense to the good ones) is the root cause of all rot in the ECUSA. Is this still the rump of out-of-it folk-festival baby boomers trying to dechristianize the BCP before they die, or are there actually younger folks in our church leadership who can swallow this? Because no one in the following generations will flock to this emptying out of the religion's specific content. Is that what seminaries select for--making sure only to admit students who enjoy making up their own religion and calling it the Holy Spirit?

You could pick lay churchgoing sinners by lot to be bishops, and (I have to believe) they wouldn't be passing a measure to throw out the 1979 BCP (our pillar and symbol of everything our denomination actually has to appeal to the world) because we're embarrassed to call God "Father" as Jesus taught us to do. I guess I can only hope that when the day of a heretical BCP comes, the ACNA will be gay friendly enough for me to join! Or maybe there will be a new denomination for actual creed-believing Christians--we can get together with our 1979 prayer books--whoever thought it would come to that?