In preparation for the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the Society of Catholic Priests has launched the third in its TractSwarm series, this one on the revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Let me begin by stating quite clearly that I am in favor of revising the current Prayer Book to reflect the norm that has emerged in the last 35 years. However, Prayer Book revision is a thorny and controversial process that requires careful thinking and consensus building, where the Devil is truly in the details. As I struggled with how to approach this daunting topic, I drew up a list of fundamental questions with some examples as a starting point for my own thinking.
- What's lacking/problematic in the current Prayer Book? Lack of expansive/inclusive language; need for supplemental resources, such as Enriching Our Worship; worshippers' lack of familiarity with how to use the Book of Common Prayer; dated language and metaphors.
- What are the potential areas of discord and controversy? Revision of the marriage rite; altered theology; removal of Rite I liturgies; elimination of BCP Sunday lectionary.
- What could a revised Prayer Book make possible? Greater variety of liturgical resources; more flexibility within the rubrics; enhancements to the Daily Office.
- What would be potentially lost in a new revision? The rich Anglican heritage of Rite I; theological comprehensiveness/orthodoxy/tidiness; prominence of the Daily Office.
- Given the increased use of supplementary, unofficial, ecumenical, and optional resources, has "common prayer" become a myth? Many parishes are already using non-approved resources and rites (Anglo-Catholic devotions and feasts, non-Anglican eucharistic prayers, non-traditional creeds/professions of faith).
- What would be the financial and environmental implications of printing and supplying new prayer books to congregations for worship? In the digital age, are more sustainable models of dissemination possible? Elimination of print BCPs, and production of digital resources for worship bulletins, mobile devices, etc.
But, of course, we are not just people of routine attached to familiar things like fonts and the wording of eucharistic prayers. The Book of Common Prayer is the vessel that holds our unique theology and identity as Episcopalians. Are our bonds of trust and affection robust enough to love and include one another as we differ passionately over fundamentals? Can we come to consensus without imposing our agenda or marginalizing some minority group within the Church? I am not suggesting that we shy away from the challenge, but rather to be honest about what we are taking on. If ever the Episcopal Church needed to have a fierce conversation, to use the framework developed by Susan Scott, the Prayer Book would be it. If, as she says, the conversation is the relationship, then we need to learn to do a better job of communicating with each other while we refine the book that articulates who we are as a community of faith.
|Celebration of Rogationtide.|
|The blessing of chalk at Epiphany.|
Fr. Ethan +
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