Deputies Say Yes to Prayer Book Revision

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The House of Deputies today approved a resolution “to undertake comprehensive revision” of the Book of Common Prayer 1979. The matter now moves to the House of Bishops.

The vote on Resolution A068 was held by orders. The lay order approved the resolution 69-26-15. The vote in the clergy order was 63-30-17.

The vote came after a session devoted to numerous amendments, the most significant of which added a bishop and either a lay or clergy person from Province IX, comprising seven Caribbean, Central American and South American dioceses, to the group.

A timeline referred to in the resolution calls for trial use of a new Book of Common Prayer to being in 2024 with final authorization of a new prayer book no earlier than 2030.

Deputy Sam Candler of the Diocese of Atlanta, who chaired the committee that proposed the resolution, said the debate in the committee and in the house was healthy and “minds were changed.”

Speaking at a media conference after the vote, Candler and alternate Deputy Ruth Meyers of the Diocese of California, who is Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, said they believed the process of prayer book revision would accomplish not only the goals of those who support it, but also the goals of those who favored Resolution A069, which called for deeper engagement with the church’s current prayer book.

“Taking the next step in revision can foster deeper engagement with the existing prayer book as it is studied and revised,” said Meyers, an alternate deputy from the Diocese of California. “People become more involved when there is something at stake,” she said, noting that the revision process would begin “with three years of conversation about current practices, people’s hopes. What they’d like to see kept. What they’d like to see changed.”

The resolution requests more than $1.9 million to begin activities in the coming triennium.

Under guidelines referred to in the resolution, the church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, along with the two representatives of Province IX, would spent the first three years of the revisions process gathering data and fashioning “a plan for the drafting of the revision, including organization of subcommittees and their processes, and the identification and contracting of writers and editors.”

The plan would be presented to the 2021 General Convention, with an estimated budget for the process. Drafting of the revised prayer book would not begin until the second half of 2021.

“Nobody is putting their pen to texts any time soon,” said Candler.

The resolution articulated a number of standards that a new prayer book must meet.

Those include:

  • fidelity to “the historic rites of the Church Universal as they have been received and interpreted within the Anglican tradition of Common Prayer” and “space for … the continual movement of the Holy Spirit among us and growing insights of our Church.”

 

  • the use of “inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity,” and expressions of “understanding, appreciation, and care of God’s creation.”

 

  • texts informed by “the riches of Holy Scripture and our Church’s liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender, physical ability, and ethnic diversity in order to share common worship.”

In debate on Friday, supporters of revision argued that the church should adopt “expansive language,” rather than continuing to refer to God using exclusively male pronouns in its prayer book. “We have an urgent pastoral and evangelical need for more expansive language for God in the prayers we share together,” said Deputy Helen Svoboda-Barber of the Diocese of North Carolina. Expansive language “will better enable children of whatever gender to imagine themselves as created in image of God.”

Deputy Mary Jones of Albany, however, said using masculine language for God is important to many people, citing children who have lost their fathers as an example. “Expansive language may speak to people at this convention, but not people across the church,” she said.

Supporters of revision such as Deputy Winnie Varghese of New York said the church’s understanding of itself and the world had changed dramatically since the 1979 prayer book was published. “It is our work to testify to the Risen Christ in this generation,” she said.

Deputy Everett Lees of Oklahoma, however, said that while he supported the use of inclusive language, that goal could be achieved by more modest means that a comprehensive revision of the prayer book. “We need to focus on mission of church, which is to make disciples,” he said.

Candler said that while much of the debate focused on issues of inclusive and expansive language and the cost of prayer book revision, which might run to more than $8 million before the project is completed, other issues would present themselves once the process of revision begins.

“Those might include how we see our salvation—our [theology of] atonement, and whether humanity is meant to subdue creation or care for creation.”

Asked what landmines might present themselves along the road to revision Candler, tongue in cheek, said, “There will be no landmines. There will be beautiful surprises of the spirit.”

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