Hearing Focuses on Liturgies and the Lectionary

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In the third of three hearings held over Zoom on Saturday February 19, the Committee of Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music heard testimony on one resolution regarding “language that has been interpreted as anti-Semitic” in the readings of Holy Week, and three regarding the revision and publication of liturgies.

Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, Rabbi Stanley M. Kessler Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace and a professor emerita of Jewish and New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University, spoke in favor of  revising the lectionary readings for Holy  Week and in the lectionary more broadly to remove readings that she said misrepresent the Judaism of Jesus’ time and encourage anti-Semitism.

“Your good faith attempts to provide clergy guidelines on how to address the anti-Jewish verses have not worked; the guidelines are not helpful; the clergy aren’t all paying attention,” she said. “Since you keep repeating the guidelines, and the guidelines don’t work, then the problem is not with the guidelines, it’s with the readings. Change the lectionary.”

Resolution C014 calls on General Convention to “direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to recommend revisions to the Church’s appointed Lectionary readings for Holy Week.”  Speaking in support of the resolution, Tom O’Brien of the Diocese of Southeast Florida, said he thought the Standing Commission was the appropriate body to make a “sensitive and nuanced” response to the request.

No witness testified against the resolution. Similarly, no witnesses opposed Resolution A058 which would make, the official liturgical website of the Episcopal Church. The site was created by the communications subcommittee of the Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision, and is the first site that gathers all of the liturgies authorized for use in the Episcopal Church.

“The website will also help mitigate the current proliferation of versioning differences caused by different files shared across different church websites—some official, some not—at different times,” said the Rev. Kathleen Moore of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, a member of the subcommittee that created the site. It will also reduce widespread confusion about which resources are and are not authorized, and how.”

Resolutions A057 and A059, both of which deal with revising and making available liturgies approved by General Convention, occasioned wider debate. Resolution A057 would direct the SCLM to use The Principles to Guide the Development of Liturgical Texts, which begins on page 7 of the task force’s Blue book report. It also encourages bishops to continue to “to engage worshiping communities in experimentation and the creation of alternative texts to offer to the wider church.”

Kevin Miller of the Diocese of Massachusetts said he feared individuals who prefer the church rituals as they are currently written would be alienated by ongoing revision. “One of the big fears I’ve had through this whole process is that with revision I am going to be cast spiritually adrift, and be forced to return to a church that does not see me as a full person because of my sexuality,” said Miller, a former Roman Catholic.

Members of the Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision came down on different sides in testifying on Resolution A059, which would revise Title X of the church’ constitution which deals with the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and authorized liturgies. The changes to the canon are complex, and include in part: defining the Book of Common Prayer as “those liturgical forms authorized” by two successive General Conventions, and not therefore, only those liturgies contained in a published book.

“I believe that the intent of A059 is to have a BCP that is not limited to 1000 pages (give or take) thus allowing for the BCP79 to remain authorized, maintaining the possibility of revision, and allowing for additional liturgies and rites to be added,” said Deputy Matthew Mead of the Diocese of New York. “A059 also allows that other liturgical material can still be authorized for use outside of the BCP and maintains trial use authorization which is necessary to vet liturgies before considering them for the Prayer Book.”

Deputy Matthew S .C. Olver of the Diocese of Dallas responded that the resolution was both “too vague and too sweeping.” Defining the Book of Common Prayer as all liturgies authorized by General Convention was “akin to using a sledgehammer when what is needed is something more subtle, something like a scalpel and a sharpened pencil.

“One important effect of this proposal is that it would mean that any text in this category automatically articulates this church’s ‘Faith and Order’ and would be part of the ‘doctrine, discipline, and worship’ to which ordinands would be required to subscribe,” he said.