General Convention is just around the corner so, of course, we're going to talk about sex in general and homosexuality in particular, marriage - especially "gay marriage" (which, you would correctly assume is not about a "happy" marriage), selling 815 and moving it someplace to the middle of the country (which surprisingly gives rise to heated debate) or revising the Book of Common Prayer.
It's as predictable as General Convention happening every three years.
This year - probably because there are several resolutions proposing "expansive language" and the Rites of Marriage for Same Sex Couples as part of the BCP - when it is revised, the heated discussion is around revising the BCP.
This year, a fascinating thing is happening: the same lament is being heard from different ends of the spectrum for Prayer Book Revision. There's even a special and different FB page entitled: "Prayer Book Revision: Discussion and Debate".
Those who don't really want to engage in the discussion, much less the process of revision - mostly bishops who have a firm grasp on the power and authority of their office but not on the reality of the people they are called to serve - are claiming "No one really wants to revise the BCP".
But, some Very Anxious people are believing them, anyway.
I'm not hearing that. At all. Just 5 minutes on the FB page linked above will prove that point. Revising the BCP seems to be hot on everyone's lips - all representing their own particular perspective.
What I am hearing is that there seem to be two camps: One large group of feminist men and women are making the argument about inclusive/expansive language. The other, smaller but more vocal group wants a return to the language of Rite I and 1928 BCP.
I know, right? Couldn't get more binary than that.
I'm also hearing another small group of folks say that the mistake of the 1979 BCP was returning the primacy of the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist (they want to be more like the RCs and have "seven sacraments" vs our "two sacraments and five sacramental rites).
They also say that having Eucharist as the normative Sunday service is a "hardship" (seriously) because there are not enough clergy to preside at Eucharist on Sunday morning; they claim the situation is worse with the "clergy shortage".
So, my question is "What clergy shortage?" I see lots of clergy more than willing to serve congregations. I see some congregations unable/unwilling to pay clergy a fair wage. I also see a shortage of congregations - and BISHOPS - who are willing to think creatively about the collaborative efforts of the ministry of the laity and the ministry of the ordained.
So, they want to change the BCP because it's easier than changing themselves.
Finally, the other argument/concern I'm hearing raised is: "BOOK of Common Prayer?? How passe! We don't do BOOKS anymore. We are in the age of technology. Don't buy BOOKS. Save the planet! Save the forests! Buy TABLETS or KINDLES or NOOKS, install WiFi in the church and download what you want and need in the service."
So, I am hearing some - some, not a lot - in the middle saying, softly, "Hmmm . . . . maybe this is a can of worms we don't want to open. Maybe we can make the point another way."
I'm also hearing the argument that this is what "Mother Church" (meaning CofE) is doing - keeping "the original" BCP and just authorizing supplemental texts.
That could be a typical batch of Anglican fudge. Or, it could be a more accurate reflection of the reality of the great diversity that has become The Episcopal Church.
Me? While I love the theological improvements of the 1979 BCP, I do admit that I'm weary of having my gender italicized. I can't imagine what that must feel like for folks who are gender trans or fluid.
I'd like the normative language of the prayers of this church in terms of God and the people of God to be expansive and inclusive.
Originally, I came down on the side of our needing a revised BCP. Now. Yesterday, in fact.
I know. It's going to take at least three General Conventions before that's a reality.
After listening to and engaging in several conversations, I'm actually now leaning more toward a "smorgasbord" approach like that of the CofE. Instead of trying to please everyone with a revision of the 1979 BCP that "is inclusive of everyone" (an impossible task, anyway), it might be better to offer a whole host of additionally authorized texts.
The tipping point in my thinking process came when someone on a FB page wrote simply: "manifold sins and offenses".
I don't know that person or how she meant it. I took it as snark. And, it stung. Just my experience. That's not important or even the point I'm trying to make. Bear with me here.
Now, that's not my theology of sin or God or God's people. That's waaaay too Calvin for me.
But, I know and love people who love that language. The poetry. The meter. Funny thing is, that language doesn't really express their theology of sin or God or God's people, either. It is the language that they know and love. The language they learned when they were children. It brings them a sense of comfort to say the same words they've been saying for decades.
Let me try to explain it this way: I see in their faces my face when I was at the airport in Bangkok, Thailand and couldn't find a cab driver who spoke English. When I did, I had that same look on my face: Relief mixed with comfort. It wasn't WHAT he said. It was THAT he spoke "my language".
Does that make sense?
Okay, one other example: Ms. Conroy is a nurse with national credentials in Hospice/Palliative Care. In the 80s she was deeply involved in caring for people who were dying in the AIDS pandemic. She would attend 8 AM Mass at a High Anglo-Catholic church which used the 1928 BCP. And, OBTW, loudly proclaimed that they "neither believed in nor accepted the ordination of women."
When I asked Ms. Conroy why she would attend that church, she said, "Look, no matter what I do, my patients die on me. I need one hour, once a week, where I can hear the language of my youth that provides me with the illusion that God is in control. I'm surrounded by painful realities. Please don't take away this one hour of illusion. It helps me make it through the rest of the week and it's the way I'll get through this plague."
We say that we want revision because we know that liturgy and language are powerful tools for shaping and forming faith and belief. And, they are. Absolutely.
And yet, when we mock or want to eliminate older forms of the BCP, we totally disrespect what has already been done. We can't change that. We are not powerful enough to change that. Besides, it's not so much about belief as it is about respecting that language of a formative culture that is different from our own.
And, what of those who want Rite One and even the language and theology of the 1928 BCP? Can we demand changes WE want to see without making room for the changes others want to return to what once was? Even if we think they should "know better"?
So much for "inclusion".
I don't want to forget this point: Blessed Dan Stevick, who was on the SCLM that gave us the 1979 BCP, was my liturgy professor. He liked to point out the effort for inclusion in the 1979 prayer book while simultaneously admitting that it was out of date the minute it hit the printing press.
He pointed out that there were three forms - Rite I, II and III - and 7 authorized Eucharistic forms in the 79 BCP:
Rite I: Prayer I and Prayer II (most like 1928 BCP)
Prayer A - most like Rite I with "modern language".
Prayer B - most like the Roman Catholic form
Prayer C - a nod to the Evangelicals in our church, with the more penitential nature and more congregational participation.
Prayer D - most like the Orthodox form of prayer.
Rite III - Follows the "shape of the liturgy" while allowing for more individual, creative, spontaneous prayer using whatever language "the traffic would allow" (as he said, tongue in cheek, meaning not "traffic" but "bishop".)
Is it enough? No. Dan admitted that. But it was a start. We need to continue, as Dan encouraged us to continue, reminding us not to fall into the trap of "worshiping the worship" but continuing to worship God in "the common language of prayer".
So, to revise the BCP or to leave the "good intentions" of the 1979 BCP in place as the "normative" while making it abundantly clear to bishops that clergy need to provide for their congregations the liturgy that will be most nourishing for them, where they are, at this time in their life cycle?
I was always taught that the one thing that holds the Episcopal Church together is not theology or the constitution and canons but the BCP. There is great wisdom and truth to that. The same is true around the Anglican Communion with each their own authorized individual BCPS.
Imagine! A church held together by prayer! What a concept, eh?
That is really what is at the heart of being Anglican: Some agreed upon norm of "common prayer" with tolerance for other forms of prayer.
This strikes at the heart of one of the principles of Anglicanism: Tolerance. And, tolerance flows from the Aquinas' notion of the primacy of Conscience.
Conscience is especially important to keep in mind, especially as we consider the various Christologies there are from all of the wonderful diversity that has blossomed and taken root in our church.
In your spare time, check out "Christology: A Global Introduction" by Veli-Matti Karkkainen.
If you haven't already, be introduced to the differences in Western Christologies (Barth, Bultman, Tillich, Zizioulas, Rahner, Moltmann, etc.) and Contextual Christologies (Process, Black, Feminist, and Postmodern Christologies, as well as Christology in Latin America, Jon Sobrino's Christ as Liberator, African Christology as a Search for Power, Benezet Bujo and Christ as Ancestor, Christology in Asia and the Search for Meaning as well as Stanley Samartha and Christ the Universal Savior). Make sure to read the Epilogue: "The Future of Christology".
So, before we start talking about "norms" and which and whose "norms" ought to be "normative", we need to back up - way, waaay up - and have a conversation - hell, many conversations over great pots of tea or glasses of single-malt scotch - about what it means to be
(1) a Christian who is
(2) Episcopalian with all of our cultural diversity and
(3) part of the Anglican Communion.
That will bring us into a deep dive into the history of our formation (especially Reformation history - not freely offered at many Episcopal seminaries) which will lead us into what I trust will be rich discussions about theology and philosophy.
Then, maybe - just maybe - we'll be able to settle on conversations that will take us long into the night about what Jesus meant when he prayed the high priestly prayer, "that they all may be one" as he and God are one.
And, we'll talk about UNITY and how that is achieved.
And, maybe we'll remember what St. Paul said which one of the early Lambeth's proclaimed (? 1938?) about what it means to be an Anglican - the "norm" of making theological decisions as Anglicans: that we "seek the mind of Christ".
So, for me, it's not so much about language which suits me but what makes me part of the whole that tries to live into the high-priestly prayer of Jesus for UNITY while balancing Acquinas' notion of CONSCIENCE and practicing Anglican TOLERANCE, all the while "seeking the mind of Christ."
Not easy. Been trying to do it all my life. It's a lovely thought to think that it could all be changed through revision of our BCP. I fear it isn't. But, as St. Paul's says, "it will be perfected in the doing."
So, if you haven't been having this conversation in your circles, please consider it. I hope it will expand your perspective and maybe even change your mind.
Just know that you are going to piss off some of the people some of the time, just by raising this as something to be discussed. They'll say, "Oh, NO ONE wants to revise the BCP."
If you're lucky, maybe you'll even change your mind a couple of times.
Like, I'm just thinking: Maybe we'd best start with the 1980 hymnal. There's more yucky theology and offensive language in there than there is in either the 1928 or 1979 BCP.
See what I mean?