A New Proposal for Holy Women, Holy Men

The title says “new” but that deserves a certain amount of qualification. If you’re a regular reader, you know that this plan is something that has been working in fits and starts since last September. In fact, much of the material that I’ve been producing over the last few months finds a place in it.

If you’re not a regular reader, let me clarify what’s going on…  I was appointed to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music following General Convention last year. In the run-up to Convention, I had published an article and a follow-up in the Living Church and some blog posts that were quite critical of “Holy Women, Holy Men.” Imagine my surprise when not only was I appointed to the SCLM, but was asked to co-chair the Calendar Subcommittee. . .

My conversations across the church have led me to the conviction that HWHM is not a suitable resource in its current state. At the heart of the problem is a fundamental confusion about the nature of a Calendar, commemorations, and sanctity. There is no coherent theology that holds the document together. Major arguments for the inclusion of certain individuals rest on their importance or significance; others are included because they were the “first” something. It became clear to me that the Calendar was being made to bear too much freight. It had become a place to record significant people as well as a place to record individuals of holiness as well as a place to include individuals who were representative of a particular lobby within the church as well as (increasingly) a place to record historical events that had some kind of meaning for the church.

At the first meeting of the triennium, I floated the idea of an Almanac that might be used alongside the Calendar in order to enable the Calendar to focus on being a sanctoral Calendar—a place to commemorate individuals who had displayed holiness and lives evocative of Christian maturity. Or, to tie it more closely to the current parlance, those individuals who have fulfilled their Baptismal Covenants in fulsome and inspiring ways. Keep the Calendar a sanctoral Calendar; use an Almanac to capture historical important events and people.

As we discussed it and thought about it more in the intervening months, the idea became better fleshed-out and more clear. Support for the idea grew, but also a curiosity grew in terms of what such a scheme would actually look like on the ground: it’s fine to discuss it in abstract, but what would it look like and how would it really work on a practical level? At the conclusion of the last SCLM meeting, Ruth Meyers asked me to draft something concrete so that we could have a real artifact on the table to discuss as a potential reworking of the HWHM material.

Yesterday, I posted to the extranet (our official document repository) three documents that represent a concrete vision of this potential scheme: a 21-page draft proposal, an example calendar, and an additional bit of writing that needs to get folded into the main document somewhere. These will be discussed at our meeting next week. Monday morning has been set aside for a discussion about whether to move forward with this option or to continue in the current format.

Here’s the main concept:

In order to give a more accurate rendering of its contents, the book as a whole will called the “Book of Optional Observances” (this, in part, as a reminder that all of these days are optional and that no ferial days have truly “disappeared”…) and will have three major sections:

  • Holy Women Holy Men: A Sanctoral Calendar. The Calendar and accompanying proper material offered here will contain fewer commemorations than currently stand. In the example draft that I have put together, it contains only 137 entries, and these were selected in large measure with regard to saints who have parish dedications across the church and that better reflect the diversity of the church (i.e., 15% more women, 17% more people of color, 6% more laity than the current balances). The two central criteria operative are Christian Discipleship and Local Observance. However, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the fact that this calendar is intended to be illustrative and not comprehensive. That is, we fully expect individuals, parishes, dioceses, and provinces to maintain their own calendars and to supplement this list with the names of saints that reflect their lively local experience of sanctity. As such, the Commons of Saints are highlighted as essential resources for these locally identified celebrations. In particular, their attention is directed to the Almanac (about which more in a moment) as a source of potential commemorations.
  • Praying the Seasons: A Temporal Calendar. Currently non-Sunday Scripture readings for the various Seasons are disconnected, particularly when it comes to Ordinary time. Grouping the whole Temporale here will enforce the shape of the Church Year and remind people that this remains a viable option should they chose to exercise it.
  • Dedicating our Lives: Propers for Various Occasions and an Almanac for the Episcopal Church. Here, the Votives/Propers for Various Occasions are likewise given an equal standing with the other two options. The twist is that this section will also contain an Almanac. Everyone from the previous drafts of HWHM who does not appear in the Calendar—and some who do appear in the Calendar—will be found here as a representative/example of a particular votive. Full propers will be retained with the suggestion that the particular prayer/collect be used to conclude the Prayers of the People when used votively. If a local community chooses to observe the entry as a sanctoral occasion (having consulted the sanctoral criteria and discerned a congruence with their local experience of sanctity), they are free to do so and the propers are easily at hand. The chief criteria for the Almanac are Significance and Memorability. This will enable us to recognize and remember those individuals, events, and movements that made the Episcopal Church what it is today and that will inspire us in the future without requiring the burden of either asserting or proving their sanctity. Additionally, should sufficient documentable local, regional, and church-wide commemoration grow up around figures in the Almanac, it’s entirely possible that they could be remembered in the Calendar as well.

Here’s the proposed preface.

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Proposed Preface to the Book of Optional Observances

A New Perspective

The work before you represents a new approach to on-going non-Sunday Christian formation and liturgical celebration within the Episcopal Church. In the process leading up to the creation of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, a Calendar Committee drafted a proposed Calendar for inclusion in that work. While it was not approved, a set of Eucharistic propers for the liturgical celebration of a saint was included. A Calendar Study committee was convened again in 1945 that finally produced the first official sanctoral calendar, approved in 1964. This material was supplemental to the Book of Common Prayer and was printed in a volume entitled Lesser Feasts and Fasts. The feasts pertained to the sanctoral celebrations; the fasts were the quarterly Ember Days and the provisions made for weekdays in Lent. Successive editions provided Eucharistic propers for a host of additional saints’ days and an increasing number of weekdays in the temporal calendar, partly in response to the growing custom of weekday Eucharists.

In 2003, under the direction of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold—former chair of the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music and its Calendar Subcommittee—General Convention directed the Standing Commission to revise Lesser Feasts and Fasts “to reflect our increasing awareness of the importance of the ministry of all the people of God and of the cultural diversity of The Episcopal Church, of the wider Anglican Communion, of our ecumenical partners, and of our lively experience of sainthood in local communities.” Now, over a decade later and after much deliberation and no little contention, we offer a resource that reflects the wide variety of Anglican understandings of sanctity, of liturgy, and of our common mission in Christ rooted in Baptism as exemplified in our Baptismal Covenant.

Through the preliminary work of the committee in arriving at this point, General Convention authorized a calendar containing upward of 295 commemorations celebrating 340 named individuals. The Calendar contained in the work before you contains fewer commemorations and individuals—and yet this resource as a whole contains all of these prior events and people and more! For those who became accustomed to certain celebrations and came to know new saints of God through the later versions of Lesser Feasts and Fasts or the preliminary editions of Holy Women, Holy Men, rest assured that no one has been “de-sainted” even though their name may not appear within the Calendar on the following pages. Instead, the Calendar now contains fewer commemorations with the intention that local observances and local theologies of sanctity should take precedence over a centralized list of names pushed down from above by a church committee.

The Calendar as Illustrative rather than Comprehensive

In obedience to the directive from General Convention to be more sensitive to sanctity in all of its diversity, the first instinct of the Calendar Subcommittee was to add names—to demonstrate inclusivity through a comprehensive Calendar. No matter how many names were added, however, we could never put on enough names to communicate the true diversity of the people of God. Furthermore, there would always be worthy individuals whose names would be omitted due to accidents of fortune or history rather than a lack of sanctity.

A different perspective was to offer a more minimal Calendar deeply committed to its own insufficiency.  This Calendar does not contain all of the saints of the Episcopal Church. It only begins to contain the saints who inspire, delight, trouble, and confuse us. Rather than creating a Calendar that is comprehensive, this Calendar is merely illustrative. That is, it presents a few representative examples of dedicated Christians throughout history who have invited us deeper into the life of God through their own witness. They illuminate different facets of Christian maturity to spur us on to an adult faith in the Risen Christ and the life of the Spirit he offers. As illustrations, they mirror the myriad virtues of Christ in order that, in their examples, we might recognize those same virtues and features of holiness in people closer to our own times and stations and neighborhoods. And, seeing them in those around us, we may be more able to cultivate these virtues and forms of holiness—through grace—as we strive to imitate Christ as well.

New in this resource is an Almanac for the Episcopal Church. While the purpose of the Calendar is to lift up individuals whom the Church should honor and imitate for their sanctity and their demonstration of the contours of a fully mature Christian faith, the Almanac’s purpose—sometimes complementary to the Calendar, sometimes overlapping—is to identify the significant and memorable individuals, events, and movements who have made the Episcopal Church what it is today. Some of them are well known; some of them are not. Some of them are Episcopalians; more of them are not. Nevertheless, through their leadership, thinking, writing, singing, praying, caring and working they have constructed the scaffolding through which this Church was built and will continue to grow. The Calendar celebrates sanctity—the end goal of a sacramental life of discipleship; the Almanac celebrates importance and significance. As the Calendar is intentionally illustrative, the Almanac contains some who may well fit both definitions. Indeed, as communities and parishes and dioceses consider their local understanding of sanctity, the Almanac may be a worthy first stop in exploring who beyond the Calendar may inspire you in your baptismal journeys.

Exhortation to Local Observance

Rather than attempting to mandate where holiness can be seen, this perspective liberates the Church to search for holiness both in its history and in its midst. In order to live into the potential of this approach, we exhort individuals, parishes, missions, and diocese to construct calendars of commemorations, using the Calendar contained here as a starting place. There are saints at every level of our lives and we diminish by a little the light of Christ in our world where they are not celebrated. The criteria for inclusion in the Calendar are presented on page XX. We invite you to read through the names, lives, and observances in this volume’s Almanac, and in other resources whether current or historical like Butler’s Lives of the Saints or Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and in the lines scribed on the walls of your churches and the sidewalks of your streets to find narratives of witness that aid you in living out your baptismal vows. Create, circulate, and deliberate calendars and narratives that speak to the holiness of a transcendent God who blesses our lives in imminence.

In providing a minimal Calendar, we are offering a sign of trust in local communities. We recognize that there are a wide variety of understandings of sanctity across the Episcopal Church. Expecting them to be identical from the mountains of Honduras to the hills of Virginia to the high plains of Wyoming is unrealistic and does a discredit to the hardy faith that sustains lives in these regions and beyond. Local communities are thereby given a broader degree of freedom to discern who they identify as saints and how they perceive these individuals to be impacting their daily lives of faith. We pray that this approach will lead to the identification of a wider array of indigenous saints—some of whom should be shared more broadly across the church, and some of whom should remain local observances united to their own particular place and home.

Expanding Liturgical Horizons

This resource places a new focus upon some liturgical materials that have been long been part of the Christian tradition and that have been included in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer since its adoption: propers for Various Occasions. Growing out of the medieval tradition of votive masses, the propers for Various Occasions lift up particular aspects of the Christian life and witness that deserve to be celebrated, yet not at the expense of our Sunday celebrations of the Resurrection. Recapturing the use of these liturgical compositions can help local communities express liturgically their joys and struggles in solidarity with those around them. Within this resource, the Almanac of people and events significant to the Episcopal Church has been linked to many of these Various Occasions, providing a natural and ready opportunity for exploring these liturgies. It is our hope that, having been exposed to them in this context, they will more naturally and easily spring to mind when their use is warranted.

Expanding Formative Horizons

In the past Lesser Feasts and Fasts was primarily understood as a book for non-Sunday Eucharistic celebrations. However, within the past decade, social media and an evolving array of digital devotional materials have revealed that this work and its subsequent formulations have an important role in shaping personal as well as communal devotion. These aren’t just collections of liturgies—these resources help modern Episcopalians learn about themselves, their faith communities, and the history of the wider Church. In recognition of this reality, attention has been given (particularly within the Almanac) to presenting a broader narrative that communicates how some of these events and individuals are linked together, and how they make the Episcopal Church who we are today.

Entries in both the Calendar and the Almanac have been associated with a variety of “tags.” These tags help provide an instant context for the individuals, movements, or events being remembered. Too, they create relationships across the material, highlighting common themes or connections between apparently disparate people. The tags may relate to gender, ethnicity, region of impact, or identify some of the virtues and charisms that may be seen in them. In digital editions of this resource, hyperlinking will allow you to explore across the Calendar and Almanac by means of the commonalities.

In addition, digital tools have given a broader prominence to the Daily Office leading to more questions concerning how Lesser Feasts are represented in these services. In order to clarify the intersection of this resource with the Daily Office, direction will be provided at the head of each section explaining its proper use.

The Shape of the Work

In order to accomplish the goals outlined above, this resource contains three major parts. The first part is “Holy Women, Holy Men: A Sanctoral Calendar” that contains the calendar of observances and which provides commons for the celebration of various kinds of locally identified saints as well. The second part is “Praying the Seasons: A Temporal Calendar” that provides Scripture lessons, collects—where appropriate—and other Eucharistic propers for celebrating weekdays within the Church’s liturgical seasons. The third part is “Dedicating our Lives: Various Occasions and an Almanac for the Episcopal Church” that contains the propers composed for Various Occasions and the Almanac that connects these Occasions to people, events, and movements that have shaped the Episcopal Church.

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Also, here’s the head of the general rubrics on the Church Calendar:

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Optional Observances and the Calendar

In the section entitled “Concerning the Service of the Church,” the Book of Common Prayer clarifies the normative services of the Episcopal Church:

The Holy Eucharist is the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major Feasts, and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as set forth in this book, are the regular services appointed for public worship in the Church. (BCP, 13)

Eucharistic propers (collects, Scripture readings, and proper preface) are provided in the Book of Common Prayer for the days when the Eucharist is the principal service.  The Calendar section at the front of the prayer book identifies these Eucharistic feasts by placing them into three categories, ranked by priority: Principal Feasts, Sundays, and Holy Days. Normatively, on all other days, Morning and Evening Prayer are the Church’s official public services. However, as celebration of the Eucharist has become more frequent, many parishes now offer weekday Eucharists on days for which the prayer book does not assign propers.

The prayer book provides a range of six possible options for the celebration of the Eucharist on these ferial or non-feast days. These options are:

  1. To celebrate a Major Feast that has fallen elsewhere in the week as provided in the prayer book,
  2. To celebrate a Lesser Feast as a Day of Optional Observance appointed in the Church’s Calendar,
  3. To celebrate a Lesser Feast as a Day of Optional Observance not appointed in the Church’s Calendar by using the Commons of Saints,
  4. To celebrate the season by using the propers of the preceding Sunday,
  5. To celebrate the season by using the propers appointed for a day in the given week of the season, and
  6. To celebrate an occasion provided for in the propers for “Various Occasions.”

To facilitate the use of these authorized options, this resource contains the propers for fixed Holy Days, Commons of Saints, and Various Occasions given in the prayer book and those authorized since the adoption of the prayer book, and propers for Days of Optional Observance recognized for Church-wide use but not included within the prayer book. The propers in this resource are grouped into three sections by type for the sanctoral cycle, the temporal cycle, and various occasions.

Directions for the appropriate use of the various kinds of propers are provided at the head of each section, but here are some general guides for use:

  • These propers are not to be used on any day for which the prayer book has appointed propers.
  • If a Major Feast that falls in the week will not be celebrated with a Eucharist on its indicated day, it is most appropriate that a midweek service will observe the Major Feast in order to retain the prayer book’s emphasis on the significance of these occasions.
  • “Feasts appointed on fixed days in the Calendar are not observed on the days of Holy Week or of Easter Week” nor should propers for Various Occasions be used within this period (BCP, 18).
  • In keeping with ancient tradition, the observance of Lenten weekdays ordinarily takes precedence over Various Occasions or Lesser Feasts occurring during this season.
  • Since the triumphs of the saints are a continuation and manifestation of the Paschal victory of Christ, the celebration of saints’ days is particularly appropriate during the Easter season.

Optional Observances and the Daily Office

The propers in this resource are provided for use in the Eucharist; specific directions on whether or how they may be used in the Daily Office are described at the head of each section.

As a rule, the Scripture readings appointed for optional observances are not to be substituted for the Daily Office Lectionary given in the Book of Common Prayer. Since the observation of a Lesser Feast would make that celebration’s collect the “Collect of the Day,” the collect of a Lesser Feast may be used as the “Collect of the Day” In the Office whether a Eucharist for that observance is being locally celebrated or not. Since the Daily Office operates primarily within the movement of the temporal Cycle, the collect of the preceding Sunday or Principal Feast may be prayed after a sanctoral “Collect of the Day” in order to maintain this liturgical connection. The collect for a Various Occasion should not replace or displace the Collect of the Day but may follow that Collect or the conclusion of the Office at the discretion of the officiant.

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I want to draw attention to some of the items towards the end of the preface. I see this proposal representing three major advances beyond HWHM here. First, it puts the sanctoral Calendar on a more solid theological footing focusing on sanctity. Second, it clarifies the status of the three major options for celebrating a non-Sunday Eucharist. Third, it recognizes how HWHM is currently being used in the wild. I see it more online and in social media than in physical churches. This proposal takes this devotional use seriously and provides an enhanced framework for utilizing it to learn both church history and be introduced to the primary saints recognized by our tradition.

I truly believe that this proposal offers a win-win situation. For those who value the diversity currently present in HWHM, all of it has been retained. For those concerned about the sanctity of those on the sanctoral Calendar, a smaller, more carefully vetted list will adhere to the published criteria. For those concerned with a loss of ferial days, the resource as a whole better communicates the optional character of all of the Lesser Feasts and clarifies the relationships between the various options. I think this proposal offers the church a better-rounded, more useful resource that displays a more coherent implicit theology of sanctity and offers greater sensitivity concerning how it will actually be used.

Let me know what you think . . .

A Point of Clarification: Some people have asked to see the names on the actual Calendar. My response is to warn you that we’re at least four major hurdles away from that point.

  • The first hurdle is for the SCLM to adopt this proposal. This is by no means a fore-gone conclusion and I expect that there will be a certain amount of resistance to it or at least to some aspects of it.
  • The second hurdle will involve hashing out the new criteria for the Calendar.
  • The third hurdle would be a concomitant hashing out of criteria for the Almanac.
  • It’s not until the fourth hurdle that we can actually start naming names for the Calendar.
  • And again for the Almanac…

While I do have an example list it is in no way official or even semi-solid from an official point of view. So—that’s too much uncertainty for me to produce any such list at the present time; it would be both premature and presumptive.

26 Replies to “A New Proposal for Holy Women, Holy Men”

  1. This is an utterly sensible and thoughtful proposal; it cheers me to think that we might see such a Book of Optional Observances in the near future. Please keep up the good fight!

  2. Bravo. It’s fantastic.

    I especially love the “Exhortation to Local Observance” section, and “In providing a minimal Calendar, we are offering a sign of trust in local communities.” This is the very first time I’ve ever seen anything like this – and I think it’s long overdue. This will be such a help and a spur to get everybody thinking in a new way (or, perhaps, for the first time) about all this; it’s such a wonderful, active means of formation.

    It’s a splendid piece of work!

  3. This looks outstanding, though the acronym “BOO” may take a bit of getting used to… :-) It is also worth saying that the reason we celebrate All Saints Day is precisely because there are examples of sainthood from “folks like me” each and every day that simply cannot be borne by a Calendar of Saints.

  4. Derek,

    Very interesting. Will you be permitted to release your entire proposal to the hoi polloi?

    Just one question for now: Where are you placing the 6-Week Thematic Lectionary currently included in both LFF and HWHM? Looks to me it’s part of Option 6, Various Occasions, and if you listed it somewhere, I missed it.

  5. Actually, the 6-Week Thematic was released as a substitute for the Ordinary Time section of the Canadian daily Eucharistic lectionary. As a result, it’s included in the Temporale section, after the 2-year Ordinary Time readings.

  6. Given society’s penchant for acronyms, “BOO” seems inevitable. Just as the sophomoric “HoHum” belittled the work of “Holy Women, Holy Men,” so, too, “BOO” has the potential to marginalize this new work.

  7. Thank you, thank you, Derek! This is a terrific proposal, and I hope it is adopted. I find it so difficult to use HWHM observances that describe interesting and important events in history or in a person’s life, but say little or nothing about their faith or how it informed their actions. Your proposal to move such observances to an Almanac is wonderfully sensible.

  8. It’s nice to see a sensible proposal for changing this concept, as well as the observances.

  9. A brilliant move. Thank you for the proposal and the excellent explanation of the rational for the proposal.

  10. This is a much better proposal than HWHM.

    (And it is not the initialism giving rise to HoHum that has doomed this work. I never heard that used before. The problem is that this work, though very well intentioned, has problems.)

    That said, have you considered that people the Almanac would become to be considered “Blessed,” and those in the formal calendar “Saints:? Like it or not, this looks like the two-step Roman system in different clothes.

    I would most definitely be against the blessed-saint drift. How could this be treated to stop it from happening?

    If the Draft Proposed BCP could be called “Arabian Nights” for its 1001 pages, I don’t think that BOO will hurt this.

  11. Bob, no, the Almanac will be pretty clearly not a section of “blesseds.” Furthermore, it is not and should not be seen as a two-tiered system; this was one of the criticisms of the initial concept.

    One way that I’ve sought to answer this is through the inclusion of certain collective groups that are Significant and Memorable for the Episcopal Church that include people who are also on the Calendar. I.e., “Celtic Ascetics: Brendan of Clonfert, Brigid of Kildare, Patrick of Ireland, Adamnan, Columba, Columbanus” Brigid, Patrick, and Columba are legitimately on the Calendar due to their Sanctity of life and their Local Observances–they have 5, 32, and 17 churches dedicated to them respectively.

  12. Good question. They certainly won’t be on the Calendar as they did not demonstrate lives of Sanctity and there’s no demonstrable Local Observance of them. Whether they appear in the Almanac will depend on the criteria for the Almanac. People can create Significant thoughts and works that influence and aid the church without being faithful Christians–but it’s certainly preferably in my mind. Exactly where that line falls will have to be decided if and when we get there.

  13. Great work, Derek – nothing less than I would expect from you, many thanks! I especially liked your willingness to take into account “how HWHM is currently being used in the wild.” No place wilder than Canterbury House in Ann Arbor!

  14. I only thought of the possible “two-tier” implication because of what you wrote here:

    “Additionally, should sufficient documentable local, regional, and church-wide commemoration grow up around figures in the Almanac, it’s entirely possible that they could be remembered in the Calendar as well.”

    Do you understand why I saw a two-tier “blessed-saint” or maybe “trial use-BCP” distinction?

    Note I think that this is a much, much better concept than what HWMM created–even if it unintentionally results in a two-tier system. This is a great way forward.

  15. The publication of the first American “Propers for the Minor Holy Days,” 1958, emphasized for us the importance of the witness of each saint to us. After that, the LFFs and the HWHM seem to have gotten more concerned with giving us history lessons, sans theological and pastoral reflections. I am all for the accurate history, but it is the interpretation of the meaning of the history that is important to the “person in the pew,” the mythology, if you will. This proposal would seem to provide a much more usable, educational tool for the pastor, teacher, or serious religious inquirer. Great!

  16. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your thoughtful, reasoned, considerate, and careful treatment of this. I hope the SCLM will take the work you have done very seriously, and adopt this approach moving forward. Though no system is perfect, this seems a great way to navigate the problems posed by HWHM. Bravo, and keep up the amazing work!

  17. Very good work. I am concerned with what the new Sanctoral will look like, but I think that this new system will work well, if people take the time to follow it.

  18. Excellent work, Derek, and the promotion of local observances is a wonderful tool for encouraging “full homely divinity”….

  19. My one issue is “As a rule, the Scripture readings appointed for optional observances are not to be substituted for the Daily Office Lectionary given in the Book of Common Prayer.” This is fine when praying the Daily Office by onself, or in a community that prays the Office daily. However, in communities which pray the Office on a weekly or biweekly basis, or less often this creates problems, because the Daily Office readings are part of a continuous series- they are not intended to stand alone. So you end up reading something like the story of the destruction of Sodom with no context.

  20. Derek, I have been praying with the HWHM commemorations and collects for the past year, and your analysis of the problems in the work reflects my experience exactly. I applaud your new proposal, and I hope it is taken seriously! One liturgical issue you did not mention, however, is the poor quality of the collects in HWHM. Many of the new collects are cumbersome and overly clever in imagery and wording, making them more akin to poor preaching than prayer. (This week, Elie Naud’s collect is a particularly cringe-worthy example). Please beseech the committee to thoroughly revise the collects and make them worthy of being in an Anglican liturgy!

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