Category Archives: Liturgy

Crowd-Sourced Bewilderment

I’m well aware there’s a range of opinions on things like Lent Madness. Some say it trivializes the saints, others argue that it’s a means for educating people. Entirely apart from that, I found the comments on Lent Madness posts to be an interesting channel for getting in touch with the ways that “ordinary” laypeople think about sanctity in the Episcopal Church.

Much of what I discovered was disheartening, mind you, but it was informative…

I’m having a similar experience being part of the Rubrics and BCP Revision Suggestion Facebook groups. (And huge thanks and shout-outs to Frs. Chris and Bob et al. who keep those running!)

They are both interesting channels for getting in touch with what people are thinking about a variety of things related to the prayer book.

Here are the three most interesting things I’ve discovered recently…

  1. [This actually comes from a widely distributed Scott Gunn post] There’s a lot more love expressed for Prayer D than I expected. I find this interesting because I hear Prayer D actually used so infrequently. As far as I know, Prayer D is chiefly used on Major Feasts, but not on “regular” Sundays. Am I off-base here? See—this is precisely why I think a bulletin collection project would be useful…
  2. One of the biggest fights I’ve seen recently was around the use of Latin titles for the Canticles. Such a relatively minor thing, especially given the general decline in public Morning Prayer since the ’79, but provoking so much passion! It was fascinating to me how quickly some wanted to turn this into a discussion of social class. Again—I truly believe that most liturgy/prayer book fights are proxy fights over identity.
  3. There’s a difference between being King Of The World and being beholden to a vast diverse community. Many of the suggestions on the Revision page come across as “King of the World” requests: here’s what I’d do to make the book the way I like it. And there’s definitely a place for that. We need to hear what people are thinking. But there’s a big difference between what individuals want and what communities need. I think I could come up with a pretty awesome King Of The World list of changes to the BCP—but I’m under no illusions that that book would be good, useful, or edifying for the Episcopal Church as a whole! The very concept of revision seems to bring out the innovator in all of us, and gets people excited for change that may or may not happen, change that should or should not happen…

What are your thoughts or questions or findings?


On Language for the Liturgy, II

One of the issues that’s on the table when it comes to liturgy is the balance between poetry and prose. These two are not discrete things that stand apart from one another but, rather, describe two points on a spectrum of language use. On the prose end, the language ought to be clear, direct, and unmistakable. On the poetic end, language should be allusive/elusive and multivalent. Neither option is “good” or “bad”; instead, they serve different functions for different purposes. As a result, every piece of writing can fall somewhere on the spectrum between poetry and prose, some being more on one side of the spectrum than another.

Placing things on the spectrum is a matter of analyzing a number of qualities in a composition. Poetry tends to use ornamented language, elevated diction, archaic or antiquated language or constructions, and figures of thought and speech. Figures of speech include the subcategory of aural figures that most people commonly associate with the purer forms of poetry: alliteration (matching initial sounds), assonance (matching internal sounds), rhyme (matching ending sounds), and cadence (if it has a regular and/or repetitive flow).  A chief function of poetry is to communicate mood, feeling, or expression. Prose at its most prosaic is simple, clear, and direct. A chief function of prose is the communication of data or information. Most forms of writing that modern Westerners encounter tend to be prose or to be on the prose side of the spectrum; we tend to read more for information. However, even basic prose usually has some ornaments to spice it up and make it a bit more interesting.

Out of all of these various characteristics of both prose and poetry, I want to focus us on one in particular: valence. That is, how wide is the range of meanings that a word/phrase/sentence/paragraph can contain without the interpretation becoming strained or overtly non-literal? Another way to say this could be, where does the interpretive work fall? Is it on the part of the author and the text to communicate meaning and to make it clear or is it more on the part of the reader to interpret and find the possibilities inherent in the text?

Valence becomes particularly important when we talk about things like genre (what kind of writing it is) or purpose. Generally speaking, I’m a guy who loves poetry—but I have absolutely no tolerance for it in things like recipes or route directions! I don’t want to have to interpret how much salt I should put in a recipe: I vastly prefer “a teaspoon” to “a moonbeam’s worth.”  However, when I’m reading something that is designed to make me think, to make me reconsider how and why I live, to make me see the possibility in the worlds around me, I crave multivalent language, language that can mean many different things at once. Part of the fun of reading good writing is playing within the act of interpretation and teasing out the possibilities that fill the words and grammar.

So—to approach more closely to the topic at hand, how do we like our religious writing? Because I’m a guy who likes to think in poetry, I want the sermons I hear to have a good amount of the poetic within them. I don’t want them to be too flowery to the point where I have to do all of the interpretive work, but I’d rather have it make me think and consider than be too heavily on the prose side. Other people I know are the opposite. They ask for something different from sermons: cut the crap, tell me what to do. I think my brother is much more this way. And, for that reason, I see this to be—at least in part—a matter of hard-wiring. Some people prefer the more poetic, some the more prosaic. It’s not a value judgement, it’s human difference.

So—what about the liturgy? Where should it fall on the spectrum?

I think that this is one of the arguments that we are having but don’t stop to realize it, consider it, or properly ponder the implications.

As I see it, hear it, and feel it, a hallmark of classical Anglican liturgy is a high degree of poetry. The sound of it is important, the cadences, the assonance, the way words and sounds play off one another, the way the liturgy plays hide-and-seek with the words, meanings, and intentions of Scripture (particularly King James Scripture—a version where the translators were also poets and read it aloud amongst themselves before approving it.) The choice of diction, the vocabulary used is elevated. The language of both the King James Version and the prayer book betrayed some archaic qualities even in the time when they were written. Certainly for the KJV, this is due in some measure to the Tyndale and Lollard versions of the English that the translators looked back upon as they went about their work. The ’79 prayer book’s Rite I feels inherently more poetic to my modern ears precisely because of its archaic character and intentionally elevated diction (paging “inestimable” and “bewail!”)

But it’s not just sound and grammar, either. Consider the kinds of figures of thought that appear: Surely it is no accident that the Morning Prayer confession mentions that “we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep” in a prayer that appears just before the invitatory psalm where we recall that “he is the Lord our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand (Venite)” or “we are his people and the sheep of his pasture (Jubilate).”

Alright—so that’s my contention, that classical Anglican liturgy falls very much on the poetic end of the scale. So, what does that have to do with the present situation and discussion of revision and of the best kinds of language to use in the liturgy?

My own feeling is that one of the arguments that we’re not necessarily aware that we’re having is between those who want a more prosaic, didactic liturgy and between those who want a more poetic liturgy. Those who want to use the liturgy to convey information to be a teaching tool are going to want it more directly communicative and less multivalent. Those who want the liturgy to convey an elevated presence and experience of the mysteries of God are going to want it to be more ornamented and poetic. (This is not and probably shouldn’t be a strict either/or; like the poetic-prosaic spectrum there’s probably a spectrum here too…but I think there are definitely sides and preferences tending in these two directions.)

What should the liturgy be?

For my part, I’ll go back to Scripture to take my lead. Again, there’s a balance of poetry and prose in the pages of Scripture—Genesis and Acts, more prosey; Song of Songs and Revelation, more poetry. But I find our true paradigm in the Psalms. And I have in the past and will in the future make the argument that the Psalter is the first and truest language that the Church chose for Christian spirituality. The Psalms are poetry. The Psalms—given their central place in the Daily Office—have served as the guides for Anglican liturgy for centuries.

If revision happens, if the language of our liturgy changes, we must retain the poetic mode: this is the past, present, and future of Anglican liturgy and we risk altering the linguistic and spiritual balance at our peril.

On Language for the Liturgy, I

There has been a certain amount of discussion in various Facebook groups about revisions to the prayer book. I include here the obligatory reminder that the Episcopal Church is not currently in the process of revising the BCP, there is merely discussion over the possibility of revision…

That having been said, one of the issues that has popped up several times is about the issue of language, specifically, the use of the English language in the prayer book and what constitutes “language understood by the people.”

When these discussions break out, it seems to me that several arguments are going on and within some of these arguments some important distinctions are being either conflated or being ignored altogether.

One of the discussions involves levels of literacy. To what degree should the English used in the liturgy be intelligible to people of various degrees of literacy? What happens when a multisyllabic or difficult vocabulary word appears in a liturgical text? A fine example here would be one of my favorite words in the Rite I General Thanksgiving: “inestimable.” This is a long word that some people do not know and that people with limited English literacy (children, non-native speakers) might have trouble with. The framers of Rite II weighed in by altering it to “immeasurable.” It’s still just as long, but has a more common and easily understood root (measure). To clarify, what is at issue in this kind of argument is literal comprehensibility.

A second discussion involves technical terms. There is a distinct science of Christian theology. Like any other science, it uses technical terms in order to apply linguistic precision to its discussions. Words like “consubstantiation,” “perichoretic,” or “eschatological” or a phrase like “prevenient grace” are examples of technical terms. Generally speaking, these words are not largely used outside of Christian or religious discourse.

A third discussion involves “terms of art,” a phrase that can shade into the word “jargon” used in a technical rather than pejorative sense. A term of art is a word that is used within the wider language but that has a specific and more closely circumscribed meaning when used by a particular field, discipline, or community. An example would be the word “cult.” In standard English, a cult is a negative term to speak about a small religious movement characterized by manipulation and a leader who demands total obedience, often for nefarious ends. When used by scholars of religion, though, “cult” simply refers to the worship practices of a group or worship towards a particular deity; it has no negative meaning. Or, to come closer to the topic at hand, people in the church will refer to a wafer as a “host.” While this word has a given meaning in standard English, its church use differs from the standard usage.

Most of the discussions about language are imprecise arguments around whether Christian liturgy ought to use technical terms or terms of art. Often this is couched in the language of hospitality and inclusion: is it exclusive to use language that non-Christians will not understand?

A key problem here is how we define “standard” English and how we identify when a given term become unintelligible. For instance, I have heard arguments that words like “redemption,” “repentance,” “forgiveness,” “sin,” and “salvation” are insider words that the church needs to avoid. I’m constantly confused by this because I hear these words plenty in popular American music. Can you really make the argument that a word is not understood by regular speakers when it shows up frequently in pop music or mainstream rock? The only way this argument makes sense to me is if you posit—and can demonstrate—that the meaning between a “popular” use and “church” use has drifted so far that the one is unintelligible to the other.

Far more frequently, I think something else is at work here especially as it tends to pop up around works like “sin” and “sacrifice.” These words have a meaning, and it is flavored by centuries of use within the church. When church people suggest that they are unintelligible and exclusive to non-church people, I wonder if the meaning is not clear or if they don’t like the meaning that the term currently has. I wonder if a desire for new language is an attempt to make an aspect of the faith more palatable to the church people who take issue with a term.

Bottom line: if you take issue with the use of the word “sin” in the liturgy, your root problem may not be that visitors can’t understand it…

There’s more to be said about this topic, though, especially around what kind of language liturgies can or ought to be written in. I’ll get around to those shortly.


Experimental Code for Morning Prayer

As promised earlier, here is a link for Morning Prayer in the new experimental version of the St. Bede’s Breviary code base:

As you’ll see, most of the usual breviary options are present. The two main areas that I intend to get to but have not yet fully addressed are the Calendar/commemorations and a mechanism to save individual options. However, on the latter I think you see that selecting options is no longer the hassle it could be with the earlier editions.

There are probably still some bugs lurking in it, some I’ve discovered, a few I probably haven’t. I am working on the ones I know about in addition to getting Evening Prayer up on line too. Let me know what you think of the new interface and if you run into any problems…

Not the Venite for Morning Prayer

When one thinks of flagrant examples of wacky liberal liturgical revisionism in the history of the Books of Common Prayer, the mind is naturally drawn to the 1789 American BCP and its scandalous predecessor, the 1786 Proposed Book. (That’s totally what you were thinking, right?)

When writing up my thoughts on the Venite I saw a minor side-note in Hatchett of something I’d forgotten about.

Our current option-happy prayer book says the following about the choice of invitatory materials at Morning Prayer: “Then follows one of the Invitatory Psalms, Venite or Jubilate.” (BCP, p.80) After the Venite we do receive a permissive “or Psalm 95, pages 724” (BCP, 82). Then, after the Jubilate we see: “In Easter Week, in place of an Invitatory Psalm, the following is sung or said. It may also be used daily until the Day of Pentecost” (BCP, 83). So—you only have four legit options and that’s only in Easter; the rest of the year you have three.

But check out what those crazy kids were up to at the end of the 18th century… It has been said that the Proposed Book of 1786 was functionally an attempt to overthrow the outcome of the (conservative) Savoy Conference which made the 1662 book what it was, and an inducement for the fledging American Church to march to the beat of the English Proposed 1689 Book. In that spirit, Proper Invitatories were appointed for Christmas Day, Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Ascension Day, and Whitsunday (Pentecost). All of these were centos (psalm-mashups) and can be found at the end of a set of selected psalm-mashups and before the Psalter proper in the 1789 book. (Pages 236-238 of the pdf from Chad Wohlers’s site.)

For your reading pleasure and liturgical edification, here are the historical invitatories.

Christmas Day

From Psalms xlv. lxxxix. ex.
THy seat, O God, endureth for ever; the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre.
Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity ; wherefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
My song shall be alway of the loving kindness of the Lord; with my mouth will I ever be shewing thy truth, from one generation to another.
For I have said, mercy shall be set up for ever ; thy truth shalt thou stablish in the heavens.
The Lord is our defence, the holy one of Israel is our king.
Thou spakest sometime in visions unto thy saints, and saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty, I have exalted one chosen out of the people.
I will set his dominion in the sea, and his right hand in the floods.
And I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.
The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
The Lord shall send the rod of thy power out of Sion ; be thou ruler, even in the midst among thine enemies.
In the day of thy power shall the people offer thee free-will offerings with an holy worship ; the dew of thy birth is of the womb of the morning.
The Lord sware, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedech.

Ash Wednesday

From Psalms xxxii. xxxviii. cxxx.
BLessed is he, whose unrighteousness is forgiven, and whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man, unto whom the Lord imputeth no sin, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
Put me not to rebuke, O Lord in thine anger; neither chasten me in thy heavy displeasure :
For thine arrows stick fast in me, and thine hand presseth me sore.
My wickednesses are gone over my head, and are like a sore burden, too heavy for me to bear.
I will consess my wickedness, and be sorry for my sin.
Haste thee to help me, O Lord, God of my salvation.
Out of the depth have I called unto thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.
Let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
If thou, Lord, shouldest be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who shall stand?
But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.

Good Friday

From Psalms xxii. lxix. xl.

MY God, my God, look upon me; why hast thou forsaken me? and art so far from my health, and from the words of my complaint?

But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despided of the people.
All they that see me laugh me to scorn ; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
He trusted in God, that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, if he will have him.
The counsel of the wicked layeth siege against me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
Thy rebuke hath broken my heart; I am full of heaviness; I looked for some to have pity on me, but there was no man, neither found I any to comfort me.
They gave me gall to eat ; and when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar to drink.
Sacrifice and meatoffering thou wouldest not, but mine ears hast thou opened.
Burnt offerings and sacrifice for sin hast thou not required: Then said I, Lo, I come;
In the volume of the book it is written of me, that I should fulfil thy will, O my God: I am content
to do it; yea, thy law is within my heart.

Ascension Day

From Psalms xxiv. xlvii.
Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in.

Who is the King of Glory? the Lord strong and mighty; even the Lord, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in.
Who is the King of Glory ? even the Lord of hosts, he is the King of Glory.
O clap your hands together, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.
For the Lord most high is terrible; he is a great king over all the earth.
God is gone up with a shout; the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises unto our King, sing praises.
God reigneth over the heathen: God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness.
The princes of the people are gathered together, even the people of the God of Abraham; for the
shields of the earth belong unto God. He is greatly exalted.


From Psalms ii. lxviii.
I Will declare the decree : the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.
Desire of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession.
Be wise . now therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Sing unto God, sing praises to his name : extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name Jah, and rejoice before him.
Thou, O God, sentest a gracious rain upon thine inheritance, and refreshedst it when it was weary.
The Lord gave the word ; great was the company of those that published it.
Though ye have lain among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove, covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.
Thou hast ascended on high; thou hast led captivity captive; thou hast received gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.
Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits; even the God of our salvation.
Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth : O sing praises unto the Lord;
To him that rideth upon the heaven of heavens, which were of old: Lo, he doth send out his voice, and that a mighty voice.
Ascribe the strength unto God; his excellency is over Israel, and his strength is in the clouds.
O God, thou art terrible out of thy holy places; the God of Israel is he that giveth strength and power
unto, his people. Blessed be God.

As someone who thinks a lot about liturgy, the theology behind it, and the interprettion of the Psalms, I find these to be a fascinating window into how late 18th century Anglicans read and understood the psalms within the context of their theology of the church year. The Pentecost text, in particular, is an interesting one to me.

In any case, while the 1892 BCP retained the permission to use an anthem on appointed days, all of these went missing; the Pascha Nostrum was retained amongst the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels alone with nary a trace of the others.

St. Augustine’s Prayer Book: Call for Corrections

I received word today from Forward Movement that they are getting ready to do a reprint of the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book that David Cobb and I revised. Before the presses start running, though, they wanted to make check if there were any uncaught typos or oddities that ought to be corrected in the next version.

Have you seen anything?

And, no, this isn’t the opportunity to revisit items put in or taken out, but to make sure that what is there is there correctly…

The First SCLM Meeting of the New Triennium

Just a brief note on why things have been so silent the last couple of days… We did indeed have the first meeting of the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music for the new triennium. I won’t bore you with trying to list out details; the minutes should be up in the not too distant future. I am happy to say that I am no longer secretary!! This is good news for me as doing the minutes was always quite a chore as my way of doing them is very verbose and therefore time consuming.

What I will give you is a few quick impressions.

First, the SCLM is larger now than it was before. General Convention expanded the size of the group; we now have 5 bishops, 5 priests, and 10 laity. (I suppose deacons would have been in the clergy spot with the priests, but we have none.) With the increase we have a better representation of church musicians than we had last triennium. I’m happy to see that.

Second, due to the timing of the meeting, we were episco-poor; only one of our bishop members was present with us. It’s hard to have a full feel of the group with several important members missing.

Third, despite the absence of most of the bishops, I found this gathering to have a different spirit around the table than last triennium. There was some real positive energy and a sense of hope about our work together. Little “work” gets done at these initial meetings. Rather there is a lot of organization in order to move towards doing work and also getting a sense of the individuals around the table and how the group dynamics will flow.

Fourth, needless to say, there is a diversity of opinion around the table. I do think that we are starting with the right questions; we’ll see how the process develops.

Short and vague, I know, but I’m still processing and waiting to see how things shake out.

Sarum Rite Material Update: The Risby Ordinal

If you are interested in historical English liturgy, then you ought to be checking for new material over on Dr. William Renwick’s Sarum Rite page on a regular basis. The number of sound files as well as text/music files are truly staggering.

One of the relatively new items definitely deserves a highlight. John Hackney has done a transcription of the revised Sarum old ordinal (the Risby Ordinal) found in BL Harley 1001.  As much as I love and respect W. H. Frere, his edition of this text was and is simply untenable. The work presented here is terrific and has a great set of footnotes accompanying it as well.

If medieval English liturgy is your thing, be sure to download it.

Prayer Book Revision Plan: The Three Essentials

The now infamous prayer book revision resolution from General Convention directs the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music (SCLM) to : “prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the current Book of Common Prayer and present that plan to the 79th General Convention.”

Note that. We’re not directed to do any prayer book revision; we’re simply asked to prepare a plan that will be (no doubt) debated and acted upon at the next General Convention.

The second resolve is particularly interesting to me. It asks us to be informed by seven different forms of diversity found within the church: “That such a plan for revision utilize the riches of our Church’s liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender and ethnic diversity in order to share common worship.”

This language neither prejudices us nor gives us a whole lot of direction. When I took up the “Holy Women, Holy Men” (HWHM) material, diversity was mandated but was not being tracked or quantified in any way leading to a more lopsided collection than had been intended. If diversity is a major component here, identifying and quantifying it is a central task in order to be thoroughly and properly inclusive.

The third resolve touches on the field I know from my day job as an IT professional (no, I’m not a priest, professor, full-time blogger or any number of other things that people often assume; I have a regular 9-5 corporate job…): “that the plan for revision take into consideration the use of current technologies which provide access to a broad range of liturgical resources.”

At the same time there is also a hymnal revision resolution that essentially asks a similar thing with fewer words: “That the 78th General Convention direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the Hymnal 1982.”

There are a whole bunch of things that need to be done. But as I read, review, and pray about these resolutions, there are three things that keep returning to my mind. These are what I consider the three essential tasks that we have to get right before we can do either plan right. These aren’t particuularly sexy, interesting, or fun. But they are necessary.

I’d go so far as to say that they are critical: If we fail on these, we will fail on the process as a whole.


We Must Have a Baseline

This section could equally be entitled “The Plural of Anecdote is not ‘Data.'”

Most people who care enough to even think about prayer book revision are likely to have strong opinions on the matter. Most of us—myself included—have an idea of What The Church Wants or, perhaps more important, What The Church Needs. No surprise, then, that What The Church Needs dovetails nicely with what we think and we even have some examples of parishes to back it up: “X parish did Y and their numbers and vitality went up Z% over a period from A to B! We all need to do that!” Or, barring useful examples, we like to appeal broadly to what is going on in the church based on our idea of what is going on: “Everybody is experimenting with liturgy these days—those old forms just don’t work/Nobody I know likes any of that experimental crap, we all just want the prayer book.”

If we intend to engage in something as important as this process, then guesses aren’t good enough. It’s not even good enough for people on the SCLM to have a general level of agreement about how things should go.

We don’t need anecdotes or general feelings: we need data. We need to know what is being done now.

Are we currently seeing a mass explosion of experimental liturgies as is claimed by some? Are we seeing churches forced to draw on resources outside of our tradition because our current resources are clearly inadequate? Do we see most churches quite happily using the authorized texts with a small body of experimental outliers? What consistent alterations are we seeing across the church? (I’m looking at you, list of patriarchs in Prayer C…) What languages are we seeing used in worship? Are we seeing a use of monolingual worship, bilingual worship, multilingual worship? How is culture showing up in how people are worshipping now?

My proposal would be to literally see what the church is doing now. The way we would do that is by requesting that every Episcopal parish across every one of our dioceses email (or snail mail in locations where email is not possible) the SCLM with seven actual bulletins. The SCLM will select a particular Sunday from every season of the church year and ask that the bulletins for all services for the selected Sundays be sent in as well as a bulletin from a Principal Feast. The results would then be tabulated in a publicly viewable database: type of service, source for readings, hymns, additional ceremonies, anthems, Eucharistic Prayers, any significant additions or omissions, how many people were in each service on those given days, etc. This would give us a place to start and a sense of what the church is actually up to.

This is the data we need to begin understanding the true shape of our diversity and to know what proper kinds of questions we need to be asking. If we actually take the time to do this right, we won’t have to guess or extrapolate wildly from anecdotes: we’ll have something hard to go back to.


We Must Give The People Their Voices

Now—a baseline is not enough.

We need to hear from everyone who cares enough to have an opinion on the matter. What works? What doesn’t work? What needs to be changed? What doesn’t need to change?

We need to crowd-source this thing.

Surveys may be helpful here—but surveys are not enough. Furthermore, surveys are rarely truly neutral instruments. If a given person or group of people are crafting questions and limiting possible answers, then they have a certain amount of control over the responses they receive. People passionate on issues may, knowingly or not, craft the questions to elicit the answer that they want to see. (And that goes for complaints I’ve heard about the hymnal survey…)

We need free-form opportunities for input. Let me give you a for-instance… The parish the girls and I have been attending uses Prayer C a fair amount. I now have some extended experience of praying with it. Based on that experience, I have a few constructive comments on how it could be made better. (I’ll leave aside the whole “dialogue” thing for the moment which I think is theologically problematic–that would take this post in a whole other direction I don’t want to go in now, so don’t start…)

  • The beginning part “fragile earth, island home…” does sound dated. I’d like to see the concept retained but perhaps with language having a more timeless feel.
  • The Patriarch Problem needs to be handled better. Inserting names of spouses/concubines/sex partners of the various patriarchs is not the best way to do this. I’d much rather see a parallel list of OT Matriarchs: “God of Deborah, Ruth, and Judith” perhaps.
  • I’ve come to really dislike “We celebrate his death and resurrection as we await the day of his coming.” Part of my Eucharistic theology is the idea that the reference to “…until he comes again” is fulfilled almost immediately when we experience and receive the sacrament. Jesus literally comes again to us in that moment in and through the bread and wine. The idea of “coming again” does relate to the great consummation at the end of the age when Jesus returns in power and great glory, but is not and should not be limited to that moment! The use of the temporal marker “day” here bothers me because it unnecessarily restricts and limits the kind of “coming” that we are referring to.

These are the kinds of thoughts that we need to capture. You can’t do this on a survey. These kinds of comments need to be publicly made and read and evaluated.

Furthermore, we need some crowd-based methods of indicating opinion on said opinions. I’m thinking of something like and up-vote/down-vote system that will allow responses that receive the most reactions to flow towards the top so they can be read and responded to by more people.

There are plenty of good web technologies out there designed to enable this kind of feedback. We need to pick one and then use it to actually listen to what the church is saying—not just the little circle of people who happen to be on the SCLM for a given triennium. No, everybody is not going to agree. But having watched the performance of Episcopal social media during General Convention and the web-casted TREC meeting leads me to believe that there is a synergy that erupts when we all start talking together. As far as I’m concerned, one of the great structure discoveries for me of last GC was the rise of the House of Twitter. We need to leverage that kind of excitement and energy.


We Must Show The People Accountability Through Transparency

One of the biggest complaints about recent SCLM work, and I’m thinking specifically about Enriching Our Worship (EOW) and HWHM here, is that something goes missing between the stated principles and the final products. As Matthew Olver has noted in his on-going pieces on EOW (part 1 and part 2 with a forthcoming part 3), the original documents leading up to EOW contained this passage:

In Christian liturgy, the truth of the Gospel which proclaims Jesus as the Son of God the Father and as Lord is essential. The terms “Father,” “Son,” and “Lord” are retained as expressive of that truth.

But, as we know, those terms were conspicuously absent from the final product.

Too, throughout the HWHM experiment there were issues regarding how completely the people included within the resource met the published criteria, particularly in terms of time limits, recognition across the church, and evidence of faith commitment (including baptismal status). Over time the criteria came to include escape clauses so that several of these could be dispensed with as desired.

I think that we as a commission have earned ourselves a credibility problem.

If we solicit feedback—particularly the two forms I’ve indicated above—then we need to bear fruit that demonstrates that we have taken it seriously and acted upon it.

When it came to to make revisions to the narratives going into Great Cloud of Witnesses, my committee and I read through the detailed comments left on the blog posts. I weighed them carefully as I made my own edits. I didn’t include all of them, but I certainly used the majority of them.

We need to demonstrate that this kind of engagement is happening and has happened.

Liturgies developed should be developed publicly. We, the church, need to be able to see them, reflect about them, use them (under proper parameters, of course), and comment about our experiences with them. We need to see that our thoughts and suggestions have at least been considered even if they are not accepted. (And if they are not, some clear appeal to the established principles and criteria would be meet and right!) We need to see that the liturgies being developed do, in fact, reflect any criteria and principles adopted to guide the process.

Something like Mediawiki, the engine that drives Wikipedia (free and open-source), is ideal for this. The liturgies can be seen, we can see the edits and version history, and the talk pages could provide space for reflection linked to but separate from the trial content.

Adam Wood has proposed something similar driven by similar concerns. (Here’s a Wired write-upon another of his projects if you don’t know him.) [I personally think that the ultimate end of our liturgical endeavors should be encoded in TEI XML for easy conversion into human-readable documents and web pages or machine-readable JSON for web and mobile apps, but that’s another debate.]

Using such a system offers transparent accountability. We know who did what when with what theology under which principles, and we will have an opportunity to make public comment about it.

So—those are the three essential things I think we need to incorporate into whatever plans for the prayer book and hymnal get offered to the next General Convention:

  • We need actual data on how the prayer book and hymnal are (or aren’t) being used right now
  • We need an effective vehicle for the church to communicate and deliberate on what we use now
  • We need an effective vehicle for the clear and accountable construction and dissemination of new liturgical experiments

These may not be the sexy topics like inclusive language or what to do with Confirmation, but they represent essential first steps to do the discussions right.