I’ve been told that one of the problems with my approach to HWHM is that I haven’t paid sufficient attention to 2003-A100, the GC Resolution that authorized the project. Here it is for your reading pleasure:
Resolved, That the 74th General Convention direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to undertake a revision of Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2000, 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; and be it further
Resolved, That the SCLM produce a study of the significance of that experience of local sainthood in encouraging the living out of baptism; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance to consider a budget allocation of $20,000 for implementation of this resolution.
General Convention, Journal of the General Convention of…The Episcopal Church, Minneapolis, 2003 (New York: General Convention, 2004), p. 593.
I have now given this resolution a certain amount of attention. (Whether it’s been sufficient is not for me to say…)
In particular, I want to draw your attention to one phrase of the first Resolve clause: “…and of our lively experience of sainthood in local communities” and to the second Resolve clause in its entirety with a special focus on this phrase: “experience of local sainthood in encouraging the living out of baptism.”
Let me tackle the second Resolve first and answer the question that naturally proceeds from it. No—this study mandated by GC on the significance of the local experience of sainthood was never produced. What I’ve learned since being on the Standing Commission is that not everything mandated by GC gets accomplished. Sometimes it’s because they’ve offered a good idea that is simply not possible financially or for other reasons. The poster child for this is the requirement that everything Convention or its underlying bodies does or produces must be translated into both Spanish and French. That’s a great idea and recognizes the breadth of our church—but no funding is provided to do it. As a result things get translated slowly and occasionally if at all. And, sometimes, there are things resolved that fall off the radar and are forgotten. And, sometimes, there are things resolved that specifically get forgotten. I don’t know where this study falls, but it never occurred.
Nevertheless, between the second Resolve and the phase on “local communities” in the first, it seems that “local” is a very important part of what HWHM ought to be about! To honor the intention of the resolution, the collection needs to speak to this point in a compelling fashion.
What does “local” mean here? I think it’s ambiguous and that there are two possible and not exclusive answers that make sense in light of the rest of it. The first is that we need to trust local communities in their identification of sanctity in local people. The second is that we need to trust local communities in their identification of sanctity as it makes sense to them in their location, whether the individual honored is “local” or not.
For instance, if I were to suggest to a classic Virginia clergyman that he celebrate a feast for a little statue of the BVM called the Virgin of Supaya, he’d roll his eyes and mutter. And he’d be perfectly right in doing so based on the history and theology of his locale. If, however, I suggested to the clergy who serve the two Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Honduras named after the Virgin of Supaya that they not celebrate it, they’d equally roll their eyes and mutter—based on their local theology. (She’s the patron of Honduras.)
Where is this local in HWHM? . . . What if—and I’m going out on a limb here—what if HWHM represents (no doubt, unintentionally) a distrust of local discernment by imposing in a top-down fashion such a large number of commemorations that don’t connect to local environments? In its attempt to be inclusive of people from a variety of locales and situations, has it actually created a centralized hegemonic artifact that might suppress rather than enhance local practice?
In order to celebrate the local, then, a reduced sanctoral calendar might be favorable especially if it were to explicitly say that the people included are only a tiny subset of the full number of the saints of God and are examples to spur local thought. A healthy recommendation of a variety of sanctoral texts from a variety of perspectives—Foxe, Butler, etc.—and a general uplifting of the Commons of Saints might do a far better job of promoting a “lively experience of sainthood in local communities” then a book imposed from on high filled with people and situations that don’t connect to the local environment.
Too, the incorporation of a parallel Almanac in the same volume could likewise offer suggestions for celebration beyond the official Calendar.