Before we start talking about the legislation around the sanctoral calendar that occurred at General Convention, let me refer you once again to the brief history of the Episcopal Calendar that I wrote for the Liturgy Center at VTS.
There are two directions from which to approach the question of the sanctoral calendar.
The first is to approach it as a place are individuals are recognized. An individual is lifted up as a saint—however that gets defined and understood—and is put on the calendar because their life-story appears to fit the criteria used for judging saintliness. From this perspective, the question of whether a person belongs on the calendar or not is a matter of whether they tick all of the right boxes and none of the wrong ones.
The second direction is to approach the calendar as a set, a deliberate group. As a set, the balance of individuals says something about how the church as a whole understands sanctity and the various breakdown of roles and functions within the church as a living organism. To borrow the great Pauline metaphor, a proper sanctoral calendar ought to reflect the disposition of the various parts of the body that make up the whole. It can’t be all made up of “brain” or all made up of “foot” or you get a warped view of the Body of Christ and its constituent features. To say it more clearly, the composition of the whole needs to reflect that contemplative holiness, self-sacrificial martyrdom, theological brilliance, pastoral sensitivity, just social action, and more are all in the mix in terms of what sanctity looks like. Furthermore, other kinds of balance matter here, not just the theological. This is where issues of race, ethnicity, temporal period, and gender come in as well.
One of the classic instances of imbalance is the late 19th century Roman Catholic calendar which was dominated by French and Italian bishops. What it said was, if you want to be holy, be a French or Italian bishop. If you’re a married woman of color, you’re out of luck.
When you approach the calendar from this angle, the question isn’t just about the worthiness of a given individual; it also has to do with how many of a given sort are in the whole system. Balancing the competing theological criteria with race and gender concerns makes this a very complicated matter. But if we are trying to portray sanctity across a wide range of time, locations, and social classes, it’s an exercise worth doing. We are literally trying to image the full humanity of Christ by illustrating how instances from across the whole spectrum of human experience have communicated Christ in their time and place.
What the proposed LFF 2018 was trying to do was to attack the calendar from the second angle. It tried to create a balanced group of worthies. Because our previous calendars had been so badly skewed in terms of gender and ordination status, and theological role, the only way to accomplish balance was to take some people off and to add some new people on. Overwhelmingly, the people removed were 19th century American white (male) bishops. The people added were women from across time and space. This is how numbers and math work—you can either add more and more people to come up to your target figure (and the addition of commemorations itself was an issue), or you can remove some from an over-represented group which means you will not to add as many from your under-represented groups.
The reaction from convention on seeing LFF 2018 was to approach it from the first direction and to freak out about people not seen. The issue is not that those people were not properly saintly; the issue was one of representation and balance. Otherwise, we send the message that the best path to sanctity is to be a white American bishop.
Now. All of that having been said, here is the resolution that General Convention passed:
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, that the 79th General Convention authorize the continued use of Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006; and be it further
Resolved, commend the continued availability of Great Cloud of Witnesses 2015 for the 2018-2021 triennium; and be it further
Resolved, that the new commemorations in Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018 proposed by the SCLM be authorized for trial use and be included in the calendar for the 2018-2021 triennium, under Article X(b); and be it further
Resolved that the SCLM provide the 80th General Convention with a clear and unambiguous plan for a singular calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts.
The first resolve retains Lesser Feasts & Fast 2006 as the official Calendar of the Church.
The second resolve “retains” Great Cloud of Witnesses by extending its non-canonical status (?) as available. I’m not sure what this does. To me it signals that they still want to keep the Great Cloud/Holy Women, Holy Men material in the mix but—as we have been over a number of times—there are issues with this material with regard to which criteria the entries match and whether all entries meet all of the criteria.
The third resolve essentially misses the point of LFF 2018—i.e., the principle of re-balancing—and smooshes [technical term] the new entries into…what…LFF 2006?…thereby watering down the intent of re-balancing.
The fourth resolve is kind of a middle finger to the SCLM and folks who have been doing Calendar work over the past several years. Here’s the thing. Constructing a calendar that will be accepted by all Episcopalians is an inherent impossibility. Some of us believe in saints in the objective sense: that there are baptized Christian people who are physically dead who are participating in a closeness with God now that other physically dead people are not currently enjoying. Other Episcopalians fundamentally reject this notion and the theology that flows from it. A person who regards a sanctoral calendar as a roster of those actively praying for us now is going to have a different set of criteria and a different set of understandings about how that roster is made than someone who is looking for a list of inspirational figures who may or may not have been Episcopalian. In Great Cloud of Witnesses and in LFF 2018, we tried to put together a compromise list that would balance out competing Episcopal understandings of sanctity yet still have a list that people on both ends of the spectrum could live with.
Let me be blunt. There are people in Great Cloud of Witnesses that I do not regard as saints. Which is why Great Cloud was offered as a list from which local communities could identify those people they considered to be saints. That way we could have a list of inspirational people and yet not call them saints—because not all of them met that standard.
LFF 2018 was another attempt at a singular calendar that would address the concerns raised by the 2003 demand for attention to balance and representation. But Convention decided that wasn’t ok either.
At one point in 2013 or 2014, I listed out six different competing demands that a given calendar proposal would have to meet in order to satisfy all interested parties. Not all six can be met—something has to give. One of the major problems was the sheer volume of material in Holy Women, Holy Men/Great Cloud of Witnesses. Despite the fact that everyone in it is optional, there was tremendous push-back at GC 2012 that there were far too many names. Thus for a calendar to be accepted it must be smaller that HWHM/GCW. General Convention will not pass a lazy process of addition that just keeps adding on more and more names. Therefore if there is a “a clear and unambiguous plan for a singular calendar” there have to be winners and losers. We can’t do another compromise document. What the SCLM will have to propose is an actual sanctoral theology, and then follow that theology up with criteria and commemorations that meet those criteria.
They’ll be in my prayers…