There has been a great deal of online discussion over the last couple of days regarding the intentions of the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music around the Article X resolution. For those who don’t keep track of such things, Article X is the part of the Episcopal Church’s constitutions that deals with alterations to the Book of Common Prayer and other aspects of our worship life.
Here is what the SCLM has included in the Blue Book that touches on Article X—it cites the full article but recommends an addition that I have bolded below:
Resolution A000: Amend Article X of the Constitution: The Book of Common Prayer [first reading]
Resolved, the House of ________ concurring, That Article X of the Constitution is hereby amended to read as follows:
The Book of Common Prayer, as now established or hereafter amended by the authority of this Church, shall be in use in all the Dioceses of this Church. No alteration thereof or addition thereto shall be made unless the same shall be first proposed in one regular meeting of the General Convention and by a resolve thereof be sent within six months to the Secretary of the Convention of every Diocese, to be made known to the Diocesan Convention at its next meeting, and be adopted by the General Convention at its next succeeding regular meeting by a majority of all Bishops, excluding retired Bishops not present, of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote in the House of Bishops, and by a vote by orders in the House of Deputies in accordance with Article I, Sec. 5, except that concurrence by the orders shall require the affirmative vote in each order by a majority of the Dioceses entitled to representation in the House of Deputies.
But notwithstanding anything herein above contained, the General Convention may at any one meeting, by a majority of the whole number of the Bishops entitled to vote in the House of Bishops, and by a majority of the Clerical and Lay Deputies of all the Dioceses entitled to representation in the House of Deputies, voting by orders as previously set forth in this Article:
a) Amend the Table of Lessons and all Tables and Rubrics relating to the Psalms.
b) Authorize for trial use throughout this Church, as an alternative at any time or times to the established Book of Common Prayer or to any section or Office thereof, a proposed revision of the whole Book or of any portion thereof, duly undertaken by the General Convention.
c) Provide for use of other forms for the renewal and enrichment of the common worship of this church for such periods of time and upon such terms and conditions as the General Convention may provide.
And Provided, that nothing in this Article shall be construed as restricting the authority of the Bishops of this Church to take such order as may be permitted by the Rubrics of the
Book of Common Prayer or by the Canons of the General Convention for the use of special forms of worship.
The Constitution allows the General Convention to authorize alternative forms of worship only for trial use as a proposed revision of the Book of Common Prayer. Since the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was adopted, alternative forms of worship in the Enriching Our Worship series and in Liturgical Resources 1 have been authorized, even though these were not designated for trial use as a proposed revision of the BCP. In addition, a number of congregations are experimenting with other new liturgical forms. This amendment would create a clear constitutional basis for experimental liturgical reforms that are not intended for trial use as a proposed revision of the Book of Common Prayer, while ensuring common prayer through the use of authorized liturgical materials.
I first remember this coming up at the October meeting where we were putting the Blue Book together. Despite the occasional moment when I shoot my mouth off, I don’t consider myself a “church politics” person when it comes to things like constitutions and canons and such. Indeed, I didn’t quite catch what this was saying the first time around and, in fact, thought it said the opposite of what it is attempting to say. I still find the language and the placement of clauses in the explanation a little odd, but I don’t see it as a nefarious attempt to manipulate processes (more on this later…).
Ok—what is this trying to say, and why are we saying it? The addition itself is enabling General Convention to provide for “other forms” (read here–liturgies) aside from what is in the authorized books like the Book of Common Prayer and the Book of Occasional Services. Why would we do this? The language is “for the renewal and enrichment of the common worship of this church.” Renewal and enrichment as opposed to “regular use.” So—we’re discussing the introduction of novelties and experiments here. This neither says nor implies that this change is giving permission to seek alternate liturgies to supplant those of the prayer book throughout the church. Furthermore, General Convention holds the keys: “for such periods of time and upon such terms and conditions as the General Convention may provide.” So, yes—there can be some experiments, but not a free-for-all, and these experiments ill be sanctioned and delineated by General Convention.
The Explanation portion provides some context and presents an intention for this addition. There’s a whole lot of backstory to this that I have neither the time nor the desire to get into at this point, but let me, instead, point you to Prayer Book Studies XV: The Problem and Method of Prayer Book Revision. If, like me, you might read this title and assume that it will talk about liturgical principles for change, you’d be quite wrong. Rather, it is an 18-page essay written in 1961 intended to persuade General Convention to pass a resolution including the notion and phrase of “trial use.” Here’s a key bit with clear application to the present resolution:
For the past three General Conventions (1952, 1955, and 1958) the Standing Liturgical Commission has offered with its report to the Convention a resolution seeking an amendment to Article X of the Constitution that would set up the possibility of trial use in any forthcoming revision of the Prayer Book. This resolution has been defeated in all three Conventions. The Commission is disturbed, not so much by its defeat, as by the fact that the proposal has not as yet been properly interpreted to the Convention. (PBS XV, 14)
Thus, in the days when the ’79 prayer book was but a twinkle in Massey Shepherd’s eye, there was legislative resistence to the idea of trial use, and when it did finally get passed it was with the constraint that such trial use be specifically intended for the purpose of prayer book revision.
As I understand it, this is still the way the official documents read: trial use is coupled with prayer book revision.
Jump closer to the present. We have the Enriching Our Worship series. Well—what is it? We are not in a state of prayer book revision. Yet these things exist and are in trial use. Glancing over the prefaces of EOW 1, it appears that these documents were seen in continuity with and were passed in 1997 as the fourth edition of Supplement Liturgical Materials. I have no clue what this series or its canonical/constitutional status except that I think it may have been what Prayer Book Studies series morphed into. (Like I said, I don’t follow this kind of stuff, and all of these things happened before I became an Episcopalian…)
To put it bluntly, I think some canon lawyers messed up. EOW seems to exist in a legislative limbo that is technically not permitted by the Constitutions. If something is “trial use” it is therefore for the purpose of “prayer book revision.” EOW is authorized for circumscribed “trial use,” but the language of “prayer book revision” has been studiously avoided.
Now we’re in a position to understand the Explanation and what the addition to Canon X is about. The only licit purpose for new GC-authorized liturgies as it currently stands is for prayer book revision. What this amendment is trying to do is to create an official grey area for “alternative forms of worship” to be used on a GC-circumscribed basis that are not necessarily nor inherently intended as part of prayer book revision. As I see it, it’s a retroactive “cover your butt” amendment for things like EOW and Daily Prayer for All Seasons (of which I’ve written in the past). And, of course, the “I Will Bless You” materials in Liturgical Resources 1—and that’s where people start going ballistic in multiple directions…
From where I sit, the point of this amendment is to define what these alternative forms of worship are constitutionally, and to say that they are not currently seen as part of the process of prayer book revision. I, for one, would be very happy to say that EOW and DPFAS exist but are not seen or thought of as replacement for material currently in the prayer book. Chiefly because I don’t think they measure up.
Two of the fellows of the Anglican Communion Institute are quite concerned about this change and see it as a harbinger of great changes to the church and its polity. They see this as the end of the former way of doing things and as the start of a new kind of church with new rules. I think that they are reading way to much into this and are neglecting the context, particularly the explanation. I’m quite sure in response they’d question my naiveté at such a reading.
Bottom line is, of course, do we need an Official Gray Area? I understand the desire for constitutional CYA and provision of a space to point to for the blessing liturgies. But I don’t know if this is the best way to go about doing it.
My own feeling—as I’ve said before—is that the period of reception for any given edition of the BCP ought to be measured in generations rather than years. I do think that waiting four hundred years is too long. But we also need to give the book time to percolate and work amongst the church. The energies are still stewing.
Another issue concerns the SCLM itself. Are we a commission that creates work for itself, then—on passage of the resolutions—insists that we only take up what Convention asks us too? That’s a genuine question. For me, I’d love to see a return to Prayer Book Studies where the SCLM and others are actively studying aspects of our liturgies—use, pastoral value, perception within the church, perception from various bodies outside the church, re-examination of the tradition and history in light of these discussions, etc. Perhaps a Gray Area is best accomplished through those means.
There’s a lot up in the air. A great deal of the future direction of many of these matters depend on how the TREC resolutions develop. Will the SCLM be one of the last CCABs standing? Will it change is shape and purpose? Will it too be swept away altogther? I suppose we’ll all have to wait for the summer to see…