Tag Archives: SCLM

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.

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.

Prayer Book Revision Discussion

For those Episcopalians who don’t pay close attention to General Convention and its doings, I’ll repeat again two key items that were passed there and that the church will be wrestling with in the coming years.

  • 2015-A169: “Requires the Standing Commission on Liturgy and 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.”
  • 2015-D060: “Establish a Process for the Revision of the Hymnal 1982”

Both prayer book and hymnal revision are in the cards and, given the reception of A Great Cloud of Witnesses (“made available” rather than being authorized), I think it’s safe to say that further Calendar revision will also be part of the package.

Prayer book revision was not one of the resolutions that the SCLM sent to Convention. That resolution (as you can see from its high number) was drafted there in committee. The past chair of the SCLM, Dr. Ruth Meyers, dean at CDSP and professor of liturgy before that, is very much in favor of prayer book revision and, I believe, was one of those who spoke in favor of it in committee at General Convention. I think it is fair to say that hers has been one of the stronger voices in favor of revision sooner rather than later. Therefore, it is very significant that she is hosting a forum today at CDSP entitled “Imagining a New Prayer Book: A Forum with the Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers.” For those who can’t make it to California today, the event will be streamed on the web.

I don’t know what Ruth will talk about today, but my expectation is that she, as one of the key players who will be influencing the formation of the new prayer book, will lay out a vision for what items need to be changed and what items she believes must be addressed. I imagine that she will be offering an agenda for what we on the newly reformed SCLM will be considering this triennium as we seek to put together the plan to present to General Convention.

I have worked with Dr. Meyers on the SCLM for the past three years; I have a great deal of respect for her. There are many areas in which we agree, but there are also a significant number of areas in the fields of liturgy and theology where we disagree.

As a result, this forum is very much worth paying attention to.

I won’t be able to tune in; I’ll be driving the girls to ballet and back during the appointed time. If it is archived, I certainly hope to provide some commentary on it at a later point.

Thinking about the SCLM

I received a fairly annoyed note today from a regular reader and correspondent; in a nutshell, the message expressed a deep concern about whether the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music (SCLM) was actually listening to what the church wants or needs. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked something like this.

Indeed, M sometimes tells me that much of the work of the SCLM that I do seems like a waste of time as most people within the church ignore what it produces.

In a certain sense, this is generally not an issue. That is, in most triennia, it appears that we on the SCLM offer resolutions that create work for us to do, then we go and do that work that we have decided ought to be done and—as M points out—most of the church yawns and goes on with their usual business.

But things are changing.

Thanks to two resolutions, (A169-2015 and D060-2015) we are now considering both hymnal revision and prayer book revision at the same time.

As a result, the way that we listen to the church, hear the church, and seek to implement the will of the church becomes much more important with regard to these two areas than, say, when we decide that liturgies for creation need tweaking.

What are your thoughts? What is the best way for “the church” writ large to interact with the SCLM? What’s the best way for us to communicate with you? What would help you have an authentic voice in the process and to help us hear what the body of the church is asking for? The SCLM does have a blog—is that useful? Is it sufficient? Let me know. I can’t promise anything, of course, but I would like to hear your thoughts…

A Great Slog of Witnesses

A few days ago I finally pushed “send” and A Great Cloud of Witnesses (GCW) went off to the chair and co-chair of the SCLM for them to steward along the path to publication.

You have no idea how happy I am to have that out the door… Over the years, I’ve begun categorizing the various projects that I have agreed to do. The most difficult are those I refer to as “tar babies.” These are the projects that I’m not particularly fond of, but must do, and that seem to soak up a disporportionate amount of time and emotional energy, preventing me from working on anything else. GCW was one of these. But the bulk of the work is now complete as it moves on to other stages.

A few thoughts at this point in the process…

1. I’m still not particularly happy with GCW, but I do think that it was the best we could do at this time. As I’ve said before, if it were up to me, the calendar would consist largely of martyrs, monks, mystics, and Marian feasts (the 4M kalendar….). But it’s not up to me, and it’s not my calendar. Starting from Holy Women, Holy Men and the responses we received from that, I think this was the best possible option, though, given where the church is.

2. I’m more convince than ever that “first” is not a theological category. Indeed, “first-ness” may well be a good litmus test for determining if a given calendar is eschatologically-oriented or historically-oriented. GCW, like HWHM before it, is primarily oriented towards history. Is that in keeping with the classic Christian conception of a sanctoral calendar? No. Is that in keeping with where the Episcopal Church is right now? Well—yes… But hopefully this will change at some point in the future.

3. I think the use of expanded commons will be a true benefit for two reasons. First, I think we had some fairly tortured readings in HWHM because we didn’t want to re-use readings and we wanted them to be appropriate. When you’ve got 287 lesser feasts to work with this becomes quite challenging! Giving a good range for local communities to select from makes far more sense. Second, it becomes much more clear that these readings are not now (and have never been!) intended for use with the Daily Office. The readings for Lesser Feasts & Fasts have always been for Eucharists, not for the Office.

4. There are a lot of really interesting people and true saints in GCW. I am glad that the church is being exposed to them. It is a decent starting place for exploring our history as Episcopalians and Christians as well as a means for getting to know those who are presently interceding with and for us.

5. We’ll see how the tags get used. There are two different kinds of tags in the resource–liturgical use tags and biographical tags. The liturgical use tags are those that indicate what liturgical materials to use for Eucharistic celebrations; these are balanced between the sanctoral commons and the Propers for Various Occasions. I do hope we’ll begin to see an expanded awareness and use of the later. The biographical tags are tags intended to help readers categorize and connect figures and groups of figures together. These identify things like ordination status, church community, time, place, and also charisms and virtues represented by the variou figures. Clearly, these will be more useful in an electronic version of the resource than a print publication—we’ll see what comes of that.

Hopefully, posting will become more regular now that this is done!

Calendar Update

The resolution on “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” came before the House of Deputies yesterday. It passed, but with a very interesting amendment.

Rather than being “authorized”, convention will now “make [GCW] available for publication and distribution by individuals and in congregations and other church groups for devotional or catechetical use, or use in public worship subject to the provision for optional commemorations on page 18 of the Book of Common Prayer.

As I read this, GCW will then have the same force as “Daily Prayer for All Seasons”. Which is to say—not a whole lot. Essentially, it will be an entirely optional supplementary book. Any one concerned about its “criteria for inclusion” no longer needs to be concerned because it is not actually official this way.

This will mean some revision to the text of the document; part of the premise of GCW was that the official sanctoral calendar of the Episcopal Church would be formally established as the Holy Days as designated in sections 1-3 of the Calndar section of the BCP. If GCW is available, then it has no legislative force and references to this designation will need to be removed.

I must say—this is a very interesting development! It raises some questions which will have to be both thought through carefully and interpreted.

1. This means that Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2006 still remains the official sanctoral document of the Episcopal Church. It is now back on the digital shelves of Church Publishing in hardcover form; we need a digital form as well.

2. The official criteria for sanctity in the Episcopal Church are the criteria listed on 491-3 in LFF2006. Page 492 includes the line: “Baptism is, therefore, a necessary prerequisite for inclusion in the Calendar.”

3. As the resolution currently stands, GCW is “made available” but Weekday Eucharistic Propers 2015 is still “authorize[d] for trial use.” So one-half of the two-part work is authorized, the other simply made available. Interesting… Will WEP2015 make sense as a standalone work? I suppose we’ll see.

4. The big question from where I sit is what happens to the related resolutions, i.e., those pertaining to the revised collects and to the Big List of Additions. Are they still directed towards GCW only? If so, what are the implications of those if they are only being “made available”?

5. In line with the “made available” designation, I’m now not entirely sure what we will have to report back to GC79 as directed in the last few resolves. It seems to me that this may now be as simple as “yes, it’s available…”

We’ll see how things proceed from here. Since it has been amended, this resolution will need to go back to the House of Bishops and be voted upon again. Of course, if that doesn’t happen—if it doesn’t get re-consented—then the discussion is done and LFF2006 remains our official sanctoral resource with no further direction for the SCLM to do anything with the structure of the Calendar. (Which would not be a bad thing in my book.)

Talking Saints with The Collect Call

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to chat with Brendan O’Sullivan-Hale, one of the hosts of “The Collect Call” podcast about “Great Cloud of Witnesses” and the Episcopal Church’s multiple perspectives on sanctity. As I’ve said before, I love the way Brendan and Holli engage the collects of the prayer book in a warm and practical way; if you’re looking for discussion starters for Christian Education or Adult Forums, this podcast would be a great choice.

We had a great chat although I hardly let Brendan get a word in edge-wise for all my ranting and rambling. It lays out much of what was going through my mind as the Calendar subcommittee was working on the transition from Holy Women Holy Men towards A Great Cloud of Witnesses.

Of course, I’ll be interested to see what happens with GCW; I believe they will (or may already have by the time you read this…) be taking up GCW this morning in legislative committee. I have no idea what will come out of that process. (But I’m keeping on top of things by following Bishop Dan Martins [@BishSpringfield] on Twitter as he’s live-tweeting the meetings!) I’ll say again as I’ve said before, I think Great Cloud of Witnesses is the best way forward given what we had and parameters we were given to work with. Is it my vision of a satisfactory sanctoral resource for the church? No. But the only way to accomplish what we truly need to do is to go back to the drawing board and the Baptismal Covenant and the sacraments and go from there—not putting a band-aid on a bolted-on addition to Lesser Feasts & Fasts

But—without further ado, caveats, or framing—here’s the interview!: A Great Cloud of Holy Women, Holy Men

The Liturgical Addendum

My sincere apologies to the General Convention translation crew… The appendix to the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music (SCLM) resolutions has now been made public. It can be found here (in a 264 page pdf…). The first section contains the materials on same-sex blessings. A second part contains the material generated by my Calendar Subcommittee. Of that part there are three major sections. The third contains resources for Honoring God in Creation.

The first section of the Calendar material is the revised collects. These go from page 152 to page 171. Generally, what you’ll find here is a move away from the “biographical collect.” Introduced in the 1980 revision of Lesser Feasts & Fasts, the biographical collect tends to functionally serve as a mini-homily in prayer form. It tends not to formally be a collect as a collect is one sentence long; these tend to be two sentences. Instead of stressing elements of biography or profession, the new collects try to foreground virtues and charisms. That is, the new revisions attempt a deeper connection with Baptism and the Baptismal Covenant.  Baptism doesn’t give a person a profession. That is, one isn’t baptized as a lawyer or a musician or a teacher. Rather, Baptism opens us to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the virtues of Christ. As a result, most of the revisions attempt to reflect this theological understanding grounded in Baptism, and focus on charisms and virtues rather than accidents of profession and biography.

The second section contains the prefatory material for “A Great Cloud of Witness” (GCW) which introduces a new paradigm for understanding the materials formerly submitted as Holy Women, Holy Men.  This material goes from page 172 to page 217. I’ll expand on this later, but there are two central shifts here. The first central shift is from the Calendar as martyrology to the Calendar as necrology. That is, the SCLM is not saying that the people listed in GCW are saints. Rather, these are people whom we recognize as part of our broader family of faith who have helped the Episcopal Church understand who it is and how it proclaims the Gospel in this time and place. Saints are not declared by a “central committee” but by local communities who may choose all, some, or none of the folks listed in GCW as they discern holiness and sanctity within the bounds of a prayer-book faith. The second central shift is from propers to commons. Instead of trying to assign appropriate propers—Scripture readings in particular—to every single person in the book, the Commons of Saints have been greatly expanded and the individual entries suggest which Commons would be appropriate sources from which to select biblical readings if a given individual is deemed to be a saint by the local worshipping community.

The third section is a companion to GCW. Entitled “Weekday Eucharistic Propers: 2015”, its presence underscores the fact that all of the contents of GCW are entirely optional. Thus, it presents three among many licit options for celebrating weekday Eucharists by 1) collecting the options for following the Temporal Cycle together into a coherent structure, 2) giving greater visibilty to the sadly neglected Various Occasions, and 3) giving options for eucharistically celebrating saints as determined by the local community. This material goes from pages 218 to page 228.

I will be saying more about these materials as time allows and as you ask questions for clarification!

SCLM Resolution on Article X

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…

SCLM Resolutions Posted

The resolutions put forth by the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music (of which I am a member) have been posted on the official General Convention Blue Book site. In all fairness, what has been posted is as much a teaser as the full material. Our resolutions have been posted; the appendices have not—and we have a lot of appendicies and the core of the material resides in those!

So—the actionable items are now out in the public sphere, much of the content to be considered is not yet out there. Some of it has appeared at various points around the web. For instance, much of the material that appears in “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” has been posted here in draft form as it was being developed and also, in a more formal state, on the SCLM’s own blog.

Although I did discuss the collect revision process in this post and included my revision for the feast of St. Bede, there are an additional 80 or so collect revisions not yet published.

In addition to the material around the Calendar, the other material that will no doubt draw much comment is the material around same-sex blessings. Again—the resolutions are posted, the material is not. It will be—but you’ll have to be patient until they do appear…