Saturday, July 07, 2018

General Convention: Thoughts from the Floor

So, we are gathered again at General Convention. There are many matters, each of them weighty at least to someone. If you’re ever blessed to be at General Convention (and, remember, I believe every Episcopalian should spend at least some time at General Convention as a Visitor, if not otherwise), take time to watch a legislative committee. If you can be there in the first week, watch testimony. There must be an opportunity for public testimony on each and every resolution, and it is often in those committee hearings that the most moving rhetoric is heard, the most moving stories are heard.

And this morning - indeed, even now - we are considering action that could start the process of revising the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. We spent an hour on that yesterday, and will spend another half hour today. That may not sound like a lot of time for something this important, but that’s only the discussion in the House of Deputies. There has been extensive discussion, and opportunity for testimony in the legislative committee, and there will be discussion on this in the House of Bishops. And that, of course, assumes that not changes happen in the process. This starts in Deputies; and if what Deputies send is amended in Bishops, it will come back to Deputies; and if amended again, back to Bishops; and…. Well, really, that’s enough. As Convention adjourns at a fixed time, if it hasn’t been settled before that time, the measure - this or any measure -  fails for lack of completion. That’s not a shock to those of us who’ve been around a while. Each Convention many resolutions - more than 100, certainly - fall this way.

And this morning, we are considering Prayer Book revision. Yesterday many voices were heard. We couldn’t hear everyone who wanted to be heard. We had to extend time just to consider amendments, and we won’t get to all those, either. However, I don’t know that this is necessary, at least to inform the body. I listened yesterday and heard a great deal of emotion, and a number of moving stories. That said, I heard only a few themes.

  • We need to study the Prayer Book so that we can better worship with new and renewed language.
  • We need to study the Prayer Book so that we can better worship with the language we have now.
  • We need to have better translations so that new communities we are encountering can worship in their own languages.
  • We need to have better translations to serve communities already among us not yet worshiping in their own languages.
  • We need to embrace new forms in worship that will be meaningful to our children and our young people.
  • We need to hold to our current forms for our children and our young people.

If it begins to sound to others that the same points are being used to argue both for and against undertaking a process of revision - really, not even a process of revision, but a process to study revision - well, that makes sense, because that’s what it has sounded like to me. To study and understand our liturgy; to have our liturgies in our various languages “to be understanded of the people” among us and who might be among us; to speak to our children and young people: these are matters to be addressed in our liturgy, whether we revise or not.

There was, however, one further theme, and it also cut both ways.

  • I’m afraid if we revise we will lose who we are and who we have been.
  • I’m afraid if we don’t revise we will lose who we are and who we are becoming.

Personally, I think we need to pursue revision. Blessed Marion of Sewanee, when he was teaching me and my seminary about the 1976 first text that would become Book of Common Prayer 1979, he was explicit that the then existing Standing Liturgical Commission thought this a Prayer Book to be revised in 30 years. They thought indeed, as I recall, that no Prayer Book ought to last longer than 30 years, as the language was certain to change.

However, there is a different issue that concerns me, and that is fear. Whether we pursue revision or don’t pursue revision, please God do not let us be driven by fear but called to mission. To understand our liturgy as it is and as it might be; to reach the communities among us and the communities we encounter; to reach out in faith with our children and young people - all of these are wise and necessary, with or without revision. Let us pursue them, then, because God calls us to them, in whatever language.  And if we revise (and, really, sooner or later we will revise), let us, like the wise householder, take both from our old treasure and from our new. I have faith we can be who we’re becoming without losing who we are and who we’ve been. I have faith that if we go forward in faith, doing what is needed to pursue God’s mission, we will have what we need. What we will lose is what no longer services God’s mission. What we gain will be only what serves God’s mission. Who we will be will be who we need to be to pursue God’s mission - which is, really, who we are. Where we fall short is not in who God has empowered us to be, but how clearly we embrace who God has empowered us to be. Our language will change, as it changes constantly; and as a result our liturgy will change. God will not change, and will not change God’s ability to use us for God’s mission.

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