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RIP: 1979 Book of Common Prayer about to fade into history

RIP: 1979 Book of Common Prayer about to fade into history

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
July 8, 2018

This is the second time in my life I have witnessed the changing of a Book of Common Prayer. Those of us who remember the 1970s, suffered through the Green Book, the Zebra Book, the Trial Liturgy and the Proposed Book of Common Prayer.

On Saturday (July 7), the House of Deputies at General Convention voted on Resolution A068 to begin the long 12-year process of a "comprehensive revision" of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The HOD vote was taken by orders. Lay: 69-yes, 26-no, 15-divided; and Clergy: 63-yes, 30-no, 17-divided. A yes vote of 56 was needed in both orders to pass. Now A068 gets kicked over to the House of Bishops for concurrence before anything can be implemented.

"Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 79th General Convention authorize the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, plus two members or representatives from Province IX of The Episcopal Church, one being a bishop of said province and one being a clergy or lay representative of said province, to undertake comprehensive revision of The Book of Common Prayer 1979 ..."

Even if the HOB concurs, it will take several General Conventions before a newly revised Book of Common Prayer becomes a reality. A new Book of Common Prayer might not see the light of day until 2030.

On the chopping block is language. There is a strong push to strip the BCP of familiar wording and replace it with gender-neutral, inclusive and expressive speech.

In all, there are seven resolutions revolving around the Book of Common Prayer at this General Convention including A068 -- Plan for the Revision of the Book of Common Prayer. Other prayer book resolutions are: A016 -- Trial Use of Creation Care Language in the Baptismal Covenant; A069 -- Engagement with the Book of Common Prayer; A085 -- Trial Use of Marriage Liturgies; B010 -- Concerning the Service of the Church; C031 -- Minimize Gendered Language in the BCP and D036 -- BCP Revision: Inclusive & Expansive Language.

The real fear is that if some postmodern changes make it into the revised Book of Common Prayer such new marriage and baptismal rites as well as inclusive, expressive and gender-neutral language, they will become chiseled in stone and passed on as a part of the expression of and living out of the faith.

Children or converts, whose spiritual teeth are cut using the renewed prayer book, will have no understanding of the 1979 BCP, just as the Gen Xers and Millennials who grew up using the '79 prayer book have no appreciation for the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

Much was lost when the 1979 BCP was created, such as the Bidding Prayer.

Resolution A068 calls for the "faithful adherence to the historic rites of the Church Universal as they have been received and interpreted within the Anglican tradition of Common Prayer and mindful of our existing ecumenical commitments while also providing space for, encouraging the submission of, and facilitating the perfection of rites that will arise from the continual movement of the Holy Spirit among us and growing insights of our Church ..."

The original draft of A068 was a mere three paragraphs. Through the Committee 13 legislative process the Resolution was expanded to 12 paragraphs to accommodate such additions as "That such revision utilize the riches of Holy Scripture and our Church's liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender, physical ability, and ethnic diversity in order to share common worship ...

"That such revision utilize inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity ...

"That such revision shall incorporate and express understanding, appreciation, and care of God's creation ...

"That such revision take into consideration the use of current technologies which provide access to a broad range of liturgical resources ..."

The historical document -- The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral -- is hanging on by just a thread. The revamped prayer book is to keep Resolution 11 of the 1888 Lambeth Conference, but there is no mention of saving the original 1886 Chicago Quadrilateral.

The notation in the '79 BCP states: "While the above form [Resolution 11] of the Quadrilateral was adopted by the House of Bishops, it was not enacted by the House of Deputies, but rather incorporated in a general plan referred for study and action to a newly created Joint Commission on Christian Reunion."

Finally, the new prayer book is to be printed in the four "official" languages of The Episcopal Church: English, Spanish, French and Haitian Creole.

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music's first progress report on the prayer book revision is to be made to the 2021 General Convention.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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