Bishops: Plan for BCP Revision

By Zachary Guiliano

The House of Bishops deliberated Tuesday afternoon on resolutions A067 (“Revise Book of Common Prayer for Revised Common Lectionary [second reading]”), A169 (“Establish a Process for the Revision of the Book of Common Prayer 1979”), and C010 (“Invite All to Holy Communion”).

The first resolution passed swiftly with no discussion and will likely have minimal effect on the liturgical life of most Episcopal Church congregations. It simply proposed continuing use of the lectionary in BCP 1979, rather than the RCL, during Holy Week.

The latter two resolutions, however, are likely to have sweeping effects on the church’s liturgy and theology in the next several years. Wholesale prayer-book revision has not been undertaken since the 1970s, when it proved to be divisive.

Resolution A169 passed the House of Bishops almost unanimously and with no debate. It recommends only that the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music prepare “a plan for the comprehensive revision of the Book of Common Prayer.”

Bishop Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio was the only one to speak. He argued that prayer book revision is already “happening all around us,” through piecemeal approaches to new rites. He recommended a more intentional process that “commits us to a real conversation.”

C010 dealt with the issue of giving Communion to the unbaptized, a common practice in many Episcopal churches, despite its uncanonical status. It is often identified as an act of hospitality and radical welcome.

In 2012, the House of Bishops passed a resolution noting its disagreement with this theology, while acknowledging a difference in practice. In 2009, the House of Bishops theology committee ruled it out as well. At that time, as Bishop Greg Brewer of Central Florida noted, “The committee was universal in its rejection of that sentiment: clergy, lay people, theologians, bishops.”

This new resolution would not approve the practice but appoint a task force to study the issue.

Several bishops spoke in favor of the resolution, especially if it were amended to ensure that members would hold a variety of theological views. Bishop W. Andrew Waldo of Upper South Carolina had proposed the amendment to the resolution, which Bishop Shannon Johnston of Virginia heartily supported: “I would say my experiences have led me to be wary that task forces can in fact be de facto works of advocacy” unless diversity is built in.

Bishop Matthew Gunter of Fond du Lac spoke most forcefully in opposition to the resolution. He said he understood why some congregations practiced “open communion” but he believed that the practice is theologically unsound, “not particularly radical, and only superficially hospitable.”

He asked the bishops why they would pass the work to a task force: “Do we want to surrender our role as pastors every time a doctrine is challenged?”

In the end, Bishop Waldo’s amendment to the resolution was defeated, as was the resolution.

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