By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
The House of Deputies overwhelmingly approved a comprehensive $8 million revision to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer in what some see as a first step toward adding same-sex marriage rites and feminine language for God.
The vote, counted by orders, passed by a margin of 63 to 30 (with 17 divided) among clergy. The lay deputy vote ran 69 in favor to 26 against (with 15 divided). Resolution A068 now moves to the House of Bishops for consideration.
“We have realized that God has moved us over time toward greater sensitivity to how we use words in this church,” said the Very Rev. Samuel Chandler, co-chair of the Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169.
Friday’s vote advances a process that began in 2015 when General Convention passed a resolution seeking a plan for prayer book revision. The revision, if passed by General Convention, is expected to take 12 years and is expected to cost $1.9 million in the first triennium.
Debate began July 6, lasted about one hour, and resumed the next morning. Remarks were divided about equally between proponents and opponents.
Opponents cited a variety of concerns, ranging from inadequate plans for translating draft revisions to the prospect of alienating a younger generation that respects traditional language. A revision that strips away masculine imagery for God could take a toll, warned Mary Jones, a lay deputy from the Diocese of Albany: “Do you know what impact masculine imagery of God has for a community whose fathers are largely absent?”
But advocates said the benefits of revising the 39-year-old edition would outweigh drawbacks.
“This resolution provides for cultural access, gender access, and traditional access,” said the Rev. Debra Bennett, deputy from Ohio. The revision will “provide an avenue for all us to pray in a common language.”
In parliamentary action leading up to Saturday’s debate, floor initiatives were evaluated by they might affect one of the major questions at issue: will a revised prayer book contain same-sex marriage rites and other language that casts same-sex marriage as holy?
One amendment, approved by margin of 65 to 35 percent, could be seen as a victory for opponents of adding those rites to a revised prayer book. It ensures that two representatives of a Latin American region (Province IX), where opposition to same-sex marriages runs strong, join the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in undertaking a comprehensive revision.
That decision came on the heels of a July 6 dustup in the House of Bishops, in which Honduran Bishop Lloyd Allen said the convention has not been providing adequate translation services for bishops and deputies who do not speak English.
Another proposed amendment caused a stir among advocates for same-sex marriage rites to a revised prayer book. The amendment called for the revision to proceed “in accordance with our existing ecumenical commitments.”
Deputy Christopher Hillak of Northern Indiana rose to inquire “if that ties us to not be able to make change based on how we think God is moving in our church.” Another deputy asked whether same-sex marriage rites would need to be excluded from the revision in order to honor ecumenical commitments.
The amendment was changed to substitute mindful of for in accordance with. The voice vote carried overwhelmingly after an explanation that the change would give the Episcopal Church an option to add same-sex rites and not be limited by ecumenical partners’ doctrine of marriage and their policies.