Fifty years ago this month, the Vietnam War was raging, President Nixon had just been re-elected, women and minorities were demanding equal rights — and the Episcopal Church was debating whether to update the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. An effort to introduce gender-neutral references to God in Services for Trial Use was met with editorial ridicule by The Living Church, as seen in an editorial from the December 24, 1972 edition.
The discussion seems both familiar and anachronistic. The use of “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun for an individual person was described as “a ludicrous grammatical error,” but is now a widespread practice — though far from universally accepted. The phrase “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier” did not make it into the 1979 prayer book, but is used in some churches today to substitute for “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
De-sexing Deity In New York
On Nov. 12 last, a joint service of ordination to the diaconate and holy baptism was held at St. Clement’s Church in New York City, with the chief minister and celebrant being the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, Jr., Bishop of New York. As far as was liturgically possible, God was thoroughly emasculated (although the operation was clumsily performed). We have before us a text of the service, which was adapted from Services for Trial Use. An effort was made to eliminate all pronominal and other references to Deity in which God is a he rather than a she or an it. This was done by crossing out the offending words and replacing them with acceptable ones: “overwriting” is what the reformers call it in an explanatory rubric stating that this has been done “to eliminate sexist references,” and also that it has been done “with the permission of the ordinary.” The ordinary, of course, is Bp. Moore.
The overwriting consists of such things as replacing “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” with “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.” “God’s Kingdom” is de-sexed into “God’s Realm.” It is noteworthy that the overwriters did not make it read “Creatrix, Redemptrix, and Sanctifrix” or “God’s Queendom.” But in New York, unlike the Kansas City of the song in “Oklahoma,” they may not yet have “gone about as fur as they can go.”
In “Let us pray to Almighty God for his blessing on all men” the overwriters replace “his” with “God’s” and “men” with “people,’ and thus passim. Well, not quite passim. They missed a few “sexist references” in the unreformed text. At one point, trying to de-sex the language, they stumbled into a ludicrous grammatical error by changing “his” to “their,” but not making the necessary change in the number of the antecedent, in the supplication “That you will lead every member of your Church in his (‘their’) particular vocation and ministry to serve you….”
A bishop who will allow the overwriting of the church’s liturgy to eliminate such “sexist references” as God as Father, God as he, and God as King, should have no scruples about overwriting the holy scriptures, because, of course, they are the source of all this pernicious sexism in the Christian faith.
0 Lord/Lady, how long?
In the December 31, 1972 edition (TLC was a weekly then), the magazine followed up by urging priests to disregard any mandate from their bishop to substitute STU for BCP.
Are Bishops Above the Law?
A TROUBLED parish priest, under orders from his bishop to discontinue the use of the Prayer Book rite of Holy Communion until further notice, has asked us to offer an opinion on this question: Is a rector bound to obey such an order by his bishop and to use only the services in Services for Trial Use (commonly known as the Green Book)? We answer as follows.
The bishop is without authority to issue such an order; therefore the rector is not obligated to obey it.
The Book of Common Prayer is the only official service book of the Episcopal Church. The authorized trial rites may be used, as directed by the bishop, for the experimental purpose implied by the term “trial use.” But the General Convention has not authorized the replacement of the Prayer Book by the Green Book. It could not do so, without completing the constitutional process for revising the Book of Common Prayer. This it has not yet done. It contemplates doing so eventually, and the trial rites are preliminary and preparatory to a new edition of the Book of Common Prayer. They are by no means “previews” of what is to come. …
As for the priest’s obligation to obey his bishop… The bishop’s rule is to be according to the canons of the church. These canons give him no authority to banish the Book of Common Prayer from any parish. …
To our knowledge, the bishops of two dioceses, and there may be more, have taken the regrettable action December 31, 1972 of banishing the Book of Common Prayer from normal use in their dioceses. We do not judge their motives, but their actions are properly subject to judgment by their brethren. In our judgment their decrees that the Prayer Book rite of the Eucharist be discontinued until further notice are unlawful, unwarranted, and unserviceable to the liberty which is ours in Christ Jesus.
If the episcopate in the Episcopal Church may be called monarchial, it is a constitutional monarchy. The constitutional monarch of Britain or Denmark may not order his subject to violate the law of the land. Neither may the constitutional monarch, the diocesan bishop, order the rector and parish to violate the law of the church.
That’s the way it is, as we see it.
The editor of The Living Church, who presumably wrote or approved the unsigned editorials, was the Rev. Carroll Simcox — who left the Episcopal Church in 1982 and joined the Continuing Anglican movement. He died in 2002.