Quite a lot has been written on the legislation that was passed at the most recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church. What tends to get overlooked is the daily worship offered at General Convention. As a veteran of eight of these conventions, it has been interesting for me to reflect on the worship and some of the changes that I have perceived in our General Convention worship at the 2015 General Convention at Salt Lake City.
Excellent Celebrants and Preachers
First, I must say that the Celebrants and Preachers were quite good. I particularly loved it when the Presiding Bishop celebrated in Spanish. She has a clear and mellifluous voice when she speaks Spanish that enhances the worship. And, of course, Bishop Curry, our new Presiding Bishop knocked it out of the ball park with his closing sermon.
Prayer Book and Alternate Liturgies: Has Oliver Cromwell won the day?
There has been an increasing trend to have more prayer book liturgies. In 2006 and 2009, alternative rites and “rather creative liturgies” were the norm. Few Eucharists from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer were held. I understand that quite a number of deputies complained, and the planners responded by providing more services from the Prayer Book.
In 2015, the daily Eucharists alternated the Eucharistic prayer between one of the four Rite II services from the 1979 Prayer Book and alternate liturgies. It seems that Oliver Cromwell has won the day. During the Commonwealth, when Oliver Cromwell ruled, the Directory for Public Worship replaced the Book of Common Prayer as the guide for worship in seventeenth-century England. Rather than having “common prayer” from one prayer book, the Puritans suggested guidelines for worship. It seems that we are moving from common prayer as a church to common elements in our liturgies as a church.
What happened to Rite I?
Glaring in its absence was any traditional language Eucharist. Sorry, but if you prefer Rite I, you have been totally disenfranchised from the worship at General Convention.
I think this omission was unwise, not because I am a curmudgeon — although I do admit to having been formed by the 1928 Prayer Book — but because omitting a Rite I liturgy ignores not just the older parishioners who prefer Rite I, but also the growing number of young adults in their 20s and 30s who are looking for tradition and rootedness and who also prefer traditional language liturgies.
The Prayers of the People
The Prayers of the People actually drove me crazy. The Prayers of the People were individually provided by people online. I know I should have thought this was a wonderful idea, but I don’t. I found the prayers to be very self-referential, too self-actualization-concerned, too metaphorical, and theologically thin. We tended to pray a lot more for and about us than for the Church throughout the world, those in government, and so on. We used to do this writing of our own prayers at summer camp when I was a teenager. This sort of thing is okay around a campfire but not for a General Convention Eucharist, and certainly not at everyone of them. Again, I suspect that I am in the minority here.
There were no worship service bulletins printed on paper. I am not too concerned about cutting down trees, since most paper is produced from trees grown for that purpose. Nevertheless, I applaud the shift from paper and from unreadable projection of the liturgies to having everything on our iPads. Canon Michael Barlow did an excellent job with making this the first “paperless General Convention.” I didn’t mind at all holding up my iPad to follow along with the worship.
And, of course, I greatly appreciated receiving real bread at the daily Eucharists. It is both more emotionally, aesthetically, and spiritually satisfying to me to receive bread rather than wafers.
Overall, the worship was much improved over recent years. In conventions past, the daily Eucharists were far more idiosyncratic. While attempting to show the breadth of liturgical and cultural expression present in the various parts of our church, they were too diverse, and tended to leave the vast majority of people “out of the loop.” In my view, the daily worship at General Convention ought to be a celebration of our common life rather than a laundry list of the different styles of worship possible under the name of the Episcopal Church. But for the glaring omission of Rite I and the less than satisfying Prayers of the People, overall I think the crafters of the liturgy did a commendable job.
The featured image of the Theodicy Jazz Collective was taken by Matt Townsend.