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Bishops Kill Comprehensive BCP Revision

The House of Bishops voted Tuesday not to revise the 1979 Book of Common Prayer but to forge ahead with a new “liturgical revision” project that will include “creation of alternative texts to offer the wider church.”

On a voice vote that sounded unanimous, bishops approved a complete overhaul of Resolution A068, the prayer book revision plan that passed the House of Deputies on Friday. The bishops’ vote for a radically different approach will take effect only if a conference committee between the two houses can negotiate an agreement.

The bishops’ alternative emerged through an amendment offered by Texas Bishop Andy Doyle. His plan calls for memorializing the 1979 book “as a Prayer Book of the church preserving the psalter, liturgies, The Lambeth Quadrilateral, Historic Documents, and Trinitarian Formularies ensuring its continued use.”

“It just made a lot of sense to leave it this way,” Doyle told his colleagues. “What I heard yesterday from many bishops in this house was a desire to continue to use the 1979 but not let that hold us back.”

The bishops’ resolution would create a Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision that will report to General Convention in 2021. It would encourage bishops to engage in experimentation with worshiping communities, and it urges all dioceses to establish liturgical commissions to collect liturgical resources for sharing with the wider church. The plan calls for canons to be modified to allow for their adoption.

The substitution seemed to reassure the many bishops who expressed anxiety July 9 at the prospect of fumbling or doing harm in a grand revision project.

The amended version of A068 “honors what is good and creates a space for innovation,” said Bishop Rob Wright of Atlanta, who had spoken against the deputies’ revision plan on Monday. “I think it threads that needle.”

The text of the amendment includes a nod to Doyle’s promise that the initiative would build on the 1979 prayer book’s tradition, not replace it.

“Liturgical and Prayer Book revision will continue in faithful adherence to the historic rites of the Church Universal as they have been received and interpreted within the Anglican tradition of 1979 Book of Common Prayer,” the bishops’ resolution says, “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 new initiative would also open the door to a host of new resources, all vying for the imprimatur of the Episcopal Church. The resolution calls for “our liturgical revision [to] utilize inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity.”

What form the results will take remains to be seen, but that open-ended prospect is apparently part of the idea, at least insofar as “emerging technologies” are prescribed in the resolution.

The resolution calls on the Committee for Program, Budget, and Finance to appropriate $200,000 for the initiative. That’s a fraction of the $1.9 million that the House of Deputies sought for wholesale prayer book revision in the 2019-21 triennium. Even $200,000 might be a tall ask. Before bishops voted, they received a PB&F update saying that no funds had been earmarked for prayer book revision in the next triennium.


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