Governance in the Episcopal church is unique. One of its important aspects is General Convention, a once every three year gathering that serves as a bicameral legislative body for the church. The two houses of General Convention are the House of Bishops, and the House of Delegates. The first General Convention was in 1785, two years before the formation of the U.S. Congress. William White, the first Bishop of Pennsylvania presided over the first General Convention. The 79th General Convention convenes this year in Austin, Texas from July 5-13th.
Among the hundreds of resolutions that will be discussed and voted on this year are a several concerning the revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. There are two major options on the table. Option #1 details a 12 year process of comprehensive revision to the prayer book culminating in a vote to adopt a new Book of Common Prayer at General Convention 2030. Option #2 calls for extensive research into how the current (1979) prayer book is actually being used, and the development of resources to help parishes better “live into” the spirituality of the current prayer book. Option #2 also calls for translations of the current BCP into French and Haitian Creole, and for a better translation into Spanish (the current one is not very good).
There are also various proposals for “surgical changes” to the current prayer book. One of the most noteworthy is a resolution to insert the rite for same-sex marriage into the prayer book after the current marriage rite, and to change the definition of marriage in the catechism at the back of the BCP. The rite for same-sex marriage was approved for trial use at the 2015 General Convention, and has been used in most of the dioceses in the Episcopal Church with the express permission of the diocesan bishop. Bishops who do not allow their priests to use the same-sex marriage rite are supposed to make some provision for same-sex couples in their diocese to be married (i.e. asking another diocese to provide clergy, etc.). Inserting the same-sex marriage rite into the current prayer book would make it uniformly available to all, and would circumvent the authority of bishops to approve or disapprove its use.
I am not going to predict how these resolutions to change the Book of Common Prayer will ultimately pan out. I will say that I am convinced by arguments against the complete revision of the prayer book. I think it is true that most Episcopalians, including myself, have not fully internalized the deep spirituality and practice that is encoded in our prayer book. It would behoove the Church to spend some more time opening up the riches of this truly remarkable book. Of course, the prayer book isn’t perfect. That is one reason there are approved supplemental materials like the alternative translation of the Nicene Creed that that we have implemented at Holy Apostles every other week with Bishop Daniel’s permission.
I will try to stay abreast of what is going on in Austin, and keep you informed of developments of interest. I ask that you prayer for the Holy Spirit to guide all the delegates and bishops of our wonderful church as they convene for their important and difficult work.
If you want to browse the resolutions that will be taken up at General Convention click here.
You can also keep up with General Convention news at The Episcopal Herald.