If you look at the Books of Common Prayer that are in the racks on each pew (the red book with a cross on it), you will notice that most of them are very worn in one particular section, a little over one-third of the way through the book. In fact many of them will open right to that section—Holy Eucharist, Rite II. That’s the part of the book that has been used the most—not just by this congregation (before we printed everything in service leaflets), but by almost every congregation in the Episcopal Church. There is some really good stuff in the rest of the book, though. Recently, I’ve had several occasions to root around in the back of the Book of Common Prayer in the section entitled “An Outline of the Faith commonly called the Catechism” (page 844). Did you know we had a catechism? As many of you know, a catechism is a sort of teaching outline, meant to give a briefly summary of the Christian teaching. But, some aren’t so brief. One of the catechisms I know of from a different Christian tradition is almost 1000 pages long. Do not fear, the catechism in the Book of Common Prayer is only 19 pages long. According to its introduction, “it is not meant to be a complete statement of belief and practice; rather, it is a point of departure…a brief summary of the Church’s teaching for an inquiring stranger.” You don’t have be a stranger to be inquiring, however. There is some good stuff in the Catechism, and in the rest of the Book of Common Prayer. Don’t take my word for it. Why don’t you take one home and explore what’s in there. Some of you might already have a Book of Common Prayer at home. This is commendable, and I hope that it sits next to your well-used Bible. If you have spent some time with both books, you have probably discovered that the Book of Common Prayer is chalk full of Biblical quotes and allusions. If you don’t have a Book of Common Prayer, take one! Because we use service leaflets most of the time, it would be ok if you took one of the pew books home you to read and pray on your own. We can always replace it, if you decide to keep it. What is irreplaceable is an inquiring mind, and a heart open to God.
Last week I mentioned two historic actions of the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church—a plan for liturgical revision, and the reunion with the Episcopal diocese of Cuba. This week I want to fill in some of the other important things that happened. As always, it was a two-week frenzy of worship, legislation, discussion, and debate. What distinguished it from recent General Conventions, however, from the reports of many attendees, was the spirit of grace and the evangelistic energy that characterized the gathering. Here are some of the highlights:
The Way of Love: Our Presiding Bishop. Michael Curry, has introduced The Way of Love, a way for Episcopalians to think about their lives of discipleship in terms of a rule of life. You will be hearing more about this in the coming weeks and months, and you can read more about it here.
Evangelism, Reconciliation, and Creation Care: The budget for the national church reflects our priorities of evangelism, racial reconciliation, and creation care. Especially worth noting is a significant investment in church planting as well as redeveloping struggling congregations.
Responding to the Concerns of Women: The House of Bishops heard the stories of many women who had experienced harassment or serious discrimination while working in Episcopal churches and other institutions, and committed itself to making concrete changes in the way we work as a church. Some of these changes that have already been implemented include alterations to the disciplinary process and the creation of task forces to address compensation differences, pensions, child care, the call process, and other personnel issues. This is really important work.
Responding to Impaired Clergy: The Episcopal Church is strengthening its screening processes for ordination as well as creating intervention procedures for clergy who suffer from addictions.
Same-Sex Marriage in Traditionalist Dioceses: Before this Convention, there were eight Dioceses whose bishops prohibited same-sex marriage from taking place anywhere in the diocese. Another compromise resolution passed by this convention makes it possible for congregations within these dioceses who wish to offer the rite of marriage to same-sex couples to do so, under the pastoral supervision of another bishop. This is a form of what is usually called DEPO: Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight. Precisely how these arrangements are lived out in the eight affected dioceses will become more clear in time. In the meantime, I ask your prayers for all those who will be discerning how to move forward, even as I rejoice that our church has found a way to walk together in unity.
Trial Use Liturgy: In the absence of immediate and total prayer book revision (see my note last week), General Convention did pass a resolution which allows for trial use of our well beloved Rite II service with a number of changes to introduce more expansive and gender neutral language into this prayer. This liturgy is not perfect, and will have to have some rough edges knocked off of it. It is unclear when and how this will be implemented, but you will be hearing more about this.
The 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church ended this past Thursday evening. Around 400 pieces of legislation passed through the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops in just 9 days. A number of significant things occurred., many more than I can report on here. I will just highlight two.
Probably the most significant, and historic development from this General Convention was the readmission of the Diocese of Cuba back into the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church in the United States founded the Cuban diocese as a missionary endeavor in 1901. But, in the fallout of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the tensions of the Cold War, the House of Bishops voted to end its relationship with the Cuban diocese in 1966. For over fifty years, Cuban Episcopalians remained faithful during difficult and isolating times. So this past week, after a lengthy process, both houses welcomed the Diocese of Cuba back into the Episcopal church. It was very emotional to watch (I was watching a livestream on the internet), as the both Houses voted unanimously to readmit the Cuban Diocese, and welcome the Cuban bishop and delegation into the Convention. The House of Bishops repented of the divisive actions of its forbear, and Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado del Carpio, the current bishop of Cuba (a remarkable woman, and a strong leader.) spoke passionately about how the Cuban diocese has always been family with the wider Episcopal church, and now that family is reunited in mutual bonds of love and respect. How good and how pleasant it is when sisters and brothers dwell together in unity across borders, despite politics, united by Jesus Christ.
Another significant development from General Convention is the adoption of a unique plan for creating and authorizing more diverse liturgies for our Church while continuing to use and treasure the current Book of Common Prayer. The plan commits the church to continue with the same theological commitments that have shaped our current prayer book, while also making room for expansive imagery and language for God and humans. You can read the resolution online (link in the announcement email). It represents an impressive compromise. There were some in the church who wanted a wholesale revision of the Book of Common Prayer. This plan was extremely costly (around 10 million dollars), time consuming (at least 12 years), and very divisive. There were others who did not want any change at all for fear that the church’s core theology and mission would be changed in the process of revision. The compromise bill makes room for revision, while affirming and protecting the foundational aspects of our faith and common worship: things like the Nicene & Apostles Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer, and baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Also, the original plan to revise the Prayer Book put a lot of power for revision in the hands of a relatively small national committee. The compromise bill gives authority to each diocese under the bishop to be a part of envisioning what the church’s liturgy will look like together. It is a more grassroots process than before. At the same time, the Book of Common Prayer 1979 will not change. It will still be the standard for worship and doctrine in the Episcopal Church.
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.
Today, June 24th is normally celebrated as the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. It is not celebrated as such today because very few feasts supersede the normal Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day. This is because each Sunday is to be celebrated as a “little” Easter, a feast of Jesus’ Resurrection, and the Resurrection transcends and supersedes every other day and event in the Christian faith. So, we transfer the feast of Jesus’ cousin, John, to tomorrow.
The Gospel of Luke chapter 1 recounts the events surrounding John’s conception and birth in relationship to Jesus’ conception and birth. It is not entirely clear from the Scriptural account when John was born, but it is does seem clear that Elizabeth was pregnant for some months, perhaps five or six, before Mary conceived. So, when the traditional date of Jesus’ birth became December 25, the date of John’s birth was set six months “before” that, on June 24/25.
This scheme also roughly corresponds with the winter and summer solstices. There is a theological reason for this association. It is encapsulated in John’s words about Jesus from the Gospel of John: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This theological statement is symbolically encoded into the Christian calendar. Starting around the Feast of John the Baptist (and the summer solstice), the days get shorter. This represents John’s decrease, until Christmas (and the winter solstice) when Jesus is born and the days begin to get longer, representing Christ’s “increase.”
There are lots of traditional ways to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, as well as a lot of interesting folklore associated with the day. Some of this represents the mixture of Christian customs with customs and celebrations surrounding the summer solstice that originate in northern European pagan traditions. A lot of this stuff is quite interesting, and learning about and recovering some of these customs might be worthwhile, as long as we do not lose sight of the theological significance of the day. Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father , prophesied:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David…
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the
shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace
by the Rev. Steve Snider (Rector 1991-2006)
We began sheltering circa 1994, I think it was, with a group of interdenominational parishes coordinated by an organization called Shepherd’s Place. Sally Griffith, now a parishioner of Holy Trinity Rittenhouse Square, alerted us to the organization and affected the marriage between CHA and Shepherd’s Place. We signed on and a core group of parish volunteers quickly expanded to the numbers you have today. I advocated and Sally was our first coordinator by default! She did a great job. Looking through the 2006 directory, the year I retired from CHA, I count 40+ families or individuals who stepped up to host and prepare bag lunches, drinks, sanitize, etc. Many of them are still helping today. I also remember our earliest volunteers now departed: Win Becker, Sr., Peter Cadwallader, Bonnie Davis, Ray Dyer, Bob & Carole Moore, Vince Raimondo, Harry Sibley, Sandy Smith, Gene Stivers, and I hope for forgiveness for missing anyone else.
Prior to our first year of hosting, we sent flyers around the neighborhood and the result was predictable. Some neighbors called to complain; some anonymously called the township resulting in a surprise inspection, albeit with an apology from the inspector; some called and offered to help. Ultimately, we had many more neighborhood helpers than complainers. After the first couple of years the nay-sayers stopped saying, well, ‘nay’.
When we first began, we were assigned winter months, and thus helped to save many from freezing on the streets. We needed to put a hold on our involvement in 1999 when the parish hall underwent re-construction. When we re-joined the rota for the month of July, which worked well since we had just installed air-conditioning in the parish hall. We have been helping people avoid heat related catastrophes ever since.
At some point in the mid-90’s, Shepherd’s Place ceased to exist and the sheltering operation came under the auspices of Connect-By-Night social services in Upper Darby. Largely, CHA and other parishes hosted the overflow from the permanent shelter located at 63rd & Market in Upper Darby. That shelter was overwhelmed by the first year of its opening. At first our guests – numbering from 25 to 60 people each night – included children, most often with their mothers and sometimes with both parents/partners. In time, the children began to disappear for an assortment of reasons, some of them good.
I am so pleased and give thanks to God that CHA continues in this life-saving outreach. By my count 2018 marks the 24rd year in this sacred endeavor…anyway, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.