Blogging “Blue”: Liturgy Sundries II

This is the fifteenth in a series of posts on the “Blue” Book for General Convention 2012. Previously, I blogged about Liturgy Sundries I (SCLM). Next up is Ministry Development. Please see my index of General Convention 2012 resolutions, with a summary of the 7WD position on them.

Here are some more resolutions from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. My general sense is that they are giving their best effort to a massive amount of work, and that the scope of their projects is pulling them in too many directions. See the previous post, and then read on.

A058: Continue Addressing Christian Anti-Judaism. Likely vote: YES, though I have some concerns.
There can be no doubt that Christians have not treated Jews well over the last twenty centuries, and bad behavior seems to continue. So I support what this resolution asks, which is that our church “collect, review, and disseminate materials to address Christian anti-Judaism expressed in and stirred by portions of Christian scriptures and liturgical texts.” This will be a helpful resource, and I hope there is an educational component, perhaps suited to parish adult education programs.

While the resolution as it is at present is fine, my concern is found in the report: “Our intention is to prepare commentaries on these problematic passages as an aid to sermon preparation.” As I’ve said before, the SCLM has too much on its plate. There is no reason for General Convention and the commissions of the church to be in the business of preparing commentaries. For one thing, I suspect some decent commentaries already exist for this purpose. If we need new ones, then let’s get a publisher to work on them; this is not a good use of the time of either General Convention or of a commission. So if the scope of work is confined to what the resolution says, I will vote yes. If this will create a massive new project for the SCLM, I will have to vote no.

A059: Revise Book of Common Prayer for Revised Common Lectionary. Likely vote: NO, but I would vote yes if amended.
When the SCLM asked us to switch to the RCL, it seems that they forgot about the Proper Liturgies for Special Days found in the prayer book on pages 263-295. (*cough* quality *cough*). The lessons for the services of Ash Wednesday and Holy Week are printed within the text of the prayer book, so they cannot be modified without a fairly complex process involving two successive General Conventions. On the other hand, the lectionary can be modified by one General Convention, much like a canon change. This resolution would start the process of prayer book revision so that we would use the RCL on these particular liturgies.

If we are going to use the RCL (and I have mixed feelings about that, but let’s stipulate it for this discussion), then I think we should add a rubric to the Proper Liturgies for Special Days saying that congregations may use the RCL for these days, if they so choose, and that the lessons are found in the back of the book. Here’s why. If we pass this resolution as is, then in six years if there’s a tweak to the RCL, then we have to start a new complicated six-year process to edit the prayer book again, rendering printed copies obsolete (again). On the other hand, if we simply incorporate the RCL by reference, we can revise the table of lessons easily, any time. The effect of printed prayer books being out of date would be minimized, since most people use other resources to consult for the RCL rather than flipping to the back of the book anyway.

In other words, we should simply add a note (perhaps on the blank page 296) that “For the Proper Liturgies for Special Days, congregations may use the lessons printed on pages 263-295 or they may use the Revised Common Lectionary as found on pages ___.” That will need to be wordsmithed, but you get the idea. This solution will be less complicated to implement, and it will be easier to maintain going forward. It also preserves the optino to use the original lessons, which seems like a good thing.

A060: Continue Work on Liturgies for Adoption of Children. Likely vote: YES.
This one continues a project begun in 2006 to do what the resolution’s title says. I’m not certain why it’s taken so long, or why exactly we need these, but I’m willing to give the SCLM the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps I’m just feeling bad for all my crankiness on the other resolutions. Your mileage may vary.

A061: Amend Canon II.2. Likely vote: YES, but only if amended.
In the canons there is a list of Bible translations that may be used for public worship. This resolution would add two translations to the list, The Message (2002) and the Common English Bible (2011). I have another idea, along the lines of what I wrote for the last resolution. Let’s get out of the business of editing this list every few years as Bible translations come and go. Instead, I propose that we name the Authorized Version, the RSV, and the NRSV, and then leave it up to the ecclesiastical authority to approve other versions. This will give us maximum flexibility, and it will free us from having to keep this list up to date.

Adding The Message to the list is somewhat controversial. Many people, including the translator himself, feel that this Bible is not suitable for use in public worship. Others believe that it is fine for particular communities. So rather than get into a debate at General Convention, let’s push this decision down to the local diocesan level. We have other things to talk about at General Convention. For those who are itching to use The Message with good purpose, I say let’s find a way to let them do it.

To do what I’ve said, the resolution will need some more work, since the language at the end of this canon will also have to be edited a bit. But it shouldn’t be do hard to get this one right once, and then we will have settled an issue that we otherwise have to revisit.

Oh, one more thing on this. If there is a compelling case to be made for keeping a list of authorized Bible translations in our canons, let’s take out some of the old ones. Does anyone use the New Jerusalem Bible in public worship in the Episcopal Church? How about the Good News Bible (1976)? Time for that one to go away.

A062: Amend Canon II.3.5. Likely vote: YES, but an amendment is required.
This canon change would allow translations of the Book of Common Prayer to be more idiomatic and flexible, rather than relying on literal translations with formal equivalence. Having had some conversations with people who use the prayer book in languages other than English, this is sorely needed.

My only concern is that the canon refers to translation into “he Church’s other official languages.” We have no official languages. They are not prescribed in the canons or anywhere else I can see. Resolution 2003-C029 directed that official publications be delivered in Spanish and Frech (something we are not doing, by the way), but it did not declare these to be official languages.

There are Episcopalians worshiping in English, Spanish, French, French Creole, German, Italian, Chinese, Navajo, and probably others. Rather than using the phrase “official languages” (which again, do not exist in the Episcopal Church), let’s just say “the languages in which this Church worships” or some such thing. And, please, let’s not make a list in our canons. I hear we are about to have a congregation in Poland. Let’s leave flexibility so we can do translation work in Polish without further recourse to canonical revision or General Convention resolutions.

So, yes, let’s pass this. But let’s fix it first. Here again is another example of why we should not be spinning so many liturgical plates. We are in danger of making of mess of something that should be simple.

A063: Fund Meetings of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. Likely vote, YES.
These folks need to meet. So let’s give them money to do that. And let’s all keep an eye on the minutes to make sure there’s not too much mission creep going on. The request is for $105,000, which isn’t all that much for a large group to meet several times over a triennium. Unlike some other commissions, the kind of work these folks do does merit regular in-person meetings.

A064: Fund Liturgical Resource Work of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. Likely vote: NO, unless the amount is reduced.
This resolution funds work on new liturgical resources. We need far fewer new liturgical resources than the liturgy commission seems to think, in my view. Let’s cut this amount, and encourage them to cut their scope of work. If the liturgy resolutions are adopted and defeated as I have suggested, we won’t need the full $202,000 (!) they have requested.

A related note

Yesterday, I added the suggestion that we authorize the Church of England’s Common Worship for use within the Episcopal Church. Having heard lots of positive feedback on this idea, I think a resolution may get written to do just that. This would give us a large number of fantastic and theologically sound liturgical resources to use. It would also free up the SCLM to focus on necessary work, which we really need them to do.

Yet another note

Lastly, I suppose I have sounded cranky about the SCLM. I am sorry if I have given anyone the impression that I am ungrateful for their labors or that I do not respect their expertise. My one consistent complaint is that they’ve taken on too much work, and that I’m not sure our church really needs everything they have sought to give us. But I may well be wrong. Please note, for the record, that I value the people who serve on the SCLM and the ministry they have offered. My hope is that as our church is in transition, we can speak honestly with one another about our work and our views.

No one has complained to me, but I thought I’d throw this one in there. Hey, if folks on the SCLM want to criticize Forward Movement, I’m all ears. Turnabout is fair play. :-)

7 Comments so far

  1. David Sibley on June 10th, 2012

    Really thrilled to hear you’ll work on the “Common Worship” trial use authorization. It may be worth noting that the SCLM has already acknowledged the inherent value of those volumes – much of the work in the later EOW volumes on Burial Rites is excerpted verbatim (with attribution).

    So, in a sense, GC has already recognized the inherent value of these other resources…

  2. Chris Arnold on June 10th, 2012

    One thing that I’m interested in doing is tracking the source of the resolutions that drive the SCLM’s work. Who is asking the SCLM to do all of this? Are the resolutions actually coming from within the SCLM, or is there some committee at GenCon who isn’t gatekeeping properly?

  3. Joseph Farnes on June 10th, 2012

    As someone who helped with the Daily Prayer project (but is not as enthusiastic about it now), I hear your concerns about the SCLM. I don’t think we need tons of “official” liturgical material (stuff that, you point out, would best be handled by publishers and local authorities) but instead more time spent on handling other issues facing the church.

    For a church that wants to embrace local values, it doesn’t seem to be eager to refer certain decisions to dioceses and congregations where those decisions can be made in context. The Prayer Book unites us all by giving us a “gold standard” for worship throughout the Church, but the “living it out” part will always truly be local.

  4. Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski on June 11th, 2012

    Scott, thanks for your thoughts.

    As far as I know, regarding any resources for the anti-Judaism resolution, the idea I have hear most often is for some sort of electronic resource. But you are right other resources exist. But they are from non-Anglican contexts and don’t translate exactly to the context of our church and context. I think a relatively modest set of teaching documents that could be available electronically or as PDFs might work well.

    Chris, from my brief presence at a few SCLM meetings, it seems many of these things come from outside requests made to the SCLM. These folks have so much on their plates that they don’t have time to cook more up.

  5. Ginny Rodriguez on June 12th, 2012

    Dear Fr. Scott, What a lot of work You are doing wading through SCLM documents! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on all these issues.

    I wonder, do other people have trouble with the RCL? Some of the passages are ill “sliced”: such as a leap into a Biblical moment without including the scene setting; other passages exclude (what I think is) the most exciting event. The choppy, RCL passage can be smoothed out during individual study, but not so easily during the public reading of the Lessons in church. Forgive me for not giving the specific lessons. (I’ll make a note for future reference next time I encounter a “sliced” lesson.)
    My point is: the RCL probably needs a tweak, here and there.

    Your point about using rubrics (& the index) to announce Options for lessons is brilliant: saves paper; prevents confusion; allows variety of liturgical expression, so dear to our Episcopalian hearts.

    On the Bible translation topic. Is The Message an actual translation—from the original languages? Or is it more of a paraphrase—like The Good News Bible? I think a translation closer to original languages is a wiser translation.

  6. Pierre Whalon on June 12th, 2012

    Scott, you make some good points.
    One detail: we are not about to have a congregation in Poland. While there has been and will be more conversations about the Episcopal Church in Poland, we are a ways off from planting a Polish-language congregation.

  7. Louis Weil on June 15th, 2012

    Reply to Ginny Rodriguez: Ginny, I share your concerns about the RCL. The movement to approve it for our use got so much steam going that it was difficult to raise any cautions. The main problem for me is with regard to its liturgical use. Many of the churches that were involved in the project are not typically ‘liturgical churches’ in the sense that the liturgy is the presumed context for the reading of a particular passage. The result, I feel is that readings are often too long, especially in the context of the celebration of the Eucharist. As a preacher, I much prefer a rather brief reading with a clear focus upon which I then base my homily.