During my first call in ordained ministry, I often experienced what I would call “sermon-dissonance.” I’d preach a pulpit-banging, hand-waving, sweat-dripping, barn-burning sermon on some topic I felt was crucial to my poor faithful flock. I would exult in all of the high-fiving, “Great sermon, Rev.!” comments at coffee hour, and I would leave the church feeling satisfied, like I had made a difference.

And then, during that very week, someone would do exactly what I preached against. Occasionally multiple times. Sermon-dissonance.  It was enough to make me wonder about returning to that pre-ordination career path, where the efficacy of my words and actions were more visible.  

After forty years with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (BCP), we are wrestling with the discomfort of Prayer Book dissonance. We still really just love baptizing babies. Adults? Meh. And to make matters worse, I heard that some parish somewhere baptizes babies in a private ceremony on Saturday (commence hyperventilating).  Sometimes, we would just like to do a simple Morning Prayer service on Sunday morning. In many places, we still haven’t been trained so well in praying the Prayers of the People that we have gotten up the courage to move beyond the six established forms. Confirmation confuses us all.

Our experience of Prayer Book dissonance, however, goes beyond a tension between the intent of the crafters of the 1979 Book and our present experience and usage.  At this Convention, you will hear over and over, “Language shapes reality.” This slogan is the rallying cry of those pushing for the incorporation of inclusive and expansive language into our main book, not just in our supplemental materials for worship.  Advocates for resolutions like D036 claim that there is a dissonance between the language in the 1979 BCP and the language that will form us to indeed respect the dignity of every human being.  This is not a new conversation; some in the church have been arguing with urgency for this change even prior to the 1979 Book. However, in other parts of our church, for example, for those worshipping in Spanish without the benefit of translations of Enriching Our Worship and other inclusive language materials,  we should note that this conversation feels new.  They would also agree that language matters, though, and are requesting new and better translations of presently authorized materials.

After being asked to produce a process for revising the BCP, the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) has instead come back to us with two questions. Do we really want to revise this thing, like, now? (A068) Or, would we be better off learning to use the ’79 Prayer Book the way God intended us to use it? (A069)

The SCLM estimates that the revision (A068) will cost $1,917,025. And if you’re hyperventilating again, that’s just the cost for the next three years. It will undoubtedly be costly for the following triennia as well. Funding A069 (deeper engagement with BCP and translations) is estimated to cost $1,180,625, cheaper by almost half, but still nearly as much as the $1.225 million allocated for expenses related to all of the GC resolutions wrapped up together.  What would a scaled down Option 3, including necessary translation work, look like?

Where do we want to spend our time, money, and effort? How do we deal with the sense of urgency around finding common language as well as dynamic translations that work?  Stay tuned for as the conversation continues.

Posted by Eileen O'Brien