Resolution A068, the resolution calling for the revision of the Book of Common Prayer, is the talk of the 79th General Convention. The resolution requests that the Convention authorize the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music to begin and complete a comprehensive revision of the prayer book taking care to expand our language of prayer beyond the traditional use of male representations of God. Over the course of legislative sessions, several deputies put forth amendments to the resolution, including an amendment that require the SCLM include one bishop and one lay person from Province IX in the revision process, an amendment to ensure the Episcopal Church remains aligned to the four principles of the Lambeth-Quadrilateral and historical formularies, and an amendment that protects the terms of our ecumenical agreements. In a what some a calling a close vote, Resolution A068 passed in the House of Deputies on Saturday and moves on to the House of Bishops on Monday.
With prayer book revision looming on the horizon, many questions arise. Many have asked if revision, comprehensive or otherwise, is even necessary. Those opposing A068 for this reason have questioned everything from the effect of language change on our relationships within the wider Anglican Communion to the wisdom of undertaking a project of this scale for $1.9 million in this triennium when we have other urgent budget priorities. Some, including the drafting committee, say the time for inclusive language in our Book of Common Prayer is now and not later. The question of the necessity and timing of the revision seems to be the primary reason for opposition.
Along with those wondering if revision is necessary, some in our body wonder who wants revision. Does A068 reflect a theological majority or simply a small contingent? We do not have data on where the majority of our church falls on this question. We do know that the work of the Subcommittee on Theology and Language of the Special Committee on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation has added urgency to this debate. The Subcommittee on the Theology and Language insists that language shapes our reality and that masculine language for God helps to perpetuate sexism in the Church. Others suggest revision will aid in attracting millennials and Gen Z to the Church, because the revisions will transform the cultural relevance of the Church.
Some wonder who is already having the conversation on inclusive language and who is not? In speaking with Latinx young adults, many shared that their congregations are not having conversations around inclusive and expansive language, or even same sex marriage. Some were unsure of where they stood on inclusive language themselves. Others were excited about the possible changes, and they are optimistic that the Church is ready to live through a revision. Even among those who think revision is necessary, there is a concern to include all communities in the initial discussion and throughout the process in order avoid theological colonialism.
One of the weighty but sometimes overlooked considerations before the Church is how to revise the Prayer Book in a way that allows us preserve connections to our history and to global Anglicanism. Is it possible to move forward without the erosion of already strained relationships in the Anglican Communion? Moreover, do we slow down revision for the sake of politically diverse or conservative churches within our own body, or do we prioritize discontinued used of language that some have come to understand as oppressive?
Finally, if the resolution passes how do we prepare churches, schools, and other entities to educate and prepare their communities for the use of more inclusive language in liturgy? How do we re-form ourselves for prayer? I am not sure how we will address this issue, but I am encouraged by the Rev. Winnie Varghese’s testimony in the HOD on A068 that invited us to consider the responsibility and privilege we have to “the generation whose theological imagination is ours to shape.” What might we learn from a generation that truly believes God can inhabit all things, genders, and people?