Many came to this 79th General Convention ready to initiate a new season of liturgical revision and reform, but painfully aware of certain elements of fragility in our life together as one Church. Contributing to the fragility of our life together were disagreements over marriage, deficits in our efforts for common conversation (translation and interpretation issues, representation issues on our committees and commissions), an overworked and underfunded Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM), a budget process in need of reform, and trust deficits between the House of Deputies (HOD) and the House of Bishops (HOB). Many who lived through the conflicts of the season of revision that produced the 1979 Book of Common Prayer expressed fears that our Church might be too fragile to survive another process akin to that one.
A new framework for moving forward together in our common life of prayer was needed – a framework grounded in our Anglican commitment to be a people united through common worship which helps us discover and live into our common mission as witnesses to God’s loving, life-giving, and reconciling work in the world. Such a framework was needed so that we might address the volatility of a rapidly changing world with a vision of God’s dream for all of God’s children. And so, A068 begins by recalling to us this central vision of an Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement, built upon “the core theological work of loving, liberating, life-giving reconciliation” with all of God’s beloved creation. In spite of a volatile world, we can dare to embark upon the work of liturgical vision because one of the gifts Presiding Bishop Curry has offered the Episcopal Church is a compellingly clear vision capable of serving as a regula and foundation for this work. A068 also addresses volatility of being a Church on the move in a changing world by memorializing the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, setting it forth as a touchstone that establishes certain patterns in our life as Church together.
The landscape of liturgical revision is filled with uncertainty about an acceptable end product at a time when the futures of many of our established parishes and fledgling church plants are uncertain. A068 addresses this uncertainty by seeking understanding of the varied worlds inhabited by our parishioners and those outside the doors. To that end, the new A068 strives to ensure that “the diverse voices of our church are active participants in liturgical revision” through a Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision (TFLPBR – everyone’s new favorite acronym) appointed to work with the SCLM. A068 also seeks understanding of different missional contexts through bishops engaging with worshipping communities (not just in parish-settings) in “experimentation and the creation of alternative texts to offer to the wider church” and forming diocesan liturgical commissions “to collect, reflect, teach and share these resources with TFLPBR.” Hopefully, this work will help us as a church community to know each other and our neighbors more deeply so that we may join our voices together in common prayer.
Given our Anglican commitment to be “a big tent” drawing diversity into union through praise of God, the Episcopal Church is a complex organism, especially in terms of its theological diversity and the history of the ties that bind. That complexity of theological diversity was not likely to be removed from the system anytime soon, and it put us in very real danger of ending up with a new book that an essential portion of the church could not accept, even twelve years from now. The new A068 addresses that complexity with the firm clarity, based in our baptismal and eucharistic theology, that we desire to be together and to be in relationship. We who are many are one body. A068 recognizes that, in years past, we have not dealt with the complexity of our multinational, multilingual body well. With a renewed clarity that we desire to be together, bound up in the same holy conversation, it calls for new translations and a new approach to the translation process as we do this work.
Finally, the A068 addresses the inherent ambiguities of this process by making provisions for greater agility. It calls for an examination of the Constitution and Canons to enable the church to be “adaptive in its engagement of future generations of Episcopalians, multiplying, connecting, and disseminating new liturgies for mission.” It reaches out for new ways to “utilize the riches of Holy Scripture and our Church’s liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender, physical ability, class and ethnic diversity.” It points the way forward in a world increasingly fond of flexible technologies other than books.
This approach to liturgical renewal and revision brought bishops and clergy and laity from across the Church together because it is so realistic about the fragility of our life together, and it pushes back on those forces of fragmentation that move us away from the communion we desire. It is an ambitious approach that calls for broad engagement and participation. We at The Herald hope that it will leads us into a more profound understanding of common prayer.