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Treading carefully into BCP revision

Treading carefully into BCP revision

A group calling itself Revision Matters has launched a website intending to foment a conversation on BCP revision.  They describe their effort as “A conversation among Episcopalians and friends about why revising the Book of Common Prayer matters — to us, to the church, to the world. All manner of reflections welcome: personal, theological, ethnographic, historical, literary, political. We aim to stay kind and respectful.”


In a post from yesterday, The Rev. Miranda Hassett, rector of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Madison, WI laid out their preference for a church-wide conversation as an indispensable prerequisite for any decision on revision.

“Over the centuries, and around the world, the Book of Common Prayer has been adapted, translated, and revised, in the ongoing effort to meet those intentions in new times and contexts.

It’s been nearly forty years since the current Book of Common Prayer became our official prayer book, and much of the liturgical work that fed that revision took place fifty or more years ago. It’s been a changeful half-century, and some of those changes have touched how our liturgical language means and feels.

At the 2015 General Convention, our last every-three-years legislative gathering as a denomination, a resolution was passed that asked the church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to present a plan for the comprehensive revision of the current Book of Common Prayer to the upcoming 2018 General Convention. The SCLM responded by proposing four possible paths forward for the church:

  1. Full and comprehensive revision of the Book of Common Prayer beginning at the 2018 Convention;
  2. Creation of a comprehensive Book of Alternative Service, with the 1979 BCP untouched;
  3. Intensive church-wide conversation about whether revision of the BCP is needed or desirable, and if so, to what extent; or
  4. A step back from any plans for liturgical revision or creation of new liturgical materials, and instead a commitment to deeper study of the theology of our current liturgies.

Here’s where we stand, as the voices of Revision Matters.

It doesn’t look like the Episcopal Church is ready for path 1. There clearly hasn’t been a churchwide conversation about how we’re using the prayer book, what we love about it and where it chafes or constrains.

Those who have staked a position and made a case online or in print have largely represented one side of the question. There’s a scarcity of public writing about why revision matters — and we don’t believe it’s because nobody wants revision.

Therefore, we commend Path 3 to the church: Let’s talk about this. Broadly, openly, freely.

Let’s hear a wide range of voices about what we love, what we struggle with, and what we hope for, in our life of common worship as Episcopalians and our relationship with this little red (or sometimes blue?) book.

Let’s listen too — even when it’s hard. This is tender territory; some of the words that others find hurtful or simply meaningless may be written deep in our hearts.

Revision Matters is intended to host some of that necessary conversation. We hope to welcome and curate short reflections from folks all over the church, about why prayer book revision matters to you or in your church context.

Please read, share, and if you’ve got something to contribute, write to us at”


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Cynthia Katsarelis

I’m hoping for a new prayer book that includes feminine images of God and gender inclusive language. Also, I’d love for the SSM liturgy to be incorporated. I’ve worshipped using the American, British, Canadian, and New Zealand BCPs; also in French, Spanish, and Navajo. In my Orthodox childhood, of course, it was Greek, Russian, and Bulgarian. I love the fact that wherever one travels in the Anglican Communion, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Table are essentially the same and draws us closer, despite ourselves.

The Rev Catherine Cox

Let’s not do what we always do…send just stupid surveys where one is forced to choose a specific option. Far better, even if more difficult, is to ask open ended question where people are free to state what they think in their own words. And leave lots of space for people to comment on things they survey makers didn’t consider.

Ann Fontaine

The problem with surveys is that no one has to listen to anyone else. They fill it out alone with no reflection on how their favorite hobby horse interacts with another person’s.


[Ainslie – please sign your first and last name when you comment. thanks editor]

There is great power in a shared liturgy – hundreds of thousands of people performing the same celebration of life in Jesus Christ each week — both in its influencing of the collective consciousness, and in the personal knowing that one is joining with the many. A common liturgy also protects parishioners and priests alike from the all-too-common egoic detours evidenced by the proliferation of singular churches based on one person’s charismatic leadership. Personally, I’d vote for option 4, but with a good measure of #3 to build consensus. The liturgy remains the core; the constellation of youth, family and adult education/formation programs changes in order to orient people toward the mystery of the liturgy.

John MIller

There is also a very active facebook group discussing this topic at

Ann Fontaine

I think that revision is already underway– but instead of direction from the top – it is happening from the local needs of communities of worshipers. Will revision try to force some sort of order on what has already happened or will it give wider permission and some guidelines for creativity? It is way to late to return to “common prayer” – where we all speak patriarchal English in our worship. The Anglican shape of worship can be retained but uniformity is long gone.

Prof Christopher Seitz

Would it be a good idea to just leave design of liturgies in the hands of congregations, as is implied here? Needs-driven shape. Anglican could then mean ‘given freedom to worship and shape as is desired locally.’ Probably don’t need any books anymore, with the word processing and printing capability.

Ann Fontaine

The shape is what needs to be maintained — that shape works year after year. The words need to be “understandeth of the people.” You have worshipped in many languages and know this. Maybe if we were more clear about what the shape is — the words would fall into place.

Prof Christopher Seitz

No thank you. I think Common Prayer is our Communion piece. We have no confessions, black letter canon law, international council. Thomas Cranmer created a liturgy to be used by family at home, Sundays, placing monastic instincts into a national Christian expression, that was then exported and carefully preserved. If liturgies are generated according to needs in individual communities, we will be just like every other evangelical free church.

Cynthia Katsarelis

Wow Prof Seitz, we finally agree on something! Without common prayer we may as well be Presbyterians. I like the idea of having choices, Prayer A, B, C, D, E, F, etc… but the Eucharist, the epiclesis, are at the heart of entering into the great mystery. I, for one, believe in the real presence and it’s really important to me to have language that gets it right. I agree that the language should be understandable but it also has to be sublimely beautiful and not everyone can achieve that. Hopefully at least one version is attractive to this Anglo-Catholic feminist…

Ann Fontaine

I think we agree at heart – — liturgy is primary in TEC. The actual words change over the years. I am not promoting individualism but boundaries or parameters. I have worshiped in Spanish, Latin, and Norwegian- the shape is apparent even when the words are not the same.

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