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Church standing committee delivers options for a prayer book revision process

Church standing committee delivers options for a prayer book revision process

At the last General Convention, the process to begin thinking about a revision of the Book of Common Prayer was put in motion.  The Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) was tasked with proposing a plan for revision by passage of Resolution A169

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 78th General Convention direct the Standing
Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to prepare a plan for the comprehensive revision of the
current Book of Common Prayer and present that plan to the 79th General Convention;

Yesterday, in response to that directive the SCLM outlined the four possible paths it will be presenting to the next General Convention in 2018 to consider.  They are:

  1. Revise Book of Common Prayer
  2. Create Book(s) of Alternative Services, and leave the BCP 1979 alone
  3. More talking, listening, researching, and discerning
  4. Deepening our relationship with the 1979 BCP

In addition, the SCLM adds, General Convention 2018 could choose to combine path #2, #3, or #4 with another option, which is to develop “technical fixes” to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.  Technical fixes are adjustments in grammar, punctuation, and word choice that do not change the theology, poetry, or intended meaning of the text.  (for example: in Eucharistic Prayer C – changing “you made us the rulers of creation” to “you made us the stewards of creation” or adding the matriarchs along with the patriarchs).  The SCLM will offer to General Convention 2018’s consideration a clear and detailed definition of the meaning of “technical fixes” and a list of specific examples.

Response on social media has been mixed, though there seems little desire for the wholesale revision of proposal #1 akin to the previous revison of the 1970’s.  Examples gleaned were:

O by the bowels of Christ, let it be #4. #1 will lead to a monstrosity that devastates the Church even more than ’79 did

I could live with anything other than #1. While #4 is the option that represents my sentiments, I wonder whether #2 might be the   wisest course of action.

no revision is required. Don’t waste money on this.

“Oh no, not again!”



To provide some historical context, the Episcopal Church first revised the prayer book inherited from the church of England (1662) shortly after its creation in 1789. This first American prayer book was largely the work of Bishop William White and was essentially the 1662 BCP with a different communion service based on the one used by the Scottish Episcopal Church and omitting prayers for the king.  In 1892 the book was again revised, but the changes were not extensive which likely was an important factor driving the desire for a more extensive change that resulted in the revision of 1928.  The 1928 version included many language updates and a new translation of Psalms, and  “Love, honor, and obey” was dropped from the bride’s vows in the service of Holy Matrimony.


To a large extent, the driving force for this revision was to include the changes wrought from the passage of marriage equality and a desire for those marriage liturgies to be part of the BCP.  There have also long been calls for more inclusive language options as this version was approved just prior to that issue coming to the fore.  We asked a year ago your thoughts on revisions and alterations for the prayer book; but we’ll ask again.  What are your thoughts on revision?  Are there non-negotiables for you, what are they?  What absolutely needs to be changed or deleted?  And is this really where the church needs to put its energy for the next ten to twelve years or are there more pressing issues?  Please share below, but also please be kind to one another.



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Robert Lane

Honestly, insert the same-sex marriage rite while leaving the traditional marriage rite alone and get on with more pressing issues. Like actually stabilizing the Church’s membership and then engaging in real evangelism and not just hipster experiments in coffee shops (I am a millennial by the way). Also, no more wasting time on alternate texts for the creeds and Lord’s Prayer. Jesus said “Our Father” not “Our Buddy.” If you need radically gender neutral language in Mass, I hear that the UCC and Unitarians could really use some more members, even more so than us. Just my humble opinion.

Jeld Liko

A year ago, I would have been all aboard for revising the BCP, but I’ve recently had an odd experience in my personal worship life. I joined a congregation that uses Rite I as their primary weekly Eucharist service. My love for the congregation overcame my distaste for Rite I.

Over the course of a few months, I had an extraordinary change-of-heart. I came in thinking that the church was desperate for a revision of the Rite II liturgy, but praying Rite I was the answer to all the questions I used to have about what we meant by “Eucharist.” I would appreciate the pinpoint elimination of unnecessarily gendered language (“For us men and our salvation…”), but I no longer believe that a full-scale revision is necessary on any theological basis. I’ve honestly never felt so happy and comfortable in worship!

Since I’ve gained so much in my own worship life from challenging my personal prejudices and looking deeper into the existing prayer book, I now agree with those who want to deepen that relationship rather than revising.

Marshall Scott

I have noted elsewhere that I attended seminary long ago, etc. I was in seminary between the first reading of the current Prayer Book (the Blue Book of 1976) and the second reading (1979). One of the frequent statements in those days of Marion Hatchett of blessed memory was that “we [what was then called the Standing Liturgical Committee] think this book ought to last for 30 years.” The point was to note how quickly the English language changes, and what would make sense for worship in “language understanded of the people.”

I do think we need to take that into account. Contemporary American English usage is not what we were using fifty years ago when revision toward 1979 began. Most of the Eucharistic prayers in EOW are certainly closer; but may not be even now where we would want to go. I would like to see deeper engagement with the Prayer Book before decisions might be made; but for the purpose of seeing what in our Rites best expresses now what we say in our Outline of the Faith and our Historical Documents. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever; but we don’t try to communicate in his Aramaic, nor in the Greek of the four Evangelists. By the same token, we sought new language in the 1960’s and ’70’s because we didn’t speak anymore Jacobean English – much less the 19th Century adaptation of it in the 1892 and 1928 Prayer Books. Seems to me we ought to consider what our language should be for 2021 and beyond.

And, I wonder if it would be as hard as revision for 1979. 1979 included a good deal of theological review before approval of texts. That included recovery of some early church elements that had been retained by the Orthodox and not the Western churches. We might now just consider what we’ve learned when we did use EOW, and what our full communion partners have used in their recent revisions, without having to commit again to so thorough a review of our Eucharistic and Baptismal theologies.

Paul Woodrum

I remember well the lead up to the 1979 BCP and, at the time, made a silent oath to join the Prayer Book Society if we ever had to go through that again.

Yet, we saw it coming and I did my best to keep my congregation apprised of the why’s and wherefore’s starting with restructuring the 1928 BCP Eucharist in the new/old format coming in the 1979 book. When ’79 came, there was some mourning, but no sense of sudden lose. When the new Prayer Books arrived, there actually was Episcopalian subdued excitement and the transition went smoothly

As angels say, “Do not be afraid.”

JC Fisher

“I could live with anything other than #1. ”

I don’t think TEC—as a *living, breathing church*—can live WITHOUT anything other than #1.

Seriously, I’ve been calling for BCP revision for well over a decade now. Every year that passes, turns the ’79 more and more into a Golden Calf (see re ‘1928’!), as opposed to the mere MEANS of common prayer it was designed to be. No more idols: Prayer Book revision ASAP!

JC Fisher

Just want to add that every “Not Again!!1!1!” kind of bolsters my contention: the proportion of TEC who remembers the introduction of the ’79 is seriously out of whack. A reified/idolized BCP goes hand-in-quivering-hand w/ an ageing demographic.

I too, remember the introduction of the ’79: what a blessed RELIEF it was from the prison of the Golden Calf (that the ’28 had *become* by the 1970s)! Yes, I love the ’79 dearly. But we don’t worship this book, anymore than we worship the Bible (I don’t hear too many shrieks when Bibles are revised for greater accuracy-in-service-Truth?)

If the BCP is revised every generation, it will be a far LESS painful process for Episcopal worshippers, than if they are allowed to stagnate together (which is human nature—that which our common prayer, in Christ, is designed to help us overcome!)

“Fear not”, fellow Episcopalians (of all ages): we CAN do this, we SHOULD do this, and after we do, we’ll wonder what the fuss was all about…

…for another generation. ;-/

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