General Convention 2018 is now over, thank goodness. What it all means is far beyond human comprehension, and I make no attempt to comprehend it. But there are some matters worth reporting.
In a dog’s-breakfast compromise motion initiated in the House of Bishops, a proposal for comprehensive revision of the 1979 was scuppered. Sort of. In rather odd language the motion
“memorialize[s] the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as a Prayer Book of the church preserving the psalter, liturgies, The Lambeth Quadrilateral, Historic Documents, and Trinitarian formularies ensuring its continued use” (Resolution A068). Aside from the grammatical difficulties, I don’t understand how “memorializing” something “ensures it’s continued use”. Isn’t that something you do for the dead?
To put a positive spin on this resolution, it insulates the 1979 BCP – including the remnant Cranmerian texts of Rite I – from further revisions, which in the current climate could only have been disastrously bad. In particular it preserves the preface to the 1979 Marriage rite, and its teaching (in accord with the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10) that “Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage, in which the woman and the man enter into a life-long union” that is “intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another…; and, when it is God’s
will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord” (pp. 861, 423).
Yet the very same motion authorizes “the ongoing work of liturgical and Prayer Book revision …upon [sic] the core theological work of loving, liberating, life-giving reconciliation and creation care”. In a remarkable move, it sidelined the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, and established a Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision, with membership appointed jointly by the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies, “ensuring that diverse voices of our church are active participants in this liturgical revision by constituting a group of leaders who represent the expertise, gender, age, theology, regional, and ethnic diversity of the church” (sic). (There was a kafuffle about inadequate provision for participation by Spanish-speaking Episcopalians from the Central American dioceses – but based on prose like this, the English-speakers should have been complaining too.)
The inclusion of “theology” in the categories of diversity raises a hope that is quickly dashed by the requirement that such revisions “continue in faithful adherence to the historic rites of the Church Universal as they have been received and interpreted within the Anglican tradition of [sic] 1979 Book of Common Prayer” – wording which carefully excludes the actual historic
and pre-1979 Anglican tradition of Common Prayer. So much for theological diversity.
They are to be “mindful of our existing ecumenical commitments” -but not in accordance to them, language that was thought to be objectionably limiting – “while also providing space for, encouraging the submission of, and facilitating the perfection of rites that will arise from the continual movement of the Holy Spirit among us and the growing insights of our Church”. I quote this dreadful prose in full with the same horrified pleasure one has in pulling off a scab. Moreover, they are to “utilize the riches of Holy Scripture, and our Church’s liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender, physical ability, class and ethnic diversity in order to share common worship [sic]”; all of which means the revisions must “utilize inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity” – i.e. not the language prioritized by Scripture and tradition.
To no one’s surprise, they “shall incorporate and express understanding, appreciation, and care of God’s creation”. There is more, but you get the picture. If the 1979 BCP has been
preserved in aspic, and the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music deprived of control of liturgical revision, two very modest wins, the floodgates have been opened to liturgical and theological folly. The one hopeful note is that little or no funding has been provided for this untethered experimentation.
One other relevant decision: Resolution B012 makes same-sex marriage rites available for all congregations that wish to use them, subject to authorization by their rectors or priests-in-charge. While that opens every diocese to same-sex marriage, it also protects the conscience of every rector who can withstand the vilification that will fall on those who avail themselves of this right. So there you have it: “the future of God’s mission through the Episcopal Church of the Jesus movement” (sic).
–The Rev. Gavin Dunbar is rector of Saint John’s, Savannah, Georgia