Alan Lewis: Converting to the Revised Common Lectionary

One widespread source of concern is that parishes already have substantial investment in a variety of materials, from gospel books to text-inserts to Sunday school curricula, all for the BCP lectionary. Even if budgets permit the acquisition of new materials, Church Publishing, while surely doing its best to make materials available in a timely way, still does not have most of the relevant offerings available for delivery as of this writing. And it will be a long time before the whole apparatus of the church’s liturgical and musical resources geared to the lectionary has managed the conversion mandated by General Convention.

Surely in time, these issues will work themselves out, and materials will be available to support the ministry of the word. While that work goes forward, if you take the RCL transition into your own hands, the Liturgy and Music Office of The Episcopal Church has prepared a BCP-formatted version of the RCL: just follow the links from here.

In fact, alarming as it may sound, the conversion to the RCL may prove to be not a bang, but a whimper. Parishes opting for the thematic track for the weeks after Pentecost will notice relatively few differences from the lectionary they already use. And even those opting for the other track will hear much that is familiar. It is in the season after Pentecost that the challenges and opportunities will come, as preachers, musicians, and listeners alike seek to make the most sense out of the heretofore marginalized texts we will now be able to hear from the Hebrew Bible.

I suspect that the transition will bring out its best results in the ways that it invites (and compels) us all, clergy, musicians, and lay people alike, to re-engage with scripture, to hear many neglected stories again ”” or perhaps for the first time. My hope is that it will, in the long run, help us all to transform telling “the old, old story” into singing a new song.

Read it all.


Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Theology, Theology: Scripture

17 comments on “Alan Lewis: Converting to the Revised Common Lectionary

  1. seitz says:

    Le plus change — I am doing a regular, somewhat extended preaching and teaching series every Sunday at St Matthews in Toronto. I decided the RCL was less than helpful — and precisely because I think it does not give as rich an assembly of OT texts, which is something of the point of the series. Moreover, if there is not any intentional linkage (so RCL), the problem could be that the OT becomes ‘the Hebrew Bible’ on terms that detach it from being Christian Scripture (like a practive I heard at the Cathedral in Dundee, where the OT lesson ended with ‘a reading from the Hebrew scriptures’ and the Gospel, ‘a reading from the Christian Scriptures’).
    I guess I am less than convinced the RCL gives something it promises. But then, no one is requiring it.

  2. dpchalk+ says:

    I agree with all but the last sentence of Dr. Seitz. In my diocese (WTx) we are being made to switch.
    I disagree with the RCL and using it because, ecumenically speaking, it moves us (tec) even further in the wrong direction (i.e., away from the liturgical Catholic Churches).

  3. BCP28 says:

    Thanks for posting. I have been concerned about the RCL change. The practice Seitz describes at Dundee is just scary.

    If I may go off on a tangent, the BCP offices that were once the common Sunday morning experience gave a lot of OT exposure. I can’t help but think there is a better way to approach this holistically, including increased use of and emphasis on the offices.

  4. Athanasius Returns says:

    It’d be nice for a liturgical scholar to give an overview on “Why the RCL?” Anyone?

  5. seitz says:

    FWIW, published work on ‘the lectionary as theological construction’ appears in Word Without End; I also wrote one of the Advent Proclamation series books for Fortress back in 1988. I had to do a fair amount of research and learning about the history of the lectionary. Which of course entails worship and liturgical decisions…

  6. Laurence K Wells says:

    Athanasius, as a liturgical non-scholar, I seem to recall that the Revised Common Lectionary to worked up because of concerns over the typological interpretation of the OT (rather than a “salvation-history” approach) in the selection of OT readings. Another motivation was feminism: the ladies wanted more readings about ladies.
    Whatever the merit of these concerns, it made the lectionary no longer “common” since the largest Church in Christendom isn’t adopting it. It is a liberal Protestant production. Personally, I’m very happy that I can read the Collect, Epistle and Gospel appointed in my 1928 BCP, substantially the same readings in use since the time of St. Jerome.

  7. The_Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    I likewise have some reservations about how the OT is presented in the RCL. It appears to be very snippety, which is not all that helpful if you want to preach on the OT lesson. I have to give a lot of background on the OT reading if I am preaching on it. But then, I was about the only person on staff who would preach on the OT anyway. And oddly enough, people like my sermons because the OT has such rich stories.

  8. Laurence K Wells says:

    To answer further the question of Athanasius: Just google in “Revised Common Lectionary” and read the article there by Horace Allen (a Presbyterian liturgical scholar, who had a hand in producing it.) He states that it differs from the previous Common Lectionary mainly in the OT readings during what is traditionally called “Sundays after Trinity.” Dr Allen plays down the differences. To my troglodyte mind, this damages the only thing good about the Common Lectionary, i.e., its Ecumenicity. So I’ll stick with 1928 BCP.

  9. Anglicanum says:

    The real irony here, from the perspective of a layman, is that the first two lessons are seldom really ‘heard’ anyway. At a recent coffee hour, several people were talking about how they tend not to hear the Old Testament or the Epistle, either because they are preoccupied with children, because the reader is too far away from the microphone or speaks too fast or mumbles, or (most commonly) because they just sort of ‘glide’ off until they’re made to stand up for the Gospel, which commands more of their attention.

    Now, I’m not saying all laypeople are doing that, of course. But I also know that I–both as an Episcopal priest and now a Roman Catholic layman–often get to the Gospel and realize that, whatever my intentions going in, I have missed the first two lessons … again.

    So all of this General Convention hoo-ha about honoring the Hebrew Scriptures and hearing them in context is kind of a non-starter. For many of us, we end up not hearing them anyway.

  10. Mark Johnson says:

    #2 = actually, this moves us CLOSER to our fellow Christians (Methodists, Roman Catholics (at least the one on my block), Presbyterians, ELCA Lutherans, Presbyterians all are now using the RCL.
    Similarly, the RCL readings are regularly much longer – especially the Psalms. Compare the psalter selections for the Eucharist celebrations in the BCP’79 lectionary vs. RCL. The RCL includes some of the difficult verses to grapple with — did you happen to notice two weeks ago when we sang about the blessedness of the parents who bash their babies’ heads against a stone? That wasn’t in the ’79 version.
    I don’t think this is an issue worth getting our panties in a knot over. Besides, if you want to read more verses of the Bible, go ahead! How has it become the practice that it’s only in church where we’re to hear/read the Bible?

  11. Bob Penn says:

    As a former director of music ministries in a large Roman Catholic Church I can say yes to Mark J’s statement, the RCL is much closer to the RC readings. I pretty much new the readings off by heart after 20 years. Personally, I prefer the 79′ BCP but I still like Rite I. Just a personal preference.


  12. Jody+ says:

    The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod also uses an adjusted version of the RCL–they certainly aren’t liberal protestant. Perhaps orthodox Anglican Parishes could look at it?

    Every lectionary has flaws, the question is which ones are easier to address.

  13. Jody+ says:

    Here’s what the LCMS says about their semi-adoption of the RCL:

    [blockquote]While the Lectionary Committee is mindful of the value of having a lectionary in common with other Christians, it has decided to produce a revision of the LW lectionary rather than to accept the RCL outright. In the course of its study, the committee identified a number of important biblical texts that have been omitted from the RCL, such as Eph. 5:22–33; Rom. 13:1–7; 1 Cor. 10:16–17; 11:27–32; Gal. 2:11–14; 6:1–6; Phil. 4:10–20; Heb. 12:4–13; 1 John 4:1–6; and Luke 13:22–30. While a lectionary cannot include the entire Bible, it was the committee’s opinion that a Lutheran lectionary needed to include such theologically important texts, even if some of the RCL selections were not incorporated.

    Though the RCL has not been adopted in its entirety, the three-year lectionary proposed for the new hymnal will be in agreement with the RCL the vast majority of the time. This includes the method by which the Sundays after Pentecost are determined. Unlike our current system, where the extra Sundays after Pentecost (as determined by the date of Easter) are skipped prior to the last three Sundays of the church year, the revised lectionary will locate the skip at the beginning of the season. In other words, after Trinity Sunday one skips the appropriate number of weeks and then follows the lectionary without interruption until the last Sunday of the church year.

    In its revisions, the committee has given special attention to the Old Testament readings. The goal has been to choose readings that best relate to the Holy Gospel for the day. In addition, careful attention has been paid to the types of Old Testament readings, with the goal being to include a larger number of the great stories of the faith.[/blockquote]
    {[url=]read it all[/url]}

  14. BCP28 says:

    Thanks for that list of omitted texts!

  15. BCP28 says:

    OK…can’t resist the urge…

    I Cor 11:27-32. Please see “open communion.”

  16. Br_er Rabbit says:

    Regarding “theologically important texts”:
    [blockquote] {The letter of Jude} may be found in its entirety in the Greek, Georgian, and Coptic Orthodox lectionaries, but its lone living Western witness seems to be its verses 20–25 in the current [i]Missale Hispano-Mozarabicum[/i] in Spain. That missal uses the lectionary known as Liber Commicus dating from A.D. 1067. Not a word from Jude is included in the readings for Sunday services in the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, or Revised Common Lectionaries, even though the first two of these require numerous readings from the books of the Apocrypha. [/blockquote] (From my 2006 thesis, [url=]Jude and the Scoffers[/url].)

  17. sejanus says:

    can someone, anyone please tell me where to find lectionary inserts that are the RCL, large print AND another version than the NRSV??? SURELY there has to be something available, unless we are being coerced into one narrow choice. What happened to all the choices and variety that are so much instsed upon?