Prayer Book Revision

Wow!  I’m so out of it, that I didn’t realize a revision of the Book of Common Prayer was up for consideration at General Convention.  Then I read the news article saying that the House of Deputies has passed a resolution to revise the prayer book.  I realize this will have to pass the House of Bishops as well and that if it does it will take several years to be accomplished.  But still, Wow!

Quite frankly, I am unclear what I think about a revision of the BCP.  I only have the news articles to go on, so I haven’t had a chance to hear the arguments for and against.  I suppose one thing I am listening for/concerned about is how any prayer book revision will be viewed in other parts of the Anglican Communion.  Again, I’m not saying anything for or against, but I am wondering how it will affect our relationships since my work right now for the Episcopal Church is all about our relationships with other Anglican provinces.

All that said, while I certainly can see the need for some updates (e.g., more inclusive language, revisiting confirmation), I wonder what a wholesale revision would bring.  Since the process could take over a decade, I wonder if folks pressing for revision now may end up being surprised by the end result.

If a revision does take place, I hope some serious minded folks will be involved.  Quite frankly, the debate as reported has been remarkably thin theologically speaking.  It strikes me that the aims of folks who want a revision could actually be met with a prayer book that was more deeply trinitarian and more Eucharistic rather than less.

For example, here’s a lovely passage about the Eucharist from Emmanuel Kantogole’s mediation on the feeding of the five thousand: “what I find particularly interesting about the account of Jesus’ performance is the way it reframes and shapes the very description of what is at stake.  Where the scattering of community seems to be the wise and pragmatic thing to do, Jesus orders a gathering of the crowds (let the people sit down); where initially the location is described as a desolate place, we later have a lush field (people are ordered to sit down ‘on the grass’); where there was scarcity (only five loaves and two fish), there is now not only enough (everyone had their fill) but a superabundance (twelve baskets of leftover fragments).  This story is therefore not simply the story of the miracle of ‘multiplication.’  It is a drama of competing stories — specifically, a Eucharistic alternative to the desperation that comes from scarcity.  Thus, the story of the five loaves and two fish provides a good outline of the multifaceted mission and ministry of the church.”

the-feeding-of-the-five-thousand-xx-jacopo-bassano

A serious revision of the prayer book ought to try to be truer to Jesus’ reframing and shaping of the very description of what is at stake.  This, however, would require an engagement with recent theological scholarship rather than the sloganeering that seems to define church discourse these days.  A “Find All-Replace With” approach to prayer book revision which tries to replace offending words or phrases with ones that are more palatable to our present time will wind up being an unholy mess, in my humble opinion (recall Dean Inge’s words “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower [or herself a widow] in the next”).  But a revision which is truer to the history of the triune God that we meet in the scriptures and in Jesus’ description of reality and reframing of what is at stake would be welcome indeed.

4 thoughts on “Prayer Book Revision

  1. Hear, hear. I love your thoughtful approach to what seems to me to be a thorny issue. As you learn more about the actual, proposed revisions, I hope you can publish your thoughts both pro and con. I look forward to reading them, especially colored as they may be with the knowledge you gain in your work in Africa.

    Liked by 1 person

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