Thoughts on Prayerbook revision

Christus victor

The Christus Victor above the altar at my parish church, Christ Church Cathedral, Indy

I’ve had a couple of months to sit with my general aversion to prayerbook revision and carefully consider it.  I’m certainly not as nervous today as I was at the beginning of July when General Convention was starting, but I still have a nagging doubt.

First, my background: I’m a layperson in the Diocese of Indianapolis.  I was raised in a fundamentalist church, baptized at age 11, kicked out around age 23. I’ve been attending an Episcopal Church for 12 years and was confirmed in 2009 by The Rt. Rev. Catherine Waynick. (There’s a sentence young Matthew would never imagine saying.) The liturgies of the 1979 BCP were my introduction to the Anglican tradition; my wife and I were married under its marriage rite and all of my children have been baptized with the liturgies of 1979 BCP too.

In addition to it’s central place in Anglican identity and worship, I also think that The Book of Common Prayer is the single greatest gift the Anglican tradition has to share with the wider Church. The BCP’s influence and use stretches beyond the churches of the Anglican Communion, and the 1979 prayerbook was revised with ecumenical scholarship about the liturgy in the forefront.

Several years ago, Mariann Budde, the Bishop of Washington, made a comment right around the time of her ordination as a bishop, that she wasn’t interested in being the leader of a “boutique church.” I’ve long appreciated this comment, and have found it very useful for discussing the current state and future of the The Episcopal Church.  Bishop Budde’s “boutique church” critique returned to mind when talk of prayerbook revision was in full swing during the General Convention. I wonder if revision that sacrifices too much of the historical language of the church (Jesus is Lord, the Trinity is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, etc. ) is less able to speak to a broad cross section of Church, less able to be a via media, less able to claim the catholicity of the Faith. In short, if not handled with great care, my fear is that prayerbook revision will make The Episcopal Church more of a boutique church, not less.

Sidenote: I want to add a big thank you to the many deputies and bishops who provided coverage of the General Convention on Twitter; it was insightful and greatly appreciated by those of us unable to attend or regularly tune-in to the live-streams.

Finally,  let me just add that if we’re going to revise the prayerbook, my one request is to add the bees back in to the Exsultet. The Great Vigil of Easter is the best service of the year, and the Exsultet is the best part of the Great Vigil, and the line about the bees is, maybe, the best line in the Exsultet, ergo the “accept this candle, a solemn offering, the work of bees” is the highlight, liturgically speaking, of the Church year.

Now I’m going to go listen of the prayerbook revision episode of All Things Rite and Musical and you should too!


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