Convergences and Differences: Renaming in The Episcopal Church and the Church of England
At the 2015 General Convention we noted that this call for an official renaming service marked an important convergence with the Church of England. (The Episcopal Church has its roots in the Church of England and continues to be connected to it and other churches of the Anglican Communion through four “instruments of communion” but decisions in the Church of England do not bind the Episcopal Church.) In 2015 the C of E’s General Synod was slated to hear “the Blackburn Motion” calling for the creation of a rite to welcome transgender people in congregations by liturgically honoring their name changes and transitions. During the 78th General Convention the Reverend Dr. Christina Beardsley wrote a post for this blog about the then-upcoming C of E vote. In it she asked, “Will the General Synod have the courage to invite the House of Bishops to explore and commend forms of prayer for Church of England parishes that wish to celebrate with and affirm their transgender congregants and parishioners?”
The answer was yes: In July of 2017 the General Synod overwhelmingly passed this motion by a combined vote of 284-78 (here is an overview article and here is a detailed account of the proceedings, including an attempted amendment).
Unfortunately, that overwhelming yes did not mandate the creation of the service. In accordance with Church of England rules on the creation of official liturgies, the General Synod asked the House of Bishops to authorize the creation of this service by the Liturgical Commission. Disappointingly, this past January news came out that the recently formed Delegation Committee of the House of Bishops had declined to do so. They officially commented in this statement, released January 23, 2018, “On the matter of whether a new service is needed, the House of Bishops has decided that the current service that is used to affirm baptism can be adapted. Clergy always have the discretion to compose and say prayers with people as they see fit." Trans people in the Church of England were deeply disappointed by this decision, as Dr. Beardsley responded in this op ed for Church Times. "It is simply not good enough for the Church to claim that it is welcoming when it clearly isn’t," Dr. Beardsley wrote. "If the Church really wants to be a welcoming place for trans people then it has to be prepared to learn and to change."
Given this turn of events-- and given the Episcopal Church’s own call to continue turning, learning and changing-- the approval of a name change rite in the Book of Occasional Services took on added significance.
The Book of Occasional Services
Originally published in 1980 shortly after the then-new 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the BOS is, as the proposed 2018 volume described, “a collection of liturgical resources related to occasions which do not occur with sufficient frequency to warrant their inclusion in The Book of Common Prayer.” Intended as “a companion volume to The Book of Common Prayer,” its rites “are to be understood, interpreted, and used in light of the theology, structure, and directions of The Book of Common Prayer.” The most recent revision of the BOS is from 2003. The current proposed BOS revision was first authorized in 2012 and continued in 2015. You can find the mandate for and description of that revision process on pp. 153-158 of the 2018 SCLM Blue Book report, Vol. 1.
As part of this revision over this past triennium and, again, specifically in response to 2015-D036, a subcommittee of the SCLM created a new naming rite. This subcommittee drew on already existing resources (including the rites in Changes and Tanis’ book mentioned above) while also drafting new language. The SCLM gestures toward this subcommittee’s work in the conclusion of its introductory/overview essay here.
General Convention on the Renaming Service
As things unfolded at the 79th General Convention, Committee 12 on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music decided that part of the BOS was ready to be released to the wider Church while other part of it was not. Episcopal News Service reported on this development here. Rather than hold the whole project back until 2021, they created two new resolutions, one of which (A218) released a large chunk of the BOS to the Church and the other of which (A219) sent the rest back to the SCLM for further work. The Renaming Rite was included in the approved chunk, so it has been approved for use throughout the Church by the General Convention. Once the whole BOS is completed and approved (presumably as of the 80th General Convention in 2021) it will be published in a physical, bound format. In the meantime, the released portions, including the renaming service, are to be made available in a digital format, as this article explains. For now, you can find the service itself in this supplement to the SCLM Blue Book report here (please note: the pages are not numbered). When the new digital format is released we will share that link as well.
Bottom line: the Episcopal Church now has an official renaming rite available for use across the church. Thanks be to God!