We spoke in support of three (out of eight resolutions): A068 ("Plan for the Revision of the Book of Common Prayer"), C031 ("Minimize Gendered Language in the BCP"), and D036 ("BCP Revision: Inclusiveness and Expansive Language").
C031 was originally passed by the Episcopal Church in Connecticut at its 2017 Diocesan Convention. It asks that the Prayer Book revision process "amend, as far as is practicable, all gendered references to God, replacing them with gender expansive language." As its explanation stated, the mandate from the 2015 General Convention to present a plan for comprehensive Prayer Book revision (which resulted in resolution A068), opened "an unprecedented opportunity to further our commitment to equality of all genders." The title of the resolution is misleading: this resolution does not call for the minimization of gendered language for God so much as an expansive approach to such imagery.
D036 begins by emphasizing the "urgent pastoral and evangelical need for revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, particularly regarding the use of inclusive and expansive language for humanity and divinity." It also notes right off the bat that this work "began even as the 1979 BCP was being developed." The resolution's explanation gives a fuller description of how this "pastoral and evangelical need" was recognized and addressed by several General Conventions from the 1970s well into the 1990s after the 1979 BCP was released. It calls for the development of a new BCP "to meet the contemporary needs of The Episcopal Church, including employing inclusive and expansive language for humanity and divinity." A proposed revision of the BCP for trial use is to be ready no later than the 81st General Convention -- two GCs (six years) from now.
A068 is one of two resolutions proposed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. A069 called for embracing at greater depth the Prayer Book we already have, while A068 calls for its full revision. Three speakers spoke in support of A068 from a trans and/or nonbinary point of view. We referenced the long-recognized androcentric and eurocentric imagery and language that pervades the 1979 BCP and we emphasized how binary its language remains. Gratifyingly, several other speakers also referenced the problem of how binary language erases the lived reality of nonbinary identified people.
We also acknowledged the beauty and reverence of Prayer Book language. I, for one, spoke of having grown up in a parish that was strongly opposed to the 1979 Prayer Book and continued to use the 1928 Prayer Book at its principal worship through the 1980s. As a result of that experience, I grew up steeped in the deep significance of patterned, common prayer, aware of how profoundly language matters, how it can touch people at a very deep level. I was aware that changing liturgical language can be fraught. At the same time, given how deeply impactful liturgical language can be, I was also aware that when the language of worship feels like it is missing the mark, its reverberations can be alienating. There were aspects of the 1928 BCP that I grew to love (e.g. the post communion prayer reproduced in Rite I, p. 339). Yet I also grew to feel strongly constrained and alienated by its androcentric language, particularly (though not only) its he/him/his pronoun usage. I have known a number of students over the years, particularly in my previous divinity school context, who loved the Rite I language of the BCP. On the whole, in the campus ministry and divinity school contexts I served previously, and even more so in the parish I serve now, Rite II and the supplemental texts developed after the '79 BCP, Enriching Our Worship, resonate much more strongly. Yet in almost all of our authorized texts some sort of language revision is necessary to keep the language from being exclusively binary. Regularly our worship language reinforces the idea that there are only men or women and that anyone who identifies as neither male nor female simply does not exist. Too many times I have heard the frustration, the deep pain, of nonbinary identified Episcopalians, their sense of being erased by the language of our worship. Our worship language matters in ways we may not fully realize.
Let me also add here: I have heard this pain from non-binary lovers of Rite I, from Evensong enthusiasts, from devotees of the Daily Office. The call for Prayer Book revision need not oppose such facets of Episcopal worship. In several comments from those opposed to BCP revision I have heard a concern that Rite I in particular would necessarily be removed. On the whole I'm not a huge fan of Rite I at this point in my life, but I have no need to see it removed from a revised BCP, knowing that many people highly value it. I also appreciate the daily office and would love to see it further developed within the continued principal emphasis on Eucharist. I would especially love to see a revised Prayer Book do more to elevate the seasons of the Christian liturgical year.
Prayer book revision is a very expensive undertaking, and for many this factor will be where the rubber meets the road. Yet it's not going to get less expensive as time goes on. Nor do I believe that declaring we will embrace the Prayer Book now will make us any more resolved to revise it in three, six, or even twelve years, as one commentator seemed to suggest this morning. It is past time we got on with thoughtfully and prayerfully revising this critical source of our ongoing formation as Christians, as followers of Jesus, as members of Christ's body in this world.
- The Rev'd Dr. Cameron Partridge
Diocese of California and TransEpiscopal Steering Committee Member