General Convention Explanation of Resolution A063

Currently, the Constitution sets out the process for amending or making additions to the Book of Common Prayer, a process that requires adoption by two succeeding General Conventions. An exception is provided allowing one Convention to “[a]mend the Table of Lessons and all Tables and Rubrics relating to the Psalms” and another allows one Convention to “[a]uthorize for trial use … an alternative … to the established Book of Common Prayer or to any section or Officer thereof . . .”

Other than authorizing liturgies and rites “for trial use” under Article X(b) of the Constitution, there is no other constitutional or canonical provision explicitly authorizing General Convention to approve alternate forms/language for any of the liturgies or rites in the Book of Common Prayer or to authorize liturgies or rites not contained in the Book of Common Prayer. However, the language in “Concerning the Services of the Church” on p. 13 of the BCP which states, in part, “… In addition to these services and the other rites contained in this Book, other forms set forth by authority within this Church may be used” may provide such authorization, although it is not entirely clear if that is the intended meaning of that instruction.

The Constitution and Canons are ambiguous on whether General Convention has the authority to authorize liturgies or rites and subjects not included in the Book of Common Prayer (short of amending Article X) and the process for doing so if it is authorized. Nevertheless, since 1979 the General Convention has authorized collections of liturgies, prayers, and rites in The Book of Occasional Services, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, Holy Women, Holy Men, Enriching Our Worship and A Great Cloud of Witnesses. The history of some of these rites in the Church may help in understanding the ambiguous state of the texts’ authorization.

In 1883 the General Convention began the process of revising the 1789 Book of Common Prayer that was to receive a second reading in 1886. However, by the time the General Convention considered this revision the second time in 1886, many changes had been made to the “Book Annexed,” the name given to the proposed revised Book of Common Prayer in 1883. In 1889 a separate volume; the “Book of Offices,” was proposed but a version was not authorized until the General Convention of 1916. This “Book of Offices” was the precursor of the “Book of Occasional Services” and “Lesser Feasts and Fasts” the two supplemental volumes first authorized by the General Convention in 1979. At no time have changes been made to Article X of the Constitution that would explicitly give General Convention power to authorize these well-loved supplemental texts. The only category mentioned in Article X is for allowing trial use liturgies intended for use in a revision of the Book of Common Prayer. However, nothing in the Constitution or Canons explicitly prohibits the General Convention from doing so either.

The process of Prayer Book revision has been ongoing since the publication of the first English Prayer Book. The 1789 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church was a revision of the Church of England Book of Common Prayer. In 1811 General Convention made explicit provision in the Constitution for revision of the Book of Common Prayer. The current language in Article X of the Constitution providing for “trial use” was added in 1964 and proposed revisions of the Prayer Book were used on a trial basis before final approval of the current Book of Common Prayer in 1979. Instead of presenting a final text of a revised Book of Common Prayer to the General Convention, the category of trial use liturgies provides the Church opportunity to “pray through” proposed texts before their inclusion in the Prayer Book.

Since the revision of the Prayer Book in 1979, the General Convention has authorized a wide variety of liturgical texts for the Church. Not all of these texts are intended for eventual inclusion in a revision of the Prayer Book. Nevertheless, they have helped to form the mind of the Church and have expanded our worship without being intended for a new Prayer Book. Trial use seems to be an inappropriate name for what are effectively additional texts, such as the Book of Occasional Services and Lesser Feasts and Fasts, or other texts authorized from time to time by the General Convention. Yet, there is no express provision of the Constitution under which such authorization can be undertaken.

The Constitutional changes proposed would address this anomaly. We propose a system to authorize additional and alternative texts to supplement the Book of Common Prayer. We recognize that some of these texts may be useful in the preparation of a new revision of the Prayer Book, while others will continue to supplement the Prayer Book, allowing for additional forms of prayer to be available to the Church. This use is not intended to preempt or stop Prayer Book revision; instead, it is to give the Church more flexibility in their approach to worship, and the General Convention a more transparent criterion for authorizing such worship.

While this amendment is intended primarily as a way of rectifying a long-standing anomalous situation in the Constitution, we also see it as an exciting opportunity to engage in a discussion of how we are formed by the way in which we worship.

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