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Weekday lectionary: Popular readings queried

15 July 2009

Getting to grips with the issues: by the lake outside the Synod chamber

Getting to grips with the issues: by the lake outside the Synod chamber

PROPOSALS for an additional week­day lectionary and amend­ments to the calendar, lectionary, and collects were brought to the Synod for first consideration on Saturday afternoon.

New material was being put before the Synod now only because people had asked for it, the Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, said. Both the Deans’ Con­ference and the Precentors’ Confer­ence had pressed for what was called a “pillar” lectionary, and both the Liturgical Commission and the House of Bishops had agreed to act. They had also had requests for the calendar to be up­dated.

The pillar lectionary was meant for use where there was a different congregation each day: the readings were designed to stand alone, atten­tion had been paid to their length, and they were intended to be acces­sible to people who came to cathed­ral evensong but were not regular worshippers. The lectionary was currently being used experimentally, and detailed comments would be welcomed by the revision committee.

The Common Worship calendar was governed by a rule that no one was included who had not been dead for 50 years, martyrs excepted. The House of Bishops had accepted the Liturgical Commission’s view that it was time to update the calen­dar in respect of people who had died between 1946 and 1958, and martyrs who had died since 1996.

Four new commemorations, “to be in proportion with previous decades”, had been chosen by the Commission and approved for introduction into the Synod by the House of Bishops: Amy Carmichael, Paul Couturier, Gregory Dix, and George Bell. The Melanesian mar­tyrs were in a different category.

Since the commemoration of the anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade had reminded everyone that Wilberforce did not act alone, it was also proposed to expand his lesser festival by adding the names of two other anti-slavery campaign­ers, Thomas Clarkson and Olaudah Equiano.

  Canon Andrew Nunn (South­wark) said that when he had left parish life to become a bishop’s chaplain, it was the things that had given him most grief which he missed most. Although he had suppor­ted the pillar lectionary enthusiasti­cally at the Precentors’ Conference, he and his colleagues had soon begun to be frustrated when they tried it out. And what they missed most were “the unacceptable bits of the Bible that make people scratch their heads”.

They were not convinced that this lectionary would help the oc­casional worshipper understand scripture; and it would frustrate the regular worshippers. Continuous reading had more integrity.

Sarah Finch (London) thanked the Liturgical Commission for its careful work, but had found at least four examples of something that worried her. “It is a mistake to chop up a reading of God’s word,” she said; and in each of these four read­ings, literary and theological dam­age had been done by omitting verses. It was inappropriate to “tamper with scripture”, she said.

John Freeman (Chester) thanked the Liturgical Commission for including the martyrs from the Melanesian Brotherhood: he had attend­ed the funerals of six of the seven, which had brought the Solo­mon Islands to a complete halt. The Brotherhood had also conducted two missions to the UK. “They are among the best teachers of the Christian message to young people.”

Tim Allen (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) brought thanks from Suf­folk for the inclusion of Thomas Clarkson — a Playford man, how­ever, not Ipswich, as stated in the report. He should be regarded as “England’s proto-abolitionist”, who had recruited Wilberforce to the campaign after a conversion experi­ence he had after writing a Latin essay on the subject for a prize at Cambridge.

Dr Paula Gooder (Birmingham) had been counting the passages for the pillar lectionary, and was inter­ested to see what was there and not there. “We are formed by the scrip­ture we read, and cannot be formed by the scripture that we don’t read.”

She had particularly noted the texts that were about women. There was no text from the book of Esther, but there were three from Ruth — two the same text. There was a lot of Paul, but very little of James. How were they balancing their scripture reading, she asked.

Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities) was grateful for the proposed inclusion of a bishop, George Bell, in the calendar, but suggested that he should be more highly esteemed than “another com­memoration”. Bell was a dull writer, because he took such pains over it; his great witness was to the moral principle that it was not right to kill innocents in wartime. “Bell was a saint,” and an Anglican one.

John Scrivener (Chester) inferred from the report that the Commis­sion wanted to “commemorate persons at a certain rate” of 5.3 per decade. His analysis of the calendar had found that the 19 earlier cen­turies had produced names at a rate of 1.1 per decade.

The Bishop of Brixworth (Peter­borough), the Rt Revd Frank White, was struck by the number of read­ings from the Apocrypha in the additional weekday lectionary.

Canon Tim Dakin (Oxford) was grateful for the clear criteria and the emphasis on slavery. He hoped that it might be possible to include Samuel Crowther of Nigeria in the calendar at some point, “a slave who became a bishop”.

The Revd Dr John Hartley (Bradford) reminded the Synod that the additional lectionary was aimed at “those who don’t read the Bible”, and it was hard for Synod members to enter into that mindset. He,

too, wondered about some of the choices, however, especially the use of the Apocrypha.

In the course of his reply to the debate, Bishop Platten said that a generation needed to pass before the Church re-examined the principles on which the calendar had been compiled. And, as for the Apo­crypha, Article VI did state that the Church “doth read” these books.

The business now stands com­mitted to the revision committee.

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