US bishops seek to halt Prayer Book revision and deter leavers

05 July 2018

‘Delegated oversight’ is proposed on question of access to marriage

SHARON TILLMAN/ENS

Bishops and deputies gathered with their diocesan deputations for the opening remarks in the convention hall in Austin, on Wednesday

Bishops and deputies gathered with their diocesan deputations for the opening remarks in the convention hall in Austin, on Wednesday

A COMPROMISE that would avoid making changes to the Prayer Book’s references to marriage has been proposed by bishops in the Episcopal Church of the United States, in an effort to avoid the departure of members who hold a traditional view, including immigrant and non-US Episcopalians.

The resolution, prepared for discussion at the 79th General Convention, due to begin in Austin, Texas, yesterday, seeks to widen access to marriage in the eight dioceses where gender-neutral rites approved for trial use in 2015 have not been authorised by the bishop. It proposes that these bishops provide “delegated episcopal pastoral oversight” to their congregations, on request.

Unlike the resolution put forward by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, however, it does not propose any changes to the Prayer Book (News, 25 August 2017).

“While the great majority of Episcopalians celebrate the gains that have been made in our Church for LGBTQ+ persons, many of us also regret the schism, division, and departure of members who have faithfully served our Church for many years,” the proposing Bishops, of Long Island, Pittsburgh and Rhode Island (all of whom have authorised use of the rites), wrote.

In a joint press release, issued last week, they argued that the proposed revision of the Prayer Book “would likely make the Episcopal Church untenable for many of our members outside the United States”, especially in Province IX (seven dioceses in Latin America and the Caribbean). In response to the Task Force’s proposals, six of the bishops in the Province warned that, if they were approved, “the Ninth Province will have to learn how to walk alone.”

“This may often, if not always, be true as well for immigrant congregations in the United States,” the Bishops write. “We should be wary, especially at this time, of U.S-centred approaches that do not take into account the concerns of immigrant and non-U.S. Episcopalians.”

They also expressed concern about “piecemeal revision” of the Prayer Book, which might result in “disruption of ministry” and a “further distancing effect on our relationship with our Anglican Communion partners”.

If passed, the Task Force’s resolution would begin the legislative process to revise the Prayer Book, adding the gender-neutral marriage rites approved for trial use in 2015, and changing the Book’s other marriage rites, prefaces, and sections of the Catechism to make language gender-neutral.

LGBT campaigners are urging the Convention to address the issue of access.

“However you decide to solve this problem, we hope you won’t be so careful to honor the consciences of some bishops that you actually make it possible for them to completely deny us access to a sacrament,” reads an appeal from the diocese of Dallas.

In a resource supporting the Task Force’s resolution, the campaign group Claiming the Blessing cites a letter co-ordinated by members of the C of E as evidence that members of the Anglican Communion “find both hope and encouragement in our actions” (News, 4 May).

The Task Force has also asked the Church to explore ways in which it can “develop resources that provide pastoral guidance and teaching on relationships that involve sexual expression”, in response to the growing number of couples not marrying, many of whom, it says “feel largely alone, having found the Church’s counsel to remain sexually abstinent outside of marriage, insufficient and unreflective of their experience of the holy in relationship”.

Several resolutions pertain to the Prayer Book. Among them are proposals for additions to the Baptismal Covenant referring to the duty to care for Creation and a change to the Introduction to refer to the Eucharist as the “preferred” rather than “principal” act of worship on a Sunday, in recognition of the increasing number of parishes unable to afford regular clergy presence.

Another resolution proposes a revision to “amend, as far as is practicable, all gendered references to God, replacing them with gender expansive language”. An explanatory note states: “As we increasingly understand the fluidity of gender, assigning a male gender to God reinforces patriarchy, androcentrism and clericalism.”

Another calls for “inclusive and expansive language for humanity and divinity”.

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music Subcommittee’s has set out two options: “comprehensive revision” to begin in the course of the next three years, or “deep engagement with the structure, content, language and theological thrust” of the Prayer Book.

On Wednesday, the eve of the Convention, testimonies concerning revision were given during a four-hour hearing. 

EPISCOPAL NEWS SERVICEVenue: the US General Convention is being held at the Austin Convention Centre, in Texas

The Convention, which meets every three years, began on Thursday and is being held until 13 July. About 10,000 people are expected to participate, the Episcopal News Service says. Among the resolutions filed are almost 30 related to sexual abuse.

A series of resolutions has been proposed by the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church, whose research has traced the numerical trends in the US Episcopal Church: “Modest decline in relation to the recent past, a story of radical decline when compared to the post-World War II heyday of the 1950s and early 1960s, and a profound and shocking decline when compared to the growth in population of the United States.”

One of its report’s conclusions is that “racism is active within the structures of the Episcopal Church.”

On Sunday, a prayer service is due to be held outside the T. Don Hutto Residential Detention Center, Taylor, in Texas. Episcopalians have been among the most outspoken critics of the Government’s policies towards asylum-seeking families (News, 29 June).

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