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US General Convention: Book of Common Prayer status may cover other rites

15 July 2022

Randall Gornowich/ENS

Bishop Lee (left) speaks to Bishop Doyle during the discussion

Bishop Lee (left) speaks to Bishop Doyle during the discussion

THE definition of the US Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is likely to be extended to allow liturgies currently not in the US Prayer Book — such as same-sex marriage rites — to be given Prayer Book status.

The General Convention approved a resolution to define the BCP as “those liturgical forms and other texts authorised by the General Convention”.

The resolution amends an article of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church which sets out how the BCP can be revised, but currently does not say anything about the authorisation of other liturgies not directly relating to the BCP.

More than a dozen liturgical texts have been authorised by the Episcopal Church, including same-sex marriage rites and “gender-expansive” liturgies, over the years. All authorised liturgies are now available on the official liturgical website of the Church (episcopalcommonprayer.org).

As the resolution requires a constitutional change, it will need to pass a second reading at the next General Convention in 2024. If it does so, the article of the Constitution would elevate these new liturgies to “Prayer Book status”.

The Bishop of Milwaukee, the Rt Revd Jeffrey Lee, who chairs the House of Bishops’ Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music, said that the resolution acknowledged that “common prayer is evolving. It creates a framework for that evolution to happen, including the inclusion of a number of different rites in a curated collection.”

The resolution does not change the status of the 1979 Prayer Book, nor of the official liturgies authorised by the General Convention which are not in it, but it sets a framework of the future reorganisation of these liturgies.

The motivation for the resolution lay in a desire for official liturgies with “expansive” language of gender and sexuality, but also in concern about the number of liturgies in various states of authorisation. Bishop Lee described the current state of authorisations and trial usages of liturgies as “a mess”.

The resolution, he said, was “an attempt to clarify what authorisation has the weight of the Book of Common Prayer and what other rites might not have that. . . What’s being proposed in A059 is not the creation of a Wiki prayer book.”

The resolution sets out that any Prayer Book changes must be approved by two successive General Conventions, and they must be authorised for trial use first.

A working group will now look at changes to clarity or alter the status of the rites that have been authorised for trial or experimental use over the past few decades, and present its recommendations to the 81st Convention.

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