Saturday, June 17, 2006

Past My "Pray By" Date

I've tried not to afflict anyone who still bothers to read this with too much about the Sausage Factory-- er, the PECUSA General Convention now underway. But then I read (courtesy of T19) this ENS story about resolution D061 "Pastoral Plan to Revise the Book of Common Prayer".

The resolution itself seems almost innocuous:
Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 75th General Convention direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to present to the 76th General Convention a pastoral plan for the future revision of the Book of Common Prayer.

That sounds like good idea, you might say. Well, here's the real message of the resolution:
“Our prayer book is already outdated and it is hard for my generation to relate to everything in it,” said a youth, identified only as Hannah, from Northern California.

The Rev. Stephanie Speller, 34, of Boston, also testified at the Friday hearing that she uses alternative resources for her diverse congregation. Our diversity “is a miracle of God’s grace, but…where people enter church on Sunday morning they may see a multicultural congregation but what they hear is all European American,” said Speller, whose congregation at St. Paul’s Cathedral includes African Caribbean, African, African American, Chinese, Latino and Anglo parishioners.

Speller added, “After awhile you begin to feel like the marginal voices are only found in the marginal text; at what point do those voices come to the center?”

Really? Thirty years of folk masses and clown masses and hip-hop masses and rave masses, and it's only now we've discovered that the prayer book is getting in the way?

I wish I could say that it was astonishing to hear this stuff, but it seems that the downfall of the Episcopal Church is going lie not in sex, but in the overwhelming urge to demolish the one thing that gave us any unity: the Book of Common Prayer. Thus it was drearily unsurprising that convention liturgies read anything but "it is right to give him thanks and praise"; some sullen, hidden vein of traditionalism in me want to say that it is their own damn fault for getting rid of the certified patriarchy-free response used from 1549 to 1928.

But let's go back to that word:


I have to join with those who question the judgement of young adults who WANT to go to church conventions. Young people who would rather inflict all that bloviation on themselves, when they could be out copulating or tipping cows or doing almost anything else, surely need to reexamine their priorities. That dreary work should be left to their tired and jaded elders, who have already put decades of office work and parenting under their belts. But they point to what seems to be a very common belief: that church must be made juvenile in order for it to survive.

That's the real message of all the clown/rave/hip-hop/folk masses. And while I am not a Rite I partisan, there are times when Rite II retreats from a clean, modern language into childishness. But the problem with this is that (duh) people grow up. I did so prematurely, I suppose. I went to an Episcopal boarding school with a very high (in the church sense) standard of ritual, so all the "relevant" mid-week services we were sentenced to produce seemed impossibly dated once I set foot in college. (Indeed, the whole "hold hands around the altar" communion schtick of the chaplaincy seemed, in 1978, to be an embarrassing hangover of the '60s. And it's still with us.)

And here it is, thirty years later, and in a year I'll have a son in high school. And I think of those young women at general convention, and I wonder whether a service for their teenage children will be keeping them in church when I'm a white-haired elder. And my thirteen year old son, sitting next to me, informs me that he does not think that the BCP is hard to understand. Of course, his throwback of a father has already corrupted him.

Rev. Speller's words fly in the face of decades of Anglican practice. The BCP liturgy, unbowdlerized and even unmodernized, has proven adaptable to services from church camp eucharists to evensong of the highest music standard.

The last thing the church needs is to even think of revising the prayer book. There are certainly changes which ought to be made, but now is not the time.

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