The General Convention of the Episcopal Church met this past week. General Convention is the Episcopal Church’s governing body. It decides our worship (the Book of Common Prayer), our constitution and canons, and the church’s budget. It consists of two houses: the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. Each diocese elects four clergy and four laypeople as deputies. Resolutions need to be passed by both houses to take effect.
Delayed a year by COVID, its usual 8-day gathering was reduced to four days with many meetings and hearings occurring virtually before the in-person meeting. I’ve probably been paying attention in some fashion to General Convention since 2000 and followed it closely from 2003-2018, first via various usenet groups and then with the advent of social media, Twitter. Over those fifteen years, a total of six conventions, the dominant issue was the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, beginning with the confirmation of the election of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in a committed relationship. That unleashed more than a decade of conflict internally and with the larger Anglican Communion; giving rise to the splinter denomination the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and court disputes that are still being resolved in 2022.
In contrast to the Sturm and Drang of past General Conventions, the lead up to this year’s was filled with anxiety about COVID and discussions about liturgical revision. The issue that received the most ink and social media attention in the weeks preceding the in-person gathering was a resolution to permit “Communion without Baptism.” In spite of the widespread conversation, the resolution didn’t make it out of committee, so it wasn’t voted on by the House of Deputies.
Perhaps the issue with the greatest significance for local congregations addressed at General Convention was that of Prayer Book revision or liturgical change. The Book of Common Prayer was last revised in 1979. Since then, a number of alternative forms of worship have been approved for trial use. In 2018, the Marriage Rite was significantly altered to adapt to the blessing of same sex marriage and expansive language versions of the Eucharistic Prayers A, B, and D of Rite II were authorized for trial use. But this piecemeal approach to liturgical revision came under attack from those who advocated for a full-scale revision of the Book of Common Prayer.
This past week, after much discussion and debate, resolution A059 was passed that lays out a process for revision of the prayer book. Because the process will require constitutional changes (that need to be passed by two successive Conventions), the process foreseen is a lengthy one. After the constitutional changes are passed and the necessary canonical changes made in 2024, trial liturgies will be prepared that will be approved in 2027 for use in local congregations for the next three years. Only then would a new Book of Common Prayer be approved for general use. It’s a complicated process. If you want to learn more, there’s a helpful article at Earth and Altar.
On a side note, new versions of Eucharistic Prayer C were also approved for trial use. As soon as they are made available, we will begin using one of the new versions at our 10:00 service to replace the Book of Common Prayer version.
On the last day of convention, the House of Bishops published a “Mind of the House” statement on “Climate and our Vocation in Christ.” It’s well worth a read and should spur us to action on behalf of the planet and future generations of all living things. p