Committee will propose comprehensive revision of the Book of Common Prayer

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Jul 5, 2018

Members of the Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169, which is considering revision of the Book of Common Prayer, clap along while singing a hymn before the start of their morning meeting on July 5. Photo: Melodie Woerman/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] The Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169, which is considering resolutions to revise of the Book of Common Prayer, voted on July 5 to propose to General Convention a plan for comprehensive revision of the current 1979 prayer book. The resolution, which will be an amendment to Resolution A068, authorizes the start of a revision process that could culminate in a new prayer book in 2030.

The resolution was developed by a subcommittee appointed on July 4 to incorporate the process of revision specified in Resolution A068, as well as calls for inclusive and expansive language for God and human beings, which were presented during hearings, also on July 4.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Full ENS coverage of the 79th meeting of General Convention is available here.[/perfectpullquote]

The proposal calls for the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to begin the revision process using the 1979 prayer book as the starting point and to utilize “inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity” in making changes. It also will “incorporate and express understanding, appreciation and care for God’s creation.”

Exempted from the inclusive language revision will be Holy Eucharist Rite 1 and the church’s historical documents printed in the prayer book. In a split between the deputies and bishops who meet together but vote separately, exempting the Lord’s Prayer from revision was adopted by the bishops but rejected by the deputies.

That means that the deputies’ version will be presented to the House of Deputies when the matter is taken up in a special order of business on July 6 at 4 p.m. If adopted there with that clause intact, the bishops’ version will be debated in the House of Bishops. Reconciliation then would be needed between the two versions.

This resolution carries through the background materials associated with the original A068, which describe a 12-year process of prayer book revision. This includes a comprehensive survey of the liturgies in use in congregations, consultation with other provinces of the Anglican Communion, drafting committees and an overall editor. The plan is to gather data over the next three years, with a complete revision by 2024.

That proposed book would undergo three years of trial use throughout the Episcopal Church, with a first vote by General Convention in 2027. Because revision of the prayer book is part of the church’s Constitution, adoption of a new book requires votes in two consecutive General Conventions to take effect, placing final approval on the agenda in 2030.

– Melodie Woerman is director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas and is a member of the ENS General Convention reporting team.


Comments (47)

  1. Matt Ouellette says:

    As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this is not a good idea. We don’t need this kind of divisive process going on right now after we have begun to move on from the gay marriage debate. We need to engage more with our current prayer book as we recover from the aftermath of our previously divisive issue. Also, I oppose any changes to the Lord’s Prayer. We shouldn’t try fundamentally changing the words of Jesus. Our current English translations accurately convey the original meaning of His prayer.

    1. Doug Desper says:

      Amen Matt! Enough novelty, innovation and divisiveness. Give it a rest. If the Lord’s Prayer is messed with that will cook it with many who would otherwise tolerate other novel rites that they don’t have to experience each Sunday.

    2. Eugene Search says:

      A change to the Lord’s Prayer that goes beyond being a translation from the Greek to being something new or innovative runs the risk of putting the Episcopal Church outside the mainstream norm of historic Christianity. Also, what about other historic prayers? The Creeds?

  2. Joe Thoma says:

    Good, succinct story — Thanks, Melodie!

  3. I’m sure this will turn around the sharp decline in membership!

    1. Cheryl Dornbush says:

      I am quite sure that it won’t! Scripture is clear that God adds to the church-not our gimmicks! I believe that people leave the church because we look more and more like the world around us. We want so much to fit in with what we think the world wants that we no longer look like Christ!

    2. Richard Lammlin says:

      Couldn’t agree more James!

  4. James Graham says:

    Revision of the BCP, especially to incorporate “gender neutral” reference to God the Father would be a pernicious and perhaps fatal blow to what is left of our church. Will these folks never stop? I don’t think so–unless we stand up to them. I, for one, will leave immediately, and find another church home–one that isn’t hell-bent on theological revisionism and heresy. I don’t think I am alone in my position.

    1. David Stevens says:

      I concur!

    2. David Stevens says:

      You are not alone!

    3. Hugh Hansen,, P. says:


    4. Charles Jordan says:

      Thank you, Matt. It’s nice to know that others (most others) aren’t in agreement with the HoD.

    5. James M. Knox says:


    6. Marion Johnson says:

      I agree..Also Didn’t Jesus say “Father” when he prayed? Yes he did! So leave the Lords Prayer alone. Stop trying to modernize God and tell him what he should believe. Anymore changes especially this one and I will leave the church as well.

  5. Matt Ouellette says:

    To be clear, I’m not against the use of more gender-neutral and feminine imagery for God. As God transcends gender, it’s no more wrong to use female images to describe God than male ones. However, I am against theologically fuzzy expressions which sometimes are heretical (e.g. using the modalist Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier form as an alternative name for the Trinity). We need to make sure we’ve thought through the images we use before we start making revisions, or we could end up losing essential doctrines implicit in our prayers. Spending more time with the 1979 BCP would be the best way to go right now, I think.

  6. Doug Desper says:

    Start with this simple data. Find out how many Episcopalians flat out ignore the contemporary version of the Lord’s Prayer in the 1979 BCP, and opt instead to maintain the traditional version. That should give the flavor for how well-received “expanded” prayer tinkering has been since 1979.

    1. Todd Lane says:

      I agree with you, but the Commission appears to have an agenda. Whether or not us, the congregants, agree is not their concern. Change the Lord’s Prayer? I’m happy the bishops don’t support this.

      I also notice the commission a massive lack of generational diversity on the Commission. Where are the young people (sans ine or two)? Why are they, the fiture of the church not fully included? Is it because they overwhelmingly prefer traditional or contemplative prayer?

  7. Eugene Search says:

    I would rather see an American version of the Church of England’s Common Worship be adopted as a replacement for the 1979 BCP.

  8. Grant Barber says:

    I don’t think quotas for representation are an answer here, but unless there are others not shown: 10 guys, 4 women (I think), 2 members might be under the age of 40 or 45; all seem to be white. Haven’t we had a conversation or two about such matters…I’m at a loss.

    1. Doug Desper says:

      Grant: in a church that barely musters a half-million attendance on Sundays every voice should count. I’m not sure what planet some of these movers for changing the Prayer Book live on, but in the real world we can’t afford to keep alienating what’s left of this Church. Supplemental rites? Yes. New Prayer Book with draconian changes in theology to satisfy theological revisionists? Why go there? Committee rooms and convention floors are not the best pulse for the wider Church. General Convention is a big playground of thought, innovation, and impulse. That doesn’t equally square with reality when most of our churches don’t have more than 50 on Sundays with half without regular clergy. Time to come down to earth.

      1. Stephen Nesbitt says:

        Have you given any thought to the fact that maybe your church doesn’t have more then 50 on a Sunday because your church refuses to change? I go to the fastest growing episcopal church in my diocese and I can tell you that spirit led change leads to growth. We have to be willing to die to self to experience resurrection. I believe I’ve read that somewhere.

  9. Steve Price says:

    Picture of receiving committee engaging in ” happy,clappy” hymn singing is not an encouraging sight for those of us interested in the preservation of our traditional liturgy.Is it true then that the proposal is to replace “the Blessed Virgin Mary ” with” our sister Mary “and the “Holy Catholic Church “with the ” body of Christ”? Wouldn’t it just be easier to close our red doors and join the Baptist Church?

  10. The Rev. Tyler Richards says:

    As we have not lived into the Baptismal Theology of the current Book of Common Prayer, to move forward with revising the book seems ill-timed and ill-advised. While I am sympathetic to those who long for gender neutral language, an idea that I am not opposed to, those concerns can be addressed by creating supplements for the Prayer Book as it stands without rewriting it. There is more to revising a prayer book than just “giving the people what they want.” Changing a prayer book changes the DNA of our worship and I for one do not think we are ready for such a thing.

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      Good point, Rev. Tyler. The current status quo allows parishes to experiment with the use of more gender-neutral and feminine images of God in our liturgies, so there’s no real urgency to revise the Prayer Book right now on that basis. Also, the current Prayer Book, via Rite III, has rubrics in place to allow priests to experiment with gender-inclusive language. We just don’t need to start making these revisions to our prayer book at this time.

  11. Vicki Kelsey says:

    It’s too bad that there wasn’t social media when they were at the same stage of planning the 1979 prayer book. I’m wondering if the commentary would be same as we have here. I like the current prayer book, and I also like some of the alternative liturgies and prayer books from throughout the Anglican Communion that have been used at various worship services. This sounds like it’s going to be a long and drawn-out process (with a 2030 proposed release date). My guess is that the faces on the committee with change as the years go by as well. As this is TEC, there are bound to be lots of opportunities to provide feedback along the way. I’m reserving judgement until they actually come out with something for us to have an opinion about

    1. Lloyd Newell says:

      2030 you say. If I make it to the age of 82 in 12 years. By then I will turn down the volume of my hearing aids with the hope of never hearing a word from the proposed new Prayer Book.

  12. Lloyd Newell says:

    Round 2 of churches leaving and here come once again lawsuits eating millions of $$$$$$$.Now is not the time to due a rewrite of the Prayer Book. At a time the Church is healing from all the brake away congregations, another body blow and the Church will most likely down for the count.

    1. Matt Ouellette says:

      I agree, Lloyd, which is exactly why I think now is the wrong time to begin such a divisive process.

  13. John Hobart says:

    It will be like New Coke! What could go wrong?

  14. Joel Watson says:

    Would the last person out of the Episcopal Church please extinguish the sanctury lamp?

  15. Jason VanBorssum says:

    Who will rid us of these meddlesome, tone-deaf Baby Boomers?

  16. Rev. Dr. James Hargis says:

    Sounds like another fallacious example of TEC’s futility at trying to be so culturally with it (relevant), that it loses the liturgical beauty that has stood the test of the times. Some revision is always appropriate, but without sacrificing the profound theological majesty. If we try to be all things to all people, the church loses. We must stand for something, lest we fall for everything. Christ stood for something good, inspirational, and salvific! TEC must, too.

  17. Rev. Dr. James Hargis says:

    Sounds like another fallacious example of TEC’s futility at trying to be so culturally with it, that it loses the liturgical beauty that has stood the test of the times. Some revision is always appropriate, but without sacrificing the profound theological majesty. If we try to be all things to all people, the church loses. We must stand for something, lest we fall for everything. Christ stood for something good, inspirational, and salvific! TEC must, too.

  18. Kathleen A Munroe says:

    Although I would like to see more gender neutral language used in some ares, such as replacing “men” with “people”, and using the word God in place of His or Him where applicable, I too, do not think we have plumbed the depths of the 1979 prayer book to the point where we should make major changes. It is a wonderful resource for prayer and information, and I think that making it too neutral and ‘social mores’ friendly will result in a loss of our identity as Episcopalians. That said, I do love the contemporary version of the Lord’s prayer. It feels to me like I am having a conversation with God when I say it with feeling.

  19. James Graham says:

    So glad the House of Bishops took a stand with regard to tampering with the “gender identity” of God the Father in the Lord’s Prayer. I hope they will have the guts to stand up to this misguided force for ultimate annihilation of Christian theology in TEC. One has to wonder–what gets poured into the “punchbowl” at these Conventions? I suspect they are giddy with “power”, and have the vanity to suppose they can trash 2000 years of spiritually inspired tradition based on their personal “revelations”? I think it’s really an issue of egos. Or do these misguided folks check their common sense, and conscience, with Satan, at the door when they enter? Oops–I forgot! It’s de rigueur among those folks not to believe in the Devil anymore.

  20. James Graham says:

    This is about far more than semantics, or a petty quibbling over “pronouns”. Language is important. Words represent ideas, and in this context, spiritual realities. There is a reason Christ himself is referred to as The Word. You muck around with the language, and you distort, even destroy, the essence of teaching and people’s understanding of religion. Ultimately, you destroy Faith, because you undermine its foundation of belief. And why? Because a few empowered but very misguided delegates are drunk with power, and a sense of their own importance and personal spiritual “revelations” to set against two millennia of Spiritually inspired tradition. Satan is rubbing his hands with glee! 😈

    1. This entire conversation strikes home to me. As the parish coordinator for a very small church that hasn’t been able to afford a priest for more than 3 years , I was recently, ( well, last lent) confronted with the modernist language issue in a big way. A member of our vestry asked to lead a “Bible” study on the Gospel of Mark and I gave him permission to do so. In the first lesson he presented material stating that the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel is a fiction, and should be regarded with the same sense of fun that we approach Harry Potter by JK Rowling. He went on to say that belief in a literal resurrection was akin to belief in the tooth fairy. Thankfully our wonderful Sr. Warden told him in no uncertain terms that he could NOT teach that “theory ” in our church. I am frightened about this “new” language and ideology.

  21. Heather Huyck says:

    Dear Friends– as a cradle Episcopalian from generations of Episcopalians, I wince when I hear God the Almighty Creator reduced to one human gender– “Father”. I feel the same about “Mother.” Such terminology creates a confusion between God and human males which is unhelpful to all, and has contributed to patriarchal horrors. Those who want to gender everything don’t recognize the feminine aspects of Sophia/the Holy Spirit, giving further evidence of one-sided sexism. We humans need to hold onto our Anglican via media tradition which has grown and continues to grow usually for the better- remember the dire predictions if we adopted the 1979 BCP? Or having women be ordained priests???? We’ve grown in that ministry, thank God. We can grown in not reducing God to one aspect of the Almighty. Years ago when I was struggling with this reduction a theologian said to me, well, if God were solely male, what are you doing here? We both laughed happily. I expect that God the Almighty & Loving Creator has dimensions we humans cannot imagine. We should be loving ourselves– to all God’s children. Being expansive and inclusive is central to Jesus’ ministry. Thank you.

    1. Doug Desper says:

      Heather, many don’t have a problem with limited expansive language. It has a place and I’m for it until something ridiculous like “Baker woman God” gets a serious place. It’s only a huge barrier when the direct imagery used by Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer becomes supplanted by whatever images modern revisionists believe touches their soul better. How about, instead, learning about the imagery as used by Jesus (Father/Son relation) and cease creating a boutique church that seeks to satisfy egos and whims.

      Like some others I wonder how sufficient the oxygen level is at General Convention. Ideas cooked up on List Serve, in Committee Rooms, and among 1,000 people are not sounding solid nor are draconian ideas squaring with the reality of a Church whose downward spiral can no longer be hidden – but ignored, yes. We should remember that no one ever erected a statue to a committee or a convention, and at times like this we find out why.

  22. Matt Ouellette says:

    The biggest problem with prayer book revision right now is that it is a divisive process, and we still need to deal with the aftermath of the divisive marriage equality debate. We should sort that out first before taking on another divisive issue. I also think some of the concern here with prayer book revision is a lack of trust in some of the leadership who will be in charge of prayer book revision. There are some in leadership who want to take the prayer book in an extremely theologically liberal direction (e.g. remove or radically rewrite the Nicene Creed, rewrite the Lord’s Prayer, etc.) rather than simply express the orthodox faith in a more gender-inclusive manner. Therefore, I suspect many here would rather wait the revise the prayer book until there is newer leadership that will be more theologically careful with their revisions.

    1. Eugene Search says:

      Take a look at the Unitarians and Universalists did in the 1960’s when they pushed through all their reforms. They went from being liberal Christian denominations to post-Christian and lost half their members. Many people point to the Unitarians as being the canary in the coal mine for liberal Protestants in the USA. I fear the Episcopal Church is lining up to be UU’s with a better wardrobe.

      1. Todd Lane says:

        Don’t have to look far, do we?

  23. Mike Grigsby-Lane says:

    Unnecessary, a total waste of time and resources. Seek deeper engagement with the current BCP.

  24. Jim Shoemaker says:

    This is very troubling. We have lost 1/3 of our membership since the last prayer book revision. Attendance is down and continuing to fall. We need to be focused on the current liturgy and trying to broaden our appeal. I don’t think this is the way to do it.

  25. Mark Bigley says:

    So the Historical Documentments are no longer important enough to be in the BCP? I wonder why? No (good) reason was given. Niebuhr was right. Church follows culture. Such a pattern of erasing history or revising it seems to be the mainstream. History reveals other times, places and purposes when history was erased or revised. I wonder what the real reasons are this time? It’s obvious to me. Anyone else?

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