Prayer Book, Liturgy & Music committees hear testimony on Indigenous boarding schools, creation commemoration

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Jun 10, 2024

The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jones (bottom) speaks on resolution D041 during the June 8 online hearing of the Prayer Book, Liturgy & Music legislative committees, as timekeeper the Rev. Cynthia Black (top left) and deputies chair Archdeacon Stannard Baker (top right) watch. Photo: Zoom screenshot

[Episcopal News Service] The legislative committees on Prayer Book, Liturgy & Music June 8 held their fifth and final online hearing ahead of the 81st General Convention, which will meet in Louisville, Kentucky, June 23-28.

Testimony primarily centered on two resolutions: C032, “A Prayer to Remember the Innocents”; and D041, “Support the Adoption of an Ecumenical Feast Day of Creation in our Liturgical Calendar.”

South Dakota’s Diocesan Convention in 2022 originally proposed C032, which addresses the need for recognition of and remorse for The Episcopal Church’s role in the boarding and residential schools of the 19th and 20th centuries that stripped Indigenous children of their native culture and language.

It also offers a prayer to remember the innocent children who suffered and died in these schools, and it encourages the church to set aside Sept. 30 on the liturgical calendar to remember the children.

South Dakota Episcopalian Deanna Stands said after the diocese’s convention created the prayer, others wanted to use it, including a meeting of Province VI and at Winter Talk, the annual multiday Episcopal Church conference that honors and highlights Indigenous and Native American traditions and contributions within the church.

The Rev. Cathleen Plummer, a priest from the Episcopal Church in Navajoland, said she had used the prayer during Lent, and it opened a space where people affected by boarding school could express themselves. Adding this prayer to a yearly observance not only would help people remember the children who were killed or traumatized by the schools, it also would be “a good start for reconciliation,” she said.

The Episcopal Church needs to pause and remember these children, the Rev. Kurt Huber a priest from South Dakota said, not only because the church ran some of these boarding school but because Episcopal children were among those forced to attend them. Putting the prayer into the church’s liturgical calendar would ensure “we will never forget,” he said.

Resolution D041 would add The Episcopal Church to the global ecumenical efforts to declare a worldwide Feast Day of Creation in 2025. Because there isn’t yet consensus on the name of such an observance, it charges the presiding bishop’s staff, the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, the Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations and any interim bodies dealing with creation care, to work with Anglican entities around the world on this effort.

It also calls on Episcopalians to observe Sept. 1, 2024, as a special day of prayer for creation, and to participate in the Season of Creation, Sept. 1 – Oct. 4.

The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jones, who serves creation care ministries in the Dioceses of Western Massachusetts and Massachusetts, was among those who testified in favor of the resolution. Earlier this year, at an ecumenical seminar about God as creator held in Assisi, Italy, she learned that creation is the only part of the Nicene Creed that has no official feast day or season, she said.

The resolution was needed for two reasons, the Rev. Jerry Cappell of the Diocese of Kentucky told the committees. It not only responds to the “environmental urgencies of our day,” it also corrects what he called “a long, historical wrong, which is the muting of the place of creation in the church’s storytelling of God’s love and work of salvation,” he said.

The chair of the Task Force on Care of Creation and Environmental Racism, the Rev. Stephanie Johnson, said the resolution brings The Episcopal Church’s leadership on creation care issues “to the larger church in a collaborative way.”

Testimony also was offered on two additional resolutions: Julie Groce of the Diocese of Atlanta spoke in favor of D046, which would place Sister Sophi and her fellow deaconesses serving in Appleton, Georgia, on the church’s calendar; and Cynthia Nortey of the Diocese of Bethlehem supported Do36, which calls for collecting data on the number of public healing service taking place in The Episcopal Church.

The bishops’ and deputies’ committees – which meet together but vote separately – also heard reports from the chairs of the Prayer Book and the Calendar subcommittees, but members took no action on resolutions.

Deputies chair Archdeacon Stannard Baker told members to plan to meet in Louisville at 9 a.m. June 22, the day before General Convention begins its first legislative day, to debate and finalize action on the dozens of resolutions assigned to the committees.

—Melodie Woerman is a freelance reporter based in Kansas.