Possible Changes For Episcopal Book Of Common Prayer Stirs Controversy

Published: Monday, July 16, 2018 - 2:23pm
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Every three years, Episcopalians from across the country gather for two weeks to discuss proposals and committee recommendations at the Episcopal General Convention. This year, a debate over one of the church’s main texts, the Book of Common Prayer, took center stage.

The Book of Common Prayer is the fundamental resource for all worship. It includes all the formats and wording for worship services and feast days, and has a huge impact on life as an Episcopalian.

At this year’s convention, the House of Deputies put forth a resolution to revise the Book of Common Prayer, which hasn’t been rewritten since 1979.

The proposed revisions would have been significant. They wanted to do things like use more inclusive language for God.

Now, 1979 might sound like a long time ago, but in the world of religious texts, it’s still very much the new kid on the block. The Anglican Church — the sister branch of the American Episcopalians — for instance, still uses the Book of Common Prayer from 1662.

Reverend Nathan Jennings, an Episcopal priest and a professor at the Episcopal Theological Center of the Southwest, said progressives within the church want to use more “inclusive” language in services. For example, moving away from using masculine pronouns, for example, using the word “God” to replace the pronouns He or Him. The House of Bishops recognized this movement without deciding to overhauling everything.

Which brings us to the biggest current problem in the Episcopalian Church of modern day.

Generally known as a liberal, accepting religion in terms of same-sex marriage and social issues, these accepted beliefs didn’t come without causing large, divisive splits within the church.

In 2016, the Archbishop of Canterbury, leaders of the Anglican and Episcopal churches, called bishops from across the world together to discuss divisions over including homosexuality, same-sex marriage and female bishops in liturgy, a rift left over from when the first gay Bishop was ordained in the Episcopal Church in early 2000s.

So even the discussion of change to the 1979 Prayer Book can cause worry to bubble up again.

But Rev. Jennings isn’t worried. Like the wheels of government, he says, the wheels of religion almost move slower and that might just be key.

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