Of Prayer Book Revision – and Pigeons

By Lee Ann Walling


The House of Deputies voted Saturday not to kick the can down the triennial road but to start the process of revising the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The House of Bishops still need to weigh in, and the estimated time of arrival for a finished prayer book is 2030.

The full amended text of the resolution, A068, can be viewed here. A majority of lay and clergy delegates from the Episcopal Church in Delaware voted for the resolution.

The resolution ensures that “such revision will continue in faithful adherence to the historic rites of the Church Universal as they have been received and interpreted within the Anglican tradition of Common Prayer.” It also specifies that “such revision utilize the riches of Holy Scripture and our Church’s liturgical, cultural, racial, generational, linguistic, gender and ethnic diversity in order to share common worship.”

Probably most controversially, the resolution requires that “such revision utilize inclusive and expansive language and imagery for humanity and divinity.”

There was a great deal of compelling testimony from deputies for whom the notion of God as a “father” or as “an old white guy with a beard” (as one put it) is not who they encounter or what they see when they pray. “Expanded” language is not replacement language.

It is fair to say that most deputies were surprised to be faced with this monumental vote – and on Day Three of General Convention, no less. Most assumed they would be presented with the “kick-the-can” option, which was for the church to practice “deep engagement” with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer over the next three years “with a view to increasing the Church’s familiarity with the book in its entirety.”

The truth is, for many Episcopalians, the Book of Common Prayer has been reduced to snippets in a Sunday bulletin. As the church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music begins this long-term process,  guidance such as Derek Olsen’s “Inwardly Digest: The Prayer Book as a Guide to a Spiritual Life” might help provide knowledge and context.

Sweet, Heavenly Pigeon

In the cavernous House of Deputies, a couple of brazen pigeons have been spotted flying in the rafters, strutting on the house floor, and alighting on deputy tables and speaker stands. One now has his own Twitter handle, @gc79pigeon and is up to 559 followers as of Sunday morning. The pigeon was even interviewed by Episcopal Café.

The pigeon provides some measure of comic relief to what has been a grueling schedule. For the last few days, we have been sucked into a schedule that starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 11 as our daily deputation meeting winds down in the Rev. Ruth Beresford’s hotel room. There is an hour here or there to try to grab a quick bite in an area that is full of enticing restaurants. As legislative committees finish their work on resolutions, the schedule is beginning to settle down a bit.

Some of us have made it to the Congress Avenue bridge to join the throngs who gather every night to watch about a million Mexican free-tail bats fly out in massive swarms in search of food. It is the largest urban bat colony in the world. Thousands of people stand on the bridge, on the trails below and wait on boats in the Colorado River to view this incredible spectacle.

Lee Ann Walling is a second-time deputy to General Convention and a member of the Church Planting and Evangelism legislative committee. She is returning to Austin as a 1977 journalism graduate of the University of Texas and attends Christ Church in Milford.

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