Thoughts on Prayer Books, Liturgy, and Life Together

The substitute Resolution A068, as proposed by the House of Bishops and approved by the Deputies, provides a set of guidelines as the Episcopal Church moves toward “the next Prayer Book.” The resolution is not perfect in all details, but the fact that it perfectly satisfies no one is perhaps evidence of its inherent good qualities. The art of politics (in the best sense) is invariably about compromise—no one gets everything they want, and everyone gets something they need.

Our liturgy (leitorgia, “the people’s work/public works project”) is an important and treasured piece—some might say, the most important piece—of our common life and identity as Episcopalians. Over time liturgy both forms us in the virtues and behaviors of faith, and simultaneously announces that faith to those who participate in and witness the liturgy. That is one reason (among many) that we take the liturgical tradition so very seriously. It all matters deeply—the words, the gestures, the use of bodies and physical objects, music and movement, all come together to create something greater than the totality of the component parts, and invite us out of ourselves into something much greater than ourselves. Because it matters so deeply to so many of us, even just the thought of altering it in significant ways can feel enormously threatening.

The most frequently uttered commandment in Holy Scripture is memorably pithy: Fear not. Over and over (and particularly at moments of enormous anxiety and disruption) the people of God are told, “Fear not.” Do not be afraid. Jesus chides his closest friends by asking “Why were you afraid? Where is your faith? Do you not believe that I AM with you? In the midst of the storm on the lake, with the waves crashing into the boat…in the Upper Room on the afternoon of the First Day of the Week, offering peace and the Holy Spirit…going with you ‘even unto the ends of the earth?’”

It’s very easy to get caught in fear. Fear of that which is not yet; fear of what we cannot know beforehand but imagine vividly “might/could/will happen if…” I suspect that’s exactly why words like “Fear not” appear so often in the Bible. Because we do fear, so often, and for so many reasons.

Do we not believe that I AM is with us? Even now, even in the midst of this matter?

Listen! Do you hear the sound of voices, raised in passionate disagreement?

That might be the sound of fear. That sound might be fear, or cause fear.

Or… it might be the sound of confidence—not in a particular position on a particular issue, but rather confidence, trust, faith, that I can disagree with you about an issue, even passionately, and yet I can trust that neither one of us will walk out and abandon the other.

That we can disagree, even passionately, and yet be committed to something greater than “who wins this particular argument.”

That we can disagree, even passionately, but that we can also continue “to respect the dignity of every human being” and “seek and serve Christ in all persons,” starting with one another.

The General Convention has approved a beginning, toward a process, that will affect our life together for many years to come. The making of a new prayer book does not happen quickly, and in the current culture, it cannot, it must not happen without many voices and participants. My hope, as one who loves and values our Anglican heritage, is that we will value each other (especially those members and those voices that have historically been “on the margins”) enough to make the process itself truly a sign of God’s love, of Christ’s peace, of the Holy Spirit’s power, as we engage this process and undertake the work before us. I pray that the baptismal promises we make each time we baptize a new Christian, or renew our own baptismal vows, will not only be included in the next Prayer Book but will be so obviously practiced in the way we deal with one another along the way, that observers inside and outside the Church will marvel once again: See how these Christians love one another!

- The Rev. Jason Haddox, Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission


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