May 18, 2015

Marriage Canon Change Q&A (Part 1)

The A050 Task Force on the Study of Marriage has proposed (in resolution A036) that General Convention amend Canon I.18. The proposal has sparked some conversation and many questions. Some of the conversation is less about the proposed canon change and more about the theological and historical papers that accompany and inform it, and I will address some of those issues separately. But I would like to answer some of the questions, and correct some of the misapprehensions, concerning the proposed canon change, as best I can.

First, though, a disclaimer. Although I served as a member of the Task Force (and as its secretary) I am writing here solely on my own initiative, and other members of the Task Force may have opinions different to mine. But as I was one of the members most closely involved in the creation of the "Biblical and Theological Framework" and the wording of the canon, I think I can offer some perspective concerning matters of "original intent" whatever interpretation another may choose to give to any particular wording.

So, with that established, on to the questions. (And I will present what follows in dialogue format, which is much how it happened in the various threads, blogs, and listservs in which much of what follows originally appeared.

Does the proposed canon change alter the church's teaching on marriage?

The canon does not alter the teaching on marriage as it appears in the Book of Common Prayer. In fact, the proposed change removes the one clause in the present canon that does conflict with the Book of Common Prayer, that "Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union ... entered into within the community of faith." The BCP maintains that marriage involves a "union... in heart, body, and mind," not "spirit" -- and traditional sacramental theology holds that spiritual union is engendered in Baptism and nourished in the Holy Eucharist. This is not to say that a Christian couple may not find their life -- as Christians -- enriched by their marriage, just as the witness of their marriage may inspire others to "find their lives strengthened and their loyalites confirmed." (BCP 430) But since both the BCP and the canons allow a marriage in which one of the spouses is not baptized (and, according to traditional sacramental theology, the particular marriage is therefore not sacramental) any reference to "spiritual union" or "community of faith" does not apply.

So what does the canon change accomplish?

One of the charges to the Task Force was to "consult with the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons and the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to address the pastoral need for priests to officiate at a civil marriage of a same-sex couple in states that authorize such." Part of the consultation revealed a consensus that the present wording of the canon made it difficult to exercise this civil function; so an effort was made to remove the language that was perceived as an obstacle. However, nothing in the proposed canon in itself authorizes or requires clergy to officiate at same-sex civil marriages, or blessings of such relationships, unless and until the church provides liturgical texts that allow it. This has happened provisionally, and this provisional status will likely continue for some time.

This opportunity to reshape the canon also allowed for some clarification and more orderly description of the canonical process. The proposed change focuses on the procedures and performance required of the clergy and the couple, which is what canons are best suited to address. The focus, therefore, is not on expounding the "church's teaching," but on the responsibilities of the clergy and the couple, focusing in particular on the vows that the couple will make to each other, and the cleric's responsibility in assuring they understand the gravity and meaning of those vows, and that they not undertake them "unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God."

Isn't one of those "purposes" procreation?"

"Purpose" is likely a poor choice of words in this context. The more traditional language speaks of procreation as a "good" -- recognizing both that procreation is a biological reality we share with the natural world, and that, as St Augustine put it (Of Marriage and Concupiscence, I.iv), it reaches its crown of goodness when children are "generated to be regenerated," that is, as the BCP stresses, not merely to be born, but to be nurtured "in the knowledge and love of the Lord."

In all of this, it is important to note that procreation is only a factor for a couple capable of it. The BCP uses the somewhat confusing wording "when it is God's will." Earlier liturgies, such as that of the 1549 BCP, simply recognized that there were circumstances, such as advanced age in a woman, that rendered procreation impossible, and that such circumstances were not a bar to marriage. (The Theological Framework essay explores this issue at greater length.)

Now on to some more practical questions, from a Facebook thread, in particular a series of questions from Craig Uffman,.

By your reading, does the proposal allow a priest to conduct a SS marriage rite even if his bishop disallows it in his diocese?

At present, the liturgies for celebration of a same-sex marriage are provisional, and require the permission of the bishop. The proposed canon change doe not alter that; it refers to liturgies authorized by the church, and that includes the form and extent to which they are authorized. The SCLM in proposed resolution A054 asks for authorization of continued use of the "I Will Bless You" liturgy, and for use of three new liturgies with the permission of the local bishop. It is not clear to me whether they intend no longer to require local permission for the IWBY liturgy. I believe that will be clarified in the course of the work of the legislative committee and General Convention sessions, and in my opinion I think the status quo of the proviso will remain.

Does it imagine the possibility of such a rite without mentioning procreation among the purposes of marriage, as the essay argues against?

Those of us old enough to remember the 1928 BCP do not have to imagine a marriage rite with no mention of procreation. The 1928 liturgy only mentions procreation in two optional prayers. The classical 1549 liturgy mentioned procreation in the prologue, but recognized there were circumstances in which it was impossible, and so provided for omission of the prayer for children when the woman was past the years of childbearing. So, yes, it is quite possible to have a marriage liturgy without mentioning procreation, as the Episcopal Church recognized from 1789 and until the 1979 BCP was created.

To what extent is the argument for allowing same sex marriages as a rite connected to a justification based on a civil rights concern? If it is in some way so based, how is it reasonable to have a conscientious objector clause? That is, can a person refuse to marry persons on the basis of the class (same sex marriages)? If yes, how is that exemption tolerable if such discrimination becomes illegal in this nation? Or does our theology exclude the civil rights claim and posit the addition of same sex marriages as a proposal under the doctrine of reception (and therefore in some way leaving space for conscientious objection)?

While some speak of marriage equality in terms of justice -- and I would be among the last to say, given the witness of the prophets in Holy Scripture, that justice is not an important issue! -- that is not the focus of the Biblical and Theological framework, or of the proposed canon change.

When discussing civil rights, it is important to note that marriage is not an "individual" right -- that is, no one has the "right" to marry anyone they choose. The consent of the other party is always needed. (This to some extent addresses the accusation that the move to marriage equality is based on some kind of "social atomism" and "individual rights"; aside from the point that even if it were, such views are not in themselves antithetical to Christian thinking.) Marriage equality is about allowing particular couples to marry who have, for legal reasons, been barred from doing so. The better analogy is with the debates surrounding anti-miscegenation laws, which held that an individual man or woman was in no way impeded from marriage to a person of the same race. (Some have supplied similar unconvincing rhetoric in the case of individual gay and lesbian people.) But marriage is not, as I note, an individual action; it is always social.

That being said, the canon preserves the right of a cleric to decline to solemnize (or, as extended, decline to bless) any given marriage. This could be on the basis of a particular issue (a feeling the couple is not prepared to take on the responsibility) or on the basis of a belief concerning a class of people. In fact, this language made its way into the canon in order to allow clergy to refuse to solemnize the marriage of any divorced person, if they did not believe such people should remarry.

This does appear to conflict with the "non-discrimination canon" (I.17.5) which describes "marital status" as a protected class, along with age, race, and sexual orientation, among other categories. However, the canon contains a specific proviso, "except as otherwise specified by Canons." So, for example, the canons can "discriminate" on the basis of age by setting minimum and maximum ages for service as a cleric. The proviso in the marriage canon was added specifically to allow discrimination on the basis of "marital status." So a cleric is able to refuse to marry or bless a same-sex couple -- or any other couple -- if she has an objection of any sort to that couple's marriage, including an objection to an entire class of marriages. As I note, the proposed canon change preserves and extends this "individual right" of the cleric.

I am happy to follow up on further questions, but I think this is good for now.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

May 1, 2015

Web of Tragedy

I have been in Baltimore since Monday, to be met with the unrest following the tragic death of Freddy Gray. This strikes close to home, literally. My Baltimore neighborhood (Bolton Hill) shares the same zip code with the neighborhood in which Freddy Gray lived and was taken into custody, and in which much of the unrest and protest and violence has taken place. This was highlighted in a recent story on the PBS Newshour.

The helicopters have been a nightly accompaniment to lost sleep, and have led me to sundry thoughts, which I share with you in no particular order.

  • The War on Drugs has had little effect on drugs but has impoverished and criminalized whole populations, here and abroad.
  • Who says racism is a thing of the past?
  • When looking police in the eye is a crime, who are the criminals?
  • And when doesn't flight from police seem like a good idea?
  • Abuse of suspects is a heinous crime, even when it doesn't result in serious injury or death. If the "rough ride" is the norm, is it any wonder people hate the police?
  • Some in the BPD seem to believe in taking justice into their own vans.
  • Time to reevaluate flight as probable cause for pursuit.
  • When does what amounts to entrapment become the primary modality of law enforcement?
  • “Resistance is futile” ought not be the motto of law enforcement.
  • When does media coverage become the cause rather than the observer (cue Heisenberg... and I don't mean the meth king of Breaking Bad.) When does covering the news create the news?
  • And speaking of media, since when does freedom of the press mean not obeying the law? There are more media than protestors out after the curfew. 
  • I wish Elijah Cumming would run for President.
  • How does the view from a helicopter differ from the view from a drone, and to what extent does it further dehumanize the populace. (Cue Harry Lime on moving dots from the top of the Ferris wheel in Vienna.)
  • Who doesn't think reactions would be very different if Freddy Gray were white? Of course, were he white the whole situation would be different from the get go, so doesn't that tell us that the problem is systemic?
  • Some kids need to be forcibly reminded that their grandmas now have no where to get their heart medicine.

That's the summary for now. God bless us all, and may sanity prevail.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 29, 2015

Dear SCOTUS

Listening to the presentations yesterday, I was struck by the shallowness of the repeated arguments about procreation as the essential core of marriage. Whatever else can be said, it seems some are unable to think logically about this subject. I hope for better from the justices themselves, and offer this virtual Venn diagram as a help. 

In spite of heterosexual marriage having been the normative place for procreation to take place (not the same as a "cause" but a context, and only realized in some of the marriages) the reality is that the other purpose of marriage (binding two people in a committed relationship with each other) is true of all marriages, regardless of the gender of the couple. It's a simple rule that something that applies to all situations is more fundamental than that which applies only to some, but the drum-beat argument that "marriage is for procreation" continues its ostinato in spite of the fact that not everyone is dancing to its beat.
For those who want a Scriptural approach, Genesis 1 might come up. There God creates male and female and tells them to be fruitful and multiply. However, there is no sign of marriage in this command. In fact, God gives the same command to the birds and fish, and no one suggests they ought to marry. It has also been observed that this can be read as an address to the species as a whole, rather than a commandment to two individuals.

Genesis 2, however, gives us something much more recognizable as a marriage: the very important concept of unity of the two in one, including the formation of a new household, but without any reference to procreation.

So I might chart it out this way:
Heterosexual sex (a biological phenomenon) is necessary for procreation (pace any biotech innovations!)
But not all heterosexual sex leads to procreation.
And not all procreation takes place within marriage.
The commitment of marriage as permanent fidelity of two persons (a human phenomenon) can and does apply to all who are married. A "failed" marriage is not one which has produced no children, but one that has not sustained the bond of fidelity. 
Placing the legal and moral concerns at the biological rather than the human level is an inversion of the purposes of law and morality. Obviously everyone wants children to be brought up in a loving, caring, nurturing household. Those are moral qualities that biology cannot, on its own, provide; and they can be provided by any couple who engage the will and receive the grace to do so.

Got that?


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 24, 2015

Duty and Death...

... for Genocide Remembrance 

for KMY

Somewhere a child is crying.
Lord, help me find him
that I may do my duty to my King.
Led by what dark star
to the outskirts of the capital,
as a man under orders,
commanded, I go.

All of them, he said,
up to the age of two.
I passed one by a while back,
perhaps small for his age;
the soldier behind me thought otherwise.

Soldier. Is this soldiers’ work?
Up to the age of two, he said.
The King is a hard man.
It’s no disloyalty to acknowledge it.
You don’t build a kingdom being soft.
He cuts a broad swath, our King.
All of them, he said,
up to the age of two.

It’s quieter now the screaming’s over.
The cobblestones are slippery
and it’s too dark now
to see with what.
But somewhere up ahead
a child is crying.
Lord, help me find him
that I may do my duty to my King.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

A mirrorwise reflection between Matthew 2.16 and John 16.2



This poem was first published in The Witness online, December 2003; the image is from my series of Aaronic Blessings.

April 23, 2015

Another Perspective

How petty our theological arguments
must seem to those in bliss.
I do not imagine that the angels spend much time
arguing about how many theologians
can dance on the head of a pin.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
a thought from 1983, but still true

April 22, 2015

The Authority for Worship Forms

My earlier ruminations (in blog post and comment thread) on the subject of how liturgies of the church apart from those in the Book of Common Prayer are approved, and my critique of the allegations by ACI authors “The Reverend Canon Professor Christopher Seitz and Mark McCall, Esq.” that such liturgies are “unconstitutional” has drawn their attention. As with much of their argumentation, the bulk takes the form of mere dismissal or contradictory, “Yes, it is!” so I will do a bit more in terms of a response than a simple, “No, it isn’t.”

Let me first acknowledge that they were correct in finding me mistaken concerning their ignorance of the history involved. However, the reality is much worse than that: it is not that they are ignorant of the history, but that they do not accept the importance of the historical record for the matter under discussion.

Seitz and McCall make a very serious charge: that the General Convention has been acting unconstitutionally for many years by authorizing non-BCP liturgical texts apart from the mechanism laid out in the Constitution Article X. The problem with this line of argument is that the mechanism laid out in the Constitution doesn’t concern such texts. It only applies to the BCP and its revision in whole or in part, not to the various offices and rites that General Convention has been authorizing for centuries. These go back to the beginning with the first Book of Offices from the turn of the 18th century, containing the Ordinal and the form for the consecration of churches; these rites were later included in the BCP itself (as has often happened with such extravagant or occasional liturgies.) The Book of Offices went through many revisions and expansions, the first modern version being put together by the House of Bishops in 1917, later amended in 1937, 1940 and 1949. (I was received into the Episcopal Church using the rite from one of these books provided for Reception, which was lacking in the 1928 BCP). The Book of Offices was superseded by the Book of Occasional Services in 1979, since amended several times. Backing up a bit, 1964 saw a period of trial use for a book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, also later amended and expanded, including such iterations as Holy Women, Holy Men. Dare I also mention the Hymnal, a cornerstone of our worship, nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. In addition, in more recent times we have seen five volumes in a series called Enriching Our Worship, and most recently a provisional rite for the blessing of a same-gender couple. Obviously the latter may be seen as the last straw, which has drawn the fire and ire of those eager to brand the whole lot of them “unconstitutional.”

It is of course quite true that the Constitution makes no mention of any of these liturgies or resources. That in itself does not make them unconstitutional, unless they violate some constitutional principle.

Seitz and McCall raise two objections to my arguments in favor of such authority.

First, that my argument that continued practice of the church indicates the General Convention believes itself to hold such a power is “naive” — they argue that long misuse does not constitute a norm or render something legal if it isn’t. They dismiss the argument from silence as not convincing.

Second, they challenge that if what they refer to as “purported authorizations” were legitimate people would not keep trying (as in the current A066 proposal) to amend the Constitution to cover these liturgies.

Their first objection begs the question, in that it assumes the action constitutes a violation, and its repetition cannot legitimize it. This objection is only correct if the action does constitute a violation, which is the question. The "unpersuasive" argument from silence is another matter, and I will turn to it below.

A response to the second challenge is twofold.

First, the desire to have a set process put in place need not stem from a realization that the current practice is illegal (though the Explanation for A066 wrongly implies that, which I have noted to the SCLM as well). In earlier motions for change (for example 2006.A078) the explanation was given that a more orderly process needed to be set into place — not that the current practice was illegal, but that it was not systematic. (My response would be to suggest that such nuts and bolts policies and practices belong in Title II of the Canons, not the Constitution, if they need to be set in place; just as the detailed process for “trial use” is currently so enshrined.)

Second, and more importantly, the same General Convention sessions that refused to amend the Constitution to “allow” for such provisional rites were perfectly happy to authorize them for use. So General Convention clearly believed itself to be competent to do that which the ACI claims requires the constitutional support that it lacks, while doing nothing to supply that lack -- something they were and are fully competent to do.

And this brings me to the real issue for ACI: they do not believe that the General Convention is the head of hierarchical authority in the Episcopal Church. McCall in particular has written and testified on the subject, noting the absence of such words as “supremacy” and “hierarchy” from the Constitution. He has failed, however, to note the significance of the word “General” and its implications in an ecclesiastical context. “General church” is a term of art in many legal cases (including SCOTUS) concerning local churches that are part of a hierarchical church, of which The Episcopal Church is one — though the hierarchy is embedded in corporate entities rather than individual persons, much as the English constitution developed the notion of “King in Parliament” so too the Episcopal Church is commonly governed by “the Rector, Vestry and Wardens,” “the Bishop and Standing Committee,” and the General Convention with its House of Bishops and House of Lay and Clerical Deputies.

(Seitz and McCall find it difficult not to ride this their favorite hobbyhorse even in this instance, bringing in another matter on which the Constitution is silent: the departure of a diocese from the Episcopal Church. Employing their own argument from silence, in this case they hold that silence implies consent, but again ignore the historical context and the intent of the founders to form a national church, which provides key to understanding the Constitutional issues at play, in much the same way the silence of the Constitution of the US on the departure of states from the Union was never spelled out as it was deemed unthinkable. History can be very informative. They claim not to rest their case on this "silence" but it is they who bring it up. Their "careful analysis" of the polity of The Episcopal Church has been convincing to a few, but not to most. But this really is a separate matter, and I only cite it here because the ACI folk appear to think it relevant.)

Most Episcopalians understand the General Convention to be the highest legislature in our church, and its governing authority. After all, the General Convention has been authorizing the liturgies of the church from the very beginning: starting in 1785 (prior to the final Constitution) when the first Convention in Philadelphia adopted a “General Ecclesiastical Constitution” Article IV of which declared,

“The Book of Common Prayer... of the Church of England,” shall be continued to be used by this Church, as the same is altered by this Convention...
There was a bit of back and forth with England concerning some doctrinal changes the English (and some Americans) thought went too far, but in 1789 the General Convention adopted a Book of Common Payer and a Constitution which read (Article 8),

A Book of Common Prayer... when established by this or a future General Convention, shall be used in the Protestant Episcopal Church in those states, which shall have adopted this Constitution.
So it is clear that the primary liturgy of the Episcopal Church is established by and in the keeping of the General Convention, and subject to amendment by it (in two consecutive sessions).

My argument on the silence of the Constitution on supplemental, occasional, and provisional rites, and the authority of General Convention to authorize them, is an argument a fortiori — if the General Convention can establish and amend the Book of Common Prayer, how much more ought it be able to authorize secondary and provisional texts, even though this authority is not spelled out in the Constitution?

Moreover, our texts are not in fact "silent" on the matter. This authority is spelled out in the Book of Common Prayer itself, which states on page 13,

In addition to [the Holy Eucharist and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer] and the other rites contained in this Book, other forms set forth by authority within this Church may be used. Also, subject to the direction of the bishop, special devotions taken from this Book, or from Holy Scripture, may be used when the needs of the congregation so require.
The latter clause concerning the bishop is referred to in the Constitution as follows:

Nothing in this Article [X] shall be construed as restricting the authority of Bishops of the Church to take such order as may be permitted by the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer or by the Canons of the General Convention for the use of special forms of worship.
But what about the first clause, which I italicized above? To what other “authority within this Church” can the rubric possibly refer apart from the one that has exercised it from the foundation, the General Convention, since the role of the bishop is addressed separately? This is plainly the case, as the history of General Convention action testifies. A more eloquent, and authoritative, testimony than either I or Seitz and McCall can muster lies in the official commentary on the Constitution and Canons from White and Dykman (1982), which notes, concerning the Book of Occasional Services:

Under the rubric of the 1979 Prayer Book (page 13, rubric 2)... the permission of the bishop is not required for the use of forms and services such as these, which are set forth by authority of General Convention. (page 462, emphasis mine)
Now, it cannot be said that Seitz and McCall are ignorant of this rubric. Seitz, in particular, is fond of alleging a “Constitutional” authority to the BCP — a point I deny in terms of law but recognize in terms of practicality, as its rubrics are governing of those matters they address. He and his colleague simply refuse to recognize that it is the General Convention to which this “authority” refers. They want at all points to shift authority to the local bishop, and even object to provisional rites where that regulatory authority is explicitly granted, and raise the specious charge of “unconstitutionality.”

As I say, Seitz and McCall are not ignorant of the rubric. In fact, in their response to me about the failed attempts to amend the Constitution (which they take to be a sign it needs amending) they quote from the 2006 report of the SCLM concerning the subject and their proposal for review. Or, I should say, they misquote from the report. It is a subtle misquotation, as it involves a failure to Romanize the word “and” linking a pair of phrases that in their version appear to bring the diocesan bishop into the “authority” to set forth other forms, as opposed to a bishop’s direction concerning special devotions. I have quoted the rubric above. Here is the version at Seitz and McCall’s ACI blog (as a graphic clipped, lest anyone suggest I’ve tinkered with their text; click to enlarge).




I do not know if their failure to return the word “and” in the fourth line to Roman font (as it appears in the 2006 Blue Book, page 222) is deliberate or an error. Clearly everyone makes errors, as the SCLM did itself in this very text, shortening “within” to “with.” But the incorrect text appears to support the ACI’s larger argument of episcopal limits on General Convention, and when errors tend that way I have to suspend judgment as to the cause of the error.

In summary, my case is that the General Convention has the authority to authorize provisional or supplemental rites, as this is provided for in the Book of Common Prayer itself. The fact that no constitutional procedure for this authorization exists does not render such acts unconstitutional.

And in the end, what if it actually were unconstitutional, not just filling a gap but actually violating some principle? Who is to make that judgment? Everyone is entitled to an opinion, including the ACI and its authors, and as am I, and as are White and Dykman.

But it is well established that the polity of the Episcopal Church lacks any tribunal for the formal judgment of such matters — except the General Convention itself. And that body has shown, by its actions in authorizing liturgical texts for over two hundred years, and refusing to amend the Constitution to make explicit provision for such authorization, to believe itself to possess this power and authority as a native element of its character as the superior synod and government of this church, custodian of its laws and author of its liturgies.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 21, 2015

Dept of Canonical Redundancy Dept

A further note on my earlier comments about liturgical revision and its process, in which I chided both those calling for and those panicking over a possible amendment to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church, Article X, I want to add to what I noted earlier about the longstanding practice of the Episcopal Church in authorizing liturgical texts in addition to the Book of Common Prayer. The proposed resolution A066 to amend the Constitution is seen by its proposers as needed to allow or regularize such authorizations. That is not the case.

Let me first reiterate that Article X is primarily concerned with the BCP and the process of its amendment. It also contains a clause about the authority of a diocesan bishop to authorize additional liturgical material -- an authority which by extension belongs to the whole House of Bishops (and which they exercised in that manner as long ago as 1907).

However, for those who crave the source of the written authority for the development and use of other liturgical texts, one can find it in the BCP itself. The permission stands among the very first modern words of the book (page 13, following on the historical Preface of 1789, which also noted that variety is the spice of liturgy). The BCP affirms that in addition to the Holy Eucharist and Daily Office "and the other rites contained in this Book, other forms set forth by authority within this Church may be used."

There were similar provisions in the BCP 1892 and 1928, which led to the work on the Book of Offices beginning in 1907, revised in 1917, 1940 and 1949; Lesser Feasts and Fasts, approved for "trial use" (even though not an addition to or revision of the BCP except in the Calendar) in 1964, and its later editions, including Holy Women Holy Men; the Book of Occasional Services (1979, since revised several times); and Enriching Our Worship volumes 1-5, last authorized for provisional use in 2012.

If one is anxious about "authority" in this case, it is abundantly clear that the authoritative body for the liturgy of the whole church is the General Convention. This is the body that authorizes the BCP itself (in two successive regular sessions) with no other approval necessary. (Proposed changes are referred to the dioceses in the time between sessions for reference, not approval). This is the body that has been authorizing additional and supplemental liturgical texts for just under a century.

Given the amount of material that has been authorized under the current procedures, it hardly seems necessary to burden the Constitution with a clause for a purpose already addressed in the BCP itself -- or to charge the General Convention with having to debate it. I urge the relevant legislative committee to mark it as redundant and "already addressed" and let the session get on to other work,

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 20, 2015

The (Mis)Shape of the Liturgy

On the topic of liturgical change, be it dubbed "renewal" or "experimentation" I am on record as being conservative. I'm perfectly happy with liturgy that maintains a specific shape, and even specific texts or a small set of texts. Others prefer a cornucopia or cafeteria of seemingly endless options to be mixed and matched like one of those childhood flip-books that pieces together four different parts of clowns, firefighters, nurses, bricklayers and fashion models to produce comical chimeras. Amusing, but not edifying, to my mind, but clearly otherwise to other minds.

I was conversing with the deacon who serves in my parish, and it struck me this may be a personality trait. I am very familiar with it from my years in the theater. Some actors (such as myself) were and are perfectly happy playing the same role night after night, and finding the "new" in each iteration without changing the text beyond perhaps a different inflection, but being present in the moment, moment by moment, as the fiction slowly emerges into reality -- or as real as the stage can be. (As a side note, that is certainly my experience of reading the Scriptures in the Daily Office for over 40 years. Every reading brings a new insight, but the text hasn't changed; I have.)

But back to personality: some other actors grow bored and start "playing" and making changes either to the text or the blocking, only rarely to good effect. At worse they being to violate the reality of the play and commune with the audience in sly contempt for it. Zero Mostel was a classic example of the downside, and I had the sad experience of seeing him perform in one of his last runs as Tevye; it was deeply embarrassing, and all the more so as he knew it. I saw him after the performance and spoke with him briefly. I was with a company performing The Tempest in the National Parks around Washington DC. Mostel sighed deeply, "I wish I could do that." He was desperately wanting to be able to do that sort of work, but imprisoned by his own need for constant self-amusement at the expense of the other actors and the play -- brilliant on opening night but an embarrassment as the run went on. He walked away a shrunken man, sadness brimming in his eyes, a prisoner in his own self-constructed cell.

I think some clergy and some liturgists are the same -- they can only find excitement in change, not in iteration. The same may be true of congregations. But it seems that imposing variety on those who want constancy and regularity is not a good course. In our hectic, revolving world, the church may be best at offering a still point.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 19, 2015

Those who are ignorant of history...

...are doomed not to know what they are talking about.

The folks at the Anglican Communion Institute are all in a dither about Resolution A066 coming to General Convention this summer. It is an amendment to the Constitution to spell out a process by which supplemental liturgical texts might be authorized. Neither the ACI nor the proposers of this resolution appear to recognize that it is neither a horrible novelty hatched as part of a "twenty-five year effort" (as ACI says) nor a strict necessity (as the proposers seem to think.)

The fact is that nothing in the Constitution or Canons forbids General Convention authorizing rites supplemental to the Book of Common Prayer. The Constitution does lay out the process for amendment of the BCP itself by revision or addition, and requires that the BCP be used throughout the church, but nowhere suggests that no other liturgical rite can be authorized.

On the contrary, the General Convention has been authorizing supplements to the BCP since the 1940s (starting with The Book of Offices, which later became the Book of Occasional Services, and Lesser Feasts and Fasts). The House of Bishops (on their own) had authorized earlier versions of the Book of Offices going back to 1916!

The ACI seems to think that the House of Bishops (and Deputies) cannot do as a body what any individual bishop can do in her own diocese (authorize a liturgy for a special occasion or for circumstance not provided for in the BCP) -- a notion that reflects their peculiar ecclesiology in which the diocesan bishop is at the apex of all rule.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

UPDATE: See a more detailed response to the allegations of unconstitutionality, and the accuracy of my assessment.

April 17, 2015

Let the Children...

When I'm asked about the role of children in marriage, I respond that in my parochial experience they are usually old enough to serve as ring-bearers or flower-girls.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 16, 2015

Provisional Provision

A few folks in the more conservative wing of The Episcopal Church have expressed concerns about General Convention's provision of provisional liturgies to be used at the discretion of the diocesan bishop. There is at present no explicit constitutional clause describing such liturgies. Instead, the Constitution speaks of "trial use" of liturgies supplementing or revising either portions or the whole of the Book of Common Prayer -- which liturgies, unlike their provisional cousins, are not to be gainsaid by individual bishops who do not care for them.

There is a move afoot to amend the Constitution to spell out the practice of provisional use (Resolution A066), and while likely a good thing in terms of dotting and crossing the relevant vowels and consonants, it is not strictly necessary, and at this point in time may raise more hackles than it calms. While such provisional or occasional use is not at present explicit in the Constitution, it is implicit in the present Constitution's allowance (Article X) for individual Bishops, acting in accord with the governing rubric of the BCP (page 13), to provide for liturgies for occasions for which no extant liturgy suffices. If an individual bishop can do this within her own diocese, then surely the General Convention, which includes the whole House of Bishops, can by a majority vote make such a provision, subject always to the local bishop's approval for use within her diocese. The House of Bishops first did this just after the turn of the previous century, authorizing a Book of Offices for occasional use. This reached a settled form in 1917, and was amended in 1949 and 1949; and it led to the Book of Occasional Services in 1979, which has itself gone through several revisions. So if the church has been acting in contravention of the Constitution in this regard, it has been doing so for a century; and the text of the Constitution is silent on the matter, so it may well be taken to be settled as permitted. (Article X is about the BCP and its amendment, not all liturgy. For that, see Title II of the Canons.)

I say this as one who does not favor a proliferation of liturgies, but that is an opinion not all share. But opinions aside, I think the General Convention has acted well within the spirit of the law in its past approval of provisional liturgies whose use is contingent on the approval of the diocesan.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

April 15, 2015

On Church Growth: A Thought

The problem is not that the church isn't counter-cultural enough. The problem is that the church is thoroughly encultured to a culture of fifty to a hundred years ago. Relating to people in their cultural present, out of the depths of eternal truths, seems a better course, but it is one to which the institutional body seems hard-pressed to bend.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG