The Case Against Revision

Reprinted from the House of Deputies News

As a parish priest, I see a need for Common Prayer revision, but I am strongly opposed to Book of Common Prayer revision. Lest you imagine I am preparing to found the 1979 BCP Society, let me explain.

Certainly, parts of the Book of Common Prayer need to be revised and refreshed. From marriage liturgies that no longer reflect our current usage to limited options for gender-neutral or expanded language for God, our prayer book occasionally makes it clear that our church is in a different place than we were in the 1970’s (for which we can mostly be grateful). Many of the proposals at the General Convention for BCP revisions deal with important issues that our liturgical life will need to address to move forward.

At the same time, I desperately want to see revision that allows us to expand our resources without requiring a brand new Book of Common Prayer.  I say this practically. My church probably has about four hundred 1979 BCPs in our building. On an average week, less than twenty of them get opened, and they are almost never touched on Sunday morning. Everything the congregation needs for our public worship services is in a bulletin. We’ve found that visitors are more likely to return if they can use a bulletin instead of a BCP and a hymnal and a bulletin.  As a quick glance of the pages shows, even when we did use a couple hundred BCPs every week, mostly we used the same pages over and over again.

I have found, surprisingly, that I don’t even use my own BCP very often. I use apps for the daily office. When I go to the hospital, I have found that my phone contains the BCP, the Bible, and any hymns I might want to sing or play. I would also note that most of the BCPs I own currently have the wrong lectionary in them, so I have to use the internet or another resource to find the Sunday readings.

What I hope does not happen is that over the next six years we create the 2024 Book of Common Prayer that requires my congregation either to spend thousands of dollars on physical books that will never be used (and that we will want to change three years after they are published), or to have only the “old” prayer book in our pews. Our current prayer books are very helpful to find a collect before a meeting or to go into the chapel and read compline with the youth group. I also am not hearing any great outcry to remove significant pieces of the prayer book. Is anyone really suggesting we eliminate Rite I, for example, or forbid a couple from using the current marriage rite? Instead of focusing on what is in our printed books, which is cutting edge technology from 1550, let’s make the needed changes in our liturgical life in preparation for whatever the right technology will be for 2050.

Instead of a new book, we need new resources and a canonically appropriate avenue to authorize them for the whole church. At this convention, I would like to see the first reading of a constitutional amendment that creates such a process. Instead of new print publications, we need the capacity to create the resources that the church needs on an ongoing basis. Such a process will also be the easiest way to continue to offer the church’s liturgical resources in an increasing variety of languages (Spanish and French are only the beginning of the translations we currently need, and if our evangelism efforts are successful we will need translations in ten years into languages we have not even started to consider.).

I hope also that as we develop new resources, they are free to download in easily accessible formats for the entire church to use. Our pension fund does not need profits from our liturgical resources to keep retired clergy from poverty, and using an authorized Eucharistic prayer should not require an extra hour of work on the part of the parish staff.

I know that there are many reasons to look at the revision of our Book of Common Prayer. Focusing on the needs of our church’s congregational liturgical and prayer life, however, leads me to strongly support common prayer revision without revising the book.

The Rev. Adam Trambley, a deputy from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, is co-author of “Acts to Action: The New Testament’s guide to Evangelism and Mission.”

Promoting Diocesan Collaboration

By our own Fr. Adam Trambley and reprinted from the ‘House of Deputies News.’

Image via EpiscopalChurch.org

Image via EpiscopalChurch.org

I believe that the most important “sleeper issue” coming before General Convention this year is diocesan collaboration. A number of resolutions could open important doors to allowing our struggling dioceses to gain more traction in their crucial work.

The various creative initiatives dioceses have attempted in recent years demonstrate the difficulties some dioceses face in developing a mission strategy and raising the money to pursue it. The election of Sean Rowe as Bishop Provisional of Bethlehem, even as he continues the bishop of Northwestern Pennsylvania is but one example of the ways different dioceses are trying to adapt.  These ecclesiastical experiments to date can be considered the beginning of a coming wave of collaborations for three reasons: the financial situations of small dioceses are likely to get worse before they get better; nothing tried so far has proven to an unqualified success; and a number of canonical barriers remain to fuller collaboration.  Hopefully by the end of convention, we will have at least removed some of the canonical barriers.

I was part of a group that wrote two resolutions to facilitate diocesan collaboration: D007, which I proposed, and D003.  These resolutions would enable greater flexibility in diocesan collaboration without requiring anyone to do anything they do not want to do.  Another resolution, C031, would provide financial incentives for diocesan mergers.

D007 would accomplish two objectives.  First, this resolution would allow dioceses to share a commission on ministry.  Current canons provide that each diocese will have its own commission.  Allowing for collaboration in this area seems especially beneficial at a time when more and more dioceses are developing clergy formation programs that differ from a traditional three-year Master of Divinity, and are developing training and licensure for a variety of lay leadership offices.  Second, this resolution would allow bishops to serve in more than one diocese.  Current canons require a bishop to reside in his or her diocese. D007 would allow a Standing Committee to consent to a bishop residing in another diocese where that bishop is also serving.  This solution seems the most straightforward way to eliminate the only current barrier to bishops serving more than one diocese at a time.  This resolution would still require each diocese to have its own standing committees and finance committees, which seems necessary as long as the dioceses remain independent corporations.

D003 would amend the constitution to allow for diocesan mergers when a diocese does not have a bishop.  Article V of the church’s constitution currently requires that dioceses without a bishop wait until they elect one before moving ahead with a merger.  This requirement would seem counter-intuitive, however.  The time when a diocese is without a bishop may be the best moment to consider a merger with a neighboring diocese.  Consent of General Convention and approval by the Executive Council would still be required, however, so this change does not create an unduly hasty process.  Note that resolution A101 accomplishes as similar goal, but only when a Bishop Provisional is in place in a diocese.  D003 provides for the Ecclesiastical Authority, which may be a bishop or the Standing Committee, to allow a merger to move forward.

C031 is a resolution proposed by Province III that would reduce the General Convention Assessment by 50% for one year for dioceses that agree to merge.  This resolution will require some wordsmithing by the legislative Committee on Governance and Structure, but it provides an interesting carrot that might prompt some discussions about inter-diocesan mergers and collaborations.

I would also mention a number of resolutions that discuss the selection process of bishops.  Ensuring we get the best leaders at the diocesan level is extremely important.  The Task Force on Reimagining the Episcopal Church saw a need for the church to look seriously at the role of bishop and proposed A002.  A number of other resolutions deal with various aspects of the episcopacy, and how to ensure that recent selection problems aren’t repeated.  I believe D004, which was written by a group I was a part of, is perhaps the most comprehensive of these resolutions, but whatever comes out of committee should probably be approved.

Adam Trambley, a member of the legislative Committee on Structure, is a clergy deputy from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Church Nerd: Extreme General Convention Edition

You might be a church nerd if...you require multiple credentials for General Convention.

You might be a church nerd if…you require multiple credentials for General Convention.

For the past three General Conventions, I have served as a member of the Secretariat. The Secretariat is the office that makes the legislative process tick. It is made up of the truly fabulous staffs of the General Convention Office and the Episcopal Archives, as well as a large group of intrepid volunteers.

My role is Minutes Secretary of the House of Deputies. During legislative sessions, I watch the House of Deputies via a live feed, typing like a madwoman, capturing the action as it happens. Eventually, after being edited and certified by the Committee on Certification of Minutes and fine tuned by the Publication Manager of The Episcopal Church, what I record ends up in the published journal as the official record of the House of Deputies for this General Convention.

Let me be clear: I am fully aware that the only thing more nerdy than the General Convention junkies who sign up to be a part of this legislative process is the person who signs up to listen to them with rapt attention and record what they do every day.

So, what does a day in the life of a church super nerd look like?

This particular day started fairly early, especially for a Saturday and especially for a person who considers 8:30 AM an ungodly hour to have to be at work on a normal day.

I may have tapped for the Snooze option

I may have tapped for the Snooze option

By 7:00, I was in our Hospitality Suite where Bishop Sean and Carly host the delegations of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Bethlehem for breakfast every morning and for snacks every evening. It is a godsend to not have to wait in line to get food at this hour!IMG_1394

By 7:15, I was on my way to my committee meeting in the Salt Palace Convention Center. I have lucked out and Kaycee Reib, a deputy from Northwestern Pennsylvania, is on my committee, so I always have a friendly face in the room.IMG_1400

Every morning, the Committee on Certification of Minutes meets and reads through the minutes of the previous legislative day. Every. Single. Word. They are very brave. There’s definitely caffeine involved for most of us.IMG_1401

By 8:15, I was making my way to the Secretariat. Once there, I began setting up my minutes documents for the day and turning the legislative calendars set by the Committee on Dispatch of Business into documents that make my life easier as we go through the sessions.

I do have an assistant to help in all of this. Her name is Anne Davidson and she’s from the Diocese of Western Michigan. She is amazing. She got here and was like, “I prepared for taking minutes at General Convention by making a document with the names of every single delegate and alternate for us to refer to as well as forms to use when the Secretary of General Convention is blowing through information quickly.” I was like, “I prepared for taking minutes at General Convention by dislocating and breaking two fingers.” Clearly, we are an equal pairing.IMG_1406

At 11:15, the first legislative session of the day began, as did my incessant typing. Today was a little different than most as the House paused business for a bit to have a party to celebrate the 230th anniversary of the House of Deputies. They failed to bring me a party hat or noisemaker or special HoD M&Ms, so I sat in the Secretariat and listened to the sound of deputies having fun without me. Thanks, guys.

Business kept me on my toes, not only staying with the normal flow of business, but also the surprises like points of order and procedural motions.

Side note: Deputies, if debate has been going on for a while and you make a motion to end debate, please know I am in the Secretariat praising God for you and saying a prayer for peace and prosperity in your life. So, there’s that incentive.IMG_1408

Today was also exciting because The Episcopal Church elected a new presiding bishop. The bishops sent word rather late in our morning session that they had elected, and we were originally going to recess until our next scheduled session while the committee certified the election. However, the deputies staged a mini bloodless coup and moved to stay in session.

Then it was time to hear who the next presiding bishop was going to be. Everyone gathered around my area because they love me I have the TV.

This was about half of those gathered around. Please excuse the blurriness as I took this pic over my head in between typing minutes

This was about half of those gathered around. Please excuse the blurriness as I took this pic over my head in between typing minutes

After the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry had been certified by the House of Deputies, he, along with his family and deputation, were welcomed to the front. I also spotted one of my most treasured colleagues, Margo Acomb, who served as Presiding Bishop-elect Curry’s executive assistant for many years. It was lovely to see how genuinely happy everyone was and to hear the deputies spontaneously burst into song.IMG_1419

Because of all the excitement and shifting of schedules, I ate lunch around 3:00 PM, just in time to return to the Secretariat to get ready for the afternoon legislative session.

I also took the opportunity to get reacquainted with my old friend Bag O’Ice. My aforementioned broken fingers were feeling a bit of strain after the long morning session, so I made sure to take care of them, as I have on all of the legislative days. (Full disclosure: this paragraph is mostly in case my hand surgeon or physical therapist somehow stumble upon this blog post. I’m not sure what Google search that would entail, but just in case…)IMG_1420

The afternoon session was business as usual, with resolutions being brought to the floor, and various motions, parliamentary inquiries, points of order, amendments, and secondary amendments flying.

It’s always fun to see members of our deputation speaking to the House. I always get super excited to see one of my folks on the feed, and I point and yell, “Hey! There’s ___!” like I haven’t seen them in a year and suddenly I see them on some major news channel or something. See title of this post for an explanation of why I would do that.

Fr. Denny Blauser, the chair of Northwestern Pennsylvania’s deputation, presenting resolutions as Chair of the Committee on Evangelism and Communication

Fr. Denny Blauser, the chair of Northwestern Pennsylvania’s deputation, presenting resolutions as Chair of the Committee on Evangelism and Communication

Jim Steadman, a deputy from Northwestern Pennsylvania, rose to speak in favor of a secondary amendment to a resolution.

Jim Steadman, a deputy from Northwestern Pennsylvania, rose to speak in favor of a secondary amendment to a resolution.

At the end of the session, my work was still not complete. After every session, my assistant and I have to make sure that what we have recorded in the minutes matches up with the backup documentation. It actually didn’t take us too long today, so we were done by 6:30. Then we got to click on the two favorite words of a Secretariat worker: log off.IMG_1422

Then it was time to get some dinner, do some work for my actual paying job, and kick back for a bit. Oh, and take a selfie with Lauren because, duh, that’s the best part of being at General Convention. Well, that and knowing that tomorrow I get to wake up and do it all over again. (Again, see post title.)

No filter. We’re just that glam

No filter. We’re just that glam

By Vanessa Butler, Minutes Secretary to the House of Deputies and Canon for Administration at the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

A Church “Resolved” to Grow

Adam Trambley photo credit: Jim Steadman

Adam Trambley photo credit: Jim Steadman

By our own Fr. Adam Trambley and reprinted from the ‘House of Deputies News.’

In many ways, the 78th General Convention is nothing if not a convention about church growth. This designation may sound strange to deputies with paperless binders full of canonical amendments on structural minutiae and theological treatises on same-sex marriages and the proper channels to allow the Episcopal Church to perform them. Yet both of these items, as well as a number of other issues being discussed are, at heart, about church growth.

The sad reality is that our beloved Church is in the midst of sharp numerical decline. The House of Deputies State of the Church reports a 24% decrease in average Sunday attendance churchwide over the past ten years. The recognition of our problems prompted a unanimous decision in Indianapolis to commission the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC). We knew then, and we know now, that we have to do something. This convention has an opportunity to decide what. The proposals fall into three general categories.

The first category is a large set of resolutions designed to remove barriers to church growth by making our church structures more effective. Most of the TREC proposals and the numerous structural proposals from various committees, commission agencies and boards (CCABs), provinces, and other groups are designed toward this end. (Disclaimer: I am part of a group that has written a number of resolutions published on EpiscopalResurrection.org and am the proposer of two structural resolutions.) Nobody believes that restructuring is the only answer. But just like a plant might need to be repotted if it is going to grow, the church may need to clarify staff positions, examine the utility dioceses and provinces, and streamline how we do business if we expect to get the right amount of sun and rain. These resolutions will be considered mostly on their practical merits. Will their proposed changes really accomplish what they hope to accomplish?

The second category of resolutions proposes revisions to our theology and practice in order to remove barriers to church growth and evangelism. One of these resolutions is C023, which would allow unbaptized persons to receive communion in certain circumstances. A number of resolutions deal with marriage equality. Marriage equality is seen as a matter of justice, but it also opens doors to those unable to be married in other traditions and removes a barrier to evangelizing younger people who generally have a more progressive attitude towards marriage. The debate on these matters will likely be framed more in terms of theology and identity than of practical implications. Whatever we do in these areas, however, will have a concrete effect on church growth, probably more helpful in some parts of the church and more problematic in others.

The third category of church growth resolutions are direct proposals for church growth and evangelism. These initiatives all have potential to bear good fruit, and the primary debate about them is likely to center on how to find funding to undertake as many as possible. Here is a brief rundown on some of the proposals.

The last General Convention established Mission Enterprise Zones. In 2013 and 2014 the Episcopal Church distributed 38 grants totaling roughly $1.7 million. With local matches, this meant that about $3.5 million was dedicated to creative new missionary outposts of our church. These grants ranged from planting a church among the Hmong community in Minneapolis to a coffee shop with a church in Alabama to the multi-cultural rejuvenation of a Hawaiian preaching station. At least two resolutions this year propose continuing and expanding Mission Enterprise Zones.

One resolution proposes creating a capacity to plant churches. With a goal of 50 new church plants this triennium, D005 would put in place a variety of necessary supports that would allow the church to begin a church-planting pipeline. Components of this vision include grants to create three seminary faculty positions on church planting, development of an Episcopal church planting training program, recruitment and training of church planters (including $1 million to develop and implement bilingual and bicultural leaders for Latino/Hispanic ministries), staff support, and direct support for church plants. Dioceses receiving church planting grants would be expected to contribute matching funds.

Another groundbreaking resolution proposes that we use a significant portion of our current communications budget to launch a digital evangelism effort. The Rev. Jake Dell, manager of digital marketing and advertising sales for the Episcopal Church, undertook a beta test with the Diocese of New York and Forward Movement that targeted people who asked significant questions about faith and spirituality online and worked to connect them with a local Episcopal priest. This resolution would allow a full-scale launch of that initial work. Components include developing editorial content to answer real-life questions, funding advertising to attract and build an audience, and creating the capacity to connect people asking questions with local ministries. This project doesn’t create virtual communities, but uses sophisticated Internet expertise to connect hurting people who are seeking answers online with the church in their community.

One other resolution, D009, recognizes that church growth involves not only new congregations and initiatives, but also the revitalization of existing ones. It proposes to create a network of regional church revitalization consultants that can help local congregations, as well as providing training opportunities for clergy and lay leaders. The resolution also establishes a Congregational Revitalization Venture Fund to make grants to existing congregations, with special attention given to congregations reaching out to underrepresented populations.

Accomplishing any of these proposals will require not only the support of convention, but also the prayer of the church and the creativity and sharpened pencils of PB&F—the Program, Budget and Finance Committee.

The Rev. Adam Trambley, clergy deputy from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, is rector of St. John’s Church in Sharon, Pennsylvania.