Broadening the Church Calendar and Commemorations

July 4, 2018

[Episcopal News Service – Austin, Texas] Committee 12, the Legislative Committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music, held its first open hearing the morning of July 4 before the official opening of the 79thGeneral Convention. General Convention mandates that this legislative committee “receives and proposes Resolutions on the Book of Common Prayer, liturgy and music of this Church,” and today’s open hearing focused on revising the Church Calendar of commemorations, and the request to authorize the use of “Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018,” the proposed revised edition.

This committee began working on the big issues around calendar inclusion criteria, definitions and servanthood early in General Convention, according to bishop co-chair the Rt. Rev. Neil Alexander of Atlanta, to have the time it needs to fully explore the issues surrounding its mandate.

And as the Rev. Susan Anslow Williams of Michigan, committee co-chair representing the House of Deputies, put it on July 3 during the committee’s first gathering, the work of this committeeis “more than deciding who is in and who is out,” referring to the Church’s commemorative calendar and published resources.

Those who signed up before the 8 a.m. open hearing could speak to one of the nine resolutions regarding the Church Calendar and “Lesser Feasts and Fasts” that are before the committee. These include A065, which authorizes “Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018” for optional use by churches and the collection of feedback on the resource – not a trial use, but close.

Resolutions also request the inclusion of new commemorations, from A066 to add to “Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018” Thurgood Marshall, Pauli Murray, and Florence Li Tim-Oi, and D012to add the Four Chaplains of the USAT Dorchester to the Church Calendar.

It was D012 that garnered the most attention at the open hearing. Mr. Louis Cavaliere, board chair of The Chapel of Four Chaplains in Philadelphia, spoke on behalf of including the Dorchester Four, who he said embody “holy innocence,” on the Church Calendar. In 1943 the Army troop transport Dorchester was sunk off the coast of Greenland. The four U.S. Army chaplains, all from different faiths, gave up their life jackets and perished, saving the lives of four soldiers. “Behind every person who perished or survived that sinking is a story. And there are four people whose stories continued because of the four chaplains who gave over their life jackets.”

Seeking clarity

A criterion for inclusion on the calendar is two generations or roughly 50 years since the death of the candidate. The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in the last triennium recommended expanding the criteria to include, for example, non-Christian individuals who exemplify the Gospel, such as the Jewish chaplain of the Dorchester Four.

The committee is also working through how to increase inclusivity and diversity among those commemorated. One committee member suggested that excluding words of power, such a patriarch and matriarch, for language of servanthood.

Questions around the calendars – of which there are multiple versions at this time – arose during the meeting. Another committee member observed that having different criteria for different calendars is adding to the confusion. “Holy Women, Holy Men” and “Great Cloud of Witnesses” were both developed to widen the inclusivity of the sanctoral calendar but have specific criteria for inclusion.

The Rt. Rev. Robert Hirschfeld of New Hampshire noted that there is an ecology in the Church that allows for people of diverse backgrounds to “come to the table.” People in New Hampshire have asked him “Why isn’t Mahatma Gandhi in ‘Lesser Feasts and Fasts’? It’s because he wasn’t a Christian. And they respond, ‘But we welcome non-Christians to communion.” The bishop continued saying that the Church has a culture of inclusivity that is not reflected in the current criteria of “Lesser Feasts and Fasts.”

Anslow Williams said “the criteria used in the past (from 2009) is still in effect. Are these persons lasting models of Christian exemplary living?” While the committee does review recommendations for new candidates, “looking at the larger criteria” is the committee’s focus.

Alexander added “The work of the SCLM following 2015 is a commentary on the existing criteria.”

Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music committee is responsible for revisions to and the simplification of the Episcopal Church’s sanctoral calendar, and revisions to the Book of Occasional Services, among other liturgical functions. Committee 12 has formed two sub-committees, one for Lesser Feasts and Fasts and the other for Book of Occasional Services.  A General Convention Committee to Receive the Report of Resolution A169 has been formed to focus on the revisions to the Prayer Book and the marriage liturgy. Known as Committee 13, this group is meeting separately from Committee 12.

– Sharon Tillman is a freelance writer for Episcopal News Service at the 79th General Convention.