'Holy Women, Holy Men' is approved by liturgy and music committees

Bishops will consider expanded listing, a revision of 'Lesser Feasts and Fasts'
July 9, 2009

English composer Henry Purcell and Frances Perkins, first female U.S. Cabinet member, are among some new 100 names included in Holy Women, Holy Men, a revision of Lesser Feasts and Fasts that is on its way for consideration by the House of Bishops.

The Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music committees July 8 recommended adoption of additions to the church calendar and accompanying prayers and Scripture readings for trial use during the next triennium.

The committees also separately recommended, and the bishops later approved, permanently adding Harriet Bedell, James Theodore Holly, Oscar Romero and the Martyrs of El Salvador, Tikhon, Vida Dutton Scudder and Frances Joseph Gaudet following their approval for trial use at the 2006 General Convention. That resolution now goes to the House of Deputies.

Committee members debated the appropriateness of particular additions in Holy Women, Holy Men, notably theologian John Calvin and environmentalist John Muir, but ultimately decided to recommend the entire document for trial use with provisions for feedback throughout the triennium. The fear, explained the Rev. Susan A. Williams of Western New York, deputies committee vice chair, was "that, if we start removing particular people, we would open up the whole document to be picked apart on the floor of convention, and we really don't want to do that." Besides the time such revisions would take, she said, it was possible that could lead to the entire document being "canned."

"We want people to use it, to try it," she said.

The recommended resolution asks General Convention to direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music and the Episcopal Church program officer for worship and spirituality to develop and implement a plan for trial use that would solicit use by a variety of congregations, with feedback on the suitability of the proposed names, wording of the collects and appropriateness of proposed Scripture passages.

Holy Women, Holy Men aimed to reflect a broader representation of the church in all its diversity, including "a cloud of witnesses not limited by ordained status or denomination or gender or culture or profession," said retired Bishop Jeffrey Rowthorn, who led the standing commission's calendar committee when it began the revision in 2001. "We have been led to include an extraordinary array of faithful men and women."

But not everyone applauded the gender ratio of the revision.

"It didn't quite do what it claims to in adding women and minorities. I feel that for every woman there were two white men," New Jersey Alternate Deputy Alicia Graham said during hearings.

A priest in the Diocese of Washington calculated the percentage of women in the revised calendar at 1 percent, testified the Rev. Elizabeth Downie, alternate deputy from Eastern Michigan. "I really think we can do better than that," she said.

During the hearings and committee discussions, people questioned whether individuals such as composers Bach and Handel were being added more for the holy works they created than for the holiness of their lives. The committee ultimately recommended changing the principles for calendar revisions to include "people whose creative work or whose manner of life has glorified God, enriched the life of the church or led others to a deeper understanding of God" in addition to people who "have been in their lifetime extraordinary, even heroic servants of God and God's people for the sake, and after the example of, Jesus Christ."

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