Matt Gunter on Olson's "The Episcopal "Reform of the Reform," corrected

(I misunderstood that Matt Gunter wrote the peace on Reform of the Reform, he was pointing us to the piece. I apologize for the error and to Derek Olson and have corrected this to reflect the fact.)

Matt Gunter, over on Covenant, has pointed us to a thoughtful piece by Derek Olson's piece from his blog at "The Episcopal “Reform of the Reform”. It is worth the read. I particularly point you to what Olson calls, "The Common Voice." His beginning is that the 79 BCP promoted liturgical license rather than common liturgical voice and that it is time for us to "re-assert a hermeneutic of continuity—and not rupture—and embrace the ‘79 BCP within the context of classical Anglican liturgy and theology and within the historic expression of the Christian Faith which we understand to be rooted in the Canon of Scripture, the Creeds, the Apostolic Succession, and the Great Sacraments." For many of us, when the then "new" book came in to use, we were diligent in making use of it precisely as it assumed we ought. License was not about moving beyond the BCP, but making use of the freedoms within it.

For those of us who have been faithful to the use of the BCP, (and I think we are the overwhelming percentage of the people of the Church) liturgical change has not been a matter of license as much as a matter of slow change within the congregation and in the flow of liturgical engagement between priest and people. There are significant numbers of people in our congregation who now respond to the opening salutation "Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit," with "and blessed be God's kingdom, now and forever." Or at the beginning of the Great Thanksgiving respond to "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God," with "It is right to give God thanks and praise." The movement to this was slow and is not complete. The leaflet for the service gives the BCP language. But some people are changing. Slowly.

For some years I have, as celebrant, stated the Invitation to Communion as follows:
"These are the Gifts of God, and You are the People of God, take them...." I made the decision to do so believing that making the statements more clearly a declaration made the invitation all the more urgent. I don't use this all the time, it isn't printed that way in the leaflet, I didn't ask permission for the change. I stand ready to be corrected. But I also believe this may be part of the slow movement toward change in practice. It may or may not make it into the next round, but who knows? I believe it is true the original meaning of the phrase, but less abstractly stated.

As is meet, right and our bounden duty I suppose each liturgical generation in its time proposes adherence to liturgical form that was at some earlier time considered a radically revised liturgy. That is as it should be I suppose. What is interesting about Olson's propositions is that they mostly support the notion that the Book of Common Prayer ought to be prayed and read and used as a whole, giving each part its due, and that the current BCP is indeed the standard for worship in The Episcopal Church. That being the case, Olson suggests we pay attention to what we have.

A great deal of what he recommends is, I suspect, the parish standard, shared by most churches in every Diocese. I particularly appreciate his view that we need to pay attention to the Daily Offices in conjunction with the Eucharist.

The plea that we work within the BCP of 1979 raises the question: Is Gunter in pointing us to this article, and Olson in writing, speaking from a reformed and informed place, or is this simply Episcopalians doing Episcopalian grump? Hegel says, "The Owl of Minerva flies only at dusk." Maybe about the time we say goodbye to the BCP 1979 we finally get around to appreciating it for its contribution to liturgical life. I think Olson is doing more than a grump, although grump is there. He is saying that the final reform of the 79 book is to make it the "real" book where license is limited by rubric and liturgical intention.

I was troubled by one of his major points:

"Reorient towards the faith and practice as witnessed in the early days. I.e., reading and teaching the Scriptures and the Church Fathers. Furthermore, not just echoing their words, but learning from them how to think theologically. They used the best science of their day combined with reason directed by the Spirit and shaped by the virtues."

Had he gone in the direction of a plea to look at the early liturgies of the Church (and particularly the liturgies of the so called East) I would have agreed, for there the "faith and practice as witnessed in the early days" finds its parallel to liturgical life today. I'm all for reading the theologians of the early church. How they thought theologically is indeed important. But the "best science of their day" is just different from the best science of today, as is their understanding of reason and even the virtues. On several occasions we have, for prayer and study purposes, used a variety of pre-reformation liturgies in small group services. The content has been wonderfully constant. I have worshiped often in Romanian Orthodox liturgies and it has felt like a welcome home. But we live in a differently configured world and I am a visitor to the Romanian liturgy, honored, but a visitor. There is no way that I am not heterodox. That would be true even if I was reaching for orthodoxy as an Anglican.

So, there is lots to ponder in this essay. Read the essay HERE.


  1. Mark,
    The opening line of Matt's post says, "“Derek the Anglican” has some interesting liturgical observations at Haligweorc:"

    This is Derek Olson's piece from his blog at http://haligweorc.wordpress.com/2009/06/16/the-episcopal-reform-of-the-reform/

  2. Derek Olsen, the writer of this piece, is in his 30s, I believe, and is in no way "older Episcopalian grump."

    As for my own thoughts about Payer Book Revision? I personally am praying for gridlock at General Convention on the topic - and on almost every other topic, in fact - at least until the lunatic era has passed.

  3. Fr. Mark,
    I haven't read the essay you linked yet (!) ... but that won't stop me from making a comment! ;-)

    "It is right to give GOD thanks and praise" (or "OUR thanks and praise" as the Canadian BAS has it) is a good example of a modification to the "traditional" text, motivated by inclusive-language concerns, that actually improves it and moves it closer to what the original source says. The Latin, after all, is "Dignum et iustum est," which Cranmer translated/paraphrased as "It is meet and right so to do." It is the 1979 BCP (following the Roman Catholic English version of the Novus Ordo) that added the unnecessary and inaccurate masculine pronoun.

    Another thought: Wasn't there a fair amount of liturgical "chaos" prior to 1979 with various Anglo-Catholics using liturgical forms at variance with what appears in the 1928 BCP ... adding the Asperges, using the Roman Canon for the Eucharistic prayer, singing the Regina Coeli, etc., etc.?

    Would it really be possible to "return" to strict liturgical conformity?

  4. Thanks, Sean, for catching the correction. Derek is indeed a younger and promising theologian and liturgist (which might be redundant).

    I wish I had written the piece. I just wanted to bring it to more people's attention. So, I appreciate your bringing it to even more people's attention, Mark. I just migth be able to forgive you for suggesting that I am an "older Episcopalian grump". : )

    And I am with bls re the lunatic era.

  5. Derek Olsen, the writer of this piece, is in his 30s, I believe, and is in no way "older Episcopalian grump."

    And yet, most of what I see Derek write is grump. And most often in his writing he has taken a leaf from the playbook of the Orthodites; if you repeat something often enough and long enough, folks will begin to believe it is the truth. And he does this all of the time. He represents that his opinion is the swelling majority opinion of folks his age which is becoming a tide not to be held back. I do not buy it. He is the squeaky wheel in a minority of mostly himself.

  6. Interesting post, Mark, I will soon attempt to read the essay. I was particularly taken by this bit...

    For those of us who have been faithful to the use of the BCP, ...liturgical change has not been a matter of license as much as a matter of slow change within the congregation and in the flow of liturgical engagement between priest and people.

    This quite nicely sums up my "beef" with a certain individual in my diocese. This is NOT how the liturgical change occurred at St. Paul's sadly, hence all my angst.

  7. Fr. Mark,

    I ditto what bls and Fr. Matt point out. Derek is an "X'er" and the tail end of that cohort, as am I, and I must say that if there is "grump" there it is because some of us have experienced more than adaptation, or even the sort of small changes you suggest. Many of us are attracted to TEC precisely because of a rich, historical liturgical tradition (which the 1979 BCP represents) and are not keen on a mass of liturgical changes that are not always poetic, historically researched, or obviously connected to a larger Anglican tradition. Many changes suggested strike us as the concerns of one generation under the guise of wanting to reach us and those younger than us. Also, the BCP represents a sense of stability at a time of increasing flux. We've had the present BCP 30 years. That's not a long time in the scheme of things, and I don't think we've exhausted its riches yet.

  8. Christopher....Thanks for the heads up. I agree that there are many people, some young, some old, who come to TEC precisely because the Liturgy is stable, connected to a larger Anglican tradition, etc. Which is why the notion of change for the purpose of "reaching" younger members is very mixed indeed.

    The sorts of changes that I do think are useful, and always in the light of the "standard" of the BCP that we have, are hinted at in the comments by the Custodian of the BCP, Fr. Greg Howe, in the Blue Book. He suggests that we might think of translations into Spanish and French that are not literal but cognate - trying to carry the same meaning in other languages rather than the same words. Applied to particular communities in English speaking congregations, matters of poetic, historically researched, changes in order to carry the meaning into language that is not "standard" English make sense.

    But your point is well taken. The drive to reach young people is often not connected with any effort to engage young people... to draw them in to why they do or do not find the liturgy of the BCP of value.

  9. heh!! the quote you extracted about commending the church fathers for using the best science of their day in their theology, I read as the speaker saying we should do the same--don't diss the early church fathers, but learn from them how to incorporate the best science of our day, etc. Even reading it in context I don't see it as a message to return to the science of the early church fathers, nor to the way they thought, necessarily.

    But yeah, other than that my thought is that This sounds a lot like someone who was pleading for the 1928 prayerbook back in 1979--"this is what I grew up with! It's good!" I grew up with the '79 prayerbook and feel the same way (I'm a handful of years older than the author of the piece). I am very grateful for the effort that went into making the '79 BCP closer to the early centuries' methods of Christian worship. But there will always, always be that tension between the strengths (and attraction) of the familiar and the growing awareness of its limitations.

    Apparently, you can't assume that everyone under 40 is loosey-goosey with the prayerbook, nor that everyone over 40 is hidebound to it. ;)

  10. I have now served 3 parishes and done a stint as both a campus minister and youth leader, and I found it striking that many, if not most, of the young adults and older teens told me in no uncertain terms how much they *hated* projected words and music, were not all that impressed with innovations to the liturgy, and just loved smells, bells, candles, and contemplation. Their hands-down favorite liturgy? Rite I.

    I learned much from these experiences and from the young people to whom I ministered, first and foremost being that much of what passes in TEC as "contemporary worship" is essentially Boomer Worship, and that after being assailed all week by computer screens, loud music, and multi-tasking lives, younger worshipers were ready to get their Taize on, dive into some traditional worship, and chill. A number of these younger people expressed shock and dismay at the cavalier way Episcopalians seemed to rush to dismantle the BCP, which they regarded as a pearl of great price.

    Did this make them conservative? Absolutely not - they were also appalled at the resources our church wasted in arguing over sex and gender, and couldn't imagine why women's ordination or gay bishops was such a big deal. That was the other major learning piece for me: "conservative" and "traditional" is often not the same.

    I realize this is all anecdotal, but as a younger Boomer and a priest it was interesting for me to learn these lessons from younger Episcopalians, and I think we would do well to never assume that "younger" always means "alternative." Let's face it: for someone unchurched and under 50, Rite I is alternative.


  11. Fr Mark -

    I'm amazed you still haven't corrected your post and its title to correctly attribute the referenced article to Derek Olson.

  12. Oriscus...just did. Sorry for the time it took. I was doing Sunday Church stuff and not paying attention. I think it is cleaned up, but at 6:30 AM who knows.

  13. I know it isn't theological, or anything like that, but, I think, there is too little attention paid to the musical settings. Aside from being older and traditional, the music for Rite I flows better and seems to be more coherent in its setting.

    By contrast the various settings for Rite II never seemed to be "in" the context. While very singable, the mood, at least for me, isn't consistently pointed to the spiritual acts we are doing.

    I have no problem with updating the liturgy, but music takes even longer to catch up. See, e.g. 20th century atonal music, which could be very beautiful, but usually wasn't.

    Who knows, maybe the secret to increasing the popularity of and the affection for the current BCP is to keep working at the musical settings. After all, music speaks to us where words might not be heard.

  14. Thanks for the nod, Fr. Mark.

    Yes, my intention on the "science" issue was that the Fathers used the best science they could get their hands on---we should absolutely do the same...

    And I'll admit to being a grump--at least sometimes... :-)

  15. Dear Mark,

    I think this essay actually reflects the way that many younger Episcopalians feel about the church -- although they/we haven't necessarily identified as a "movement" in the way that the NLM has in Rome. Lots of us are totally on board with the full participation of ordained women, gay people, etc. in the life of the church, and want to see a real focus on mission. At the same time, we value a lot of the richness of "heritage" episcopal worship, along with the credal and patristic theology that has undergirded anglicanism through the centuries. Efforts to "do justice" by trying to re-work our liturgy seem like a vain waste of effort (and a potentially destructive one at that) when can be spending that energy trying to carry out God's mission in the world.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.