Calendar Subcommittee Update: A Great Cloud of Witnesses

We first published this update in February 2014, and we received a lot of positive response. The commission is now preparing its report to the 2015 General Convention, and we invite additional comments. As we said in February, please read, consider, and discuss our proposal—then let us know what you think about it in the comments section of this blog post.

At the last General Convention, the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music was directed to continue revising Holy Women, Holy Men with particular attention to the 2006 guidelines, renewed attention to the form, poetry, and seasons of liturgical life inherent in the Book of Common Prayer and to continue to seek responses from the wider Church. As we have reviewed responses to Holy Women, Holy Men and reflected together, the SCLM is proposing a new approach to commemorations tentatively entitled A Great Cloud of Witnesses. Posted on the SCLM blog (liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com) is a document that explains what we are proposing and why. Because this is a matter of interest to the whole Church, we would like to get feedback from the Church concerning this direction we are taking. Please read, consider, and discuss our proposal—then let us know what you think about it in the comments section of the blog post where the document appears. Your comments will help determine whether we continue working in this new direction or whether we continue along the established model currently embodied in Holy Women, Holy Men. In the interest of moving forward in one direction or the other, we invite  comments on the blog before February 22nd so they may be taken into account at our meeting the following week.

At the last General Convention, the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music was directed to continue revising Holy Women, Holy Men with particular attention to the 2006 guidelines, renewed attention to the form, poetry, and seasons of liturgical life inherent in the Book of Common Prayer and to continue to seek responses from the wider Church. As we have reviewed responses to Holy Women, Holy Men and reflected together, the SCLM is proposing a new approach to commemorations tentatively entitled A Great Cloud of Witnesses. Posted on the SCLM blog (liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com) is a document that explains what we are proposing and why. Because this is a matter of interest to the whole Church, we would like to get feedback from the Church concerning this direction we are taking. Please read, consider, and discuss our proposal—then let us know what you think about it in the comments section of the blog post where the document appears. Your comments will help determine whether we continue working in this new direction or whether we continue along the established model currently embodied in Holy Women, Holy Men. In the interest of moving forward in one direction or the other, we invite  comments on the blog before February 22nd so they may be taken into account at our meeting the following week.

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“A Great Cloud of Witnesses”: Introduction and Summary

This volume, “A Great Cloud of Witnesses,” is a further step in the development of liturgical commemorations within the life of The Episcopal Church. These developments fall under three categories. First, this volume presents a wide array of possible commemorations for individuals and congregations to observe. Recognizing that there are many perspectives on the identity and place of exemplary Christians in the life of the church, this volume proposes that the metaphor of a “family history” is a fitting way to describe who is included. As such the title of this volume is drawn from the Epistle to the Hebrews, that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). Those people found in this volume are not all definitively declared to be saints but are Christians who have inspired other Christians in different times and places.

Second, a refinement of the core calendar of commemoration is proposed. The core calendar of commemorations for the Episcopal Church will center on the feasts of our Lord and other major feasts listed on pages 16 and 17 of the Book of Common Prayer. The calendar in “A Great Calendar of Witnesses” does not purport to be a definitive collection of saints but rather an additional calendar of optional commemorations that represent the breadth of the Christian family story. Many of the commemorations from Holy Women, Holy Men will be included with the possibility of adding other figures, including women and people from under-represented communities.

Third, materials for weekday celebrations during seasons of the church will be placed in a separate volume, The Weekday Eucharist Book. Thus, the seasonal propers currently found in Holy Women, Holy Men would be in a separate volume with additional materials provided.

On Commemorations and the Book of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer proudly proclaims in the ecumenical Creeds and in our prayers its belief in the “communion of the saints.” We speak of the saints as “chosen vessels of [God’s] grace and the lights of the world in their generations.”[1] The “obedience of [God’s] saints” offers the Church “an example of righteousness” and “their eternal joy” gives us “a glorious pledge of the hope of our calling.”[2] The canticle Te Deum laudamus calls out some specific categories of saints in classical terms, contiguous with both the angels in heaven and the Church on earth, when it speaks of “the glorious company of apostles,” “the noble fellowship of prophets,” and “the white-robed army of martyrs.”[3] Too, our prayers speak of the role of the saints within our baptismal community:

O God, the King of saints, we praise and glorify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in your faith and fear: for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all your other righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we pray that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[4]

The saints encourage us; they pray for us; they strengthen us.

Despite these affirmations of the saints as constitutive members of our baptismal community, the prayer book shows a great reluctance to define the term or to make specific identifications. The Catechism touches on this issue only briefly, identifying the communion of the saints in broad relational terms: “The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.”[5] In Christian language throughout the ages, “saint” has carried two referents, a general one that applies to the whole Church—which is the meaning invoked here—and a more specific one that applies to individuals who have been identified as “chosen vessels of [God’s] grace and the lights of the world in their generations” from among their fellows.

The Calendar in the prayer book contains a number of names. Of these, the term “saint” appears only a handful of times and always in connection to a limited set of people who appear in the New Testament: his earthly parents, Mary and Joseph, John the Baptist, the apostles, the evangelists, Paul, and others such as Mary Magdalene, Stephen, James of Jerusalem, and Michael.

The state of additional persons not given the title of “saint” is ambiguous. These are the commemorations permitted within the Days of Optional Observance as described in the general rubrics of the Calendar (BCP, p.18). A clear definition of the status of these persons is absent.

This ambiguity is appropriate to the range of theologies around sainthood and holiness within the Episcopal Church. While some Episcopalians actively venerate the saints, others hold positions proceeding from Reformation desires to reform the cults of saints like those found in the 39 Articles. In other words, the ambiguity exists for the sake of inclusivity, and maintains the Anglican tradition of a comprehensive approach to questions not decisively settled by Scripture and the teaching of the received ecumenical councils.

In 2003, the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music to:

…undertake a revision of Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2000, to reflect our increasing awareness of the importance of the ministry of all the people of God and of the cultural diversity of The Episcopal Church, of the wider Anglican Communion, of our ecumenical partners, and of our lively experience of sainthood in local communities.[6]

And to also focus reflection upon

the significance of that experience of local sainthood in encouraging the living out of baptism.[7]

That, in turn, led to study and discussion resulting in Holy Women, Holy Men, which has been in a state of trial use since 2009.

The reception of Holy Women, Holy Men and additional commemoration requests brought to General Convention since 2009 suggests that the breadth of sanctoral theologies (that is, theologies of sainthood) within the Church remains as broad as ever, resulting in disagreements concerning who does and does not belong in the Calendar. At the same time, many people have expressed appreciation for the expansion of the Calendar because it has broadened their knowledge of the Christian family story.

In order to maintain a comprehensive stance towards differing theologies of sainthood and to recognize the desire to remember people important to the Church without passing judgment on their sanctoral status or requiring them to fit within a particular mold of saintliness, we propose the creation of a resource tentatively titled “A Great Cloud of Witnesses: Praying with the Whole People of God.” “This resource will recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to our understanding of our calling as the Body of Christ within the complexities of the 21st century world without making a statement one way or another on their sanctity.” It would serve as a family history, identifying those people inside and outside the Episcopal / Anglican tradition who help us proclaim the Gospel in word, deed, and truth.

Holy Women, Holy Men, and before it Lesser Feasts and Fasts, also included liturgical material for weekday celebrations during the seasons of the church year. To streamline our liturgical resources, we propose to place this material in a separate volume, The Weekday Eucharist Book.

On the Making of Saints

While “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” does not intend to be a calendar that presents a definitive list of saints, there is no doubt that many of the people within it will be recognized as saints. In its call to revise Lesser Feasts and Fasts, General Convention emphasized the importance of the local recognition of sanctity. As we look across the Church’s broad history, this is, in fact, the predominant level on which sanctity has been identified. Local communities celebrated local heroes. Too, local communities gave special emphasis to those fellow, yet heroic, members of the Body of Christ with whom they shared a special bond—whether through a common occupation, a common circumstance, or through their physical presence in the form of relics.

Saints were declared by parishes and by dioceses. In most places and times, there was no formal set of criteria that had to be met. Instead, the local communities operated on a broad basic principle: that Christ was known more intimately through them, and that the holiness of the person was both evidence of their participation in the greater life of God and was an inspiration for those around them to act likewise.

The centralization of the process of declaring saints occurred within the Roman Catholic Church with the Decretals of Gregory IX in 1234, asserting that canonization could only occur with the authorization of the pope. This was part and parcel of the centralization of authority to the papal office in the high medieval period. Over the following centuries, bureaucratic regulations and a specific legal process were created to ensure a formal process. Only at this point were specific criteria drawn up including the famous requirement of two documented miracles. In other words, this curial, top-down, centralized approach to naming saints has only existed in one part of the Church for less than half of its existence. Conversely, some of the most beloved saints within the Roman Catholic Church such as Benedict of Nursia and Augustine of Hippo never went through this process!

The Calendar of the first American Book of Common Prayer, authorized in 1789, contained most of the feasts now recognized as Holy Days and no others. In this regard, it follows the example of the earliest Anglican prayer books. The same Calendar appeared—with a few additions like the Transfiguration in 1892—through the 1928 prayer book. While some had argued for the inclusion of post-biblical saints in the Calendar of the 1928 prayer book, this did not come to pass; however, a Common of Saints was provided, officially permitting the local Eucharistic celebration of saints, while still retaining an official Calendar obligating only the universally acknowledged saints of the Apostolic Age. The publication of the supplementary American Missal in 1931 by noted church musician and liturgist Winifred Douglas containing an expanded Calendar of saints demonstrates the local desire for such celebrations during this time; the official condemnation of this work by some thirty bishops of the day testify to the differences of opinion regarding the expanded Calendar as well as many other matters.

In the first stages of revision for the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the Standing Liturgical Commission appointed a Calendar committee headed by the Rev. Massey Shepherd to study the issue of the Calendar once again. The process of additions to the Calendar has been of a piece of the broader development of the Book of Common Prayer. Additions to the Calendar typically begin with recommendations from individuals and dioceses, reflective of local commemoration practices, made to General Convention, which then asks the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to review the proposals and make a recommendation to the next convention. This process of proposal based on local commemorations and affirmation by General Convention represents the baptismal ecclesiology of the Book of Common Prayer in which constituent members of the Church contribute to the wider vitality and mission of the Church.

In responding to the diversity of theology of sainthood in The Episcopal Church, it seems best to identify two calendars: a core calendar of commemorations around which there is general consensus and a long tradition of observation and a broader calendar of commemorations that represents a wider family history that people and congregations will engage. The first, a core Calendar of the whole Episcopal Church is defined as those Holy Days bearing the title of “Saint” within the authorized prayer book:

  • All days bearing the title “Saint”
  • All feasts of Apostles
  • All feasts of Evangelists
  • Saint Stephen
  • The Holy Innocents[8]
  • Saint Joseph
  • Saint John the Baptist
  • Saint Mary Magdalene
  • Saint Mary the Virgin
  • Saint Michael and All Angels
  • Saint James of Jerusalem

“A Great Cloud of Witnesses” represents the desire of General Convention for a revision of the calendar of the Church that reflects the lively experience of sainthood, especially on the level of the local community. In this way, “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” is a tool for learning about the history of the Church and identifying those who have inspired us and challenged us from the time of the New Testament down to the present moment. Some of the individuals within it are recognized as saints in many parts of the Church Universal today. Others are not. Some present special challenges—whether that be from their mode of life, what we now perceive as misunderstandings of the Gospel call, a lack of charity towards others, or other reasons.[9] We intend “A Great Cloud of Witness” to serve several purposes. First, it is a catechetical tool to educate the faithful about the breadth of witness to the transforming work of God in Christ Jesus. Second, it is a collection that provides a range of options for commemorations in the form of Eucharistic celebrations, prayer offices, or individual devotions.

Following the broad stream of Christian tradition, there are no formal criteria for defining saints. Rather, sanctity is celebrated locally by a decision that individuals so honored shine forth Christ to the world. They illuminate different facets of Christian maturity to spur us on to an adult faith in the Risen Christ and the life of the Spirit he offers. As illustrations, they mirror the myriad virtues of Christ in order that, in their examples, we might recognize those same virtues and features of holiness in people closer to our own times and stations and neighborhoods. And, seeing them in those around us, we may be more able to cultivate these virtues and forms of holiness—through grace—as we strive to imitate Christ as well.

Contents of “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” and “The Weekday Eucharist Book”

Following in the tradition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts/Holy Women, Holy Men, “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” will contain all of those people authorized for the Calendar by General Convention through 2006. The majority of individuals submitted in 2009 and those approved at the 2012 General Convention will also be included. Criteria for the inclusion of additional names are laid out in detail below. As in previous works, names will be organized by date of traditional commemoration, usually the date of death.

Each entry will include a biographical narrative giving a sense of the person or event, and how their life and witness has contributed to who we are today. A devotional collect in both traditional and contemporary language is also included.[10] New to this resource is a set of indexing “tags” that will contribute to a better understanding of how the entry fits into the broader scope of Church history. These will identify main spheres of influence, how they are commemorated (if at all) in their home church and in churches across the Anglican Communion, and will identify Commons of Various Occasions and Commons of Saints related to the life, work, or impact of the occasion. Should a local community identify an entry for celebration as a saint, the Commons of Saints indicated will provide appropriate propers. Alternatively, a Eucharist celebrating a related Various Occasion might include the devotional collect within the conclusion to the Prayers of the People. The current Commons will be enriched, particularly through the addition of more options for biblical readings that will allow a celebrant to more closely tailor the set of readings to the witness of the saint celebrated.  Most of these Commons will be drawn from Holy Women, Holy Men with some revisions reflective of the feedback process following the 2009 General Convention.

The Weekday Eucharist Book will contain all propers needed for celebrations of the Eucharist on day for which a commemoration is not observed. Materials for the weekdays during the seasons of the church year will be collected together in their appropriate seasonal sequence, thus presenting a central resource for the church seasons. The Common of Various Occasions will follow. Despite their inclusion in the Book of Common Prayer, these commons have not seen widespread use. Giving them their due visibility, a more complete explanation of their function, and assigning them expanded biblical readings should help them become more widely known.

Criteria for Additions to “A Great Cloud of Witnesses”

As indicated above, “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” offers a wide and diverse collection of people from across Christian history and the Episcopal story. As our common life continues to unfold, new names will need to be added. These criteria provide guidelines for how these additions will be considered.

It should be noted at the outset that there is a certain necessary tension between criteria 4 and 5 that also existed in the criteria in Holy Women, Holy Men; criterion 4 notes that some people need to be remembered who have been forgotten. Those who have been forgotten will have difficulty meeting criterion 5, and its call for a widespread remembrance. Not all of the selections included within “A Great Cloud of Witness” will meet criterion 5 at the current time because the committee judged that the desire to create a more inclusive resource outweighed the need for broad commemoration in every case. However, going forward, names recovered from our collective memories should grow to the level of regional commemoration before being submitted for inclusion in “A Great Cloud of Witnesses.”

The criterion requiring an individual to have been deceased for at least fifty years has also been dropped. While that provision is useful for gaining appropriate perspective regarding the deceased, it has not been a universally observed rule in Christian history and practice. This requirement has been removed as a reflection of the need to retain some people with the collective memory of the church prior to fifty years since that person’s death. In light of this, criterion 6 speaks of a “reasonable period of time” elapsing.

Criterion 1

1. Historicity: Christianity is a radically historical religion, so in almost every instance it is not theological realities or spiritual movements but exemplary witness to the Gospel of Christ in lives actually lived that is remembered in our family story. Like all families, however, our family includes important matriarchs and patriarchs about whom little verifiable is known yet whose names and influence still exert influence on how we understand ourselves in relation to them.

Criterion 2

2. Christian Discipleship: The family story captured here is uniquely and identifiably a Christian story. This set of stories commemorates the ways particular Christians live out the promises of baptism. A worthy summary of these promises is captured in our Baptismal Covenant including a commitment to the Triune God as captured in the Apostles’ Creed, continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship: the breaking of bread and the prayers, resisting evil and repenting when necessary, proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and striving for justice and peace among all people. Rather than being an anachronistic checklist, these should be considered general guidelines for considering holistic Christian life and practice. There may be occasional exceptional cases where not all of these promises are successfully kept, or when the person in question is not Christian, yet the person’s life and work still significantly impacts the ongoing life of the Church and contributes to our fuller understanding of the Gospel.

Criterion 3

3. Significance: Those remembered should 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. They may also be 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 their varied ways, those remembered have revealed Christ’s presence in, and Lordship over, all of history; and continue to inspire us as we carry forward God’s mission in the world.

Criterion 4

4. Range of Inclusion: Particular attention should be paid to Episcopalians and other members of the Anglican Communion. Attention should also be paid to gender and race, to the inclusion of lay people (witnessing in this way to our baptismal understanding of the Church), and to ecumenical partners and people who have had their own distinctive influence upon us. In addition to the better known, it is important also to include those “whose memory may have faded in the shifting fashions of public concern, but whose witness is deemed important to the life and mission of the Church” (Thomas Talley).

Criterion 5

5. Local Observance: Similarly, it should normatively be the case that significant remembrance of a particular person already exists within the Church at the local and regional levels before that person is included in the Church’s larger story.

Criterion 6

6. Perspective: The introduction of new names should be done with a certain economy lest the balance of the whole be overwhelmed. In the cases of the recently departed—particularly in the case of controversial names—care should be given to seeing them from the perspective of history. Names added should show a broad influence upon the church and result from a wide-spread desire expressed across the Church over a reasonable period of time.

Criterion 7

7. Combined Remembrances: Not all those included need to be remembered “in isolation.” Where there are close and natural links between persons to be remembered, a joint commemoration would make excellent sense (e.g., the Reformation martyrs—Latimer and Ridley; bishops of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste and Hugh).


[1] Preface for a Saint (1), BCP, p. 348/380.

[2] Preface for a Saint(2), BCP, p. 348/380.

[3] BCP, p. 95. Cf. p. 53 for slightly different wording expressing the same content.

[4] BCP, p. 504. Cf. the Rite I version on p. 489.

[5] BCP, p. 862.

[6] General Convention resolution 2003-A100.

[7] Ibid.

[8] While this title does not technically contain the name “Saint,” the term “Holy” is directly equivalent.

[9] To name one challenge, the anti-Semitism/anti-Judaism of some writers and teachers is a significant stumbling-block to celebrating them as saints.

[10] [The subcommittee is of two minds on the nature of these collects. On one hand, we’d like to offer proper collects for each individual, but given the push-back on the previous collection, all of the collects would need to be reviewed and most rewritten. The other option is to go back to the use of a Common—but whether these would be adapted from the Common of Saints, the Common of Various Occasions, or a combination of the two is an open question. It should be noted that the idea of a biographical collect was first floated in the initial stages of Calendar creation and was deemed unedifying as recorded in Prayer Book Studies XII, p. 9. Their solution was an adapted Common. This approach was discarded in 1980 with the return of the biographical collect (LFF 1980, p. iv-v). It appears to be an issue again.]

Jewish-Christian Dialogue: International Perspectives

The American Interfaith Institute is hosting free, live, interactive webinars on “Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Commitment and Challenges – Latin American and International Experiences and Perspectives,” this year’s conference of the International Council of Christians and Jews.  The conference takes place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, August 19-21. Seminars include:

August 19:

August 20:

August 21:

Register by clicking the links above, or at the American Interfaith Institute website.

From the ICCJ website: The International Council of Christians and Jews serves as the umbrella organization of 38 national Jewish-Christian dialogue organizations world-wide. The ICCJ member organizations world-wide over the past five decades have been successfully engaged in the historic renewal of Jewish-Christian relations. Through its annual conferences and other consultations the ICCJ offers a platform where people of different religious backgrounds examine current issues across national and religious boundaries, enabling face-to-face exchanges of experience and expertise.

SCLM Hosts Consultation on Same-Sex Marriage

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SLCM) of The Episcopal Church recently held a two-and-a-half-day Indaba-style conversation on same-sex marriage June 3-5 at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, MO.

The conversation included leaders from 6 other provinces of the Anglican Communion, 5 of The Episcopal Church’s ecumenical partners, and lay and clergy representatives from 25 Episcopal dioceses where civil same-sex marriage is legal.

“The overwhelming feel of the entire gathering was one of openness, love, trust, and joy,” said Kathleen Moore, Diocese of Vermont. “Over the course of just three days, many participants who hailed from different states, countries, and denominations shared the profound closeness they now feel toward one another, and an intent to remain in touch.”

The first half of the gathering featured Indaba-style discussion that sought to develop an understanding of civil marriage and the church’s response in different contexts. Indaba is a method of having purposeful conversation, especially about issues that may invite disagreement or diverse viewpoints, that is common in some African cultures.

The second half focused specifically on discussing and hearing responses to “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing,” the rite and related resources for blessing same-sex relationships approved at the 77th General Convention in 2012.

The SCLM held the meeting to fulfill, in part, Resolution A049’s directive to invite responses “from provinces, dioceses, congregations, and individuals from throughout The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and from our ecumenical partners,” in order to report back to the 78th General Convention in 2015.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori encouraged openness. “We are here to encounter a diverse sample of God’s creation and consider how we might effectively support and nurture that journey in community for all without resort to rigidity or anarchy,” she said. “Neither is Anglican. So enjoy the discovery and don’t jump to conclusions.  Be open to God’s still-and ever-unfolding creative spirit.”

As an introduction to the Indaba-style conversation, each participant was asked to introduce himself or herself and an object that represents what he or she brings to the conversation. The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music Chair, opened by introducing her object, a photograph of two women at whose blessing she officiated. Meyers explained, “I have heard so many stories. This photo reminds me of the couples whose hopes and dreams are expressed in this process.”

Ulysses Dietz, Diocese of Newark, brought his wedding ring. He recounted his journey through the years that began when he and his husband Gary entered into a private covenant in 1975, followed by a civil union, and finally a marriage. They were married by the mayor of Maplewood, NJ. Dietz explained: “When the mayor asked about rings, I said, ‘forget the rings.’ What we got was the word ‘husband.’ Words are important.”

Echoing that sentiment, Jeff Diehl, Diocese of El Camino Real, brought the liturgy from his upcoming marriage. Diehl told participants, “It is incredible that our names are written under the words ‘The Witnessing and Blessing of Marriage.’ We belong to a church that acknowledges us for who we are, that blesses our family, that loves our family.”

The Rev. Jacynthia Murphy of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia brought with her a dress with the Maori symbol koru to remind participants that “we are all joined.” She also taught the Maori greeting of hongi – rubbing noses and exchanging breath – to remind all present that “you belong to each other and to all of creation.”

A highlight of the gathering was enacting the “Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” liturgy. Meyers served as “Presider,” while the Rev. Jane Stewart and Linda Kroon, Diocese of Iowa, who happened to be celebrating their 15th anniversary that day, served as “the couple.” Though it was only a reading of the text and not an actual use of the liturgy, several of those present were moved to tears. The Rev. Marinez R. S. Bassotto from Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil observed that this liturgy sounded very much like the Holy Matrimony liturgy in Brazil. “What I heard was a marriage,” she said.

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies, preached at the meeting’s closing Eucharist. “If every person is of equal value, a beloved child of God, then every baptized member of this Church has equal claim on everything the Church offers,” she said. “Equal value.  Equal claim. It’s not rocket science…It’s an amazing privilege to work so that all may claim their rightful inheritance. Talk about a love story.”

At the meeting’s end, a number of Episcopal participants said that while the church has come a long way in its effort to treat all of its members as equals, the difference between the church offering same-sex couples a blessing and other couples a marriage was of great concern.

“Speaking from the perspective of the clergy group at the gathering, I would say that we felt that as priests we are in a particularly difficult position,” said the Rev. Amy Welin, Diocese of Connecticut. “The distinction between a blessing and holy matrimony is not insignificant. As we have vowed both to obey our bishops and to care for all our people, this puts parish clergy in a pastorally tenuous role.”

Bishop Thomas C. Ely of Vermont, who serves on the Task Force on the Study of Marriage as well as the SCLM, said this gathering gave “much to be able to take back into our work based on conversation with people living this reality on the ground, and hearing the pastoral challenges local clergy are facing.”

Meyers described the experience as “amazing,” adding, “You hope and you pray – and when you stand back and give the Holy Spirit room to do her work, it’s astonishing.”

 

Preaching during Holy Week

Last year, we offered some reflections on the challenges of preaching during Holy Week. This year, we pass along to you a call for “Mindful Sermons of Holy Week.”

From the webpage of the American Interfaith Institute:

For many years, legions of religious scholars and members of the clergy have expressed concern over the various New Testament readings in the Christian Lectionary which convey antagonistic feelings toward people of the Jewish faith. These readings, as they are the word of G-d, are taken literally by church-attending Christians who may not be aware of the complicated historical context within which these verses were written. Thus, they easily lead to a misinterpreted understanding of the passage. These types of misinterpretations have generated terrible violence and discriminatory perspectives against Jews and the Jewish faith for countless years.

The American Interfaith Institute, in collaboration with Sermons without Prejudice, is putting out a call for “Mindful Sermons of Holy Week,” a campaign which focuses on strengthening intellectual honesty and faithful religious practice. We invite you, as a pivotal member of your community, to address the polemic language found in the Good Friday or Palm Sunday readings to your congregation during Holy Week in a manner which you deem most appropriate. The language found in these specific texts is known to be the most polemic and has led to countless terrorizing acts and perceptions against the Jewish people. If not explained within context, these specific texts may continue to perpetuate similar anti-Judaic thoughts and behavior and may counter much of the effort made to strengthen the relationship between Christianity and Judaism thus far. Addressing the polemics in the Holy Week readings is one of the most momentous steps Christian leaders can take in solidifying the relationship between G-d’s children.

Sermons will be reviewed by our advisory board, comprised of religious leaders and scholars from around the world, and a monetary prize of $500 will awarded for the selected entry for the purpose of helping you continue this important mission. Additionally, all participants will be acknowledged on the American Interfaith Institute website which reaches a large network of individuals who have a sincere interest in this subject.

For additional questions, please contact lora@americaninterfaith.org. Please consider visiting our website www.AmericanInterfaith.org for additional information and to become a member of our powerful network of scholars and religious leaders.

Christian Anti-Judaism

In connection with the anti-Judaism project of the SCLM, we have invited the Rev. Susan Auchincloss to contribute an article for our blog.  Susan has an excellent blog on Jewish/Christian issues which is read widely in the Episcopal Church:  faithnotfault.org.   Readers of this SCLM blog may have noticed that I have not accomplished my goal of posting materials on this subject at regular intervals.  The problem is that I have been dealing with medical issues for the past few months, and this has dominated my life to a substantial degree.  So I welcome with great enthusiasm Susan’s willingness to allow us to post this article for our readers.  — Louis Weil

Christian Anti-Judaism by Rev. Susan Auchincloss

How can we correct a mistake if we cannot see that we are making it?  Anti-Judaism runs so deep in the Christian faith that we honestly do not hear ourselves when we spread it.  We need more than vigilance; we need education and above all we need others to call us on false preaching.

Barbara Brown Taylor speaks to this still-current concern in the “Faith Matters” column in the August 24, 2004, issue of the Christian Century.  Titled, “Teaching Contempt,” she writes:

Last month I received a letter from a doctor in California who had recently listened to some of my sermons on tape. He had borrowed one set from the rector of his Episcopal church, he wrote, and had liked it well enough to order an older set. The difference between the two made him want to share a few thoughts with me.

“I think you’ve come a long way,” he wrote, adding that he knew that sounded presumptuous but asking me to let him explain. “I’m a Jew,” he said, “and although my core identity is still as a Jew, in other ways I’m a happy convert.” Active at every level of parish leadership, he also actively pursues friendship with Jesus. “Still,” he wrote, “when I listened to the earlier set of tapes, there were times when I cringed to hear echoes of the old ‘teaching of contempt.’ It seemed like you looked underneath the surface of everyone in the gospel stories, showing complex motivations and spiritual struggles—yet your portrayal of Jesus’ opponents and the Pharisees seemed one-dimensional and lacking in sympathy.”

As graciously as this was couched, it was like hearing that I had been caught strangling kittens while walking in my sleep. Me? Engaging in the teaching of contempt?

I set down the letter and went to find the sermons in question. Before I had read two pages, I was staring at a dead cat. In a sermon on the “easy yoke” passage from Matthew 11, I had helped Jesus make his case by nailing the Pharisees as self-righteous prigs. Reducing them to cardboard cutouts of everything I found despicable in religious people, I was not only able to blow them away handily. I was also able to congratulate myself for doing so.

All these years later, it is clear that I did Jesus no favors by lampooning his opponents. His ministry involved engaging real people with real concerns, not defeating cartoon characters. It is even clearer that I maligned observant Jews everywhere by painting those who love Torah with the same old scorn-full brush. While my California correspondent was kind enough to note some progress in my preaching, my penance has involved trying to figure out what I was thinking in 1990 as well as why my thinking has changed.

Fourteen years ago, I believed that the New Testament told me the whole truth about Pharisaic Judaism. Nothing in my church or seminary education led me to believe otherwise. None of the commentaries I used to prepare my sermons challenged the traditional story of Christian origins. I do not remember whether it was Jack Spong or Marcus Borg who first raised serious questions about that story for me, but they led me to Jewish teachers such as Jacob Neusner and Paula Fredriksen (as well as Christian ones such as E. P. Sanders and Mary Boys), who have enriched my reading of the New Testament by helping me recognize the nature of its polemics.

Simply to find those teachers changed the way I preached about Torah, Talmud and Judaism. Then a man in my congregation married a Jewish woman who sometimes came with him to church. When she did, I heard the slurs in familiar passages. I tasted the razor blades in beloved hymns. Before long, she had changed my sermons even when she was not there. If what I said did not sound like good news to her, I decided, then it was not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In an essay on Mel Gibson’s movie earlier this year, Rabbi Michael Lerner said that if Christians have not confronted anti-Judaism as effectively as they have tackled other “isms,” then that is because doing so requires them to question the historical truth of their own scriptures. I believe he is right. Yet even without such questioning, those same scriptures call me to love my neighbor, and in that I find no room for the teaching of contempt.

This article pleases me for many reasons.  First, Barbara Brown Taylor’s story parallels my own.  A parishioner of mine married a Jew, and when he joined her in church one Sunday I listened to the readings for that day with his ears… and squirmed.

I, too, thought I knew about Judaism from reading the Old Testament; and like Taylor, nothing I had learned in seminary, church, or biblical commentaries caused me to question that.  James Carroll launched my quest for better understanding when I read his Constantine’s Sword.  That was a few years ago.  Now I have a shelf of helpful books, including Preaching Without Contempt: Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism, by Marilyn J. Salmon.  Others are listed on my web site, http://www.faithnotfault.org, under “Resources.”

The best aspect of this article comes from recognizing the author.  Barbara Brown Taylor’s books have brought new life to my faith.  I feel unqualified respect for her; and yet even she did not hear what she was doing.  That helps me feel less callow.

Above all, it shows how subtly the threads of anti-Judaism are woven into our faith.  We are like fish in water, too immersed to perceive it.  As a consequence, we must acknowledge our need for each other, for calling each other to account.

Self-education about the roots and fertilization of Christian anti-Judaism should be the number one topic of adult education forums.  Along the way we will learn a proper respect for another great religion and that will, in turn, add to the richness of our own faith.

Survey about resources for blessing same-sex relationships

Press release: from the Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs

Note: the following is presented in English and Spanish

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) is seeking information about people’s experiences with the resources that were prepared for the blessing of same-sex relationships.

In 2012, the General Convention passed Resolution A049 commending “Liturgical Resources 1:  I Will Bless You and You Will Be A Blessing” for study and use in congregation and dioceses, and approved the liturgical resource “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” for provisional use.

“This survey will gather data and feedback about the use of each section of the resources,” said the Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, chair of the SCLM. “We would like to hear from people who have used any part of the resources, including those who have read the theological resource, used the discussion guide or the pastoral resource for preparing couples, or participated in a liturgy of the blessing of a relationship.”

The survey is located here.

The survey questions focus on the use of each of the various sections of the resources.

Deadline for submitted information is December 31.

- Liturgical Resources I is available, in print and ebook form, from Church Publishing, Inc.:

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La Comisión Permanente de Liturgia y Música de la Iglesia Episcopal (SCLM) está buscando información acerca de las experiencias de la gente con los recursos que se prepararon para la bendición de parejas del mismo sexo.

En el 2012, la Convención General aprobó la Resolución A049 recomendando a “Recursos Litúrgicos 1: Yo te bendeciré, y serás una bendición” para que sea se estudie y utilice en la congregación y diócesis, y aprobó el recurso litúrgico “El testimonio y la bendición de un pacto de por vida” para uso provisional.

“Esta encuesta recogerá datos y opiniones sobre el uso de cada sección de los recursos”, dijo la Rda. Dr. Ruth Meyers, presidente de la SCLM. “Nos gustaría escuchar de personas que han utilizado alguna parte de los recursos, incluidos los que han leído el recurso teológico, han utilizado la guía de discusión o el recurso pastoral para la preparación de las parejas, o participado en una liturgia de la bendición de una relación. “

La encuesta está ubicada aquí.

Las preguntas de la encuesta se centran en el uso de cada una de las diversas secciones de los recursos.

La fecha límite para presentar información es el 31 de diciembre

Perspectives on Anti-Jewish Elements in Christian Scriptures and Liturgy

SOME PERSPECTIVES ON THE QUESTION

OF ANTI-JEWISH ELEMENTS IN CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES AND LITURGY

FROM JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN WRITERS

A Collection of Quotations

prepared by Louis Weil

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music [SCLM] was authorized at the 2009 General Convention “to collect, develop and disseminate materials that assist members of the Church to address Christian anti-Judaism expressed in and stirred by portions of Christian scriptures and liturgical texts.” 

As one element toward the accomplishing of that mandate, the commission members have authorized the placement from time to time of quotations from a variety of both Jewish and Christian writers which address this issue.  This is our first contribution to that aspect of our work.  We offer here a collection of such quotations in order to acquaint readers with these writers’ views in the belief that they provide valuable orientations to the problem of anti-Judaism in the liturgy. At the same time, these quotations offer bibliographical information for those readers who may want to go further in their reflection on this subject.   The quotations can also serve as a resource for parish programs of adult formation in which issues of anti-Judaism are explored.

1.  Charlotte E. Fonrobert: “Judaizers, Jewish Christians, and Others,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, ed. Amy-Jill Levine & Marc Z. Brettler (NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 554-5.

“In recent years the so-called parting of the ways question—when and how did ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity’ turn into two distinct and separate phenomena—has been approached in new ways.  We have learned to recognize more clearly how Christian and Jewish authorities were trying to secure clearer boundaries between the two traditions.  We have also learned to differentiate the official position from how the people whom they were addressing may have behaved and believed.  For instance, as late as 386 CE John Chrysostom, the Christian bishop and author of Adversus Judaeos (sermons “Against the Jews”), can thunder at his audience about the dangers of attending synagogues and succumbing to “the evils” of the Jewish holiday observances.  This vitriolic attack is a clear indication that people in his Christian communities in Antioch on the Orontes were attracted to and frequented Jewish synagogues.  While Chrysostom would have liked his flock to consider this as a dangerous blurring of boundaries, his audience—for all we know—may have considered attendance at synagogues as perfectly compatible with their Christian beliefs.

“The more careful reading of the ancient texts has moved the supposed date of the actual separation between Judaism and Christianity from its initial dating at the end of the first century CE to the current one that places it at the end of Late Antiquity (ca. 200-700 CE), or later.  Not even the Roman emperor Constantine’s conversion in the early fourth century signals the end of Jewish and Christian enmeshing, since the Christianization of the empire and the institutional boundaries that this produced took centuries longer.”

2.  Amy-Jill Levine & Marc Z. Brettler:  “The Editors’ Preface,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, p. xii.

“Many Jews are unfamiliar with, or even afraid of reading, the New Testament.  Its content and genres are foreign, and they need notes to guide their reading.  Other Jews may think that the New Testament writings  are irrelevant to their lives, or that any annotated New Testament is aimed at persuasion, if not conversion.  This volume, edited and written by Jewish scholars, should not raise that suspicion.  Our intention is not to convert, whether to convert Jews to Christianity, or to convert Christians away from their own churches.  Rather, this book is designed to allow all readers to understand what the texts of the New Testament meant within their own social, historical, and religious context;  some essays then describe the impact that the New Testament has had on Jewish—Christian relations.  Moreover, we strongly believe that Jews should understand the Christian Bible—what is called from the Christian perspective the Old Testament and New Testament—because it is Scripture for most English-speaking people:  it is difficult for Jews to understand their neighbors, and the broader society of which Jewish citizens are a part, without familiarity with the New Testament.  Just as we as Jews wish our neighbors to understand our texts, beliefs, and practices, we should understand the basics of Christianity.”

3.  Clark M. Williamson & Ronald J. Allen: Interpreting Difficult Texts.  (London: SCM Press, 1989), pp. 6-7.

“Out of character with the gospel”

 “What is Christian preaching and why is anti-Judaism inappropriate to it?  When we preach, we are teaching the Christian faith, making the Christian witness and telling the Christian story.  As we do this, we need to see to it that the witness which we bear or the story which we tell is appropriate to the Christian tradition, that it makes sense, and that it is moral.  We need to ask ourselves whether we are preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ or an ideology; whether it is the Word of God or some other word that we are setting forth;  whether we have the story straight.

“The first reason why it is imperative to eliminate anti-Judaism from Christian preaching is that anti-Judaism contradicts the good news which it is the preacher’s task to re-present to the congregation.  That good news is about the radical grace of God, God’s unbounded love, the witness of God’s mercy that is extended freely to absolutely everybody, even us.  Anti-Judaism is an exclusivism, an us-them, insider-outsider point of view that makes being one of us the condition for gaining access to God’s love and grace.  It is a works-righteousness, with all the demonstrated deadliness in Christian history that works-righteousness always brings in its wake.”

4.  Marilyn J. Salmon:  Preaching without Contempt:  Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), pp. 9-10.

 “The Ethics of Preaching after the Holocaust”

 “Christians are not responsible for the Holocaust. Nazis are responsible for first denying Jews the rights of other citizens, taking away their livelihood and property, putting them in ghettoes, then concentration camps, and conceiving the Final Solution.  Nazis are liable for the murder of six million Jews in addition to countless homosexuals, gypsies, the handicapped, and political resisters.  Certainly there were Christians who were Nazis, but Christianity itself is not responsible for the holocaust.

“Christianity is culpable, however, for creating the environment that made the Holocaust possible.  For centuries, since Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the religion of the Roman Empire, Christians have oppressed, persecuted, and murdered Jews in the name of Christianity.  They were incited against Jews by the preaching of contempt they heard in their churches.  Jews were charged with deicide, with rejecting God’s Messiah, disobedience against God for rejecting the truth of their own Scriptures.  That was how the church interpreted its Scriptures.  Sadly, that is our history with respect to Judaism.

The church has a long history of anti-Judaism, that is, a prejudice against the religion of the Jews.  In theory, at least, if a Jews were baptized and converted to Christianity, he or she would no longer be the object of contempt.  Anti-Semitism, on the other hand, is racial bigotry.  The Third Reich created a pseudo-scientific racial profile of Jews and sought to exterminate Jews as a race.  But again, Christian anti-Judaism is the context in which anti-Semitism emerged.  In the Western world, Christian culture classified Jews as inferior, limited their participation in society, and at times persecuted and murdered them.  It is a small step from Christian anti-Judaism to the anti-Semitism of Hitler’s Third Reich.  To put it bluntly, anti-Judaism made anti-Semitism possible.  So while Christianity alone is not responsible for the Holocaust, neither is it absolved from all guilt.”

5.  Jacob Neusner:  Judaism in the Matrix of Christianity (Philadelphia, PA:  Fortress Press, 1986), pp. 139-140.

“Both Judaism and Christianity claim to be the heirs and products of the Hebrew Scriptures—Tanakh to the Jews, Old Testament to the Christians.  Yet both great religious traditions derive indirectly from the authority of those Scriptures as that authority has been mediated through other holy books.  The New Testament is the prism through which the light of the Old comes to Christianity.  The canon of rabbinical writings is the star that guides Jews to the revelation of Sinai, the Torah.  The claim of these two great religious traditions in all their rich variety is for the veracity not merely of Scriptures, but also of Scriptures as interpreted by the New Testament or the Talmud and associated rabbinical writings.”

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