Michelangelo: Creation. We are stuck with our creation stories, including Adam’s tiny penis. Now how do we move beyond those stories, while honoring our heritage of the past? (And doesn’t God’s planet look like a human brain?)
A move is underfoot at General Convention, thanks to overzealous busybodies in the Diocese of Montana, to rewrite the most famous entry in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Eucharistic Prayer C.
It was written in the summer of 1974 by Howard Galley, General Editor of the Book, and I was present for its first reading and trial use.
That was the year the first women priests were illegally ordained in the Episcopal Church as an act of ecclesiastical disobedience. The next year some renegade bishops laid hands on another group of women.
Horror, scandal, heresy, dissolution of the Anglican Communion! How dare they?
Our small group welcomed the news, and women have been priests ever since. In 1976 the General Convention found the ordinations "valid but irregular" and we haven't looked back. Women are every bit as capable of baptizing, breaking bread, marrying and burying as men are.
Most of the time they're better at it. My diocese, Indianapolis, has a woman bishop named Cate Waynick, and we're all pretty happy with her.
But now comes this effort out of Montana to rewrite Howard Galley, by adding the wives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the founding Israelites whose names are mentioned throughout the Hebrew Bible.
Now we're sposedta lift up their wives too, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel, for the sole reason that they're women and they had something to do with it too.
Well, yes, they sure did. But they don't belong in Howard's famous prayer of consecration, which for the first time in the history of the Book of Common Prayer hailed a woman.
Howard was very proud of that, and of two other things that make his prayer so distinctive: It involves the Laity in the central act of Christian worship, the making of Eucharist, like never before; the People have responses throughout, and the priest cannot proceed without them.
Howard was a lay minister like I am, and the People's responses are essential to understanding his prayer.
Eucharistic Prayer C is also the most environmentally-conscious prayer of consecration ever written: that's why it's so famous. In truth we don't use it often enough, but its phrases are well-known to every Episcopalian: "this fragile Earth, our island home."
Howard's prayer is a stunning accomplishment, a work of art. I was there the first time it was publicly read. We were flabbergasted.
And now these people think they can do better, by adding the wives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the middle of mass?
What's next? Do they touch up Michelangelo's painting because of a New Understanding?
I am all in favor of rejecting sexism and patriarchy; that indeed is the Episcopal Church's calling since 1974.
But amending Howard's wording of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob dishonors their central place in the story of salvation, which culminated in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ—who was male too, like it or not.
So I wrote my bishop as follows. One of my concerns is preserving a work of art in its original form.
Dear Bishop Cate,
I write to oppose Resolution C077, which would rewrite Howard Galley's groundbreaking Eucharistic Prayer C.
I was present the first time it was used in worship, at General Seminary in 1974. I know the entire story behind it like few people do, because Howard told his Church Army training class two nights after he wrote it. Others who know this story are the Rev. Sr. Brooke Bushong and the Rev. Anthony Guillen, our Hispanic Missioner; Brooke was faculty with Howard and Anthony was a young Church Army trainee like me.
Howard was the Dean of the National Institute for Lay Training and Assistant to the Coordinator for Prayer Book Revision, whom we now know as General Editor of the '79 BCP. He wrote Prayer C late at night in his office at 815 after a long, difficult night with his Church Army class. The whole thing came to him in a half hour's gift of rapture.
He waited a couple of days, then he shared it with us. We were stunned by the beauty of it.
It needs no changes. Prayer C marks the first time in the history of the Book of Common Prayer that women are hailed in a Prayer of Consecration.
That was one of the things he was proudest of. The women's movement was in full force that year of the Philadelphia 11.
Prayer C is also the first time in Prayer Book history that a Consecration Prayer includes full, active participation by the Laity throughout. He was proud of that too.
Then there's the environmentalism of that amazing prayer: "this fragile Earth, our island home." But "you sent your only Son, born of a woman" is every bit as significant.
Look again at Prayers A, B and D. None of them involve the Laity like C does. It is a priceless work of art that ought not to be defaced by meddlers who think they're smarter or more feminist than Howard was. Ha!
The heart of the proposed revision seeks to equate the wives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with the men they married, though the women were without equivalent accomplishment (or power). Like it or not, Abraham is the father of three of the world's great religions. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are not called Sarahaic, but Abrahamic. No amount of GenCon rewriting will ever change that. We're stuck with the history of patriarchy. God made those guys male, whether Montana likes it or not.
I believe that as a Church we are called to transcend patriarchy, to abolish it and to empower all of God's children, starting with females. But we must not attempt to rewrite the Bible, which continually cites Abraham and his sons as the founders of Israel. No act of General Convention can change that.
I call upon you to oppose this rewrite. It isn't necessary and it debases the faith, which grew out of patriarchy and still managed to make a bishop out of you and several others. Thanks be to God!
But Sarah wasn't present at the sacrifice of Isaac—the reason we have these Abrahamic faiths, when God abolished child sacrifice.
This is one of two crucial stories in the history of salvation. But Sarah wasn't even there.
Please maintain the faith of Abraham, who obeyed God's seemingly contradictory orders. Do not put Sarah on a pedestal God never chose for her. She doesn't belong in a Prayer of Consecration, any more than you or I do.
I am the son of a feminist woman. We used to watch Purdue women's basketball together, and women's golf; she loved it when women broke barriers in business, and she'd have been so proud of you as bishop.
But she knew Howard Galley in all his untidy glory; she knew his faith and trusted her 22-year-old to him out of St. John's, Lafayette.
Eucharistic Prayer C is not the place to strike a new blow for the importance of women; it is a transitional statement of great significance, and it ought to be left intact like any other work of art. Of course it's "of its period"; they all are, whether Michelangelo or the Sinai Pantokrator.
Let us instead lift up our history and honor it, as we deliberately move beyond it with God's grace. Don't rewrite the previous generation's best thought; write new.
Please vote against C077. Howard Galley gave us this Prayer Book, which doubled or tripled the amount of Bible reading we do. We have plenty of chances to catch up with Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah there. No one wants to slight them, but they don’t belong in this prayer.
Yours on The Way,
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