There are a lot of commissions and committees that will be convening, offering formal reports of their work at General Convention this year.
Let’s check in on the Standing Commission for Liturgy and Music. In The Episcopal Church, a Standing Commission begins when the elite in a bureaucracy choose a select group of people – other elite – who then make all the decisions when it comes to how The Episcopal Church worships.
How the Episcopal Church worships is the main experience of church for the Average Joe or Jane. It defines Sunday morning, bringing people in the door. Yet no matter what the purpose of a commission or committee, when The Episcopal Church operates under the assumption that it “knows better”, it is one of the diagnostics indicating a church in stage IV cancer. It’s time for hospice or radical therapies.
Closed groups are passé and obsolete. Eighteen people, no matter who they are or where they came from, are not enough to keep their pulse on what’s happening out there. Moreover, the flow of communication and power structure is all wrong. The Holy Spirit blows where she wills with chaotic power. She doesn’t know from Standing Commissions. She continues to inspire writers, poets, singers, preachers, composers, musicians, dancers, artists, and those who sit in holy silence.
The sun set long ago on the notion that prayers have to be “okayed” by a select group. Yet the gate keeping continues. The results can hurt. Gifts are ignored. People leave, going where they can grow and be appreciated.
If a Standing Commission truly valued its work, and truly valued the Body of Christ, it wouldn’t spend any time generating liturgies and songbooks, but figure out where the disconnect is happening; working to empower all, working to respect the dignity of all. Its members would value curiosity and keen listening skills over resumes and power connections. It would be scouring the world for resources, creating a lateral network of relationships and ideas.
The leadership of The Episcopal Church needs to be more grassroots than Astroturf. More of a scout with an ear to the ground than a couple of generals looking at a map. Isn’t that what got Custer into trouble?
The reality is, people are indeed hungry for ways to make corporate prayer more relevant and responsive. People want a spiritual community in which they can be accountable. All they need are guidelines and the opportunity for dialog. If these standing commissions were doing their jobs, there wouldn’t be the need to publish any more prayer books or hymnals. A BCP Kindle is a dead idea but I’m willing to bet good money it’s being discussed as an “important next step.” The last thing we need is more codification. That’s like Western Union working on an improved Morse Code manual while the telephone lines were being put up.
The new Christianity requires more nimble responses, a leadership that evokes and inspires instead of dictates and explains.
Prayer happens every day all over the world in the lives of believers, seekers, and atheists. We are all discovering that when it comes to God and living righteous lives, we have more in common with our Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and secularist/atheist sisters and brothers than we do with some fellow Episcopalians.
Jon Stewart defines shared principles in America more than the obscure leadership of The Episcopal Church. (Would someone please tell Gene Robinson that this is not an invitation to do yet another sound and lighting check?)
Instead of the top-down imparting of prayers, follow the other mainline denominations. Build sites loaded with resources, interconnected, not set in some virtual Siberia on the ECUSA website. Even better, join the party of poly-denominational boards where prayers, practices, videos of services, and repertoire are shared in the spirit of collaboration.
One wonders: has anyone on the Standing Commission for Liturgy and Music been to the Workshop Rotation Model web site? Educators in every denomination from around the world share curricula and implementation. Sure there’s some sketchy theology, but no commission, bishop, priest, or deputy is my theologian. Like the rest of God’s children, I am working that out with my Creator every single day.
And don’t pass on the guff about standards and theology yada yada yada. Yes – there’s a whole lot of wacky stuff going on in different churches. There are churches that don’t have the energy to split, but use the 1928 BCP and have idolatrous relationships with Rite One, sometimes in the shadow of a cathedral spire or a quick public transit ride from 815 Second Ave. There happens to be a system in place to deal with this nonsense: put the bishops to work and actually have them supervise parishes in their dioceses. What a concept. Maybe if parishes had been supervised over the past decade or so, leaving things like pronouncements on sexuality up to psychologists, or do-gooder world tours to Angelina Jolie, the obituary for the Episcopal Church wouldn’t be on file ready to run.