Stolidity. Canons all across this deck are known for it. Visions of unchanging texts, however, tend to be false perceptions. Even the canon of the Bible differs, depending on who you talk to. So it is to be applauded, I suspect, that the Episcopal Church is planning to revise the Book of Common Prayer. The last revision was 1979, and before that, 1928. This schedule should be telling you something—the BCP, or simply “Prayerbook” as it’s commonly called, was never a changeless canon. We mere mortals rely on experts to change the words by which the Almighty is approached, and although Episcopalians are thin on the ground in this country, world-wide they’re a formidable sect. They’re united mainly by their commitment to the BCP. And with good reason.
The days of the British Empire are long gone, but when it ruled the waves (and even before) this island state contributed a number of religious elements to the world. The Prayerbook was born out of struggles with Rome for secular power disguised as sacred. We try to live with a fiction of separation, but churches and states have always had mutual influence—just consider the way secular Trump has changed Christianity and you’ll see. The BCP was to define English Christianity and in doing so became a Scripture in its own right (or rite). Phrases from the Book of Common Prayer pepper the English language so as to rival the Good Book itself. When church attendance was an expectation, you couldn’t help but internalize it.
A certain seminary, nameless here forevermore, will not be pleased with such change. When I taught there many still clung to the 1928, claiming the church had erred (a strange position for someone in a voluntary organization and who vows to support its decisions) by adding “inclusive language” in the ’79. This, they averred, was a man’s religion. And they meant biological males. Stolid. Or perhaps stale. Like the fiction of unchanging canons, the myth of the rational male hierarchy exists only to be exploded. The two longest reigning British monarchs have been queens, after all. World wars tend to be the legacy of male rulers. So, although a tiny seminary in the woods of Wisconsin will likely rage, the BCP could use a bit of a makeover. The world has changed substantially since the 1970s. Mainline churches have been steadily shrinking and redefinition with a declining financial base makes good sense. “This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be.” Even if it be changing canons.