Saturday, July 11, 2009

Changing or remaining steadfastly the same?

I had an E-mail conversation (several messages back and forth over a few hours) with Barbara, a parish secretary or administrator in an Episcopal congregation. Her congregation has not moved along with the rest of the Episcopal Church in the past several years. In the Episcopal Church the Scripture lessons to be read in church each week are listed in the back of the prayer book. Perhaps nine years ago there was a move to change the lessons. The Revised Common Lectionary is the new listing of lessons to be read in church. They are “revised” from the previous list. They are “common” meaning that several different denominations, including Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and others have agreed to use the same list of lessons. A “Lectionary” is the list of lessons.

Six years ago the Episcopal Church, nationally, agreed to begin using the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for “trial use.” It was up to dioceses and congregations whether or not they use them. Three years ago was the time for all congregations to use them, but the old Lectionary was still permissible to use. Beginning this Advent (the beginning of the new church year near the end of November) the old Lectionary will not be able to be used and we are all supposed to be using the RCL.

Barbara’s congregation, probably with the leadership of the priest, is not changing to the RCL. They are continuing to use the old Lectionary. She wrote to me wanting to order the calendar that they have always used, the one that lists the old Lectionary readings on it. Barbara said that last year’s calendar did not have the old Lectionary and it has been a burden to them that she wanted to correct. I explained that the calendar publisher was not including the old Lectionary on their calendars now.

In a series of messages Barbara kept coming up with other questions and possible solutions to find a calendar that will list the old lessons for each Sunday. I could read her feelings of stress in needing a calendar to meet her congregation’s needs.

I was saddened and felt sorry for Barbara and her congregation. The Church, in many of its denominations is moving onward. Throughout history things have always been changing in the Church and they continue to change. Barbara’s congregation has decided not to change. This is coupled, in my opinion, with the results of the “me, now” generation. That is, the “I want it my way and I want it now” view of life. In the past generation this has become the norm for those of us living in this culture. Barbara’s congregation has not changed and kept up with the changing Church, but they still “want it my way and want it now.” She did not get as indignant as I may be presenting it, but the underlying concern of Barbara’s was “What do you mean that we can not obtain the calendar printed with the lessons that we want on it?”

It is, to me, a sad situation for Barbara’s congregation. They, or perhaps just the priest who is their leader, have made the decision to stop growing in the life of the Church. Part of that decision results in the rub, the pinch, that comes from wanting what no longer exists.

What a corner we box ourselves into sometimes by wanting things to remain as they have been but can not be that way any longer.

1 comment:

Paul said...

I'm not entirely happy with the RCL--it has a bit of a Calvinistic tilt at times, and its Psalm selections are often too long for liturgy--so I kinda wish the Church had authorized but not required it in 2006. I hope we particpate fully in future revisions of the RCL to address these issues and come up with a lectionary that reflects "Mere Christianity."

(It also has several wonderful advantages, not the least of which is that since such a large portion of the Christian Church uses it, there are a wide variety of commentaries and other supplemental materials available for it. This is goodness.)

However, General Convention did require it, so it's up to us as Episcopal parishes to use it--and we're required to, unless we have our Bishop's permission to do otherwise. We're not congregationalists, so we don't get to decide liturgy on our own.

I suspect that someone will come up with calendars that will be available online to help out parish folks who still want to use the old Lectionary....