The UMC Version of the RCL: How It Differs from the "Standard" RCL, and Why

By Taylor Burton-Edwards

Worship planning umc version rcl
Cover of 20th Anniversary Annotated Edition of The Revised Common Lectionary. Produced by The Consultation on Common Texts.

The UMC version? You mean The United Methodist Church does not follow the Revised Common Lectionary exactly?

That's right.

Of course most other denominations adapt the lectionary a bit for their own use as well. It was made to be adaptable!

But United Methodists may have adapted the RCL the most.

And that is in part because we were its first official adopters when we approved the 1992 Book of Worship at General Conference during the spring of that year.

3 Major Variances, and Why We Vary
Two of our three areas of variance are about timing.

You may have noticed that the Psalter in our hymnal and some of the Psalm recommendations in our Book of Worship lectionary for each Sunday do not exactly match the Psalms or the verses recommended in the "full version" of the RCL presented on such sites as the Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary site, or Textweek. This is because General Conference had just approved The United Methodist Hymnal in 1988, published beginning in 1989. The version of the Psalter in that hymnal was based on the readings of The Common Lectionary, the 1983 predecessor to The Revised Common Lectionary. No one thought it wise to alter the still relatively new hymnal by re-doing the entire Psalter for something like a 1989 UMH version 2.0. So, instead, our version of the Psalter remains largely based on the Common Lectionary version, though we made the RCL reading an option when the entire Psalm in the RCL is different than what appears in the Common Lectionary and our hymnal.

The Late Draft Factor
You may also have noticed a few occasions when the verses selected, and sometimes even a whole pericope, are different than what appears in the "standard" version. That is because what we actually approved in the Book of Worship was a late but not final draft of the RCL.

Why did we approve a draft of a resource that would appear in full in 1992 you may ask?

That has to do with the timing of preparing legislation for General Conference. All legislation intended to come before General Conference must be in its final form during the late summer (typically by August) the year prior to the General Conference. This is so the legislation can be properly printed, translated and distributed to the delegates to General Conference by the end of that year so they have ample time to consider the thousands of pages of legislation that will be before them come April. This meant the Book of Worship had to be in a form, ready for press, a full eight months before General Conference. And that meant, from a publication standpoint, it actually had to be assembled at least a year ahead of time.

We wanted to be sure to include the RCL in our new Book of Worship, and not have to wait another four years to adopt it separately from the initial publication. So that meant that what was brought for approval to General Conference was a 1991 draft of the RCL.

Just One Track
Finally, you will notice that during the Season after Pentecost, the "standard" lectionary sites provide two sets of readings for each Sunday, while we provide just one.

The RCL includes both a semi-continuous and a complementary track for these Sundays. In the semi-continuous track, readings are selected from the Old Testament, Epistles and Gospels to allow for semi-continuous and unrelated readings in each throughout this season. This allows each, and particularly the Old Testament, to be heard and explored in its own integrity.

The Common Lectionary (1983) had provided only a semi-continuous track. One of the major pieces of feedback The Consultation on Common Texts got from some denominations (notably Lutherans and Anglicans) was the need also to include the more traditional "typological" approach to Old Testament, where the Old Testament lesson would be chosen to foreshadow or reflect or otherwise help illumine the Gospel reading. A significant part of the work in creating the Revised Common Lectionary went into developing this complementary track as an option for those churches who indicated they needed it.

United Methodists, however, chose to include only the semi-continuous track. Part of this was for theological reasons. The developers of the Book of Worship generally preferred the option of letting the OT, Epistle and Gospel each speak on their own terms during this season of the year. Part of it was also practical. To include the complementary track would have required many more pages in the lectionary section alone, pages which would end up being subtracted from those which could otherwise be available for other kinds of resources. The developers proposed, and General Conference approved, just the semi-continuous track for the Season after Pentecost.

So, there you have it, The United Methodist Version of the Revised Common Lectionary: Part Common Lectionary Psalter, part late-draft, and all semi-continuous for the Season after Pentecost.

And, we did it first!

Hooray for The RCL/UMC Version!