To everything there is a season — and a liturgy?

MenopauseThe story of Episco-Druid rites has moved from the Anglican blogosophere to print, and in two very different forms.

Julia Duin of The Washington Times reports the story, adding the detail of Bishop Charles Bennison’s statement (PDF) about the controversy.

Religion editor Shirley Ragsdale of the Des Moines Register writes a column that praises the Women’s Liturgy Project by the Episcopal Church’s Office of Women’s Ministries but does not mention the rite attributed to the Rev. Glyn Lorraine Ruppe Melnyk, or the firestorm of criticism it attracted from conservatives.

Ragsdale begins with this description of the liturgical landscape:

Women make up more than half of churchgoers, but so much of their lives is ignored in terms of religious rites, rituals and ceremonies.

There are ceremonies to baptize their babies, but no rituals to mark the passage from girl to woman or to celebrate conception or pregnancy. There are few rituals to mark losses such as miscarriages or passages such as menopause.

. . . The intent is to create liturgy that can be used within the context of a Sunday morning service to mark menstruation, conception, pregnancy, any form of pregnancy loss, childbirth, menopause and other changes or loss. Having passed almost all of those female milestones with little fanfare from my faith tradition, the idea that a woman’s church family might pay attention to some of them is appealing.

As a teen, I probably wouldn’t have appreciated an announcement in church when I got my first period, but I can imagine that a coming-of-age service where a number of girls could be recognized for reaching young adulthood might be something to be proud of.

Actually there are liturgies to mark “the passage from girl to woman” (and the passage from boy to man). For liberal Episcopalians, Journey to Adulthood offers spiritual formation, pilgrimages and a churchwide service called Rite 13.

I’ll leave aside the question of whether prayers about menstruation or menopause ought to become part of a Sunday service.

Ragsdale is strongest in telling the story of a Presbyterian woman who joined her sisters in persuading their mother to give up her car keys for the sake of her safety:

After dinner, one daughter said a prayer: “God, we are truly grateful for our mother and grandmother and friend. She has always been there for us. So many times she put each of our needs before her own. We ask you to be with her now in this time of sharing and in the days ahead when she will be sad because she cannot do the same kinds of acts of neighborliness and mercy that she could do when she was able to drive. Bless her and us, for this is a day of endings and beginnings.”

There were stories about the kindnesses the mother had performed, including emergency trips to the hospital and reliable transportation to church. Then they volunteered to make the mother’s transition easier. Grandchildren and teenaged neighbors offered to drive for her. Daughters committed to mother-daughter outings.

When the stories and promises concluded, the mother reached into her purse and with tears in her eyes handed the car keys to her daughters. It seems likely that the mother’s bitterness about giving up her independence was tempered by the sweetness of the prayer and ritual performed by her family and friends. I like to think that because of the ritual, the family was more likely to follow through on their promises.

It isn’t exactly liturgy. But it could be. The congregation could recognize the mother’s contribution to the church and join in the promise part.

That’s one way of looking at it. Here’s another way: Isn’t it amazing that this woman’s family rose to the liturgical and pastoral challenge without an official Service of Diminished Driving Capacities? And could it be that this mother and grandmother might prefer not to make her painful transition the focus of a corporate service?

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  • Camassia

    I don’t like the idea of creating gender-specific liturgies. If there were male-only life-passage rites in church, like Judaism’s circumcision and bar mitzvah ceremonies, I’d be more sympathetic to this. But such rites in Christianity have been blessedly oblivious to gender. Why start now?

  • Jill

    “Having passed almost all of those female milestones with little fanfare from my faith tradition, the idea that a woman’s church family might pay attention to some of them is appealing.”

    I would change that last word to “appalling.” My entire church family doesn’t need to know all of those personal things about me. They are for my husband, myself, and possibly very close friends and family members, and if necessary, my pastor, to know. God already knows.

    When I go through “the change” I surely don’t need a liturgy to celebrate or mark it! Women are included in just as many rites of the church. We already have prayers and blessings for expectant moms, and new babies. We are baptized, receive our first communion, have opportunities to confess, to be confirmed, to serve, just like men. Are men getting preferential treatment in the annointing of the sick, or the rite of burial? I think not.

    “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (NIV)

  • sharon

    There used to be a liturgy celebrating childbirth: “churching.” It was thoroughly demonized and dismissed by feminists as being rooted in an OT belief that women were unclean after childbirth (untrue), and now is seldom to be found. For those of us who had difficult births and were unable to drag our battered bodies to mass for a long time, a service welcoming us back would have been wonderful.

  • RyanH

    My question here would be: who (or what) is being worshipped? In the Christian tradition, worship is intended for God’s glory and honor; it’s not supposed to be a feel-good activity for us humans. What enjoyment we get out of worship is the result of God’s blessings upon His people for engaging in sincere worship of Him. Liturgies for baptism and communion correctly focus on our covenant relationship with God–and of course, celebrate new life (both physical and spiritual) for the Christian. And it is beneficial to the body of Christ (the church) to welcome and uphold its members in deed and in prayer. I wouldn’t have a problem with a pastoral announcement welcoming an absent member back to worship after a period of absence. But a whole liturgy? No, liturgy should be reserved for WORSHIP.