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?