Life has certainly changed for all of us during this time of pandemic. I can’t speak for all of you but I know that, for me, the in-my-face—awareness of my lack of control over my life and my future has been a wake-up call. Before this, I certainly would have acknowledged that I was reliant on God for ordering my path even while I went about making plans for next week or next month or even five years from now. I am now facing a different reality, a more “real” reality, if you will, that I don’t even know what tomorrow will bring let alone next week. This is a more honest reality, for sure. And, in my less-anxious moments, I am glad for this reminder because I am now looking more to our Lord for words of purpose and comfort.
One thing has become very obvious to me during this time of physical distancing: we’re all in this together. While certain groups are definitely more at risk than others – and this disparity is something that needs to be acknowledged and addressed by our society – we are all at risk. Our shared humanness ought to bring us to a deeper respect and honor for all our brothers and sisters.
The Episcopal Church has a recent history of demonstrating this idea of respect and honor for all with many resolutions addressing the 1979 Book of Common Prayer’s use of masculine pronouns for God. Back in 1985, Resolution A115 –Review the Constitution and Canons for Sexually Inclusive Language and Resolution A095 – Prepare Inclusive Language Texts for the Regular Services of the Church the work of Convention began a regular series of resolutions intended to bring more inclusive and expansive language into our worship. At the most recent 2018 General Convention, the bishops and deputies adopted Resolution D046:
D046: Expansive-Language Liturgical Resources
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention authorize continuing use of Enriching Our Worship 1: The Daily Office, Great Litany, and Eucharist; Enriching Our Worship 2: Ministry with the Sick and Dying and Burial of a Child; Enriching Our Worship 3: Burial Rites for Adults together with a Rite for the Burial of a Child; Enriching Our Worship 4: The Renewal of Ministry and the Welcoming of a New Rector or other Pastor; and Enriching Our Worship 5: Liturgies and Prayers Related to Childbearing, Childbirth, and Loss; and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to develop principles for the use of inclusive and expansive language in liturgical texts, to report these principles to the 80th General Convention, and to follow these principles in all revisions of liturgical resources and in the development of any new liturgical resources; and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention encourage each diocese to identify an individual or body to encourage the development of liturgical texts to provide expansive language resources, particularly resources that reflect the breadth of cultures, languages, and ancestral contexts already represented in The Episcopal Church; and to report on their work to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music for inclusion in its report to the 80th General Convention.
The explanation, which is not part of the official language of the resolution, helps to unpack what the presenters: had in mind
EXPLANATION Language shapes reality. Use of expansive God-language enables Christians to claim freedom and dignity as human beings created in the image and likeness of God. The predominantly masculine language of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer limits our vision and creates a context in which male dominance and power is considered normative, implicitly providing theological support for exploitation and harassment of women. The BCP could make more use of biblical texts, drawing from neglected feminine imagery in scripture.
There is an urgent pastoral and evangelistic need to address the disconnect between our theology and the exclusively male God-language in our liturgies.
Work on inclusive and expansive language texts began in the triennium immediately following the adoption of the 1979 BCP. Though the controversy about expansive God-language largely subsided by the mid 1990s, General Convention has continued to authorize Enriching Our Worship materials for use under the direction of the ecclesiastical authority, limiting their use in some contexts.
The 1997 General Convention approved the study and occasional use of “The Liturgical Psalter: Text for Study and Comment” (Liturgy Training Publications, 1994) and “Psalter for the Christian People” by Gail Ramshaw and Gordon Lathrop (Liturgical Press, 1993) (Resolution 1997-A074). Since then, additional inclusive-language psalters have been published, including the “St. Helena Psalter: A New Version of the Psalms in Expansive Language” (Church Publishing, 2000).
I had thought I was almost done writing this blog when my good friend, Cindy, referred me to an article that truly brings this subject home in a very timely way for us now. In her article “Bow Your Head and Let Us Zoom,” Baptist preacher Susan Sparks reflects on this subject when she asks how our image of God directs our actions and thoughts:
First, it can impact how we engage God. For example, much of our religious liturgy is couched in male language – specifically, father language. This is not necessarily a problem unless it is the only language we use. When God is Father, we tend to project all the parental baggage around that term onto God. And when God is Mother, we do the same.
Think of how you communicated with your mother versus your father when you were growing up. There were probably things you felt more comfortable telling one than the other. One parent may have encouraged more of a “yes,” “no” or “maybe” interaction, and the other an intimate conversation for hours. Thus, our prayers may be very different based on which image of God we use.
I commend to you Sparks’ entire article.
Our General Conventions began the work; now it’s up to us all to see that this happens. What is our image of God? We really shortchange ourselves if we only see God in our human likeness. So, perhaps the liturgical resources we use reflect our particular vision of God thus limiting how we might expect God to be at work in and around us. I know I need to ponder this more, and I bet I’m not alone. What resources are you and your congregation using for your liturgies? What does your choice say about your expectations of God? Have you explored the many offerings from the Enriching our Worship books or other inclusive-language texts?
One of the gifts of this pandemic time for me has been engaging with people from all over the world on a Facebook group called “What Do You See from Your Window? #OpeningUp #StaySafe.” The kindness and graciousness expressed by the members of this group have been a beautiful reminder that we are all part of one human family. And, while I believe that God created our individual uniqueness, God also sees us beyond the divisions we create – God sees us as God’s creation. Let’s expand our language to reflect this, too.
Let us pray –
Blessed One, our Father and our Mother
Holy is your name.
May your love be enacted in the world.
May your will be done
On earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us in the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For all that we do in your love,
and all that your love brings to birth,
and the fullness of love that will be
are yours, now and forever. Amen.
(Copyright © 2003 Richard D. McCall, Associate Professor of Liturgy and Church Music, Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Ma.)
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council