Pregnancy-loss prayers, new church calendar proposed
Six years ago, Georgette Forney, head of an Episcopal Church pro-life group, asked the church to create a healing service for people like herself and others she encountered who had had abortions.
She terminated a pregnancy when she was 16. “For 19 years I was fine. I never thought about it,” she told a committee that was considering liturgy legislation at the 2003 General Convention. Then, one day, without warning, she opened an old yearbook and "felt the presence of my child.
“I did not expect this, I did not plan for it, and I was overwhelmed when it happened. I didn’t know how to cope,” said Forney, president of Anglicans for Life (formerly the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life or NOEL).
The committee recommended – and convention approved – the development of rites that respond “to the pastoral needs of women and men and who have experienced miscarriage, abortion or other trauma in the childbearing or childbirth process.”
The result is Rachel’s Tears, Hannah’s Hopes: Liturgies and Prayers for Healing from Loss Related to Childbearing and Childbirth, which the 2009 General Convention will consider when it meets July 8-17 in Anaheim, California.
It is one of two significant liturgical works submitted for convention approval by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. The other is Holy Men, Holy Women, an overhaul of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, which provides prayers and readings for commemorating saints and occasions that are not major holy days.
Permission to grieve
Rachel’s Tears includes multiple services; prayers addressing situations such as unexpected or unwanted pregnancies, the loss of a child, termination of pregnancy, infertility or sterilization, and adoption; and suggested readings and music.
“One thing I’m particularly proud of with this project is that we really claimed the art of lament, kind of as part of something in our biblical tradition and really claiming the lament psalms as something that is an appropriate response to that level of grief and loss and uncertainty,” said the Rev. Devon Anderson, who chaired the project.
Throughout the process, Anderson met and shared drafts with people across the church’s theological spectrum. “It just feels like there’s a very cooperative spirit around this particular body of work,” she said.
“It is, I think, a challenge to do it in a way that addresses the pastoral need without being political,” said Julia Huttar Bailey, commission chair. They included prayers surrounding decision making about a pregnancy and an appendix about General Convention’s stance on abortion, for example, as well as the healing service originally requested, she said. “Our hope is that, while some people may not be comfortable with every piece of it, they will understand that there’s something that they need and that they’ll be supportive of the whole project because of that.”
In a recent interview, Forney, who was consulted during Rachel’s Tears’ development, expressed mixed feelings. “I appreciate the intensive effort by the committee to use the opportunity to look at the big picture of reproductive issues,” she said. But she expressed concern that “the real purpose in reaching out to women and men who have been hurt and are struggling with a past abortion,” as envisioned in the 2003 request for a healing service, would get lost in the multiplicity of issues addressed in Rachel’s Tears.
In the proposed post-abortion healing service, she added, “I would have made it much more focused and defined in terms of being able to repent and state the wrongness that the woman or man … now feels. The words got couched at times.”
More diverse saints
Work on Lesser Feasts and Fasts goes back nearly a decade, said commission member Greg Howe of Provincetown, Massachusetts, head of the committee spearheading the revision.
“The general issue was that we had a calendar with a large proportion of male clergy, most of them in the first millennium.” The goal was to “lift up more contemporary people, particularly lay people and women, who had done some significant things in the life of the church,” he said.
“We don’t make saints the way the Catholic Church does,” he explained. “There is no canonization process, but there are people who over the years have had an impact both on the church and the society around them.”
One proposed addition, for example, is Frances Perkins, “who would probably be the first to rebel at being called a saint,” he said. But as then-New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, she “managed some of the first humane labor laws for women and children in this country.” Perkins became the country’s first female cabinet member after Roosevelt became president in 1933, Howe said. “One of her principles was that the laity needed to do everything they could do to mirror the values of Christian life in their society, and she lived by it.”
No previously designated saints lost their status in the revision. “We sort of flirted with that possibility, but we in the end decided that, just as we don’t make saints, we don’t unmake them,” Howe said.
The revision does combine some previously separate commemorations onto one date. It also provides an Old Testament lesson as an optional third reading for each commemoration.
And it adds new commons, or prayers, for artists and writers; the Blessed Virgin Mary; care of God’s creation; the goodness of God’s creation; on the occasion or anniversary of a disaster; prophetic witness in the church; prophetic witness in society; reconciliation and forgiveness; and scientists and environmentalists.
The commission proposes beginning a similar substantial revision of the Book of Occasional Services. It seeks to continue developing materials for pastoral care in adopting children – an outgrowth of the Rachel’s Tears project – and for praying the daily offices. It also asks to continue collecting, developing and disseminating materials to address Christian anti-Judaism and collecting and disseminating world music.
Dioceses also have submitted liturgy-related resolutions to convention, including requests for convention to authorize the development of rites to bless same-gender unions and to use gender-neutral language for prayer book marriage services. Other diocesan resolutions include proposals to create an Episcopal Relief and Development Sunday and to provide prayers and other liturgical materials for a new Creation Cycle to be celebrated during Pentecost, “affirming the sacredness of God’s creation, of spreading hope about God’s reconciling work in creation and an understanding of environmental stewardship and ecological justice.”
This news content was configured by WebWire editorial staff. Linking is permitted.
News Release Distribution and Press Release Distribution Services Provided by WebWire.