October 28, 2004
From the department of "WTF?"

Ted Olsen at the Christianity Today weblog has been following the case of a neopagan "women's eucharist" that turned up on the Episcopal Church USA's website. Apparently it grew out of a project of the ECUSA's Office of Women's Ministries:

The Office of Women's Ministries is working towards creating a resource to be used by women, men, parishes, dioceses, small groups, within the context of a Sunday morning service, or any other appropriate setting where the honoring of a woman's life passages and experiences beckons a liturgical response. These can include, but are not limited to, liturgies/rites pertaining to: menstruation, menopause, conception, pregnancy, any form of pregnancy loss, childbirth, forms of leave taking, and many others. Although traditional liturgy acknowledges little of these aspects of women's lives, many women have taken up the task of creating and writing such liturgies for themselves or others.

The liturgy in question, the Office explained later, was simply sent in by someone responding to the "call for resources." The Office envisions this as a grassroots movement, and so far the grassroots don't seem to be responding favorably, because the ECUSA has moved the liturgy from its main site, and the response I've seen from Episcopal bloggers has been either negative or oblivious. But, as Olsen says, it's more alarming that the liturgy itself came from an Episcopal rector who's apparently leading a double life as a Wiccan priestess of some sort under the name of Glispa. If, indeed, an authority of the Anglican Church is openly practicing another religion -- indeed, trying to infiltrate the church with it -- without any consequences, this oughta be a much bigger scandal than the homosexuality thing. The Bible's mentions of homosexuality are brief and contextually ambiguous, but it condemns idolatry in every way and at every opportunity.

Also -- now that I'm giving free advice to a church I don't belong to -- can I just say that I think developing gendered liturgies is a Very Bad Idea? Ordination may have been historically restricted to men, but all the rites marking a layperson's life passages -- baptism, confirmation, communion, marriage, death -- include both sexes because they are experiences shared by both sexes. There aren't any brises or bar mitzvahs in need of balancing here. So now that the ECUSA has ungendered the clergy, what on earth is the point of developing sex-segregated liturgy? Especially since, as has been discussed here before, women dominate mainline Protestant congregations anyway, so if anything it's men who feel alienated from the current church experience.

Posted by Camassia at October 28, 2004 08:52 AM | TrackBack

I've seen various takes on this "liturgy", almost all of them (rightly so) derisive. As a moderate Episcopalian (i.e. beat on by both the conservatives and the liberals) I see this kind of thing as seriously undermining the credibility of the liberal side of the house. It's almost insanely self-destructive. The sad part is they really don't understand that at all.

Posted by: dave p on October 28, 2004 12:06 PM

Dave -

I agree with your sentiments. But I wonder why this is automatically associated with "the liberal" side of the house though? Is it because all of "the conservative side" is opposed? Point being, this seems to be something that defies the liberal/conservative labeling; it is truly a thing unto itself. Some of the conservative sites have quickly and uncritically associated this event with the +Robinson consecration and acceptance of gays in the Church. Although predictable, I think it's a little unfair.

Also, is it just me or CT seem a little too gleeful in its reporting of this situation?

I do wish the EC press release was a little more direct and honest in recognizing the problem here. They could have gone a long way to fixing it, but for some reason they did not.

Posted by: Robert on October 28, 2004 03:35 PM

Here is the press release from Women's Ministries.

Here is CT's rebuttal of the press release.

CT has despised the Episcopal Church for some time. That's not news. What might be newsworthy in all of this is that it now seems to be open season on TEC, since the Windsor Report came out. Note how CT makes a point of yoking the two.

Women's Ministries screwed up by too hastily posting the liturgy. When their error was pointed out, they pulled the rite. For the CT to use this as further evidence that TEC is going to hell in a handbasket is pretty much more of the same from those folks.

A couple of priests dancing skyclad in the moonlight means that TEC has turned pagan? Kick 'em while their down, CT. Such a Christian response to a segment of the Body of Christ enduring troubled times.

Your comments about gender-specific liturgies are worth pursuing, I think. I've been uncomfortable with that kind of thing before, but have never thought much about it, assuming it was simply residual effects from being a "recovering chauvenist."

Posted by: Jake on October 28, 2004 04:00 PM

Here's where I'm going to disagree with you, Camassia. I do think "stages of life" rituals that are gender-specific are important. On men's retreats, I've been part of all-male eucharists that were marvelously healing. I have heard similar stories from female friends onwomen's retreats. As long as our core liturgies are celebrated in common, I don't have a problem with developing specific rituals for one sex or another. A liturgy of grief for a miscarriage needs to note that in almost every case, the woman will be affected more powerfully. This is not to minimize male pain, but to honor differences.

Posted by: Hugo on October 29, 2004 10:37 AM

I think it's associated with the "liberal" side of the house because many of those in that side of house are also theologically progressive, in the sense that they are willing to reinterpret or give another reading to core Christian doctrines and such (Borg, Spong, etc.) Thus if Jesus is not Lord in the same sense that the "orthodox" have affirmed, why not re-work liturgy to express our oneness with other religions or offer raisin cakes to idols or whatever. I think it is a thing unto itself in that is the expression of divergent theologies.

The liberal/conservative labelling seems to be used exclusively about the homosexuality issue, but there are those who are theologically "orthodox" who are also more "inclusive" towards homosexuality. They just think the way it's being discussed or debated is wrong theologically.

Gender specific liturgies border dangerously on worshipping ourselves rather than the Triune God.

Posted by: Jennifer on October 29, 2004 10:49 AM

I think that both liberals and conservatives are prone to heresies, but the type of heresy tends to be related to ideology. Thus, conservative ideologies make Christians vulnerable to things like religious nationalism and the prosperity gospel, while liberal ideology makes them vulnerable to things like feminist nature cults. However, I tend to agree there isn't some inevitable "slippery slope" either way. Identifying which aspects of faith are central and which are peripheral helps stop the slide, I think.

Posted by: Camassia on October 29, 2004 11:00 AM

Thanks for the response Jennifer and Camassia.

I understand's Jennifer's position about the arguable relatedness of this situation to the (undefined) "liberals", but I still don't believe that gets you all the way there, unless one really believes in an inevitable slippery slope. Like Camassia, I'm not sure I do. This situation still seems unique to me, not fairly placed on a particular doorstep.

Jennifer's comments re: the homosexuality issue are very true. Folks should work on their precision when discussing people who are discussing this issue. The "bright lines" we have drawn around various "camps" are (surprise) not very accurate.

Posted by: Robert on October 29, 2004 11:14 AM

Very true, Camassia, and that Bible with the flag on it you linked to is just as idolatrous. Altars covered with the flag are also common around the 4th of July in some churches. I mean, you can trace that to a poor understanding of "Jesus is Lord" also.

Posted by: Jennifer on October 29, 2004 12:29 PM

While I'm the one who introduced the "l" and "c" words, I'm well aware of the imprecision of the terms and the dangers inherent in labeling. The fact is though, that the national office of ECUSA (the official acronym of the Episcopal Church in the USA) is thoroughly "liberal" in every sense of the word you can name and that's not always a bad thing.

ECUSA has been on the bleeding edge of women's ordination (I believe rightly so) and it was (and remains) a struggle.

The people at the national office (and the interns they hire) are so oblivious to their own liberality though, that they are clueless and surprised when they do something as stupid as this. For all they are adept at internal politics, they are remarkably inept at external politics and are capable of making stupid decisions at really bad times that are horrible PR.

Good discussion :)

Posted by: dave p on October 31, 2004 03:49 PM
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