by Jean Mayland
from Signs of the Times No. 60 - Jan 2016 - Click here to read Part 1

Where, I have to confess, I would like to see movement in describing God as we pray, it is in the area of ‘motherly’ images.

I once had a Maltese friend who did not pray to God because He was fierce and angry. Jesus, she felt, was not to be trusted either!  So she prayed to Mary.

There are an increasing number of us who, while not wishing to do that, would be happy with some feminine, inclusive or motherly images of God.

The aforementioned New Zealand Prayer Book of 1989 does experiment with some more inclusive titles for God, e.g.

  • Welcome in the name of God, the giver of life, Who creates and loves us all...
  • God our Creator…
  • God the Creator of us all…
  • Creator Spirit…
  • Living God…
  • God whose nature is always to have mercy…
  • God of the humble and hopeful…
  • All embracing God...
  • God in Trinity…
  • Creator, Sustainer and Life Giver...
  • The living God…
  • Loving God (Father and Mother of us all), In the family life you have given us, you have offered yourself to us…

Sadly it dropped Jim Cotter’s version of the Lord’s Prayer which was included in its earlier experiential book:

Eternal Spirit, Earthmaker, Painbearer, Lifegiver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever.

The book does however use part of it in a prayer for the family and home:

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer
Source of all that is and shall be
Father and Mother of us all
Loving God , in whom is heaven,
enfold this family with your grace.
May their home be a place of your presence,
your forgiveness and your freedom.
May your will be done in and through them
This day and for ever. Amen

In 1980, General Synod published the Alternative Service Book. It was excellent in many respects but on inclusive language it was a failure. I had tried to raise the issue, but this was ridiculed and not accepted. One man raised the issue of the absence of such language, but did not get much support in Synod.

When there was discussion in Synod on future development I raised the issue of inclusive language and others raised that of the value of the Book of Common Prayer. When the process of revision began I left General Synod and there was no-one to press the case. The Prayer Book Society was very powerful and had a great influence on Common Worship.

The late Michael Vasey of Durham, who was on the Commission, did support having some feminine imagery for Jesus, and included a version of the prayers of St Anselm. The Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, also managed at the last minute to get included the Eucharistic Prayer containing the concept: ‘As a mother tenderly gathers her children’.

In the Franciscan Prayer Book, a basis for Common Worship, Morning and Evening Prayer ended:

Glory to God, Source of all being
Eternal Word and Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning,
is now and shall be for ever, Amen

But Common Worship dropped this in favour of ‘Glory to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ etc.

MOW and WATCH

Prayer became very important in the life of the Movement for the Ordination of Women. There was an exploration of new forms of prayer, of inclusive language and of fresh symbols and images (see A New Strength, A New Song by Margaret Webster).

People began to write in inclusive language, and it was used ecumenically and privately, but then when women were ordained its use virtually died off in the Church of England. When I approached people like Angela Berners-Wilson about it she said they had enough to do proving themselves as good parish clergy and could not begin to introduce this. Now WATCH is raising it again, and I am delighted.

St Hilda Community

Another area in the Church of England where Inclusive language developed was the St Hilda Community inspired by Monica Furlong. She and others found the approach of MOW rather timid. Although she was always loyal and worked well in and with WATCH, she was also a member of the St Hilda Community along with a group of others including Suzanne Fageol, an American priest studying in England. They used to meet for their own worship, at first in the ecumenical chapel of Queen Mary College, but later in the adjoining Common Room. They published a book, Women Included (SPCK 1990), which they used. After 18 months the Bishop of London, Graham Leonard, ordered them to leave, and a Eucharist which over 100 attended was held in the car park. The Community moved across the road to Bow Road Church, which had both an Anglican and a Methodist Congregation, and met there for four years.

Other initiatives

In the early 1980’s the C of E Board of Education produced study material using inclusive language which we used on the Northern Education Course. We also discussed books such as What language shall I borrow by Brian Wren (1989) and Sexism and God Talk by Rosemary Radford Reuther (SCM 1983).

At the Sheffield Conference on the Community of Women in the Church in 1982 one of the speakers, Rose Zoe-Obianga, spoke of the importance of language in worship. The British Council of Churches took this up as one its issues and appointed a small group, which produced a report but could not find a publisher. However, others such as Jim Cotter and Janet Morley were already working in this field. Janet would have realised that the Eucharistic Prayer should always be addressed to God as Creator - not Christ.                                                                                           

In 1990 we held the Assembly of the Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women in York and issued a Worship Book which contained inclusive language. The same was true of the Conference in Durham in 1998 to mark the end of the Ecumenical Decade - Churches in Solidarity with Women. The worship was received enthusiastically.

We began to use this material at ecumenical gatherings. Others were inspired to write such as Janet Wootton (Congregational) and Kate Mclhagga, Cathy Galloway of the Iona Community, Lesley Orr Macdonald and Catherine Hepburn (all members of the Church of Scotland).

In Scotland, The Women’s Guild led by Ann Hepburn also commissioned a study on The Motherhood of God. I was a visitor at the Guild Assembly in 1984 when this was presented and it caused a great deal of offence to many. Ann weathered the storm and the book was very well received in the USA where Ann was granted awards.

Women in Theology (WIT) was a group of theologians who lived in various places and met once a year. They used and produced anthologies of inclusive language material and feminist theology.

When I was Church Life Secretary at Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, I edited a magazine resource entitled All the Year Round. This consisted of prayer and worship sent in individuals and chosen by a Committee which I chaired. It was published three times a year.

A group of us drawn together by CTBI also prepared a book of services, prayer and worship for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. This contained some inclusive language.

I retired in 2003 and CTBI was virtually destroyed and reduced to one staff member and a web site. Production of inclusive language worship ended. WIT closed and gradually inclusive language seemed to wither away except where kept alive by Janet Wootton and some RC and Church of Scotland women.

WATCH has recently raised the issue once more and a group is working on it. Where is Modern Church in all this?