The Gender of God

Dear Siblings in Christ,

While I love the lull in church activities that summer brings, I am always eager to see everyone again, to have the choir back in their pews, and to begin anew the work of ministry in which we engage together. And this year is no exception.

For those who have been away a bit, enjoying the mountains or the shore, you may notice some changes in the service. One of the things the Episcopal Church has been working on in the past few years, and one of the things we at St. Peter’s have also been working on, is making the language in our worship services less gender specific (male) and more expansive (using expanded images for God). The reasons for this are multiple. Among them are that, in the Anglican tradition, worship is supposed to be in the common language of the people, and not many of us use “men” any more when we actually mean “people”. Another is that, while most of us would agree that God is not male, the language used about God in our services has been almost exclusively male. We may shrug and say, well, we use male language for God but we all know God is not male, the truth is that language, imagery, is powerful and conveys deep meaning. A stranger wandering into our church might think, based on what s/he hears, that we believe God to be a really big white man. Finally, as a woman, I find exclusively male language about God to be distancing and frustrating. It is harder to believe that I am made in the image of God when God is continuously referred to as male. Further, to use narrow, constrictive language about God, diminishes our understanding of God–the One who is beyond description. Opening up our language about God expands our ability to “see” God in ways we have not previously.

There is a Biblical basis for feminine language for God. The Psalms and other wisdom literature are full of feminine images. One of the words used to describe God in the Old Testament is “wombish” (usually translated as “compassion”) and Jesus himself used the image of a mother hen brooding over her chicks for God.
The truth is we have mostly eliminated gendered language from much of the service already, so a lot of it will feel the same. What you will notice is a change in the hymns and the service music (the Gloria, for example). We are using hymns from a few different sources, including the Episcopal Church’s Voices Found (hymns written by women), but also the UCC, Presbyterian, and Lutheran hymnals. As this is a process, and we most certainly don’t want to throw out the poetry and beauty of the ancient language, we are moving slowly with the psalms and the Bible translation. It is important that we find texts that are faithful translations and that maintain the beauty of our tradition. So there will still be a bit of the old mixed in with the new.

This is not work we are doing alone. Each diocese has been charged with putting together a committee to look at liturgical language (what we say in church) and I have been appointed to the committee for the Diocese of Pennsylvania. I will report back to you as we do our work.

In the meantime, if you have questions or concerns,please let me know–either in person, or via email or phone.
Welcome back! I can’t wait to see what St. Peter’s and the Holy Spirit get up to this year.


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