From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 13:22:53


                          by Alexa Smith 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--When the liturgy for intercession for healing began, 
Deborah Wyatt prayed: 
     Grant us comfort and healing for all 
     who have lost a child to disease or accident 
     who are unable to conceive or carry a child 
     who have lost a child to miscarriage 
     whose child was stillborn 
     who endured the trauma of abortion 
     who have given a child for adoption 
     who are estranged from a child 
     whose child has fallen victim to drugs or crime 
     who have lost custody or visitation rights 
     whose childbearing years are numbered or over 
     whose life circumstances may not allow them the option of parenthood 
     who are overwhelmed with the daily burden of caring for their children 
     whose children have special needs 
     who were abused, abandoned or neglected in their own childhoods 
     who suffer the guilt of ambivalent feelings 
     whose hearts carry other, unnamed burdens. 
     It was May 14, Mother's Day.  And more than 85 people came to an 
evening service for wholeness at the Edgewood Presbyterian Church in 
Birmingham, Ala. They came for prayer and for anointing with oil. 
Two-thirds of those who attended were not even part of the Edgewood 
     They came, says the Rev. Sid Burgess, Edgewood's pastor, because they 
hurt and because they want the kind of healing only possible by reaching 
out to God. 
     "The liturgical resources we have are uniquely ours," said Burgess. 
"The liturgy has the capacity to minister to people:  people in need, 
people who are hurting.  It was something we could offer. ... 
     "And two-thirds of those who came were complete strangers to this 
church.  That shows the depth of pain many women feel on Mother's Day: 
They're willing to come to a strange place with such deep hurt." 
     While many pastors and theologians categorically reject much mention 
of secular holidays in worship, some are taking a second look at how 
scripture and liturgy may address the hurts that affect people most -- the 
very private, hard-to-talk-about kinds. 
     "It's an issue of reality in worship," said the Rev. John McClure, 
professor of homiletics at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. 
"Does worship relate to reality ... or is it in the ethereal realm? 
     "There are strangers right there in our midst," McClure said, who need 
to understand that their inner lives and spiritual struggles are welcome in 
the church and may be expressed there.  And a model is emerging and is 
included in the new Directory for Worship that demonstrates an increasing 
concern for ritual and expressive language, he said. 
     What is at issue, according to McClure, is finding a way to deal with 
deep emotional pain within a highly rationalistic Reformed tradition 
without succumbing to sentiment. 
     The Rev. Laura Rains, who preached during the Edgewood service, said 
such balance is possible, and it is very powerful because more honest 
liturgy frees people up to express their whole selves before God. 
     "As we are more open in claiming the ambivalence, the celebration, the 
pain [in our lives], there is potential for more genuine celebration," she 
said, adding that shutting off pain also means dulling  joy too.  "The 
brokenness is there. ... [What we wanted to do at the Edgewood church was 
say,] 'This is a safe place to come and let that burden down,' with 
whatever their prayer may be,'" said Rains, who is a member of the pastoral 
care department at Birmingham's University Hospital. 
     For women in that particular service, she said, it meant acknowledging 
not only the grief of lost children, but guilts, angers, failures and 
fatigue that is, realistically, part of being a mother and that seldom gets 
     Anointing with oil symbolized that the Spirit of God is present and is 
healing, she said.  Each woman who came forward took a moment for quiet 
prayer with a minister and elder. 
     "Worship is something even a small church can afford, something even a 
small church knows how to do," said Burgess, who added that this special 
service was set apart from the regular Service for the Lord's Day. 
"Therapy is an extraordinarily important way to address hurt and loss and 
     "But it is not the only resource the church has. ... The church also 
has liturgy," said Burgess, whose wife, Melissa Tate Burgess, co-authored 
the intercession for healing liturgy with Deborah Wyatt and Rains.  The 
Burgesses adopted their daughter, Grace, now eight. 
     The Rev. Kerry Lester of Pottstown, Pa., said ministers do not have to 
look too deeply into scripture to see the importance of looking at family 
entanglements and resulting pain and joy.  "Just looking at brothers and 
sisters, there's an incredible amount of pain and estrangement:  Jacob and 
Esau, Cain and Abel, the Prodigal Son. 
     "It's all there," said Lester.  "The scripture is so full of family 
stuff ... and that is certainly where people are." 
     She said more secular holidays may, perhaps, be reclaimed by the 
church in educational ways. For instance, Lester suggests preaching on 
Mother's Day about biblical images of God as mother, but keeping the focus 
on God, or emphasizing the congregation's commitment to its "spiritual 
children" during baptisms. 
     Lester said scripture is full of stories and metaphors that give 
churches permission to access and talk about both the painful and the 
celebrative moments of peoples' lives.  "Time and time again it proves 
itself to know human nature, who people are," said Lester. 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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