'Feminine' Spirit Edited Out of Lutheran Prayer Service

Times Religion Writer

A prayer service written by a Los Angeles woman for a late-year offering in Lutheran parishes nationwide has been changed after objections were raised to the use of a feminine pronoun referring to the Holy Spirit.

The closing prayer originally said: "Creator God, send us your spirit with all her power to heal."

But by the time about 30,000 of the 70,000 worship service booklets had been sold for the denomination's 1985 Thankoffering Service, about 100 letters came to the Minneapolis offices of the American Lutheran Church.

The newsletter of the Fellowship of Evangelical Lutheran Laity and Pastors accused American Lutheran Church Women, the group that sponsors the Thankoffering, of "following the National Council of Churches in changing the biblical language about God." The reference apparently was to the National Council's controversial and experimental church lectionaries that substitute "inclusive" terms for all male deity references in biblical passages.

Booklets Reprinted

The remaining 40,000 booklets for the Lutheran service have been reprinted to read "with all your power to heal." Executive Director Bonnie L. Jensen of the American Lutheran Church Women said the feminine pronoun in the original "caused difficulty for a number of participating ALC women," although she said she also received some letters of appreciation.

The prayer service was written by Fran Burnford, assistant to the bishop of the denomination's South Pacific District based in Los Angeles.

"When I wrote the service, I used both feminine and masculine language, including several references to God as 'he'," Burnford said. "I thought in this one, small instance we could be more faithful to the Hebrew."

Burnford and Jensen noted that the word for spirit in Hebrew, ruach, is feminine in gender, thus requiring feminine pronouns in that language. Some apocryphal Christian writings from early centuries, such as the Gospel of the Hebrews, called the Holy Spirit the mother of Jesus, but neither Lutheran official cited that as a precedent.

Jensen said people who are concerned about the issue should "dig further into Scripture and the languages of Scripture in order to understand the functioning of gender pronouns, metaphors and references to God."

'No Intent to Offend'

Burnford said she included the feminine reference "with no intent to offend, as it seems to have done." She added that she did not object to the new editing.

"It needs to be remembered," Burnford said, "that it was not a prayer-changing Scripture or even our traditional liturgy. It was a personal expression in prayer. When it comes to the divine, I think, all language is inadequate to understand or describe God."

A laywoman with a doctorate in education, Burnford has been program director for four years in the 320-congregation, six-state South Pacific District. "I write a lot of worship services for the district and work with our worship committee to try to use inclusive references for humans."

Her use of the feminine pronoun in the Thankoffering service was a first. "I don't think I ever used feminine pronouns (for deity) in district services," she said.

The Rev. Robert H. Schuller, the Crystal Cathedral's already larger-than-life pastor, will be literally so to worshipers using the drive-in section at his Garden Grove church this Sunday.

A large, movable television screen, similar to the one used in the Los Angeles Coliseum, will become a feature at the Crystal Cathedral, believed to be a first for any drive-in church. The Astro-Vision screen measures 11 by 15 feet.

Previously, those attending services in cars or trucks listened to the services on their radios or could hear it on speakers outside. Schuller can be seen part of the time at his pulpit through a 90-foot high glass doorway that opens to the "drive-in sanctuary," or parking area.

The television screen will not only show features of the service otherwise unseen by those staying in their cars but also closeups of Schuller, the "self-esteem"-preaching minister known for his attention-getting innovations during the congregation's 30-year history.

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