Monday, March 31, 2014

Open Letter to My Church

Beloved Elders:

Thank you for your service to Brentwood Presbyterian Church and to God as elders with responsibilities for all the areas that sustain BPC’s ministries.

I’m writing today to support BPC moving in the direction of more inclusive and expansive language in worship.  I heard that our associate pastor brought up this subject at last week’s Session meeting, and I want to encourage members of Session to keep an eye on this issue, along with all your other pressing tasks. 

BPC does a great job of referring to the people of God in inclusive ways in worship.  I haven’t heard “Rise up, O Men of God” sung lately!

Of course, it’s a little harder to avoid male language to refer to God.  I like the statement adopted by the PCUSA that appears in the brochure titled “Well-Chosen Words”:

“Rather than using only a very small number of terms referring to God (e.g., Father, Creator, Lord, Almighty), we should seek to employ the rich reservoir of imagery found in the New and Old Testaments.”

I always notice and appreciate the times when prayers and hymns during worship refer to God as “You,” “the Holy One,” “Sustainer,” “God of Mercy,” etc. and to Jesus as “Redeemer, Saviour,” etc. 

The equivalent United Church of Christ brochure lists the following expansive images of God in Scripture: Fire, Wind, Rock, Water, Light, Bread, Vine, Word, Wisdom, I Am, Potter, Midwife, Mother, Mother bear, Shepherd, Woman, Baker, Eagle, and Hen (each with a Scripture).

I understand that most BPC members are comfortable with hearing God called “Father,” “He, him,” “Lord” exclusively during worship.

But please remember that some of us feel uncomfortable with words that refer to God as male.  In the fall when we have new members in our Small Group, I tell them that I am “allergic” to hearing prayers where God is only addressed as “Father” and “Lord.”

My blood pressure rises and I get a little upset, even if I try not to.  It’s a disability, and I ask them to be understanding of my difficulty in this area. 

Back in the 1970s, masculine language to refer to God didn’t bother me, even though I was quite active in Christian feminism.  It was in the 1980s and 90s that friends pointed out to me how much this language reinforces the view of God as male, and thus empowers men while causing women to think that God is not like them.  Since then, I have sought out worship places where God is not referred to as male, and I have had to condition myself not to react to hearing masculine terms for God.  I drive out to Claremont once a month to take part in a worship service where I don’t have to be on guard like this.

I was surprised and delighted at BPC’s Women’s Retreat in January when I heard God referred to in so many creative ways such as “She” and “Loving God,” and I didn’t have to hear the masculine words.

Thank you for leading BPC to be such a nurturing community under God for so many people, and please continue to move in the direction of inclusive and expansive language for God and the people of God. 


Anne Eggebroten

Resources and websites on inclusive and expansive language:

Marquette University—guidelines for students:

PCUSA brochure:

UCC brochure:

Inclusive Translations of Scripture
·         The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995
·         Inclusive Language Lectionary, Years A (1983), B (1984), C (1985), New York: National Council of Churches
·         Inclusive Language Psalms, Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 1987
·         The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, Priests for Equality, 2007

My favorite Christian feminist organization, which supports inclusive and expansive language:

Nancy Hardesty on inclusive language:
Inclusive Language in the Church (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987).

More discussion of inclusive language:

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