But when it comes to God, it’s a different matter. There are way too many issues involved with calling the Holy One “Father” – at least exclusively.
So, in my congregation, we don’t say “Our Father, who art in heaven . . .” We don’t even use the updated version “Our Father in heaven . . .” We believe that it’s important to go beyond the attempt to merely update the Old English to contemporary language. And no matter how much traditionalists rant and rave about God not being the same as our earthly fathers and God is not a male, etc., etc., the fact is that the word had become a stumbling block. Even if you have a parent who really is the “Greatest Father in the World,” you need to recognize the difficulties in using the same word for the Ground of our Being. Again – at least exclusively.
Last year, in my congregation, we revised our inclusive language statement. We adopted a policy of inclusive language when talking about people and a policy of expansive language for God. This means that while we won’t root out all references to Father, Lord, King, etc., we will include a wide variety of other names, words and images as well.)The challenges of the “Our Father” are not only about inclusive language. In the Q&A section of a recent column by John Shelby Spong, a reader expressed other problems with the traditional prayer and offered a version he had written. But when he asked if Bishop Spong thought that such revisions would ever happen in congregations, the response was, “No, I do not think that the churches will ever engage this issue.”
Let me say right away that I’m a huge admirer of John Shelby Spong. I don’t always agree with him, but I often do. And I admire his courage in speaking out for the “church alumni society,” as he calls it. In fact, it was at one of his lectures years ago that I knew I’d passed the point of no return on the path of progressive Christianity.
So when I read his answer, I had to respond.
In response to your latest columns Q&A: our congregation never uses the tradition “Lord’s Prayer.” We are an ELCA congregation, which around 10-12 years ago wrote our own version after a study group led by the late Dr. Robert Smith from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. We use this version for part of the year, but also switch off to others as well. One of our favorites is the one written by Parker Palmer. Another is the one from the New Zealand Prayer Book. There are others; in fact I have a growing file of them – which is quite encouraging. I get many positive comments from visitors and from others when I use these prayers at other gatherings. Just thought you’d like to know.
I know that First United is unusual. But I also know we’re not the only ones engaged in faithfully reimagining our traditions. I hope this will become more and more widely known and those who are turned off by the language of “Our Father” will know that there are alternatives.
So Happy Fathers Day to all the dads, grandpas, uncles, godfathers and all the guys who give fatherly care!
But tomorrow when we pray, it will be with these words (from Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Newmarket, Ontario):
God, lover of us all, Most Holy One,
help us to create what you want for us here.
Give us today enough for our needs.
Forgive our weak and deliberate offenses,
just as we must forgive others when they hurt us.
Help us to resist evil and to do what is good.
For we are yours, endowed with your power to make the world whole.