Posted by: mattcolvin | May 30, 2011

The Churching of Women


The Churching of Women is an odd little rite, and quite susceptible of bad explanations. (See the Wikipedia article.) In the Medieval church, it was apparently associated with the Mosaic laws concerning purification from childbirth. There is, thankfully, no hint of that in the Reformed Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer, where the rite is titled, “Thanksgiving After Childbirth”:

O Almighty God, we give thee humble thanks for that thou hast been graciously pleased to preserve, through the great pain and peril of child-birth, this woman, thy servant, who desireth now to offer her praises and thanksgivings unto thee…

I have seen the rite three times, I believe. The mother usually weeps as she says the prayers.

This rite acts as a check on my attitude. I am a selfish man, and my wife is a midwife — and not infrequently, she is the midwife who has attended the birth of the baby to be baptized, by the mother saying the prayers. It was so this Sunday, as the pastor’s daughter made her thanksgiving.

On many days I come home to find no car in the driveway, and I know my wife is at a birth, or seeing clients in preparation for attending a birth later. It is easy at such times to groan inwardly (and outwardly) at the prospect of a messy house and a supper that the kids and I will have to cook for ourselves. But that, of course, is the wrong attitude. Instead, it helps to keep in mind that God is preserving women “through the great pain and peril of childbirth,” and that He is using my wife to do that. Then I remember that my wife’s calling is made possible by my “holding down the fort” here at home. And that’s another stimulus to repent and change my attitude.

There is something to be said for the church’s rituals sacralizing the most important parts of life: birth, death, marriage. The benefits are not restricted to the particular mother who is giving thanks after childbirth, or to the baby being baptized, or to the couple being wed. Seeing these things reminds us all of our calling in the body of Christ.


Responses

  1. I think the 1928 BCP is similar to the REC’s. I love reading that rite, but I’ve never seen it performed. I’m glad to know that it’s still done, it’s so beautiful.

  2. The Jewish practice is for a woman to recite the same prayer (or her husband on her behalf, depending upon one’s dispensation) as one recites after passing safely through danger. Something with this has always sat poorly with me – perhaps it’s my “childbirth is natural and doesn’t (automatically) require medical intervention” bias, although I’m aware that it certainly can be a dangerous moment. The version here seems more appropriate in some ways. Giving birth isn’t like surviving a car crash or surgery or getting out of a war zone; yes, our safety is in God’s hands, but a child is a blessing. Surviving danger is a blessing, but better never to have been in the car crash/war zone at all – whereas most of us very definitely hope to give birth, pain and danger and all!


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