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.