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Episcopals Battle Over Gender-Free Bulletins


RICHMOND, Va. — A battle of church bulletins is brewing in the Episcopal Church, pitting inserts that use traditional male-oriented language against "inclusive language" inserts that use gender-free references to people.

On Dec. 1, Episcopal parishes across the nation that obtain their bulletin inserts from Morehouse Publishing Co.--a major publisher of Episcopal Church materials--will find Bible passages written in the inclusive language style favored by feminist theologians and other advocates of women's rights.

Meanwhile, in a kind of liturgical counterpoint, St. Luke's Episcopal Church in South Richmond is responding by publishing and marketing its own inserts using traditional, male-oriented language.

St. Luke's expects to sell its inserts to a number of other parishes--mostly traditionalist "Anglo-Catholic" Episcopal parishes, which emphasize elaborate ritual and vestments, and parishes affiliated with Anglican "splinter" denominations that broke with the Episcopal Church over questions of theology and liturgy.

A passage from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes demonstrates the difference between traditional and inclusive styles.

The traditional Revised Standard Version of the Bible, used in the current Morehouse inserts, renders the passage, "What gain has the worker from his toil?" The New Revised Standard Version, used in the new inserts, translates the same text, "What gain have the workers from their toil?"

The traditional-language inserts will be printed under the imprint of St. Luke's Press.

According to Frederick G. Erb III, executive director of the press and a former advertising executive, the idea of establishing a publishing operation came during a brainstorming session at the parish.

It was decided, said Erb, that a press would fill an unmet need for churches that object to the inclusive language and would be forced either to accept inserts they did not like or publish their own.

The St. Luke's vestry, or church council, came up with seed money. A Spokane, Wash., parish will do the artwork for the inserts and send them by overnight mail to Richmond, where they will be put in final shape and shipped off to printers and mailed to parishes.

The inserts, just one of several projects planned by St. Luke's, will contain the prayer for the day, called a "collect," and readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament epistles and the Gospels.

Among the members of the press' board are three bishops affiliated with the Episcopal Synod of America--a Ft. Worth, Tex.-based traditionalist caucus that is a stronghold of Anglo-Catholicism in the Episcopal Church: retired Bishop A. Donald Davies, the former bishop of Ft. Worth; Bishop Edward McBurney of the Diocese of Quincy, Ill., and Bishop John-David Schofield of the Diocese of San Joaquin, Calif.

While the Episcopal Synod of America has allowed St. Luke's to use its mailing list, there is no formal connection to the synod, according to Erb.

The synod appears to be moving toward a split with the Episcopal Church over what traditionalists perceive as liberal trends.

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