Episcopalians offer ‘A Service of Lament and Healing’ following the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Jun 24, 2022

[Episcopal News Service] A group of clergy and lay people from across the church have created a liturgy template that Episcopalians are invited to use in response to the June 24 Supreme Court decision overturning the right to abortion in the United States.

The liturgy is titled “A Service of Lament and Healing” and includes suggested prayers and readings, a litany based on the prayer of St. Francis, and a time for people to express their feelings through activities like writing or lighting candles.

The template is available as a Google Doc in English and Spanish. An introduction to the liturgy notes that it is provided as an open-source document so it can be adapted and used as needed by any faith community that finds it helpful.

In an interview with Episcopal News Service, the Very Rev. Katie Churchwell, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and one of the liturgy’s authors, said the idea for it began after a draft of the Supreme Court decision was leaked in May. The Very Rev. Gary Lesesne, dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis, Indiana, gathered some people he knew to think about how the church might want to respond when the Supreme Court issued its decision “in a way that wasn’t just thrown together,” she said.

“With everything that we do as the church, we want to be thoughtful, intentional and prayerful, and, in particular with this issue around a woman’s right to choose,” she said. “This would be a starting place for The Episcopal Church at large to use as they see fit.”

She said the group started from the official positions of The Episcopal Church on abortion as expressed through General Convention. She noted, “The church holds in balance and tension the tragic element of abortion with the sacred act of creation, and also holds in tension that governments, whether on the federal or state level, should not legislate access to health care, and that includes women’s reproductive health.”

Churchwell said that while she and those who crafted the liturgy hope it speaks to people on all sides of the abortion issue, because it is called a “service of lament and healing” there will be people who decide they don’t want to attend a service like this. But she hopes that some may wish to participate just to support other people who are hurting. “You know, you could be very happy about this decision and still recognize that people in your community are scared and are deeply wounded by it, and you could say, ‘I can go and support my community and my church family.’”

Churchwell said that she understood that the usual talk of “thoughts and prayers” after a major event often are thrown about “like bubbles,” but this liturgy goes deeper than that. “For us as Episcopalians, and for myself personally, the way I exercise my duties as a citizen, a minister, a mom, a friend, really begins from a stance of prayer and engagement with Scripture,” she said, adding, “A gathered liturgy that helps to name the internal chaos within us is integral to being able to move forward in whatever way we chose to do as individuals.”

The role of the church in what Churchwell calls “seismic moments” like this one, “where we can feel the shifting of the sand underneath our feet,” is important. “Churches have long been gathering spaces for both religious and civic life. And I think that we’re in an age where, perhaps, the church has not been as present in civic or community ways outside the four walls of our churches. But churches are a place where the doors are meant to be open, and where people are invited to come just as they are. And so, when I think about the role of liturgy, it is the place where we begin our work.”

In the hours following the court’s ruling, churches, like St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, Georgia, began organizing special services of lament and healing.

“While we honor and hold a wide range of political views in our church, our faith teaches that all of us are created as image bearers of God, empowered with dignity to make choices in matters that affect our bodies and personal lives,” its announcement for its June 24 service said.

“For you who are afraid, angry, sad, or confused by today’s decision, we offer a space for prayer.”

St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue in New York City scheduled a noontime service for prayer and healing on June 25.

–Melodie Woerman is a freelance writer and former director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas.