NASHVILLE -- A prayer for a divorced couple who attend the same church? A ritual for people battling drug addiction? A liturgy for families grieving over a miscarriage?
Twenty-five years ago such ideas were almost unheard of. But a United Methodist national committee is working on those concepts and others, attempting to reach out to people as it updates the denomination's Book of Worship.
The update is moving ahead steadily, although several "prayers of healing" seem open to criticism as sanctioning divorce or the antiabortion movement.
The Rev. Andy Langford, a staff member of the church's General Board of Discipleship and general editor of the Book of Worship, said, "The question we're asking is 'How can we talk about God's presence at times of pain in people's lives?'
"How can the church be pastoral at the time of pain in a couple's life? We have done surveys of lay people, and what they say is, 'We want you to deal with life as we know it in the late 20th century.' "
Perhaps the most debated of the proposed Book of Worship additions is the liturgy for miscarriage.
The liturgy uses the language "this infant, child of . . . ," raising questions from abortion-rights activists about whether that language could lend support to an antiabortion position. The denomination formally adheres to a limited abortion-rights position.
But committee members say that, despite some questions, most feedback on the miscarriage liturgy has been positive, and at a July meeting in San Antonio, committee members retained the "infant, child" phraseology.
Retired Bishop Ole Borgen, of Wilmore, Ky., said during the meeting: "People who mourn this loss feel they have lost a child. We are not pushing either doctrinal or political viewpoint. We are giving care to those among us who need it."
The 18-member committee of clergy and lay members made no final decisions at the San Antonio meeting. When finalized, the committee's work will be forwarded to the denomination's chief policy-making body, the General Conference, when it meets in 1992.
Most of the prayers of healing are intended to facilitate one-to-one exchanges between pastor and parishioner, but some of the hymns and Bible texts are intended for congregational services.
The current edition of the Worship Book was published in 1965, the bulk of it devoted to instructions and liturgies for weddings, funerals, baptism and Holy Communion. The General Conference charge to the committee was to broaden the pastoral scope of the 1965 edition.
Bishop Susan Morrison, of Valley Forge, Pa., chairwoman of the committee, said: "Since that time, society has become a lot more aware of personal transitions. The church realizes there are a lot of ways worship can say something about people's life journeys."
The notion of a divorce ritual was introduced 15 years ago, and at that time, church officials say, it was regarded with some skepticism, as an "un-wedding" of sorts. But the purpose of the ritual, in its latest incarnation, is to defuse tensions and guilt for ex-spouses in the same congregation.
One prayer under consideration says, in part, "We pray that your spirit might rekindle Christian love towards our former mate, that unpleasant words and actions might be put aside . . . . In your mercy grant us new beginnings."
The 1988 General Conference gave the committee instructions that appeared at odds regarding use of traditional metaphors for God, such as "Almighty Father," as compared to gender-free language, "Almighty God" or "Creator." Some petitions the conference referred to the committee suggested that traditional language be retained, while others suggested mixtures of traditional and inclusive forms of address.
The committee has asked the church's Judicial Council for guidance, and the council is expected to issue a ruling at its meeting in October.
Other proposals under consideration by the committee include:
Prayers for terminal illnesses, including people in a coma who are "unable to communicate."
Prayers for spiritual, emotional and physical healing.
A section for wedding ceremonies that acknowledges blended families resulting from remarriages.
A well-wishing ceremony for people moving away and leaving the local congregation, and for the arrival of a new minister.
A ritual from a Hispanic tradition to commemorate a young woman's 15th birthday.
A mortgage-burning ceremony for paying off loans on church buildings.