from Stand Firm by Sarah Hey
Jill Woodliff is an Episcopalian in the Diocese of Mississippi, researcher extraordinaire, and a blogger for Lent & Beyond, an Anglican Prayer Blog:
Years ago, I was asked to compile a spiral-bound desktop daily devotional calendar based on the lectionary. I was a new priest’s wife, and the clergy spouses in our diocese were to use it as a fundraiser.
For three months, I lived and breathed this project while child-rearing. I would start with Lesser Feasts and Fasts, plunder the local university library and the personal libraries of my clergy friends to find appropriate quotes of the persons commemorated, compare the different translations of the assigned scriptures, and weave it together. I didn’t always find a quotation; the martyrs are commemorated for their sacrifice and frequently left no written record.
I came to realize what a precious resource the liturgical calendar is, one that I had not used much before. More importantly, it shaped my spiritual habits. There was a common theme that transcended the centuries, that transcended geography, and that transcended the different cultures--my forbears were beckoning me to Holy Scripture. I still do not spend the time in Holy Scripture that I ought, but my Bible study habits improved after this project.
The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music is introducing new names for the liturgical calendar. The title Lesser Feasts and Fasts will be changed to Holy Women, Holy Men. I chanced across this biographical sketch for one of the new names:
Ramabai, Pandita Mary [1858-April 5, 1922] Indian Christian and social reformer.
Widowed at 23, she became sensitized to the plight of widows and orphans in the Hindu caste system, and the need for women’s rights. After studying the gospel with Anglican missionary nuns, she converted to Christianity because Scripture seemed to her the purest expression of human equality. Nonetheless, she refused to work for the conversion of Hindus. (April 5)
Reference: http://episcopalchurch.org/documents/BlueBook-SCLM.pdf, p. 578
Based on what I have read about Pandita Mary Ramabai, she led a remarkable life. She was a social critic who worked for the education of women and orphans in India, founded schools and homes, and translated Holy Scripture into her native language. I honor her achievements.
Yet, I am uncomfortable with her nomination. There are many remarkable Christians whose ministries have benefited the church today, but not all of them should be singled out for commemoration in the liturgical calendar.
Her refusal to work for the conversion of Hindus is directly antithetical to the words of our Lord in the Great Commission. Not only is the Great Commission a direct command, it imparted spiritual authority and blessing. These were the last words of Jesus on earth and are associated with the miracle of the Ascension. They set the stage for the Pentecost and are foundational to the establishment of the church.
By commemorating in the liturgical calendar someone who refused to share the good news of Jesus Christ, we would be holding up her life not only as an acceptable norm of Christian living, but as an exemplary one. It would amount to a corporate decommissioning of the Great Commission. As much as I respect Pandita Mary Ramabai, as much as she serves as a model for all of us, I humbly ask that the General Convention not accept her addition to the liturgical calendar. Her inclusion would be only a partial reflection of the character of God.