By Kate Spelman
A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church. Wilda C. Gafney. New York, Church Publishing: 2021. $36.95.
Wilda C. Gafney’s monumental, multi-volume A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church is indeed a gift to all the faithful. Two of four planned volumes are available now: a Year W – a freestanding one-year cycle of readings for Sundays and Holy Days, drawing from all four Gospels – and Year A (with B and C to come). The texts have been deliberately chosen to highlight the stories of women in the Bible and translated afresh, offering correction and expansion to the Revised Common Lectionary. Gafney’s slender paperbacks belie the scope of the work behind them, which includes all-new translations, textual commentaries, and preaching prompts for each day’s texts.
It may seem odd for a lectionary to have such a distinct agenda, but truthfully any selection or translation of texts is marked by bias. Gafney’s innovation is to be explicit in her point of view and singularly dedicated to her hermeneutic for selection and translation. She seeks to tell the story of salvation through the voices of the marginalized, and the project is arguably more necessary now than ever. While once the preacher might have been able to count on the congregation’s Biblical knowledge to fill in the gaps in the RCL; now often the average parishioner’s most in-depth (or only!) encounter with scripture is in Sunday’s bulletin. Omitting passages may excise entire narratives from the congregation’s consciousness thereby limiting the scope of the Biblical witness and limiting our collective understanding of the divine.
The mere idea of this lectionary, then, would be a valuable teaching and preaching tool, but Gafney has done the work to make it an invaluable aid for the busy parish preacher. In addition to the thoughtful (if brief) preaching prompts and textual notes, she includes a scriptural index and bibliography along with several introductory essays (the same in both volumes) describing her process and intent. There is also an appendix listing “God Names and Divine Titles” for use in corporate worship and private devotion. This supplemental material makes the books useful even if the preacher never deviates from the RCL.
The only thing we might miss is a set of collects to pray along with the texts. Gafney’s introduction notes that this is not an oversight but an opportunity for preachers and readers to develop their own prayers. While this may make wholesale adoption of the lectionary a bit harder, one can imagine creating a parish educational series devoted to teaching the form of a collect, and harvesting a crop of prayers from the faithful.
Consider adopting A Women’s Lectionary for a year, a season, or a day’s worth of worship. Read it to enrich your own devotional practice or to expand your library of homiletical resources. An investment in the series will pay rich dividends. Gafney’s thoughtful commentaries and provocative translations will breathe new life into your preaching and stretch your congregation’s theological imagination, engaging the reader or hearer with fresh language through which to encounter the Triune God.
The Rev. Kate Spelman is an Episcopal Preaching Foundation faculty member.