A druidic "women's eucharist" and a "divorce rite," both posted on the Episcopal Church's official Web site, have outraged Episcopal conservatives.
The "eucharist," subtitled "A Celebration of the Divine Feminine," was posted Oct. 8 on the denomination's Office of Women's Ministries page at www.dfms.org. It invoked "Mother God" and used a lighted candle, a vase of flowers, a chalice of sweet red wine, a cup of milk and money and a plate of raisin cakes to invoke images of sexuality, fertility and birth.
The rite was attributed to the Rev. Glyn Lorraine Ruppe Melnyk, the pastor of St. Francis in the Fields Episcopal Church in Malvern, Pa.
She and her husband, Bill Melnyk, rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Downingtown, Pa., posted several ceremonies, which invoked pagan gods and goddesses, on www.tuathadebrighid.org.
One, an "erotic ritual" for the spring festival of Beltane, used Christian phrases for the rite, including an opening "litany" and an "invocation" of the "Earth Mother." The ceremony, which culminates with the lead couple engaging in sex in front of the other participants, ends with a "chant of Communion and Praise" to the tune of the Irish hymn "St. Patrick's Breastplate." The Babylonian god "Bel" honored in the rite has been linked to the Canaanite god Baal, whose worship was condemned in the Old Testament.
A "Eucharist to our Mother Goddess" ritual on the site -- which since has been removed -- is the same "women's eucharist" that was posted on the Episcopal Church's Web site. Starting last Tuesday, this and the "divorce rite," which includes a Lord's Prayer that refers to God as "You who are Mother and Father to us all," were denounced on several Episcopalian Web sites.
Christianity Today declared that the Episcopal Church is "promoting pagan rites to pagan deities."
"And not just any new pagan deities," wrote Ted Olsen, the magazines' online managing editor. "The Episcopal Church ... is actually promoting the worship of idols specifically condemned in Scripture."
The Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania on Friday released a statement promising to investigate "extremely serious" charges that Mr. and Mrs. Melnyk are practicing Druids and have violated their ordination vows.
But Bishop Charles Bennison Jr. said the two priests have "contributed positively" to the diocese for four years, adding, "I will not allow this situation to turn into a witch hunt of any sort."
The "eucharist" was one of nine resources listed on the women's ministries page as part of a "Women's Liturgy Project" touted Oct. 25 by Episcopal News Service as a way of "honoring a woman's life passages and experiences" including "menstruation, menopause, conception, pregnancy, any form of pregnancy loss, childbirth, forms of leave taking, and many others."
The release invited Episcopalians to download the "worship resources" for use either on Sunday mornings or "any other appropriate setting where the honoring of a woman's life passages and experiences beckons a liturgical response."
However, the divorce and eucharist rites were removed from the church's Web site after church headquarters began receiving complaints.
The Rev. Margaret Rose, director of the denomination's Women's Ministries office, issued a statement on Thursday saying divorce and women's eucharist rites were not approved Episcopal liturgies, but were listed only "to spark dialogue, study and conversation and ponderings around women and our liturgical tradition."
The "women's eucharist," she said in an interviewwas written by Mrs. Melnyk for a parish study group of women.
"It was written in response to their alienation," she said. "It was not claiming to be a Christian eucharist, but it was a way to look at their own religious traditions and explore them. We don't desire to replace the Sunday liturgy in any way. They wrote it to see what it would feel like to have specifically feminine images."
Mrs. Melnyk also is known on Druid Web sites as "Glispa" or "Raven." Mr. Melnyk, who goes by several druidic names, including "Oakwyse" and "Druis," had posted messages and rituals at www.druidnetwork.org, www.druidry.org and other sites.