Worship Resources for Pregnancy Loss and Infertility
Many church members stay silent about miscarriages and other common reproductive losses. Yet it’s relatively easy for congregations to start accompanying those who mourn these losses, because Christian traditions already contain helpful books and worship resources. We just have to tap into them.
Elise Erikson Barrett was in divinity school to become a United Methodist Church minister when she first miscarried. She and her husband, Robert Christopher “Chris” Barrett, a fourth-generation United Methodist pastor, eventually had three children. She wrote about their experiences in her book, What Was Lost: A Christian Journey Through Miscarriage. Chris died from cancer in 2016.
So Elise Erikson Barrett speaks from deep experience when she writes, “An essential hallmark of Christian community is to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. It takes permission and practice to be with—to patiently accompany and walk alongside—people with wisdom and love incarnate in a particular way. Our culture is extremely uncomfortable with this way of being.
“But many of our strongest congregational songs give us permission to voice fear and lament as well as praise and delight. Our Psalms, the songbook of the church, hold for us the whole range of human emotion. They model for us a raw vulnerability to God and one another, alongside communal expression of remembrance, praise, and trust. It all belongs. But if we only publicly share the bright, positive, encouraging side of the life of faith, then we stifle the voices of lament and suffering.”
Your church can use books and liturgies to raise awareness about common yet often hidden losses such as infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death.
Consider donating these books to your church library, reviewing them in your church newsletter, using them in small groups, or quoting from them in sermons. Each book is written from a Christian perspective.
Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility, by Elizabeth Hagan. Infertility affects one in eight couples in the United States, including American Baptist pastor Elizabeth Hagan and her husband, Kevin. This memoir describes infertility’s medical, marital, and spiritual challenges, including how husbands feel. It explains how friends and counselors can accompany people without making things worse.
Free to Grieve: Healing and Encouragement for Those Who Have Suffered Miscarriage and Stillbirth, by Maureen Rank. First published in 1985, this is among the first books to explore how husbands and wives process pregnancy losses. Rank says that pregnancy loss is frequent, yet too often “an experience for which only minimal grieving is considered acceptable. Nevertheless, thousands of women know that the pain of miscarriage or stillbirth does not ‘just go away.’”
Hold Onto Hope: Stories of Black Women’s Fertility, Faith, and Fight to Become Mothers, by Stacey L. Edwards-Dunn, a United Church of Christ pastor. African Americans experience more infertility than other racial groups. Edwards-Dunn shares how she and her husband overcame infertility and includes nearly thirty accounts from health professionals and couples about therapies, surrogacy, adoption, and pastoral care.
Naming the Child: Hope-Filled Reflections on Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Death, by Jenny Schroedel, who is married to an Orthodox priest. This book is especially helpful for people who have experienced stillbirth or infant death. The author lays out what all on this journey need to tell, hear, and understand. She interviewed many families, has tips to involve other family members at stillbirth, and affirms the value of keeping materials that have touched the baby’s body. Each chapter ends with tips on how to implement ideas.
One review says, “Once in a great while we encounter a resource that fundamentally changes the way we do ministry. We are so moved and formed and challenged that it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to forget the sacred treasures contained within. GIA’s Of Womb and Tomb is exactly that resource.” This resource for individuals, couples, and parishes starts with five stories from women and men who have experienced reproductive loss and infertility. Most of the book is devoted to comforting songs, scripture, prayers, and rites for both personal reflection and liturgical use. GIA also sells a companion CD and music collection to supplement this book.
Our Heaven Baby, by Leah Vis, is a picture book for children. This sensitive book can help young children process sadness when their mom miscarries and they realize they won’t be welcoming a new sister or brother.
Though the Darkness Gather Round: Devotions about Infertility, Miscarriage, and Infant Loss, edited by Mary Elizabeth Hill Hanchey and Erin McClain. More than thirty lay leaders, chaplains, and pastors (including Chris Barrett and Elise Erikson Barrett) contributed devotions and prayers that move from raw grief to assurance that we are not alone. The book was produced by Project Pomegranate, which provides non-directive, spiritual resources to help faith communities support those who experience infertility, pregnancy loss, or infant death.
What Was Lost: A Christian Journey Through Miscarriage, by Elise Erikson Barrett. “When we lost that first pregnancy, I had rarely heard anyone else talking about miscarriage, yet approximately one in four pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Why didn’t these two things match up?” Barrett writes. Churches can use this book to offer a book study or miscarriage support group. What Was Lost combines personal stories from many couples, practical research, and theological reflection. Each chapter ends with reflection questions and an exercise. The book ends with prayers, songs, suggested scripture lessons, a complete sermon, and service outlines for an annual church service, a service in a home, and a worship pilgrimage.
The worship resources below range from brief mentions to entire worship services. Dedicating an entire service or event to infertility, reproductive loss, or other ways of losing children can be healing and helpful. However, Elise Erikson Barrett notes, “Making space for those losses in a congregation’s worshiping life doesn’t have to be dramatic or programmatic to matter. It can be as simple as a phrase in a pastor’s prayer, a line in an All Saints’ Day liturgy, or a prayer request in an email prayer chain. Small, consistent messaging communicates that such losses are not taboo in your church community.”
She advises aiming for a general understanding that “in this community, we make space for and honor grief related to pregnancy loss and infertility. Your pain is seen, and God cares about it, and so do we.”
As authors, theologians, and others break the silence about reproductive loss, churches are including these sorrows in worship. Nations around the globe host candlelight vigils every October 15 for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Some churches observe Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Sunday on the Sunday closest to October 15.
When cultural or Christian events such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, baptisms, and Christmas celebrate family and children, it’s helpful to include small messages for people who experience such events as painful. Dancing Upon Barren Land, a Christian support ministry for ”the infertility road,” has a helpful church bulletin insert for Mother’s Day.
Some churches include pregnancy losses in All Saints’ Day or Blue Christmas services.
“By the Babylonian Rivers,” by Ewald J. Bash. This hymn, based on Psalm 137, gives permission to grieve.
“Children of the Heavenly Father” is by Carolina Sandell, known as “the Fanny Crosby of Sweden.” Ernst W. Olson translated the song into English.
“Held” was popularized by singer Natalie Grant, but Christa Wells wrote it based on experiences of people whose infants died. You can see the lyrics here. This is a song for a soloist, not a congregation.
Of Womb and Tomb, a CD to accompany the book edited by Kate Williams, has 16 songs by Tony Alonso, John L. Bell, Liam Lawton, and other contemporary songwriters.
Iona Community members John L. Bell and Graham Maule wrote and gathered songs about grieving, sorrow, and dying in two collections: When Grief Is Raw, which includes “The Cradling Song,” and The Last Journey, which includes “How Long, O Lord.”
Taizé Community songs that express God’s presence despite despair include “I Am Sure I Shall See the Goodness of the Lord” (Spanish version: “Tengo Que Fe Veré”) and “Within Our Darkest Night/Dans nos obscurités” (Spanish version: “En nuestra obscuridad”).
Prayers and other worship elements
Find relevant prayers from Catholic Miscarriage Support, the United Methodist Church, and the U.S. Catholic Council of Bishops. Use or adapt longer prayer services from Reformed Worship and the Orthodox Church in America.
Download a free 97-page copy of Enriching Our Worship 5: Liturgies and Prayers Related to Childbearing, Childbirth, and Loss from Episcopal publisher Church Publishing Incorporated. It has personal and communal liturgies and prayers; suggested Scripture readings, songs, and hymns; and a rite of repentance and reconciliation for an abortion.
Consider offering a way to memorialize a baby’s death, whether in a public worship service, private service, or miscarriage support ministry. Baptism or christening candles are widely available online and can be imprinted with the baby’s name. The presider can light this candle at the end of the memorial service. Kate Williams, who edited Of Womb and Tomb, said at the 2020 Calvin Symposium on Worship that she likes to use candles to symbolize that “the life that was lost is still bringing light, because there is meaning-making.” Candles can also celebrate the life that the baby has with God and all the saints.
When Elise Erikson Barrett was associate pastor at Central UMC in Florence, South Carolina, the congregation held a regular service for people who had experienced reproductive loss. “We had an outdoor sculpture of cupped hands, referencing Isaiah 49:15–16. We invited people to think of a name for the child they lost, write it on the sculpture, and then we placed it in the church’s outdoor columbarium. They could also write the baby’s name on a stone to take home," Barrett says.
Some pregnancy-loss worship or prayer service templates make room for mourners to talk about their loss, grief, or healing, to place a memorial object on the altar, or to read a poem, prayer, or letter to the baby.
Other symbolic objects include a scallop shell (an ancient Christian symbol of baptism), a memory box, a booklet, a tree or plant in a memorial garden, or a prayer shawl. Some families create their own rituals to remember the child who is not with them, such as hanging a grief ornament or buying a new outfit at Christmas in the size that matches the age that the child would be.
Preachers often use the stories of Hannah, Abraham and Sarah, and Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s mother) as examples of biblical hope and inspiration. But remember that some worshipers experience these stories as sources of pain.
Sermons on suffering often include examples such as losing a job, cancer, and relational breakdown. It makes a difference when sermons also mention other sorrows, such as infertility and reproductive loss.
In Reconceiving Infertility: Biblical Perspectives on Procreation and Childlessness, co-author Joel Baden notes that even though Genesis commands Adam and Eve to go forth and multiply, the Bible highlights Deborah, Miriam, and Dinah as women of faith who did not bear children.
Clergy who have organized services for people who have experienced reproductive loss often find that it’s the first time that some attendees have been able to grieve their loss in church, even when some of these losses happened decades ago.
The books Of Womb and Tomb and What Was Lost offer prayers, rites, rituals, and service outlines. GIA Publications senior managing editor Kate Williams edited Of Womb and Tomb. She and Peter Kolar, GIA editor for Spanish and bilingual resources, created a free downloadable novena for peace and healing. A novena is a nine-day cycle of brief prayer services. These PDFs in English and Spanish have songs, words, prayers, and a blessing. Williams and Kolar livestreamed the novena through the frequently updated Of Womb and Tomb Facebook page.
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell, pastor of Queen Anne Baptist Church in Seattle, Washington, created and posted a service for the October Pregnancy and Infancy Loss Remembrance Day on her website, Rev-o-lution.org.
Jonathan Warren and Tish Harrison Warren, both Anglican priests, put together a public service of memorial and lament at their current church, Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The service was for anyone in or beyond the congregation who had experienced infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, or a regretted abortion.