Once mainly a devotional figure for Catholics, Mary and her role as a woman of God now are studied by Anglicans and other Christian denominations. “Mary is my friend … for me, she’s the ultimate example of a woman who said yes to God,” said Betsy Biega, parish administrator at St. Martin’s in the Fields Episcopal Church off Clemson Avenue in Columbia, S.C.
In May, leaders of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches released a study that encouraged members of both churches to regard Mary as a figure of devotion, even though there remains some theological disagreement about aspects of Mary and her role in the church.
“Mary Is My Homegirl” T-shirts made by Teenage Millionaire, a California-based clothing company, have become one of the company’s biggest sellers nationwide and recently got a mention on “The Gilmore Girls,” a humorous TV drama about a mother-daughter relationship.
The shirt sports a figure of the Virgin Mary, some made in gold or silver lame on a black background.
“In the past, there have been reservations about what some people see as `Mary-olatry,’ or seeming to worship Mary,” said the Rev. James Lyon, pastor of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in downtown Columbia.
“The new position is that there’s nothing wrong with appropriate devotion. The key is to keep in mind that Mary can be seen as someone who points the way toward her son, Jesus Christ.”
“Mary is an intercessor for the people of God, a model of submission and obedience to the will of God for the whole Christian church,” Lyon said.
Lyon’s church recites the rosary, a Mary-related devotional prayer, once a week, and for several years it has taken part in a group recitation of the rosary with members of St. Joseph Catholic Church on Devine Street.
“Mary Is My Homegirl” T-shirts can’t be found for sale in Columbia stores, but Megan Shealy, manager of St. Francis Catholic Shop in Irmo, S.C., is thinking about ordering them. She wears a “Mary Is My Homegirl” bracelet she found at a Spencer’s gift store, and she thinks the items are a great idea for young Catholics and others.
“Items like this are becoming a new method of communication for young people who want to share their beliefs,” Shealy said. She said a similar bracelet, “Jesus is My Homie,” is hard to keep on the shelves at the St. Francis store.
Lyon thinks “nothing but good” can come from shirts and other items that allow young Christians to express an interest in Mary.
“If a youngster gets excited about what Mary can say to him or her, I think that only helps direct them toward Jesus,” he said.
Some Protestant churches, especially Episcopal and United Methodist, in recent years have offered Bible studies and classes that focus on the Virgin Mary as a model for Christian women.
Biega, who regularly uses the rosary as a means of devotion, thinks more Protestants are becoming interested in learning about Mary because she offers a symbol of what women can become through the love of God.
“What attracts women is the need to understand the significance of our mother Mary as the child who said yes to God.”