Hail, Mary

She was there at the Cross. Yet Protestants seldom talk about Jesus' mother at Easter — or at most other times. But they are starting to now

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THE REV. DONALD CHARLES LACY, 72, A Methodist minister, has been here before. In the early 1960s, as part of its Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church took several steps back from full-bore Marianism, maintaining the Virgin's intercessory role, Immaculate Conception and Assumption but warning against "all false exaggeration" on her behalf (although the current Pope, it must be stressed, is a devoted Marian). Young Protestants like Lacy, discussing their apparent narrowing of differences with equally idealistic Catholics, were inspired to form new groups like the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But the moment passed. Lacy was denounced by a superior as a "priest" and ousted as pastor by one of his congregations. His work was largely rejected by Methodist publications--until four years ago, when a Methodist house suddenly printed his Collected Works. "I stood alone for so many years," Lacy says now. "It's very gratifying to see [people] begin to come this way."

Lacy attributes the revival to the Holy Spirit. If so, the Spirit may be working increasingly through intermarriage. Methodist Mark Eutsler, a 4-H director in Linden, Ind., and a Lacy fan, began investigating his Catholic wife's faith when they married 17 years ago. He admires the Virgin's combination of uncowed curiosity and openness to God's will when Gabriel calls. "You know that bracelet, WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?" he asks. "There ought to be another one, HOW WOULD MARY REACT?"

Mary is also gaining popularity at Protestant divinity schools, where her icons adorn future pastors' walls. Even evangelical publishing is interested. Although one house was leery of a Marian guide for teens by author Shannon Kubiak if its title referred even obliquely to Mary ("They didn't want to come across as ever elevating Mary, and they didn't know how to touch her without elevating her," Kubiak says), a second snapped it up. God Called a Girl: How Mary Changed Her World and You Can Too will appear just after Easter.

There were 11 years between the day Mary Burks-Price, manager of pastoral-care education at a Louisville, Ky., hospital, gave birth to her own special child and the day a death seemed to cleave her soul. But together they turned her into a Marian Baptist. Growing up, Burks-Price knew the party line: avoid spiritual contemplation of Mary, since Catholics had turned her into a graven image. But in 1987, at a Christmas Eve service two years after her ordination as a minister, Burks-Price experienced a surge of identification. She had had a difficult pregnancy. And now, cradling her 4-month-old son in a back pew of the church she attended in Louisville, she felt for the first time that Mary's pregnancy must have been as miraculous as Jesus' birth.

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