Another Lent in Coronatide

Lent begins again in a few short weeks. Those few green Sundays between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday always seem to go by so quickly. There are eight whole weeks this year where it might be possible to relish in this in-between time but it still feels so fast when everything else feels rushed.

And it does feel rushed even when it feels like nothing is happening as the prayer I wrote for Epiphany 3C proclaims. It still feels like we are waiting for something to happen which for some feels like Advent. I think it feels more like Lent.

We are waiting for resurrection. That is what we dare to believe will come after this long season of Coronatide. We will emerge transformed. That is my prayer, any way. As you prepare your congregation for this season, if you have not already ordered one of the wonderful worship packages out there right now, here are some things that might help your planning.

Before the season begins, you might be looking to flip some pancakes. I am a big fan though I’m not sure how this will fly with where things will be in the pandemic. Still, here are some relay races simply because we need some fun on Shrove Tuesday.

This was the most popular item on my blog last year and I hope it will still be a blessing you this year even if you used it last year. We do like traditions actually. We don’t always have to reinvent and reimagine. We can cherish the familiar ritual of burning palm branches (or in this case whatever is on hand) together. This brief order of worship can be used at-home by individual families, shared in a corporate worship experience online or in-person centered on the daring belief that lighting a fire might prepare us for the work ahead. Download this free resource.

You might explore lighting candles for each Sunday in this season using this Illuminating the Way to Hope in Another Pandemic Lent. Or you might be interested in cooking up this Recipe for Zoom Prayer and Pretzel Making with the families in your congregation.

I have two study opportunities for Lent. A Hopeful Lent pairs more closely with the worship experience I’m creating for this year. (I will be releasing all the info about this shortly, I promise.) I happen to think that Amelia Richardson Dress’ book is brilliant and you really don’t need my study guide. She has a leader guide for free on her blog. If you’re interested in mine, which I created with Amelia’s blessing, there are two versions — one for congregational use and one for family use for you to purchase. Instead, you might opt to use these materials that I developed with the first church I served in Maine called Toward Transformation. It was created in collaboration and so I owe the people of that church my gratitude for their generous hearts in imagining this season in a meaningful way. You can read a little bit more about this study here.

If you can’t imagine planning Lent without knowing what Holy Week will look like, you might want to explore this collection of resources for Holy Week in Coronatide that includes the pageant I created with one of my former youth last year called This Year.

They and I wrote a Christmas pageant when they were a mere teenager and it was so fun to imagine this new thing together. It got rave reviews from the congregations that used it though I haven’t pushed to add reviews on these pages.

That post also highlights this popular item from last year when we weren’t gathering together indoors — and it seems we could be there again this year. This Easter Watch service has some familiar notes from the Easter Vigil but this one is really focused around the quiet contemplation that always comes around a bonfire. It’s a service to welcome the possibility without knowing really what will come next but there are things to wonder and ways to keep our hands busy as we wait for creation to reveal the promise of hope. Download this free resource.

I cooked up a few recipes for last year that bring us into the Easter celebration including this Recipe for a Pandemic Neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt and this Recipe for Resurrection Awe Strolls. That might actually bring you well past Easter Sunday so that you might also want to consider Pandemic Easter Affirmations along with your practice of movement and wonder.

I am kinda in shock at home much is here. I hope it feels like a wealth of possibility to you, dear pastor. I really hope so. I also hope you know what a blessing you are to the church and to your people as you imagine this season again in meaningful way full of all that it needs to be for you and for God. I’m praying for you so much. I really am.

Pandemic Psalms for Third Sunday after Epiphany

In this season after Epiphany, I’m focusing all of my energy on the psalms. As I shared last week, I’m offering one prayer inspired by the psalm from the Revised Common Lectionary knowing there are tons of wonderful resources out there that could add to this simple practice for your weekly worship.

I’ll share some of those other gifts from other places first. Maren Tirabassi shares monthly communion liturgies throughout this pandemic but last March there was a consecration prayer inspired by this week’s psalm. The whole liturgy might work for you too. There is this longer meditation on the psalm as part of the Living Psalms project Maren curates with great love. I rather like this Responsive Call to Worship if the Week of Christian Unity is something that you are uplifting in your congregation this week. (Or at least I’m pretty sure it starts this week.) And this Prayer for Others might work for your Prayers of the People. I rather like this prayer by John Birch too. I was once an avid follower of his prayers and used them in weekly worship often.

Prayers of Confession
Inspired by Psalm 19

Slow us down, O God. 
Even when it seems 
like nothing is happening,
give us moments of awe
for your handiwork. 

Surprise us with the work
of your heavens and the awesome
wonder that love always finds a way
because even in this slowness
we cannot stop our restlessness.
We want to push our way 
out of this discomfort.
We want to know what 
will come next.

Revive us from this awkwardness
to awake with wonder
each morning to find
again and again, O God, 
you are faithful.
You give light to our eyes
if we can only slow down
enough to look for your grace.
Slow us down, O God,
enough to hear you 
and see you in each 
new day. We need you.

I feel like I took a big detour from this psalm but it still hints at what I hear in this ancient psalm. It reminded me of all of the weddings that have happened even through this pandemic. Somehow I find that amazing in my own version of isolation — and I want to awake to that delight each and every day. And though I thought of using Great is Thy Faithfulness to accompany this prayer (maybe even as as Assurance of Grace), I opted for this lesser known song.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

I am praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Prayers to Celebrate Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The talented pastor at Old First United Church of Christ in Philadelphia had this great idea to focus the celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the third Sunday in January (which appears to be sooner than I’d like to admit) on a reflection of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

I promised I would gather him some resources because I’m eager to help but Michael likes to write his own things so I’m only offering fragments here that he can piece together on his own. Still, you might be interested in using these too as we celebrate the life of such an inspirational man. There are some lovely tributes including this one from the Dalai Lama and this one from the National Civil Rights Museum. Most others reminded tweet-size like this one by Bernice King. (And I just love the picture she chose.)

There are also a ton of wonderful things that connect the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. There is this wonderful essay by Charles Krauthammer that names Tutu as King’s “natural heir.” In 1986, Tutu received the Martin Luther King Award.

The New Yorker published this wonderful article Remembering Desmond Tutu’s Hope that might inspire a sermon. He wrote so many books that have been transformative that it would be hard to pick one theme or one quote to highlight from his immense wisdom. There was even a new book released earlier in 2021 exploring the depth of his faith, entitled Desmond Tutu: A Spiritual Biography of South Africa’s Confessor. In our house, we are big fans of his children’s book God’s Dream. My girls also love the Children of God Storybook Bible he released around the same time but I’d be inclined to share God’s Dream with the children.

Forgiveness was, of course, a big theme in his books and so this Prayer Before the Prayer that the Archbishop shared on his Facebook page in 2014 might be an important prayer to share as we commit again to truth and reconciliation. Another prayer that might be highlighted in your worship is this Prayer for the Children of God by the Archbishop. He did publish An African Prayer Book though I can’t find any prayers from it in the public domain. I really like this prayer entitled Disturb Us O Lord as a confession that seems to speak to the injustices that both Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King Jr. worked so hard against in their lifetimes — and hopefully it is justice work we are committed to continuing even if we need a little reminder and nudge to keep going. I really hoped to find a prayer from his funeral earlier this week but I can’t seem to locate one in my search. There is, however, this prayer Grieving Archbishop Desmond Tutu by Maren Tirabassi.

I struggled to find more information about this composition by James Whitbourn from 2004 entitled A Prayer of Desmond Tutu. I can only surmise that was written to be performed by the choristers of Westminster Abbey on Commonwealth Day. The text is written by the Archbishop though. I did find that. It appears that you can purchase sheet music for this original composition here if your choir is feeling ambitious though there are several versions on YouTube that come with the caveat that streaming from YouTube is not a good idea.

The last piece I found for your worship celebrating this wonderful man is this collaboration with John Bell entitled Goodness is Stronger Than Evil. It is published in the United Methodist’s The Faith We Sing so there is a complete history here. Hymnary also indicates in the new Presbyterian Hymnal Glory to God that includes an audio recording that can be purchased from Hymnary here.

That’s all I have got right now. I’m praying for you, as always.

Please also share what words from the Archbishop you might share in your worship celebrations. There is an abundance of goodness and I’d be curious to hear what you choose from his writings.

Pandemic Psalms for Second Sunday after Epiphany

I want the bright lights that send the wise people home by another way to carry beyond Epiphany Sunday. I want it to be something that we continue to find again and again in the weeks that follow as we try to understand more and more about who and what Christ is in our lives.

I began the New Year with that hope. Inspired by Martha Spong’s annual reflective practice, my family outlined some aspirational hopes for this year. High on my personal list is nurturing friendships and actually making it through to read the whole Bible. I’ve tried several times and given up every time — but this will be the year! I already completed week one. Watch out 2022!

I read somewhere else in these first few days of the new year an invitation to keep it simple. What we need in times of uncertainty and anxiety is a reminder to be present. That wise person said it better than I just did and I honestly can’t remember where I found this wonderful invitation, but it is what is inspiring this wandering through the psalms for the next seven weeks of this season where we look for light and wonder how Christ might be made known.

I don’t know what to think anymore as friends and family members are all testing positive with this variant. There is rumor that this is pandemics end but I am skeptical and finding it hard to find hope. What I need is to take it slow and practice gentleness with my self and the world. And for me, that means inviting the truth of what this moment is. It means feeling every bit of this moment which is why I’m turning my heart to the psalms in these seven weeks.

I’ll offer one riff on a the psalm from the Revised Common Lectionary knowing there are tons of wonderful resources out there that could add to this simple practice for your weekly worship including Martha’s The Words of Her Mouth: Psalms for the Struggle. I’m also interested in last year’s release of Open and Unafraid by W. David O. Taylor.

I’ll also share a hymn that may or may not work for your worship style right now with the reminder to seek out permissions particular to your context. I’m hoping this limited format will help me to crank out the thing I want to create for Lent but only had the idea for this morning after most of you have already made your plans. Ha. Oops.

Prayers of the People 
Inspired by Psalm 36:5-10

Isolated and still somehow together, 
we have plummeted into the great deep.
O God, we have felt like there is no way.
We have sunk to the bottom of our hope
and not been able to find the surface.

There has been so much death...
So much sickness... 
So much weighing on our mental health...
So much that still feels uncertain...

We are waiting out this next surge
and hoping that it won't be that bad
even it feels awful to be here again
so we reach. We stretch out our hands
to hold your precious hands. 

Take our hands, Precious One.
Pull us close so that we might 
find your protection and strength. 
Pull us up out of this great deep
and give us life again. 
Remind us of all that means 
to live in your love. Shine the light
of that deep love for your people
in the caverns of our uncertainty
and remind us again that your light
lets us enjoy this life. Your light reaches
across the heavens above peeking through clouds
and dancing through rain and snow. Your light
invites us to dance with all of creation. 
Take our hands, Precious One, 
and lead us in your dance. Amen.

It might already be in your head as it was in mine when I entered into this psalm. Take My Hand, Precious Lord could underscore this prayer with soft music playing that swells after the amen into a meditation in song.

It was sung by Mahalia Jackson at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral which you may well be remembering this week. There are videos of that on YouTube too but I wasn’t allowed to post those here. Aretha, however, comes through. I can’t imagine that you can use this in worship but it’s still a gift and worth a listen.

If you are looking for other prayers to uplift the psalm, I commend to you the amazing work that Maren Tirabassi has done in the Living Psalms project within the United Church of Christ. She shares this telling of Psalm 36 on her wonderful blog Gifts in Open Hands. The official psalm from the project can be found here. I also found this Litany of Confession that seems particularly relevant to this moment in the pandemic with a few minor tweaks. Thom Shurman, whom I adore, shares this Call to Worship inspired by the Psalm. I confess I went for this particular moment in worship after I saw how much goodness was out there. There is goodness. May you feel it, dear pastor.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

I am praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

All the Best Worship Packages for Progressive Congregations

Maybe as the calendar turns to a new year, you finally got that video editor lined up. You have an increased tech crew even if they are volunteers — but they are faithful and you are no longer troubleshooting all of this technology alone. Dear pastor, this is something to celebrate.

It can be more challenging to find weekly worship resources where you don’t feel like you are starting from scratch every week. It has become increasingly popular to share in the gifts of creatives who are creating music, art, poetry and prayers to tie a whole season together.

There is lots of goodness out there and I want to be sure that you have all of these wonderful gifts at the tips of your fingers for Lent or future planning. I confess to you that I have never used any of these materials as a congregational leader but have witnessed some of their wonder as a worshipper.

Sanctified Art is the first of these kind of package deals that I ever came across. Lots of my dear clergy friends use them and that’s enough of an endorsement for me — but I’ve been delighted to experience their gifts this Advent with my sweet Texas church.

It’s really lovely stuff for a team that describes itself with “dreams to fill the Church with more art, inspiration, creativity, and God-breathed mystery.” Each season, they offer a new theme with original music, poetry, prayers, a printable devotional, sermon starters and graphics. There is even a preacher’s group that meets digitally every week! They are just about to release their newest resources for Lent but you can see the whole catalog of wonders for Lent here. They call their packages bundles and they come in all different shapes and sizes for the needs of every congregation.

Illustrated Ministry is another that has been around for a while. I watched on social media as its founder, Adam Walker Cleveland, began doodling at conferences and soon imagined this whole new ministry. Their resources are not as comprehensive as other packages mostly because they are thinking more about faith formation at home.

That shouldn’t be a strike against them though — because the creativity and thoughtfulness that goes into each of their products is truly wonderful. They don’t offer complete packages like some of these other creative efforts but they do provide really thoughtful materials to engage the inner creativity of every age. All of their resources for Lent can be found here.

This is the Day just launched in the middle of Advent — which seems bold and audacious for two United Church of Christ pastors in a busy, busy season. And that’s exactly what their resources seem to be with a seven week womanist series unlike anything I’ve seen in other packages. They don’t have anything that is particularly designed for Lent yet but these packages are priced so well that it would be well worth your time to check back and see what more wonders appear in their shop.

Barn Geese Worship is another new collaboration among some talented Lutherans. Their good work first caught my eye because they’re funny. They play with the geese theme in such silly and delightful ways.

That creativity extends to the kind of worship curation they share. Like the other packages listed here, they offer special prayers, preaching prompts and hymn suggestions. Unlike the other resources, their good work in available through the Creative Commons License and simply asks of a donation for their many gifts. They are set to release their Lent materials called You Are Here on December 27th. In the meantime, there is a compelling invitation into the series on their homepage.

Update: As planned, the materials for Lent released today but these talented Lutherans also announced the arrival of their new Market Stall. With this new store feature, they are moving into a paid model for their resources — and at very reasonable prices including a discounted rate for clergy of smaller churches that are paying for these assets out of their own funds. So their previous materials are all free but their newer resources including You Are Here is now a paid resource.

enfleshed is unlike any other of these packages and if I’m honest — they are where I’d put my congregational dollars.

All of their liturgical resources are centered on justice-making and body centered. They seek “to create and facilitate ‘spiritual nourishment for collective liberation‘” — and that is where we all need to be right now.

Theirs are prayers that push me and challenge me in all of the right ways though I confess I’ve never had reason or ability to subscribe to liturgy that matters. They don’t have all of the bells and whistles of other packages here. There’s no art or poetry nor are there any musical suggestions but they have a full liturgy for each week and a set of sermon prompts that I can only imagine how good they would be.

Worship Design Studio by the talented Marcia McFee is a long-time favorite of clergy though I’ve never used it myself.

It’s been many things over the years but always been a reliable resource for creative resources for clergy.

It has gone a recent renovation perhaps because Marcia has been busy teaching at San Francisco Theological Seminary. WDS 3.0 is “NOW a private social community platform! You are never alone. You never have to start from scratch.” It’s a flat fee for the whole year but has a ton of perks for this one-time purchase.

SALT Project has been doing digital ministry long before the pandemic. They have been crafting Emmy-winning films that have caught the eye of many clergy so you might already know of their good work including their recent launch of the Theologian’s Almanac to offer weekly commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary over on their blog.

They also don’t offer all of the bells and whistles for your worship planning but they do offer wonderful gifts to inspire a series for the season in their printable resources. They are a resources I have turned to again and again as a pastor and a parent.

Brim Project is a collaboration of a church musician and “self-professed Worship Junkie.” They first created a book together by the same name which led to this expanding ministry of resources for churches of all shapes and sizes.

I confess that this is the one that I know the least about but I am a curious lurker who admires the talents of these two women. There is no hint yet for their plans to Lent that I can see — but hopefully you’ll find their other treasures including a series of free offerings here.

I bet there are other talented souls offering packages to inspire worship. What did I miss? Where else do you turn for inspiration and guidance so you don’t feel like you’re constantly innovating all by yourself, dear pastor?

And yes, I write prayers too but we are in this together — and we need each other. We need each other more than ever.

Christmas Blessings

Advent is the strangest time to not be in the parish. I don’t find the same to be true in Lent because most people aren’t busy like pastors are busy in that season. But when December rolls around, everyone seems to be in a hurry. There is a rush to get to the finish line on Christmas Day or so I’m told.

My job right now is to cuddle with my kids and tell them the Christmas story again and again. I’m teaching them carols to sing to their babies and hoping by God’s good grace that they somehow get that Christmas is not all about Santa. (Why is my four year old so attached to this thing that I haven’t emphasized at all?) I get to bake cookies and everything feels very slow compared to the frantic pace that I remember well from congregational leadership.

I remember the stress when there wasn’t worry about variants and droplets adding to that usual Advent stress. I am praying for you, dear pastor. I am because you are doing so much and I want things to be just the tiniest bit easier for you. So I’m creating this gathering of all of the things you might need or want for your Christmas planning from the stuff that’s already in these pages and you can’t be bothered to search for. It’s all right here.

As the days are getting shorter and the grief of this pandemic season is just endless, the service I wrote last year for the Longest Night might be what you need in your ministry right now. I really love this one. It might be my favorite. I challenged myself to write a series of blessings for the grieving and I really like how it came together. I still like it though you might tweak some of the language to reflect this year. (I give you permission to edit, as needed.) When the Night Has Already Been Too Long can be purchased here.

Last year, I also created a series of liturgies for Christmas Eve including this service called Shadows and Light which is a Lessons and Carols kinda thing except that it is also like a Tenebrae service where the birth of Christ welcomes the whole Light of the World in a quiet, gentle sorta way. I have another complete Lessons and Carols Service in Coronatide from last year that might work for this year. I am keenly aware that the use of a lot of the poetry that I have used would require additional licenses and permissions. It’s for this reason that I created The Joy the World Needs musing on Howard Thurman’s Work of Christmas and some beautiful words shared by United Church of Christ colleagues.

Or if this service is a little “political” for your good people — and it might well be — then you could just download this wonderful blessing from two talented United Church of Christ colleagues who launched this new worship collaborative and are offering this Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols script for FREE.

I also created something simple — really, really simple — for an outdoor worship experience on Christmas Eve that tells the story without speech or song. Hard to believe, I know. The good news shines through in Christmas Eve Under Pandemic Skies and it can be purchased here.

Sunday rolls around really, really quickly after Christmas Eve and I wanted to have multiple options for you, dear pastor, because I know you don’t want to preach. This year, I created this fireside experience designed for Zoom. You get to stay in your pajamas, dear pastor, and you deserve it.Or you might opt for the new liturgy I created called New Year Epiphanies. You can read all about it here.

You might also decide to use New Year Epiphanies on that Second Sunday of Christmas if that’s not when you are celebrating Epiphany. I offered these Pandemic Prayers for Epiphany last year and I’ll be sharing more ideas for the whole Season after Epiphany in my next email — so be sure to subscribe here.

Until then, you might be planning ahead for the second week of January rolls around because you might get a vacation or something blessed like that, and so you might be looking for for these Pandemic Prayers for Baptism of Christ. It’s a series of prayer stations and might be one of the favorite things I’ve created in this long pandemic season.

I hope these many things bless you this Christmas, dear pastor and though I’ve said it a thousand times and you might not really believe it, still, I am praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much. I really am.

Another Pandemic Christmas Eve

I was busy updating my favorite poems for Christmas Eve when a colleague posted about permission for a beloved Christmas poem she hoped to use Christmas Eve. It was just another one of those reminders that pastors, like you dear one, are juggling so much right now. You’re not just crafting worship but tending to all of the legalities that might exist around every bit of artistic inspiration you might use.

I use a lot of poetry on the highest of holy days to give new meaning and insight to our hearing of those more familiar stories from scripture — but this season is busy enough. You don’t need to chase down permissions for the rest of Advent. You need to print the bulletin, assemble the slides and move onto the next thing. So I’m giving another option for Christmas Eve that doesn’t require chasing down permissions. Everything is either public domain or permission has been granted for this purpose by the artist. Credit should be given to the artists those attributions are at the very end of the liturgy. It will require you to click through to find these things in other places because I did very little actual writing for this liturgy — and my colleagues in the United Church of Christ are just so dang talented.

The liturgy follows the Proper II for Christmas Eve because I never, ever choose it and I wondered what it might look like to use these lessons. It’s a lot of scripture because I think that scripture tells it best — and I wanted there to be a push toward Howard Thurman’s The Work of Christmas, which is my very favorite Christmas poem and how I like to conclude every Christmas Eve service but it’s not public domain.

I did find that Bosco Peters wrote a hymn with the poem text so that might be an option if you’re interested in introducing a new song on Christmas — though after a long season of not singing together and that thing where we don’t sing carols in Advent, people are likely to want to only sing carols. Maren Tirabassi also has this improv poem inspired by Thurman’s beloved words. Or you might swap out Michelle’s candle lighting for this simple Advent candle lighting also by Maren. Especially if you are using the Prayers of the People I offer, it might be worth doing the whole thing where the Advent candles are slowly lit in this service. It might need to be shortened a bit for that to work but it’s a really lovely option.

Carol: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Invitation to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 97

We lift our voices 
with all of creation 
in praise and wonder 
for all that will be 
born this night. 

We are listening
to all that can change
and all that will change
with this birth.
Light will dawn
and there will be 
rejoicing on the coastlands
and way up high in the mountains.

The landscape of our imagination
will shift and it will be glorious. 
It is this change that we have
been waiting for. We have been
waiting so long. 

Carol: O Come All Ye Faithful

Engage Worship offered these Christmas carol videos last year for free. They are still available and free to use for Zoom or other worship formations.

Prayer of Invocation (Responsive)

Prayer of our Savior

First Reading: Isaiah 62:10-12 from the Common English Bible

Prayer for the Lighting the Christ Candle

Second Reading: Titus 3:4-7 from the VOICE translation

Prayer for the Light
Inspired by Psalm 97

It could happen
like this where
a tiny spark changes 
everything. 

Tonight, O God, 
by this feeding trough
and listening
for the sounds 
of little ones
too delighted 
to keep quiet, 
assure us
that it could 
happen just 
like this.

The world
we have prayed
for could begin
with one light
that is shared 
again and again
and again. May
it be so tonight.

Carol: O Little Town of Bethlehem

Engage Worship offered these Christmas carol videos last year for free. They are still available and free to use for Zoom or other worship formations.

Gospel Reading: Luke 2:1-7 from the Message

What it Was: A Christmas Poem by Michelle Torigian

This is the big moment — and it deserves more than four voices in a choral reading. Consider adding sung responses to each bit of good news that is shared from beloved carols like Hark the Herald Angels Sing or The First Noel. Or move pieces of a nativity set into place as the readers share the story. (This would work on Zoom too if you focus the camera on a central spot and move the figures slowly toward that spot. This reading could also be easily shared by four readers in different households on Zoom.) It may even work to have the readers in costume as they read. For copyright reasons, I didn’t alter the text but I really want to make it inclusive.

Heralds of Good News in Four Voices
From the Voice Translation 

First Voice
Nearby, in the fields outside of Bethlehem, 
a group of shepherds were guarding their flocks 
from predators in the darkness of night. Suddenly 
a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, 
and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—
the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!

Messenger
Don’t be afraid! Listen! 
I bring good news, news of great joy, 
news that will affect all people everywhere.
Today, in the city of David, a Liberator 
has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, 
the Supreme Authority! You will know you have found Him 
when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, 
lying in a feeding trough.

First Voice
At that moment, the first heavenly messenger 
was joined by thousands of other messengers—
a vast heavenly choir. They praised God.

Heavenly Choir
To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God!
And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God!

First Voice
As soon as the heavenly messengers disappeared into heaven, 
the shepherds were buzzing with conversation.

Shepherds
Let’s rush down to Bethlehem right now! Let’s see what’s happening! Let’s experience what the Lord has told us about!

First Voice
So they ran into town, and eventually they found 
Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the feeding trough. 
After they saw the baby, they spread the story of what 
they had experienced and what had been said to them about this child.  Everyone who heard their story couldn’t stop thinking about its meaning. Mary, too, pondered all of these events, 
treasuring each memory in her heart.

The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God 
for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God 
for the way the experience had unfolded just 
as the heavenly messenger had predicted.

Carol: Joy to the World

Engage Worship offered these Christmas carol videos last year for free. They are still available and free to use for Zoom or other worship formations.

For this next moment in worship, I imagine each person is given a globe stress ball or eraser or whatever palm-sized globe you can find in bulk with the current supply chain issues. If that’s not possible, maybe just a small coloring page of the globe would work with some crayons. You will want to edit the italicized directions based on what you find and also edit the OR in the Christmas Prayers.

Imagining the Joy the World Needs

Joy to the world! And this world needs joy.
In another pandemic year, there is so much 
isolation and loneliness. We have seen how far
we are willing to go to take care of each other.
We have felt the earth weep from climate devastation
and have witnessed the acceptance of words like "Black lives matter"
and even "Love wins" even when violence toward black, brown and queer bodies continues. This world needs more joy -- 
the joy that we have seen and heard with the shepherds.

Tonight you hold the world in your hands
and it is your joy to imagine 
how you will begin the work of Christmas
to repeat the sounding joy of this good news.
What kind of joy can you imagine for this world this year?
What can your hands do to bring hope to hurting people?

Ponder these questions, like Mary, as music plays softly in the background. Sharpies might be provided to write a word representing your intention on the globe. Or you might ponder the joy the world needs in color with the crayons provided.

Christmas Prayers 

Emmanuel God,
it has happened again.

We have heard your good news
and just begun to imagine
your liberation and hope.
We have heard the familiar chorus
of the angels singing of peace.

We have considered your world
and all the joy it needs.

Like shepherds, we are cautious 
about this news and approach your possibility slowly, 
illuminating the shadows of this world with one candle,
and then another, and another, and another...
until we light your candle, O Emmanuel.

In your candle, O Christ, 
we see your face shining upon us, 
We see the miracle of our own light 
shining through the hopes and fears of all the years.
That candle reminds us that there is work 
to do toward your liberation and peace.
It is a hope that you ask us 
to share with our hearts and hands
even when we are still pondering 
these great mysteries in our hearts. 

Help us to shine 
and to announce peace, 
to encourage joy,
and to share the love that begins – 
but does not end – 
in this small child 
in a feeding trough.

May this love be felt 
especially by the sick and hospitalized...

May this love reach
around the grieving and broken-hearted...

May this love inspire us 
all to bring justice and peace to...

May love carry each of us
and encourage us to hope
through all that we do not understand
and all that we dare to dream
and may we find ourselves, like the shepherds,
so excited about this good news
that we can't stop thinking about 
it's meaning and how this good news 
might change how we live. 
We carry the world 
with us in our pockets
OR folded up in our wallets
to reminds us that this good news
repeats with our sounding joy.

Bless us, O Christ, 
with possibility and 
understanding. Wrap us
up in your love and
encourage us to grow
with you in the work 
of liberation and peace.
Amen.

Carol: Silent Night

Christmas Blessing

Carry your light
into the world to bring
joy where it needed.

Bring the love 
of this newborn child
into the whole wide world
so that all might see
their own image in God's glory.

This child was born
for you. It was born
for the hope of this whole world.
God is with us. Alleluia! Alleluia!

The Prayer of Invocation is by Eliza Tweedy. The Lighting of the Christ Candle and What it Was: A Christmas Poem are both written by Michelle Torigian. Used by permission with deep gratitude.

I know that this platform has made it very difficult to copy and paste for some. In the new year, I’m contemplating moving these prayers entirely to my newsletter on Substack. Or it may become a separate newsletter. I haven’t quite decided this but I’m troubleshooting as best I can. I offer this complete service for free download here.

I offer no instructions for Silent Night because I think you know what to do there. It’s everyone’s favorite moment and it simply requires some candles safely distributed within the gathered body. The blessing could be done in the dark or the lights could come up a little. Again, you know this part well.

I want there to be other rituals on Christmas Eve than gathering around the table. That’s me. I know I’m weird on this one so I didn’t include a communion service but you might opt for this one by Thom Shuman. His words at Lectionary Liturgies are ones that I’ve turned to often in my imagination of what worship could be again and again.

As Christmas comes again, I’m praying for you, dear pastor.

New Year Epiphanies

There is a lot that we hope for in this new year. There is so much we hope for that I dared to tag this worship service with the audacious claim that this worship might end the pandemic. 

It won’t. Of course, it won’t.

The news broke yesterday in Germany that this pandemic isn’t likely to end in the spring. I’m not surprised. I can’t really imagine being surprised right now but I still dare to dream that this will end — and that somehow we can do something to make it end.

It won’t be like last year. We won’t be so naive to think that a simple flip of the calendar page will change everything. It is not just saying goodbye to this year but searching for how we might enter into the year that dawns. We can enter this new year without expecting it all to change but believing that we can be some small part of what ends this much death and devastation.

We can change it. That is how it will end. We will believe in what my friend Laura Stephens-Reed called grounded hope. She explains it like this,

A hope that acknowledges the physical danger we still face and forges ahead anyway. A confidence that Jesus is with us in the particularity of our congregations and concerns. A belief that come what may, God wants good for us and invites us into agency, into actively making things better by the ways we treat one another and respond to challenge. An empowerment by the courage and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, who prompts us to recognize the holy and leap for joy when we least expect it.

Yes. Yes. YES. Let that be how we enter this new year.

(Please do read the whole essay Laura shares at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Blog. It’ll give you a burst to write that Christmas sermon that you can’t find words for — and if you’re still struggling I have some wonders in my kitchen for Christmas that could help.)

I don’t know if I did Laura’s words credit but I hope so. I hope that this worship experience I’ve entitled New Year Epiphanies invites the gathered community to reflect on what has been and dream of what could be through simple rituals and gentle questions. It hints toward the Epiphany as something that will happen but assumes that it hasn’t happened yet. Instead, I imagined it being used in those Sundays in the end of Christmastide in and around when the calendar does flip from 2021 to 2022.

I didn’t want to do anything overly complicated. There are no special props beyond the communion elements, pen, paper and tea light candles — and even these things could be substituted for whatever is available at home that day. It’s designed for Zoom but it could very well work in other worship formations and settings.

For you, dear pastor, there are words that you don’t have to create to lead your beautiful people into the hope of the new year through all of those weird low-attendance Sundays after Christmas Eve. It gives you an opportunity to lead and reflect on what you imagine this year will be. How will you be part of the change that needs to come? How will we end this pandemic?

Those are not questions that are answered in the prayers I wrote but I hope that some great wisdom emerges from within the worshipping body moving through this experience together. That’s my hope, my very grounded hope.

This complete worship service is now available for purchase for $10. It can be purchased it here.

I am praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

This lovely meditation on the Magnificat was in my email from The Work of the People a few days ago. I love the slightest twist on the more familiar words from those verses in Luke’s first chapter. If you’re looking for another paraphrase to bring these words to life, there is this adaptation by Jim Taylor. (Scroll down to Psalm Paraphrases.) There’s also this one by Katy Stenta that is just fabulous.

I find it really weird that there aren’t more actual singable congregational songs about this beloved text but maybe this one will work as you share the good news that is about to break forth.

Please be sure to research permissions based on your congregation’s licenses.

Lots of you are probably doing a pageant where the good news is told through actors, movement and song. If there aren’t enough young people in your congregation, this might be an option for you. Oh, I kinda want to write that service now. Maybe I can find time to do that!

My favorite song for this text is this one from Taize and I wonder about weaving it through worship as part of the Call to Worship as the prayer below might lead. It could appear again in the silence that follows the Prayer of Confession before the Words of Assurance as the congregation tries to claim that forgiveness for themselves. It could even be part of the Prayers of the People as the congregation continues to sing this hope.

Please be sure to research permissions based on your congregation’s licenses.
Call to Worship
Inspired by Luke 1:46b-55

All generations
gather here to find
blessing and hope.

We come to join 
our voices and sing
for what could be
and what we pray
will be soon.

Mary taught us
to sing big words
of hope and wonder
so that in our signing
this dream deepens and
intensifies. Increase
our hope as we sing
together in every
generation. 

There is so much goodness out there that it is really tough to choose the right words that give the power that Mary’s words need for our time — like these terrific suggestions from Barn Geese Worship. A Eucharistic Prayer grounded in the Magnificat?! Yes please! Also check out the prayer for December 19. It’s another goodie.

As you look beyond Advent, you might be looking for new poems to tell the story on Christmas Eve or during Christmastide. I’ve started to update this list for this year but still have a few more to add — I think. I also have a complete Lessons and Carols Service in Coronatide from last year that you might opt to use if you are looking for something a little different than the usual Christmas Eve celebration. I also think it’s a great way to celebrate that first Sunday after Christmas which comes really soon after Christmas Eve this year. Or you might opt for this fireside experience designed for Zoom. You get to stay in your pajamas, dear pastor, and you deserve it.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

I am praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayers for the Third Sunday of Advent

A few years ago, I heard Gaudete by Brad Reynolds in worship and I loved it so much that I have no idea what happened through the rest of the service. I was lost in wonder of these joy-filled words. I am not sure I am one of those people that does joy well.

I am keenly aware of that when this Sunday pops up — or it’s friend over there in Lent. I’m not sure I am ready for it. I’m not sure what to do with it because it feels like it has be bigger than I am able to claim when it really does feel like the world is ending. I’m just never sure how to enter into it fully while still in this sense of expectation. I love how this poem welcomes me into a joy that feels possible even when every passage this week seems to insist on that joy. I don’t like the bossiness of this week’s epistle. I really don’t. I prefer the playfulness of Gaudete that can be hard to find in sacred text.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Philippians 4:4-7 

It doesn't feel right 
to sing when there is
so much that is wrong.
Judgments, condemnations,
variants and fears
make us quiet. 

We don't make
a sound when terrors
and worries overwhelm.

We forget to look 
for joy -- and there is 
always joy just as this
world is always moving closer
and closer to your hope. 

Forgive us
for not rejoicing 
in the tiny wonders. 

Forgive us
for not singing
into our fears.

Forgive us
for ignoring
how close you 
are, now and always.

Silent contemplation follows.
 

There’s another version of this song that mixes this song with Joy to the World. It’s a lot peppier and maybe that’s the vibe you’re going for but I rather like this one as an Affirmation of Grace. I’m pretty sure the You is supposed to be God so maybe you’d rather use it in the Prayers of the People but I think it could work both ways. That said, I have no idea about permissions with your congregation’s licenses and you would, of course, need to make sure that it’s possible to use this song. I want to offer an alternative but I can’t find one I’m really excited about so please share in the comments your ideas.

Please be sure to research permissions based on your congregation’s licenses.

Last year, I wrote these prayers for this third Sunday of Advent. The confession might not work but the Call to Worship inspired by What Child is This? might work for your worship planning if the above suggestions don’t work for you.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

I am praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.