Pandemic Prayers for Proper 21

It has been a bad week.

Can we admit that? Can we conspire in that little bit of honesty?

A lot of bad shit is happening. I’m not sorry for my language. I am mad and you’re probably mad too. There are countless things that might make you feel like bashing your head against a rock. But, then, oh look! There’s Moses in the wilderness pounding the living daylights out a freaking stone because God told him that water would spring forth. Then, there is that bit in the Gospel about being afraid of crowds. Their reasons were different than those that occupy my pandemic angst but it is that phrase that leaps off the page to me. Well, that and the whole question of authority. Is there any authority now? Anywhere? At all? I appreciated Kentina Washington-Leaphart’s reminder that the “pathway to the other side [of all this shit] won’t be an easy one, and getting through it successfully will require sacrifice, patience, flexibility, and trust—trust in human leadership and, for people of faith, in God.”

I’m leaning into music this week because I need a song to sing. I miss singing in church and I need these songs to echo in my head so that all of that confusion that will surely come next week might have a new rhythm.

Gathering Together for Worship

I might just begin worship with this or a version of this using the talents within my congregation. Or if you are leaning into the trust we need to find in God, you might opt for this golden oldie.

Or instead I might begin worship with these words of poetry somehow figuring out a way to end the video before the promo for Leonardo DiCaprio’s website. (No offense Leo. We need your activism.) It speaks exactly to the grief I’m feeling in this moment and dares to catch a glimpse of what is on the other side of all of our complaining. (That’s the concluding line of Kentina Washington-Leaphart’s reflection in my email this week.)

Riffing on an Old Prayer

Just after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died, a snippet of a prayer I had written years ago for Proper 20A was shared in the United Church of Christ Instagram feed.

Humbling? Yes. Completely.

It is always surprising to me when words that I’ve written continue to have life. I thought it might be fun to actually adapt that prayer for this Sunday because we still have work to do. We have so much work to do.

Invocation 
Inspired by Philippians 2:1-13

Call us together, O God,
to find courage and comfort,
compassion and sympathy.

Call us together, O God, 
with all our lamentation and despair
all of our frustration and sorrow,
to make our joy complete.

Call us together, O God, 
to find ourselves of one heart
and one mind which admittedly
feels impossible in 2020.
Help us not to zero in 
only on our own interests
but to find the heart
and mind of Christ.
Humble us.
Empty us.
Bend us.

Call us together, O God, 
to strike the fury and passion
of your work into us again.
We have so much work to do.
Let us find your good pleasure 
in the work we share here and now, 
in Christ's presence we pray. Amen.

Other Service Prayers

I want to play with striking the rock but anything that I’ve attempted sounds too violent. There is enough violence. There is enough violence we are doing to ourselves and what we really need is trust. That is where these texts pull me. We can put our whole trust in God even as we fight against the divine. God can take it.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Exodus 17:1-7 

We thirst for answers, O God.
We thirst for clarity
and some prayer 
that this will all 
be over soon.

We thirst for comfort
and assurance because 
we are no longer certain 
that everything is going 
to work itself out.

It is why we thirst for justice 
for a broken healthcare system
and the sins of white
supremacy. We cannot believe
some of the things that we have prayed 
for in these weeks and months
and we thirst for your wisdom.

We thirst for your presence and
assurance but we have been 
so busy fighting with you
about all of the things that 
have gone wrong 
that we haven't really 
stopped to wonder
if you trust us anymore.

O God, what will you 
do with your people?
We are not yet done 
complaining because 
the infection rate still creeps up
and 200,000 people have died
for no reason. We are outraged
and exhausted. We thirst
for your grace and love
especially when we quarrel 
with you again. 

Quench our 
thirst, O God,
just enough to remind us
that we have work 
to do in your name. Amen.

If you find yourself without words again for the Prayers of the People again this week, I suggest this beautiful composition by Christopher Grundy. As the artist himself explains it, Leaning In is a “gentle, sung prayer of intercession” that breaks “down the sense of “us” and “them” that is often the pattern of such prayers.” There are several options for purchase including an audio file, lead sheet and piano accompaniment. There is a refrain that could be sung by a virtual choir while a cantor leads the verses. It would be lovely this week or any week.

Closing Worship

Though I haven’t offered a suggestion for closing worship before, I want this to be my prayer into the days ahead.

That’s all I’ve got for worship planning this week, though I seem to continually be editing this post so maybe you want to check back. I did, however, want to share a few other things. I discovered this week through social media that the fantastic Lindsay Andreolli-Comstock has created some wonderful pandemic-focused resources including one for those of us that are disappointed that trunk-or-treats and trick-or-treating should not be happening this year.

The planning packet Lindsay has created includes all sorts of goodies for a multi-day scavenger hunt among your congregation’s homes. It’s all socially distanced and includes instructions for everything. It’s the exhausted christian education director’s dream — and all for ten dollars. Be sure to add Trek or Treat to your cart. (And you might want to add the digital Christmas pageant to your cart while you’re at it.)

I’ve also been thinking about actually launching the newsletter I dreamed about years ago. (Has it been years? What is time?) My primary motivation at the moment is to do a better job in planning ahead so my goal would be to provide planning ahead materials on a monthly basis while I’d probably stick to a similarly unpredictable schedule on a weekly basis on the blog itself. There are some big things coming up like Advent and Christmas and I know I’m not the only one daydreaming about these things. Especially you’ve found my round-up of materials for stewardship, Backpack Blessings and World Communion Sunday helpful, I would love if you’d subscribe here. And to the 44 of you already subscribed, you’re the greatest.

I am always praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. 

Pandemic Prayers for World Communion Sunday

In the churches I’ve served, this was always a Sunday people looked forward to. It wasn’t a celebration that they remembered from childhood but it was something that has become meaningful and important. There was always careful planning to make bread, prepare special liturgy and even host special events after worship. The table was always set with bold colors. There was a globe or a map or some other visuals to remind us that we are connected to a global community through the sharing of this feast. I think that is special and worth celebrating so here are some things to try while worshipping remotely.

Sharing of the Bread

My sweet Texas church has been offering communion kits every month including wafers and grape juice that have been blessed by the pastors while wearing masks and gloves. We live too far away to get one but it does make me wonder about all of those people who stockpiled yeast all those months ago. Certainly there are at least a few in your congregation. Could they be recruited to bake bread to be delivered to your members? It would be a big effort for a large congregation but perhaps it would be possible in smaller parishes where there are skilled saints who miss coordinating church dinners.

Or maybe you use the talents of one of those dear bakers and have themselves film the process of weighing, mixing and kneading the simple ingredients of making bread? Maybe some harvest songs play in the background or maybe you broaden this experience to include videos of harvesting wheat and grapes? Or could you use images of Christians around the world sharing the bounty of that harvest? You could use this if you are really, really desperate.

It could instead be a time when elements are gathered for the local food pantry to share food and drink with neighbors in need. If your local food pantry doesn’t have a list of things that are in short supply right now, you might encourage members to donate items that are familiar to the communion table around the world including bread, flour, tortillas, potatoes, rice and gallons of water.

I am not including the wide variety of prayers in languages other than English because I imagine you’ll use the gifts of your congregation.

Sharing Music

Our hymnals are full of wonderful songs about community and gathering at the table. I was tickled to see that Global Ministries gathered together all of the global hymns into an online resource for those that lost the index in the back of their hymnals. I am curious what will happen with worship streaming using Facebook Live with the recent changes to the platform and so I’m focusing on original music in what I suggest here.

My friend and colleague released his first album in 2013 that included Taste and See which would be fantastic to gather with at the table. Through his website, you can buy the digital track, the album and the sheet music. The first track on that same album entitled All God’s People would also work lovely in the beginning of worship unless you don’t want to tap your feet.

If the tone is meant to be more meditative, you might consider All Belong Here by The Many. It’s available through the Convergence Music Project as an audio file, a lead sheet, a lyric sheet, or a piano arrangement. Though there is no sample on the website, I’d also recommend Christopher Grundy’s Come to the Feast on the same site but it’s another one of those upbeat songs.

I am uncertain of the copyrights surrounding this but this might be how I would choose to end worship. It made me weep.

If you have talented musicians in your congregation ready to film themselves singing, you might offer them the free sheet music for Jorge Lockward’s Cuando El Pueblo. If you uncertain about copyright uses, his email is on the sheet music.

Sharing Words

There are so many beautiful words written for this day already that I can’t help but share a few favorites. At the top of the list would be my much loved copy of Gifts of Many Cultures edited by Maren Tirabassi and Kathy Wonson Eddy. Another book that I’m eager to get my hands on just came out from my seminary friend Claudio Carvalhaes entitled Liturgies from Below: Praying with People at the Ends of the World.

I have used Katherine Hawker’s lovely prayers many times but have a special place in my heart for her Presentation of the Breads. This would only work if the presider at the table is willing to have a ton of bread in their home that may actually go to waste. I also love the Alternative Table Prayer she recommends. I used this Call to Worship as an Invitation to the Table last year when I was still writing liturgy for my sweet Texas church. I just discovered and adore this simple prayer from the United Church of Canada. Whereas this blessing entitled And the Table Will Be Wide by Jan Richardson has been in my files for a long time, though it feels like it has new meaning now. For preachers that might want a break from preaching, you could build a service around these reflections on Why I Take Communion from 2010.

If you have followed these pandemic prayers, you’ve noticed that I have a penchant for poetry in worship and so I also have a few poems to offer including this one entitled Wheat. While it might not be right for every church, I adore Red Wine Spills by L. Ash Willams. Judy Chicago’s A Prayer for Our Nation might be a better fit. This is a horribly short list and I’m disappointed in myself so please go check out the books mentioned above.

Most of the years that I have marked this year with the congregations I’ve served, I’ve hunted for worship resources from other countries to use words that don’t sound quite as familiar. There are weekly prayers shared by Global Ministries from all our global partners (and I’m sure that your denomination has something similar) and a slew of ideas just for World Communion Sunday. Despite my resistance, here are some prayers that you can copy and paste because you are tired and don’t want to go searching for these things. That’s the whole point of this. For better or worse, I stuck with the texts for Proper 22A.

Call to Worship

Listen to the wild grapes.
Listen for the prophets
and builders of the future.
Can you hear something 
amazing? Might you 
even hear what God is doing?

Listen carefully
as you dig among the stones
in that fertile ground
full of expectation.
Listen for the crushing
violence of those first fruits.
Listen for another parable
of a bread broken and shared.
Can you hear the grace 
poured from that cup 
shared throughout all the earth?

Listen to all of the wild grapes
gathered to build
a future around this table.

The next prayer is a little different from what I usually might offer. While silence could follow for personal prayer and confession, I thought it might be worth considering a little bit to remember our baptisms. To do so, you could use something really long and elaborate. I’d suggest that this prayer be followed by a hymn (instrumental would be more meditative) and then begin this more traditional liturgy. Or you could opt for what I suggest below.

Prayer of Confession

With open ears, we come as a global people
to admit that the world is not as it should be.
We carefully cleared out all the stones
and planted only the best vines.
We thought we did everything right.
Or so we have told ourselves
again and again.

Listen, O God,
for these roots run deep.
There are things that we
have chosen to believe
because we didn't want
to see the violence
or corruption.
We wanted to believe
there was enough
and that all people were
working for good until
the harvest of this year.
It has crushed our hope.
It has broken our faith
and we need your grace
to rain down.
Wash us in your love
so that we can dare
to dream of the world
we could build
from so much waste.
Listen, O God,
to the cries of your people
around the world.

Silence is kept.

Remembering the Gift of Water
A large bowl of water is set in front of the speaker on camera.

We remember the gift of water
that nourishes the fertile ground
and allows wild grapes to thrive.
We whisper small wonder
over the miracle of running water
gushing from the spout
to wash our hands
clean with soap.
We notice the rain puddles and drops of dew 
that remind us again that 
the heavens brim with your love
raining down upon our heads with mercy.
Water reminds us again and again
that we might dive into new possibility
and be renewed. We remember with this water

Splash hands in water.

that we were once called beloved
and that the whole world
and all of its wild grapes
are equally beloved.

I would not be above sprinkling my computer or tablet or phone or whatever device is filming me to do a little blessing, saying simply, Remember the gift of water and be thankful. Amen. I am not interested in excluding anyone that has not been baptized from this moment and want to leave lots of room for the wild grapes within us and among us. These words are in my head.

If you opted for bread distribution among your people, you might even include a special blessing like a prayer card. I cannot find a sample I like. I might have to make one.

Or if you don’t want to do this whole baptism water business, you might opt for silent meditation that includes a homemade rain stick in the background if you don’t already have one in your minister’s closet. Have someone in the congregation make it for you, dear pastor, because they love crafts and you have enough to do. That person will be so excited to drop it off on your porch before Sunday.

Prayers of the People

Though this aspect of worship might usually happen later in the service, I might follow it after the act of Remembering the Gift of Water. Under that bowl of water, I’d have a map of the world. Off to the side, I’d have a basket of tea lights and a fire starter ready for this moment of prayer. The chat feature in Zoom could be used to uplift prayers for the global community or prayers could be gathered from the congregation through the congregation’s Facebook group during the week. Knowing that these forums are imperfect in gathering the prayers we wish to bring to God, I would prepare a list of petitions from the headlines that week.

After each petition, I’d light a tea light and place it upon the map over the correct country. After all of these prayers are voiced, I might close this prayer time in an adaptation of this Intercessory Prayer with some more expansive imagery around the divine or this prayer with zero changes.

That’s all I’ve got for this particular Sunday. I’d be thrilled to know what you use and what might help you plan for the future. Until then, please know that I am praying for you.

I am always praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. 

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 20

It has been six months. I lost count.

I could have sworn it had been longer since my husband redeployed from South Korea and we almost immediately cancelled the vacation I’d been looking forward to for nine months and went into lockdown. We moved across the state but my kids and I remain in lockdown while my husband goes back and forth to work. Complaining feels good. It feels right. It matches my grief in this moment and so I’m drawn to the Exodus story where our ancestors find themselves, as Michael J. Chan points out, in the “uncomfortable space between departure and destination—or in the case of Exodus, between liberation and covenant.”

I feel less certain about the destination and more and more removed from the departure. I feel all the discomfort. I don’t think I’m the only one that feels this tension that is profoundly explored in the Letter to Philippi. I want to figure out what it means right now to “live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ” especially when I feel anything but firm in my Spirit. But then, there are many that are struggling with suicidal thoughts that I wonder how we dare to preach that bit about being pulled to depart but then choosing to remain in the flesh. There is good news in there. I know it, just as I know there is good news in you.

Gathering Together for Worship

Singing from the Lectionary suggests John Bell’s Stand, O Stand Firm for the epistle. I love the refrain and think it would be lovely to begin worship and repeat in the prayer time. You can find the full version for purchase here. You might even request your members send in pictures of themselves standing tall and use those images as a visual for this prelude.

Or you might be feeling really punchy and start worship with this. Kidding. Sorta.

I offer the words below but if you are focusing on the Gospel, you might prefer this beautiful invitation. Some of the prayers I wrote for Labor Day could also be adapted or you can find the liturgy I wrote six years ago for Worship Ways here. Here is another possibility that could work no matter what your focus text is.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Exodus 16:2-15 and Philippians 1:21-30

We come with the whole congregation
to find ourselves still in the wilderness
between where we were 
and where we are going
and we are full of complaint.

We cannot stop complaining
for what we do not understand
and whatever forces brought us here. 
We complain about our leaders
and the lack of available resources.
We bemoan every injustice
that now seems so obvious. 
We are tired and we are scared.

We come with this 
whole congregation
because we are convinced -- 
even in our constant complaint -- 
that there is joy.
There is abundant hope
when we can stand firm
in one spirit. Together,
we strive for the faith of the gospel.
Hope by hope, heart by heart,
we struggle together to see
what God will do.

Or for something completely different, you might start with a poem like Wait by Galway Kinnell particularly if you are wandering into the struggles of suicidal thoughts. It’s a poem I found reading this essay and I rather like the wildness of it. It might be followed by this favorite Taize song of mine.

Prayers for the Day

Picking up on the complaining spirit in Exodus, here is a confession and assurance to center this prayer time. I wonder if there might be an action for this week so that in the week ahead when members of the whole congregation notice that whine inside them, they could be compelled to act with hope. This simple recipe for gratitude might be an easy enough place to start. I’ve also wondered about neighborhood walks in the pandemic particularly for neighborhood churches.

Prayer of Confession

O God, we have complained so much.
We have felt stuck and scared
and so we've summoned the only power
we could find. We know you haven't seen our best sides.
Forgive us. Forgive us for ignoring that every whine
and worry reveals our hope. Help us 
not to not to get stuck in our fears 
but to lean into what we hope
will come in the future of your realm.

Assurance of Grace

I have heard your complaining, God assures us.
I have heard your worry and concern
and I will feed you with grace
and love and hope. I will assure you
that all is forgiven. You are my beloved,
now and always. Amen.

I also felt pulled to write a prayer that spoke to the particular words of the poem mentioned above and the issues surrounding mental health and the pandemic particularly in National Suicide Prevention Month. I wondered if I should write it as if this is happening to others but that would be dishonest for me. I’m not one of those people who has never considered this, particularly in my youth but even now. Still, I confess that this is an issue of which I’m still learning and so these words may drastically fall short and I hope that I will be corrected.

These words reflect my own struggle. As with so many things, we are works in progress but endlessly and completely in the struggle together. Or so I pray. Similar to the above prayer, this might be a good week to encourage some action particularly around suicide awareness if you use these prayers. I’ll link to the United Church of Christ toolkit because it is what I know best but there are tons of great resources out there.

Prayer for the Waiting

Wait with us, O God,
in the wilderness 
where it feels like we have been separated 
from every one and every thing we ever loved
only to be told to wait. We don't trust it.
We can't and maybe that is why depression 
and suicidal thoughts feel so familiar here.

We have complained 
and we have felt like nothing matters
even if we wish that everything did. 

Wait with us, O God,
in this wilderness
because it is familiar
and we haven't yet given up.
We are still waiting.

Wait with us, O God,
wait with all of us
who struggle with futility
and suicidal thoughts in this coronatide.
We pray in your holy name, Amen.

Prayers of the People

I haven’t written as many prayers of the people or intercessory prayers but I’ve seen that there is interest and need for them. It feels awkward to write as those prayers are so intimate for me. Those are the prayers I’ve prayed from the heart without a script for sheer love of these people God has called me to serve but I know you’re struggling for words so here are some great words that I found written by other wonderful people. It is admittedly a short list.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. I hinted last week that I was going to do some thinking about All Saints and Christmas Eve but I hope to spend some time this week daydreaming about World Communion Sunday. It’s apparently soon. Gulp. There is so much to think about. I am continually in awe of you, my dear colleagues. You are amazing.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always. 

Small Pandemic Joys

It has been so long that this pandemic has gone on.

I have lost count. I no longer care to count.

I have yelled at my kids. I have been short. I have been unkind solely because I have been so isolated. My family is great. Yeah for family but I really miss people. And so, I’m trying to remind myself of small joys. I am terrible at this spiritual practice. I know Diana Butler Bass says its a good idea. It’s healthy. It builds good things but I resist. Instead, my gratitude practice more boldly extends to conspiring with the United States Postal Service. I shared a recipe for that years ago here.

And yet, bizarrely, I find myself whispering prayers of gratitude in these strange days where my frustration feels off the charts. Beyond the obvious things (family, a roof over our heads, food in our bellies… that stuff), I feel compelled to share my growing gratitude list. It’s my own tiny reminder that small things are everything.

  • My fifteen month old baby has started kissing so that any time she goes upstairs she makes this little guppy noise to say good night. It’s not always bed time when we go upstairs but it makes me laugh every time.
  • Walks around our neighborhood where my nearly three year old daughter and I each squeal with delight at the bright colored flowers. (We live in Texas. It’s still hot here and even in the desert, there are plenty of flowers.) We are slowly learning the names of these new plants and each time I point and name a plant, I hear the distant echo of my grandmother doing the same thing over my shoulder.
  • While my children are too tiny for homeschool and we still don’t have many screens in our lives, I’ve definitely noticed my phone is in my palm A LOT. One of the ways I’m trying to separate from screens is to turn off all screens 30 minutes before bedtime and read an actual paper book. My husband wakes up so freaking early that I invested in a reading light that I adore. Right now, this is a great joy.
  • Writing prayers and hearing that these prayers are actually helpful when I know that so many pastors are on the brink of giving up their vocations out of sheer exhaustion.
  • Online church. I know I might be in the minority on this one but we moved to a new place two months ago and I still get to see and be cared for by the church community that has been the only church my kids have ever known.
  • Before it was a yeast shortage this spring, I had decided that this would be the year I learned to bake bread. I’m really grateful for my friend Meghan for buying me the book and and cheering on all of my bakes by text.
  • Teeny tiny adventures outside the house. We went to White Sands National Park last weekend which is only 90 minutes from our house and it was magical to be outside playing with our kids. I am also really keen on the fact that my nearly three year old has learned the word adventure and wants to know when the next one will be.

It’s not a long list but it’s a reminder that there is joy. There is always joy.

I pray there is joy for you too.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 19

Though I didn’t do anything with the text last week, I’m still thinking about the question Kathryn Matthews posed in her weekly musings in the United Church of Christ’s Sermon Seeds about the grieving parents in the Passover story. How is this OK? How is any of this OK? How can God come along and strike down the first male child in every Egyptian household? How can we hold that grief now when 189,000 have died in our own country to COVID-19?

It’s a question she repeats in her reflection this week when she asks about the Egyptians swallowed up by the sea. It’s the same question that is stuck in my throat. It’s the grief that feel constant in these pandemic days. So, these prayers might not part any waters but those walls of tears that we are all so carefully holding at bay.

Gathering Together for Worship

A dear friend of mine texted a few weeks ago looking for words of comfort after a death in her family. It sent me looking for some of my favorite poems and reminded me that the early days of the pandemic added to my files with some lovely words that might be just what is needed to part the waters in your worship experience, including If the Trees Can Keep Dancing, So Can I. I also rather like If you had been here, Lord by Mark Goad and Kaddish by Marge Piercy. The last of which really fits well with the Exodus reading.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 114 and Romans 14:1-12

Tremble, O earth,
for everything that feels strange
and new. It has already shaken you.
It has already caused you to wonder.
It has shaken your faith
because every day feels the same
and it is harder and harder
to believe that tomorrow will be a better day.

Tremble, O earth,
feel that shiver down your spine
and that stirring in your heart
that knows, deeply,
we do not live to ourselves,
and we do not die to ourselves.
We live in hope.
We exist in love.

Tremble, O earth,
we gather in the presence of God,
the God of Jacob, Leah and Rachel,
Moses, Aaron and Miriam.
We gather to praise God who
never stops bringing wonder
and new life to the living and the dead.

Tremble, O people,
let us worship all we wonder.

Gathering Our Grief

I don’t think that there are enough prayers to articulate the tremendous loss that we are experiencing in the global community. There have been several beautifully stunning essays that have appeared upon my screen recently that I could imagine using in worship as sermon fodder or even to read excerpts mingled with scripture as a sort of lessons and carols, including one on collective and personal grief and this one that will just break your heart open again. You’ve made this worship thing happen remotely on the fly for over six month now, dear pastor. You can take a break from preaching. You deserve it. Here is a prayer to speak to the grief we all feel.

O God, there have been six million cases.
Over six million people have gasped for breath
and lost their sense of smell. 
Some have recovered by a number
that is too hard to account. 
Others have been on ventilators
in Intensive Care Units.
They died in sterile
hospital beds under the careful 
attention of nurses and doctors
hidden behind masks. They said 
goodbye to their families at 
the hospital doors without comprehending
that this would be the last time. 
O God, nearly two hundred thousand lives 
have been lost. Eight hundred ninety-eight thousand
lives around this earth have been lost.
It causes us to tremble. 
It shakes us to the core
and so we need you God.
We need you to stretch out your hand
to offer comfort hope. Bring your full 
presence into this pandemic moment 
so that we might feel your grace again. 
We pray in your wonder. Amen.

Praying Through Rage

Though I knew that the reality of this pandemic was impacting minority and immigrant communities ten times harder than others, I had not imagined how hard until I read about the ministry of this Mexican pastor in New York City. This prayer speaks to the tears I shed reading this story.

I’m not assuming your whole congregation read this story and so you might need to adapt it for your context or headlines that are more familiar to your people. If this doesn’t sound like grief to you, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross thought that the second stage of grief in death is anger. It comes after refusing to believe this thing is real. It’s where I find my current pandemic reality.

Hear Our Rage
Inspired by Exodus 14:19-31

Angel of God, move behind us
so that we might find ourselves
in a protected place
away from the corruption of empire
and greed, away from the powers that
make their own gods.

Light up the night
for there are things that we need to say
that only you can bear, O God.
Drive back the seas of polite prayers
and get ready for the pillar of grief
that has been wedged into our lives
since we first heard of COVID-19.
Stretch your mighty hand over
this fury and rage, O God.

Just as it was not fair to drown
the entire Egyptian Army that day, it is no more fair
to condemn your beloved kin to this virus.
On our best days, we believe its not your fault.
We know better. We are mature in our faith
but it is not OK that a man lies in terror

next to his dead brother in a studio apartment in New York City
because he fears deportation and lacks the funds
for a proper burial for his brother's decomposing body.
O God, this is the pillar of our grief.
Hear our rage.

"Why did you bring him here?"
should not be the first words 
shouted in English to an immigrant
who has just rushed his brother 
to the emergency room.
We are all scared of getting sick
but a language barrier should not deny anyone care.
O God, this is the pillar of our grief.
Hear our rage.

Our pastors phones constantly rings
their email dings every second
and their social media is haunted by the doomscrolling
of every tender heart in their care.
They need a break.
They are tired but this virus
refuses to retreat.
O God, this is the pillar of our grief.
Hear our rage.

There is no dry ground to stand on.
This pandemic rages on our right
and on our left. It towers over us.
O God, this is the pillar of our grief.
Hear our rage.

We are spinning our wheels
only to churn up mud and despair.
We are spinning our wheels
only to churn up mud and despair.
There is no escape
and we fear we might drown
in our lack of care for each other.
O God, this is the pillar of our grief.
Hear our rage.

We need your grace to lead.
On our left and on our right,
we need a waters of love and hope
to gently ease us into 
whatever comes next.
Move behind us and before us, O God.
Hold us in our fury
and help us to discover what good
this anger can become. For we know, O God,
even when we doubt,
that we do not live to ourselves
and you will bring new life
even out of death. We pray it will be so.

Another Thought

Years ago, I first heard the story of Nachshon who stepped into the water after Moses raised his staff over the water and nothing happened. He waded into the water until it was up to his nostrils and it was only then that the waters split. It didn’t feel like a story for this moment until I read this reflection that concludes:

When Nachshon and his people get to the other side of the sea, what is there to greet them? Not a Promised Land, but a wide, wild desert that will take years to navigate. Just because the sea splits doesn’t mean we know exactly where we are going or how we’re going to get there. But we do know this: The first steps are the hardest ones, and the most necessary. With those steps, with Nachshon, the story really begins.

Rabbi Adam Greenwald

I do not know exactly how this would tie into worship but it feels like there is something there because we are not yet on the other side of this pandemic, as much as we might dream about it. As with grief, we do not know where we are going or how we will get there but there is something about the steps we are taking now. There is something to the lament, the protest and even the dreaming. Something is beginning. I have to believe that.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. I’ve also shared some ingredients (though maybe not a whole recipe) for stewardship and backpack blessings. This particular Sunday makes me wonder how we will honor the saints on All Saints Day and has me thinking about what Christmas Eve will look like for my family and yours when worship is not in-person. Maybe I’ll start some liturgies for those sooner rather than later. God knows, you are already thinking about those things.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always. 

Pandemic Prayers for Labor Sunday

This weekend celebrates the end of summer. It is one of those American holidays that is celebrated with backyard BBQs and family gatherings before school starts (or at least that was my norm as a child in the Northeast) without anyone really paying any heed to what Labor Day honors.

It seems especially important this year to pause and reflect on the true intention of this celebration that began back in 1882 with the Central Labor Union in New York City. It was, in fact, a day off of work with picnics and parades. The intention was to celebrate the economic and social accomplishments of workers. For those that hope that labor conditions will improve so that meat packers and teachers are safer and women are not drastically setback in their careers by this pandemic, it is on this Sunday that we dare to imagine what justice in the work place and in the field and in the factory and especially within the labor unions looks like. Maybe it’s also a Sunday to talk about how we care for the furloughed and jobless in your context. It’s a little late in the game to organize Labor in the Pulpits but there are certainly ways to uplift the rights of workers right now in your prayers and in your preaching.

Having just read how farmers in Wisconsin may determine the election, I’m find myself thinking a lot about farmers and food justice. I might find a way to include this superb video from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Or in the spirit of Labor in the Pulpits, I might use one of these personal reflections from the Interviews Playlist on their YouTube channel. I might even use the epistle as the focus text and follow that reading with and use one of these videos to highlight what it might look like to live honorably in this day.

Gathering Together for Worship

I wonder what might be the most familiar sound to begin the work day for those in your congregation. Might it be the coffee pot percolating or the sound of a time card being punched? Might it be a whistle or an alarm clock? Is it the sound of a computer booting up after slumber or the sound of children doing what they should not supposed to be doing on the baby monitor next to your head? (That might just be me.) Maybe that’s the first sound that begins worship before even the prelude.

Or if you can find a version of Bringing in the Sheaves that doesn’t hurt your ears (or eyes) on YouTube, that would be a lovely start as would O God, We Call for Justice by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. Whatever sound you choose to begin the work of worship with your people, here is an invitation to follow.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 119:33-40

Wake us up, O God.
Rub the sleep out of our eyes
and put us right into
the work of justice and love.

Wake us up, O God.
Open our eyes to the needs
of essential workers and day laborers.
Call our attention to those
booting up their computers
to toil over the kitchen table
for another eight hours
and those that are flipping
through the classifieds
after being laid off five months ago.
Give us understanding
and open our whole hearts
to what love and justice
mean right now.

Wake us up, O God.
Lead us into this new day
guided by your commandments.
Give us cause to delight
and turn our hearts away
from selfish gain.
Remind us again,
O God, what can happen
when two or three
gather in your name.

Here is an alternate version that I wrote last year. I’ve adapted it to reflect the epistle reading for this year. I feel like it should reflect the psalm but I don’t like it. I might still like the old version better. It also only reflects one voice rather than a responsive reading that is so commonly used in in-person worship.

Call to Worship
Adapted for Romans 13:8-14

Worker God, whose hands built the earth,
molded our bodies, and sowed the stars across the sky,
we gather in your presence this morning
to remember your commandments
summed up in the this word, love your neighbor as yourself.

Meet us here, Worker God;
it is now the time to wake from sleep
and fulfill your law in love for each worker
and so that all might live honorably every day.

Confessions and Collects

Though I feel like I should write something new, I have now gone to look at last year and I’m just going to post those prayers. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not convinced that the unison prayer to confession works in the streamed format. This prayer reflects that with a call to confession that leads to silence. It is perhaps an unfamiliar format but it’s what I’ve got.

It has been adapted to reflect the gospel for this year and I’ve also expanded the particular workers named. Please adapt to your context, like maybe Whataburger isn’t such a thing where you are. It is here. Oh, but it is here.

Call to Confession
It’s time to put away smugness, clichés,
and worn out self-serving political sound bites.
Let us come before God to seek new understanding of
what is fair and what is just. Let us listen
not to one or two laboring beside us
but let us listen to the needs of all
workers so that we bend our ears
to hear from garbage collectors, census takers,
Whataburger employees, ranchers and farmers,
contact tracers and scientists, bartenders and cooks,
volunteer fire fighters, domestic servants, hospital and hospice workers,
teachers, professors and administrators, and so many others
that are overlooked or undervalued as this pandemic rages on.
Let us confess before God that we are too comfortable
and that we’re more likely to concern ourselves with our own fairness.
Let us repent of our selfishness and open our hearts to still more love and justice.

Silence for personal prayer and confession. 

Assurance of Grace
What has been in the past does not have to define the future.
God’s grace can transform us, will transform us.
Receive this good news and move in a new direction.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

I spent too much time wondering about the volunteer fire fighters. That is what existed in my hometown and I know that is true in many places but I did not know exactly how to parse this grave injustice into one phrase. It is just one example in this pandemic of what worker conditions are, never mind the sheer disregard for human worth in the prison system as it exists right now.

There are some more lovely prayers created by and for the United Church of Christ and some possible sermon illustrations particularly focused on essential workers have been gathered by the Communities of Calling initiative of the Collegeville Institute.

I confess that when I am in doubt about how to pray, I turn to the Book of Common Prayer because there is always one that nearly speaks to my particular concern. There are so many that could be linked together for a pastoral prayer: for social justice, for agriculture, for schools and colleges, for the unemployed, for sound government (cough cough)… Each collect could be followed by “O God, hear our prayer” or “In your mercy, we pray” before wrapping it up with that familiar prayer that Jesus taught us. It’s not how the prayer book was intended to be used but it will work if you are tired and have no words of your own, dear pastor.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. If you find these prayers helpful and would like some help thinking about the fall, click over here to do a little pandemic worship planning together. I’ve also shared some ingredients (though maybe not a whole recipe) for stewardship and backpack blessings.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always. I’m also sorry that I’m posting this so late in the week. I know many of you post your services on Thursdays. I’m praying for you all the more.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 17

In the past week, my clergy groups have been full of posts and comments about how tired you are. Not just because you’re working so hard, dear clergy, or even because you need a vacation. Though, I imagine, those add fuel to this exhaustion but it is not this tiredness that you lament.

It is the exhaustion of your people complaining that church isn’t supposed to be a place where we hear more political banter after you raised your voice to offer voice to the voiceless. You preached to a screen about racism and immigration. You dared to call out the systems of neglect and violence only to be scolded by email. I would be tired too. You have not pointed fingers or cursed evil. Maybe you did but that’s not what I’ve seen. I’ve watched you lament that something about the love of Jesus has been misunderstood. You have bemoaned that the call of the gospel isn’t as strong as other powers.

You are so tired that I can’t quite imagine how this week’s gospel sits with you. Does it further convict you? Does it cause you greater despair? Are you tempted to skip it to opt for something in the Epistles or Hebrew Scriptures? I wouldn’t blame you.

In this moment, you might be struggling to figure out God’s way. These prayers invite you to preach what you truly believe no matter how much doubt you might have right now. You have a powerful witness to share. Once again, you have an opportunity to tell that story and you get to encourage those you pastor to boldly tell their own version.

Gathering into Worship

Maybe you’ve started to think about stewardship and wondered how to empower your people to think about the particular blessings of the church. Maybe you wonder how to share the power of the remembrances that Psalm 105 invites us to do in your life, in your own church, and in the world. Maybe starting with a video like this from the Fund for Theological Education might spark some energy.

Maybe it flows into your own call story or a retelling of Moses’ call story. Or perhaps you share your conviction of what the church is or could be. Maybe this video leads to an activity in coffee hour break out rooms where people write visions of the church for this moment.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. This is supposed to be the beginning of worship. Maybe you start with words like this.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 105

Let us come to give thanks
for every good thing
that God has done.
Let us tell
of all of
God’s wonderful works.
Let us remember
when we first
believed that God loved us
and remember how it felt
to know that we
were forgiven.
Remember. Remember
how we came to believe
that church wasn’t just
a building and
that the good news
in all those confusing
and confounding parables
mattered for this moment
and this world.
Let us come together
again to remember
these miracles
but let us also
remember the struggles.
Let us remember where
we failed and
when the church failed
and even still,
God did wonderful things.
Rejoice! Give thanks!
Praise God!

That’s one option. Here is another.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Matthew 16:21-28 and Romans 12

We come because we think
we know something about great suffering.
This has gone on so long.
We have lost so much.
Too many have died.

We come because we thought
we knew what great suffering
could be until another headline
flashed across the screen
and we could only utter,
God forbid.

We come because we know
there is more than we know.
There is greater love
and more hope to rejoice in
when we can be anything but patient.
We come to worship
and praise when we can barely
hold together what is good.

Guided Breath Meditation

My friend Katie Yahns mentioned a while ago that her people like guided meditations. It’s not something she finds the space to create in the space of her worship planning right now and while this isn’t exactly that, it is a nod to something that her people value and could be used in the space of a confession. It borrows imagery and words from Romans 12.

Let us find a minute
to catch our breath

after all that has happened
in six months
and in just one week

let us breathe in love
breathe out fear

breathe in hope
breathe out every evil

expel all the air
so that there is nothing
left but mutual affection

feel that catch in your
throat and let go
as you fill your lungs
with honor and zeal
for people and creation
and even the future

breathe in what will serve
God and fill your spirit
feel that stuff
pump through your veins
with every bit
of oxygenated wonder

push the uncertain
discomfort that has
lived so comfortably in every fiber
of your being for the the
past several months
out through your pores

release the toxins
that have held you back
from believing
that God is with you.
God is in every
breath and every hope.
God is in every
blessing and
every need.
Breathe in
this faith.

Breathe in.
Catch your breath so that you are not be overcome by evil
but let that evil go and know that evil will
only be overcome with good trouble. Let us
catch our breath so that we can be the
good trouble God needs.

It’s weird and a little different so you might prefer something from Jurgen Moltmann. I also like this prayer of confession from John Birch.

Pastoral Prayer

Black_Lives_Matter_logo.svgAs we dare to comprehend great suffering, another black child of God was shot seven times by those that are supposed to serve and protect. His father watched. Jacob Blake has been paralyzed while racism thrives.

Our prayers are many during the COVID-19 pandemic but I pray this injustice and outrage might focus our hope for the future of what the church is called to be. Here are some prayers that might inspire your worship planning:

Prayer for Kenosha, Wisconsin by Maren Tirabassi

Together We Pray by Salt & Light Media

Litany for Racial Justice by John Carroll (June 2020)

I hope to update this list with more prayers that particularly uplift Jacob Blake.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. If you find these prayers helpful and would like some help thinking about the fall, click over here to do a little pandemic worship planning together. I’ve also shared some ingredients (though maybe not a whole recipe) for stewardship and backpack blessings. If there is something you have zero time for but your people like, as it was for my friend Katie, drop me a note.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always. I’m also sorry that I’m posting this so late in the week. I know many of you post your services on Thursdays. I’m praying for you all the more.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 16

That pressing question that Jesus asks of his followers just didn’t grab me when I first read it this week. It didn’t hit the nerve that it usually did perhaps because I need a Messiah to be vivid and real for me right now. Dear friends have joked that they’ve steered away from the inherent goodness in all people in this pandemic. Their theologies have now skewed more toward depravity. It feels like there is so much depravity in humanity right now. I’m not sure where I am in my theological wonderings when it comes to humanity, but when it comes to God and the Son of the living God, I need them to be everything especially in this pandemic.

I wasn’t sure where to go with these words in liturgy until I read Liddy Barlow’s reflection for Sunday’s Coming. She grabbed me first with a favorite place where I used to shared so many pastoral visits wandering around those rocks, sunrise services, bible studies and so much more as my first call was just down the street from Fort Williams Park, but it was her language about stones that truly inspired these prayers and ideas.

Gathering into Worship

I might begin worship with something as simple as this video. It’s only 30 seconds long so it might need to played on a loop.

Or maybe it’s played on a loop while the church musician plays something more familiar like The Church’s One Foundation or God is our Fortress and our Rock. Or perhaps a more secular song like this might better suit your context. (You would, of course, need to triple check on copyright issues there.) Or perhaps the above clip plays before these words are offered as an invitation.

Call to Worship

We come
wobbly
and unsteady.
We come
feeling
like sand
that might wash
away in the tides
rather than the firm
bedrock that
God needs for us
to be the church.
Still, we come.
We come to balance
upon each other’s hope
and thank God that
that there is a more solid
place to steady our hearts.
We come to praise
our rock and our redeemer
with all our rough
and jagged edges.
We come.
We come
to worship
and wonder.

I also really like this Call to Worship by the very talented and funny Joanna Harader. Though it’s not Easter and this would need to be adapted, I think this would be a fun option too especially if you opt for the Mumford & Sons.

Confession and Assurance

While I like a wordy lead in to the prayer of confession that reminds the gathered body (meaning me, honestly) why we do this every week, it seems awkward in digital formats. It leaves me wondering how much people are actually praying that prayer. So I’m opting for just a confession meant to be shared in unison.

Prayer of Confession

Rock of Hope, we have doubted
that the church could thrive
when our physical doors remain closed.
We have questioned
what we thought we knew
about you, O God.
We have bumped into
hard places
and we haven’t
believed that
more good could come.
We see only disaster ahead.
Forgive us, Rock of Hope,
and redeem us with your
steady faith
for all that
you have created.

Assurance of Grace

Blessed are you, the Rock of Hope calls out.
Blessed are you for telling the hard truth
and trusting that love will find you again on the other side.
Blessed are you, dear child of God,
for on your rocky faith, God still builds the church.
You are forgiven. You are loved.
This is the good news that will never end. Amen.

Another Thought

Last year, I wrote a liturgy for my little Texas church around a Robert Frost poem. I called it A Service to Break Down Walls. There was a ritual action in the service where the gathered community got to deconstruct a wall and take a stone to carry through the season of Lent.

I can’t remember if this actually happened on the last time I was ever in that building because my daughter vomited in the middle of the service but I wonder if this could be adapted for this moment particularly for congregations that are struggling with political division charged by factions fueled by QAnon or whatever else. There’s a lot right now and it is only more intense because of this liminal space we find ourselves in.

The interim in me wonders if the Robert Frost poem could be read after or even in concert with the Gospel Lesson. The meditation that follows could be constructing a wall which would involve you having to have rocks and a table in front of you. You could talk about the ways the universal church has stumbled, the boulders of sin that we have carried personally (maybe even focusing on present or past leadership, pastoral or otherwise), the faults of this particular church or some combination of in laying down each stone. You could adapt the Call to Repentance in that service to pick up on themes in the Gospel Lesson and then slowly remove stones as we remember what needs to be repaired and mended in the season of Coronatide. It would need to be tinkered with for your context and your people but it might be something that would help you to name some hard things and not have to preach a traditional sermon.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. If you find these prayers helpful and would like some help thinking about the fall, click over here to do a little pandemic worship planning together. I’ve also shared some ingredients (though maybe not a whole recipe) for stewardship and backpack blessings.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always. I’m also sorry that I’m posting this so late in the week. I know many of you post your services on Thursdays. I’m praying for you all the more.

Backpack Blessings in Coronatide

In my first attempt at brainstorming for worship planning in the pandemic, I wondered how many blessings there might be as the school year begins. I wondered if there will not only be the usual backpack blessings but also blessings for teachers and parents (and other caregivers). It could be a whole service. Or it could be an event for which you’ll find options below.

There is this whole service that I thought might work for this moment with some adaptations. It was written several years ago and is intended for in person gatherings, but this Service for the New School Year would speak powerfully to the fears and hopes in this upcoming academic year. I could see the index cards suggested being adapted for the Zoom polling feature. I do not know how you do the interactive parts in pre-recorded worship. I don’t think it’s impossible but I haven’t seen it done yet.

This is not an exhaustive list of resources but I hope that some of it is easy to adapt to your context so that you might find an opportunity to offer blessing. As with the other prayers I’ve offered in this pandemic, you can give me credit. That’s lovely but my goal here is really to help you worship plan, dear pastors. You are doing so much.

Tangible Blessings

Many churches are inclined to offer stickers, buttons or tags to adorn on a child’s backpack to remind them of their belovedness during the school day and even when they reach in their bag to dig out homework. This year is no different. In fact, it seems even more important.

Traci Smith is sending out such blessings to the children in her church with these stickers. I have always adored the work of Suzanne L. Vinson and think that these stickers might be an amazing blessing stuck to the laptop of a parent or teacher. Or I might opt for these blessed buttons. Then again, knowing that there may be a delay in getting these resources in time, I’d be inclined to get crafty. I’ve heard of several churches doing photo contests to engage in intergenerational fellowship and I see no reason why blessings shouldn’t be the same.

My first thought was something I saw on Pinterest when I was trying to find fun things to keep my toddler entertained: homemade shrinky dinks.

To make this an all church project, you might tell people to dig into their recycling and pull out a #6 plastic. Clean it. Draw on it with sharpies. Maybe you further instruct that they use the same word like blessed or love or breathe in the center of their drawing. You could either have them bake it themselves or you can have them delivered to the church so that they can be baked, assembled and delivered all together. I dare you to pick up a sharpie to do this without thinking of this gorgeous essay. This is 110% prayer.

Or you could xerox the church logo with the word blessed or loved or whatever word you choose and make your own stickers. Clergy friends, I am not advising you to take on these crafts yourself. Please seek out the talented people in your congregation who can make these dreams come true. You are tired and need a vacation. You do not need to do it all.

Blessing Events

I’ve also seen that some churches are considering socially distanced events. There are churches that are providing a blessing arch for individual cars to drive through. I know there are other churches that plan to do backpack blessings in parking lots. Maybe the blessing event is a socially distant parade like we have seen so many celebrate their birthdays in this pandemic where stickers, supplies and prayer cards are delivered.

I heard one kind soul created a scavenger hunt through her area for children to go hunting for school supplies. I have no idea how this would work but it sounds so sweet.

Backpack Blessings

student-2794246_1920Some churches affix prayers to the tangible blessings that they send home. Others find a way to do it in worship. Ordinarily, this is my favorite version of the backpack blessings written by Quinn Caldwell for such moments. There is also this one and this one. You can google and find your own favorites but few of these prayers are written for this particular moment of social distancing in our pandemic reality.

With complete gratitude to Wendy Claire Barrie, I’m choosing to adapt her prayer for this moment. It is in truth only adapted slightly.

God of Wisdom, we give you thanks for learning and for the teachers and parents who help us grow. We thank you for this new beginning, for new books and new ideas. We thank you for sharpened pencils, pointy crayons, and crisp blank pages waiting to be filled. We thank you for the gift of making mistakes and trying again. Help us to remember that asking the right questions is often as important as giving the right answers. Today we give you thanks for children, and we ask you to bless every child beginning this new school year with curiosity, understanding and respect. May their backpacks be a sign to them that they have everything they need to learn and grow this year in school (and in Sunday School). May they be guided by your love. All this we ask in the name of Jesus, who as a child in the temple showed his longing to learn about you, and as an adult taught by story and example your great love for us. Amen.

Here is another idea inspired by this hand blessing. This would work best in Zoom where all of the hands could be seen in a gallery view. It is meant to be led by one voice to avoid any unnecessary complications to this blessing. As with the Blessing for Teachers that follows, it is rooted in the wonder of creation.

A Pandemic Blessing for New Learning

Over the first waters of creation
the spirit hovered
above what was still unknown.
Light would come.
God would bring
bright shining light
just as God will bring
new ideas and wonderings
into your heads in this new school year.

It will be different this year.
You might not get to hold the hand
of your best friend
or reach for the monkey bars
or even shake your teacher’s hand.
You will wash your hands more
than you ever have before
even if your classroom is in
your dining room this year.

You will still grow and change.
God’s light will shine with you
as so many spirit hover close. And so, we bless you in new learning.

Feel our hands hover close (to your screen)
in blessing for the light that shines in you,
in the light that is just beginning to shine,
and the bright light God will bring into your life this year.
We bless you to grow in our love. Amen.

I would want to conclude with this hymn because it was in my head while I wrote this prayer. It could also lead into the blessing for teachers.

Blessings for Parents and Teachers

I would like for there to be separate blessings for teachers and parents because their particular petitions are different. You may have seen this circulate like I did.

It’s funny but it also highlights that parents are not teachers even if many of them will be doing some version of homeschooling this year. Some teachers are parents and being forced to make decisions about their children while also trying to secure their livelihood. Several weeks ago, I’d read something about how many teachers have put in extra time this summer to update their wills before the school year begins. Teachers need blessing. I imagine this following the blessing for children which may or may not be separated by music. While hands were used to bless the children, I wanted to use some alternate visual and opted for light. This would therefore require everyone in your Zoom gallery view to have a candle ready to light. You could, of course, pull out the candles from Christmas Eve and distribute them with the stickers and prayer cards that you’re delivering. Here is what I hope will be a simple blessing for teachers to let them know how loved they are.

A Pandemic Blessing for Teachers

In the beginning, before you knew
what you might learn from washing children’s hands,
washing blackboards and designing lesson plans
with special attention for the particular people
in your classroom, you were called to teach.
You were inspired by those who taught you.
You were energized by what you saw happen
in an ordinary classroom. A light began to shine.
A light that continues to shine
through every adaptation
from countless administrations.
That light has shined
brightest when you watched
your students get it.
You radiated in that hope
and we have seen it shine in you.
Today, dear teachers, we light a candle

Pause to allow everyone to light their candles at home.

for the spark of imagination
and the flicker of love
that will shine in you this year
even if it is hidden behind a face mask.
We pray that you feel the warmth
of these lights that we hold for you.
We pray blessings upon you,
dear teachers, as you begin this new school year
in the middle of a global pandemic.
We pray for you now
but these candles will continue to glow
every day of this year. Our prayers will
be with you every day
for we know that you have been called
to teach and you will do so
with God’s great blessing.
We pray God’s blessing upon you,
now and always. Amen.

If you did not opt for music to follow the first blessing, you might choose to do so now. It could simply be a recording of your church musician playing a favorite creation hymn. If possible, I would do this toward the end of the service where it actually possible not to extinguish these candles until after the service has concluded. Ideally, I would invite folks to wait until they turned off their cameras. Alternatively, you could simply adapt the above prayer from Wendy Claire Barrie to include parents and children. Or that might just be the version you publish on your social media on the first day of school to remind teachers, parents and students how loved they are.

Even if I’m not writing an actual blessing for parents here, I did want there to be something tangible for both parents and teachers. I first thought of the breath prayers for anxious times that Sarah Bessey offered months ago when we thought this surely would be resolved by the end of the summer. Breath prayers seem particularly poignant with masks covering our mouths and noses, ventilators in high demand and the echo of too many black voices saying “I can’t breathe” under the foot of a police officer. I’m thinking of the stress that parents and teachers are already carrying as they watch headlines tick away revealing the overwhelming voracity of this virus. I want them to have a blessing to carry in their pocket when they can’t remember that shining light within them. I made prayer cards to download. You can find those Breath Prayers for Teachers and Parents here. It’s not everything but it’s something.

I hit post and shared on social media only to realize that I totally omitted Sunday School and the kick off of the church year. Is that happening this year? Is it different?

Dear pastors, I’m praying for you as you offer hope and encouragement in this moment. I pray these things help you to do the work you do so well.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 15

My baby girl took her first unbalanced steps to the dinner table on Sunday night while my toddler has been working hard on her ABCs. She’s curious about these strange shapes. She wants to identify them and has even started drawing her own figures.

Both girls have these proud moments. There are thousands of them built into one day even when we don’t leave the house or interact with other people. Their little faces light up with broad smiles and they look directly at me where their eyes grow even brighter in sheer delight that they can do these wildly impossible things. As I watched my toddler repeat this delighted pattern while coloring this morning, I wondered when I looked at God that way. Am I always peering across the room to see if God saw that thing I just did? Or have I completely outgrown the habit if I ever bothered to look?

A colleague pointed out that the Gospel Lesson this week beautifully illustrates how racism defiles even the best of us including even our Savior. She then pointed toward this episode on shame and accountability from Brene Brown’s new podcast Unlocking Us as a resource for white people in a world of systemic racism. I am thinking about all of those moments I look so proud at God when I think I’ve done the right thing and how many of them are caught up in my own racism.

Especially as I read Psalm 133, I’m thinking about all of the parents who really want to have God meet their eyes in shared wonder. I’m thinking about how much every parent needs that validation as they make impossible decisions. I’m thinking about the teachers that are shouldering that burden as parents at the same time that they create lesson plans while also installing plexiglass and stocking up on masks. I’m thinking about the kids that need that validation and support to not only come from parents but in the bright eyes of teachers, mentors and coaches. I’m thinking about how much we need a blessing in the midst of these many challenges.

Blessings

Though I normally start with Gathering for Worship ideas, I’m starting with blessings here because I think we need a few. Tons. Oodles. Kids are starting to go back to school and some churches will even be doing distanced blessings this weekend. To that end, I want to uplift this prayer for the start of this new (weird) school year by Laura Stephens-Reed. It could be used as a pastoral prayer or to conclude a series of smaller blessings. This back to school blessing from Rev. Mindi is old but good.

Last week, I did a wee bit of brainstorming about this (admittedly still thinking that school starting was weeks away) and I thought then — as I do now — that there needs to be more than backpacks that are blessed for kids. Teachers, parents and caregivers needs those blessings too. I shall post some more tomorrow.

I feel like I need a blessing. I want there to be such words but I have yet to find the right ones in my heart or on the internet.

Prayers for Worship

I am just walloped by reading Psalm 133 right now. Still, I’m attempting a prayer to gather us together in these words that are so at the center of community.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 133

How very good and pleasing it is
when people come together
through wireless routers
and cables buried in the earth
to pop up on each other’s screens
with a familiar smile that remind us
again that people are made to for community.

We dwell together in harmony
so that it is like expensive oil poured over our heads,
running down our collarbones to remind us again
how very blessed we are to have each other
even when we are not in the same physical place.

It is like the dew on Mount Hermon
streaming down onto the mountains of Zion.
Let our praise have such movement.
Let our connection to each other and to our God
grow in this hour because it is here
in the blessing of community
that God has brought us
the blessing of everlasting life.
Let us worship God together. Amen.

Prayer of Confession 

O God, we do not understand.
There is so much that we do not understand right now.
Things have come out of our mouths that shouldn’t.
O God, we have thought even worse
scrolling through Facebook and Twitter.
We have seen headlines that have
caused us to question if it can truly be
good that sisters and brothers dwell together.
There is no unity, not right now.
Forgive us for not understanding
but it feels like everything has been thrown to the dogs.
Grant us your mercy.

I want this prayer to conclude with that look that I described in the beginning. I want that to be the assurance but I have no idea how to do that. These Words of Assurance inspired by Romans would be lovely though. If you read the above confession and thought it was too dark (and I might agree with you), you might opt for this prayer or this call to reconciliation, unison prayer and assurance. I also really love the prayer of the day that Thom composed for this Sunday.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. If you find these prayers helpful and would like some help thinking about the fall, click over here to do a little pandemic worship planning together. I’d love to know what might be most helpful and I hope to publish some back to school prayers this week.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always.