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.

Stewardship in Coronatide

I shared a few days ago some worship brainstorming for the season ahead and it got me thinking about the other big thing that often happens in the fall season in our churches: the pledge drive.

Most churches still tend to run this program in the harvest season while crops are being gathered from the earth. There is a strong link to the celebration of Thanksgiving in the hymns that we sing and the way that we celebrate these gifts for ministry even if these dates on the calendar are not so close together. For clergy, like you, this may be an especially stressful season. I’ve heard more than a few stories of churches that have downsized or even let go of their pastor in the midst of this pandemic even though most churches worked hard to get a federal loan to ease the hardship. Months later, attendance in online worship might not be as robust. People are tired. You are tired and we all want to know when this will be over. The Faith Lake Institute illustrates this tension well. This is not an easy reality to inject an enthusiasm for giving especially when unemployment across the country continues to climb and our government continues to debate how much insurance these workers deserve.

I want to offer a few resources that might help get you thinking about how to encourage generous giving in yourself and your congregation, including some of my favorite prayers and books. We might first need to start with what makes this time so different. Maybe. Here is one Zoom call from the good people in the Episcopal Church you can speed through to the important parts that speak to you.

Pandemic Campaign Materials

Most denominations provide some materials to gather the beloved community in considering how and why to give. More often than not, it links to denomination-specific ministries and includes stories from real-life members of that denomination, but as the institutional church struggles to change with this moment, those resources might not speak exactly to our pandemic reality. Here are a few that might. 

Together in Joy

Together in Joy Stewardship Campaign Suite by the SALT Project pulls together today’s best stewardship campaign practices, a compelling theological theme and a clean, beautiful design aesthetic in a plug-and-play style. It offers a customizable kit of resources including letters, pledge cards and worship materials all by digital download.

The campaign is built around Psalm 98: “Sing to God a new song, for God has done marvelous things. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy.”  As we’ve all learned over these difficult months of physical distancing, staying connected – being “together for joy” – has only become more important.  And though the financial challenges are real, so are the opportunities to sing to God a new song, for God has done – and will do – marvelous things. The link is for congregations of 100 to 500 members for $45.00. There are two other sizes available.

Our Money Story

Our Money Story from Sanctified Art provides resources to invite us to discover and tell our money stories in light of God’s money story of liberation and love. This series encourages us to transform our stewardship practices into more full expressions of who we are and what we believe including a sermon series planner, journals for home use, visual art and poetry for worship and even children’s stories. For the same congregation size 101-300 members, it is $150.00 for the bundle. There are also a la carte options. If you’re uncertain, you can download the free infographic here and learn more about the scriptures informing this campaign.

Devoted to Generosity

In this new reality, you might be thinking about changing your congregational approach to stewardship from a short giving campaign to a year-round event. It sounds exhausting but it’s not meant to be especially with a resource like Devoted to Generosity for just $59.99. Though it was created before online worship became the norm, it offers 12 full worship experience with music that I bet is covered by your CCLI license. (Or it better be if we are good stewards.) There are 12 youth studies, 12 adult studies and 12 children studies around the particular scripture passages that carry through the year. It has the usual pledge cards, bulletin covers and logos that will all come to you by digital download and also something that touts “detailed guidelines for 5 different stewardship emphases.” I confess I haven’t seen this material myself but trust the organizations that recommend it. If you order this, I want to know what this is. Please share.

Faithful, Loving, Hoping

Another option for year-round stewardship is Faithful, Loving, Hoping also from the Ecumenical Stewardship Center for $59.99. It sounds very similar to Devoted to Generosity except that it has an update for this pandemic reality in something they call the Faithful, Loving, Hoping Essentials. This updated resource provides editable, reproducible materials applicable for print and digital communications for emphasis preparation, invitation, and follow-up, including devotionals, ways to give, commitment forms, thank you letters, and more.

Books and More Webinars

I know you are tired of webinars but it looks like there are some good ones coming up.

Ask, Thank, Tell

The Southern New England Conference of the UCC is leading a book discussion of Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation by Charles R. Lane. The title might not fascinate but it seems that this particular book is centered on shifting away from the idea that stewardship pays the bills. Even if you don’t attend the four session conversation, it might be worth checking out this recommended resource.

Creating Congregations of Generous People

This book by Michael Durall published by the Alban Institute way back in 1999 is still my favorite for all things stewardship. If you are interested in moving toward a year-round stewardship model, this is a great place to start. You can find it from the publisher here.

Prayers and Blessings

I have been writing prayers weekly and sharing Ingredients for Worship but these are pulled from my files to help you plan your worship for this unique season. Of course, if you do order one of the campaign bundles above or use any of your denomination’s blessings, there will be prayers offered there too.

Stewardship Blessing

I love this one from Mary Luti. Her prayers are always gorgeous.

For the grace upon grace which is this community of faith – sanctuary and sermon, music and mission, practices of hospitality, of education, of discernment.

We give you thanks.

For grace we each bring to add to others’ graces – our personal hopes and skills, the time we can share, the experiences from which we offer tenderness, our willingness to take responsibility or expose vulnerability. 

We give you thanks.

For unexpected grace in trouble’s face that sustains us in hard times – diagnosis, discouragement, downturn or despair – and the way community granites that grace so that it is strong enough for any situation. 

We give you thanks.

For grace in the spaces – all those possibilities of next year – the new people who will sit in these pews, the new programs though which we will reach out, the transitions completed and the transitions begun. 

We give you thanks.

For the grace of prayer, the grace of scripture, the grace of forgiveness, the grace of the resurrection promise, the grace of a single cup of cold water for a child, a stranger or a friend.

We give you thanks. 

All these we have and do and will receive through Jesus Christ who opens our hearts and hands so that grace may flow through us to all the world.

For so many blessings we give you thanks and praise. Amen.

Responsive Stewardship Prayer

I have noted in my files that this litany reflects the wording of Ozzie Smith Jr. but nothing further to indicate where I first got this. I’ve used it repeatedly and probably have failed to credit well.

It’s God, not the economy, who reminds us of our abundance.

We have received grace, and grace we give.

It’s the Bible, not the budget, that calls our church to faithfulness.

We have received grace, and grace we give.

God, who created the bull and the bear,

teaches us stewardship beyond boasting or fearfulness.

We have received grace, and grace we give.

God who is the source of all resource, inspires creative uses

of finances, time, energy and enthusiasm.

We have received grace, and grace we give.

God is not broke – never has been, never will be.

God is not broke — God is blessed.

We have received grace, and grace we give.

Other Ideas

I firmly believe that stewardship should be fun and that there are creative ideas to ask for money and pledge our hope to the future good we will do in our communities. A UU congregation in Minneapolis hosts a Pledge Day with a catered dinner, games and a bouncy house. These are not good ideas right now but there might be ways to host a socially distanced parade to celebrate your congregation’s ministry. Could that parade go from house to house delivering pledge cards or even journals from Sanctified Art?

For congregations questioning the capitalist driving forces spurring so much of our country’s tensions right now, this old video that I used to use in youth ministry – when it was new – might be worth sharing in some format.

There are probably tons more things that could be offered but I’ll stop here because my toddler really wants me to play legos. What are you planning for your congregation’s stewardship hopes?

I continue to pray for you and look forward to your thoughts and ideas in the comments. You can also message me if you would prefer.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 14

This gorgeous reflection on 1 Kings 19:9-18 by Richard W. Swanson has got me thinking about silence. Silence feels all consuming right now. There is so much of it. Or, at least, there is for me.

We live on the edge of the desert now. It is so quiet. I almost never see or hear my neighbors. There is just silence. Even when I leave the house, there is only the sound of the air conditioner humming through the vents in my car mingled with the sounds of my children and whatever might be on the radio. We don’t go to restaurants to hear the clatter of silverware and the gentle buzz of conversation. We don’t even go into stores to hear other children crying or music I didn’t select on the intercom. There is no laughter of friends that isn’t by FaceTime. It is silent. Is that familiar? Or is there more noise in your pandemic life than there is in mine?

My sweet Texas church is leading a series through some favorite hymns this month. Worship is full of music and I confess that I like that it gives me a song to sing, but is hat because I’m uncomfortable with the silence that consumes every other hour? Can you even have meaningful, meditative silence in online worship? How might that silence speak to parents, to school children or to aging adults who just want to know that they can be buried in the church they love and have a ‘normal’ funeral? What does that silence say in the midst of protests, mask fights and hurricane winds? Is it a silence that both crushes and encourages you?

Gathering Together

There are so many things that jump out to me in these ancient words. So many phrases that spark curiosity and wonder. Words that seem particularly for this moment: seek God’s presence continually, battered by the waves, descend into the abyss, here comes this dreamer, he went there alone, wind was against them.

Could worship begin with that wind?

Would we find it relaxing? Would it call us to attention? Would we feel more alert in watching waves crash?

Could even a short 30 second clip lead us into worship? Here are two possible invitations to follow this silence of the natural world.

Call to Worship
Inspired by 1 Kings 19:9-18, this translation

Look:
the God Whose Name is Mercy
is in the silence
and the trees/waves,
and your own breath
sighing into this space
where the world feels both far away
and as close as the God Whose Name is Mercy.

Listen:
Not in muted silence on Zoom,
but listen for the laughter,
the sighs, each exhale and inhale of wonder.
Listen to hear what crushed hope might become.
Listen for the courage in each gasp.
Listen to how love becomes a song.
Listen. Look.
The God Whose Name is Mercy is here.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 105

Give thanks to the God Whose Name is Mercy;
Call upon that name
and proclaim every good thing
that gives you reason to sing.
Sing to God;
sing praises to the God Whose Name is Mercy
so that you can feel
the winds of change
stir in your heart.
Let your hope crash onto the shores of creation
as loudly and boldly as a clanging cymbal.
Make noise. Make a lot of noise
because you dare to believe
in freedom and justice.
You believe in peace and love
because you believe in the
God Whose Name is Mercy.
Praise God’s name.

Prayers of Confession and Assurance

I often prefer silence to a shared confession said in words. If you prefer one with words and seek to center your worship on the Gospel, here is a beautiful prayer by my friend Teri. I offer instead an invitation to confess led by the liturgist or preacher and some words of assurance to follow an extended silence. You could even play another section of the above clips during that silence if it feels too uncomfortable to stare at each other’s faces in Zoom.

Call to Confession 

Like Christ, we come alone.
We come full of grief and despair.
We come battered
and overcome by all that weighs against us.
We come to confess that we don’t have all the answers
but long to hear the wisdom from someone or something other than ourselves
in the silence we now share.

Extended silence.

Words of Assurance

Beloved, feel the winds
of grace sweep over creation
and over your head. There is music there too,
over your head reminding you again
that there must be a God somewhere.
Everyone who calls upon the name
of the God Whose Name is Mercy will be saved.
You are forgiven. You are so loved. Amen.

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 planningtogether. I’d love to know what might be most helpful.

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

Pandemic Worship Planning Ahead

I’ve peppered my little internet home with Ingredients for Worship during this strange season of life and liturgy. Most of these posts have landed midweek when I remember to do so because I suddenly realize what day it is.

That’s not how things go in ministry. You, dear pastor, are a planner. Or you’re trying really hard to be a planner as you gather video clips from multiple people in your congregation each week to compile all of these things into a cohesive whole that will work in your chosen format of streaming worship.

My clergy friends are tired. They want a vacation. You probably want a vacation even if this raging pandemic means that you can’t actually go anywhere but it would mean that you wouldn’t have to agonize over creating video content for just one week. Maybe even two or three. So I want to try to give you that vacation because I know that you deserve it. You need it.

The problem is that each and every pastor in each and every congregation is innovating their way through the challenges of online worship in a slightly different fashion. I’ve heard repeatedly that it’s really nice that judicatory leaders are offering things but it’s not exactly what these pastors need. (It is nice. Keep doing it, dear judicatory leaders.) Having heard that frustration, I want to try to imagine what would help in this strange interim season.

So, let’s brainstorm a bit together. Here are some of the things that I see ahead for which you might want or need resources. Just as Lee Ann Pomrenke offers liturgy without an emphasis on preaching, I’m thinking particularly about stuff that doesn’t have to include a sermon.

Labor Day

In the time before Corona, this was a popular weekend to travel. It was a time for family backyard BBQs as the end of summer is observed. It was also a great day for clergy to be away. That might not be true this year. It might be a great time to recapture the original intention of the observed holiday and lift up the workers in your community and congregation. Interfaith Worker Justice provides some great liturgical sources and ideas for Labor in the Pulpits. 

I wonder especially how we witness to our faith and hope for this world and its people when we know that this pandemic has struck hard because of the working conditions in meatpacking plants and factories. A testimony could be offered instead of a sermon. The Gospel Lesson that Sunday reminds us that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven” (Matthew 18:18, NRSV) which may or may not illustrate our hope.

Homecoming Sunday or Rally Day

Is this even going to be a thing? It seems that worship attendance has stayed fairly steady throughout the past five or six months of pandemic normal. Small groups are continuing to meet online so that the usual “welcome back” might not make any sense. (Ok, it’s not my favorite tradition anyway but it is a thing.)

Kids are going back to school though — in some format. I’ve seen the suggestion of a drive-thru blessing of backpacks in one church’s parking lot and have seen backpack blessing tags from Illustrated Ministry (and rumors that there will be some socially distant new tags) that might be offered to children returning to school even if school is at their dining room table. Are you thinking about a special blessing for teachers or parents too this year? Do they get stickers? Prayer cards? Stress balls? Could it be a whole service of blessings? Don’t we all need a blessing right now?

World Communion Sunday

There are some great liturgical elements for this Sunday where Christians remember our connection through the breaking of the bread and sharing the cup. I do not know how many of those exist in video format for little cost. This would be fun to explore.

The Gospel Lesson for that day is a humdinger but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be some liturgical wonders exploring broken bread and wine with perhaps a greater emphasis on the Hebrew Scriptures reading.

All Saints Day

I know. It’s all the way into the first week of November and you can’t imagine thinking that far but there could be some lovely meditative worship experience remembering all the people that died in the protests for Black Lives Matter, in the streets at the hands of a corrupt police system, the healthcare workers on the front lines and the millions of other people who have died in the pandemic in a few short months.

This, of course, does not include the number of people within your own church community who have died and even buried while maintaining six feet apart and wearing masks. I know that for many of you, dear pastors, these souls have been lost without you having an opportunity to minister and pray at their bedside. We need time to grieve and this holy day may be a time for you to worship and grieve too. I’m wondering what elements might be most helpful so this can be a reprieve for you, dear pastor.

A Good Ol’ Fashioned Hymn Sing

We can’t sing together. I know. We are listening to other people sing on tiny screens perched on our coffee tables. It’s not the same but there is something powerful about familiar hymns and having an opportunity to sing them even if the only one that can hear our singing is the cat. (And God, obviously.) There are lots of public domain songs and lots more that are covered by your congregation’s CCLI license. This would be really easy to pull together in bits and pieces. Would it help you and your people?

Is there something I missed? Is there something else that might allow you to be relieved of this task for a week or two, dear pastor?

I continue to pray for you and look forward to your thoughts and ideas in the comments. You can also message me if you would prefer.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 13

I’m finding it hard to enter the power of the miracle in Matthew’s Feeding of the Five Thousand. I feel myself withdraw and not in the prayerful and restorative manner that we imagine Jesus does in that thirteenth verse. I am tempted to play with that word especially as so many of us feel overwhelmed by parenting, protesting, watching and waiting to see change manifest when every day feels the same. It creeps into the pastoral prayer below but I find myself leaning in to hear the psalmist better.

Gathering Together

I want to swim into the words in Psalm 145. It made me want to go looking for a more modern translation like that in Words of Her Mouth: Psalms for the Struggle edited by Martha Spong. I confess I haven’t ordered it yet because my husband and I are currently lamenting why we have so many dang books and no built in bookshelves in this new house. Still, it’s hanging out on my wish list and it should be on yours too.

Because I don’t yet have this book and couldn’t find a translation I liked better than the NRSV, that is what you’ll hear in this video. Sometimes all we need is the words of the psalmist to center our hearts and minds for worship.

I really miss the ocean right now. Can you tell?

I don’t know if these videos are more or less helpful so I thought I’d also include some gathering words that could actually be copied and pasted. Here are such words.

Call to Worship

Come tired and worn.
Come worried
and hunched with despair.
Come because you need compassion
and hope. Come because you are hungry
for good news and reassurance.
Come to remember that you are not alone.
You are never alone.
You are beloved
and you have come
with a hunger to
share in this mysterious
gift of life.
Come. Bring all that you are.
It will be enough. Come
and find that we have been waiting for you.
Come.

Prayers of the People

Maren Tirabassi wrote this gorgeous liturgy for Holy Communion for this day. I think you should use it. It’s just lovely.

I feel so beaten up by this pandemic this week that I have zero interest in writing a confession and assurance. There’s a lovely, sassy one here. I am instead still thinking about the pastoral prayer that I heard last Sunday in my sweet Texas church online. It was one of those prayers that dared to name that we are no good at praying. It seemed to capture all that I’ve been feeling. I was reminded of it again in reading this reflection on a God who feels.

A Pastoral Prayer

God, we come to you
in prayer and possibility.
We come with hearts wide open
and brains spinning
with so many thoughts.
We come to you
without having prayed
as we should
or as we wanted
or maybe even as we imagined
because our words have been elsewhere.
Our words have been in
the streets of Portland,
in every intensive care unit
around this globe,
in detention centers
and court rooms
waiting for justice
to finally come.

O God, we come to you
with names heavy on our hearts.
We come in prayer to name
Breeona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery,
Dion Johnson, Tony McDade and George Floyd.
We uplift the names of those
that white supremacy would
rather erase.
O God, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

O God, we come to you
with doubt that anything will change
if a virus is found
when a virus is tested
and one pandemic ends.
We fear that the healthcare system
will still be broken, racism will persist,
our elders will still be overlooked and undervalued
and we will remain forever uncertain
how to best educate and care for our children.
O God, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

O God, we come
seeking your grace and mercy
because so much feels as though
it has been deserted and lost
so that we are not even sure
how to name what needs
peace and hope. But you, O God,
open your hands to
the broken world and
so we ask for your words.
O God, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We come with more names,
names of those close to us
who seek your grace and peace.
We pray for {names on prayer list}.
O God, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for the hungers
and desires in our own city,
especially for {agencies like the food pantry and
local homeless shelter or headlines to be named.}
O God, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for our country
and the election that awaits
tired people.
O God, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for your love to wash over
this world and all your people.
We pray for your open hand to guide us
and lead us especially when
we are tempted to withdraw
from the good stuff.
We pray for your compassion,
especially for ourselves
for you are gracious and merciful
always. We pray in your grace, Amen.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 12

I get the honor of preaching this Sunday so that one of my dear friends can get a break from the delicate dance of pastoring and parenting. I’m so thrilled I can offer her this blessing and so I’ll be sharing a little more than words this week.

You are welcome to use anything here in any fashion that makes sense. They are here because I know you too are juggling so much. Your summer doesn’t look like you had hoped and if you have kids the school year ahead doesn’t look any easier. Still, I know that your faith can be seen in that mustard seed even if every bit of you feels as though its been through the fiery furnace.

Gathering Together

I wanted to use poetry to gather together and I decided on one of my favorite poems. I’m thinking a lot about the conversations that were being had three months ago where we were talking about what would emerge from this time. There was determined hope back then that sounds a whole lot like the “yes” Jesus gets to these parables. We will begin worship with this video.

Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Grace

I’m not yet sure if I will offer these words of prayer as anything more than a slide. In case you haven’t noticed, I intend to be on screen as little as possible. However, I might have to model this so I might have to appear on screen though I’m considering how creepy these sound files might sound. Check back later this week and you just might see a video.

Call to Confession

We come together to worship and praise
while the infectious diseases like racism and COVID-19 rage.
We are weak with fear for our neighbors, for our children,
for whatever world might be possible. We do not know how to pray
and so we come together with sighs too deep for words.
Let us lament our hope and fears
with each breath —
breathing in and breathing out
breathing in and breathing out
all that won’t be
all that isn’t possible
and all that we still dream to be.
Let pray into the depth of our sighs.

Allow for time to breathe.

Assurance of Grace

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As you catch your breath, may you be so convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Gospel Lesson

I really just wanted to see if I could do this and so this is how these videos started. I wanted to illustrate the Gospel Lesson with stock videos and photos. It’s not perfect by any stretch and I realized I actually changed a preposition when I read the Gospel. Oops. Still, here is an attempt at proclaiming this good news.

Gathering Around the Table

Communion will be shared in this online gathering as it is every week for Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations and so there will need to be words to gather us together. I have only received the gifts of God in this pandemic season so this is my first time trying to write something. I am opting for less formal though I really do like a good Sanctus.

Invitation to Table

We gather together between
breakfast tables and coffee tables
with computers and tablets
placed on top of the crumbs
still leftover from breakfast.
While the dishes still await
in the sink, we prepare to feast again
partaking this time of holy food
to increase our faith.
God meets us in the ordinary
to reveal the extraordinary.
Beloved, let us feast.
Let us wonder. Let us imagine
another world is possible in sharing
these sacred gifts.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. Many thanks to Traci Smith and her wonderful Treasure Box Tuesday finds that allowed me to find this online resource to create videos. You can subscribe to Traci’s weekly email here and click on over to Climpchamp to see just how good Traci’s recommendations are.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 11

As you may know, I recently moved. I’m in a new place where the landscape and the unbearable heat (even though I’ve now lived in Texas for three years) make this place feel so foreign and strange. I live in a new construction home which is something I’ve avoided for 41 years. The houses all look the same in my neighborhood and it pushes me to think about diversity in creation, people and, yes, even houses.

I feel dislocated on top of the isolation that I’ve felt for the past four months. I’m now in a place where I don’t know my neighbors. I don’t have friends or family that I can socially distance visit so that I’m instantly drawn into that Psalm. I long for the familiar: to be known and loved. I miss that.

It’s where my heart leads. I wonder how many might feel the same at this moment.

Gathering Together

I love this Opening Prayer by my friend Teri Peterson so much that I’m tempted to not write my own. Or I might take this video suggestion from Singing on the Lectionary to begin worship (or maybe use in the time for children) to learn this song in English and American Sign Language.

I want there to be art. Maybe that includes Vincent Van Gogh’s The Sower with the accompanying reflection by Liam O Comain as Suzanne Guthrie suggested last week to begin worship because I want to see myself among the scattered seeds. Or maybe you just watch this guy garden in some mix of silence and words of poetry, scripture or words like these that follow. (You probably have some gardeners in your community and could make a better version of this too, right? Because you totally have time for that. Kidding.)

Gathering Words
Inspired by Psalm 139 and Romans 8:12-25

We have groaned
so much as the days and weeks
have added up
and the frustrated
arguments have escalated
about whether or not to wear a mask.
All of creation has groaned
with us and we are waiting
still. Our backs are tired.
Our knees are weak
and we shudder to wonder
what it means now
to reap what we sow.
O God, search us.
Search us out in this
time of worship
and wonder.
Know that we are looking for you
in every tiny plant
growing in our gardens
and the cracks in the sidewalk.
Sit down beside us
and dial in
so that we might rise
with you in hope and love.
Lead us on your way
again, O God. Amen.

Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Grace

These prayers have been adapted for some I wrote for an interim season at the United Christian Church of Austin. I wrote these prayers as a volunteer because I could help in this small way and when I concluded this service, I received a card thanking me that included a celebration especially of hearing the words poopy diapers in a prayer. Well, it’s here for you too. This is my reality and maybe now the image at the top makes sense.

Call to Confession

We have been led together to this very moment
where it feels like God is both near and far,
when we wonder what the future might hold.
Let us confess our fears together.

Prayer of Confession

O God, we never feel ready for the good news.
It comes in a trumpet blast one morning
and we can’t help but feel like we should have done more to prepare.
We have our excuses: too old, too young, too many poopy diapers,
too little money, too immunocompromised,
not enough hours in the day, not really believing
that it’ll matter; but you know the truth, O God.
We don’t ever really feel like we could be called but we are.
You have searched us and known us and you know that
we are called to this moment. We will be the ministers of the future.
We are called to this.
O God, forgive us for all our self doubt.

Assurance of Grace

Who hopes for what they cannot see?
We hear the complaint in the epistles and our own tongues
but let anyone with ears listen. God knows your heart
and God forgives your fears. You are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

What I haven’t tackled in these words is the repetition of the word slavery. It should for American Christians push us to wrestle with our nation’s history of enslaving black and brown people. It should challenge us how we preach these words as good and force us into an uncomfortable place again. To that end, I commend The Word Is Resistance to you in particular to delve into these sacred words that can lead to such sin. The Rev. Anne Dunlap, who hosts the podcast, offers several other excellent resources if you follow the link.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I’ll be guest preaching next Sunday so you can expect that I’ll be more on top of things next week.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 10

It has been over a month since I shared these pandemic prayers. I got swallowed up by the logistics surrounding our move across Texas.

It seemed at every moment that something had settled that something else would fall through. It still feels that way two weeks after arriving here. Boxes still aren’t unpacked. There are things I can’t find because I didn’t hover over the packers for their safety and my own. It is still a pandemic after all and it’s raging across Texas even though I was little ladied more than once across this vast state by men insisting that this was a hoax.

I am still so freaking proud of the church and all that you dear pastors are doing in the midst of this chaos especially because I feel like I’m barely holding it together right now. These prayers are appearing late in the week and may not be helpful because you’ve already recorded. I hope you rest then. Or find whatever feels like rest right now and maybe even read these gorgeous words of encouragement from my friend Laura Stephens-Reed.

Thank you for all that you are doing to walk in faith and hope. Here are some words that might lift a small burden from your shoulders.

Gathering Together

As the numbers increase and it becomes a point of pride for some not to wear a mask, I am struck by the words of Psalm 119 asking God for life. I’m captivated by the image of scattering seeds as an act of resistance more than Miss Rumphius who scattered lupine seeds to reveal the earth’s glory. Sowing seeds feels like a determined prayer. There will be life. Abundance is possible.

Gathering Words
Inspired by Psalm 119

Give us life, O God.
Give us breath and strength
and a bit of courage
to speak you words of love.
Give us life, O God,
because we’e not so sure
how to live and move
and have our being.
It feels like we’ve given our all.
We’ve tried our best
but we cannot give up.
We must go on.
This is not over.
This is not all there will be.
Give us life, O God.
Give us abundance.
Give us power.
Give us grace
so that we can feel it
beating in our hearts.
Bring your heart into our own.
Give us joy
in this time of worship
and wonder.

Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Grace

There is a lovely prayer of the day written by Julia Seymour that would be lovely. I feel the need to confess lately. Most of my prayers while unpacking boxes have had a health amount of profanity. I need some forgiveness.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Isaiah 55:10-13

O God, it hasn’t felt
like there is new growth
in my heart and mind.
I’ve worried too much about the world:
the selfishness of others,
the arrogance of my own heart,
the number of things that need
to change and need to change fast,
the sins of racism,
the betrayal of isolation,
the desire for something normal
even though I have no idea what that might be.
I have not felt joy or peace
but outrage and fury.
I cannot believe things have gotten this bad
and I wonder what I can do
to water the earth with change.

Assurance of Grace

Beloved, you are saturated in God’s love.
Hear these words with joy. Let them take root
in your heart and mind:
you are forgiven
and so very loved by God. Amen.

Gospel Meditation

In seminary, I worshipped with Judson Memorial Church where they had an Old Testimony and a New Testimony. The old always being something from the Bible and the new was a poem or an excerpt from an essay or book. It added something that wasn’t in the sermon and sometimes wasn’t even explored in the sermon. It revealed something about these words from scripture. It made us think. Silence always followed.

I have always loved this tradition and have adapted it in places I’ve served. It worked sometimes and other times it totally flopped. This week I want something to meditate on this passage from Matthew. I’m so used to hearing Luke that I’m so curious about this happening by the water. Does that make the land more fertile or less? Maybe I’m too landlocked right now and I just want to dip my toes in some body of water that is not sweltering hot from sitting out in the sun. (That would be my kid’s kiddie pool.) I offer these possibilities as a new testimony or centering words or whatever you might choose to call them before or after the Gospel Lesson.

Untitled by James Baldwin

Instructions on Not Giving Up by Ada Limón

Matins by Louise Gluck

A Blessing with Roots by Jan Richardson

I know there are others that I’d like to add but my kids are refusing to nap so that’s all I’ve got for this week.

While I was packing and stressing about moving in a pandemic, I received a sweet note thanking me for these liturgies. An email also popped up yesterday asking to use my Blessing for Face Masks. You can find the gorgeous image Mary Dicken created here. It’s amazing what we can do together.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Vacation Bible School

It is Vacation Bible School week in our house which means there is a ton more screen time than usual as we share in learning about the light of the world. It’s a curricula entirely created by the staff and volunteers at our sweet Texas church and I’m reminded again how amazing it is to witness what can be accomplished in these strange times where we choose not to gather for worship.

There are also a number of amazing resources for VBS that have popped into my email including Tumbuh’s God’s Global Kids and Illustrated Ministry’s Compassion Camp. Both feel timely and wonderful as people continue to swarm into the streets to march and protest for the simple fact that black lives matter.

My mornings are spent with Bible crafts, singing This Little Light of Mine and sharing with my sweet toddler what this faith means. I’m also spending a lot of time thinking about what I’m teaching her about race and racism. That might seem unimportant. It may seem like I should be working harder on my own racism but this reminder that how the littlest ones test our faith made me wonder about how white people pray with their children to resist and oppose racism.

Gathering Together

Psalm 100 challenges me to consider the songs I’m teaching to my children. I might not be bringing them to protest right now but I want them to know the songs when we get there. Many of those songs are songs of faith so what if worship began with some freedom songs? I’d be eager to include this one and this one both sung by the Freedom Singers. I’d encourage kids to find some noise makers even if they’re just banging on pots and pans to make a joyful noise.

Perhaps then there should be some gathering words inspired by the Psalm. The children might continue to bang their pots and pans or whatever noisemakers they’ve found every time the refrain “make a joyful noise” is offered. Prompt the children to listen for those words and pause each time to look at the gallery of delight in your Zoom worship.

Gathering Words
Inspired by Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise, all the earth.
Praise God for young minds
and older hearts
eager to grow and change.
Praise God for sunshine
and babies
and the radical hope
that nothing is impossible
with your love.
Make a joyful noise, all the earth.
Gather us in with songs
of protest and freedom
of hope and change.
Teach us new songs
to sing in the foreign lands
that almost seem normal now.
Make a joyful noise, all the earth.
Bring us together
from the many places we are
with powerful internet connections
and spirits eager
to be renewed.
Make a joyful noise, dear children of God.
Know that God is good
and that we sing praise to
all that is good.

You might also choose this Intergenerational Call to Worship by Carolyn Brown or this Improvisation on Psalm 100 by Maren Tirabassi though I might add something about digital doors because “these doors” doesn’t mean the same thing in the midst of pandemic.

Prayer for Children

I always opt for prayers for children from Marian Wright Edelman. Over here on Prayers for School Children, I might adapt the final prayer for all children as a blessing for VBS. Or I might opt for something like this with language that is familiar to young children.

Blessing for Vacation Bible School
Inspired by Matthew 9:35-10:8

God, as Vacation Bible School begins,
our children will go about villages and cities
sharing your good news. May they feel love
from every adult who reads a story
and every song leader.
May they learn that faith is big
and sometimes really hard.
May they find joy in wondering
and delight in listening.
May they know that there’s
so much more to learn
and be excited to go on the next adventure.
God, we bless [names of children].
These are the names of the children
we will hold close in prayer
this week as Vacation Bible School begins.
Amen.

Passing of the Peace

A few weeks ago, I referred to an idea from a mentor of mine where individuals might be invited to share reflections of peace in the passing of the peace. I wonder if instead we might model to our children and remind ourselves of the work we are struggling to do to wrestle with our whiteness by sharing something we did or read or heard that challenged the racism that lives under our skin.

Maybe two or three people offer this short reflection and concludes by saying something like, “The peace of Justice and Love also be with you.” For those using Zoom, there might be some musical interlude that follows where people could share in the chat what other things they’ve wrestled with in their racism. That list could be gathered from the chat and shared in the weekly email that follows that week so that the conversation might continue as much as our support of each other in doing this work.

That’s all I’ve got for this week.

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

How Shall We Pray?

For the past several weeks, I’ve offered prayers as a gift to my colleagues in ministry who are serving faithfully during this pandemic. I’ve written liturgies following the Revised Common Lectionary that I have hoped were copied and pasted into Facebook Lives and Zooms and every other platform that congregations find themselves gathered in this moment.

I opened my email on Monday to find that two of my favorite cooking blogs are not offering new content. Yes, that’s how white I am. I faithfully read cooking blogs still these two particular cooking blogs are hitting the pause button. They are intentionally stepping back to wrestle with their own racism and the various ways that they unintentionally play into white supremacy. It’s something I know many of us are doing.

Before reading their words, I already knew I wasn’t going to offer prayers this week. I wasn’t going to attempt to assert my privilege into the grief and pain after the unforgivable deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed and Tony McDade because of the racism burning in our blood.

We have heard enough from white women.

White women should be asking, like all white people, how shall we pray?

We shall not pray for peace because we do not know the grief and pain of this moment. We do not wish that there was a better way because too much has been broken. We have dared to assume we could build on a broken system and only now can we see that wrong, but then, how shall we pray?

How do you pray when your country is on fire? How do you pray when there is greater concern for property than people? How do you pray when the grief and despair is too big to name?

EZYHcAoVAAA3BAKI am listening for what I do not understand. I’m opening my heart and mind to the grace of God as I wrestle again with the demon of my own racism.

I cannot pray with my own words.

I won’t. I can’t.

I want to confess the sins of my own racism starting with my White Privilege as captured in a poem by Judith Lockhart Radtke found in The Anti-Racism Prayer Book created by Trinity Church in Boston. There are several other powerful prayers collected in this digital booklet.

Those that are still feeling the winds and fire of Pentecost might opt to use this Prayer by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat written way back when in 2014 in honor of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. It might need only a slight adaptation to feel that wind that moved over the waters of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4a.

As social media blacks out to focus on the wisdom of black and brown bodies, in churches in my own United Church of Christ and other white dominated congregations, this litany of confession for Lent might be adapted to evoke the power of Creator, Christ and Spirit. This prayer remembering the last words of Eric Garner from Praying with James Baldwin might also be fitting or one of these two prayers addressing white supremacy found on enfleshed. Martha Spong offered a beautiful Trinity Prayer meditating on Psalm 8:4 in her weekly email that she admits is a prayer for majority white communities of faith. 

The United Church of Canada somehow always has words for the prayers closest to my heart as they do in this prayer To Root Out Quiet Racism.

The Unitarian Universalist Association has a Black Lives Matter Worship Collection which includes a reflection about singing Lift Every Voice and Sing by the Rev. Aisha Ansano that I found powerful especially because I remain unconvinced that it should be sung in white congregations.

When I can’t find the words for my own prayers, I turn to poetry. This poem by Ross Gay popped up in my timeline again this week. As the fires blaze in riots across our country, I find myself returning to Christopher Gilbert’s Fires Gotten Brighter. Donte Collins’ what the dead know by heart sends chills down my spine and leaves me staring at my own palm. I’m not sure how you’d use these in worship just as I’m not sure how a white congregation might meaningfully use Get Home Safely which the SALT Project is offering for free download.

For better or worse, I know that my prayers as a white woman aren’t the same as my black and brown sisters and brothers. I know that as much as my throat catches watching that video, it’s not the terror I feel every day for myself or my children. I can cry listening to the Rev. Otis Moss III preach powerfully but I also learned something that I’m sure black and brown folks have known for a long time. I am new to this fight no matter how many anti-racism workshops I’ve attended.

My prayers are different because I’m not in the streets right now. I’ve got time and space to contemplate how I might pray when others are struggling to stay alive or even assert that their lives have worth.

I believe we should pray just as I believe in the power of God to do things that I cannot fathom in this moment. I’m going to hold onto that hope as I confess the sins of my own racism. That’s what it feels like these prayers are.

These are prayers to confess that we bought into the idea that this system actually worked even as we balked at 45’s great campaign slogan. We thought we knew. We thought we had done the work until this moment when a pandemic should keep us inside our homes but the grief is just too damn big.

I confess that I want to hear something like Maya Angelou’s Alone on Sunday because it might not be just about some idealized kum-ba-yah moment like in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 but it could actually say something about our collaboration with the Trinity. Of course, it doesn’t really matter what I might want or how big I might like God to be. It’s not a question of my comfort.

I’ve been too comfortable. That’s the problem and the challenge of the gospel is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.

Worship has already changed. It already feels so different ten or eleven weeks into this new normal so perhaps how we pray and when we pray and how long we allow God to speak needs to change too.

We shall pray that black. brown and indigenous lives matter because God already knows they do. We shall pray so that we might be changed.