Pentecost in Coronatide

Packed among the things that are headed to Germany this week are my two brilliant rainbow kites that whirled down the center aisle of one of the churches I served on Pentecost.

It wasn’t the first Pentecost that I had referenced the notion of kites in worship. There was a passing reference in a prayer and I think I even preached one year on the wonder of flying a kite.

The fact is that I am not very good at getting a kite to take flight. It feels to be like there is an art form to it. It is not something that just happens like the rush of a violent wind that sets it in motion.

It takes practice and a bit of engineering to get that thing to be the right shape and hit the wind in just the right way so that it can truly soar. And then, when it does, it is amazing to watch. It is a wonder to see this colorful thing way up there in the sky tethered to the world by a mere string.

I like that mix of wonder and frustration. To me, that sound like life. We try so dang hard to make things happen. We try to make good in the world. We try to love people and advocate for justice and half the time we feel like we are totally messing it up. We feel like we are doing it all wrong or we are not doing enough but then something happens. Maybe it’s a bit of engineering or practice. I can never quite tell but there is a moment where it all shifts and the way opens. It feels like there is endless possibility and we try our best to ride out that current.

That’s what I was thinking about when I created Wind Power for this Pentecost. I wanted there to be something that wasn’t really a liturgy but allowed us to be present to each other. Something that would invite congregations that are tiptoeing into gathering in person that would feel special and different but something that would also work in a context where things are still virtual. Something that would allow all of us to feel like the winds of change are starting to shift. There is something new in this place and we can all feel it each in our own language.

I wanted this to be a Pentecost experience where the story isn’t told but felt. It’s something we do together without words to explain what is happening. There is a moment for noticing and sharing in the wonder of creation but the true experience in this worshipful moment is being outside together and flying a kite.

If a church were to plan this event, they could do it over the Pentecost weekend. It could be something that happens over the following long weekend. It could happen in place of regular worship or could be something that is added on to the schedule. A church could purchase and provide kites or just have a few on hand for those that couldn’t find one. Lawn chairs might be encouraged and it might require a city permit to use a park in the area but I truly hope it’s not something that requires a lot of extra work for you, dear pastor. My hope in this free resource is to offer something that makes your life a little easier and allows you to be fully present to this Pentecost moment too.

Download your free copy of Wind Power here.

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

Discernment in Coronatide

I never expected that I would be a stay at home mom.

I never dreamed that I would find myself isolated in a city where I know no one because a pandemic has forced us to isolate since we arrived here. I’m not even sure how to begin new friendships with the risk assessment analysis of the various choices people are making in the pandemic. It feels like a bad place to start. I don’t really know where to begin with that.

I never imagined being here now on the other side of thirty-three. It has been eight years since that birthday passed but it still feels surreal. It was that birthday that I never thought I’d live beyond because that was when she died. My mother died at that age and so I was convinced that I would meet the same fate. My eldest daughter turned three just a few weeks ago and I felt a new wave of anxiety arise. I was four when my mother was diagnosed. I only have one year left. What will I teach my children in that time? What do I hope they will remember about my life and our joy?

These are the things that aren’t to be said too loudly but these are the thoughts that are drifting in and out of my daydreams. I never thought I would be here. What does it mean to be here? What is it that I should do with this blessed time?

I decided I wasn’t going to wait anymore.

I don’t want to wait for the right time because none of us are promised that time. It might come. It might but it is not promised. We are given the opportunity to live and to live in such a way that we love this world into something better. I pray I’m doing that.

I also never could have believed that my family would be picking up and moving overseas in a pandemic but we will do just that within a few months. My husband got a super fantastic opportunity for his career in the United States Army and we will be moving our children and our lives to Germany next month.

While the pandemic has caused lots of struggle and grief, it has also provided opportunity for a stay at home mom like me. It has allowed so many of us to be at concerts, classes and involved in conversations that we couldn’t have possibly been present to if distance and cost had been what it was in the Times Before. For me, it meant that I didn’t have to wait anymore on continuing my studies in spiritual direction at San Francisco Theological Seminary. The three-week January term with children and my husband’s intense work hours hasn’t been possible but the pandemic made it so that I could spend an insane amount of intense time on Zoom and explore discernment as a spiritual practice.

It means that I am now taking steps toward seeking new directees in my spiritual direction practice.

Holy Threads is how I’ve described my work which feels truer than when I first imagined this thing before my first child was born. Now there is quite a tangle of possibility and opportunity in those threads that I am trying to unravel and behold in wonder and delight.

It’s a practice I want to share with others — across the ocean and through the wonders of your favorite video chatting platform and mine — in wondering where these tiny threads are leading us in God’s wonder. And so, I hope that you will think of me in referring the people in your congregation and clergy circles for spiritual direction. You can contact me here.

It is only one of the loose threads that I am discerning right now. An opportunity has arisen where I might partner with a congregation to offer both spiritual direction and occasional liturgical resources. That pastor is very creative on his own and so I would be adding to his creativity but it leaves me to wonder what might be ahead for the pandemic prayers we have shared.

I am not sure what worship looks like as more and more of our communities in the United States are vaccinated. I know that many congregations in this country are taking steps toward hybrid worship in their sanctuaries and outdoor chapels and that many of those congregations are not ready to let go of the worshipful experiences that have been shared online. I started writing these prayers to support clergy in this bizarre season of Coronatide where the prayers in our prayer books were not quite right for the moment. I did it because I love liturgy. I needed an outlet. I wanted to do something that would matter. I wanted to be one of the helpers.

I have received so many kind words even in Holy Week when pastors are so very busy with gratitude for the things that I have offered. It feels like it matters. It has given me hope to share in this practice of imagining what worship should look like now so that now I’m wondering what might come next and I don’t know yet.

I do know that with the move overseas in my very near future, I am especially interested in more collaboration. I have written these prayers while my children have napped. It’s been a solitary practice and a good one. It’s been such a joy but after a long year of isolation and more lockdown in a foreign land, I am eager to share in some creativity in imagining worship in the next year of the pandemic. I want to be in more conversation about what is important and meaningful in this moment.

I had the honor of curating prayers for two pastors sharing in a preaching series through the Epiphany season and it was so wonderful to hear their brilliance and listen to what traditions are holding fast in online worship and where innovation is possible. It was amazing to hear my words in their voice while watching their livestreams. I loved all of the tweaks that they made. I want to do more of that.

I want to do more where we are encouraging each other and daydreaming together. I don’t know if it’s possible. It might be too much but I’m daydreaming about hosting seasonal worship planning workshops over Zoom. There would be a price tag because I’m slowly learning to claim my worth. I hope that’s not a deterrent after a whole year of free resources because I starting imagining how we’d share in this practice across so many different contexts and iterations of worship. I got excited. I would love if those conversations would lead to curating particular resources that you don’t have the time or energy to create, dear pastor, but you still can’t shake this great idea you had. I’d love to make that happen for you.

I feel like we are on the cusp of something right now as the pandemic shifts into whatever this next phase will be. It’s not over. It will not be over until our children are fully vaccinated and even then I’m not sure. I’m not one of the brilliant scientists leading us into this unknown future but it feels like there is a shift. There is enough of a shift that I want to make room for my spirit to imagine new wonders. I want to collaborate with you in realizing this goodness and if that excites you too I hope you’ll take 5 minutes and fill out this shared discernment questionnaire so that we can do great things together. I believe we can. I never would have imagined myself here but there is always resurrection and I’m excited to get to work in making that hope come alive for you and me.

Holy Week in Coronatide

I hadn’t yet started writing pandemic prayers when Holy Week came along last year. Like so many, I was blissfully unaware of what was ahead. We had cancelled a vacation that we will actually be venturing into next week. My husband had just redeployed from Korea. I have had a mental block about how closely related all of these events were. We weren’t really sure what was happening but I remember my friends were already tired. They were just trying to figure out this whole wild new world of online worship and were struggling with the technology so much that I’ve never heard it said that seminary never taught this.

I had to remind myself of that when I went looking for what I had offered last year because it feels like I’ve been doing this a long time, but it hasn’t been a year yet. Not for me. Not for this practice of caring for my colleagues in ministry. I didn’t start this project until after Easter came and went. We still believed that it would only be a few more months and I thought I could write weekly prayers for a few months. I love writing liturgy after all. Why not?

It wouldn’t be the same kind of experience this year though. We still find ourselves in this liminal space between what was and what could be. We are keenly aware that something is coming but it is not here yet. That is what interests me this year and how I hope to imagine these high holy days.

Palm Sunday

I still want there to be a parade this year. I want there to be the pageantry and the sense that things are going to change. The world can and will turn upside down when hope parades through our streets. Maybe it would look something like this with strikers and spirit signs. Or maybe it could be adapted from this interactive liturgy. I wanted to write one of my own but I haven’t had the inspiration yet. I’m still thinking about it.

I also wanted to offer something that might tell the whole story of these high holy days that might be something special but totally different from what we usually do at Easter.

I found that I was not the only one with this brilliant idea and most of these good souls got these materials out way faster than I did. Glenys Nellist offers a lovely adaptation of her new children’s book as an Easter Pageant. There is a super brief version offered by Carolyn Brown on Worshipping with Children. Church Publishing offers both a Passion Play and an Easter Walk. Illustrated Ministry recently released their Easter Pageant and I think any one of these would be a wonderful way to begin the week in worship.

I recruited one of my former youth who has now become a colleague as a brilliant third year seminarian to write a version of my own. We had written one together when they were wee in one afternoon — and I could think of no one better to create something meaningful for this season. Ours is a little different from those that I’ve previewed (and I haven’t gotten my hands on all of these wonders to review them) because we really wanted this telling of the good news to reflect what good news feels like right now in another pandemic Holy Week. It includes lots of opportunities for people of all ages to act, sing, film and share photographs that help to tell the story in a meaningful way within that community. We also really wanted something that would not be exhausting to edit into a seamless video to launch on Sunday morning and pray that we were able to accomplish just that. You can purchase This Year: An Eager Pageant for a Pandemic Year here.

If neither of these possibilities interest you, you might be interested in this complete liturgy for Palm and Passion Sunday or these other prayers for the drama of the whole week that I wrote a few years ago. I also really love this poem for this year especially. I found it last year but I really love it for this year.

Maundy Thursday

I recently got lost in gorgeous collection of illustrated poetry within the OnBeing YouTube channel. I’m imagining a service particular to this day centered around this favorite pandemic poem that I will soon share but I also can’t quite escape the questions about what it means to gather at table when we cannot be in the same place.

I wonder about the number of businesses that have struggled to survive as the pandemic has raged on and the amazing kindness of people who feel called to feed the hungry in all kinds of different ways. After all, the table is a metaphor for the world we imagine. It is always an invitation to possibility. I wonder about how we care for each other and how we talk about the kind of love that we are called to be in the Gospel Lesson for this holy day. I might use this song to explore this possibility.

Though this is available on YouTube, please support artists for their creativity. The Many offer this video for congregational use through the Convergence Worship Project.

Maybe this is a day where worship doesn’t happen online in any form but it is a day of service like this church did.

Maybe what is offered instead is a project to care for neighbors in this pandemic with a soundtrack to sustain the work and a big pot of vegetarian chili waiting in the church parking lot for people to nourish their bodies and souls after doing things with great love. That meal could be blessed with this Blessing of the Meal from enfleshed or you might opt for one of these Communion Liturgies. I’d be enclined to opt for the one entitled In the Uncertainty. That seems to name it all right now. I don’t think I need to say this but just in case: please don’t do a seder of any kind. If you are even a tiny bit tempted, read this.

Good Friday

I have never liked the violence that comes with the traditional observances of this day. I don’t know if this would be the year that I would tackle atonement theory but I’m glad to know that there is something out there for understanding the cross — and the good people at the SALT Project even though to make it a take home resource.

I wonder if there is another way to speak to the grief of lost life especially after so much has been lost this year. Maybe you wouldn’t do this in other years but what if this year, there was just lament on Good Friday. It was a space to grieve all that has been lost. You might opt for a using this pay-and-play service from The Many or these prayers collected by Sojourners that particularly speak to the loss that has become way too familiar in this pandemic. Another option would be this poem entitled simply God’s Grief.

Or you might allow the liturgy for the dying from your tradition structure how this holy observance feels. There is something about these familiar words that will care for the most broken parts of our hope. Somehow it feels like this could fit into that worship experience.

Jan Richardson shares the particulars on permissions for her work here.

I might also include this poem on The Seven Last Words. I would also be inclined to add to this worship experience any number of these prayer poems for grief and loss from enfleshed. They also offer this contemplative service of story and song among their free resources for Good Friday. This lovely prayer for healing might be a good fit too.

If you don’t opt for an Easter Pageant at some other point this week, or even if you do, you could host an Online Stations of the Cross including the gifts of these Illustrated Ministry Coloring Posters and a separate devotional, Virtual Stations from Busted Halo or possibly the Easter Story Walk in the packet of goodies from ‘Twas the Morning of Easter. Weather permitting, this could also be done as an outside event with large posters made at a local printer posted along the edge of the church parking lot or another smooth open space. Building Faith also offers this Way of the Cross with a video meditation and reflection guide that could also fit into this realm of possibility.

Or you could tell the story in worship using one of the many scripts that Joanna Harader faithfully provides on her blog Spacious Faith. I think this one might be most friendly to an online format. Living Liturgies also offers a contemplative Tenebrae-like service for Good Friday full of light and bravely naming the hardest parts of this story. Praying Light into the Shadows is available for download for a $20 fee for congregational use.

Holy Saturday

This is the day where nothing happens. We gather on Good Friday and then again to wonder about what has happened when most of us went about our ordinary lives. In this time that is far from ordinary, invite your people into the tomb. It doesn’t need to be somber or depressing. It can be expectant. There should be a sense that something is happening but it hasn’t come yet and we are going to do our thing by singing that hope into being after gathering songs of struggle and hope that are beloved by your members and share that playlist on Spotify to accompany the waiting between what is and what will be. (Roll Away the Stone by the Mumford Sons would be my addition to such a list.) Or instead encourage your people to go on Resurrection Awe Walks to hunt for signs of hope in their neighborhoods.

The church I served in South Portland, Maine held a vigil from after the Good Friday service through the Sunrise Service on Easter. The Christ Candle was carried from the Sanctuary to the Chapel where two or three would keep watch in two hours shifts all night. Prayer books were provided in this time of silent meditation. This seems possible online with hourly prayers led by deacons, elders or someone capable and generous that is also not you, dear pastor. These hourly invitations to prayer could be streamed to Facebook or another chosen platform and an eternal flame thing could stand vigil on the church building steps or a candle in an online chat room. I’m less certain of that part but I think that the hourly calls to prayer would be lovely.

Resurrection Sunday

Just as I shared a bonfire experience for Ash Wednesday, I am offering a free liturgy for an Easter Watch Service. It’s not really a sunrise service and not even close to the full drama of the Easter Vigil but if your people are looking to gather at a safe distance and share in some spark of hope, this Easter Watch Service might be what you need. You can read more about this special service here.

There is this gorgeous Communion Liturgy for this day by Joanna Harader and this invitation to possibility might be a wonderful way to begin this service of exploring the resurrection this year. I could link all day to Maren Tirabassi’s gorgeous poems for these high holy days. I have them saved in my files and use them year after year but I am particularly curious about this Latvian tradition of hanging swings. What a fun way for a church to celebrate Easter that is socially distant and playful. I can’t resist linking to this poem she offers inspired by another favorite by Howard Thurman. Easter Sunday might also be when you encourage your people to find words to speak to this wondrous power of resurrection in their own words. I offer Pandemic Easter Affirmations for just this reason and hope that it gives you a break to find hope again in fresh words of brave faith.

I don’t tend to include ideas for the blessings bags that I know many of you send home but you might want to include this Easter Scavenger Hunt to encourage the searching that we all do in the unknown. If you frame it this way for parents, it will add depth to their participation though this framing will make little sense to young children. I also shared a Pandemic Neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt with coloring sheets suggestions that could be mailed out and posted in windows for a socially distanced hunt in the neighborhoods among your church community.

I would also keep an eye on the Brim Worship Project as they will soon release materials for Holy Week. I hope that this offers inspiration to your worship planning. Though it has become my custom to offer these seasonal roundups in my newsletter, I decided to mix it up and offer it instead in the pages of my blog and I pray it wasn’t posted too late. I am also working on a similar roundup of Eastertide resources in my newsletter.

I pray blessings upon you dear pastors for all of the wonder and hope you are busy creating for this holy and tender time. I pray that you are taking extra good care of your sweet soul in this season by calling your spiritual director and coach for the support you need along with that particular cohort of clergy that you can be most yourself even if it is over Zoom. It’s not like all the other Zoom you’re doing right now. I’m praying for you to find joy and hope this Easter. May the resurrection work its wonder through your entire being.

Waiting for Resurrection in Coronatide

Easter will come just as it has every year before because resurrection is promised. It happens even when we cannot fully comprehend its possibility. Resurrection still happens.

I have been thinking a lot about hope this Lent. I’ve been thinking about its texture and its sensation. It can come to live inside us and it can feel as distant as the setting sun. Glorious but incomprehensible to the ordinariness of our lives — and our lives have been so ordinary in this pandemic. We have not traveled. We haven’t visited with those that we love most for fear of infection. Death has been so close.

Death is still too close but hope does not give up. It doesn’t sound like there will be widespread of the vaccines for COVID-19 until later this summer. There are other concerns in our world. Or there should be as we struggle against the powers of white supremacy and Christian nationalism and maybe Easter can be that grand celebration where we have overcome all of these terrors. Maybe. To me, it feels like we need to remember this year — and maybe every year — that hope is not always triumphant.

Sometimes hope is quiet and gentle. Hope is a flicker of creativity or.a hint of possibility.

It may not be apparent. It might not be something we all see or feel but something we have to believe into our own reality.

It might be something that actually requires witnesses where we need other people to be there to see and hear this thing. We don’t want to be alone in this moment. We need others to be there with us.

It is everything that I’ve ever felt in those early morning experiences of waiting for the sun to rise on Easter morning. I am not a morning person and this is a feat of God for me to even be at this service. It is even more miraculous if I am the one leading this service but there is something quiet and powerful about the hope that is felt in those services. It’s not the loudness of the festival worship that happens in the sanctuary later that morning.

It is an expectant kind of hope.

I wanted to create something like that for this year. Something that was full of expectation of what could be when we overcome the terrors of the present. Something that would invite us to watch and wait together. Easter Watch is that something. It is available to you here for free.

Unlike the bonfire experience I created for Ash Wednesday, I wanted something that could happen as a worship event outside. It would be masked. It would be possible to maintain six feet so that even those that are not vaccinated could watch and wait in community.

It is adapted from a service I created years ago while I was an interim pastor for a tiny church in rural Pennsylvania. They were used to a sunrise service in the graveyard behind their church but they knew that it couldn’t be that this year. The forecast wouldn’t make it safe for any of us to traverse that uneven ground. So much had already changed there anyway. This could change too so that there was an opportunity to gather and wait for the good news to come. It needed to be different because they were different than they were the year before.

That service had more of the familiar notes of an Easter Vigil but this one is really focused around quiet contemplation around a bonfire as the sun begins to rise. It’s a service to welcome the possibility without knowing really what will come next and I pray a worshipful experience that invites each participant to make hope come alive. As with Fire & Ashes, it is a simple pamphlet that can be shared among the worshipping community. It doesn’t require an ordained leader but invites a few voices to speak between the silences of personal meditation.

The one thing that it doesn’t include is music and I think there could be music. I just don’t think it should be music that requires lugging a laptop or a portable speaker to make it beautiful. It feels like the kinds of experience where a talented musician or soloist (or both) could offer some familiar Easter hymns to make this worshipful experience even more wonderful.

It does, however, require a few worship elements for this worship experience to happen including:

  • Firewood
  • Twigs and sticks
  • Matches, lighter or other tool to start fire
  • Large pitcher full of water
  • Large vessel like a bowl
  • Shovels

As with other things I offer, it is yours to adapt and imagine into new life. I hope it’s a blessing to you this Holy Week as you wait for the power of resurrection to become real.

May it be so.

Pandemic Easter Affirmations

I wanted to write a statement about what it means to be a person of faith when everything feels uncertain for the service I wrote for the Longest Night in 2020. I did it partially for myself.

I needed words to speak to what I believe right now, but I also wanted to provide some words for the confusion that is coronatide. I was super surprised to find that a friend had made this statement into a graphic when I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. It’s the image below.

There are — of course — the classic statements of faith that remind us who we are and what we believe. I shared my favorite affirmations here last year. It can be grounding to go back to those words and repeat that faith that has been shared again and again by Christians across the centuries, but there are times when we need words that speak to this particular moment. We need words that remind us what it means to be a person of faith right now.

I thought about writing a series of affirmations for Lent following the Lectionary. Then, I thought maybe I would wait until Easter. I might still but I wanted to offer something else that might carry us all into the resurrection season. I’m thinking particularly about things that don’t require clergy to lead and thought that it might be amazing to have a collection of affirmations from the church gathered together in one place. It would be an amazing things for the church archives but it would also be a simple way to support each other in the days ahead.

I’ve created a simple free printable on Pandemic Easter Affirmations that can be shared with one and all within your congregation. This is something that you could send out in the church email in the beginning of Lent and ask for submissions to be emailed to a designated email before Holy Week begins. Offer lots of reminders and offer samples in worship to inspire creativity.

All of the submissions can be collected into a Word document or you can get fancy and use Canva that could then be emailed or printed for distribution throughout the community. There are 50 days of Easter. Set that goal so that there is a affirmation for each day to share in the Easter season. Share the progress as submissions arrive in your inbox with teasers on social media: “We got two more submissions for our Easter Affirmations today. They are stunning. Have you written yours yet?” Or something like that.

Or you might lead a Zoom workshop to write these affirmations. Here is a sample outline for how that 60-minute workshop might look. I’m assuming you have talkers. It could be shorter.

1

Pray

Practice together some lectio divina as a group with one of your favorite affirmations.

Invite people to briefly speak about what speaks to them in the affirmation. If you’d like to offer more than one example, you could read another affirmation after sharing in group lectio divina. You might even provide a brief overview on common traits of such statements.

2

Explore

Use a whiteboard to brainstorm things that feel true in this pandemic season.

Pose that question first and if there is no movement then use the questions on the downloadable PDF.

3

Listen

Find a beautiful video of a favorite hymn of the congregation on YouTube (you know, the one that is always requested and no one ever grows tired of it).

Before playing the video, invite people to listen for what this hymn says about our shared faith. Encourage them to listen closely for scripture references.

Invite them to then to search for the lyrics of their favorite hymn and note what it says about their personal faith.

4

Connect

Create breakout rooms so that those in attendance can share what connections they’ve made between their truths and their faith.

Offer questions to encourage conversation, such as: What surprised you in the lyrics of your favorite hymn? Where do you find hope? What challenges you?What matters most about your faith in this pandemic?

In this particular format, the affirmations wouldn’t actually be written. You would bless them after the small group conversation and invite them to write on their own after sharing in rich conversation with trusted souls.

I imagine that there are several other ways that this could be used. I hope so. I hope it’s something that is easily passed on to a deacon or elder or someone who loves to lead adult faith formation kinda things with the encouragement, “Wouldn’t this be wonderful? Let’s try it.”

I hope it feels worth trying. I hope it’s a blessing for you, dear pastors.

Pandemic Longest Night and Christmas Eve Worship

If you’ve been clicking around From My Kitchen or found my newsletter earlier this week in your email, this is old news to you. You are busy, dear pastor. You have already seen this. You can go do the many other things on your list.

If you were not so lucky to find these things yet (and I do hope these are things that make you feel lucky and joyous), I’m thrilled to finally share with you the services I’ve been working on for Longest Night and Christmas Eve. These were surprisingly hard to write. I am not exactly sure why that is.

Advent began with decorations on our tree and lights filling the house. It wasn’t the same as hanging the greens at church. I am feeling that loss as I know so many are in this strange new season — further compounded by the fact that I couldn’t get worship to stream from our tiny Texas church. It is one of those pandemic frustrations of having technology fail when it is our life line and it still annoyed the crap out of me, but I’ve been working on these liturgies long before the tree went up. As the year ends, I’m finding it hard to both find words for the grief of this moment and to find the joy that should overflow when we’ve finally found our way to Bethlehem.

After all, Advent feels as though it started in March when the first stay-at-home orders swept across the country because of the rampant spread of the coronavirus. We have been apart from each other for much of this year which has made 2020 feel like an especially long year.

I dove into the ancient psalms of lamentation after trying really hard to make the creation story work in how we talk about the night at this moment. I found comfort in psalms that didn’t express my lament but reminded me of the hope that we find in God. Those are the words we love and need to hear again and again, right? I hoped to make space for how hard it is to name the immensity of our grief right now because it’s not just that we have lost someone dear. It is not just one death but millions of deaths worldwide due to a virus that is not yet contained or really understood. It is the devastation we have seen to our planet while glued to our screens. It is the anxiety of constantly refreshing our browsers for hope and maybe some good news and it’s the backward summersault that too many of us have done into anti-racism work this year. We have lost more lives than we can imagine and maybe we have wondered if we even lost a tiny bit of ourselves.

There has been so much loss. There is still so much that is unknown even as a new church year has dawned. When the Night Has Already Been So Long, we are looking for some way to speak to that immense grief. That’s what I hope this online worship experience will offer to the gathered community huddled around candles in their own homes. I hope it’s a chance to be together and hold vigil for a new day to dawn. 

I actually wrote the Christmas Eve service first. It felt really strange to me to write Advent liturgies before writing Christmas Eve this year because I have always worked backwards. I have always needed to know what Christmas is going to look like and feel like until I can really figure out how Advent might feel and I’m not sure these services are at all related. Shadows and Light is really a service that makes room for more grief than the typical Christmas celebration. I hope there is joy. I hope it gets there in the music and poetry I’ve selected but Christmas always has a quietness to it.

It’s that quietness that has always puzzled me. When the birth of Christ is most vivid, we turn out all the lights to sit in the dark and sing a lullaby. It’s beautiful. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just not really joyous. (I know. I know. Don’t mess with tradition.) But I did.

I did mess with tradition when I was in my last settled call. It came out of a worship planning conversation where we talked about more light and so I created an Advent wreath (except that it wasn’t a wreath) where more candles were added each week and we named the light we saw coming into the world aloud. Then, on Christmas Eve, I didn’t do Silent Night. It wasn’t there. I got lots of complaints because church people love tradition without questioning why we do what we do.

If you are reading this and you were one of the wonderful people at that church who allowed me to experiment and play so much, I want you to know I am grateful for the space you gave me. I’m even more grateful that I got to be your pastor.

If ever there was a year where we could do something a teeny tiny bit different, I thought this year might be it. I thought maybe we could try it again and see what we might learn. You know your people best, dear pastor. You know if this is what is needed this year or if tradition is really what people need right now. You know.

Inspired by the Tenebrae tradition that is so familiar to Holy Week celebrations, Shadows and Light flows like a service of Lessons and Carols with song and story weaving together the good news of this birth.

More and more candles are lit to welcome the Light of the World before Joy to the World is sung with full gusto and glory.

As usual, I use quite a bit of poetry and you’ll find I’ve updated Poetry for Lessons and Carols to reflect some of the choices I’ve made for this service. (Ok, I also added a bunch more that I just loved and didn’t include in this service.)

Both liturgies are available for $10 each using the above links by immediate download. Or if you are interested in both worship services, you can find this Shadow and Night Bundle for $15 here.

Music suggestions are provided in both liturgies and was quick to add a few more when I discovered these FREE Christmas Carol videos especially for online worship. I know that pastors are not the only ones that are tired right now.

I also decided to make Christmas Eve Under Pandemic Skies available for just $2 for those are looking for a safe way to worship outside in a pandemic. It was part of the outdoor prayer station experience I helped to design for my sweet Texas church. And yes, I know this won’t work on some church properties and especially in many climates. If anything, you can tell your worship committee (or other angry church member) that such a thing exists and you would be overjoyed if they would take a lead in planning it.

I know how busy this time of year is for you, dear pastors. I am holding you close and lighting candles for your courage, your strength and your abundant faith.

Words to Speak to the Unknown

I am as uncertain what tomorrow holds as anyone. I’ve done my part. I’ve cast my ballot and now I can only pray that I live in a land that chooses love over hate.

I pray so much and fumble for the right words to speak my hope. I admire you so much, dear pastors, for your courage and strength in reminding us what the gospel calls us to do and be.

I find myself tripping over words in my worry for what 2020 will dish up for us now. When I don’t know how to pray, I sing broken and out of tune. Only my kids really suffer the discordant praise while we are under lockdown. Still, I sing.

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I don’t know why this is the song on my heart right now but it’s what I’ve been singing all morning. It got me thinking about other words that speak to the unknown fears so many are carrying right now. There are other songs, of course. Even when we cannot sing together, there are hymns that can proclaim our hope like a good poem. Among my favorites are these wonders of words:

  • This Is My Song
  • O for a World
  • God of Grace and God of Glory
  • For the Healing of the Nations
  • We Would Be Building
  • Toda la Tierra
  • Come, O Long-Expected Jesus

I haven’t included links as I hope that these are familiar enough that you can sing a few bars even if you were confused why Advent songs appear on this list. Isn’t that how we feel right now, like the whole earth is waiting even if it’s actually just those within the borders of these United States of America? There are two more newer hymns that I would add to this list. One of these songs was included in the All Saints liturgy I shared a few weeks ago. Those songs are:

There are, obviously, poems that dare to name our hopes and fears of all the years of 2020. (That carol is another I’ve found myself singing lately.) Here are some poems that have spoken to my heart recently and I hope dare to dream of what will be beyond the election results.

There are certainly more words to speak to this moment. You, dear pastors, are offering so many wonderful words of life. Thank you for reminding us all to hope.

10 Things to Celebrate Your Pastor in Clergy Appreciation Month

October is Clergy Appreciation Month. While this celebration may have passed by along with International Buy a Priest a Beer Day on September 9th, it should be something we celebrate this year.

We should find every reason possible to celebrate each other this year — but especially for clergy who are working so hard in the thousand new roles they’ve picked up in this pandemic. Laura Stephens-Reed beautifully articulates the need for an extra bit of love with the coming wave of pastoral departures.

Here is a short list of wonderful ways to celebrate your clergy.

  1. Take a nod from International Buy a Priest a Beer Day and offer your pastor their favorite beverage. It need not be alcoholic. Consider fair trade coffee, tea, cocoa or apple cider from a local farm to porch deliver to your pastor with a homemade card.
  2. Recruit the youth group or even young children to make cards expressing their love of their pastor. Or perhaps you draw the circle even wider and make it a whole community art project of gratitude for your pastor.
  3. Make the liturgy truly the work of the people for one or two Sundays. Though your pastor has likely planned ahead, ask them when a group of church members might collaborate to create, edit and post the worship service to give your pastor a week to better attend to the other tasks on their to do list apart from video editing.
  4. Handwrite a thank you note to your pastor and put in the mail. In that note, reflect on one thing that your pastor did that offered you grace — whether it was something said in a recent sermon, a small act of kindness, a stance that they took for justice or a moment of pastoral care that made all of the difference in the world.
  5. Consider hiring a talented professional to manage the video editing for online worship. If this is possible in your church budget, it would be a terrific investment in your pastor’s creativity.
  6. Send a gift certificate in the mail from your pastor’s favorite local restaurant, especially if take-out is an option at that establishment. Your pastor will so appreciate one night where they don’t have to think about meal planning.
  7. If you found that last Sunday’s sermon really hit home for you, send your pastor an email to share what particularly struck you. Reflect on how your pastor’s words helped you at this particular moment in the pandemic and how much you appreciate the time that it takes your pastor to find those words.
  8. Deliver homemade bread, cookies or brownies to your pastor’s porch.
  9. If you are especially grateful for the work your pastor is doing to show that black lives matter, put your money where your mouth is and make a contribution in their honor. Even if you choose to make this gift anonymous, send a note to say how grateful you are for your pastor’s prophetic work. (I promise you that they are not thanked enough for this.)
  10. Like so many, pastors either lost or postponed vacations and sabbaticals in the midst of this pandemic. Work with your congregation’s Personnel Committee to grant your pastor the gift of extra time to retreat. Perhaps the congregation is even able to extend the gift of paying for a few nights at a lovely local AirBnb or retreat center. (Your denomination might have a local church camp or retreat house that offers a discounted rate to clergy for just this reason.)

It doesn’t need to be a huge celebration. It only needs to be genuine.

Your pastor is doing an amazing job, after all. It’ll encourage them to hear your gratitude.

Stay-at-Home Clergy Mom

On Christmas Eve, my daughter raced back and forth from table to pew, pew to table and back again, to ask for more Jesus. That’s what she called it with both fistfuls full of leavened grace as her little hands signed “more” over and over again. I was so grateful to our pastor, a mother of three, for her patience and her clear understanding that there are always second and third helpings at this table.

I had presided at that table same table while pregnant with her little sister but my daughter wasn’t there to see that. She was in the nursery “doing church.”  It wasn’t until three months into the pandemic that my little girl saw me in a collar presiding over a tortilla and a chalice of water before my computer screen. It was the first time she heard me say, to her or anyone, “This is the bread of life broken for you.”  

I wonder if either of my girls will ever hear me say those words regularly in congregational worship.  

Sometimes I fear they won’t.  

I left my last settled call before they were born, before my husband and I were even married and grew into a family of four. We have packed up our home and gone where the Army sent us. He has been promoted and received awards while I have stayed home raising my sweet girls. After he retires, it will be my turn. That was always the deal.

I will search for a new call and return to ministry. I will return but I will not be the same minister that I was when I was single.

Over ten years ago, as a newly ordained woman, I heard myself tell a church member that I didn’t feel called to motherhood. Her mouth fell open in complete shock. It might not be the thing that you want to hear from the Associate Pastor responsible for all the children and youth programs. That wasn’t what she said though. She didn’t comment on my vocation but only sputtered, “But you’re so good with children.”

“Thank you,” I said. It was an inadequate response. I don’t know if I ever got the chance to explain that I didn’t feel called to the only parent. As much as I loved children, I couldn’t imagine doing it alone. If I was going to have children, I wanted a partner. I needed someone with whom to share that journey and he had not yet materialized.

Nor did I explain in coffee hour that day that only a few months before I had been grilled in a church basement by a clergy man on the Church and Ministry Committee in the United Church of Christ about how I could have possibly been a wife, a mother and a minister in a answering a call to only one of those vocations at that time.

I didn’t know then that I would one day have to choose between those options. I didn’t know that I would fall in love with a man that would have a career that would not follow mine.

My ordination vows feel dusty and buried in one of the boxes tucked into the garage that we haven’t unpacked in the past three moves. We moved in the beginning of the pandemic. We expect another move in two years and it takes nearly that long to complete a search process. So I wait and wonder when I will embody both of these identities, both mother and pastor.

I wonder how the churches that might consider me to be the next pastor will view the five or seven or eight year gap on my resume. I don’t know if they will find any value in the gifts and strengths from this precious time where I’ve focused on my family anymore than I know how different the church might look after we emerge from the other side of this pandemic.

I wonder if they will think that there is no earthly way that I could understand the challenges that face the church when I haven’t been in full time ministry all these years, however many it may end up being.

I wonder about all of the ways that I fall short of my vocational dreams while I do my damndest to be the best mom I can be to these two tiny wonders God gave me.

This post is part of the book launch blog tour for Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God. Embodied includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter, to instigate conversations that lead to support and new perspectives. The book is available this September from Bookshop.org, Amazon, or Cokesbury

To find other stories of clergy mothers, including sixteen different women from seven faith traditions, please explore the author’s blog. You can find the internet home of Lee Ann M. Pomrenke’s writings here. The particular links to this blog tour can be found in this post.

Thirty Three Years Later

Last night, my baby girl couldn’t sleep.

It has been many months since she was up every two hours but last night she returned to this familiar routine. She wasn’t always hungry.

It seemed that she just wanted to know I was there. It had only been a dream. It was only some trick of the mind, something that happens when we close our eyes. Fears jolt us awake. Terror takes hold but it was only a bump in the night.

It was only a dream. It wasn’t real.

Once she was cradled in my arms again, her little body would release those fears. She would grow heavy in that comfort that can only come from Mom.

It is, of course, not true. That was what I was telling myself every time I picked her up. Every time I gently patted her back and bounced her in my arms, I tried to convince myself that this isn’t something that only comes from a mother. It can come from a father. Or grandparent. It comes with love.

It comes with presence. It comes when that child knows that this is the person who is there. This is the person who will always be there. This is her scent. That is her voice.

I don’t remember these things about my mother. She was there when I was little. She was always there but when I was nearly six years older than my sweet baby girl, she died. I have no memory of her scent. I swore I’d remember the sound of her voice. I told myself I couldn’t but I did. It happened faster than I would have ever thought possible, but of course, I was only seven when she died so I didn’t really know what was possible. I thought I knew. I knew more than the adults thought I did but after thirty-three years of feeling this grief, I didn’t know. I couldn’t.

It is the anniversary of her death today. It has been thirty-three years since that day. It seems impossible but it also seems impossible that that same little girl who didn’t sleep last night and didn’t nap much today was determined to crawl across the floor this afternoon. It seems just as impossible that my toddler cleaned up all her toys tonight with only one tiny bit of encouragement. It’s impossible that they will never know their grandmother and I will never quite know how to explain it to them.

When they’re finally old enough to understand that Mommy can have a Mommy, I’ll try.  I’ll try to tell them about the love that I know shushed and patted and cradled me. I’ll do my best but until then I’m going to be amazed by this thing that happens over and over again with my kids. There is so much love around them but it is my embrace they want.

I’d awake with the same fear. I was older but it would shake me from slumber just the same. It was the same except that she was never there. She had died. She was dead. She was never coming back. It wasn’t just a dream. It was real.

It is still real, so real that I don’t know how to respond when my darling girls seek my comfort. I wonder if I should assure them of how much love surrounds them. It’s not just me that loves them. There are so many others but then it doesn’t feel right to push them away. I still crave that comfort, that comfort that only my mother can provide.

That has never gone away.

I don’t know if it ever will.