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.

An Expert In My Own Grief

Expert was the word that made me laugh in her email.

I do not feel like an expert in anything. I’ve rather owned that pastors are the last generalists. We dabble in this and that. We have a lot of theological thoughts (hopefully) and some leadership skills. We know a little of this and a little of that. Even when members of our congregation or community assumes we have wisdom in all things, we are more often than not stumbling over the answers like everyone else.

Expert was the word that she used. It was experts that she sought out for her congregation to share in conversation about important topics, like grief. I replied to her email assuring her that I really was not an expert.

She assured me that I was. I am an expert of my own grief. It is an experience that I have had that no one else has had. No one has walked the particular shadow of death I have known. There may be similarities. We may have tripped over the same paths and wandered through the same heartbreak, but no one else can tell me exactly what it was like. It is my experience alone. I am an expert.artworks-000481291728-wv34tk-t500x500

What was even more laughable about her email was the invitation was to appear as a guest on a parenting podcast. Parenting is something I do all day every day, but it is new to me. My peers have teenagers whereas I have a toddler and an infant. I’m looking for experts. I don’t imagine myself as one.

Still, Amelia Richardson Dress was adamant. Amelia is one of the pastors of United Church of Christ Longmont in Colorado and host of this wonderful digital ministry. She’d read something on my blog that led her to believe my wisdom was needed on her congregation’s podcast In Other Words. It is described on the church website in this manner:

Parenting is full of important, funny and sometimes downright awkward conversations. Each week, Amelia Richardson Dress talks with experts about the things that matter when it comes to raising kids. If you’ve ever had a question about sex, race, death or peer pressure sprung on you before your morning coffee, this podcast is for you.

I am most honored to be a part of a ministry that is just so dang innovative. I love the idea of a podcast for adult education whether the topic is parenting or something else. I think this is just brilliant and I hope that sharing a bit of my story helped to spark some important conversations for how we talk about death with children. You can find the episode entitled Grief, Parenting and the Failure of Quick Fixes below.

I’d love to know what you think and how you are attempting to become an expert in your own story. It seems to me that is no easy task.

Prayers for Baptism of Christ Sunday and Epiphany 2C

I attend a church with a super talented and dynamic staff, but as it happens when a lead pastor leaves for a new call, they’re carrying more than they usually do. There’s more work for each and every one of them. I could see it on their faces. It wasn’t obvious but I knew that look in my own eyes when it was me that was feeling overwhelmed in parish ministry. So I asked if I could help and somehow I ended up writing liturgy.

I wrote liturgy for all of Advent and then asked if it would help if I could create bulletins while they search for a new administrator. My heart breaks for them. No administrator? Now? Good grief. So, I kept writing prayers and now I’m formatting bulletins and having a ton of fun doing it.

The following are the prayers I cooked up for the next two Sundays. The first prayer will be Call to Worship and the congregation will be invited to come forward and touch the water. I suggested even having small cups so that people could take a drink, but I don’t know if that will actually happen. There is a sung response between it and the Prayer for the Many Waters.

Prayers for Baptism of Christ Sunday

Gathering Around the Baptismal Font

Adapted from the Call to Celebration for a Baptistry Dedication at Grand Avenue Christian Church (Disciples Of Christ).

One: We are a people of the water!
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like a rain shower, awakens the sleeping seed
within the soul and lures it to blossom.
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like a wading pool, inspires the delight of children, jumping,
splashing, spraying each other, shivering with wet joy.
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like a hot shower after a long day’s work,
cleanses us, reawakens us.
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like little drops, drips from fingertips to forehead;
like a great depth, in which to sink in and immerse our entire body.
Many: Through the waters of baptism, the family of faith always,
lovingly, makes room for one more.
One: And so, God makes room for us by inviting us again and again to remember the gift of water. Come and touch the water to remember God’s love for you.

Prayer for the Many Waters

Awesome God, we thank you for the water in our bath tubs and sinks.
We thank you for the water that rains from the sky and the water inside our bodies. We thank you for rivers and lakes and Barton Springs.
We thank you for oceans and ponds full of fish, turtles and frogs.
We give thanks for the gift of water. May water always remind us
of your love. Amen.

Prayers for Epiphany 2C

Call to Worship

One: Your steadfast love, O God, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds that rain
down the blessing of water upon our heads.
Many: How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
One: There is wonder and mystery for all the people
that you invite to drink from the river of your delights.
Many: You are the fountain of our lives.
One: You pour out your blessings.You bring us to overflowing.
Many: We worship you in wonder and love.

Prayer to Open Our Hearts

Today, O Holy One, we might not feel like there are miracles all around.
We might not feel like there are things to celebrate or wonders to behold.
We might feel like there is nothing we can do with our gifts, our services or even
our activities for the common good. Still, Holy One, gather all our doubts and wonders into this hour and fill us like jars of water. May we be changed
in our wondering about you and your love, we pray. Amen.

If you use these prayers as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear about any adaptations you make for your context and hear how it goes.

Tell the Children

I sat there with my daughter in my lap turning the pages. Matt de la Pena’s book Love was sent to me by my cousin. She said it reminded her of me. So my heart was already in my throat reading this beautiful poem to my daughter.

And then, I turned the page and saw the family gathered around the television. Some were sitting on the couch. Others had their mouths gaping open. They couldn’t sit. They could only stare.

I sobbed. I couldn’t help it.

I couldn’t hold it back.

I remember when it was the bombing in Oklahoma City on that TV screen. I remember looking into the eyes of my parents as we watched rescue workers try to save the little children. I remember watching bombs explode in bright colors when war began in Afghanistan and I argued with another college student about the costs of war. He thought it was just. It was right. They deserved it. I wondered who was caught in the wake of such arrogance. And, of course, I remember this day.

I remember seventeen years ago when it was my boss and family friend that called me in the middle of the afternoon to tell me to turn on the TV. He couldn’t say anything more. He just told me to turn on the TV.

Alone, in his London home where I was that summer dog-sitting for these family friends, I watched the towers fall. I watched dark angels leap from buildings in the city that will always be my home.

There was no one to embrace. No one else to offer words. No small human that I had to then explain what we were seeing upon that screen. Then, I only needed to make sense of it in my own mind and even that is impossible.

It still feels impossible but I remember. I remember going back to New York City only one week later. I remember taking the train into the city and going downtown to infuse Lower Manhattan with love even if all we were doing was going to dinner. I remember the dust that still hung in the air and the heaps of flowers and candles on the sidewalk outside every single fire station. I remember the smiling faces posted on subway walls and chain link faces with the words MISSING hanging above their heads.

And I remember when those deaths were slowly confirmed. They were my friend’s parents. They were not strangers, they were friends.

It has been said enough that this day changed the world. I don’t want to say that. I don’t want to be that what we say to each other about this day, but I want us to talk about it.

This morning, I was with a group of moms who are mostly much younger than I am. I had just graduated from college. They were in elementary school and so we remember this day very differently. I was newly ordained and leading one of my first Confirmation classes when I first realized that there are young people that don’t remember this day. They can’t say where they were. They can’t say much about it at all because their parents thought they were too young.

It was better to protect them.

It was better not to say anything about this thing that changed everything.

That was what I was told when September 11 fell on a Sunday. I wasn’t supposed to say anything. I was to say anything else but I wasn’t to breathe a word to our children about what happened this day. It was explained to me that they might not know. Their parents might not have told them.

It was a silence that I knew. I have known. It’s one that I’ve been struggling to write about as I try to remember what was said to me after my mother died. They thought it was better not to talk about this terrible thing that had changed everything. It was better not to talk about the thing that was on all our minds, they thought, but it’s not true.

It’s not better. It’s just easier.

It’s easier not to talk about the hard things that make us hide under pianos. That’s the illustration on the following page. I knew that kid. I would have been him if I could have it under our piano. I hid in other places. I cried where grownups couldn’t see. I kept my heartbreak all to myself because Mommy would want me to smile. That’s what they said. That’s what they told me. She’d want me to be happy.

It would be easier for the publisher to cut that page because it’s too much. It’s too much for everyone but that child that is actually hiding under the piano because the grownups can’t see his pain. Maybe they don’t want to. Maybe they can’t, but that doesn’t make it any easier for that kid.

It’s why Matt de la Pena wrote Love and it is why I’m spending hours during nap time trying to write down my story. He says it so well in a recent essay in Time:

There’s a power to seeing this largely unspoken part of our interior lives represented, too. And for those who’ve yet to experience that kind of sadness, I can’t think of a safer place to explore complex emotions for the first time than inside the pages of a book, while sitting in the lap of a loved one.

There is a power to being seen in words and pictures. There is a power to those stories being told because they changed us. Because everything changed in that moment and it needs to be said out loud. It needs to be said loud enough for our children to hear.

To Be Regular in Worship (Or Not)

In the middle of Advent, I joined a church.

It was important to me. I wanted to do it. I’m already a member of another church where I never get to attend worship, but I read their newsletter and pray for their ministry. We’ve moved too faraway for regular worship to be possible and I’ve wanted to find someplace to be known. I’ve wanted some place close by to belong. And so, I met with the pastor of my local United Church of Christ and expressed my desire to join this small tribe and waited until this day when it could finally happen. Even so, it felt strange.

It felt odd to stand in front of this lovely group of people and makes these promises I’ve so often asked others to make. Repeating baptismal vows should be so shaky. Not just for those who stand before the congregation to say they will, but for those seated and listening, it’s another chance as the church calendar changes and the birth of Christ comes to wonder if we’ve really done these things or if we need to promise to start anew.

To say again that I’m ready “to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as best I am able.” It comes as a question. Or a series of questions to which I can’t help but stand a little taller each time I say “I will, with the help of God.”

Yes, I want to grow in this faith. Please help me grow. It’s why I’m doing this thing. It’s why I’m joining another church because I want to grow. Ore than that, I want my little girl to grow into this faith. It’s why I’m repeating these words. I want to be changed by this group of people in this place where we try together to celebrate Christ’s presence.

I want this. I’m ready for this. It’s why I pushed the pastor for a day to join but it feels a bit different the moment I stand there before all those people with my baby strapped to my stomach snoring soundly. It’s different and I’m not sure why.

I still get excited. I feel my chest soar and my back arch as I repeat these questions I’ve asked so many times of others. I remember all of them in that moment — every fourteen year old kid who sat in my office weeks before their Confirmation while we tried to figure out what these questions meant not just in the liturgy but for them at this moment, every one of the kids that couldn’t get onboard with these questions and refused to be confirmed much to dismay of their parents, every soul that came looking to serve and every broken heart that needed community. I knew every one of their stories when they answered those questions. I knew what had brought them to make these promises and why it was a big deal.

I also knew what scared them. I knew how many of them hadn’t been around church for awhile. They’d been hurt by the church somehow and they wanted to be sure that this congregation wasn’t going to repeat those wrongs. Maybe it was that that felt odd for me. Maybe I felt in that moment the weight of all of those worries add concerns. Maybe. But it seems it hit me most when that last question was posed. The one that asks if we will be regular in worship which I cannot quote correctly because I can’t even find my Book of Worship anywhere, yet I heard this question and I gulped. I wondered if I could answer it or if I should just sit back down in the back row.

It’s this question that has tripped up nearly everyone of whom I’ve helped to make these promises. It’s this question that I’ve interpreted again and again in each and every new member class. To every group of people at every church I’ve been careful with these words because I know that attendance in worship is changing. Though I would be there every Sunday as their pastor, I might only see these faithful people once or twice a week and that would still be considered regular. I never bemoaned them this, it’s just that I never imagined that I’d become one of them.

It hit me then. It has been more than a year since I’ve been anyone’s pastor. I’ve missed Sundays. I’ve slept in. I went to brunch before I’d had this baby in my arms. Now it was the question of whether or not I’d slept that night that decided my Sunday plans if I could even remember what day of the week it was. I wasn’t going to be a weekly worshipper. I was going to choose family time over church sometimes. Or I might simply choose not to drive the 40 minutes and go someplace closer. All of that interpreting I’d done for others on recognizing their own rhythms and staying attune to what their family needed to know the love of God was about me and my family.

It felt strange. Maybe it should always feel a little odd to make these promises, but it’d never felt this strange. All of the many times I’ve answered these questions before it felt radical. It felt like something was changing. Something g was shifting and that somehow, together, we were going to change things and it would be good. I’ve felt that each time I’ve stood beside others as they’ve made these promises with the waters of baptism glistening on their foreheads.

I’ve even felt it as I’ve flung water from evergreen sprigs into the pews full of bewildered people. The questions always seemed important. It felt like it was important to weigh each word and understand each enormous promise we were making. But, on that Sunday In Advent with my baby cuddled close to my heart, it didn’t feel like the questions mattered as much as my answers. All I know now is that it will be different. It will be different than it ever was before.

Silent Prayers for All Saints Day

As #metoo trends on social media, and stories that have been kept as secrets are spoken aloud, I’m keenly feeling the hurt and trauma that has made so many quiet for so many years. The resounding chorus that seems to lash out in response to say “you’re doing it wrong” or even worse “I don’t believe you” makes these conversations unsafe, even terrifying.

Terror brings more silence. It breaks relationship and isolates those that tried to tell their truth.

A response is necessary. It’s important, but at moments like these, I find myself wondering how we listen more than what we say. Perhaps, when fires have charred the earth in the Pacific Northwest and California and hurricanes have wreaked havoc upon the people of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and God only knows where else, we would do better not to explain or rationalize but simply to listen. To listen for what God might say about these things.

And so, I’ve been thinking about this liturgy I wrote last year — one with song and silence that I created to solve the problem of what to do without a church musician. I’ve adapted that liturgy here for All Saints Day because it feels that as we remember the saints — and even find the courage to believe that we ourselves are saints — we need a bit more silence to grasp the holy mystery that God invites us to enter every day.

It doesn’t name explicitly the context I’ve just offered. I struggled to write words for a prayer of intercession, but I’m not sure there are words that speak to what I’d hope this worship experience might offer. Depending upon the congregation, I might adapt this with an invitation to worship or I might add a prayer that speaks more concretely to the hurt and confusion that so many are feeling right now.

The full liturgy follows below. It requires only a tiny bit of preparation including gathering all of the candles you can find in the church and arranging them around the communion table. Provide a couple tapers or some other source of lighting candles for the middle of the service. You’ll also need a bell. A youth might be recruited to do this, but be careful that it is not a joyful ringing but a more somber affair.

Opening Words from Revelation 7:9-12

Offered by Worship Leader, read from preferred Biblical translation

Shared Silence for the Great Multitude

Offered by Worship Leader or printed in the bulletin

No one could count the number of people from every nation and tribe, these people came robed in white, speaking different languages to sing their praises to God. Find yourself, seated right where you are, in that great multitude and wonder what might make you feel like singing of the glory, wisdom, blessing or power of God at this moment.

Prayer of Invocation

Offered by Worship Leader

Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!

Holy One, from your throne or just seated here beside us, we invite you to come close to hear the hopes and prayers on our hearts. Come to hear what we have dared to speak aloud and what is so heavy upon our hearts that we’ve retreated into silence, refusing to utter one world. Come to listen. Come to pray with us on this day, with all of your saints at the table you have prepared for us, so that we might hear more than our own thoughts and ideas, more than our own good intentions and pearls of wisdom, more than our own confessions and truths, but to hear from you in the quiet.

In the silence, Holy One, let us spend more time listen more than we speak. Let us strain our voices to sing of your glory, wisdom and power and let the silence settle again so that we might listen for your response. Let us listen for your grace.

Ring bell three times.

Prayer for Presence (Unison)

Holy One, what we will be has not yet been revealed.
What we do know is this: you are here. You are listening.
Let us become fully present to your glory, your wisdom,
your power and your blessing.

Ring bell once.

Shared Silence for Presence

Hymn In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful

Reading from 1 John 3:1-3

Prayer of Confession (Unison)

O God, we struggle to keep silent. We crave a quiet place away from the busyness of the world, but even as we grant ourselves that space, it is hard to slow down, to see what your love has given us, to believe that we could be your saints. Saints are patient, brave and true. They toiled and fought and lived and died for the love they found in you, but we’re not so sure that same glory will be revealed in our own lives. We do not feel like your children, never mind your saints. Our mouths are too big. Our words are too pointed. Forgive us, O God. Come into this silence so that we might hear from you. Turn us away, this day, from our doubts and our criticisms. Let us hear you speak to us words of love and life. Help us to choose that blessing from you rather than the curses we place upon ourselves.

Shared Silence for Confession

Words of Assurance (Responsive)

Through every silence, may we hear this blessing:
In Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

Hymn A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing

Reading from Matthew 5:1-12

Ringing of the Bells

Offered by Worship Leader

Ring bell once.

Jesus saw the crowds, the great multitude robed in white, wanting to sing their praises and offer blessings yet unspoken. From high up on the mountaintop, Jesus gave them words for their praise, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are those who mourn…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are the meek…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are the merciful…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are the pure in heart…

Ring bell once.

Blessed are the peacemakers…

Ring bell three times.

Where Jesus speaks, we are silent, ever uncertain how to name aloud the blessed saints that have graced our lives and changed this world. They are the peacemakers, the merciful and the meek in whose company we hope to be. We invite their memory and even their presence into this place by lighting candles not only to remember the blessing they have been but to remember the blessing we hope to be revealed in us.

Invite the great multitude to come forward and light candles for the saints in silence. After all have returned to their seats, ring the bell three times.

Hymn We Sing for All the UnSung Saints

Shared Silence for Holy Communion

begin with a bare table
put table-cloth on the communion table
bring up Bible
take, hold up and show congregation, place on table
bring up candles
place on table and light
bring up cross
take, hold up and show congregation, place on table
bring up loaf
take, hold up and show congregation
hold hand over loaf as sign of blessing
hold loaf up high and tear it in two
bring up wine and chalice
take, hold up and show congregation, place on table
pour wine from chalice into cup
hold hand over chalice as sign of blessing
hold up bread and wine
quietly say: “As our Savior taught us, together we pray:”

Prayer of our Savior

Sharing of the Bread and Cup

Shared Silence for Thanksgiving

Hymn For All the Saints

Closing Words from Revelation 7:13-17

Benediction (Unison)

Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honor and power
and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!

If you use this liturgy in your worship or even a single prayer as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear how you use this service — especially if you choose alternate hymns or make other tweaks for your congregation.