The talented pastor at Old First United Church of Christ in Philadelphia had this great idea to focus the celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the third Sunday in January (which appears to be sooner than I’d like to admit) on a reflection of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
I promised I would gather him some resources because I’m eager to help but Michael likes to write his own things so I’m only offering fragments here that he can piece together on his own. Still, you might be interested in using these too as we celebrate the life of such an inspirational man. There are some lovely tributes including this one from the Dalai Lama and this one from the National Civil Rights Museum. Most others reminded tweet-size like this one by Bernice King. (And I just love the picture she chose.)
Forgiveness was, of course, a big theme in his books and so this Prayer Before the Prayer that the Archbishop shared on his Facebook page in 2014 might be an important prayer to share as we commit again to truth and reconciliation. Another prayer that might be highlighted in your worship is this Prayer for the Children of God by the Archbishop. He did publish An African Prayer Book though I can’t find any prayers from it in the public domain. I really like this prayer entitled Disturb Us O Lord as a confession that seems to speak to the injustices that both Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King Jr. worked so hard against in their lifetimes — and hopefully it is justice work we are committed to continuing even if we need a little reminder and nudge to keep going. I really hoped to find a prayer from his funeral earlier this week but I can’t seem to locate one in my search. There is, however, this prayer Grieving Archbishop Desmond Tutu by Maren Tirabassi.
I struggled to find more information about this composition by James Whitbourn from 2004 entitled A Prayer of Desmond Tutu. I can only surmise that was written to be performed by the choristers of Westminster Abbey on Commonwealth Day. The text is written by the Archbishop though. I did find that. It appears that you can purchase sheet music for this original composition here if your choir is feeling ambitious though there are several versions on YouTube that come with the caveat that streaming from YouTube is not a good idea.
The last piece I found for your worship celebrating this wonderful man is this collaboration with John Bell entitled Goodness is Stronger Than Evil. It is published in the United Methodist’s The Faith We Sing so there is a complete history here. Hymnary also indicates in the new Presbyterian Hymnal Glory to God that includes an audio recording that can be purchased from Hymnary here.
That’s all I have got right now. I’m praying for you, as always.
Please also share what words from the Archbishop you might share in your worship celebrations. There is an abundance of goodness and I’d be curious to hear what you choose from his writings.
Maybe as the calendar turns to a new year, you finally got that video editor lined up. You have an increased tech crew even if they are volunteers — but they are faithful and you are no longer troubleshooting all of this technology alone. Dear pastor, this is something to celebrate.
It can be more challenging to find weekly worship resources where you don’t feel like you are starting from scratch every week. It has become increasingly popular to share in the gifts of creatives who are creating music, art, poetry and prayers to tie a whole season together.
There is lots of goodness out there and I want to be sure that you have all of these wonderful gifts at the tips of your fingers for Lent or future planning. I confess to you that I have never used any of these materials as a congregational leader but have witnessed some of their wonder as a worshipper.
Sanctified Art is the first of these kind of package deals that I ever came across. Lots of my dear clergy friends use them and that’s enough of an endorsement for me — but I’ve been delighted to experience their gifts this Advent with my sweet Texas church.
It’s really lovely stuff for a team that describes itself with “dreams to fill the Church with more art, inspiration, creativity, and God-breathed mystery.” Each season, they offer a new theme with original music, poetry, prayers, a printable devotional, sermon starters and graphics. There is even a preacher’s group that meets digitally every week! They are just about to release their newest resources for Lent but you can see the whole catalog of wonders for Lent here. They call their packages bundles and they come in all different shapes and sizes for the needs of every congregation.
Illustrated Ministry is another that has been around for a while. I watched on social media as its founder, Adam Walker Cleveland, began doodling at conferences and soon imagined this whole new ministry. Their resources are not as comprehensive as other packages mostly because they are thinking more about faith formation at home.
That shouldn’t be a strike against them though — because the creativity and thoughtfulness that goes into each of their products is truly wonderful. They don’t offer complete packages like some of these other creative efforts but they do provide really thoughtful materials to engage the inner creativity of every age. All of their resources for Lent can be found here.
This is the Day just launched in the middle of Advent — which seems bold and audacious for two United Church of Christ pastors in a busy, busy season. And that’s exactly what their resources seem to be with a seven week womanist series unlike anything I’ve seen in other packages. They don’t have anything that is particularly designed for Lent yet but these packages are priced so well that it would be well worth your time to check back and see what more wonders appear in their shop.
Barn Geese Worship is another new collaboration among some talented Lutherans. Their good work first caught my eye because they’re funny. They play with the geese theme in such silly and delightful ways.
That creativity extends to the kind of worship curation they share. Like the other packages listed here, they offer special prayers, preaching prompts and hymn suggestions. Unlike the other resources, their good work in available through the Creative Commons License and simply asks of a donation for their many gifts. They are set to release their Lent materials called You Are Here on December 27th. In the meantime, there is a compelling invitation into the series on their homepage.
Update: As planned, the materials for Lent released today but these talented Lutherans also announced the arrival of their new Market Stall. With this new store feature, they are moving into a paid model for their resources — and at very reasonable prices including a discounted rate for clergy of smaller churches that are paying for these assets out of their own funds. So their previous materials are all free but their newer resources including You Are Here is now a paid resource.
enfleshed is unlike any other of these packages and if I’m honest — they are where I’d put my congregational dollars.
All of their liturgical resources are centered on justice-making and body centered. They seek “to create and facilitate ‘spiritual nourishment for collective liberation‘” — and that is where we all need to be right now.
Theirs are prayers that push me and challenge me in all of the right ways though I confess I’ve never had reason or ability to subscribe to liturgy that matters. They don’t have all of the bells and whistles of other packages here. There’s no art or poetry nor are there any musical suggestions but they have a full liturgy for each week and a set of sermon prompts that I can only imagine how good they would be.
Worship Design Studio by the talented Marcia McFee is a long-time favorite of clergy though I’ve never used it myself.
It’s been many things over the years but always been a reliable resource for creative resources for clergy.
It has gone a recent renovation perhaps because Marcia has been busy teaching at San Francisco Theological Seminary. WDS 3.0 is “NOW a private social community platform! You are never alone. You never have to start from scratch.” It’s a flat fee for the whole year but has a ton of perks for this one-time purchase.
SALT Project has been doing digital ministry long before the pandemic. They have been crafting Emmy-winning films that have caught the eye of many clergy so you might already know of their good work including their recent launch of the Theologian’s Almanac to offer weekly commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary over on their blog.
They also don’t offer all of the bells and whistles for your worship planning but they do offer wonderful gifts to inspire a series for the season in their printable resources. They are a resources I have turned to again and again as a pastor and a parent.
Brim Project is a collaboration of a church musician and “self-professed Worship Junkie.” They first created a book together by the same name which led to this expanding ministry of resources for churches of all shapes and sizes.
I bet there are other talented souls offering packages to inspire worship. What did I miss? Where else do you turn for inspiration and guidance so you don’t feel like you’re constantly innovating all by yourself, dear pastor?
And yes, I write prayers too but we are in this together — and we need each other. We need each other more than ever.
I was busy updating my favorite poems for Christmas Eve when a colleague posted about permission for a beloved Christmas poem she hoped to use Christmas Eve. It was just another one of those reminders that pastors, like you dear one, are juggling so much right now. You’re not just crafting worship but tending to all of the legalities that might exist around every bit of artistic inspiration you might use.
I use a lot of poetry on the highest of holy days to give new meaning and insight to our hearing of those more familiar stories from scripture — but this season is busy enough. You don’t need to chase down permissions for the rest of Advent. You need to print the bulletin, assemble the slides and move onto the next thing. So I’m giving another option for Christmas Eve that doesn’t require chasing down permissions. Everything is either public domain or permission has been granted for this purpose by the artist. Credit should be given to the artists those attributions are at the very end of the liturgy. It will require you to click through to find these things in other places because I did very little actual writing for this liturgy — and my colleagues in the United Church of Christ are just so dang talented.
The liturgy follows the Proper II for Christmas Eve because I never, ever choose it and I wondered what it might look like to use these lessons. It’s a lot of scripture because I think that scripture tells it best — and I wanted there to be a push toward Howard Thurman’s The Work of Christmas, which is my very favorite Christmas poem and how I like to conclude every Christmas Eve service but it’s not public domain.
I did find that Bosco Peters wrote a hymn with the poem text so that might be an option if you’re interested in introducing a new song on Christmas — though after a long season of not singing together and that thing where we don’t sing carols in Advent, people are likely to want to only sing carols. Maren Tirabassi also has this improv poem inspired by Thurman’s beloved words. Or you might swap out Michelle’s candle lighting for this simple Advent candle lighting also by Maren. Especially if you are using the Prayers of the People I offer, it might be worth doing the whole thing where the Advent candles are slowly lit in this service. It might need to be shortened a bit for that to work but it’s a really lovely option.
Carol: O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Invitation to WorshipInspired by Psalm 97
We lift our voices
with all of creation
in praise and wonder
for all that will be
born this night.
We are listening
to all that can change
and all that will change
with this birth.
Light will dawn
and there will be
rejoicing on the coastlands
and way up high in the mountains.
The landscape of our imagination
will shift and it will be glorious.
It is this change that we have
been waiting for. We have been
waiting so long.
Prayer for the LightInspired by Psalm 97
It could happen
like this where
a tiny spark changes
Tonight, O God,
by this feeding trough
for the sounds
of little ones
to keep quiet,
that it could
we have prayed
for could begin
with one light
that is shared
again and again
and again. May
it be so tonight.
This is the big moment — and it deserves more than four voices in a choral reading. Consider adding sung responses to each bit of good news that is shared from beloved carols like Hark the Herald Angels Sing or The First Noel. Or move pieces of a nativity set into place as the readers share the story. (This would work on Zoom too if you focus the camera on a central spot and move the figures slowly toward that spot. This reading could also be easily shared by four readers in different households on Zoom.) It may even work to have the readers in costume as they read. For copyright reasons, I didn’t alter the text but I really want to make it inclusive.
Heralds of Good News in Four VoicesFrom the Voice TranslationFirst Voice
Nearby, in the fields outside of Bethlehem,
a group of shepherds were guarding their flocks
from predators in the darkness of night. Suddenly
a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them,
and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—
the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!
Don’t be afraid! Listen!
I bring good news, news of great joy,
news that will affect all people everywhere.
Today, in the city of David, a Liberator
has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One,
the Supreme Authority! You will know you have found Him
when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket,
lying in a feeding trough.
At that moment, the first heavenly messenger
was joined by thousands of other messengers—
a vast heavenly choir. They praised God.
To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God!
And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God!
As soon as the heavenly messengers disappeared into heaven,
the shepherds were buzzing with conversation.
Let’s rush down to Bethlehem right now! Let’s see what’s happening! Let’s experience what the Lord has told us about!
So they ran into town, and eventually they found
Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the feeding trough.
After they saw the baby, they spread the story of what
they had experienced and what had been said to them about this child. Everyone who heard their story couldn’t stop thinking about its meaning. Mary, too, pondered all of these events,
treasuring each memory in her heart.
The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God
for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God
for the way the experience had unfolded just
as the heavenly messenger had predicted.
Carol: Joy to the World
For this next moment in worship, I imagine each person is given a globe stress ball or eraser or whatever palm-sized globe you can find in bulkwith the current supply chain issues.If that’s not possible, maybe just a small coloring page of the globe would work with some crayons. You will want to edit the italicized directions based on what you find and also edit the OR in the Christmas Prayers.
Imagining the Joythe World Needs
Joy to the world! And this world needs joy.
In another pandemic year, there is so much
isolation and loneliness. We have seen how far
we are willing to go to take care of each other.
We have felt the earth weep from climate devastation
and have witnessed the acceptance of words like "Black lives matter"
and even "Love wins" even when violence toward black, brown and queer bodies continues. This world needs more joy --
the joy that we have seen and heard with the shepherds.
Tonight you hold the world in your hands
and it is your joy to imagine
how you will begin the work of Christmas
to repeat the sounding joy of this good news.
What kind of joy can you imagine for this world this year?
What can your hands do to bring hope to hurting people?
Ponder these questions, like Mary, as music playssoftly in the background. Sharpies might be providedto write a word representing your intention on theglobe. Or you might ponder the joy the world needsin color with the crayons provided.
it has happened again.
We have heard your good news
and just begun to imagine
your liberation and hope.
We have heard the familiar chorus
of the angels singing of peace.
We have considered your world
and all the joy it needs.
Like shepherds, we are cautious
about this news and approach your possibility slowly,
illuminating the shadows of this world with one candle,
and then another, and another, and another...
until we light your candle, O Emmanuel.
In your candle, O Christ,
we see your face shining upon us,
We see the miracle of our own light
shining through the hopes and fears of all the years.
That candle reminds us that there is work
to do toward your liberation and peace.
It is a hope that you ask us
to share with our hearts and hands
even when we are still pondering
these great mysteries in our hearts.
Help us to shine
and to announce peace,
to encourage joy,
and to share the love that begins –
but does not end –
in this small child
in a feeding trough.
May this love be felt
especially by the sick and hospitalized...
May this love reach
around the grieving and broken-hearted...
May this love inspire us
all to bring justice and peace to...
May love carry each of us
and encourage us to hope
through all that we do not understand
and all that we dare to dream
and may we find ourselves, like the shepherds,
so excited about this good news
that we can't stop thinking about
it's meaning and how this good news
might change how we live.
We carry the world
with us in our pockets
OR folded up in our wallets
to reminds us that this good news
repeats with our sounding joy.
Bless us, O Christ,
with possibility and
understanding. Wrap us
up in your love and
encourage us to grow
with you in the work
of liberation and peace.
Carol: Silent Night
Carry your light
into the world to bring
joy where it needed.
Bring the love
of this newborn child
into the whole wide world
so that all might see
their own image in God's glory.
This child was born
for you. It was born
for the hope of this whole world.
God is with us. Alleluia! Alleluia!
The Prayer of Invocation is by Eliza Tweedy. The Lighting of the Christ Candle and What it Was: A Christmas Poem are both written by Michelle Torigian. Used by permission with deep gratitude.
I know that this platform has made it very difficult to copy and paste for some. In the new year, I’m contemplating moving these prayers entirely to my newsletter on Substack. Or it may become a separate newsletter. I haven’t quite decided this but I’m troubleshooting as best I can. I offer this complete service for free download here.
I offer no instructions for Silent Night because I think you know what to do there. It’s everyone’s favorite moment and it simply requires some candles safely distributed within the gathered body. The blessing could be done in the dark or the lights could come up a little. Again, you know this part well.
I want there to be other rituals on Christmas Eve than gathering around the table. That’s me. I know I’m weird on this one so I didn’t include a communion service but you might opt for this one by Thom Shuman. His words at Lectionary Liturgies are ones that I’ve turned to often in my imagination of what worship could be again and again.
As Christmas comes again, I’m praying for you, dear pastor.
I missed a week. I didn’t mean to do so even as I tried to plan ahead for another Pentecost in Coronatide. I still missed a week. Two weeks if you saw what I offered for Pentecost and thought it had nothing even remotely related to what might happen on Sunday morning on Zoom. I feel like I’m missing a lot of things right now.
It will happen on Trinity Sunday that we shall depart for our overseas move. We shall board a series of planes until we finally arrive in our new home in Germany. I will feel like we don’t have enough masks. I will be on edge about how often my almost two year old rips off her mask. And yes, I know that the guidance is that she’s too young to wear one but I need some comfort in knowing that she can wear one as we fly overseas.
I fear I will miss again in this faithful practice because I do not know what awaits us on the other side. I do not know if I should write prayers into the weeks ahead or if those words will fail to speak to the moment because everything is changing so fast. I imagine, dear pastor, that you are feeling this weight too. You are trying to navigate how to plan and lead when everything is changing. There is your own sanity and then there is the concern for the children sitting on the chancel steps. You are praying as much as you ever have in this pandemic nightmare as you try to be patient and kind with every vaccinated boomer who assumes their status is the norm. I pray you’ve found the work of the Wisconsin Council of Churches with their guidance for this moment. If not, please check out Love Builds Up and share it with your leadership.
I cannot imagine the dance you are doing, dear pastor, but I know that you are doing it with faith and love. You are preaching the gospel sometimes even with words. You are living it. You are loving just as you have done for more than a year. I hope you know that my prayers continue even when I fail to post. We are all doing what we can and sometimes I have to admit that I cannot do it all. (I am not good at this. Like at all.)
I wonder if this week you were to write a letter to Nicodemus as my friend Claudio Carvalhaes does on Working Preacher. Because I’m guessing that you too need a break. You, dear pastor, have found yourself without words. You are looking for something meaningful and powerful but you have so little left. Or maybe exactly because of this fact you need for the words of this letter not to come from you so that worship this week builds toward your people writing letters to Nicodemus.
Rachel Hackenberg has this wonderful book on Writing to God. It’s snippets from her work that I offer here as a suggestion to you in how you might structure this sacred time to ponder the wonder of the Trinity. She offers a free Small Group Study Guide for Lent that I’ve selected bits and pieces from to make this service come together. My copy of the book is regrettably packed in some box being shipped over the Atlantic Ocean so I cannot offer anything from its pages but I hope you’ll order a copy for your small groups this summer. I can almost guarantee that there would be something to use related to the particular passages for the day in this small tome. Or to use for the next time that you don’t have words of your own.
Call to Worship
Inspired by John 3:1-17
We come without
words to explain
or what we dare
to hope will come.
We come needing
words to explain
how these things
can be. We need
of what it means
for us to know
The wind has blown
and it will blow again.
We hear its sound
and feel its force
but we do not know
where it will lead.
We can only notice
another grey hair
and another wrinkle
from the stress
of this long year.
Bring us together, O God,
to find that you are giving
us words. Very truly, you
will give us ways to
these things can be.
Adapted from Rachel Hackberg's Small Group Study Guide for Lent
In the middle of the night, a leader of the Jews called Nicodemus came to Jesus looking for answers. There were things that he wanted to know, things that he couldn't understand and hoped that this teacher from God could help him. He called him Teacher and waited for his response.
After night turned to morning light, we come to find answers. Our emotions are high as they may have been for Nicodemus that night. We come to find words for all that we are feeling right now. Together, we will take two minutes to each write a few sentences to describe one of our emotional responses to Jesus. Pick the emotion that feels most powerful. You might begin, “I admire Jesus, because...” or you might choose, "I am frustrated with Jesus, because..."
When we have each had time to find words for emotions, you will be invited to share a word or phrase in the chat box from your meditation.
This is not a complete service with all of the details that you might include but I do wonder about using Nicodemus by Malcolm Guite as an introduction to the Gospel Lesson. Perhaps another bit of writing would add inspiration to this meditation though words.
Adapted from Rachel Hackberg's Small Group Study Guide for Lent
Having heard how the good news is shared in the Gospel of John, we pick up our pen and paper again to allow words to flow however they might come in lists or poetry, prose or epistle in response to this prompt: “Now is not the time.” Dare to direct your words to the Holy Three in One. Tell God what is most on your heart.
When we have each had time to find words for how this can be, you will again be invited to share a word or phrase in the chat box from your meditation.
My friend Erica Schemper offers this inspiring Prayers of the People for Trinity Sunday inspired by St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Or you might opt for a Responsive Pastoral Prayer that picks up on the beloved refrain in this favorite hymn. I want there to be a way to connect all of these words offered in personal meditation especially for those who do not find words to come easily. I wonder if using a popcorn prayer might work to gather all of this together.
Prayers of the People
Inspired by John 3:1-17
Holy is what
we long to name
in our own words.
Holy, Holy, Holy,
Our God Almighty,
we have stumbled
what is possible
and even how
to name your
It has felt like
this isn't the time for...
And we are aware
that there are things
that we have not
found words to express
how these things
can be. Our words
are not enough
to name your
glory and grace.
We come close in
naming that Christ Jesus is...
But there is more
to your power. There
is more to your being
than what sustains us
in Christ Jesus.
We pray, Holy One,
that you will fill
in the silences
between our words
and surprise us
like a wild goose
into the great blue skies.
Surprise us again
in your infinite grace.
Disrupt what we
assume must be
with what could be
with the blowing
winds of hope and change.
Holy, Holy, Holy,
Our God Almighty,
we pray in your many names.
Last, but not least, I loved this Benediction in the Time of the Pandemic for this Sunday last year. These are the words that I need to hear right now. These are the words that I hope will carry us all. Though if you use an Amen refrain like the one above, that might be where you end. That is all the benediction that is needed before virtual coffee hour.
That’s all I’ve got for you, dear pastor. As you prepare worship this week, please know that I am praying for you. I am praying for you so much.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Twigs and sticks
Matches, lighter or other tool to start fire
Large pitcher full of water
Large vessel like a bowl
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.