Pandemic Prayers for Proper 17

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

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

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

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

Gathering into Worship

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

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

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

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 105

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

That’s one option. Here is another.

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

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

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

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

Guided Breath Meditation

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

Let us find a minute
to catch our breath

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

let us breathe in love
breathe out fear

breathe in hope
breathe out every evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastoral Prayer

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

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

Prayer for Kenosha, Wisconsin by Maren Tirabassi

Together We Pray by Salt & Light Media

Litany for Racial Justice by John Carroll (June 2020)

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

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

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 16

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

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

Gathering into Worship

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

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

Call to Worship

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

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

Confession and Assurance

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

Prayer of Confession

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

Assurance of Grace

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

Another Thought

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

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

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

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

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

Backpack Blessings in Coronatide

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

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

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

Tangible Blessings

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

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

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

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

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

Blessing Events

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

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

Backpack Blessings

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

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

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

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

A Pandemic Blessing for New Learning

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings for Parents and Teachers

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

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

A Pandemic Blessing for Teachers

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

Pause to allow everyone to light their candles at home.

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 15

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

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

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

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

Blessings

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

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

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

Prayers for Worship

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

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 133

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

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

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

Prayer of Confession 

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

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

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

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

Stewardship in Coronatide

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

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

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

Pandemic Campaign Materials

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

Together in Joy

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

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

Our Money Story

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

Devoted to Generosity

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

Faithful, Loving, Hoping

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

Books and More Webinars

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

Ask, Thank, Tell

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

Creating Congregations of Generous People

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

Prayers and Blessings

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

Stewardship Blessing

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

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

We give you thanks.

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

We give you thanks.

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

We give you thanks.

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

We give you thanks.

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

We give you thanks. 

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

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

Responsive Stewardship Prayer

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

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

We have received grace, and grace we give.

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

We have received grace, and grace we give.

God, who created the bull and the bear,

teaches us stewardship beyond boasting or fearfulness.

We have received grace, and grace we give.

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

of finances, time, energy and enthusiasm.

We have received grace, and grace we give.

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

God is not broke — God is blessed.

We have received grace, and grace we give.

Other Ideas

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 14

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

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

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

Gathering Together

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

Could worship begin with that wind?

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

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

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

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

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

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 105

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

Prayers of Confession and Assurance

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

Call to Confession 

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

Extended silence.

Words of Assurance

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

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

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

Pandemic Worship Planning Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

Labor Day

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

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

Homecoming Sunday or Rally Day

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

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

World Communion Sunday

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

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

All Saints Day

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

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

A Good Ol’ Fashioned Hymn Sing

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

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

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 13

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

Gathering Together

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

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

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

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

Call to Worship

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

Prayers of the People

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

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

A Pastoral Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 12

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

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

Gathering Together

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

Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Grace

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

Call to Confession

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

Allow for time to breathe.

Assurance of Grace

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

Gospel Lesson

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

Gathering Around the Table

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

Invitation to Table

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

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

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 11

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

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

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

Gathering Together

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

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

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

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

Prayer of Confession and Assurance of Grace

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

Call to Confession

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

Prayer of Confession

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

Assurance of Grace

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

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

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

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