Pandemic Pentecost Affirmations

I read this morning that there are more churches closing in the wake of the pandemic. I have seen the reports about attendance and listened to how hard it is to wait in that Zoom room for anyone to join the room.

The church will be forever changed by this pandemic. We will be forever changed.

I hesitate to name what those changes are. It feels too soon. We do not know enough.

In the United States, only 50 percent of the population is vaccinated. Only half. And at the same time the White House is working toward sending over eighty million vaccines to be used throughout our global community to end this pandemic. I pray you’ll continue this effort by supporting the People’s Vaccine. You can learn more here.

We are not there yet but it is important to find space to name aloud where we are feeling called. Pentecost came and went. You celebrated with cake and streamers and even kites. We find ourselves now in that long season after Pentecost when we look for the green sprouts of new growth. We hear familiar stories and remember what matters most — and maybe we even dream.

I know that is hard when looking at the balance sheet. I know it is harder when looking at the empty pews and mourning for so many lives lost in just one year. Our faith proclaims that from death comes new life. It is a bold claim and it is not always easy to claim such boldness so I thought it might help to catch a little of energy from Pentecost and carry it into this moment with Pandemic Pentecost Affirmations.

It’s an adaptation from something you have seen before. During Lent, I offered a simple free printable on Pandemic Easter Affirmations. I have also shared my favorite affirmations because these are words I need to repeat to myself when I am not sure about the future. It felt like something that needed for this moment when so much is uncertain about the future. The changes that have come in this past year have been so fast that I wonder how it is possible to process all that has changed. I wonder if that’s part of why we so often hear that desire to return to normal? Normal might not exist but we crave comfort. We yearn for the the familiar. We struggle when the tiniest things have changed in the traditions of our church and this year has pronounced their end. You know, dear pastor, that it’s not enough to make a bold claim and move on. It has to live in our bodies. It has to wander through our prayers and become part of who we are.

We need to find words to speak to this moment of who we have become and find ways to express what it is we believe the church could be. Our words will not be the same but if we listen to this gift of tongues then we may find the hope we need for the days ahead.

You might use the workshop model I suggested here for the Easter season to gather these affirmations to carry the congregation through the growing season or they might just be something that is used with the leadership board to open your next meeting. You could use it with the youth in the next time you gather on Zoom and share their vision in worship the following Sunday or maybe it’s something to bring to your weekly Bible Study after reading Acts 2 together.

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.

I know, too, that there are words you are trying to find for this week. I am not fast enough in my prayer to speak to more gun violence in San Jose and the anniversary of George Floyd’s death but where I fail Maren Tirabassi always has words. Her prayer for San Jose and her prayer for May 25, 2021 both spoke to my heart. We are carried by each other, dear pastor. Alleluia. Alleluia.

An Affirmation of Faith for Texas

Dear pastors, I hope and pray that you have someone in your life that you can call to say you have no words.

You have a draft of a sermon and this week has been another beast so it feels like you should say something, but the words aren’t coming easily. I hope you have someone to call who hears this and nods knowingly through that little FaceTime screen. I hope that that person asks you if you really need to preach because you are struggling to care for yourself right now when your whole city has been without power and water and now you’re just trying to conserve as much as possible but there are so many people to care for right now. I hope that when you brush off that question that that someone asks it again because you too need a break.

The pastor of my sweet Texas church and I chatted today and this is basically how our conversation went. She’s in Austin. She has power but she hasn’t slept with worry for so many she loves dearly. She has a pastor heart as big as I know so many of you do. She told me that there would be a baptism this Sunday which seems really perfect for the Gospel Lesson and I asked her if I could help. I asked her if I could help write something for her.

She sent me an affirmation of faith she had written to follow the baptism. I promised I would add to it. It is a collaboration as all the best things are and so my thanks goes to Anna Kreisle Humble and her endless creativity. My thanks also goes to you, dear pastor. I know you are doing such amazing things and I hope that there is someone who is helping you carry that heavy load.

An Affirmation of Faith 
for Baptism and Belovedness in Texas
Inspired by Mark 1:9-15

We believe in you, O God, 
our Everlasting Source, the fountain of life,
who filled creation with rivers
and oceans and pools 
deep and wide enough 
to cover the whole earth
and is creating still
in the patience
we must find now 
that no water comes 
from our faucet.

We believe that 
water is right. 
It is a gift
that reminds us 
again and again 
that we are forgiven 
and loved and redeemed
and we believe that it is freely given 
so that every body and soul
might be hydrated 
in the grace of good news.

We believe in you, O Christ,
our Beloved One, who 
rose from the waters
of baptism to fight 
for peace and justice
and teach that
there are no limits 
to what love can do.

We believe that 
love is the fuel 
in our hearts that burns
so hot that even when 
the thermostat dips down
to terrifying depths ,
we will not grow cold
to the needs in
our community.

We believe in you, O Spirit, 
our Guide, the radiant heat 
of possibility in this moment 
and every moment
who made herself known
by sweeping over 
the waters of creation
and reminding us 
to breathe. 

We believe that
we are called to do
more for our community,
for the world and even for ourselves
but we first we must catch our breath
and warm our hands
to remember what love
lives in us.

The heavens might 
be torn apart
but we dare to believe
even now 
that we are beloved
and the Holy Trinity
is well pleased with
what we dare to dream
is possible.
May it be so.

If you serve a congregation in Texas and want to use this on Sunday, please do so with my abundant blessing. If you live somewhere else where you are still waiting for a thaw, use this and edit it as needed. Do your best to stay warm and care for each other. I know you are doing this. I know you are doing so much more than this, dear pastor. I hope that there are blessed souls caring for you just as tenderly.

Pandemic Prayers for the Return of Lent

I do not feel ready for this season to arrive.

I know that it will be different. It will be less disciplined but no less introspective than every other day since that first case changed our whole lives. There is the Lent that I typically yearn to experience where I exert extra energy on figuring out who God is now. I don’t know that I will do that this year.

I’m still not sure what I will do to mark this season for myself. I know that sometime on Wednesday or Thursday my family and I will begin the practice of welcoming apologies just by saying thank you. That’s the first practice in A Hopeful Lent. I’ll read some special bedtime stories to my children and maybe I’ll convince my husband to talk about some big questions. (My husband is not a person of faith and though I designed these questions with him in mind, I’m still not sure I can convince him. We are both so tired.) I bought the book my sweet Texas church is sharing in for this season and I hope that that connects me to that community currently covered in ice and so many without power.

Lent will begin even if we don’t have pancakes today. I decided that teaching my toddlers to play with food in pancake races was really a recipe for disaster. Their table manners have already plummeted. Still, I want there to be joy and hope as we wonder together about the promises of God.

Responsive Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 25:1-10

It seems impossible 
that we find ourselves here again
to wonder about who we will be
and what God can do.
We lift up our souls.

We have been waiting
and wondering what will be. 
We yearn for hope 
and knowing more 
of the ways of God.
We seek what is true.

Our minds are quick 
to wander and we have lost
focus more times than we can count
but we hope that in these days 
we will be more and more 
aware of mercy and love.
We learn to walk this path together. 

Lent begins again.
May our souls awake 
to trust and hope.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Genesis 9:8-17

O God, it does not quite 
feel like the clouds have parted. 
It does not feel like the storm
has yet passed. It will rain
for several more days. 

We confess we are tired. 
We are so very tired.
We have given up searching
the heavens for new wonders
but it feels like nothing 
will change even 
as a vaccine ever so 
slowly rolls out 
and numbers of 
infections and 
hospitalizations
diminish. We 
don't yet see
hope in technicolor
reaching across the sky
and so we pray that you will 
wrap us possibility. 
Remind us again
that your love reaches 
through the doubts
and worries of this moment
and leads us into 
the promise of possibility.
O God, we pray
for the blessing of 
your colorful 
possibility. Amen.

I shared last week the possibility of sharing in Pandemic Easter Affirmations where people could share in the practice of proclaiming what faith feels like right now. I suggested a workshop and that maybe these could be gathered into a booklet to lead the congregation through the Easter season. I also mentioned that examples are helpful to get the creative juices flowing and that I might be sharing such affirmations for Lent. Here is the first for this season.

Affirmation for the Wilderness

We believe that 
God is working wonders
in the wilderness of our lives.
We have felt tested.
We've hit a pandemic wall
but walls crumble
with trumpet blasts
and hope grows 
through the cracks
on the sidewalk.

This is not the end. 
We know this. 
Of course, we know
this is true for we are people 
of possibility and hope
who know that the worst 
thing is never the last thing.

We are people 
who have wandered 
though the wilderness
to find the way to freedom. 
We've crossed seas
and moved mountains 
with faith as small 
as a mustard seed. 

We believe that
these wonders
will come again.
It is the promise of new life. 
It is the promise
that we cannot yet see
but God still reaches across
creation to show us
again and again 
that wonders 
never cease.

We believe 
God is working
wonders in us 
right now.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Easter Affirmations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1

Pray

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

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

2

Explore

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

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

3

Listen

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

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

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

4

Connect

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

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

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

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

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

Liturgical Lights for Sunday April 12, 2015

J A S M I N EThe Narrative Lectionary on April 12, 2015 is Matthew 28:16-20. It feels so odd not to share in the story of Thomas. I want to stick my fingers in that story. I want to wonder about my doubt. But, that’s not what happens in this cycle of readings. Instead, we are pushed to wonder how we might “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”

This week, as bulletins may well already be printed, I don’t have a full liturgy to offer. Instead, I offer an affirmation of faith. I come from a tradition that has testimonies, not tests of faith. Ours is a statement of faith. Not a creed. Not a catechism. We have testimonies that come from every time and every place. It can make faith confusing and overwhelming. It can seem totally chaotic so that people might say we are Unitarians Considering Christ. (Don’t say that. I hate that.)

But, especially after Easter, I love the experience of standing together as the gathered body of Christ (that’s right, Christ) and trying to put some words to what we believe. Sometimes I use the more traditional versions in my own liturgies. Sometimes I use some that are not so well known. There is something amazing about standing together and saying these words as part of our experience of the resurrection. This particular affirmation has stolen a few lines from one of my favorite Easter hymns, Christ the Lord is Risen Today.

Here is an affirmation of faith for this day — and maybe the 50 days of Easter:

Affirmation of Faith

Now we gather together
in fear and great joy
to raise our triumphs high
because everything has changed.
Christ has died and Christ has risen.

Now we rise early on the first day of the week
because we have heard what the angels told us.
We have been changed by this news
and we believe in the power of resurrection.
We believe that this message will change our world.

Made like him, like him we rise.
We rise to be made into better disciples.
We rise to allow ourselves to soar where Christ has led.
Because love’s redeeming work is not yet done.
There are still children of God crucified
for their passionate love of the world.

Now we wait for Christ to come again.
We rise to be students of this message.
We rise to be taught by this way.
We rise in the certain faith
that Christ will come again.

If you use the prayers I’ve written in your worship, and I hope you will, please do offer me credit with as follows:

The prayers in our worship this morning were written by/adapted from Liturgical Lights for Sunday April 12, 2015 by the Rev. Elsa Anders Peters. Elsa is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who blogs at revelsaanderspeters.com.