Prayers for Epiphany 5C and 6C

I am blessed and honored to continue to cook up liturgical elements for worship at the United Christian Church in Austin. Admittedly, it feels like I haven’t been in the kitchen in a very long time. I’m editing more. I’m pulling more books off the shelf.

I don’t have the familiar recipe of these liturgical words memorized anymore. It’s not a part of my breathing as it once was when I led worship every Sunday. I am shocked that Epiphany has been so short in years past and I don’t have anything in my folders from past worship services, but it’s forcing me to be creative.

Our church is in the midst of transition. The Senior Pastor left for another call just before Advent and so the first set of prayers reveals a bit of that angst and struggle. (Honestly, I don’t think that this church is struggling at all.) Having done work with churches in transition most recently, it felt right with the Gospel.

The second set of prayers for the Sixth Sunday of Epiphany pick up with the Beatitudes. As we are a congregation in transition, I pushed myself to write something that wasn’t a unison prayer following the Call to Worship. And so, the second ingredient for that Sunday is something to spice up our prayer time. This will be shared after the congregation shares their spoken prayers and just before the Prayer of our Savior.

Prayers for Epiphany 5C

Call to Worship

Adapted from a poem by the Persian poet Rumi

One: Come, come, whoever you are.
Many: Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving — it doesn’t matter,
One: Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Many: Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times,
One: Come, come again, come.

Prayer for the Weary in Transition (unison)

We come tired, weary and worn.
We have already done so much work, so much heavy lifting.
We long to hear assurances or maybe even “a job well done,”
but instead we are invited again to roll up our sleeves.
We must haul out the boats and put in another hour, maybe two.
There is more to be done. There is always more to be done.
We wade together into the deep water, dragging the boat out of the sand,
wondering what could change. What will one more hour do?
We let down our nets, just as we are told.
We wait for what will catch us. O Holy One, catch our tired bodies today.  

Prayers for Epiphany 6C

Call to Worship

One: We have come to this level place.
Many: We have come to look each other in the eye.
One: No one will stand above or below,
Many: but we will turn to each other
and call each other blessed.
One: We have sorrows and woes, God knows,
but we have come to rejoice.
Many: And so, we will leap into blessing.
Holy One, be with us in this praise.

Praying Our Blessing and Woes

One: There in that level place,
Christ looked upon his disciples and said,
Woe to you who are rich.
Many: Remove from us the lust for power.
Let greed not enter our hearts, O Christ.
One: Woe to you who are full now.
Many: Remind us that our full pantries offer no guarantees.
Make us aware of how very vulnerable we are, O Christ.
One: Woe to you who are laughing now.
Many: Forgive us for every sarcastic comment.
Empty us of snark, O Christ.
One: Woe to you all speak well of you,
Many: O Christ, heal us of our arrogance.
Call to us with your words of blessing.  
One: Here in this level place, Christ heals us, saying,
Blessed are you who are hungry now.
Many: Blessed are we who believe justice has not yet come,
for we will be filled.
One: Blessed are you who weep now,
Many: Blessed are we when life just feels much too hard, for we will laugh.
One: Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you,
revile you, and defame you.
Many: Blessed are we who feel we haven’t done enough and know we
could do more. Blessed are we no matter what other names we’ve
been called, for in this level place there is healing.
One: There is reason to leap for joy. We’ve been cured of our evil spirits. We’ve been touched with grace and love. We are children raised in blessing, who dare to pray:

The Prayer of Our Savior

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

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Blessing of Teachers

Many churches had their kick off celebrations this past Sunday. Some are waiting until this coming Sunday to mark the big day when everything goes back to normal. All of the programming starts up again for the kids and adults. Anything that took a break over the summer months in our congregational life is ready to get going again. Some call it Rally Day. For others it is Homecoming Sunday or even Kick Off Sunday.

It is a big day that involves a lot of work. Much of that work goes into recruiting the right people to offer the love and support to make all of these programs work. It is recruiting that involves a lot of phone calls and cups of coffee to figure out if this particular act of love is the one that is calling right now. Teaching, especially in Sunday School, is always an act of love. It is a huge commitment not just to prepare lesson plans and show up every Sunday you’re on the schedule, but a commitment to journey into your own faith, to grow and be changed as you learn together.

It is why I do not miss the chance to bless our teachers when all of that programming begins. I do not limit the invitation. I invite everyone that has chosen to answer the call to discipleship. I ask the youth leaders and the bible study leaders. I invite the people on the committee and those stocking the supply closet and providing snacks to come forward not only to be blessed but to remember that they are not alone in this work. It takes a village which is why this blessing begins with talk of covenants.

Blessing of Teachers

One: A covenant is a promise we make together to before God.  Covenants remind us to love and support each another.  When we start new things, like another year in Sunday School, we make promises to grow and learn together as disciples of Jesus.

Every one – parents, children, teachers, and people too old for Sunday School – has a part in making these promises to blessing and encourage each other.  Together, we make promises to God so that we can all grow together in faith and love.  First, we ask the children to make their promises.  Please echo my words:

Thank you God, for our Sunday School.

Thank you for the gift of Jesus,

Who teaches us so many things.

We are excited about Sunday School

And hope to learn more about You

From our teachers, our substitutes, and our whole church family

Each and every day.

Parents and Congregation: We love our children.  We will encourage them to live in the way of Christ.  We will join with them in studying God’s Word.  We will try our best to grow with them in faith.  And we will support the work of our Church School with our time, our talent, our treasure and our prayers.

Teachers: We will walk with God and with the children and youth of our congregation.  We will work together and with God’s help, we will do our best to learn, to live, and to teach the way of Christ.

One: We do not only make promises together today. We share in blessings. The laying on of hands is the symbolic act where the church recognizes God’s call to ministry in the lives of faithful people and asks the Holy Spirit to give them the courage they need.  The Holy Spirit gave the ministry of teaching to the church in its earliest days.  It has always been one of the most important ministries of believers.  And so, we lay hands upon you, our teachers, and bless you to do the work that God has called you to.

Ask everyone to touch the shoulder of the person in front of and/or near them, people in front pews and children in chancel and ministers lay hands on teachers, so everyone’s connected to someone else. Once everyone is connected, pray these words aloud.

One: Eternal God, you have called these faithful people to serve you as teachers. Send your Holy Spirit upon them so that they can do this work in the fullness of your love. May all that we learn goethe in this year teach us more and more about your grace and hope. We pray in Jesus’ name,  Amen.

Allow this moment of blessing to lead right into the Passing of the Peace so that hugs and handshakes might extend the blessing of this moment. You’ll notice, of course, that this particular liturgy refers to teachers and only teachers. I adapt this to include all of the appropriate titles (even if there is no appropriate title.)

Check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

I would be particularly interested to hear from those that attend churches that have ditched Sunday School and embraced other faith formation models. How do you bless the leaders that do this good work in your church? Would this liturgy even work or does it assume an old model? I would love to hear from you!

Blessing of the Backpacks and Briefcases

Today social media is awash with smiling children on front porches and stoops waiting for the yellow school bus to arrive and take them off to school. It is the day after Labor Day and it is the day where everything changes in our routines.

Gone is the leisure of summer. Here is the alternate pace of school lunches and homework. It is not just our children that experience this shift, but any adult that drags children out of bed and brushes their teeth before sending them off on the bus. It is a rhythm that changes all of our time, especially in the church. Our church calendars ebb and flow with the school calendar. When children go back to school, we mark that transition in the church with things like Homecoming Sunday and Rally Sunday to intentionally begin anew after a summer of relaxation.

I admit that this always feels a bit weird to me as discipleship doesn’t ever really have an off-season. Every year, when this shift arrives, we are in the middle of Ordinary Time. It is a time that we mark on the church calendar between Pentecost and Advent to grow in our discipleship. It is not stuff that can be done with any sort of leisure as the gospels remind us every week. Still, we need leisure. We need sabbath and restoration as much as we need each transition to be blessed. Several years ago, blessings of the backpacks started to become popular. This is a version that I adapted several years ago to include everyone in this time of transition and growth.

There are two selections from scripture to be read in this litany. I have recruited two people to help read, usually one that is older and one that is younger, to help lead this moment of blessing by reading these two biblical passages. That intergenerational connection is really important to me and it’s one that I want to overwhelm this moment of blessing. So you might choose, as I often do, not to worry about everyone having a bulletin but leading that unison prayer at the end in such a manner that the gathered congregation is more focused on holding onto each other than reading the words on a piece of paper. Encourage those still sitting in the pew to grab hands too. They are part of this blessing of holding onto each other, to be sure. I highly recommend with moving from this blessing into song. Something upbeat and uplifting would be ideal.

*Blessings of the Backpacks and Briefcases (Responsive)

Invite everyone to bring their backpacks and briefcases forward. This is not just a blessing for the children but for the whole family of God so be sure to add a few extra words of invitation to those that carry paper calendars in their pockets or purses. For those that carry their entire lives on their smartphones, that electronic briefcase is surely worthy of blessing. All are invited to come forward – with their bulletins – to receive this blessing for this new season of change.

One: There is nothing that should not be blessed. Each moment and every opportunity is worthy of God’s blessing. God began in the beginning of creation with the day and the night. God blessed the setting of the sun and the beginning of new wonders in great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. God blessed them all.

As the calendar changes again, and we prepare ourselves to see and do new wonders upon the great seas of life, we listen for God’s blessing in this new season. We need to hear words of blessing for we worry about whether we will like our teachers or if we will make new friends. We worry if we will be successful and honor God in all that we do and so we need to hear God say:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:25)

As young school aged children, adults bustling to work, and retirees carefully keeping calendars of activities, we know that life is to be lived. We know that there’s a lot more life to experience, a lot more living to do and tons more to learn.  In this time, we ask for God’s blessing upon this shift in seasons for we remember the wisdom of Ecclesiastes.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8, 11)

We ask God to make this new season of commuting and learning, growing and changing, a blessed time for every living creature that moves. We ask God to release our worry and open us to enough grace that we might hold each other through all that troubles us. In that hope, we hold each other’s hands for the comfort and support and ask for God’s blessing in one voice,

Invite worshippers to hold hands, whether or not they are holding a symbolic object.

All: God of seasons and calendars, God of homework and alarms, bless these ordinary objects that represent the change in the seasons of our lives. Bless our backpacks so that they are not too heavy to carry with all that we hope to learn.  Bless our briefcases that they might bring work that reflects our love for you.  Bless smartphones and paper calendars that they might each allow for time without worry.  Bless us all as we try to live in all your seasons with wonder and delight.  Amen.

Check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!