Pandemic Prayers for World Communion Sunday

In the churches I’ve served, this was always a Sunday people looked forward to. It wasn’t a celebration that they remembered from childhood but it was something that has become meaningful and important. There was always careful planning to make bread, prepare special liturgy and even host special events after worship. The table was always set with bold colors. There was a globe or a map or some other visuals to remind us that we are connected to a global community through the sharing of this feast. I think that is special and worth celebrating so here are some things to try while worshipping remotely.

Sharing of the Bread

My sweet Texas church has been offering communion kits every month including wafers and grape juice that have been blessed by the pastors while wearing masks and gloves. We live too far away to get one but it does make me wonder about all of those people who stockpiled yeast all those months ago. Certainly there are at least a few in your congregation. Could they be recruited to bake bread to be delivered to your members? It would be a big effort for a large congregation but perhaps it would be possible in smaller parishes where there are skilled saints who miss coordinating church dinners.

Or maybe you use the talents of one of those dear bakers and have themselves film the process of weighing, mixing and kneading the simple ingredients of making bread? Maybe some harvest songs play in the background or maybe you broaden this experience to include videos of harvesting wheat and grapes? Or could you use images of Christians around the world sharing the bounty of that harvest? You could use this if you are really, really desperate.

It could instead be a time when elements are gathered for the local food pantry to share food and drink with neighbors in need. If your local food pantry doesn’t have a list of things that are in short supply right now, you might encourage members to donate items that are familiar to the communion table around the world including bread, flour, tortillas, potatoes, rice and gallons of water.

I am not including the wide variety of prayers in languages other than English because I imagine you’ll use the gifts of your congregation.

Sharing Music

Our hymnals are full of wonderful songs about community and gathering at the table. I was tickled to see that Global Ministries gathered together all of the global hymns into an online resource for those that lost the index in the back of their hymnals. I am curious what will happen with worship streaming using Facebook Live with the recent changes to the platform and so I’m focusing on original music in what I suggest here.

My friend and colleague released his first album in 2013 that included Taste and See which would be fantastic to gather with at the table. Through his website, you can buy the digital track, the album and the sheet music. The first track on that same album entitled All God’s People would also work lovely in the beginning of worship unless you don’t want to tap your feet.

If the tone is meant to be more meditative, you might consider All Belong Here by The Many. It’s available through the Convergence Music Project as an audio file, a lead sheet, a lyric sheet, or a piano arrangement. Though there is no sample on the website, I’d also recommend Christopher Grundy’s Come to the Feast on the same site but it’s another one of those upbeat songs.

I am uncertain of the copyrights surrounding this but this might be how I would choose to end worship. It made me weep.

If you have talented musicians in your congregation ready to film themselves singing, you might offer them the free sheet music for Jorge Lockward’s Cuando El Pueblo. If you uncertain about copyright uses, his email is on the sheet music.

Sharing Words

There are so many beautiful words written for this day already that I can’t help but share a few favorites. At the top of the list would be my much loved copy of Gifts of Many Cultures edited by Maren Tirabassi and Kathy Wonson Eddy. Another book that I’m eager to get my hands on just came out from my seminary friend Claudio Carvalhaes entitled Liturgies from Below: Praying with People at the Ends of the World.

I have used Katherine Hawker’s lovely prayers many times but have a special place in my heart for her Presentation of the Breads. This would only work if the presider at the table is willing to have a ton of bread in their home that may actually go to waste. I also love the Alternative Table Prayer she recommends. I used this Call to Worship as an Invitation to the Table last year when I was still writing liturgy for my sweet Texas church. I just discovered and adore this simple prayer from the United Church of Canada. Whereas this blessing entitled And the Table Will Be Wide by Jan Richardson has been in my files for a long time, though it feels like it has new meaning now. For preachers that might want a break from preaching, you could build a service around these reflections on Why I Take Communion from 2010.

If you have followed these pandemic prayers, you’ve noticed that I have a penchant for poetry in worship and so I also have a few poems to offer including this one entitled Wheat. While it might not be right for every church, I adore Red Wine Spills by L. Ash Willams. Judy Chicago’s A Prayer for Our Nation might be a better fit. This is a horribly short list and I’m disappointed in myself so please go check out the books mentioned above.

Most of the years that I have marked this year with the congregations I’ve served, I’ve hunted for worship resources from other countries to use words that don’t sound quite as familiar. There are weekly prayers shared by Global Ministries from all our global partners (and I’m sure that your denomination has something similar) and a slew of ideas just for World Communion Sunday. Despite my resistance, here are some prayers that you can copy and paste because you are tired and don’t want to go searching for these things. That’s the whole point of this. For better or worse, I stuck with the texts for Proper 22A.

Call to Worship

Listen to the wild grapes.
Listen for the prophets
and builders of the future.
Can you hear something 
amazing? Might you 
even hear what God is doing?

Listen carefully
as you dig among the stones
in that fertile ground
full of expectation.
Listen for the crushing
violence of those first fruits.
Listen for another parable
of a bread broken and shared.
Can you hear the grace 
poured from that cup 
shared throughout all the earth?

Listen to all of the wild grapes
gathered to build
a future around this table.

The next prayer is a little different from what I usually might offer. While silence could follow for personal prayer and confession, I thought it might be worth considering a little bit to remember our baptisms. To do so, you could use something really long and elaborate. I’d suggest that this prayer be followed by a hymn (instrumental would be more meditative) and then begin this more traditional liturgy. Or you could opt for what I suggest below.

Prayer of Confession

With open ears, we come as a global people
to admit that the world is not as it should be.
We carefully cleared out all the stones
and planted only the best vines.
We thought we did everything right.
Or so we have told ourselves
again and again.

Listen, O God,
for these roots run deep.
There are things that we
have chosen to believe
because we didn't want
to see the violence
or corruption.
We wanted to believe
there was enough
and that all people were
working for good until
the harvest of this year.
It has crushed our hope.
It has broken our faith
and we need your grace
to rain down.
Wash us in your love
so that we can dare
to dream of the world
we could build
from so much waste.
Listen, O God,
to the cries of your people
around the world.

Silence is kept.

Remembering the Gift of Water
A large bowl of water is set in front of the speaker on camera.

We remember the gift of water
that nourishes the fertile ground
and allows wild grapes to thrive.
We whisper small wonder
over the miracle of running water
gushing from the spout
to wash our hands
clean with soap.
We notice the rain puddles and drops of dew 
that remind us again that 
the heavens brim with your love
raining down upon our heads with mercy.
Water reminds us again and again
that we might dive into new possibility
and be renewed. We remember with this water

Splash hands in water.

that we were once called beloved
and that the whole world
and all of its wild grapes
are equally beloved.

I would not be above sprinkling my computer or tablet or phone or whatever device is filming me to do a little blessing, saying simply, Remember the gift of water and be thankful. Amen. I am not interested in excluding anyone that has not been baptized from this moment and want to leave lots of room for the wild grapes within us and among us. These words are in my head.

If you opted for bread distribution among your people, you might even include a special blessing like a prayer card. I cannot find a sample I like. I might have to make one.

Or if you don’t want to do this whole baptism water business, you might opt for silent meditation that includes a homemade rain stick in the background if you don’t already have one in your minister’s closet. Have someone in the congregation make it for you, dear pastor, because they love crafts and you have enough to do. That person will be so excited to drop it off on your porch before Sunday.

Prayers of the People

Though this aspect of worship might usually happen later in the service, I might follow it after the act of Remembering the Gift of Water. Under that bowl of water, I’d have a map of the world. Off to the side, I’d have a basket of tea lights and a fire starter ready for this moment of prayer. The chat feature in Zoom could be used to uplift prayers for the global community or prayers could be gathered from the congregation through the congregation’s Facebook group during the week. Knowing that these forums are imperfect in gathering the prayers we wish to bring to God, I would prepare a list of petitions from the headlines that week.

After each petition, I’d light a tea light and place it upon the map over the correct country. After all of these prayers are voiced, I might close this prayer time in an adaptation of this Intercessory Prayer with some more expansive imagery around the divine or this prayer with zero changes.

That’s all I’ve got for this particular Sunday. I’d be thrilled to know what you use and what might help you plan for the future. Until then, please know that I am praying for you.

I am always praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. 

Small Pandemic Joys

It has been so long that this pandemic has gone on.

I have lost count. I no longer care to count.

I have yelled at my kids. I have been short. I have been unkind solely because I have been so isolated. My family is great. Yeah for family but I really miss people. And so, I’m trying to remind myself of small joys. I am terrible at this spiritual practice. I know Diana Butler Bass says its a good idea. It’s healthy. It builds good things but I resist. Instead, my gratitude practice more boldly extends to conspiring with the United States Postal Service. I shared a recipe for that years ago here.

And yet, bizarrely, I find myself whispering prayers of gratitude in these strange days where my frustration feels off the charts. Beyond the obvious things (family, a roof over our heads, food in our bellies… that stuff), I feel compelled to share my growing gratitude list. It’s my own tiny reminder that small things are everything.

  • My fifteen month old baby has started kissing so that any time she goes upstairs she makes this little guppy noise to say good night. It’s not always bed time when we go upstairs but it makes me laugh every time.
  • Walks around our neighborhood where my nearly three year old daughter and I each squeal with delight at the bright colored flowers. (We live in Texas. It’s still hot here and even in the desert, there are plenty of flowers.) We are slowly learning the names of these new plants and each time I point and name a plant, I hear the distant echo of my grandmother doing the same thing over my shoulder.
  • While my children are too tiny for homeschool and we still don’t have many screens in our lives, I’ve definitely noticed my phone is in my palm A LOT. One of the ways I’m trying to separate from screens is to turn off all screens 30 minutes before bedtime and read an actual paper book. My husband wakes up so freaking early that I invested in a reading light that I adore. Right now, this is a great joy.
  • Writing prayers and hearing that these prayers are actually helpful when I know that so many pastors are on the brink of giving up their vocations out of sheer exhaustion.
  • Online church. I know I might be in the minority on this one but we moved to a new place two months ago and I still get to see and be cared for by the church community that has been the only church my kids have ever known.
  • Before it was a yeast shortage this spring, I had decided that this would be the year I learned to bake bread. I’m really grateful for my friend Meghan for buying me the book and and cheering on all of my bakes by text.
  • Teeny tiny adventures outside the house. We went to White Sands National Park last weekend which is only 90 minutes from our house and it was magical to be outside playing with our kids. I am also really keen on the fact that my nearly three year old has learned the word adventure and wants to know when the next one will be.

It’s not a long list but it’s a reminder that there is joy. There is always joy.

I pray there is joy for you too.

Ingredients for Ascension Sunday Communion

As I was trying to fall asleep last night and the baby growing inside of me was kicking my insides with every bit of strength she’s got, I realized that I had agreed to preside over communion on Sunday. I thought briefly of winging it, but then I thought better of it.

I love to play with words of liturgy. I love to craft these words that bring us together as a community to share in the wondrous work of God. My church tends to do lots of explanation on how to receive these gifts so I felt like I needed to include that, though it’s not my preference. Ours is also a congregation that includes both the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. It is the tradition within the Disciples that a deacon or elder blesses the elements and so I haven’t included a prayer for such blessing.

We Give God Thanks & Praise

Our hands gesture toward the heavens above
whenever we might refer to God’s handiwork.
We refer to the Big Guy Upstairs
but Jesus asks us, as we come to this table again,
Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?
Jesus guides our hands away
from those upward movements.
He insists that our reach doesn’t need to be so lofty.
It is not our hands that must ascend,
but it is ours that must reach out to
touch and hold our sisters and brothers.
It is our hands that must heal and reach.
Taking into our hands ordinary lives
and ordinary objects like this bread and this cup
to find heaven poured out and broken
right before our very eyes. So come.
Come to this table to feast and drink
not because you have it all figured out,
but because you need to hold onto
a little bit of heaven right here and right now.
Come to this table because Jesus invites
you to use your own two hands to realize
that God is right here, right now.

For it was on that fate-filled night that
Jesus gathered his friends around a table
just like this one and encouraged each of them
to reach out and take a piece of bread.
It was on that night that Jesus invited
his followers to wrap their hands around
the cup of salvation because it was
something that they could take
and hold in their own two hands.
And so, we remember. We remember
how Jesus took the bread…

Words of Institution

Blessing the Elements of Bread and Cup

The deacon will now pray.

Communion Music

Sharing the Sacrament

Here at UCC Austin, we receive communion
with gluten-free bread and white grape juice
so that all can partake. You’ll find wine on the trays
that the deacons pass if that’s more your style.
As the trays come to you, please take a piece
of bread and cup of wine or juice.
You’re welcome to eat of the bread right away
but let’s hold onto the cup so that we might
partake this drop of heaven as one body.
These are the gifts of God for the people of God.
Come, as all things are now ready.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Holy One, let us remember all that
Jesus taught from the very beginning.
Let us go from this table to find
other tables where hearts are broken
and your love is needed. Let us remember
the tiny bit of heaven we have found here.
Make our hands ever ready to reach out
and hold onto your love
… let all God’s people say:
All: Thanks be to God! Amen.

If you use these prayers as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear about any adaptations you make for your context and hear how it goes. I’d also love to hear how you handle the instruction part of the communion service.