Pandemic Prayers for Pentecost

For churches in the United States of America, there seems to be some creative tension between the winds of the Spirit and the President’s order for churches to reopen. There’s something about the hot air coming out of the White House that contrasts so powerfully with what the church is called to be and do. It’s something I feel like I missed in that Invitation to the Offering last week. It’s something I’m trying to illustrate from my own isolation bubble and something I’m wondering about how to teach to my children. 

Going to church has become the moment where Mommy grabs her iPad and we settle onto the couch. It feels like a gift each and every time and I wish that my littles allowed me to bop around to the many worship services I’d like to attend virtually, but I shudder that my sweet girls might think that church is something on a screen. (Will they remember this time? How long will this actually go on?) I want them to know that the church is an action. It’s a movement. It’s a response to the world’s deepest need and a desire to dream of of God’s greatest love in every living thing.

I confess I’ve been uncertain that the world will look any different after this is over but if the church is the church, then change must come. It must be the change in our prayers.

Opening Worship

I don’t know how many churches are embracing this season as an interim time. I thought these were wise and wonderful words about that possibility. Embracing this interim pandemic season might mean delving into that wide and curious of what makes the church the church. Worship could begin with individuals sharing a testimony of what this church has meant in their life or those same two or three voices could speak to the ideals of what brings them to be part of a worshipping community before concluding this opening with Acts 2:16-21.

Worship could instead begin with a familiar hymn and an invitation to consider our breath. The liturgy I wrote last year for my Texas church began with words adapted from Walter Bruggemann’s To Make Things New That Never Were from Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth which would follow this hymn nicely. Another possibility follows.

Gathering Our Breath

Breathe on us, Breath of God.
Fill our lungs
with courage and hope
so that your life
beats through our veins
and urges us toward
justice and peace.

Breathe on us, Breath of God
because “I can’t breathe”
was heard again
and we’ve whispered too often
that we don’t know what to do
to put an end to racism.

Breathe on us, Breath of God
and remind us what the church is called to be.
Fill us with the fire of your love
and the promise of your peace.

I also really like the Call to Worship by Julia Seymour in the RevGalBlogPal’s Worship Words this week.

Passing of the Peace

In the limited church hopping that my children have allowed me, I haven’t yet seen a passing of the peace happen on Zoom or Facebook Live. I suppose it would be super awkward if you record ahead of time but especially if you use the above Gathering of Our Breath or if you plan on preaching on the Gospel Lesson, it seems like this should be the Sunday to try it.

It could be a moment of Pentecost wind where everyone is unmuted and the whole host of angels greets each other in the name of Christ. It could hurt your ears or you might opt for something more structured.

Maybe you prompt your community to bring a pen and paper to worship. When this moment of peace approaches, the congregation is invited to name one thing that brings them anxiety to share in a word or two on the paper. Hold that paper up and then someone leads this Breath Prayer for Anxious Times. That prayer time might conclude with everyone ripping up their paper and throwing it in the air like confetti. (Sorry for the mess.)

Or instead, invite a youth who would have been confirmed this year on the chancel steps if it were safe to gather for worship to share one thing that has brought her peace in these pandemic days. Maybe she shares something in particular about the beloved community in her youth group experience. Invite her to conclude that thought by saying something like a blessing.

May the peace of Christ also be with you.
May the Spirit of God bring you hope.
May you feel the love of God
in every breath. Amen.

That’s all I’ve got for this week.

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

Pandemic Prayers for the Ascension

At the end of the last week, I sat on a picnic blanket in my backyard with my two babies reading the Ascension from their new Sparkhouse Story Bible. (I discovered that Sparkhouse is offering a discount for Bibles to support families during this pandemic.) When I’ve preached on this passage from Acts, I’ve always been drawn to that bit about the disciples gazing up toward heaven.96310241_904628923324224_3491067924926431232_n

I rather like how the Story Bible turned this around for me. It caught my attention and made me wonder what it was that I’m doing right now to carry on the love of Jesus especially for those that feel like God has abandoned us. In the Story Bible, the narrative doesn’t end with the question about staring up to heaven. It doesn’t end with any sort of claim about when Jesus will come back but picks up with a disciple daring to be brave enough to say, “Right! Meanwhile, we have some work to do. Let’s get going.”

These prayers pick up on that hope because it’s been eleven weeks and I’m tired. I’m riddled with doubt that any choice I make to stay home or wear a mask actually matters. I need to hear a bit more from scientists and God.

Opening Worship

I really wanted to write something else about face masks but I’ll settle for the gorgeous art. Instead, I offer a simple responsive prayer to begin worship.

Welcoming the People of God

People of God, where is your hope?
Our hope is in God
who has blessed us
and given us great joy.

Why, then, do you worry?
We fear the unknown.
There is so much that is unknown.

Where do you look for hope?
We look to the scientists
eagerly working in labs
with more than 78 projects in process.
We marvel at what they have learned
in a mere five months
and we hope the healthcare workers
know how much we admire them
and appreciate them when
we are not banging pots and pans. 

Where do you need God today?
We need God
to help us to understand this moment
as much as we might understand
the scriptures.
We need God
to remind us there
is still work to do
and great joy to be found.

Unison Prayer

In the first church I served and the church of my childhood, there was no prayer of confession. There was something dubbed a unison prayer meaning that it was something we all shared together in one voice. Might I suggest something like this this Sunday even if you skip over the Ascension and find yourself in Easter 7A? Consider a Prayer for Medical Scientists or a Prayer for Chaplains and Healthcare Workers. There are surprisingly few of these out there.

Something for the Offering

I wanted to write something about wearing masks and staying home and socially distancing and how all of these things are the things we can do in this moment, but everything I came up with was garbage. (Yes, garbage.) This isn’t the perfect solution. It assumes a point of privilege and that’s not what I hope, but I did want to add something simple to celebrate our gifts to the church and beyond. It admittedly leans heavily on church. Oops.

I use Luke 4 in the second to last response but it could easily be adapted to include your church’s mission or vision. Remembering who we are and who we belong to in these days is critical. Use the words that your congregation has created. Remember. Celebrate. Adapt everything.

Invitation to the Offering

People of God, why do you stand
looking up toward heaven?
Christ has gone up with a shout,
but he will come again with trumpets and praise.
How then will you live?

We will live in hope
and be guided by peace.
We will dare to believe that
there are better days ahead
but we will do all that we can to protect
this earth and its people. We will love.

Who will you love?

We will love the forgotten and the ignored.
We will love the discarded, abandoned and abused.
We will love brown bodies, black bodies
immigrant and refuge bodies, fat bodies
and hollow bodies that feel they’ve nothing to give
but we will give.

How will you give?

We give with our whole hearts
with our bodies and souls
to support the things that matter most.

People of God, why do you give?

We give to bring good news to the poor;
to proclaim release to the captives and
recovery to the sight of the blind,
to let the oppressed go free
and allow all people to believe in hope.

How will you hope?

We will put our hope in our church.
We will believe in its mission
so much that it becomes an extension of ourselves.
We will hope that every dollar 
and every cent
is used to make Jesus Christ present
We will hope with out who hearts
and reach out to the world in love.

I may have had this song in my head while I was writing this particular prayer.

That’s all I’ve got for this week.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Easter 6A

When this all started, there were lots of reflections about God’s absence.

It wasn’t my experience. I didn’t feel like God had given up or disappeared anymore than I felt like God had brought this pandemic upon the global community.

It’s eight or nine or fifty-two weeks later and I’m not quite sure I have words for what God is doing right now. My faith tells me that God is always up to something. It pushes me to get in the balcony and look for the big picture. It assures me that I don’t need to be anxious and worry because somehow it will be alright in the end. My husband loves to say this. He loves the bright side and it has made me bite his head off more than once in the past few days. I am not proud of this but it’s a fact.

These lections push me to go looking for what God is doing. I was pushed further into this search after reading this encouraging word from Karoline Lewis. It reminded me of this essay by Sara Miles from years and years ago. These prayers search for that divine accompaniment.

Opening Worship

I’m opting for simple phrases that can be repeated again and again by the congregation. I want for there to be a musical element that is sung in response to the spoken word. I can’t figure out how to make it work but that’s where I keep going. Maybe this favorite Taize song follows the Invitation to the Spirit below. Or instead, maybe worship begins with this teaching bit from John Bell.

Call to Praise

This week was harder than the last.
We do not know when this will end
or what the world will become when it is over.
Still, we come to praise.
Bless our God, O peoples,
let God’s praise be heard.

God has heard every prayer.
God has listened to our deepest fears.
God will not give up on us.
Bless our God, O peoples,
let God’s praise be heard.

We have been tested.
We are being tested every day
so that we struggle to know what is right.
God waits with us
and hopes with us.
Bless our God, O peoples,
let God’s praise be heard.

We do not feel like we are doing enough
in one moment and in the next
feel like we should be doing more
to end the pandemic of racism,
the virus of hate,
and the greed of capitalism.
The burden is heavy on our backs
as we hunch over screens
wishing and praying
for a better world.
Bless our God, O peoples,
let God’s praise be heard.

God is with us.
God will not leave us orphaned
even when we cannot see what God is doing,
God is listening.
God mourns with us. God hopes
and God dares to dream with us.
Bless our God, O peoples,
let God’s praise be heard.

Invitation to the Spirit

Words inspired by Richard Swanson’s Gospel Translation

Come breath of truth
and blow through our fears
about what could have been
or should have been. Come
into this beautiful broken world.
Come, O Spirit, come.

We do not see you.
We haven’t noticed
your place by our sides
but we know it is promised.
You are coming. You are here.
Come, O Spirit, come.

Come dear advocate
to remain in the discomfort
with us. Come to hold our hands
and breathe your truth
into our own lungs.
Come, O Spirit, come.

Affirmation of Faith

When I shared last week’s prayers on Twitter, I joked that I didn’t include a confession. It’s honestly felt clunky to write these and I couldn’t figure out why. I got an instant reply to my tweet from RevGalBlogPals that there are others that skip confessions and assurances in the Easter season. (They are also curating this gorgeous thing called Worship Words that you should check out.) Right. I would usually swap the confession and assurance for some words to remember what we do believe.

Listening to Nadia Bolz-Weber reminded me that I need to remember and repeat these words. We don’t just need good preaching. We need to put words to our own faith.

Here are my very favorites.

A New Creed from the United Church of Canada

The Affirmation of Faith from page 481 of the New Zealand Prayer Book

United Church of Christ Statement of Faith in the form of a doxology

A Statement of Faith by Ann Weems (Reaching for Rainbows, 1980)

Advent Statement of Faith by the Rev. Rebecca F. Harrison

Creed by Meg Kearney

The Immigrant’s Creed from the Book of Common Worship (PCUSA)

Oh, I should probably mention again that I’m ordained in the United Church of Christ. As part of a non-creedal movement of faith, I believe in a holy bit of irreverence. This is why poetry makes the list and I think that’s fine.

I also really want to insert this somewhere into worship. Maybe it goes here. Can an Affirmation of Faith be sung?

Prayers of the People

I can’t stop reading hymn lyrics since we found out we can no longer sing together. This might also be why I want to insert a hymn into the Affirmation of Faith.

This Sunday, I’d be tempted to offer the words of In Our Brokenness as the Pastoral Prayer. Another option might be this prayer originally from RevGalBlogPals.

That’s all I’ve got for this week.

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

Starting Over Again

hands-way-guide-tourist

My sermon ended yesterday with the bold proclamation that God is just beginning to do a new thing. The words have been ratting around in my head since I first typed them. Pushing and prodding and nudging toward this amazing possibility that no one really understands.

I have to be honest. The whole idea makes me a bit tired. Not just because the church is changing and the future is unknown within the institution but because it’s the reality of my life. God has been doing a new thing this year. God gave me this amazing gift of love. God encouraged me to follow that love and move across country which meant leaving the church I was serving. It meant leaving the life I was trying to create and start over again.

Let me be clear: starting over sucks. It’s exhausting to try to reimagine what life could be when you have gotten so comfortable with the way life is. I’ve heard these complaints from church members so many times and it’s not that I didn’t understand. I did. I do. And I’ve tried so hard to take my own advice — and that of every book on change I’ve ever read — and try lots of things. I’ve tried to throw caution to the wind and imagine crazy things. In doing so, I have had a bunch of failures. Last year, I started a ministry that started to gain some traction and then it tanked. Maybe I tanked. I’m still not sure but all of the sudden it was so clear that this wasn’t for me. I still don’t think it was a bad idea. I just wasn’t the one to make it happen.

Now, as this new year dawns, I’m getting ready to start over again. God is really, truly just beginning to do a new thing. This year, I will get married. (Holy moly. I am getting married.)  It is going to be an epic multi-day event with so much love and so much wine and so many beautiful people. And then, we move again. I get to start over again.

I’m trying to summon all the enthusiasm I can muster. I’m trying to live on the edge of hope and wonder even though — if I’m honest — the prospect makes me tired. Even so, I haven’t stopped googling. I haven’t stopped daydreaming about what will come next in the new year as I try so very hard to chart points on a map into the unknown.

Map Point #1: It all begins with a wedding. I am over-planning the crap out of this event because it’s what I do best. When I say it’s going to be epic, I am not kidding.

Map Point #2: Shortly thereafter, I will return to the place we call home now. I will finish my charge as an interim pastor at this sweet little church. I will bless them in their future.

Map Point #3: And then, I will join my beloved in this new place with lots of BBQ. That’s when the adventure really begins and anything could happen. But, rather than get scared and overwhelmed, the first part is to settle into this new place.

Map Point #4: At the same time I will be settling into this new place, I’ll be sending off applications to continue my education. Gosh. It’s scary to type this and name this thing I’ve been thinking about aloud. Now you’ll know if I don’t get in. Ack! But, here’s the honest truth: I’m seeking to begin a holy adventure into spiritual direction. It’s a call that’s been getting louder and louder so that I feel I can no longer say no. Fingers crossed, I’ll begin this educational wonder in January 2017 — but that means I gotta complete an application or two.

Map Point #5: Of course, I can’t just imagine one education opportunity in the new year so I’m trying to figure out when I might take Part Two of interim ministry training. I am loving the challenging work I get to do right now. I want to be better at it. I want to know all the things which means more education.

Map Point #6: Last year, as I started over, I get better and better about answering the call to write. I even got published. There’s a book I started writing last year — and one that I hope to finish this year. It’s a book about what I know best. It’s a book about grief encompassing those things that I’ve learned from the wonderful people in the churches I’ve served and the lessons I’ve struggled to realize over so many years of mourning my mother. I haven’t a clue if it will be published but it’s a point on the map this year.

God is just beginning to do a new thing. It’s just starting in the dawning of the new year. No matter how I might plan, there are things that I can’t pinpoint on any map. God will do what God does and surprise me with wonders. Or so I pray not only for myself but for you too.

What new things is God just beginning in your life right now?

Pegged as a Radical Feminist

I preached a sermon recently in which I was pegged as a radical feminist. Not just a feminist but the radical kind. The kind that no doubt burns bras and hates men. This comment was made to me with grave concern. So he said: I should be aware of how I come across. I should be careful of how I am perceived especially when I find myself in the midst of search and call.

FeminismWhen this careful advice was offered to me, I was initially pissed off. I held my own in the conversation. I tried to be as open and honest as I could while a piece of me was rolling on the floor laughing.

For you see, I am not a radical feminist. Not by my own definition anyway. If you happen to think that feminism is the radical notion that women are people, then you have got me pegged. I’m far left of that.

I want to believe that we can exist in a world where these labels don’t matter. But, as much as I want to believe that’s possible, I know that there are still some places where I’m a radical feminist because I use feminine pronouns for God. That was the problem with this sermon. I dared to talk about God as if she had hips that swayed and boobs that bounced as she walked through the garden. Ok, I didn’t take it that far but I could have — and I’ve been spoiled by pastoring congregations that are disappointed when I haven’t gone that far. There may not be many of these churches, but the last church I served wanted more social justice. They were impatient and frustrated when I didn’t give them more. There were some that thought I was weak or even conservative because I wanted to find some balance between the extremes.

I waited a long time for this particular call. They weren’t perfect — and I wasn’t their perfect pastor. But I waited for them because I wanted to serve a church where I wouldn’t have to worry so much about feminine pronouns. I wanted a church where I could be authentic. I wanted to be real. I wanted to be who and what I am and be able to tell the real story of my faith without having to change the words. I waited two long years in search and call before I found this church who wouldn’t be afraid that their pastor was a feminist. They actually kinda liked that about me. And it’s something I really liked about them.

On my morning run, I wondered if this was a mistake. Maybe I should listen to the wise counsel of this caring person. I wondered this because earlier this week I had sent an email to someone pretty important in the church world asking for some guidance with Beyond Acronyms. I haven’t heard back — and perhaps that is my fault. Because it wasn’t a very professional email. It was one of those rambley emails with a heavy dose of my own self deprecating humor. Perhaps not the right tone, but then I remembered what led me to be called to my last church: I want to be my most authentic self. I don’t want to have to manipulate my tone and humor all of the time. I want to try to live into the amazing possibility that I might be enough just as I am. I am not perfect and I’m not trying to be — but I am my self. I am not trying to hide anything.

I’m trying to be my most authentic self.

In the Middle of the Story

The question always comes up in Bible Study when we find ourselves talking about Jesus. Somewhere in the middle of the Gospel, no matter which Gospel we’re reading, we find ourselves studying a particular passage after he’s born and before the real trial has begun. There’s just been a healing or some other sign. And someone will imagine how Jesus feels at that very moment.

I ask them to stay within the story. I ask them not to jump ahead. Or read outside of the selected verses because it’s so very hard to stay in that moment. We know the whole story. We know how the story will end. We know what will happen to Jesus. We know what we’ve been taught about him so that it’s so very hard to stay in the moment. It’s hard not to hear the hymns we’ve sung for years and the creeds we thought we’d long forgotten reverberate against the words in that particular passage. Because it’s all there. No matter how hard we try to push it away and just be in that moment in Christ’s life. It’s all there.

But, that’s not how it is in our lives. We are in the middle of the story. We don’t know how it’s going to end up. We don’t know what’s going to happen next. There are things that we desperately wish would happen. There are things that we are trying with every ounce of our being to make happen. We’ll fight like hell for those things, but in the middle of the story, what we notice most is the resistance. Not God’s wonderful works. Not what God has done. Or even what God might do.

We notice what we can’t make happen. And yet, the psalm invites us to sing.

Sing of God’s praises. Sing of God’s wonderful works. And remember.

Remember the wonderful works God has done,
    the miracles, and the judgments God has uttered,
O offspring of God’s servant Abraham,
    children of Jacob, the chosen ones.
Psalm 105:5-6, NRSV

Remember how it was for Abraham and maybe — just maybe — you’ll see that same wonder working in your own life. Seek God’s presence and strength. Because you and I are in the middle of the story. We don’t know how it will end. We don’t know what will happen next. We know what we want but perhaps instead of seeking that next thing, it’d be worth spending some of that energy on seeking God’s presence and strength. Because we’re in the middle of the story and we don’t know what will happen next. But, no matter what, we will need that presence and a whole lot of strength.