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 Easter Pageant for a Pandemic Year

This year, we have done things differently. Worship has been different and there have been surprises.

There are things that have happened in worship that never would have been possible if we had not been forced into online worship for the care of every beloved child of God. Sometimes, different is good. It invites us to dream. It challenges us to imagine what else is possible.

It might even challenge us to take risks.

A pageant might not feel like that much of a risk because our first association is so often the costumes on the sweet cherubs that refuse to stay in the chancel and tell the story of Jesus’ birth. It especially might not feel risky because so many of the pageants I saw online this past Christmas were so wonderful. They had all of the wonder and all of the joy that warms our hearts every other year.

The risk, instead, is in telling the story of death and resurrection in a way that speaks to this moment. It does not feel faithful to leap into the good news of new life when so much has been lost this year. We still need to find space to lament and grieve. We need to honor the liminal space we still find ourselves in waiting for the world to change again.

The risk is inviting households within your church family to tell this story in a way that is meaningful to them.

This Year is a pageant for this pandemic year that encourages creativity and honest storytelling for asynchronous worship. It offers scripted narration that might be shared between two or more narrators and detailed explanation for each of the seven scenes including Last Supper Preparations where Peter has to make a curbside pick-up for provisions and a brief scene where we feel the heaviness of our grief in seeing Mary weep. It is a telling of how hope comes alive in that focuses on that space between death and new life so there is a scene where the disciples are Trapped in an Upper Room. It is familiar to us what their feelings may have been because we have felt that tension build in our closest relationships while in quarantine. My favorite moment might actually be where the tension breaks and the disciples try to do something normal and familiar. They go fishing but there is an invitation to share images and videos of what so-called normal feels like now.

There are other video clips, as we have chosen to call them, where the beloved community can share the wonder and glory of their garden. That was inspired by the church member in my first call that would bring photos of her garden to the church office each week. It is our hope that this isn’t a story that is just told by the youngest in the congregation but an invitation to tell the story in a meaningful way for every age.

There are music suggestions included as the story unfolds from the Gospel of Mark. We chose to include both endings in the gospel telling where there is space for both terror and amazement and space for proclamation of the good news. I love how this script evolved in collaboration with Skyler Keiter-Massefski.

Years ago when Skyler was wee, we sat at their parent’s kitchen counter for one afternoon during Christmas Break and wrote a fresh new pageant for the church I then served as their pastor. Skyler was a determined youth with strong ideas who had just confirmed their baptism the year before. I remember that it wasn’t too much later after that that I wondered aloud if Skyler might consider the ministry.

Now, Skyler is a candidate for the Masters of Divinity at Yale even though I told them to go to my alma mater. They are busy presenting brilliant ideas at the Academy of American Religion and caring for children and youth at the South Amherst Congregational Church where they have already generated enthusiasm and excitement about this script. I am so humbled they said yes to collaboration on this project and so grateful for the wisdom and creativity they shared.

As we were chatting about this project, we didn’t just want to make space for the grief of this past year. We also wanted to provide moments for each congregation to celebrate the ministry that has been done and the ministry that awaits. This Year begins and concludes with opportunities to celebrate and remember. It gives an opportunity to look forward to what hope looks like in this particular place at this particular time as resurrection becomes real again. You can purchase this full and complete script with suggestions for props, costumes and locations here.

I am so excited to share this pageant for this pandemic year and hope it is a blessing to each congregation that chooses to share in its story during Holy Week. As always, dear pastors, I offer it to you this resource for purchase with many prayers for your faithful ministry in this season and beyond.

Waiting for Resurrection in Coronatide

Easter will come just as it has every year before because resurrection is promised. It happens even when we cannot fully comprehend its possibility. Resurrection still happens.

I have been thinking a lot about hope this Lent. I’ve been thinking about its texture and its sensation. It can come to live inside us and it can feel as distant as the setting sun. Glorious but incomprehensible to the ordinariness of our lives — and our lives have been so ordinary in this pandemic. We have not traveled. We haven’t visited with those that we love most for fear of infection. Death has been so close.

Death is still too close but hope does not give up. It doesn’t sound like there will be widespread of the vaccines for COVID-19 until later this summer. There are other concerns in our world. Or there should be as we struggle against the powers of white supremacy and Christian nationalism and maybe Easter can be that grand celebration where we have overcome all of these terrors. Maybe. To me, it feels like we need to remember this year — and maybe every year — that hope is not always triumphant.

Sometimes hope is quiet and gentle. Hope is a flicker of creativity or.a hint of possibility.

It may not be apparent. It might not be something we all see or feel but something we have to believe into our own reality.

It might be something that actually requires witnesses where we need other people to be there to see and hear this thing. We don’t want to be alone in this moment. We need others to be there with us.

It is everything that I’ve ever felt in those early morning experiences of waiting for the sun to rise on Easter morning. I am not a morning person and this is a feat of God for me to even be at this service. It is even more miraculous if I am the one leading this service but there is something quiet and powerful about the hope that is felt in those services. It’s not the loudness of the festival worship that happens in the sanctuary later that morning.

It is an expectant kind of hope.

I wanted to create something like that for this year. Something that was full of expectation of what could be when we overcome the terrors of the present. Something that would invite us to watch and wait together. Easter Watch is that something. It is available to you here for free.

Unlike the bonfire experience I created for Ash Wednesday, I wanted something that could happen as a worship event outside. It would be masked. It would be possible to maintain six feet so that even those that are not vaccinated could watch and wait in community.

It is adapted from a service I created years ago while I was an interim pastor for a tiny church in rural Pennsylvania. They were used to a sunrise service in the graveyard behind their church but they knew that it couldn’t be that this year. The forecast wouldn’t make it safe for any of us to traverse that uneven ground. So much had already changed there anyway. This could change too so that there was an opportunity to gather and wait for the good news to come. It needed to be different because they were different than they were the year before.

That service had more of the familiar notes of an Easter Vigil but this one is really focused around quiet contemplation around a bonfire as the sun begins to rise. It’s a service to welcome the possibility without knowing really what will come next and I pray a worshipful experience that invites each participant to make hope come alive. As with Fire & Ashes, it is a simple pamphlet that can be shared among the worshipping community. It doesn’t require an ordained leader but invites a few voices to speak between the silences of personal meditation.

The one thing that it doesn’t include is music and I think there could be music. I just don’t think it should be music that requires lugging a laptop or a portable speaker to make it beautiful. It feels like the kinds of experience where a talented musician or soloist (or both) could offer some familiar Easter hymns to make this worshipful experience even more wonderful.

It does, however, require a few worship elements for this worship experience to happen including:

  • Firewood
  • Twigs and sticks
  • Matches, lighter or other tool to start fire
  • Large pitcher full of water
  • Large vessel like a bowl
  • Shovels

As with other things I offer, it is yours to adapt and imagine into new life. I hope it’s a blessing to you this Holy Week as you wait for the power of resurrection to become real.

May it be so.

Recipe for Resurrection Awe Strolls

Here in Texas there has been a terrible freeze. There was snow and it left a good chunk of the state without power including most everyone in my sweet Texas church back in Central Texas.

We did have snow over here in West Texas and it actually stuck around for a day or two but now there is only the faintest hint of white on the peaks of the mountains that surround the city. We never lost power. We have water. These were not worries we had being on an alternate power grid than the rest of the state. Instead, like the rest of the country, we watched in horror and dismay. We wrote angry letters to people in power. We prayed and I thought this was a really stupid thing to post when the sidewalks in places that are not even used to getting snow are frozen solid with sheets of ice.

It is not the right time to go out for a walk but now the snow is starting to melt in Austin. The thaw is coming and hope is always out there waiting for us to find it again.

I am interested in how we encourage each other to find hope right now. It’s why I wrote this liturgy to carry us through this whole season until Easter comes again. I want us to see it and feel it. I want to be able to point to it beyond the vaccine card that proclaims that my parents and my husband got their first doses of the vaccine this week. I need tangibles here.

This idea comes from an article I read way back when in Coronatide about awe walks. Another article from Psychology Today describes these walks like this:

An “awe walk” is a stroll in which you intentionally shift your attention outward instead of inward. So, you’re not thinking about the tight deadline, the unfinished project, the strain in your relationship with your spouse, or concerns about the coronavirus.

Psychology Today, 3 November 2020

It reminded me of resurrection. There is death and destruction all around us. There is so much that has gone wrong in this Good Friday world but we are people who dare to live in hope. We dare to look for possibility and wonder. We choose delight.

Or at least, we try. Sometimes I think we need to have someone help us see what is possible. It’s why all of the encounters after the resurrection are with a community. It’s a shared experience. We are never left alone to wonder if that amazing thing really did happen. We merely have to turn to the person beside us, and ask, “Did you see that?”

In the original study of these awe walks, there were groups that went walking together. They were not alone. They did not have a toddler with them to point out every bit of fantastic amazingness in this world that it takes forever to walk the half block to the cluster mailbox just to get your mail, but they were together to take selfies before, during and after the walk three scientists were able to observe the changes in their faces with this simple practice. I did not want to assume that others might have a walking buddy whether it might be someone in their own household or someone within their pod. I wrote this recipe as a personal prayer practice. As with everything else I offer, please feel free to adapt it as it best fits your ministry. Use it as a spark of creativity and see where it leads as you encourage people to find hope in this time.

Just as I didn’t want to assume that there might be groups walking together in masks, I wanted this to be an accessible experience to anyone and everyone assuming that the streets in their neighborhood are safe to walk. That feels like a big assumption in itself but I also wanted it to be something that could be done while rolling on a wheelchair or pushing a scooter. (I confess that is my toddler’s preferred method of walking.) I called it a stroll because I didn’t want anyone to get the impression that we were going for distance here. That’s not the point. It doesn’t matter how far you go in your 15 minutes of strolling upon your chosen path. It matters what you see and what you feel. It matters that you train yourself to look for wonder and delight while all of the things that have kept you up at night are left behind the locked door at home.

If I were to encourage this in Lent or Easter, I might borrow from the original study and encourage people to take selfies after their walks to share with the church community on social media with a witty hashtag about the hope that they’ve seen. It would be a simple way to share hope beyond the church community.

We all need hope right now. I hope this recipe helps you to cook up some creative ways to find hope in your ministry. I am praying for you, dear pastors. I am praying so much.

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.

Illuminating the Way to Hope in Another Pandemic Lent

Years ago, and I mean years ago, I wrote this liturgy for the six Sundays in Lent. It was an extended Tenebrae or a reversal of the Advent wreath. I wish I had explained it better in the original post.

I had completely forgotten about it until some kind soul mysteriously found it in my archives. I remembered that the dare came from Ashley Goff when we were sharing in a virtual liturgy lab with Janet Walton. I remembered how much fun it was to share in those calls with our worship professor from seminary but I didn’t really remember the moment in worship. There are some liturgical moments that stick with you. They etch into your being and reframe your hope. This wasn’t one of those but I liked it when I reread it enough to play with it again.

In the original post, I comment about how lovely it was to hear these words spoken by one of our youth. In these days of online worship, I’m not entirely sure that’s possible. I think it might be possible to record the audio and play it over the central set of candles that guide this weekly practice but that also sounds annoying. I wanted something simpler and something a little less somber. That doesn’t feel like the right tone for this Lent. We have had enough quiet introspection about our humanity and plenty of questions have arisen about our mortality so that it doesn’t seem like that should be the focus of this season.

This will not be super traditional and that’s OK. It’s OK to break the rules. It’s ok to play with tradition and sometimes that means that you turn tradition on its head as you try to find hope and make it real. So instead of a central set of candles that is the focus, this imaginative play invites each household to make their own worship centerpiece.

My inspiration comes from this gorgeous Advent wreath created be a member of my sweet Texas church pictured here.

This was an unprompted creation of Kimberlee Flores, but of course our focus is Lent so it’ll look a little bit different.

You might choose to send home these elements in bag of goodies your church offers for each season or you might include a simple supply list (perhaps even using the one below) and see what creativity comes with this invitation.

I’m suggesting some familiar symbols from the season including rocks and water. Rocks recall the temptation Jesus experiences in the wilderness. Sand is maybe a smaller version of that and something that can be dug out of the children’s sandbox easily. Water reminds us of the water that washes the feet of the disciples and the living water that the woman finds beside the well. Bulbs remind us of resurrection and the promise of new life. I really like the greenery in Advent and I am really uninterested in seeing anything barren on my table so bulbs feel right to me. I might just order some paper whites for myself. I received some as a gift years ago and they are a wonder to watch. They fit perfectly in a pie plate if you are not interested in ordering a kit.

If you do blessing bags as my sweet Texas church calls them, you might want to order paper white bulbs to send home to each household. Your local nursery should be able to provide them.

They require no soil to grow and they will bloom by Easter without the gross overwhelming smells of lilies.

They would be a lovely addition to a centerpiece and if you share in this little ritual below, you can compare blossoms over Zoom.

I like hearing diverse voices in worship and I know you, dear pastor, are tired of hearing the sound of your own voice so my hope is that it is easy enough to ask six different households to share in this simple ritual in the beginning of worship. It would be my choice to send this simple liturgy and collect videos from those households. Or if Zoom worship is your thing, I’d unmute that household for this moment but you know what’s right for you and your church, dear pastor.

It could take the place of the Call to Worship or could follow an invitation to contemplate God’s wonder and hope. (Yes, you will see such prayers here soon.) I would repeat these words each week. The things that surround it can change as hope is continually made new.

Invitation to Hope 
Inspired by Psalm 25:1-10

It is in this holy season that we are led into hope.
We have been waiting for hope to come for so long. 

We have put our trust in scientists and experts
and more often than not, 
we have not put our trust in God. 

We have felt unsteady as the sands 
have shifted again and again underfoot. 
We have been waiting for the waters 
to part so that we can find our way
into the hope we know will come.

We need to remember 
that hope is promised. 

Lighting the Way to Hope 
We light one candle today
to remember that hope is promised in 
rainbows and stone tablets. 
Hope is promised in the light 
that shines in you and me.

[Candle is lit.]

I would conclude this moment of worship with song. Maybe the song changes every week or maybe it’s the same refrain about hope that carries us into the promise of Easter. I’m undecided on what that song should be though I am strongly thinking about this hymn. Or really, let’s be honest, I can’t resist singing this song to myself in these strange pandemic days.

This is not covered by CCLI license. You knew that already but it’s a really great version.

That’s all I’ve got so far for Lent, dear pastors, but I’ve got more cooking up on the back burner. Until then, I’m praying for you.

A Hopeful Lent

Where are you finding hope? What does hope look like for you right now?

In my own struggle with whether or not to get dressed in the morning, I know that I’m struggling to find hope. It feel like a nice idea or even like something that we once had. Maybe even something we will have again but that still feels like a long way off. Like so many, I am exhausted.

My children are little. They know about the yucky germs and know that we can’t go near people without our masks on. I keep more distance because my youngest isn’t old enough to wear a mask and we still live in Texas where there are people that think this is a hoax and refuse to wear their own masks. I worry about what I’m teaching them by telling them to keep such distance. I worry so much about my own sanity and theirs that I’m not sure that I have energy for anything dramatic this Lent, but I know I need something. I need something to reframe my frustration and sorrow.

In her new book, The Hopeful Family: Raising Resilient Children in Uncertain Times, Amelia Richardson Dress invites us to imagine that by doing simple things that hope could come live inside us. She begins by naming parenting with hope like this:

Hope has both an inward component and an outward one. Practices of resilience help us to find courage and trust. They comfort us in times of struggle. But they also inspire us to believe in the vision that Jesus gave us, that God’s reign will come here on earth.

Amelia Richardson Dress

It took my breath away. It is repeats again in other wonderful words throughout the book but I don’t want to quote so much that you feel like you’ve read the book. You should read the book especially if you find yourself struggling in this uncertain time. If you are not struggling, you are a superhero. I am not sure what hope looks like right now. That’s the honest truth and that’s why I need to enter into these simple practices of generosity, hospitality, forgiveness, blessing and storytelling. Yes, all of these are possible even for someone like me who takes quarantining to a whole new level.

With Amelia’s abundant blessing, I’ve adapted the practices she offers for the seven weeks of Lent. It’s seven because it includes Holy Week which means you get one more practice to share in with the wisdom offered in this wonderful book. I can’t take on that much more and I am willing to bet that’s true for the families in your church. It might even be true for you, dear pastor. You are doing so much raising your children and caring for the blessed souls in your congregation. Whether or not you feel on edge like I do, you really are a superhero. You are doing amazing things every damn day.

There is nothing strict about this approach to this pandemic season of Lent. There is a calendar but it’s really only because I don’t know what day it is and I need something to orient me on some kind of timeline. There aren’t practices for every day but something you are trying together as a family each week. As Amelia says again and again, try this. It’s an experiment in hope. Try it. See what it might show you about God.

It could even be fun. There are a few extra practices if you get bored or want to try something else.

Each week, there is a blessing written by Amelia, the practice that will frame your week, and some hints at beautiful books to read with your children in the Bible and from children’s literature. I also included some questions for grown-up conversation so that you can practice talking to grown-ups again about big ideas and stuff that matters.

I designed this for myself. It’s what I’ll be doing with my family. I’ll be dragging my husband into the conversations even though he doesn’t do God or church. I framed these questions in such a way that they are not too Jesus-y because I know that there are more families like mine, but I also wanted there to be something like this that would be easy for you, dear pastor, to send to the families in your church.

I know you’ve worked hard to create brilliant and wonderful things for families all year long and that some of you feel like you have no good ideas left. This is for you. You’ll find the link to A Hopeful Lent (for Congregational Use) here. By ordering this version, you have full ability to share it with your whole church for this season in whatever way makes the most sense to you.

I also created a version for families to use at home on their own. You’ll find a link to the A Hopeful Lent (for Family Use) here. When you purchase this version, you’re promising to be a nice person and tell your friends about this cool thing you found and directing them to the link rather than forwarding them the rad PDF you just got in your email.

I’m so thrilled with how it came together and I pray it will help families, like mine, find hope in this pandemic season of Lent. I’m so grateful that Amelia blessed this project. You should totally buy her book even if you don’t do this for Lent. It is, indeed, a gift for this uncertain time.

An Advent Invocation

Remember when I said I wasn’t going to offer weekly prayers?

That is still my intention but it seems that I cannot write Christmas Eve without first wandering into the lamentation and hope of Advent. I have been working on a service for the Longest Night and Christmas Eve but couldn’t quite get into the movement of these liturgies until I first wrote this prayer. It came after listening to this song a few zillion times.

There is another version of the song here though I rather like the visuals in the one above. This shouldn’t be surprising if you’ve seen the liturgy I wrote for this season.

Prayer of Invocation

Sometimes, O God,
it feels impossible.
It all feels so impossible.
For here we are again
watching and waiting
for something 
to change 
so that your hope 
for this world 
might come alive
but now
now
now
O God
the earth is charred
and burnt.
There is weeping 
and wailing
for all 
that has 
been lost.
We are not certain
that change will come
even as we pray 
for the heavens to be torn open.
O God, come and teach us to sing again
for we need a new song. We are ready for a new song.
Come, O God. 

This prayer has sat in the working document for these other liturgies and I decided it might be worth sharing. I hope it is a gift to your planning.

You have already been busy planning for weeks, dear pastors. I know. You’ve wondered how you could possibly share the good news of Christ’s birth this year. I promise it will be perfect. All that you have planned will be all that it needs to be. Your love for these people and your hope for our world will shine through every stress. Remember that Saint Francis encouraged the faithful to preach the good news by walking and use words only when necessary. You are doing this, dear pastor. Every day, you are doing just this.

Words to Speak to the Unknown

I am as uncertain what tomorrow holds as anyone. I’ve done my part. I’ve cast my ballot and now I can only pray that I live in a land that chooses love over hate.

I pray so much and fumble for the right words to speak my hope. I admire you so much, dear pastors, for your courage and strength in reminding us what the gospel calls us to do and be.

I find myself tripping over words in my worry for what 2020 will dish up for us now. When I don’t know how to pray, I sing broken and out of tune. Only my kids really suffer the discordant praise while we are under lockdown. Still, I sing.

i

I don’t know why this is the song on my heart right now but it’s what I’ve been singing all morning. It got me thinking about other words that speak to the unknown fears so many are carrying right now. There are other songs, of course. Even when we cannot sing together, there are hymns that can proclaim our hope like a good poem. Among my favorites are these wonders of words:

  • This Is My Song
  • O for a World
  • God of Grace and God of Glory
  • For the Healing of the Nations
  • We Would Be Building
  • Toda la Tierra
  • Come, O Long-Expected Jesus

I haven’t included links as I hope that these are familiar enough that you can sing a few bars even if you were confused why Advent songs appear on this list. Isn’t that how we feel right now, like the whole earth is waiting even if it’s actually just those within the borders of these United States of America? There are two more newer hymns that I would add to this list. One of these songs was included in the All Saints liturgy I shared a few weeks ago. Those songs are:

There are, obviously, poems that dare to name our hopes and fears of all the years of 2020. (That carol is another I’ve found myself singing lately.) Here are some poems that have spoken to my heart recently and I hope dare to dream of what will be beyond the election results.

There are certainly more words to speak to this moment. You, dear pastors, are offering so many wonderful words of life. Thank you for reminding us all to hope.

Pandemic Prayers for Easter 5A

I join the circle of preachers who have expressed their familiarity with this text at the graveside. It’s the Gospel Lesson I always choose when the family doesn’t steer me in another direction, not because of the many mansions or rooms but for what it says about grief. I love the repetition that Jesus holds before us. I am in you. You are in me. 

I feel the tremendous wonder of these words in the eighth week of sheltering in place. I feel the weight of it as the news ticked across my screen last week announcing the death toll was now higher in the United States than the lives lost in the Vietnam War. As I sit here with my laptop in my lap watching my children enjoy their third snack of the day after our morning walk, that death toll is reported to be 67,465. The Washington Post reports that number will double by June 1 with the number of states relaxing restrictions. Lord Jesus. I am in you. You are in me. 

I have watched as clergy post masked selfies at their first graveside service in the wake of this pandemic. I’ve listened as they’ve carefully considered how to keep the grieving socially distanced. I’ve heard their sorrow and regret and felt their tears. This is a new season for grief. It is different and still the same. Mourning hasn’t yet turned into dancing. We need space. We need time. We need to remember that no matter how death came, there is this promise in life after death. There is the mysterious power of love that continues. It lives on.  I am in you. You are in me. 

These prayers lean into that grief and the strange awareness that we are even more connected than ever.

Opening Worship

I know that we are not able to sing together and won’t be able to do so for some time but I want to believe that there is still a way to do so. I want to believe that video worship will somehow allow us to sing from the comfort and safety of our own living rooms while still hearing each other sing so I keep checking Singing from the Lectionary for something that might work. This week, I found John Bell’s Don’t Be Afraid which might work for a recorded response after the stanza of a poem like Amber Tamblyn’s To A New Dawning or this community sourced poem If the Trees Can Keep Dancing, So Can I. This could be a lovely way to begin worship.

This Gospel Lesson also reminds me of one of my favorite John Bell songs that would be a lovely gathering into worship. You can find it on YouTube here.

I also found When Human Voices Cannot Sing which is set to LAMENT but could also be sung in the more familiar (at least to me) ST COLUMBA. The lyrics spoke to my heart so much that I adapted it below to gather the beloved community into worship with the words of Psalm 31. The second option leans into the confusion of what will emerge from this. I know there are pastors leaning into this strange interim season. This might be something that works for that intention. There’s another beautiful option for this intention over on Spacious Faith.

Gathering in Grief and Hope

Words adapted from Shirley Erena Murray’s When Human Voices Cannot Sing

When human voices cannot sing
and human hearts are breaking,
we bring our grief to you, O God,
who knows our inner aching.
Incline your ear to us, O God.
Be our rock and refuge.

Set free our spirits from all fear —
the cloud of dark unknowing,
and let the light, the Christ-light show
the pathway of our going.
Incline your ear to us, O God.
We commit our spirits to you.

Make real for us your holding love,
the love which is your meaning,
the power to move the stone of death,
to find the hope of Easter morning.
Lead us and guide us, O God.
Our time is in your hands.
Our worship and praise is in your name.

Gathering into the Way

Thomas shares our doubt.
He doesn’t know what will come next.
We do not know where we are going.
How can we know the way?

Christ calls us to remember.
We do not know what God is doing
but we know who Christ is, so we know God is too.
We have known God and have seen God.

Philip pushes against the new normal.
He leans into what he thought he knew
before everything changed.
We have done the same.
Show us what God can do.

Christ soothes our troubled hearts
and invites us to believe.
I am in you and you are in me. 

Let us find a way into this truth.
Let us worship God together.

Shared Ritual Action

Instead of a confession, I was inspired by this prayer I saw on Facebook from Rabbi Valerie Cohen. (I jotted this down on scrap paper when I saw it but now I can’t find the actual post. If you can find it, please link to it below. I hate that I can’t find it.) Way back when on Good Friday, I virtually wandered through a Stations of the Cross where each reader donned a mask. This was before I owned one. It was before they were recommended in Texas though my husband reports to me how many people he sees actually abiding by this practice. On that Good Friday, before each reader read the station they were assigned, we watched them pull off their mask and then replace it after they had spoken. It was powerful.

Then, there was this horrific news in Michigan. I need a prayer to remember that this simple action is a prayer. I thought it might fit well into this worship experience. It appears below as a graphic that you’re welcome to share.

Sweaters Up for Grabs!

I might also include a blessing for the face masks. I know this is highly charged territory among some of my Christian sisters and brothers. (If you aren’t familiar with this struggle, read this.) This isn’t for everyone but I think we need a blessing. We need to remember that the choices we make are a prayer for the world and for ourselves.

Blessings always remind me of this amazing collaboration from years and years ago. I commend it to you as you figure out how to best outstretch hands in blessing upon face masks. Perhaps words likes these might be shared in your worship on Sunday.

Blessing for Face Masks

O God, bless these face masks.
May the fabric that protects each nose and mouth
be as strong as the fabric that knits together the human family.
May the strings not bind our ears
as we struggle to listen to the fears
of your people. May we feel every bit of sweaty discomfort
as a reminder of our shared humanity
and may that connection give us more courage
to wear these masks upon our faces.
O God, bless these masks
as surely as you bless your people. Amen.

Prayers of the People

As I wondered last week, I’m still not sure what this particular moment of worship should look like. I offer you a prayer below that has been adapted from one in the United Church of Christ Book of Worship.

Be with us through all the unknown days lying before us:
days when where the flowers bloom and trees bud
but every day feels like the day before,
days when the headlines seem to emerge from the worst dystopian reality
but we remind ourselves again that this is the new normal,
days when we are consumed with worry
for the vulnerable, the poor and the sick
but we do not know what to do with our troubled hearts.

Be with us in this unknown, O God.
Do not put us to shame.
Be our refuge and strength.
so that we grow in union with all our sisters and brothers,
so that we may see more deeply into ourselves.

Be with us in this unknown, O God.
Show your full self to us
and allow us to see ourselves in you.
Resist the temptation to show great works
but remind us where you dwell.
Show us your heartbeat.
Let us feel your breath
as close as our own.

Help us to find the faith to believe:
I am in you and you are in me.

Help us understand that for those who are faithful to you
life is not ended but only changed.
Help us join together with all you have created to say:
Great and powerful is our God.
God fills heaven and earth with love and beauty.
It is a beauty we see in doctors, nurses,
chaplains, grocery workers and delivery workers.
It is love that we see smiling in the eyes
above each face mask.
Even in the unknown, O God,
we believe in you.
Help us to believe in each other
and even in ourselves.
In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

That’s all I’ve got for this week.

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