Pandemic Worship Planning Ahead

I’ve peppered my little internet home with Ingredients for Worship during this strange season of life and liturgy. Most of these posts have landed midweek when I remember to do so because I suddenly realize what day it is.

That’s not how things go in ministry. You, dear pastor, are a planner. Or you’re trying really hard to be a planner as you gather video clips from multiple people in your congregation each week to compile all of these things into a cohesive whole that will work in your chosen format of streaming worship.

My clergy friends are tired. They want a vacation. You probably want a vacation even if this raging pandemic means that you can’t actually go anywhere but it would mean that you wouldn’t have to agonize over creating video content for just one week. Maybe even two or three. So I want to try to give you that vacation because I know that you deserve it. You need it.

The problem is that each and every pastor in each and every congregation is innovating their way through the challenges of online worship in a slightly different fashion. I’ve heard repeatedly that it’s really nice that judicatory leaders are offering things but it’s not exactly what these pastors need. (It is nice. Keep doing it, dear judicatory leaders.) Having heard that frustration, I want to try to imagine what would help in this strange interim season.

So, let’s brainstorm a bit together. Here are some of the things that I see ahead for which you might want or need resources. Just as Lee Ann Pomrenke offers liturgy without an emphasis on preaching, I’m thinking particularly about stuff that doesn’t have to include a sermon.

Labor Day

In the time before Corona, this was a popular weekend to travel. It was a time for family backyard BBQs as the end of summer is observed. It was also a great day for clergy to be away. That might not be true this year. It might be a great time to recapture the original intention of the observed holiday and lift up the workers in your community and congregation. Interfaith Worker Justice provides some great liturgical sources and ideas for Labor in the Pulpits. 

I wonder especially how we witness to our faith and hope for this world and its people when we know that this pandemic has struck hard because of the working conditions in meatpacking plants and factories. A testimony could be offered instead of a sermon. The Gospel Lesson that Sunday reminds us that “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven” (Matthew 18:18, NRSV) which may or may not illustrate our hope.

Homecoming Sunday or Rally Day

Is this even going to be a thing? It seems that worship attendance has stayed fairly steady throughout the past five or six months of pandemic normal. Small groups are continuing to meet online so that the usual “welcome back” might not make any sense. (Ok, it’s not my favorite tradition anyway but it is a thing.)

Kids are going back to school though — in some format. I’ve seen the suggestion of a drive-thru blessing of backpacks in one church’s parking lot and have seen backpack blessing tags from Illustrated Ministry (and rumors that there will be some socially distant new tags) that might be offered to children returning to school even if school is at their dining room table. Are you thinking about a special blessing for teachers or parents too this year? Do they get stickers? Prayer cards? Stress balls? Could it be a whole service of blessings? Don’t we all need a blessing right now?

World Communion Sunday

There are some great liturgical elements for this Sunday where Christians remember our connection through the breaking of the bread and sharing the cup. I do not know how many of those exist in video format for little cost. This would be fun to explore.

The Gospel Lesson for that day is a humdinger but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be some liturgical wonders exploring broken bread and wine with perhaps a greater emphasis on the Hebrew Scriptures reading.

All Saints Day

I know. It’s all the way into the first week of November and you can’t imagine thinking that far but there could be some lovely meditative worship experience remembering all the people that died in the protests for Black Lives Matter, in the streets at the hands of a corrupt police system, the healthcare workers on the front lines and the millions of other people who have died in the pandemic in a few short months.

This, of course, does not include the number of people within your own church community who have died and even buried while maintaining six feet apart and wearing masks. I know that for many of you, dear pastors, these souls have been lost without you having an opportunity to minister and pray at their bedside. We need time to grieve and this holy day may be a time for you to worship and grieve too. I’m wondering what elements might be most helpful so this can be a reprieve for you, dear pastor.

A Good Ol’ Fashioned Hymn Sing

We can’t sing together. I know. We are listening to other people sing on tiny screens perched on our coffee tables. It’s not the same but there is something powerful about familiar hymns and having an opportunity to sing them even if the only one that can hear our singing is the cat. (And God, obviously.) There are lots of public domain songs and lots more that are covered by your congregation’s CCLI license. This would be really easy to pull together in bits and pieces. Would it help you and your people?

Is there something I missed? Is there something else that might allow you to be relieved of this task for a week or two, dear pastor?

I continue to pray for you and look forward to your thoughts and ideas in the comments. You can also message me if you would prefer.