Pandemic Liturgy for All Saints Sunday

This is one of my very favorite celebrations of the church. I have long lamented that there are not enough spaces in the church calendar to share our grief. This is one of the few.

This year, when the death toll of COVID-19 continues to rise over 200,000, it feels especially important to give space for all that we are grieving right now. In my first newsletter, I shared this old liturgy with lots of space for silence. I confessed that I didn’t think it would work for online worship but I wanted to write something else to honor this holy day. If All Saints is new to you, as it was to me not too long ago, I offer this very brief history from an old worship bulletin from one of the churches I’ve served.

As early as the fourth century, days were set aside to commemorate all the saints at once. Today we continue this tradition using the varied practices of All Saints Day, All Souls Day and the Day of the Dead all of which are celebrated on November 1 or 2. Though in the Catholic tradition where this celebration honored unknown saints and to remedy deficiencies in people’s observance of a particular saint’s day, we do not canonize or pray to saints, but we look to these towering figures of our heritage for inspiration and encouragement in our own Christian pilgrimage. All Saints Day should challenge us by presenting us with a variety of figures from different times and places whose often contradictory styles of faithfulness enlarge our notion of what it means to be a disciple and a saint.

Unlike the other prayers that I share on a weekly basis, I wanted to offer a complete liturgy for this day. I not only hope this gives our pastors some space to worship themselves, but it also allows me to play a bit more. Play is good for all our souls. I need to play even if in relishing in the joy of playing I managed to pick the epistle for Proper 27 instead of the selected readings from Proper 26. I knew I was going to ignore the lections for actual All Saints Day though there is a nod to the gospel in one of the songs I’ve selected. I decided not to change it and let the text speak to the lamentation of this time.

Gathering for Worship

Remember When by The Many is available to be freely streamed from YouTube in worship or can be purchased on a sliding scale based on congregational size here. It is covered by the CCLI license.
Invitation to Worship

Let us begin 
our lament here, O God, 
in an act of memory
of all that has happened
in all that we could not 
believe was possible
as good white people
as people who had
never known how far and wide
a virus could actually reach
as people who 
who thought we 
had enough faith. 

Show us 
what we do 
not want to remember
and what we cannot 
bear to remember
after so much has been lost
in only a few short months.
O God, let us begin here
in all full lament.

Lighting of the Christ Candle

On the central screen that guides your worship (which would usually be the primary speaker in Zoom), place a large white pillar candle upon a candle holder or even a recognizable parament from your church’s treasure of beautiful things.

Go slow. Start by laying out the parament or candle holder onto the table on screen and then slowly place the candle in the center. Using a candle lighter or just a match (but please not one of these awful things), light the wick. Do this all in silence. Create a slide to follow these words or simply pray aloud:

O Light of Christ,
bring your steadfast love
here to illuminate 
all that will be gathered here. 
Redeem us from trouble
in the fire of your love. Amen.

Readings for All the Saints

A Reading of Poetry The Truly Great by Stephen Spender

A Reading from Scripture 1 Thessalonians 2:9-10, 4:13-18

Lighting the Memory of the Saints

With the Christ candle at the center of the screen, push a basket of tealights so that it is just barely visible on screen. Use these movements as liturgical actions where you are setting the space and preparing yourself and those watching for prayer. (You’ll need room so don’t push it too close.) Begin by offering these words:

We will not be uninformed about those who have died. We grieve so many. We feel such loss even as we cling to hope. We encourage each other by remembering their names.

You may choose to have gathered a list of names from within your congregation as is your tradition each year. You may search the necrology of your church as you do every year for those that have died in the past year in your community. Or you could choose to use this list of saints that will, sadly, probably need additions before the first of November.

Paul of Tarsus
Priscilla 
Francis of Assisi
Julian of Norwich
Teresa of Avila
Martin Luther
Harriet Tubman
Sojourner Truth
Mahatma Ghandi
Martin Luther King, Jr. 
Mother Theresa
James Lipton
Ahmaud Arbery
Kenny Rogers
Rev. Joseph E. Lowery
Breonna Taylor
Vanessa Guillen
Bill Withers
John Prine
George Floyd
Cornelius Fredericks
Little Richard
Betty Wright
Priscilla Slater
Larry Kramer
Hugh Downs
John Lewis
C.T. Vivian
Regis Philbin
Herman Cain
Chadwick Boseman
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Eddie Van Halen

After each name is spoken, softly and gently, reach for a tealight. Light the tealight from the Christ candle and place it underneath the light of Christ so that the light of Christ radiates with the light of the saints you have named. Continue until the last name is read. Pause. After pausing, then close in prayer with these words.

O Light of Christ,
we have witnessed
lives well lived and lives cut too short.
We are left below this great 
cloud of witnesses
to continue the struggle
for justice and love
in this world. Still, we lament
that we've lost these partners. 
May their memories be a blessing
and a light to our labor. Amen.

Though I would be more inclined to recruit the talents within the congregation to sing We Grieve the Many Thousands by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette (O Sacred Head, Now Wounded) or We Grieve 200,000 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette (O Sacred Head, Now Wounded), I provide the above video as another option. It is covered by the CCLI license as shown here.

Sharing the Feast of God with All the Saints

As much as possible, and assuming that the presider has also spoken the earlier liturgy, keep the Christ candle and tealights in view as communion is shared with the great cloud of witnesses. Bring the loaf and cup alongside. As you share the story of that Last Supper, do not hesitate to make elaborate gestures of the bread breaking and the wine being poured. These things tell the story beyond words.

Invitation to the Feast

More than even the flickering lights,
we feel the waves of grief rise
as we gather around this table
to do what we have always done:
remember, share and bless.

To remember the goodness of God
as we shake the crumbs off 
familiar paraments faithfully mended
over the generations. We remember
who was once here with us.
We feel their absence.

To share in the mystery 
of sacred story that reaches
across lifetimes and generations
to be broken and poured out
with new meaning again.

To bless the grief
that tastes as salty as the bread
and bitter as the wine 
puckering our lips. 
We gather here 
with all the saints
to remember
to share and 
to bless.
Prayer of Blessing

Ancient Spirit, rise
from sacred story
to everyday truth
so that we can find you
again in these ordinary
elements on our shared table.
Even when we are not in one place,
may we find in this bread your wholeness.
May we find in this cup your joy.
Fill our humble bellies with your wonder
as you bless this bread and cup.
Bless our hearts with fullness. Amen.
Prayer after Communion

Holy Three in One, thank you for this feast.
We have remembered who’s we are and who we love.
We have blessed our grief and tasted goodness
so let us go now to be light and salt for this world. Amen.

Blessing

I would let music be the blessing for this time of lament. Allow the candles to keep burning as the Light of Christ and all the saints go with us into the days ahead. I offer two options. I prefer the above song. You can find CCLI license information here. You could instead choose God Will See Us Through which has options for a video download or sheet music for the talent in your congregation.

As always in these pandemic prayers, you are welcome to use part of this liturgy or all of it. I am not asking you to bend over backwards to offer me credit. I am instead offering this as a gift because you are doing so much and I’m praying for you and the ministry you are doing with such love.

Pandemic Prayers for Vacation Bible School

It is Vacation Bible School week in our house which means there is a ton more screen time than usual as we share in learning about the light of the world. It’s a curricula entirely created by the staff and volunteers at our sweet Texas church and I’m reminded again how amazing it is to witness what can be accomplished in these strange times where we choose not to gather for worship.

There are also a number of amazing resources for VBS that have popped into my email including Tumbuh’s God’s Global Kids and Illustrated Ministry’s Compassion Camp. Both feel timely and wonderful as people continue to swarm into the streets to march and protest for the simple fact that black lives matter.

My mornings are spent with Bible crafts, singing This Little Light of Mine and sharing with my sweet toddler what this faith means. I’m also spending a lot of time thinking about what I’m teaching her about race and racism. That might seem unimportant. It may seem like I should be working harder on my own racism but this reminder that how the littlest ones test our faith made me wonder about how white people pray with their children to resist and oppose racism.

Gathering Together

Psalm 100 challenges me to consider the songs I’m teaching to my children. I might not be bringing them to protest right now but I want them to know the songs when we get there. Many of those songs are songs of faith so what if worship began with some freedom songs? I’d be eager to include this one and this one both sung by the Freedom Singers. I’d encourage kids to find some noise makers even if they’re just banging on pots and pans to make a joyful noise.

Perhaps then there should be some gathering words inspired by the Psalm. The children might continue to bang their pots and pans or whatever noisemakers they’ve found every time the refrain “make a joyful noise” is offered. Prompt the children to listen for those words and pause each time to look at the gallery of delight in your Zoom worship.

Gathering Words
Inspired by Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise, all the earth.
Praise God for young minds
and older hearts
eager to grow and change.
Praise God for sunshine
and babies
and the radical hope
that nothing is impossible
with your love.
Make a joyful noise, all the earth.
Gather us in with songs
of protest and freedom
of hope and change.
Teach us new songs
to sing in the foreign lands
that almost seem normal now.
Make a joyful noise, all the earth.
Bring us together
from the many places we are
with powerful internet connections
and spirits eager
to be renewed.
Make a joyful noise, dear children of God.
Know that God is good
and that we sing praise to
all that is good.

You might also choose this Intergenerational Call to Worship by Carolyn Brown or this Improvisation on Psalm 100 by Maren Tirabassi though I might add something about digital doors because “these doors” doesn’t mean the same thing in the midst of pandemic.

Prayer for Children

I always opt for prayers for children from Marian Wright Edelman. Over here on Prayers for School Children, I might adapt the final prayer for all children as a blessing for VBS. Or I might opt for something like this with language that is familiar to young children.

Blessing for Vacation Bible School
Inspired by Matthew 9:35-10:8

God, as Vacation Bible School begins,
our children will go about villages and cities
sharing your good news. May they feel love
from every adult who reads a story
and every song leader.
May they learn that faith is big
and sometimes really hard.
May they find joy in wondering
and delight in listening.
May they know that there’s
so much more to learn
and be excited to go on the next adventure.
God, we bless [names of children].
These are the names of the children
we will hold close in prayer
this week as Vacation Bible School begins.
Amen.

Passing of the Peace

A few weeks ago, I referred to an idea from a mentor of mine where individuals might be invited to share reflections of peace in the passing of the peace. I wonder if instead we might model to our children and remind ourselves of the work we are struggling to do to wrestle with our whiteness by sharing something we did or read or heard that challenged the racism that lives under our skin.

Maybe two or three people offer this short reflection and concludes by saying something like, “The peace of Justice and Love also be with you.” For those using Zoom, there might be some musical interlude that follows where people could share in the chat what other things they’ve wrestled with in their racism. That list could be gathered from the chat and shared in the weekly email that follows that week so that the conversation might continue as much as our support of each other in doing this work.

That’s all I’ve got for this week.

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

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.