Pandemic Prayers for Advent and Christmas

Though I am not posting weekly prayers during these four weeks, I do not want to leave you orphaned. I also do not think that I am Jesus. For some reason, that Gospel Lesson is working on me so there it is. If you are looking for prayers for this season, I am here for you. That’s what I meant.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a Pandemic Liturgy for Advent. It is a complete liturgy centered around a series of worship videos with some things left open for you to customize to your context.

If you are looking for more prayers, be sure to check out RevGalBlogPals Worship Words updated each and every week. I will look forward to sharing in that collaboration and you can look for my words on Advent 4 but I really love this collection of voices. Use these gifts. I also commend to you the work of LiturgyLink which includes some of my older prayers. There’s a search bar on the left to find the particular Sunday you need. You might also check the archive of News from My Kitchen to find a few other wonders I found. (Click on the previous link and then click on the red View Letter Archive.)

I can’t resist not sharing SALT Project’s Advent Candle Lighting Litanies. I just think that everything they do is gorgeous and I’m so excited my little Texas church sent me a blessing box with some of their materials for Advent. I know there are other great candle lighting liturgies out there and I’ll attempt to link to them on Instagram. You can find me @pandemic.prayers.

Oh, but I also want to share one more from the amazing Theresa Cho who shared this At-Home Advent Ritual Set last week. It’s just stunning. Download it even if it’s just for you.

You might also wander over to YouTube which I never thought I’d spend so much time on before the pandemic where I am always adding songs to my playlists for Advent Music and Christmas Music.

I created a few resources for this season that are unique including Keeping Watch Under Pandemic Skies. It is an outdoor meditation that wanders through Advent into Epiphany. You probably want to opt for the shorter path if you’re just finding it now but it includes an outdoor Christmas Eve service so you could check that off your list.

I also created a group discussion guide based on the devotional that I had written years ago to explore the grief that is so palpable in the third wave of this %$#!@ pandemic. And just so you don’t have to go searching for it, you can find all the info for Twinkly Lights in Blue Pandemic Days by following that link.

If you are planning ahead to Blue Christmas or Longest Night, I have something in the works for you. If you cannot wait, this Pandemic Liturgy for All Saints Day could be adapted. Unless you already used it in November and then you’ll have to wait for what is yet to come or find one of the other gifts that other talented souls are offering in yet another pandemic holy season. Remember how we thought it would just be Easter? That was funny.

If you are planning even further ahead, you might want to use Lessons and Carols for Coronatide for Christmas Eve. I really recommend it for the First Sunday of Christmas — not only because I’m working on something else for Christmas Eve but also because it gives you a break from preaching and extends the joy of this season. We need some joy. We need lots of joy. Also, you have the option of the outdoor Christmas Eve service from Keeping Watch Under Pandemic Skies unless you are in a northern climate where there is already three feet of snow, then that’s the worst idea ever. If you are not in that category and want just the Christmas Eve service and not the whole bundle, shoot me a note.

In these four weeks, I’m going to write two more liturgies for the Advent and Christmas season. I might even write one for Epiphany. I have a rough idea on that one where the others are already drafted. I’ll be sending out the next edition of News from My Kitchen including some ingredients for your worship in the season of Epiphany and Lent. I plan to return to weekly prayers after Christmas.

This is a busy season when it is not a pandemic. This is a time of year full of sweet memories and time honored traditions and all of those things will look and feel different this year. I know you will hear this from members of our community. They will lament, but I’m going to hold the space for you, dear pastors, because I know that you are carrying some sadness about this season too. Laura Stephens-Reed named this well way back in September. You are doing an amazing thing right now, dear pastors. You are offering wonder, light and hope even if you do not feel those things yourself.

You are light. I promise you that.

Lessons and Carols in Coronatide

Christmas will look different this year.

Our favorite traditions will not have the same warmth as being gathered in the same sanctuary singing beloved carols and lighting candles for the Light of the World. It will be different, but the promise will remain the same. Christ will be born.

Miracles will never cease.

As I’m busy writing other liturgy for this holy celebration, I wanted to also share a service for Lessons and Carols. It was all I knew as a child growing up in church. It was what Christmas Eve was but I’ve come to really love sharing this tradition in the midst of the Christmas season. It’s what I opt for on the Sunday following Christmas as a reminder to everyone — including myself — that the season is twelve days long and we should embrace the mystery of telling and retelling this story. (It’s also when I remind the deacons or altar guild that they are not to take down the decorations until after Epiphany. Ahem.)

Here is a simple liturgy for this beloved tradition that makes room for the weirdness of this season in which we still find ourselves. It is, of course, a wonderful Sunday to feature the musical talents of your congregation. Bring out those handbells and voices. Adjust carol suggestions as needed. I didn’t include a blessing carol so you can feel free to choose something that I would not think to choose. You might even choose to include different lessons. You might find some other poetry here. It’s a list I update every year.

BIDDING PRAYER

Let us pray:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel!
We gather once again to journey with you 
Through the deepest darkness of our hopes and fears
To be warmed by the mystery 
That your light shines in the darkness.
But, the darkness will not overcome it.

Even as we pray these words of joy,
We know that we pray amid the slaughter of innocents,
Lives lost in earthquakes and battles, persecution and genocide 
and hatred and viral outbreak.
We come searching for your light 
while the poor and homeless huddle in dark corners, 
while the hungry and sick search for wholeness,
while the lonely and unloved wail in despair.
So come into those dark places with us, Emmanuel God.
Let your light shine in the places we fear most.

Help us to follow the light of that star.
Let it illuminate our lessons, our carols and our lives
So that we might be filled with
More hope, more peace, more joy 
And most of all, Emmanuel God, 
More love.

Let us each, in our own way, 
join the chorus of praise, proclaiming the greatest of wonders,
The redeeming presence of God among us here and now.
Teach us in these lessons and these carols to search for that redeeming presence in every place that we might call out your name. 
Let our voices rise like candle flames,
Brightening this place to celebrate a holy child
That is born in our hearts and in our wildest imaginations
On this most holy night. Amen. 

BIDDING CAROL Once in David’s Royal City

FIRST LESSON   In the Time of Plague by N. Scott Momday

SECOND LESSON Isaiah 40:1-8

LIGHTING THE ADVENT AND CHRIST CANDLES

adapted from Maren Tirabassi's Advent Wreath Ceremony for Christmas

Leader: 
           
In our homes / in our church and homes
we gather around wreaths
to pray our lost hopes,
broken peace, limited joys,
and love so hard to find and share
in this season of coronavirus.  
We affirm that our candles mean
we claim the power to call this season Advent,
when God’s light comes into the world
and nothing can overcome it.
We light the candles of hope, peace, joy and love.

People/ SL:   
 
We now light the candle of Christ candle
even though we have been so afraid. 
We haven’t truly believed that there is good news, 
but light still shines in the shadows.
Emmanuel, God with us now.
May your love shines through us
and make us radiant with hope. Amen.

CAROL We Light a Candle by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

THIRD LESSON Hush by Lucinda Hynett

FOURTH LESSON Gabriel’s Annunciation by Jan Richardson

CAROL Mothers and Shepherds by Common Hymnal

FIFTH LESSON Luke 2:1-14

CAROL Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

SIXTH LESSON Luke 2:15-33

CAROL Joy to the World

SEVENTH LESSON You Still Dream by Nikki Grimes

EIGHTH LESSON Now the Work of Christmas Begins by Howard Thurman

PRAYER FOR CHRISTMAS

BLESSING CAROL

BLESSING

If you’re finding these pandemic prayers for the first time, dear pastor, please know that the liturgy here is yours to use. Adapt it. Edit it. Don’t worry about giving me credit. You are doing enough right now. You are doing so much.

You are in my prayers, as always, dear pastors and worship leaders especially as Advent approaches.

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 27

As I continue to try to write these prayers ahead of the Lectionary cycle, I’m writing these prayers when early voting is still happening in the state of Texas among others. I’ve cast my ballot but I do not know what will happen.

I have my fears. I know I’m not alone in those fears either.

I remember when the results came in last time after I showed up in my pant suit to vote. I wasn’t serving a church then. I didn’t pastor through that moment but I remember the intensity of that grief. I hope that history doesn’t repeat itself as much as I wonder how much politics (does this really count as politics?!?) should impact how we worship.

God will still be God. God is still doing something even if I struggle to see what that is in this moment. This is happening right now and I am really struggling to see the good in my fellow human. There’s that but then there’s Wisdom. How fabulous is she and there’s these words from Amos that have inspired our faith before. What do they say now?

Invitation to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 78:1-7 and Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16

Give ear, dear people.
Incline your ears.
Bend your necks
so that you might
hear this with your 
whole heart.
Feel your weight
shift to make room
for this teaching.

Wisdom is 
radiant and unfading.
She will be found
in every musing
and quandary.
She will appear 
in every waking thought
and burning question.

She may be
hard to understand.
Her radiance
more dusty and antiquated 
than you had hoped
but listen. Listen, dear people,
for you are worthy 
of good news. 
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Matthew 25:1-13

Open to us, O God,
your compassion 
for we have grown weary
with another wave 
of infection and illness.

Open to us, O God,
your mercy 
for we have
so little left.

Open to us, O God,
your hope 
for we do not 
know how or when 
this will end.

Open to us, O God,
and show us your grace 
because we need to feel
known and loved
especially by you.
It feels foolish
and absurd,
but we no longer 
know what to believe
about this world.
Show us your faith.
Amen.

I haven’t included Words of Assurance in the past few weeks. I haven’t found the right words and have let the confessions stand for themselves. I’m not sure that’s what we need but this week I need something that fills that gap even when I am without words. So, I rely on music.

It does not appear that this song is covered on CCLI license though a number of their songs are including this one. There’s a curated list of lyric videos by The Many here intended for use in worship that are currently being offered with free streaming rights. That might actually include the above video. I’m unclear. If you’re smarter than me when it comes to these things, please drop a comment below for all of us.

I wonder if I’ll come back and write another prayer after the election or if this addition will be enough. It’s a different format and I’m wondering if it’s easier to copy and paste. That’s the whole point here. I’m trying to make this easy so you don’t have to worry about credit but can copy and paste these prayers and give yourself a little grace.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Amos 5:18-24

O God, we cannot sing.
It is not safe to sing
or even gather for worship
in the same indoor sanctuary.

Do not tell us that 
in our separate sanctuaries
connected as we try to be 
in praise and wonder 
that you will not listen.
Do not say that.

We do not know
what to hope for
in the darkness of these days
but we know we haven’t
done all we can
to care for the poor
and unemployed.
We‘ve focused 
on our own survival
when you have wanted
justice to flow for our 
hearts and souls.
Help us. Hear our 
broken melodies 
try and help us 
to learn your 
rhythm of hope
and change.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 25

My constant refrain in these days is to bellow “what is time?”

I think I might intend it as a joke when it shows up as a blue bubble reply in a text message chain, but I’m not really sure. Time feels elusive. I decorated my house with tons of fake pumpkins (real ones rot fast in Texas and it is gross) in order to create some sense of time. Or was it that I wanted to feel festive? Or that I hoped that my children would remember these strange days with delight even while we were stuck in the house?

Psalm 90 made me laugh out loud after reading that fourth verse and so I find myself drawn there to meditate on the mystery of time in the pandemic. I’m thinking particularly about the way that time is unfolding in our congregations. My sweet Texas church is building a time capsule for future generations to muse over how we spent these days. At the same time, they are in the middle of an interim season asking all of the big questions about what it means to be a church now and into the future. As US churches are considering the harvest, the gifts of stewardship and Thanksgiving, it feels important to keep God’s vision on these pandemic days — and I don’t mean like all the white men who have already published books and articles about what churches have learned from the pandemic.

We do not know yet. We are not gods.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Matthew 22:34-46

We hang between
question and answer.
We hang in the tension
between what is known 
and unknown. We hang
on every word 
of hope and possibility.
We hang our
whole lives
on the law and the prophets
trying so very hard to
love God with all our hearts
with all our souls and 
with all our mind.
And so, we come
to hang out
by internet wires
and wi-fi devices
to find answers
to questions we haven't 
yet thought to ask.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 90:1-6

Dwell with us
here, O God.
Dwell in
our screens
and in our hearts 
as you have from
generation to generation.

Dwell with us
in this time 
of worship
enough that we can 
feel the ground begin to shift
and new horizons emerge.

Dwell with us
in all our pandemic 
confusion and worry
to find new
dreams and wonders
for ourselves
for our church
and for the world.
Dwell in 
our worship,
O God.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Psalm 90:1-6

For a thousand years
in your sight, Holy One,
are like yesterday
when it is past.
That is fine
for you but
we cannot remember
yesterday. It feels
indistinct from 
any of the yesterdays
before it. We want
to feel reassured
by your measure 
of time, Holy One,
but it does not feel like
this pandemic season 
will just sweep away.
We want to watch
the night and the day
with your vision
to see this world
and our dreams
renewed each morning
but our hope has faded
and our patience has withered
into nothing. Forgive us
for what we cannot 
see and expand our vision
with your boundless love.
Amen.

Writing these prayers made me remember this lovely essay on roads and pandemic wandering by Emily Scott from several months ago. An excerpt might be lovely as a meditation before the selected scripture for preaching or it might fit as an excellent illustration somewhere in that beautiful sermon you are writing, dear pastor. As it helps, this would be the section I’d feel called to highlight:

Start looking, and you’ll see roads all over the Bible. These solitary travelers journeyed in situations of great uncertainty, much like our own. Their destinations may have been clear, but their futures were less so. Somewhere along the way, however, they always encountered something unexpected: the astonishing presence of the sacred.

Jacob, for instance, ended up in a wrestling match with God as he journeyed. A court official of the Ethiopian queen is baptized by the side of a thoroughfare. Two disciples trudging along a dusty byway, having heard the news of Jesus’ death, find that he was walking with them all along. And Paul hears God’s voice and ends up blind on the way to Damascus.

A road is an unlikely metaphor for a pandemic that has us stuck at home. But what happens when we see ourselves as purposefully scattered — sent out on an unexpected journey, traveling solo? In the bible, the road is often a place of desolation and isolation, but also of encounter. A road has direction; it carries us from an old life to a new one.

Emily Soctt

I would also be inclined to find an opportunity for this hymn to be sung in some way.

Finally, I shared a Prayer for the Church on the RevGalBlogPals’ weekly Worship Words that could also fit with this slight bend toward harvest and thanksgiving. Though it picks up on the epistle from last week, it could also be used along with this theme. You can find it here.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 24

October brings celebrations in our house and so I’m working on planning ahead as you may have seen over on RevGalBlogPals last week. I shared prayers last week in their weekly Worship Words for this week’s worship including a Prayer for the Church and a Prayers of the People inspired by the Hebrew Scripture. You can find those prayers here and be sure to click that tiny blue button on the right sidebar to follow RevGalBlogPals so you can relish in the wisdom offered in weekly scripture reflections for both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary, prayers and a bunch of other treasures.

My eldest daughter will turn three later this month on the same day that her Daddy turns a year older. We are planning lots of pandemic style fun outside of the house. It is finally cool enough to actually enjoy the outdoors here in Texas. This weekend, we are enjoying a four day weekend filling our National Park passports with stamps.

I wrote these prayers early in giddy anticipation of actually leaving my house and I pray that you too are taking some time for rest and renewal in these strange days. I hope especially this year that the wonderful people in your congregation are looking for meaningful ways to celebrate your gifts.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 96:1-9

Tell us of salvation
from day to day. 
Tell us what
that word means 
to you in these days.
Is it as big as
you once thought
it was? Is it something
that will only happen in the 
end? Or has the end 
already come? 
Is that where
you are today,
dear friend?
Are you so 
exhausted 
that salvation 
doesn't seem 
possible anymore?
Tell us, dear friends,
what new songs
you are singing 
in the kitchen. 
Do those songs bless
God's name? Or 
do you kinda hope
God isn't listening
in on your dance party?
What is it that you
declare that is marvelous?
Tell us. Tell us 
what is working
and let us 
bless God's name
in all that we share
today.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Exodus 33:12-23

How many times
have we prayed, 
along with Moses
and all of the faithful,
"If you presence will
not go, do not carry
us up from here."

Do not take us 
any further
with our church,
our vocation,
our climate's
health, or even
our nation's 
health, O God, 
if you are not 
going to come
along beside us.

If you are not going
to be right here
in the middle of
all of the fury
and fear, 
leave us.
We have
tried too 
hard to do
this all on 
our own. 

O God,
we cannot
do this anymore.
We have asked
so much. We know. 
We know.
We just don't 
see what you
are, O God. 
There is no glory
nor really any goodness.
We haven't shown
our best selves 
in the stress 
of all of this.
We need to
catch sight 
of your image
in our own reflection
so that we can 
dare to proclaim
the gospel in
these days. Amen.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week.

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

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 Proper 23

The President has the virus.

In some capacity, we are all reacting to this. We are reacting to how he is responding to treatments. We are questioning our own faith as we try to summon prayers and compassion. Some of us are angry at the kind of medical care that is available for him when 200,000 others have died. We are all reacting. We are all feeling something about this and I wonder how we will feel at the end of the week. So much and nothing seems to happen in one week in these pandemic days.

I find myself thinking about these words from Matthew Skinner because I have pushed off confession in the worship elements I’ve written here. (That would also be true for my own prayer life.) I feel the despair deep in my bones but we are people of resurrection hope. We believe that the worst thing will not be the last thing.

I am also looking to simplify things a bit as I try to prepare for some new things I hope to share with you. I won’t share as many links as I have in the past but that shouldn’t stop you from sharing other excellent prayers in the comments.

Call to Worship

O God, we come
stiff-necked and imploring you
because we don't really want 
to admit to ourselves
that we've given up.
We've found other
comforts and 
made our
own way. 
We have 
had enough of 
the outer darkness.
We have wept
and wailed 
so that it feels 
like nothing left.
We are not sure 
what you could do,
O God, but we 
are stiff-necked 
enough to show up 
again and ask
you to act.
Come, O God. 
Your people 
are waiting. 
Prayer of Confession

O God, we haven't prayed
as we should. We have
hidden our thoughts 
from you so that 
our necks are
now quite stiff.
We have been 
stubborn
but determined.

O God, we had
so much hope.
We want to believe 
there is still hope
but the outer darkness
of this pandemic
has thrown us.
It has tied us in knots
and we feel stuck.
We no longer 
remember how 
we got here. 
We aren't even 
sure what day it is.
We are that close 
to despair, O God,
but we believe
in your redemption
and your liberation. 
We believe that you 
can make a way 
where there is no 
way. We believe that
even though we do not know 
where we are going, 
you are guiding us 
into the future with love.

We pray now
for the tiniest
glimpse of that love
so that we can feel
that grace thump within
our hearts to find 
the courage to face another day.
We pray in your
endless hope. Amen. 

If your confession leads into the Passing of the Peace, I would seize the power of this liturgical moment this week. Maybe it’s a flash of waves and smiles upon your Zoom screen or maybe it’s a short testimonial from two or three people about God’s love. Or maybe you ask the youngest members of the church family to share their visions of the future.

Give them hope. I hope in that gift you find even more for yourself.

If you are planning ahead, and I can’t really fathom that in my own pandemic reality, I shared prayers for next Sunday in the RevGalBlogPals’ weekly Worship Words including a Prayer for the Church and a Prayers of the People inspired by the Hebrew Scripture. You can find those prayers here. As I try to make space for what I’m hoping will emerge in the future, you’ll see more hints that I’m working at lease one week ahead in the Revised Common Lectionary.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 21

It has been a bad week.

Can we admit that? Can we conspire in that little bit of honesty?

A lot of bad shit is happening. I’m not sorry for my language. I am mad and you’re probably mad too. There are countless things that might make you feel like bashing your head against a rock. But, then, oh look! There’s Moses in the wilderness pounding the living daylights out a freaking stone because God told him that water would spring forth. Then, there is that bit in the Gospel about being afraid of crowds. Their reasons were different than those that occupy my pandemic angst but it is that phrase that leaps off the page to me. Well, that and the whole question of authority. Is there any authority now? Anywhere? At all? I appreciated Kentina Washington-Leaphart’s reminder that the “pathway to the other side [of all this shit] won’t be an easy one, and getting through it successfully will require sacrifice, patience, flexibility, and trust—trust in human leadership and, for people of faith, in God.”

I’m leaning into music this week because I need a song to sing. I miss singing in church and I need these songs to echo in my head so that all of that confusion that will surely come next week might have a new rhythm.

Gathering Together for Worship

I might just begin worship with this or a version of this using the talents within my congregation. Or if you are leaning into the trust we need to find in God, you might opt for this golden oldie.

Or instead I might begin worship with these words of poetry somehow figuring out a way to end the video before the promo for Leonardo DiCaprio’s website. (No offense Leo. We need your activism.) It speaks exactly to the grief I’m feeling in this moment and dares to catch a glimpse of what is on the other side of all of our complaining. (That’s the concluding line of Kentina Washington-Leaphart’s reflection in my email this week.)

Riffing on an Old Prayer

Just after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died, a snippet of a prayer I had written years ago for Proper 20A was shared in the United Church of Christ Instagram feed.

Humbling? Yes. Completely.

It is always surprising to me when words that I’ve written continue to have life. I thought it might be fun to actually adapt that prayer for this Sunday because we still have work to do. We have so much work to do.

Invocation 
Inspired by Philippians 2:1-13

Call us together, O God,
to find courage and comfort,
compassion and sympathy.

Call us together, O God, 
with all our lamentation and despair
all of our frustration and sorrow,
to make our joy complete.

Call us together, O God, 
to find ourselves of one heart
and one mind which admittedly
feels impossible in 2020.
Help us not to zero in 
only on our own interests
but to find the heart
and mind of Christ.
Humble us.
Empty us.
Bend us.

Call us together, O God, 
to strike the fury and passion
of your work into us again.
We have so much work to do.
Let us find your good pleasure 
in the work we share here and now, 
in Christ's presence we pray. Amen.

Other Service Prayers

I want to play with striking the rock but anything that I’ve attempted sounds too violent. There is enough violence. There is enough violence we are doing to ourselves and what we really need is trust. That is where these texts pull me. We can put our whole trust in God even as we fight against the divine. God can take it.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Exodus 17:1-7 

We thirst for answers, O God.
We thirst for clarity
and some prayer 
that this will all 
be over soon.

We thirst for comfort
and assurance because 
we are no longer certain 
that everything is going 
to work itself out.

It is why we thirst for justice 
for a broken healthcare system
and the sins of white
supremacy. We cannot believe
some of the things that we have prayed 
for in these weeks and months
and we thirst for your wisdom.

We thirst for your presence and
assurance but we have been 
so busy fighting with you
about all of the things that 
have gone wrong 
that we haven't really 
stopped to wonder
if you trust us anymore.

O God, what will you 
do with your people?
We are not yet done 
complaining because 
the infection rate still creeps up
and 200,000 people have died
for no reason. We are outraged
and exhausted. We thirst
for your grace and love
especially when we quarrel 
with you again. 

Quench our 
thirst, O God,
just enough to remind us
that we have work 
to do in your name. Amen.

If you find yourself without words again for the Prayers of the People again this week, I suggest this beautiful composition by Christopher Grundy. As the artist himself explains it, Leaning In is a “gentle, sung prayer of intercession” that breaks “down the sense of “us” and “them” that is often the pattern of such prayers.” There are several options for purchase including an audio file, lead sheet and piano accompaniment. There is a refrain that could be sung by a virtual choir while a cantor leads the verses. It would be lovely this week or any week.

Closing Worship

Though I haven’t offered a suggestion for closing worship before, I want this to be my prayer into the days ahead.

That’s all I’ve got for worship planning this week, though I seem to continually be editing this post so maybe you want to check back. I did, however, want to share a few other things. I discovered this week through social media that the fantastic Lindsay Andreolli-Comstock has created some wonderful pandemic-focused resources including one for those of us that are disappointed that trunk-or-treats and trick-or-treating should not be happening this year.

The planning packet Lindsay has created includes all sorts of goodies for a multi-day scavenger hunt among your congregation’s homes. It’s all socially distanced and includes instructions for everything. It’s the exhausted christian education director’s dream — and all for ten dollars. Be sure to add Trek or Treat to your cart. (And you might want to add the digital Christmas pageant to your cart while you’re at it.)

I’ve also been thinking about actually launching the newsletter I dreamed about years ago. (Has it been years? What is time?) My primary motivation at the moment is to do a better job in planning ahead so my goal would be to provide planning ahead materials on a monthly basis while I’d probably stick to a similarly unpredictable schedule on a weekly basis on the blog itself. There are some big things coming up like Advent and Christmas and I know I’m not the only one daydreaming about these things. Especially you’ve found my round-up of materials for stewardship, Backpack Blessings and World Communion Sunday helpful, I would love if you’d subscribe here. And to the 44 of you already subscribed, you’re the greatest.

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

Pandemic Prayers for World Communion Sunday

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

Sharing of the Bread

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

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

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

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

Sharing Music

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing Words

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

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

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

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

Call to Worship

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

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

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

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

Prayer of Confession

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

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

Silence is kept.

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

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

Splash hands in water.

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

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

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

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

Prayers of the People

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

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

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

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 20

It has been six months. I lost count.

I could have sworn it had been longer since my husband redeployed from South Korea and we almost immediately cancelled the vacation I’d been looking forward to for nine months and went into lockdown. We moved across the state but my kids and I remain in lockdown while my husband goes back and forth to work. Complaining feels good. It feels right. It matches my grief in this moment and so I’m drawn to the Exodus story where our ancestors find themselves, as Michael J. Chan points out, in the “uncomfortable space between departure and destination—or in the case of Exodus, between liberation and covenant.”

I feel less certain about the destination and more and more removed from the departure. I feel all the discomfort. I don’t think I’m the only one that feels this tension that is profoundly explored in the Letter to Philippi. I want to figure out what it means right now to “live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ” especially when I feel anything but firm in my Spirit. But then, there are many that are struggling with suicidal thoughts that I wonder how we dare to preach that bit about being pulled to depart but then choosing to remain in the flesh. There is good news in there. I know it, just as I know there is good news in you.

Gathering Together for Worship

Singing from the Lectionary suggests John Bell’s Stand, O Stand Firm for the epistle. I love the refrain and think it would be lovely to begin worship and repeat in the prayer time. You can find the full version for purchase here. You might even request your members send in pictures of themselves standing tall and use those images as a visual for this prelude.

Or you might be feeling really punchy and start worship with this. Kidding. Sorta.

I offer the words below but if you are focusing on the Gospel, you might prefer this beautiful invitation. Some of the prayers I wrote for Labor Day could also be adapted or you can find the liturgy I wrote six years ago for Worship Ways here. Here is another possibility that could work no matter what your focus text is.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Exodus 16:2-15 and Philippians 1:21-30

We come with the whole congregation
to find ourselves still in the wilderness
between where we were 
and where we are going
and we are full of complaint.

We cannot stop complaining
for what we do not understand
and whatever forces brought us here. 
We complain about our leaders
and the lack of available resources.
We bemoan every injustice
that now seems so obvious. 
We are tired and we are scared.

We come with this 
whole congregation
because we are convinced -- 
even in our constant complaint -- 
that there is joy.
There is abundant hope
when we can stand firm
in one spirit. Together,
we strive for the faith of the gospel.
Hope by hope, heart by heart,
we struggle together to see
what God will do.

Or for something completely different, you might start with a poem like Wait by Galway Kinnell particularly if you are wandering into the struggles of suicidal thoughts. It’s a poem I found reading this essay and I rather like the wildness of it. It might be followed by this favorite Taize song of mine.

Prayers for the Day

Picking up on the complaining spirit in Exodus, here is a confession and assurance to center this prayer time. I wonder if there might be an action for this week so that in the week ahead when members of the whole congregation notice that whine inside them, they could be compelled to act with hope. This simple recipe for gratitude might be an easy enough place to start. I’ve also wondered about neighborhood walks in the pandemic particularly for neighborhood churches.

Prayer of Confession

O God, we have complained so much.
We have felt stuck and scared
and so we've summoned the only power
we could find. We know you haven't seen our best sides.
Forgive us. Forgive us for ignoring that every whine
and worry reveals our hope. Help us 
not to not to get stuck in our fears 
but to lean into what we hope
will come in the future of your realm.

Assurance of Grace

I have heard your complaining, God assures us.
I have heard your worry and concern
and I will feed you with grace
and love and hope. I will assure you
that all is forgiven. You are my beloved,
now and always. Amen.

I also felt pulled to write a prayer that spoke to the particular words of the poem mentioned above and the issues surrounding mental health and the pandemic particularly in National Suicide Prevention Month. I wondered if I should write it as if this is happening to others but that would be dishonest for me. I’m not one of those people who has never considered this, particularly in my youth but even now. Still, I confess that this is an issue of which I’m still learning and so these words may drastically fall short and I hope that I will be corrected.

These words reflect my own struggle. As with so many things, we are works in progress but endlessly and completely in the struggle together. Or so I pray. Similar to the above prayer, this might be a good week to encourage some action particularly around suicide awareness if you use these prayers. I’ll link to the United Church of Christ toolkit because it is what I know best but there are tons of great resources out there.

Prayer for the Waiting

Wait with us, O God,
in the wilderness 
where it feels like we have been separated 
from every one and every thing we ever loved
only to be told to wait. We don't trust it.
We can't and maybe that is why depression 
and suicidal thoughts feel so familiar here.

We have complained 
and we have felt like nothing matters
even if we wish that everything did. 

Wait with us, O God,
in this wilderness
because it is familiar
and we haven't yet given up.
We are still waiting.

Wait with us, O God,
wait with all of us
who struggle with futility
and suicidal thoughts in this coronatide.
We pray in your holy name, Amen.

Prayers of the People

I haven’t written as many prayers of the people or intercessory prayers but I’ve seen that there is interest and need for them. It feels awkward to write as those prayers are so intimate for me. Those are the prayers I’ve prayed from the heart without a script for sheer love of these people God has called me to serve but I know you’re struggling for words so here are some great words that I found written by other wonderful people. It is admittedly a short list.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. I hinted last week that I was going to do some thinking about All Saints and Christmas Eve but I hope to spend some time this week daydreaming about World Communion Sunday. It’s apparently soon. Gulp. There is so much to think about. I am continually in awe of you, my dear colleagues. You are amazing.

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