More Ingredients for Worship

Look at that! Two weeks in a row! This is a new feature on my blog — called Ingredients for Worship — that I am hoping to become somewhat regular but I’m still not convinced that will happen. But… wonders never cease! Muses do come! I wrote liturgy again this week. God be praised! It happened again.

I feel the need to confess that these are not my favorite prayers. I admit that I went looking for other prayers that someone else wrote. Something beautiful and lovely — and really traditional — that might work for the tiny rural church I’m serving as an interim pastor. I didn’t find anything I liked. I wasted a whole bunch of time looking until I finally gave in and wrote these prayers.

I hesitate to share them but I’m trying to remember that some of my least favorite sermons have been transformational and amazing to others. We don’t know how God will speak or how she will move. Sometimes we just have to throw something together from whatever we have in the pantry and call it dinner. Ick. That makes it sound worse. Oh well. Here’s what I found in my pantry. Might it inspire.

*Call to Worship (Responsive)

Inspired by Psalm 33

One: Our souls wait for the LORD;

All: God is our help and shield.

One: Our hearts are glad in this place,

All: because we trust that God is here.

One:Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,

All: make this time together an unexpected hour of all that you hope to be, O LORD.

Prayer for Confession (Unison)

Shield us, O LORD, from the certainty of our own faith. Forgive us for the ways that we have made you into our own image for we have not heeded your call to sell all of our possessions to share with the poor. We have not kept the lamps lit and are not yet ready to celebrate for we only trust what our own eyes can see and what we see we do not like. But, faith is the reality of what your hopes, O LORD, it is the proof of what we don’t see. Help us, O LORD, to see what our ancestors saw. Make our hearts glad in the assurance of that faith.

Affirmation of God’s Grace (Responsive)

One: God is steadfast. Therefore, God isn’t ashamed to be called our God. Even when we are not ready, God puts these words on our lips:

All: In Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

Invitation to Holy Communion (Responsive)

One:Don’t be afraid. Do not even fear for your lack of faith.

All: May our hearts be glad because God delights in giving us the kingdom.

One: God gathers us together at this table to show love and justice. God breaks our hearts and open our minds to see the kingdom in the breaking of the bread. God pours out steadfast love in a cup that overflows.

All: May this be an unexpected hour of God’s grace. May we see the kingdom in this feast.

Check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

Speaking to the Soul

I have not yet sat down to write my sermon on this Gospel Lesson but when I sat down to write this liturgy I was still thinking about that prayer that Jesus taught last week. I’m still thinking about the words that we choose and how they impact our relationships and our hopes. Because words matter. Words always matter.

Words like those in Ecclesiastes. I basically just wanted to read this as a confession because it feels so dang honest. Things aren’t going as they should. New people are coming along and mucking up everything that I started. They don’t understand. They are doing it wrong. That sounds like church to me. It sounds like the generational conflict that is playing out even outside the church as we continue to blame millennials for… well, everything. It even has a hint of this tension I keep seeing appear between the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. might have done in the Civil Rights Movement to what is happening now in the Black Lives Matter Movement. All is vanity! Wiser words were never said which is why I want to focus a bit more not the words of the Psalm because verse 3 seems to say it all.

I want those words to speak to my soul. I don’t yet know if this will become the focus of my sermon but I’m fascinated about how the rich man in this parable speaks to his soul. I’m not sure what I’d say to my soul. I’m not sure if I’d have anything to say but I would like some time to think about that — and that’s what worship can be. Time to reflect upon God and self. (It can be a lot more than that but that’s not a bad place to start.) Here are a few ingredients for such soul pondering.

*Call to Worship (Responsive)

One: Our mouths shall speak wisdom; the

meditation of our hearts will be understanding.

All: We are listening for wise words.

One: Let our worship be more than pithy

statements but let every word and every note

speak to our souls.

All: Speak to our souls this day.

Prayer for Confession (Unison)

All is vanity. Wiser words were never said. We do so much to skimp and save. We try so hard to be good stewards at home, at work and at church but our hard work is never done. We have to entrust that work to others and so we can only wonder: will they be wise or will they be foolish? Teacher, speak to our souls We confess that we only trust ourselves. We do not trust those with who we share our work and sometimes, Teacher, we don’t even trust you. Forgive us and teach us to trust.

Affirmation of God’s Grace (Responsive)

One: Having confessed our sins, may our hearts now meditate on the grace that we do not deserve or understand. It speaks right to our souls to remember once again:

All: In Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

This is a new feature on my blog that I hope to become somewhat regular. I’m not making any promises. I’m going to try to make Tuesday the day. We shall see what happens. But, please do check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

Spicing Up the Lord’s Prayer

Ask… Search… Knock. Jesus offers these three bits of wisdom in the gospel lesson for this Sunday. Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you (Luke 11:9, NRSV). That sounds great until it hits that you don’t know what to ask. You have no words. You have no idea what to say.

It’s just as frustrating as not knowing what to cook for dinner. You’re hungry, really hungry but you don’t know what you want. Nothing in the fridge that looks good. Nothing grabs you but still you stand there with the door open, starting inside, waiting for inspiration to strike.

Worship is not like a recipe. Other parts of ministry can be written as a recipe but worship is an improvisation of ingredients. It is how those ingredients come together in the people that allows for God to be praised. That’s when things really get cooking! That is when we are transformed by God. I never want worship to feel like we’re standing in front of the fridge just looking to put food on the table. I want it to satisfy and that’s particularly challenging with something like the Lord’s Prayer. It’s like broccoli, right? You know it. You say the words. You don’t really think about it. How do you spice it up?

I am serving a tiny, rural church that doesn’t mix things up very much but I decided that this would be the week to change things just a little. We won’t be praying the same version of the Lord’s Prayer that we always use but will instead be using these beautiful words from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer. Check out this link for a few other great translations of this beloved prayer (several of which I hadn’t heard before).

The other prayers of the day hope to spice up those familiar words. Here are the ingredients that we will be cooking with on Sunday.

*Call to Worship (Responsive)

One:Together, we come to this certain place to pray

All: for things we understand and those things only God can understand.

One: We come certain that we need to learn new ways of prayer.

All: We come to hear new words from the Word.

Prayer for Confession (Unison)

When we pray, O Lord, we want your love and peace. We are certain that only blessing will come from our time at prayer. Our lives will be holy and blessed but it is you, O Lord, that is revealed in our prayers, not us. We confess that we have convinced ourselves that we can set your world right. Forgive us for believing that we are in charge and do what you do best. Distract us from our own conceit with your way of justice. Teach us to hallow your name.

Affirmation of God’s Grace (Responsive)

One: When we pray, O Lord, words do not come easily but your Word is still speaking. Speak not now, O Lord, and assure us your grace. Put those holy and blessed words on our lips.

All: In Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.

This is the first post in what I intend to become a feature on this blog. Check back for more Ingredients for Worship in the future and be sure to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!

 

Talking in Church

After my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, she dragged us to church. It felt like she was pulling us by our ears with one hand and spitting in the palm of the other to smooth out my brother’s hair. That’s not how it happened, of course. It is simply what remains from those first few years of sitting uncomfortably in a pew.

We didn’t do much sitting in those pews. In the mere 15 minutes we were in the worship service, before we departed for Sunday School, we would writhe and squirm. I would draw all over whatever was in the pew racks with the little pencils that seemed to be just my size. But, I was not allowed to sit on the floor and use the pew as a desk. My mother’s index finger chastised me for it. I was to sit still and be quiet.

There was no talking in church.

In many congregations, this is still true. There may be no sign on the sanctuary wall to dictate this rule but it is a value deeply held by those who were also chastised by their mother’s stern index finger. And so, the structure of the worship service does not engage the worshipper in a conversation but invites them to sit in a quiet place and listen. We don’t touch each other. We don’t know anything about each other’s lives. We listen to the preacher.

I get to be that person. I get to speak because I am entrusted to preach.

All other sounds are silenced unless someone’s phone happens to ring and then there is the sudden jolt of a reminder that there is such a thing as relationship.

But, otherwise, you are alone in that pew. You do not engage. You listen.

The architecture in most sanctuaries are designed for this. There is no soft reminder in that pew that to love your neighbor is to love yourself. There is only the assertion that you should face front and pay attention. If you do try to talk to the person next to you, it strains the neck. The wooden board arrests your back in one position so that you can only yield to its rigidity and face forward. You must not speak but listen.

Fingers are wagged at you if you dare to interrupt the silence. And it’s not your mother, this time. The sad part of this is: you came looking for community. It’s the primary reason that people come to church and it’s the reason that most people stay. The tenets of the faith are not as important as the connection that we find because most of us are lonely. We live alone. We live faraway from family and sometimes even friends. No one hugs us. No one listens to what happened in our day. We come to church looking for a place where we can be loved. We come to share our lives out loud and all the church does is call for quiet.

My mom shushed because that’s how she was raised. She was mimicking her parents and probably didn’t want to appear to have raised wretched children. There’s some pride there but my mom also came back to church because she was looking for something. She was looking for an answer to why terrible things happen. She wanted to know why she was going to die and she wanted to know that her kids were going to be OK. (My insistence that the pew was a really good desk did not ease that.) The minister talked to her a lot. He was at our house often but I don’t remember a single person talking to her in the pews.

I wonder what would have happened if someone had. I wonder if she would have felt less lonely about this impending doom. I wonder what would have happened if the worship was structured in such a way where she got the chance to speak. She might not choose to say anything. That’s fine. But, what if she risked it? What if she voiced her question aloud in the prayers? Or what if the person in the pew beside her asked a similar question when they were talking about the Bible passage for that day? What would have changed? What would have been different?

Those are my questions. That’s what I wonder every week as worship is about to begin. I know that every person in that sanctuary came to church with something on their heart. It could be a joy. It could be a sorrow or an impossible question. I may never know what those things are but they came to church because they needed someone to hear it. God will but they didn’t need to come to church for that thing to be heard. They came to church because they wanted to be less alone. I won’t be the one to shush them. I may not even be the with an answers but I’ll give them a space to speak.

I’ll always encourage talking in church.

 

We Cry for Help

Just a few Sundays after Easter, Psalm 30 leads us into worship.

I wrote this for the United Church of Christ’s Worship Ways for another season on another day. Nevertheless, it would still fit well on Easter 3C. I’ve adapted it only slightly — and by adapting it, I mean that I threw in an “alleluia” because I can never say it enough. Especially during Easter.

Prayer of Confession 

O Healing One, we cry to you for help.
We choose to listen for your voice above all others.
Be gracious to us for we have made mistakes.
We have made choices that have harmed our relationships
with your children and your created world.
Hear us, Healing God, as we move next to you in silent prayer.

Extended prayerful silence 

Lord’s Prayer

Words of Assurance 

When we are silent, God moves!
Praise our Healing God with all your soul!
Give thanks forever for God loves and forgives you!
Alleluia! Amen!

Transfiguration Communion

J A S M I N EAfter writing this liturgy this morning, I am more convinced than ever that we should never, ever celebrate the Transfiguration of Christ without communion. Doesn’t this ritual hit all of the high notes captured in the mystery of this story?

This particular liturgy could be adopted for any cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary. I don’t think it’s too closely tied to the particular telling in the Gospel of Luke. And yet, it was written with that particular gospel in mind. As I prepare to preach, I’m thinking a whole lot about what exactly Peter and James and John saw when they saw “his glory” as revealed in verse 32. I don’t want that to be that appearance too far from the transformation that we need each and every day.

*Affirmation of Faith 886
(We will be using the Affirmation of Faith from the New Zealand Prayer Book. It is number 886 in the back of The New Century Hymnal.)

*Communion Hymn 349 I Come with Joy

Invitation to the Feast of God (Responsive)
One: Peter and John and James went up
to the mountain to pray.
All: While they were praying, their whole world changed.
They saw glory like they had never seen before.

One: You and I came to this holy place to pray.
While we are praying, here at this table,
as we share in this feast God has prepared,
All: May we see glory like we have never seen before.

Blessing and Sharing the Bread and the Cup

And so, we come to see glory.
We come to marvel at how ordinary life can seem
when we are climbing over our everyday tasks
when we don’t expect anything new or different to surprise us.

We come to remember and believe that God is always leading us.
God is always bringing us into the light of love
just as God has done from the beginning of time.
God led our ancestors out of slavery into freedom
and never tired of sending prophets that could remind us all that glory is not far away. Though we have refused to see it,
ignoring our call to care for this world and every living thing on it,
God has never given up on us. God continues this work today.
God leads us to transformative moments in holy places,
high up on a mountain and gathered here at this table,
so that we might see glory again.
The ordinary will be made extraordinary.
The common will become holy.
The familiar will become fantastic.
We come to this table again because we know we need to change.
We need new eyes and new visions and so we pray that the Holy Spirit will open our eyes and our ears and even our tastebuds as we pray:

Holy Spirit, come into this bread and this cup.
Transform these ordinary objects
As you change our hearts
To shape and form your world
With the joy you promise.
Pour your grace upon us,
so we might always see your glory.
Transform us at this table, we pray.

In our hope of transformation, we remember how it first happened. Long, long ago before the terrible events that would follow had come to pass, Jesus our Christ gathered with his friends in an upper room…

(Use the words of institution from your own tradition.)

*Prayer of Thanksgiving (Unison)

Holy God, we have tasted the light of your love
and seen your glory at this table. Now,
transform us to find your glory
in everyone and everything. This we pray in
the light of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Heavens Are Opened

J A S M I N EThis Sunday marks one of my favorite liturgical celebrations where water is flung across the Sanctuary and we each remember our baptisms. It is the Baptism of Christ as we remember it told in Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.

As our heavens are opened to remember this call to discipleship again, here is a Call to Worship that I wrote in 2013 and shared with the wonderful resource of prayers and inspiration on Liturgylink. It is slightly adapted from the original version found here.

One: We come as people filled with great expectation.
All: We come filled with hopes and dreams.
One: We come with questioning in our hearts.
All: We come with doubts that weigh us down.
One: We long for the heavens to open.
All: We need to hear the voice of God,
One: Whispering our names,
and telling each us again,
All: You are Beloved with who you am well pleased.

Litany for the Birth on Christmas

J A S M I N EIt was raining all today and I was generally uninspired but sat my butt down in the chair and wrote the liturgy for Christmas Eve. Though I’m currently serving a congregation as an interim pastor, I was hired after I’d made plans for a family vacation in Italy for Christmas — so I will not be with these good people on Christmas Eve even as worship planning is still my charge.

That is fine with me though because I love some good worship planning. Theirs is a traditional service — a word that mystifies and confuses me whenever it might be used within the context of worship. What is traditional for one body is not for another but that doesn’t stop us from using the term as if every single community across the globe was raised on the exact same traditions. I digress. With last year’s bulletin as a template, I sought to create something different and simple enough for guest pastors to lead. There are many that might be willing and able to offer their voices to read but I didn’t want to add to many moving pieces to the liturgy — even if I wanted something special for the reading of scripture. I opted for a litany with one leader and a congregational response that combines all four readings — at least in part — from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C. All Biblical reference are from the New Revised Standard Version.

Litany for the Birth on Christmas (Responsive)
Psalm 96, Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11, and Luke 2:1-14
Leader: O sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
People: Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of God’s salvation tonight and from day to day.
Leader: For tonight, a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders.
People: Tonight, we call this newborn babe our Wonderful Counselor, our Mighty God, our Everlasting Father, and our Prince of Peace.
Leader: Honor and majesty we give to him;
strength and beauty are in this sanctuary.
People: We have seen a great light! We have sung a great song!
We cannot stop from singing for the grace of our God
first appeared on this night, bringing salvation to one and all.
Leader: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus
that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration
and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
People: All went to their own towns to be registered.
Leader: Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea,
to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended
from the house and family of David.
People: He went to be registered with Mary,
to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
Leader: While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth,
and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
People: In that region there were shepherds living in the fields,
keeping watch over their flock by night.
Leader: Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord
shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them,
People: Do not be afraid; for see–I am bringing you good news of great joy
for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is the Messiah, the Lord.
Leader: Tonight, unto us is born our Wonderful Counselor, our Mighty God,
our Everlasting Father, and our Prince of Peace.
People: This will be a sign for you, the angel said,
you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
Leader: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,
praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom God favors!”
People: O sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Leader: Declare God’s glory among every people everywhere,
People: Tell of our God’s marvelous works among all the peoples.
Leader: For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised.
People: Alleluia! Amen.

If you use this litany in your congregation’s worship, I do hope that you’ll let me know and most definitely give me credit for my hard work toiling away with these beautiful words.

Advent and Christmas Candle Liturgies

J A S M I N EToday and yesterday, I’ve read some really beautiful liturgies from friends and colleagues preparing for Advent. Check out the beautiful liturgies written by my friends Teri and Martha.

Advent is only three Sundays away. Three Sundays. And it was 77 degrees outside yesterday. I don’t care. I’ll still crank up the Christmas carols and prepare for the coming of our Savior.

This year, we actually get to have two Sundays — a whole two Sundays — to celebrate the twelve days of Christmas. It almost never happens. As Christmas overshadows Advent, we forget to celebrate the whole season of Christmas. So I want to be sure that that Light of the World for which we were waiting gets a chance to really shine. You’ll notice that this liturgy — written for one voice concluding with a unison prayer — goes all the way through the Second Sunday of Christmas. The song is from The New Century Hymnal.

First Sunday of Advent

Night and day, we pray. We wait all night and all day to see signs that God will break into our world again, but there are signs in the sun, the moon and the stars. There is light that shines in our deepest darkness. We light this first candle in that hope.

Light first candle.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

This little light shines through all our hurts and losses in our darkness. One little light reminds us that there is more than this darkness. There are signs all around. God will come again. We pray most earnestly that we may see God face to face and restore whatever is lacking in our faith.

Let us pray.

God of darkness and light, do not let us be overpowered by discouragement and despair. May the dawn of each new day become a sign that your love shines through. Help us to believe that your light is radiant and shines in our deepest darkness. Amen.

Second Sunday of Advent

Night and day, we pray. We pray constantly to overcome all of the hurts and losses in our past so that we can help prepare the way of the Lord. And so, we pray that we can take off the garment of sorrow and affliction so that we can be messengers of the Lord. We light these candles in the hope of that peace.

Light first and second candles.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

May we stand strong and tall in light of the world. May that light illuminate the knowledge and the full insight in each of us so that we do not doubt that we have good news to share of God’s coming.

Let us pray.

God of darkness and light, do not let us be overpowered by discouragement and despair. May the dawn of each new day become a sign that your love shines through. Help us to believe that your light is radiant and shines in our deepest darkness. Amen.

Third Sunday of Advent

Night and day, we pray. We trust, and try so very hard not be afraid, for the Lord our God is our strength and our might. It is in this knowledge that we rejoice. For the Lord is near. Alleluia! The Lord is near! We light these candles in the joy of the coming of the Lord.

Light first, second and third candles.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

As many judgments as we place upon ourselves, as heavy are the burdens of our hurts and losses from the past, we lift our voices in song. We sing God’s praises. We are still learning the words. We’re still looking for signs but we trust that we will be messengers of God’s joy.

Let us pray.

God of darkness and light, do not let us be overpowered by discouragement and despair. May the dawn of each new day become a sign that your love shines through. Help us to believe that your light is radiant and shines in our deepest darkness. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Night and day, we pray. We have so many prayers. With Mary, we pray that our souls might magnify the Lord. With David, we pray for restoration and salvation. Through all of the prayers on our hearts, we pray that God’s love shines through. We light these candles to reveal that love in our darkness.

Light first, second, third and fourth candles.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

This little light reminds us of the love that is always there. Even as we wait for Christ to be born again, we share in the mystery that God is never faraway. It is the love that magnifies our souls. It is the love that restores us and saves us. It is the love that is always shining through.

Let us pray.

God of darkness and light, do not let us be overpowered by discouragement and despair. May the dawn of each new day become a sign that your love shines through. Help us to believe that your light is radiant and shines in our deepest darkness. Amen.

Christmas Eve

Night and day, we have prayed. We have prayed for signs and salvation. We have prayed for peace and trust. And, now, we cannot help but sing. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise God in the heights! The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. God was there in the beginning. It all started with God. And so, we believe that God will be in every one of our beginnings. This we pray as we light these candles.

Light first, second, third, fourth and Christ candles.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

Let these lights shine through us from this day on so that we might never forget that God is with us. God is always with us.

Let us pray.

Light of the World, we have been so afraid. We haven’t truly believed that there is good news, but you are the good news. May your love shines through us. May we be radiant in your light so that no one hides in the deepest darkness. We will tell of your love from day to day. Amen.

First and Second Christmas

Night and day, we have prayed. We have prayed for signs and salvation. We have prayed for peace and trust. And, now, we cannot help but sign. We sing to the Lord a new song for we have seen a great light. We who have walked in darkness, burdened by the hurts and losses from our past, have seen a great light. It is the light of the world and it is here. We light these candles in celebration of the Christ who is among us — now and always!

Light first, second, third, fourth and Christ candles.

Sung Response 163 Many Are the Lightbeams (verse 1)

Let these lights shine through us from this day on so that we might never forget that God is with us. God is always with us.

Let us pray.

Light of the World, we have been so afraid. We haven’t truly believed that there is good news, but you are the good news. May your love shines through us. May we be radiant in your light so that no one hides in the deepest darkness. We will tell of your love from day to day. Amen.

If you happen to use this liturgy, please do let me know. I would love to hear about how your celebration of the coming of the Christ emerges. If you are looking for something a little different, you might also check out this post from last year.

The Warmth of God’s Saints

33c93-img_2784All Saints is one of my very, very favorite liturgical celebrations. It is a ritual that was introduced to me in the liturgical laboratory of my seminary. Sitting in James Memorial Chapel, I experienced for the very first time what it means to call upon such a great cloud of witnesses. Tears rolled down my cheeks each and every time in this holy celebration when we were invited this mystical union. Because there just isn’t another time or place in the Christian calendar that we make a space for grief. We reserve that sweet communion for funerals and memorial services but neglect to include it in the rest of our preaching and proclamation.

It is the day I want to sit in the back of the church. I want to light candles and sing and quietly mourn for the loss of such amazing saints of God like my mother and my grandmother. I want to sit in awe and wonder that there is something that connects us — all of us — to the divine and to each other. No one is left out. We all share in this great heritage. But, I am called to to the front of the sanctuary. I’m called to lead the prayers. It’s my task to stand in the pulpit and share the good news. Except that grief doesn’t feel like good news.

So more often than not, when All Saints Day rolls around, I spend hours upon hours preparing liturgies that allow for that sacred space. I do not preach but I find readings and poetry that will say what I can’t find the words to say to intermingle with chanted prayers from Iona and Taize. But, not this year.

This year I’m serving a small little country church in Pennsylvania. I am the interim pastor in this church that believes this might just be a title to begin many years of ministry. They’ve had pastors that have stayed and an interim music director who had been there for forty years. Theirs is a church that claims tradition as if it is just one thing. Their worship reflects this so that I didn’t feel I could play too much. I had written no more than a call to worship as I tried as hard as I could to stick with what is familiar for this congregation. Still, I was restless and uncomfortable.

I was restless and uncomfortable until we came to the table. I stepped before that holy ground and invited the congregation to take a deep breath before we shared in reciting the Statement of Faith. We took a deep breath because these are bold words. These are important words and we need to recognize how much power these words hold. But, more than that, I need to catch my breath. I had just preached a hard sermon and I could see the tears rolling down each face. I could feel them about to come from my own eyes. I needed to catch my breath before sharing in this proclamation of who we are as God’s saints.

And then, before the invitation, I did something I wasn’t planning on doing. I invited the congregation to call out the names of those saints — alive or dead — that we wanted to invite to the table. I invited everyone to call out the names of those that they would like to dine with us. My own mind raced with people who know more about faith than I do and the people I miss so very much. I thought of famous people and the many, many people who don’t have a seminary degree but have taught me more about faith than my seminary professors because it would be so amazing to have all of those people in one place seated at one table. That was the image in my head as names were being called out from the congregation. For all of the liturgy that I have so carefully planned, there was this work of people that came with a simple invitation. Call out the names of those you wish to be here and the names kept coming — name after name after name. All of the saints were gathered in that sanctuary. All of them were there. We felt the warmth in the room as we broke bread together. We felt so much warmth.