An Affirmation of Faith for Texas

Dear pastors, I hope and pray that you have someone in your life that you can call to say you have no words.

You have a draft of a sermon and this week has been another beast so it feels like you should say something, but the words aren’t coming easily. I hope you have someone to call who hears this and nods knowingly through that little FaceTime screen. I hope that that person asks you if you really need to preach because you are struggling to care for yourself right now when your whole city has been without power and water and now you’re just trying to conserve as much as possible but there are so many people to care for right now. I hope that when you brush off that question that that someone asks it again because you too need a break.

The pastor of my sweet Texas church and I chatted today and this is basically how our conversation went. She’s in Austin. She has power but she hasn’t slept with worry for so many she loves dearly. She has a pastor heart as big as I know so many of you do. She told me that there would be a baptism this Sunday which seems really perfect for the Gospel Lesson and I asked her if I could help. I asked her if I could help write something for her.

She sent me an affirmation of faith she had written to follow the baptism. I promised I would add to it. It is a collaboration as all the best things are and so my thanks goes to Anna Kreisle Humble and her endless creativity. My thanks also goes to you, dear pastor. I know you are doing such amazing things and I hope that there is someone who is helping you carry that heavy load.

An Affirmation of Faith 
for Baptism and Belovedness in Texas
Inspired by Mark 1:9-15

We believe in you, O God, 
our Everlasting Source, the fountain of life,
who filled creation with rivers
and oceans and pools 
deep and wide enough 
to cover the whole earth
and is creating still
in the patience
we must find now 
that no water comes 
from our faucet.

We believe that 
water is right. 
It is a gift
that reminds us 
again and again 
that we are forgiven 
and loved and redeemed
and we believe that it is freely given 
so that every body and soul
might be hydrated 
in the grace of good news.

We believe in you, O Christ,
our Beloved One, who 
rose from the waters
of baptism to fight 
for peace and justice
and teach that
there are no limits 
to what love can do.

We believe that 
love is the fuel 
in our hearts that burns
so hot that even when 
the thermostat dips down
to terrifying depths ,
we will not grow cold
to the needs in
our community.

We believe in you, O Spirit, 
our Guide, the radiant heat 
of possibility in this moment 
and every moment
who made herself known
by sweeping over 
the waters of creation
and reminding us 
to breathe. 

We believe that
we are called to do
more for our community,
for the world and even for ourselves
but we first we must catch our breath
and warm our hands
to remember what love
lives in us.

The heavens might 
be torn apart
but we dare to believe
even now 
that we are beloved
and the Holy Trinity
is well pleased with
what we dare to dream
is possible.
May it be so.

If you serve a congregation in Texas and want to use this on Sunday, please do so with my abundant blessing. If you live somewhere else where you are still waiting for a thaw, use this and edit it as needed. Do your best to stay warm and care for each other. I know you are doing this. I know you are doing so much more than this, dear pastor. I hope that there are blessed souls caring for you just as tenderly.

Pandemic Prayers for Epiphany 5

The other night I read such encouraging words from the editors of the New York Times reminding us again that we shouldn’t get caught up in the ineffectiveness of the vaccine. It’s not even infections that scientists are worried about with such things, but their focus is on the tally of deaths and hospitalizations. Those are low — nearly nothing actually. This is good news.

They used that phrase. They reminded me to believe in good news. Granted, it’s not the good news that we preach exactly but it is the promise of life. Still, I’m weary.

I’m not sure if I trust this good news. I want to but I hear the nagging questions in Isaiah and I know that I’m not there yet. Maybe you are. I hope so. Still, these are prayers for the frustrated.

Prayer of Invocation 
Inspired by Isaiah 40:21-31

Come close, O God.
Come to lift up our eyes
so that we can see
the wonder of your creation
because clearly 
we haven't looked.

We haven't dared to look, O God, 
because we are so worried 
about the future. We are so tired 
of this present moment but 
it's impossible for us to believe 
that there will be anything else 
but this. We know. 

We know. 
O God, we know.

You ask us what we
have known and 
what we have seen.
You ask for our attention
and our willingness
to dream. O God, come
because it feels 
like a dream 
just to remember 
what you made.
We are too afraid
to really look.

Lift up our eyes
and call us by name
so that we can remember
what power feels like 
in our exhaustion. 
We are tired of waiting
but we need your understanding
so come. Come into our worship  
and renew our strength.
Come close, O God.

This second prayer was actually written for my little Texas church originally. They were — at that point and still are — doing the hard transition work of interim ministry between settled pastors. I offer it here without any adaptations because I just like it.

Prayer for those Weary in Transition 
 We come tired, weary and worn. 
 We have already done so much work, so much heavy lifting. 
 We long to hear assurances or maybe even “a job well done,”
 but instead we are invited again to roll up our sleeves. 
 We must haul out the boats and put in another hour, maybe two. 
 There is more to be done. There is always more to be done.
 We wade together into the deep water, dragging the boat out of the sand,
 wondering what could change. What will one more hour do?
 We let down our nets, just as we are told. 
 We wait for what will catch us. O Holy One, catch our tired bodies today.  

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for Epiphany 3

I am really excited when poetry takes the national stage. I was surprised when it happened in the beginning of the pandemic. Major news outlets started sharing poems chosen by their editors to speak this moment. Poetry became popular while we have been home in our pajamas.

It happens every four years — or nearly so — that a poet is invited to speak this moment in United States history. We need such words to speak to the unknown. We need the wisdom of artists to sing their prophetic hope and so I am eagerly awaiting what will come when Amanda Gorman takes the stage tomorrow to share her poem The Hill We Climb. There are other things about tomorrow that are in my thoughts but I have channeled all of that restless energy into a deep dive into the gifts and talents of this poet laureate.

Watch this and you will fall in love with this talented woman that the same news outlets that celebrated the gifts of poetry in the pandemic now only speak to this woman’s youth. Let’s not do that, friends. Let’s remember that our faith is centered on the very idea that a little child shall lead us. Age does not dictate wisdom.

This might not be something you share in worship but I hope it’s something that emboldens you, dear pastor, to use your words boldly and prophetically. You might be especially wondering how to do that this week as we wait to see what will happen tomorrow and after the nightmares of last week. I’m not sure that the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary this week are much help though I found wisdom both in this and this to see the gospel truth in this moment as kairos time.

What I especially love about Matt Skinner’s wisdom in Dear Working Preacher is that it might not feel like time to stir the pot right now. My friend Stacey said something similar last week on Twitter. It does no good to condemn each other to the urgency that might be felt but we do have a responsibility to invite each other into what could be. The kingdom of God hasn’t been realized but it is still near.

I am going to borrow the brilliance of Amanda Gorman in her poem In this Place (An American Lyric) in the prayers I offer this week in the hope of uncertain hope of kairos time. This poem is not public domain and so it should not be used in the context of worship but it might be a link that is shared on social media or in the church newsletter to continue reflection on what could be.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Mark 1:14-20

Now. The time is now.
Now is the time 
for good news 
and to fulfill
the hopes and fears
of all the years. 

Now. It could be
time for us
to believe
that we are 
just beginning. 
We are just now
finding lyrics for 
our hope. Just now
we are finding words
to claim what it might 
mean for the 
realm of God 
to come near. 

It has all come to
this. It has come to this moment
when we gather for worship
to wonder again 
how we will 
fulfill this time. 
Let us worship
and wonder.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 and Mark 1:14-20

We will not pretend that our whole lives 
will change, O God. We would be lying. 

Things might look the same: same partner, 
same job, same lament, same hope.

But we pray today that something 
changes with us and through us
so that we are not so afraid 
of letting go of our pride,
our privilege, our assumptions 
about the past and the present 
and even the future. Forgive us, O God,
for our arrogance 
and allow us to find grace
in following 
your love. Amen. 

This final prayer was written for a curated collection of prayers for the Overland Park Christian Church and the First Christian Church in Smithville, Missouri. The wise pastors of these congregations have broken from the Revised Common Lectionary for Epiphany and are leading a preaching series through the prophetic works of exile challenging us to wonder what we can learn about who we might become after our own pandemic exile. I am so honored to write prayers for this inspiring series. Their focus text for this week is Ezekiel 37:1-14 so there will be illusions in this adapted prayer to that resurrection hope. If your congregation is interested in doing something similar and would like to work with me in creating liturgy, please contact me here.

Prayers of the People
Inspired by the poetry in Christian Scriptures and of Amanda Gorman

O Spirit, we have feared
tyrants. We have 
been astonished 
by what their words 
can incite. We have felt like
our words were not enough
so we haven’t spoken.
We have been silent
while history has its 
eyes on us. 

We have been
stuck in this feeling
that the world was passing away
and we did not know 
if we could do anything 
to change it or even
care that it was happening. 
Our apathy won.
We haven't said 
that out loud.
We haven't wanted 
it to be true
when our despair
was the only thing that
we could really pin down
in this appointed time. 

We haven't felt the 
urgency of this moment
even though it has now
become clear 
that something 
needs to change. 
We feel the tension 
more than the hope.
We feel the hate
more than the love.
We feel the long arc of the moral universe
more than the immediate justice. 

It has been 
hard enough to get
out of bed
and change 
out of our pajamas,
but we know that 
your hope 
only lives 
if it has flesh. 
It will only breathe
possibility into creation 
if that hope 
finds its rhythm
within our souls.

Give us, O Spirit,
the wisdom 
to see ourselves 
and all of creation
with the eyes
of artists and prophets,
dreamers and poets.
Let the old
dream dreams
and young see visions
for what could be.
Let your hope, O Spirit, 
be the muse that 
flows from within us
and give us courage to
climb over the hill
of our hopes and fears.
 
We might not get 
to the Promised Land. 
We might not get 
to see all that you 
hope for this 
world, O Spirit of God,
but that does not mean 
we give up the fight. 
Challenge us to soar 
to new heights
where there will be
new dreams and visions 
for your people.

O Spirit, breathe
hope into our lives
and into all of creation.
Dare us to dream  
of what could be
on the other side
of our despair.
We pray in 
your grace. Amen.

You might not have had the leisure of wandering through the exquisite words of this poet laureate like I have but I don’t want you to miss hearing her read one of her poems. Thus far, this is my favorite.

Though her books haven’t released yet, she has two children’s books that will release soon. You might want to read this bedtime story to your children as much as I do. Or you might want to share in the energy of the inauguration in this forthcoming picture book within your ministry to children.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am praying for you, as always.

Pandemic Prayers for Baptism of Christ

I love this Sunday.

I have been known to do some really silly things in worship because I love the joy of remembering this wonderful and strange ritual we share where we remember we are God’s beloved. And so I want to make this Sunday special. I want there to be unique things that do not require a ton of work for you, dear pastor, as you try to offer this blessing again. If you read my newsletter, you’ve already been chewing on some of those ideas but here are a few more.

What if this Sunday was a series of prayer stations? Yes, that means you don’t need to preach. It also means in this reality of online worship (as I’m assuming your congregation is still online and will continue to be until at least March) that your people will need to gather materials to set up. It will be a tiny bit of chaos but you get to send them on a scavenger hunt and who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt?

Here’s the list:

  • 10-15 sheets of paper
  • bowl of water
  • 10 small rocks or pebbles
  • markers, crayons or pens in assorted colors
  • 5 recent news stories about water (bookmark or print out articles)
  • matches
  • candle for each worshipper
  • extra credit: photos from family baptisms, baptismal candles/shells and/or baptism certificates

In the 10 days or so before Baptism of Christ Sunday, I would send out this list. I would send out reminders about this list by email and social media. I would maybe offer prizes for people that post pictures of all of their items on social media. I would begin worship reminding the gathered that this service has some tools required. I might even plan for the stressed-out parents who forgot because of all things and have some special music planned while they race to get the items. Or I might skip the music and have some sort of Mission Impossible countdown clock because I already sent you 5000 communications about this and I’m annoyed. These are the moments where I really miss leading church, right? This is actually endearing to me now. Silly church people.

What follows is a fairly complete liturgy. It’s missing a couple of things that you probably require in your usual worship format but I hope it gives enough creativity that you can delve in and use this opportunity to create a few Powerpoint or Canva slides for your worship presentation and move onto next Sunday. (If it works to use the slides below, please do so.) And if you are planning ahead to next week, here you go.

Gathering Around the Baptismal Font

Come to this font 
to find blessing and 
hear the divine echo
sweep over the face of the waters
calling out blessing and joy.

Come to pull up
a chair beside this basin
or bowl or whatever you found 
in the back of the cupboard
to remember that God's grace
doesn't require gold or silver,
but is poured out in 
abundant love.

Come to splash
and wade into this water
to hear again that you are beloved.
You have brought pleasure
and glory to God's name.

Come and touch the water 
to remember God’s love for you.
This version by Chad Garner and Robert Robinson is covered by the CCLI license.

Share in hearing Genesis 1:1-5.

If it is your tradition to gift Bibles to the newly baptized, I might opt to read this creation story from the Bible that you gift to the children.

Worship leader would prompt gathered to gather markers or crayons and one piece of paper for all worshippers. Worship leader could lead the prayer prompt below. Or it could be displayed on a screen image. If read aloud, it may need to be broken into parts.

Allow 3 minutes. Meditative music might play in the background.

Share in hearing Mark 1:4-11.

Worship leader would prompt gathered to move the bowl of water to the center of their focus. They can push the markers and paper out of the way and pull the new stories up in their browser or put printed articles next to the bowl. Just as before, worship leader would lead the prompt below.

Allow 5-10 minutes. Meditative music might play in the background.

Prayer for the Many Waters 

Awesome God, we thank you for the water in our bath tubs and sinks.
We thank you for the water that rains from the sky and the water inside our bodies. 
We thank you for rivers and lakes and Barton Springs*. 
We thank you for oceans and ponds full of fish, turtles and frogs. 
We give thanks for the gift of water. May water always remind us 
of your love. Amen.

*include local body of water that would be familiar to your congregation instead of this fresh water pool in Austin, Texas

Allow 5-10 minutes. Meditative music might play in the background.

Share in listening to the good news in Mark 1:4-11.

Invite the gathered to place a piece of fresh paper before each person. Place the markers or crayons within reach.

Allow 10 minutes. Meditative music might play in the background.

As with most songs by The Many, this song is covered by the CCLI license.

Invite the gathered to notice all of the objects that they have collected. Marvel for just a moment at the ways that we are learning to be church together. We are becoming something new and wonderful. There is lots to praise here.

Now invite them to bring the candle and matches to the center of their focus before leading the final prayer station.

Allow 3 minutes. Meditative music might play in the background.

Baptismal Waters Litany
Written by the Rev. Melissa Reed

When they say: you are alone.
These waters say: You are “with.”

When they say: You are too broken, damaged goods, too wounded, not enough.
These waters say: Enough, beloved. Enough.

When they say: You are too brown, child, Too black. Too queer, child. Too fat.
These waters say: Beautiful, child. Beautiful.

When they say: You are too addicted, stranger. 
Immigrant, alien. Criminal. Too far gone, stranger.
These waters say: Home, neighbor. Welcome home.

When they say: We could sell these waters and turn a profit!
These waters say: We are the waters of the Jordan, 
the waters of the Atlantic, the waters of the Charles. 
We are the waters of your Mother’s womb, and we are free!

When they say: Fear.
These waters say: Trust.

When they say: Commodify. Consume.
These waters say: Life.

I would really like to close this worship experience with In Water We Grow but it is sadly missing from any YouTube search I can manage. Perhaps this is when you use the talents of your own congregation. Or maybe you’ll offer a blessing of your own.

When I first posted this, I included links to where I find these prayer stations I adapted. Canva doesn’t let you link but I want to be sure I give credit where credit is due. Inspiration for these prayer stations came from Theresa Cho’s Interactive Prayer Stations for Baptism 2, Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church’s Prayer Stations for Baptism of the Lord Sunday and Sybil MacBeth’s Praying in Color.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. I am praying for you. I am always praying for you.