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 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. 

Easter at Home with Babies and Toddlers

When I was in my very first call and was still saying I wasn’t sure I was called to be a parent, I led a conversation for the monthly potluck shared by parents and children about faith at home. It felt like a new idea all those ten years ago.

Children were supposed to learn about matters of faith at church. They were supposed to ask their pastors and Sunday School teachers. Parents weren’t trained. They weren’t equipped. That was what we thought then when there was never a question about gathering in our places of worship. That was before this pandemic changed things forever. Or maybe just for a little while.

It has taken this new normal for me to actually do the things I taught parents to do with their children. It started really because I was gifted a daily observance for little kids to mark the days of Holy Week from my dear friend Teri. My sweet toddler would remind me every day that it was time for “Baby Jesus” and we would share in whatever the story and activity was for that day. It made me realize I need to do this more.

Just like I find activities for my children to play with bubble foam, finger paint and embark on neighborhood scavenger hunts, I need to find time to cultivate their faith. I want them to learn more about these stories that are so important to me but it also builds up my faith. It reminds me every time we take the time to do so that this is matters to me. Here are some things I’m doing with my very young children to carry us through the Easter season.

My toddler is two and a half and very verbal. My baby girl is nearly 10 months old and is ready to start walking. Or so it appears. She might not get as much out of these activities but she is in awe of her sister and will follow her anywhere. I can’t say these activities will work without an older child to lead.

Prayer Book

I confess that I have been tired at bedtime and so the long list of people we usually pray for has been truncated. I feel badly badly about it and so when I downloaded Traci Smith’s wonderful at home resource for Faithful Families, I felt nudged by one of her ideas to create a book of people we pray for. I’m adapting a tiny photo book to use in our prayer time every night and every other time my toddler pulls it off the shelf and clasps her hands together.

Jesus Song Time

The churches I’ve served have all had Sunday School during worship. In every church I’ve served, the kids start in the sanctuary until the children’s sermon and then are excused to their classes. This means they usually only hear one or two hymns and one of those hymns may have been difficult to sing. I know this. Zoom Worship has provided the extra blessing for our family that my kids hear the whole service and my baby girl sways and dances every time music begins. music

I want to cultivate that love of music and want them to learn the songs of faith. So we have started to have Jesus Song Time. I created a Spotify station by the same name that we turn on the Roku and jam out in our living room. I sing loudly and out of tune and encourage my kids to play with bean bags and their music instruments including the egg shakers that were in their Easter baskets.

Psalms and Shepherds

In the spirit of familiarity, I am attempting to teach Psalm 23 to my children this week. It’s going really great in that they are not getting it at all. We are going to make sheep from egg cartons this afternoon and tomorrow we will play with those tubes using this prompt from Carolyn Brown on Worshiping with Children:

Using a small cardboard sheepfold, a shepherd figure (maybe from a crèche), and some toy sheep.  Demonstrate how the shepherd would gather the sheep into the fold, counting as they came in and checking each one for injuries, then sleep across the gate so no animal or human thief could get to the sheep at night.  Show next how in the morning the shepherd would call the sheep to the gate and lead them out into pasture.  After showing this, reread John 10:2-5 and comment that just as the good shepherd takes care of the sheep, Jesus takes care of us.

I will also build a pen from the surplus cardboard in our lives. A shepherd will be found from among other toys. I’m not sure which yet. I also really like the idea from Worshiping with Children to spend some time with this first picture of Jesus from the Roman catacombs. The questions would be over the head of my toddler but it might be a fun way to continue to explore Psalm 23.

Jesus Story Time

One of the things that I learned during Holy Week with Teri’s wonderful resource was that I didn’t like any of our children’s bibles. I have a lot of them and I’m still not quite satisfied. With her encouragement, I ordered the Spark Story Bible. We take our special picnic blanket outside of the backyard for what my toddler calls Baby Jesus Story Time. I’m really trying to teach her that Jesus grows up. I’m choosing some of my favorite stories about Jesus’ life and reading them.

Though I’m not sure we will get there by Ascension Sunday, I’m keeping this idea from Worshiping with Children in the back of my mind.

Display pictures of Jesus’ birth, healing, teaching, Palm Sunday, Crucifixion, Empty Tomb, and Ascension.  With the children review Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  Then tell the story of the Ascension in your own words.  Stress that during his life on earth, his disciples knew Jesus as a very special person, after Easter Jesus was different.  He appeared and disappeared sometimes in locked but still ate fish and bread.  Thomas could touch him.  Since the Ascension, people have seen Jesus only in visions and dreams.  Jesus is still alive and is not just with God, but part of God.

My toddler is just at the age where she can tell a story from a picture if we read it often enough. So this might be something we try.

I’m already starting to think about what I’ll do for Pentecost because I haven’t used my Pentecost kites in the longest time. I’m also pretty sure I’ll go searching for other ideas between now and then because I get bored but this is where we are now. If you are doing something similar with your littles, please share your amazing ideas in the comments.