Christmas Blessings

Advent is the strangest time to not be in the parish. I don’t find the same to be true in Lent because most people aren’t busy like pastors are busy in that season. But when December rolls around, everyone seems to be in a hurry. There is a rush to get to the finish line on Christmas Day or so I’m told.

My job right now is to cuddle with my kids and tell them the Christmas story again and again. I’m teaching them carols to sing to their babies and hoping by God’s good grace that they somehow get that Christmas is not all about Santa. (Why is my four year old so attached to this thing that I haven’t emphasized at all?) I get to bake cookies and everything feels very slow compared to the frantic pace that I remember well from congregational leadership.

I remember the stress when there wasn’t worry about variants and droplets adding to that usual Advent stress. I am praying for you, dear pastor. I am because you are doing so much and I want things to be just the tiniest bit easier for you. So I’m creating this gathering of all of the things you might need or want for your Christmas planning from the stuff that’s already in these pages and you can’t be bothered to search for. It’s all right here.

As the days are getting shorter and the grief of this pandemic season is just endless, the service I wrote last year for the Longest Night might be what you need in your ministry right now. I really love this one. It might be my favorite. I challenged myself to write a series of blessings for the grieving and I really like how it came together. I still like it though you might tweak some of the language to reflect this year. (I give you permission to edit, as needed.) When the Night Has Already Been Too Long can be purchased here.

Last year, I also created a series of liturgies for Christmas Eve including this service called Shadows and Light which is a Lessons and Carols kinda thing except that it is also like a Tenebrae service where the birth of Christ welcomes the whole Light of the World in a quiet, gentle sorta way. I have another complete Lessons and Carols Service in Coronatide from last year that might work for this year. I am keenly aware that the use of a lot of the poetry that I have used would require additional licenses and permissions. It’s for this reason that I created The Joy the World Needs musing on Howard Thurman’s Work of Christmas and some beautiful words shared by United Church of Christ colleagues.

Or if this service is a little “political” for your good people — and it might well be — then you could just download this wonderful blessing from two talented United Church of Christ colleagues who launched this new worship collaborative and are offering this Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols script for FREE.

I also created something simple — really, really simple — for an outdoor worship experience on Christmas Eve that tells the story without speech or song. Hard to believe, I know. The good news shines through in Christmas Eve Under Pandemic Skies and it can be purchased here.

Sunday rolls around really, really quickly after Christmas Eve and I wanted to have multiple options for you, dear pastor, because I know you don’t want to preach. This year, I created this fireside experience designed for Zoom. You get to stay in your pajamas, dear pastor, and you deserve it.Or you might opt for the new liturgy I created called New Year Epiphanies. You can read all about it here.

You might also decide to use New Year Epiphanies on that Second Sunday of Christmas if that’s not when you are celebrating Epiphany. I offered these Pandemic Prayers for Epiphany last year and I’ll be sharing more ideas for the whole Season after Epiphany in my next email — so be sure to subscribe here.

Until then, you might be planning ahead for the second week of January rolls around because you might get a vacation or something blessed like that, and so you might be looking for for these Pandemic Prayers for Baptism of Christ. It’s a series of prayer stations and might be one of the favorite things I’ve created in this long pandemic season.

I hope these many things bless you this Christmas, dear pastor and though I’ve said it a thousand times and you might not really believe it, still, I am praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much. I really am.

New Year Epiphanies

There is a lot that we hope for in this new year. There is so much we hope for that I dared to tag this worship service with the audacious claim that this worship might end the pandemic. 

It won’t. Of course, it won’t.

The news broke yesterday in Germany that this pandemic isn’t likely to end in the spring. I’m not surprised. I can’t really imagine being surprised right now but I still dare to dream that this will end — and that somehow we can do something to make it end.

It won’t be like last year. We won’t be so naive to think that a simple flip of the calendar page will change everything. It is not just saying goodbye to this year but searching for how we might enter into the year that dawns. We can enter this new year without expecting it all to change but believing that we can be some small part of what ends this much death and devastation.

We can change it. That is how it will end. We will believe in what my friend Laura Stephens-Reed called grounded hope. She explains it like this,

A hope that acknowledges the physical danger we still face and forges ahead anyway. A confidence that Jesus is with us in the particularity of our congregations and concerns. A belief that come what may, God wants good for us and invites us into agency, into actively making things better by the ways we treat one another and respond to challenge. An empowerment by the courage and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, who prompts us to recognize the holy and leap for joy when we least expect it.

Yes. Yes. YES. Let that be how we enter this new year.

(Please do read the whole essay Laura shares at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Blog. It’ll give you a burst to write that Christmas sermon that you can’t find words for — and if you’re still struggling I have some wonders in my kitchen for Christmas that could help.)

I don’t know if I did Laura’s words credit but I hope so. I hope that this worship experience I’ve entitled New Year Epiphanies invites the gathered community to reflect on what has been and dream of what could be through simple rituals and gentle questions. It hints toward the Epiphany as something that will happen but assumes that it hasn’t happened yet. Instead, I imagined it being used in those Sundays in the end of Christmastide in and around when the calendar does flip from 2021 to 2022.

I didn’t want to do anything overly complicated. There are no special props beyond the communion elements, pen, paper and tea light candles — and even these things could be substituted for whatever is available at home that day. It’s designed for Zoom but it could very well work in other worship formations and settings.

For you, dear pastor, there are words that you don’t have to create to lead your beautiful people into the hope of the new year through all of those weird low-attendance Sundays after Christmas Eve. It gives you an opportunity to lead and reflect on what you imagine this year will be. How will you be part of the change that needs to come? How will we end this pandemic?

Those are not questions that are answered in the prayers I wrote but I hope that some great wisdom emerges from within the worshipping body moving through this experience together. That’s my hope, my very grounded hope.

This complete worship service is now available for purchase for $10. It can be purchased it here.

I am praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much.

Starting Over Again

hands-way-guide-tourist

My sermon ended yesterday with the bold proclamation that God is just beginning to do a new thing. The words have been ratting around in my head since I first typed them. Pushing and prodding and nudging toward this amazing possibility that no one really understands.

I have to be honest. The whole idea makes me a bit tired. Not just because the church is changing and the future is unknown within the institution but because it’s the reality of my life. God has been doing a new thing this year. God gave me this amazing gift of love. God encouraged me to follow that love and move across country which meant leaving the church I was serving. It meant leaving the life I was trying to create and start over again.

Let me be clear: starting over sucks. It’s exhausting to try to reimagine what life could be when you have gotten so comfortable with the way life is. I’ve heard these complaints from church members so many times and it’s not that I didn’t understand. I did. I do. And I’ve tried so hard to take my own advice — and that of every book on change I’ve ever read — and try lots of things. I’ve tried to throw caution to the wind and imagine crazy things. In doing so, I have had a bunch of failures. Last year, I started a ministry that started to gain some traction and then it tanked. Maybe I tanked. I’m still not sure but all of the sudden it was so clear that this wasn’t for me. I still don’t think it was a bad idea. I just wasn’t the one to make it happen.

Now, as this new year dawns, I’m getting ready to start over again. God is really, truly just beginning to do a new thing. This year, I will get married. (Holy moly. I am getting married.)  It is going to be an epic multi-day event with so much love and so much wine and so many beautiful people. And then, we move again. I get to start over again.

I’m trying to summon all the enthusiasm I can muster. I’m trying to live on the edge of hope and wonder even though — if I’m honest — the prospect makes me tired. Even so, I haven’t stopped googling. I haven’t stopped daydreaming about what will come next in the new year as I try so very hard to chart points on a map into the unknown.

Map Point #1: It all begins with a wedding. I am over-planning the crap out of this event because it’s what I do best. When I say it’s going to be epic, I am not kidding.

Map Point #2: Shortly thereafter, I will return to the place we call home now. I will finish my charge as an interim pastor at this sweet little church. I will bless them in their future.

Map Point #3: And then, I will join my beloved in this new place with lots of BBQ. That’s when the adventure really begins and anything could happen. But, rather than get scared and overwhelmed, the first part is to settle into this new place.

Map Point #4: At the same time I will be settling into this new place, I’ll be sending off applications to continue my education. Gosh. It’s scary to type this and name this thing I’ve been thinking about aloud. Now you’ll know if I don’t get in. Ack! But, here’s the honest truth: I’m seeking to begin a holy adventure into spiritual direction. It’s a call that’s been getting louder and louder so that I feel I can no longer say no. Fingers crossed, I’ll begin this educational wonder in January 2017 — but that means I gotta complete an application or two.

Map Point #5: Of course, I can’t just imagine one education opportunity in the new year so I’m trying to figure out when I might take Part Two of interim ministry training. I am loving the challenging work I get to do right now. I want to be better at it. I want to know all the things which means more education.

Map Point #6: Last year, as I started over, I get better and better about answering the call to write. I even got published. There’s a book I started writing last year — and one that I hope to finish this year. It’s a book about what I know best. It’s a book about grief encompassing those things that I’ve learned from the wonderful people in the churches I’ve served and the lessons I’ve struggled to realize over so many years of mourning my mother. I haven’t a clue if it will be published but it’s a point on the map this year.

God is just beginning to do a new thing. It’s just starting in the dawning of the new year. No matter how I might plan, there are things that I can’t pinpoint on any map. God will do what God does and surprise me with wonders. Or so I pray not only for myself but for you too.

What new things is God just beginning in your life right now?