Recipe for a Pandemic Neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt

Worship is not the only thing that adds flavor to congregational life. We are nourished by times of fellowship and times of service. As we approach the season of Lent again, I’ll be sharing more recipes for ministry. If you read my newsletter, you might have caught on to the fact that I have had grand intentions of making this happen since Advent.

I’m hoping that these are recipes that can be shared with the talented people within your congregation so that this year you, dear pastor, are able to encourage others to get cooking. I hope that the steps are all there and it’s just as easy as saying, “Hey! Look at this! Wouldn’t this be fun?”

When the pandemic first began, there were rainbows in many windows. There were hunts of different kinds for stir-crazy kids to get out of the house and share in an adventure. We didn’t live in a place where this happened but I loved seeing the posts others shared. I hope that this Easter Egg Hunt fills the void for all of those who were a little jealous like me.

Here is the recipe to share with your people to cook up some fun.

There are a whole lot of Easter Egg coloring sheets online and I picked one that had a lot of options. You can find those options at Paint the World here or you can Google and find the many other free options. I chose eggs that were a bit more simple. If you have an older congregation with not so many kids, you might opt for fancier eggs that are more complex to color. I do not believe that this activity for congregational fun has to be limited to children. We all need a dose of fresh air and hunting for eggs transforms the neighborhood path we have trod so often with a little more fun.

If you have a congregation that is geographically disperse, this might be more complicated. It might take more than 20 minutes but it may also be worth the extra time to focus your egg hunt in one neighborhood where there are the most church members. If you opt for this, you will need to encourage masks and social distancing especially if the entire congregation will drive to that neighborhood after church. Even with the vaccine slowly rolling out, there isn’t a place in our country where it is possible to skip these precautions. You’d have to insure there’s ample parking too which sounds frustrating but maybe there are businesses downtown that would be willing to display eggs. Or maybe there is another possibility I’m not imagining.

Please comment with your brilliant ideas to share the creative hope of this season. I look forward to sharing some more recipes with you soon. Until then, please know that you are in my prayers dear pastor. You are in so many of my prayers.

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 4

Healings just feel like a weird thing to explore right now.

Many of us are refreshing our browsers wondering when we can get in line to get the vaccine. Or we are eagerly seeking out that first dose for a loved one. We are not amazed, but we are asking each other, “What is this?” We just want to be clear on what this is. I don’t know that we can answer that — at least not yet. I’m not even sure I want to go there.

Epiphany is about the revelation. It’s about what you learn about God and so I wonder at this moment what we think we know about God. That’s what inspired these prayers.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 111

It begins here.
It begins with love. 

Love is in the beginning of 
all wisdom. It is the work of God's hands. 
It is what gathers us here
across wires and signals
to praise and give thanks.

It is love
that delights us
It is love
that changes us.
It is love 
that we practice
in our worship
today. 

It begins here
in the wisdom
we seek. 
Let us worship.

I really want an alleluia but I can’t find one on YouTube that actually leads me to worship. And yes, I have heard your laments about a song by that name that is not a hymn. The secular canon of hymns is small, friends, but we need music and it is why we offer these refrains to each other. They remind us of something. Art speaks when our words do not. So, here’s a song that might draw upon the blessing that we are not God but we need God’s goodness. That is the epiphany.

This song is covered by the CCLI license.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by 1 Corinthians 8:1-3

O God, we have puffed ourselves up.
We confess that we have thought 
more than once that we had
all of the necessary knowledge,
but we are still learning the ways 
of your love, O God.

We see in the mirror dimly. 
We know only in part
what wonder your love 
can offer to this world
and to our lives. 

O God, forgive us
for believing in ourselves 
more than you. Amen. 

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.

Ash Wednesday in Coronatide

Lent is a mere six week away. Do you remember Lent last year? Do you remember that awkward feeling of sitting in church that first Sunday when we were told not to touch our faces? I remember laughing about it with the person next to me in the pew as someone then touched the face of my nursing baby. (Do not touch babies even when it is not a pandemic.) Do you remember feeling like we would only have to worship remotely until Easter? Or maybe Pentecost?

Here we are nearly one year later preparing to honor that same holy season when the pandemic began.

Tradition holds that Lent is a time to contemplate our humanity. It has been a season to wonder about our limitations and our possibilities beginning with the dust that graces our foreheads on Ash Wednesday soon followed by temptations of all shapes and kinds on the first Sunday of Lent. We give up those things that muddle of our connection to God and take on things bring God closer. You know all of these things already, dear pastor. You would probably have better wording for the theological implications of this season and probably have a few things to say about what it means to be a human right now.

One of my dearest friends claims that she now believes in the depravity of humanity though she never did before this long season of coronatide. I don’t think she’s wrong but I’ve also been thinking about those palm branches. It is a strange twist where the joy and hope of last year is charred and burned. Ashes are what is left after the fire. Nothing will become of them. They are swept up and disposed. There is no other use for them but Lent is always an awakening. It always leans into the hope of renewal where what has been reduced to ashes will find new life. I can think of no better way talk about this moment in 2021 as we anticipate a world transformed by disease and destruction. It is that that we are preparing for this Lent. We are preparing for what will come.

It doesn’t need to be palm branches though. There is no rule about this as my colleague Leah Robberts-Mosser recommended we “go to our local tobacco store or head shop. Buy dime bags. Put a teaspoon or less of ash in each. Make kits with whatever folks need for your Lenten worship series to distribute. Given how long it will take for vaccinations, it’s safe to assume we won’t be gathering in person until mid summer at the earliest. Plan for a remote Lent.”

This year will be different. We’ve said this so many times but why not live into the wonder of this possibility. One of my all-time favorite post How to Make Ashes reveals my bias that this bonfire is something to be shared.

It’s something we can encourage in the priesthood of all believers. We can invite this spark to ignite what we hope this year will be. When so many of us are looking for something to do, especially in the midst of so much brokenness, we can dare to believe that lighting a fire might prepare us for the work ahead.

Such preparation requires ritual and prayer. You’ll find both in this simple free downloadable bulletin to share with your church community. Download Fire and Ashes: A Ritual to Begin the Season of Lent here. It requires your supplies but hopefully these are things that already exist at home and do not require an additional trip for curbside pick-up.

It was my first instinct to let this service be shared at home without any gathering online.

I thought, instead, it might be more more fun as we approach Lent again to follow another suggestion I saw from a talented and wise minister. She plans to celebrate Shrove Tuesday by hosting a Zoom cooking lesson for kids to test various pancake recipes. This sounds fun but let’s include adults. We need fun too. I don’t know how in the world you do pancake races online but they are my favorite part of Shrove Tuesday and silliness might be just want we need this Lent. Plus, who doesn’t love playing with your food?

That was my first instinct. It was not my last because there are many living alone. There are many, like me, who have not formed a pod. There is so much loneliness even for those surrounded by children and relatives that they can now never escape.

There has to be something for those blessed souls to begin this holy season. I might suggest using the same liturgy because it’s less work for you, dear pastor. Lead it from your backyard and stream it as you usually do. Or gather everyone on Zoom and share in this ritual together which will be lovely except for the fact that unless you sent ashes home, these good people will have nothing to impose. No problem. They’ve got oil in their kitchen for something: olive oil, vegetable oil, canola oil all works. If they really want to have ashes, tell them to burn a piece of toast and scrape off the charred bits with a butter knife into a tiny bit of oil. This might be what they are doing while you are building the fire in your backyard. Or you might ask them to write down all of their sorrows on paper they then tear to tiny shreds. This will make more sense, of course, after you have downloaded Fire and Ashes and decided if it is the right thing for your congregation right now. You know your people, dear pastor. You know what is needed in this holy season.

I know, too, that there are pastors considering skipping Lent this year. It is too much. I wrote Fire and Ashes with this in mind. It’s traditional but not. It has some of the familiar elements but after all that has happened this week in Washington DC, I want to talk more about possibility than mortality. I want us to believe that we don’t have to burn it all down or even that this life is just a dumpster fire of destruction and loss, but that there is something else. We can emerge from the ashes. We can imagine new life together. We can still be Easter people in a Good Friday world.

Pandemic Prayers for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday

I have been thinking about this tweet since I saw it.

I don’t think that I’m selling a brand. I hope not. That’s not what I’m aiming to do but I know I haven’t uplifted the voices of people of color in a meaningful way. I haven’t kept demanding justice when it is still so needed. Pleading with God in my private prayer isn’t enough. God has no hands but our own.

This is also what has bothered me about this Sunday. I serve a white denomination. I have been a part of and led very, very white churches where this might be the one Sunday a year that we talk about diversity. That was the word used in my first call. It was a day for diversity, not racism. Not the unique experience of black and brown people or even the poor people that ultimately got the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated. It was a Sunday for diversity.

Diversity is great, but it’s not the point. Last year, in the midst of a global pandemic, George Floyd was killed. Riots erupted around the world. Riots is a bad word. Good white people prefer the word protest but rioting is what causes the National Guard to respond. Rioting is what causes people to die in the streets. Rioting is what happens when we have confined ourselves that racism is a thing of the past. Racism defined the past year as much as the pandemic as this gorgeous choir makes clear.

Auld Lang Syne is covered by the CCLI license but it is not clear if this particular recording would be included.

I want to suggest that this year we do better. I want to do more than suggest it but I’m still a nice white girl. We don’t just make this the one Sunday we talk about racism in our very, very white churches. We commit to somehow keeping this dialogue going even when so many of our faithful balk at any confrontation of their privilege. I know, dear pastor. I remember what it was like to lead those conversations and patiently listen to their rant as I tried to find the light of Christ in their heart. I remember.

Don’t let that stop you from signing up for a class by Austin Channing Brown or leading a group study on Zoom around Sandhya Jha’s Pre-Post Racial America: Spiritual Stories from the Front Lines. Sandhya is also looking forward to an amazing online learning opportunity based on that book in Rise Up for Racial Justice: Resources and Strategies for Your Personal Journey. Or if you have already read all of these books and are looking forward to what Sandhya might inspire us with next, your might invest in their future work to connect racial justice and our relationships with our ancestors’ wisdom by becoming a patron at their patreon account. 

You might even choose to engage with the author of the above tweet in reading his book Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S..

Or you might make this the focus on Lent using the liturgies of confession and repentance curated by the Disrupt Worship Project.

There are tons of wonderful resources out there. Choose something. Do it and then choose another.

Imagine this Sunday as an opportunity for storytelling. I have always been surprised in the congregations I’ve served to learn who was there at Selma and the March on Washington. In each of the congregations I’ve served, there were people there fighting that fight and witnessing to that possibility that we still have not realized. This Sunday, I’d be inclined to give them the floor. I’d use Psalm 139 as the central text. I might opt for reading verses 1 through 18 rather than omitting the bit that the Revised Common Lectionary suggests. I’d begin by sharing in hearing the first six verses and then I’d ask someone that had marched to answer two questions in reflection:

  • How did you rise up to learn about racial justice?
  • What are you still learning about racism now?

That reflection could end in song or you might use a prayer to conclude each reflection like this one from Black Liturgies. I’d be inclined to use the prayer and not the preceding quote but would be careful not to edit the prayer otherwise. In these prayers, especially in white congregations, our purpose is not to edit away discomfort.

You could repeat this pattern by reading verses 7-12 of Psalm 139 and then asking another voice to answer these questions rooted in the psalm. Maybe you don’t have as many people who marched in the movement then. Maybe you choose someone who protested last year or a youth eager to dismantle white supremacy. Questions for reflection might be:

  • Where did you first find God in your anti-racism work?
  • What are you still learning about racism now?

That reflection could end in song or you might use a prayer to conclude each reflection like this one from Black Liturgies. Again, I’d skip the quote and focus on the unedited prayer.

A final voice might reflect on the following questions after sharing verses 13-18 of the Psalm.

  • What has God shown you about what it means be fearfully and wonderfully made in struggle with white supremacy?
  • What are you still learning about racism now?

That reflection could end in song or you might use a prayer to conclude each reflection like this one from Black Liturgies. Again, I’d skip the quote and focus on the unedited prayer. If you use these prayers, please consider becoming an Official Patreon to Cole Arthur Riley’s stunning work.

You could use this litany against white supremacy by the Disrupt Worship Project as the Prayers of the People. Or you might find prayers from this liturgy written years ago helpful to framing your worship for this Sunday. You might even conclude worship with this song from Common Hymnal.

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

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.

Pandemic Prayers for Epiphany

A new year dawns. 2020 is over.

That is the hope that we have put all of our energy into as we count down the last few days of this wretched pandemic year. We are waiting even after Advent is over. We are waiting for what is still to come. Maybe this will be the year that we will grasp that Christmas continues for all twelve days when so many that haven’t put up a tree in years have done so just to experience a little bit of joy. Will they also log into Zoom to hear the promise that this season offers? Will we imagine that this good news will truly lead to better days?

I confess I’m not there yet so I’m gonna keep singing carols for as long as it’s even remotely acceptable. The first Sunday in January is the ninth day of Christmas and is technically the Second Sunday of Christmas though many will likely celebrate Epiphany on that day. I would have zero qualms about putting a carol into worship especially one that is as beautifully fresh in these new words.

I had shared in my last newsletter some ideas from Epiphany including recommending Traci Smith’s resource for families looking to practice a new way into experiencing the twelve days of Christmas. You can find it in her Etsy shop.

Maren Tirabassi wrote this beautiful communion liturgy for this Sunday as she has for each month in coronatide. She plays with the imagery of the Twelve Days of Christmas which I confess I had to sing through all nine days until I could remember that there are nine ladies dancing. I think singing the song or playing the song instrumentally before communion (even if its secular) might help for the worshipping community to hear what I didn’t catch too quickly. It’s fun though. We need fun and I will always recommend Maren’s words.

This could be the Sunday that you preach the Prologue of John. I’ve been playing with that for next Christmas and I have no more ideas than what I’ve already written for it so these prayers might not speak to you. I am using a hybrid of inspiration from the second Sunday of Christmas and Epiphany Sunday so I hope these prayers might carry you into the new year. If you find yourself leaning into the hope of the new year, there are a whole bunch of new year prayers on re:Worship. I’m also not assuming that all of these prayers go into the same service but wanted to provide options and follow where the sections led me.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Jeremiah 31:7-14 

With weeping we have come,
feeling blind and lame
and barren
without hope
even in this season
full of hope.

We come wobbly 
and uncertain
but God assures
us that we will not stumble.
We will not fall
but we will rejoice.
We will sing.
We will dance 
and hold hands
and be merry.
We shall not languish forever.
God will shepherd 
us into the future.
God is leading us 
under the stars.

I’m not sure where this song should go but I like it and I thought this pastor did a lovely job with the visuals. It also wouldn’t let me save it to my epiphany playlist which I found annoying. Because it is still Christmas and I am not one to put away the Advent wreath until Christmas is actually over (that is, after January 6), I always include a liturgy for the lighting of the Christ candles. That version is responsive with the same refrain repeated by the congregation. I don’t think that works online so it’s been adapted again.

Lighting the Way of Christ
Inspired by Sirach 24:1-12 and Isaiah 60:1-6

In this season of possibility, of wisdom telling of her glory to all the people,
 of love made known and peace kept close at home, still we seek light.
 
We seek light from the highest heavens
wondering what this year will hold, 
fearful and hopeful 
and praying with 
all our hearts that 
this year will be different.

[Light first of the Advent candles]
 
We seek light over the waves
of the sea, and all the earth,
for creation is hurting
and we too often feel
like we have no sway.

[Light second of the Advent candles]

We seek light as we listen
for God's command and wonder
what the ministry of the church,
this church and every church,
will be when the world 
has changed so much 
in just one year. 

[Light third of the Advent candles]

We seek light because
we have not yet found a resting place
to dwell where there is enough 
for the immigrant, the refugee,
the poor and the widow,
or even for those who
abide in black and brown skin.

[Light fourth of the Advent candles]

We come seeking light
in the One is Light
and Wisdom and Love.
It is in this great light
that we will rise and shine
for our light has come. 
We will open our mouths
and share in the glory
that continues the work 
of Christmas. 

[Light Christ candle]

Epiphany is rich with so many images but my favorite has always been the stars. I am fasciated that the star stopped or that it felt that way as it does when the hairs stand up on our necks and we know that we have touched some glimmer of God’s grace. I went back to look at old liturgies I have created for this day and none of them seem to speak to this moment of online worship in ten million months into a global pandemic. Can we speak of these things in the same way? Do we need new inspiration to speak of what the heavens reveals in these tiny bursts of gas?

I might find a prayer that speaks to this moment like Joyce Sutphen’s Naming the Stars which names the hope of those future reunions full of hugs, at least to my reading. Or maybe this poem by Mary Jo Bang written early in the pandemic. Mary Oliver has a lovely poem on stars and Ann Weems has a whole bunch of poems that might work especially well if you are doing star words. I think it would be fun to adapt this poem by John Daniel into a Call to Worship but I’m not sure we all share the same vision of the post-pandemic future. There are some universals, of course, but do we all begin in the same place with that hope? I’m not so sure but it would be fun to play with that poem and the Gospel. Here are a few prayers that muse on the wonder of stars.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21 and Matthew 2:1-12

O God, lead us 
on different roads 
from the paths that 
brought us here into this new year. 

Open us to new treasures
from the chests
that we have carried 
over so many miles
always assuming that 
this was what was needed
because you imagine 
more than just one moment 
of revelation. Your light 
does not stop with that star
in one spot in the night sky.
You continue the 
orbit of love 
beyond that 
brief pause. 

We have thought 
we were holy and blameless.
We thought so all last
year and so we did
what we thought was right.
We took risks
that were comfortable 
for our own comfort
and read headlines
only to the point 
that we could 
sit with our own
racism and privilege. 
We still don't really 
know what freedom
means for those that 
are truly oppressed.
We thought we knew.
We thought we 
were so wise.

Lead us
by another way, O God,
where light teaches 
us humility and grace.
Lead us through
all our blunders
and missed opportunities
to find new signs
and wonders 
that overwhelm us 
with joy. Lead us 
ever into joy, O God.

Like so many, I really wanted to do something with this Christmas Star business. I went outside at dusk with my children to try to find it on the horizon. In one of the many news reports I listened to for some hint that this could have anything to do with Christmas (and I confess I’m still unconvinced), it was suggested that the Star of Bethlehem might actually have been an alignment of planets as Jupiter and Saturn aligned on the Longest Night. I can no longer find where I heard that. Sorry. I am using a lot of poetic license with this prayer and so my apologies to the scientists and maybe also to the psalmist.

Prayer for the Stars Alignment
Inspired by Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

Will the stars align, O God, 
so neatly in the sky
that it might feel 
like this is what
you always dreamt 
would be?

Will the paths of planets 
reveal more to us
of your justice and love?

Will these celestial events
change how we live 
in this world 
as it was once sung
in ancient song?
Will we see your justice
come into the mountains 
and hills? Will hope for 
the poor and needy
rain down in stardust?

O God, we need a little bit 
of that hope right now.
We need some sign
in the heavens that will 
assure us that you are 
leading us, all of us, 
into justice and joy.
Align the heavens 
above with our
hope-filled prayers
for justice and joy. 

That’s all I’ve got for you this week, dear pastors. You’ve made it into the next calendar year. You have done amazing things for the love of Jesus. I mean that. You embody the love of God right now. Hold fast friends. We will get there.

Pandemic Prayers for Advent 3

I hope you already found the beautiful prayers gathered by RevGalBlogPals in their weekly Worship Words. I am honored to contribute to this collection of wonderful prayers and appreciate the nudge that to remember that those in the Southern Hemisphere welcome this celebrations with an entirely different set of metaphors.

I wanted to use the words of familiar carols to fill our prayers in full awareness that one of the things many of us will be missing this year is singing together these favorite tunes. These carols, especially the one featured over on Worship Words, have a bias toward the cold and frost that is familiar to me at Christmas. I know there is a collection of songs that sing a whole different experience of this birth but they are unfamiliar to me. It’s a complicated place to be in right now. I both want the familiar but know that it won’t be what it was. Those familiar things will not be the same, not this year.

Here are a few prayers for worship on Advent 3B peppered with the words of familiar carols before I go back to working on Epiphany and Christmas worship for next year. Can you imagine writing prayers for next year? What will the world look like? How will we welcome that birth then? Yikes. Don’t worry too much about it, dear pastor. There are people faithfully writing those prayers for you. You don’t need to think about it now. That’s my job.

Call to Worship
Inspired by What Child is This?

Shepherds and prophets keep watch and wait
wondering what child is this?
They were like those who dream
of a world turned upside down
where joy erupts like laughter.

This, this is not how it is now.
This is not how it feels 
in these dwindling Advent days.

Haste, haste to bring 
such joy and love 
even into this 
pandemic year.

Let us greet such wonder 
with anthems sweet
and joy. Let there be
joy in our worship today.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by John 1:6-8, 19-28 and O Little Town of Bethlehem

Who are we? Who are we now?
We’ve asked this question so many times
over so many months of isolation. 
Have we changed? Does it matter?

Our meek souls wait 
to receive the Christ Child
into this world of sin. 
Or at least into 
our little pod of sin.

What do we have to say about ourselves?
What will we say now
as we pray together for the hopes and fears
of this very long year?
O God, cast out our sin
and enter in. Become
light and joy to us today. Amen.
Words of Assurance
Inspired by 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 

So much has happened 
in just a few months. You have tested everything.
Now, hold fast to what is good. Give thanks 
for the joy God finds in you every day.
Beloved, you are made in joy. Thanks be to God.

Pandemic Longest Night and Christmas Eve Worship

If you’ve been clicking around From My Kitchen or found my newsletter earlier this week in your email, this is old news to you. You are busy, dear pastor. You have already seen this. You can go do the many other things on your list.

If you were not so lucky to find these things yet (and I do hope these are things that make you feel lucky and joyous), I’m thrilled to finally share with you the services I’ve been working on for Longest Night and Christmas Eve. These were surprisingly hard to write. I am not exactly sure why that is.

Advent began with decorations on our tree and lights filling the house. It wasn’t the same as hanging the greens at church. I am feeling that loss as I know so many are in this strange new season — further compounded by the fact that I couldn’t get worship to stream from our tiny Texas church. It is one of those pandemic frustrations of having technology fail when it is our life line and it still annoyed the crap out of me, but I’ve been working on these liturgies long before the tree went up. As the year ends, I’m finding it hard to both find words for the grief of this moment and to find the joy that should overflow when we’ve finally found our way to Bethlehem.

After all, Advent feels as though it started in March when the first stay-at-home orders swept across the country because of the rampant spread of the coronavirus. We have been apart from each other for much of this year which has made 2020 feel like an especially long year.

I dove into the ancient psalms of lamentation after trying really hard to make the creation story work in how we talk about the night at this moment. I found comfort in psalms that didn’t express my lament but reminded me of the hope that we find in God. Those are the words we love and need to hear again and again, right? I hoped to make space for how hard it is to name the immensity of our grief right now because it’s not just that we have lost someone dear. It is not just one death but millions of deaths worldwide due to a virus that is not yet contained or really understood. It is the devastation we have seen to our planet while glued to our screens. It is the anxiety of constantly refreshing our browsers for hope and maybe some good news and it’s the backward summersault that too many of us have done into anti-racism work this year. We have lost more lives than we can imagine and maybe we have wondered if we even lost a tiny bit of ourselves.

There has been so much loss. There is still so much that is unknown even as a new church year has dawned. When the Night Has Already Been So Long, we are looking for some way to speak to that immense grief. That’s what I hope this online worship experience will offer to the gathered community huddled around candles in their own homes. I hope it’s a chance to be together and hold vigil for a new day to dawn. 

I actually wrote the Christmas Eve service first. It felt really strange to me to write Advent liturgies before writing Christmas Eve this year because I have always worked backwards. I have always needed to know what Christmas is going to look like and feel like until I can really figure out how Advent might feel and I’m not sure these services are at all related. Shadows and Light is really a service that makes room for more grief than the typical Christmas celebration. I hope there is joy. I hope it gets there in the music and poetry I’ve selected but Christmas always has a quietness to it.

It’s that quietness that has always puzzled me. When the birth of Christ is most vivid, we turn out all the lights to sit in the dark and sing a lullaby. It’s beautiful. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just not really joyous. (I know. I know. Don’t mess with tradition.) But I did.

I did mess with tradition when I was in my last settled call. It came out of a worship planning conversation where we talked about more light and so I created an Advent wreath (except that it wasn’t a wreath) where more candles were added each week and we named the light we saw coming into the world aloud. Then, on Christmas Eve, I didn’t do Silent Night. It wasn’t there. I got lots of complaints because church people love tradition without questioning why we do what we do.

If you are reading this and you were one of the wonderful people at that church who allowed me to experiment and play so much, I want you to know I am grateful for the space you gave me. I’m even more grateful that I got to be your pastor.

If ever there was a year where we could do something a teeny tiny bit different, I thought this year might be it. I thought maybe we could try it again and see what we might learn. You know your people best, dear pastor. You know if this is what is needed this year or if tradition is really what people need right now. You know.

Inspired by the Tenebrae tradition that is so familiar to Holy Week celebrations, Shadows and Light flows like a service of Lessons and Carols with song and story weaving together the good news of this birth.

More and more candles are lit to welcome the Light of the World before Joy to the World is sung with full gusto and glory.

As usual, I use quite a bit of poetry and you’ll find I’ve updated Poetry for Lessons and Carols to reflect some of the choices I’ve made for this service. (Ok, I also added a bunch more that I just loved and didn’t include in this service.)

Both liturgies are available for $10 each using the above links by immediate download. Or if you are interested in both worship services, you can find this Shadow and Night Bundle for $15 here.

Music suggestions are provided in both liturgies and was quick to add a few more when I discovered these FREE Christmas Carol videos especially for online worship. I know that pastors are not the only ones that are tired right now.

I also decided to make Christmas Eve Under Pandemic Skies available for just $2 for those are looking for a safe way to worship outside in a pandemic. It was part of the outdoor prayer station experience I helped to design for my sweet Texas church. And yes, I know this won’t work on some church properties and especially in many climates. If anything, you can tell your worship committee (or other angry church member) that such a thing exists and you would be overjoyed if they would take a lead in planning it.

I know how busy this time of year is for you, dear pastors. I am holding you close and lighting candles for your courage, your strength and your abundant faith.