Pandemic Prayers for the Fourth of July

I confess that I don’t really know the date. We have lived in this hotel for nearly a month now and I have lost all sense of time so that it was not evident to me that the calendar would soon turn to July. It was even less clear that the first Sunday of July would be none other than the patriotic holiday in the United States celebrating independence and freedom.

Nonetheless, I have started to see a number of clergy looking for something — anything else — to do on that Sunday when they don’t want the entire worship experience to be devoted to patriotic hymns. There has been so much work done already to remove the flag from the sanctuary and grapple with the history of these United States to let this be what happens on that Sunday. Of course.

I also see that a need and desire for a worship experience that doesn’t require preaching. Some of you are going on vacation. I am so elated for you, dear pastor. May it be a blessed rest but even if you are not so lucky to have a summer holiday, I wanted to offer something of an outline for worship on this holiday that isn’t a Christian celebration.

I suspect that the people in the pews that are eager to have such a celebration of Americana will not be too pleased to hear something like this poem at the beginning of worship though it’s one of the first I thought to use in this wandering through love inspired by Psalm 48. I hope these alternate selections might not cause too much discomfort but just enough to stir the heart.

Invitation

Inspired by Psalm 48

Today we come 
to worship and wonder
to praise and to glorify 
and to pause
to reflect
on what 
freedom rings
from sea to 
shining sea.

Today we come
after all that has 
happened and all that
still needs to become real
to ponder your 
steadfast love, O God.

We come today
to wonder how our 
praise might 
reach the ends 
of the earth.

Prayer of Illumination

Inspired by Psalm 48

Come, O Great Love.
Come into our hearts
and minds. Fill our bodies
with your strength
and hope. 

Come into the broken 
cracks of despair 
to find beauty. 

Come to fill 
our lungs with song 
and remind us how to sing
with your goodness
hanging on every note.

Come, O Great Love. 
Come into this place
and this moment. 
Come to guide us
into world
you imagine. 
Come. O Love, 
come and 
be here 
in this place.

Poem

Here in this place, poem becomes prayer. These are the first lines of the poem You Still Dream by Nikki Grimes. Hear these words of challenge and hope now.

Song

Prayer for the Work

O God, we might not have known
or understood what work needed to be done
before this long year of watching 
and waiting. We had wanted to believe 
that it wasn't this bad. It wasn't like this.

Now, O God, we know. We know
that there is work to be done
for your glory to reach 
the ends of the earth.

We pray your blessing
on our hands 
as we commit
again 
to the work 
of freedom 
and healing. 

We pray 
for your
grace and 
your guidance
for there is so much 
work to be done
in this land
of the free 
and the brave.
Amen.

Poem

Listen to Let America be America Again by Langston Hughes. You might not opt for the video but instead choose a young voice within your congregation read these words.

Quiet Meditation

Offer this invitation:

In the quiet stillness of this morning, let us sit with the discomfort of these words. Let us confess to God what only God can hear with grace. Let us ponder with the psalmist God’s steadfast love. Let us wonder what that love will do now in this nation and this world. Let us find your guidance together here in this place of quiet.

Poem

Share in hearing America the Beautiful Again by Richard Blanco. Though you may well choose someone within your community to read these words on Zoom or in-person, I recommend hearing it read in the poet’s voice in one of the extras for Richard Blanco’s appearance on OnBeing.

Song

It should feel different to sing or hear this favorite song after hearing this poem, but it might be interesting to adapt this reflection to wonder how this song urges us to do better right now.

That doesn’t mean that you need to do a sermon, dear pastor. You could ask a veteran, an elected official or a teenager to read this article essay and put to words their own response. Additional questions that they might explore might include:

  • What is your most vivid memory of this song? What made the song so powerful for that moment?
  • What lyric in this song most speaks to your sense of social justice right now?
  • What ideals are we still trying to achieve as a nation?
  • What is beautiful about where you come from?
  • How shall we sing?

Or you might skip right ahead to the prayer.

Prayer for the People

O Great Love, sing to us
of beauty. Remind us
of all of the places that 
we have called home
and how we have been shaped by
those fields and plains,
mountains and hills,
brooks and streams, 
rivers and oceans. 

Sing to us of this place
that we call America -- 
united and divided -- 
full of ideals and possibilities 
of what could be 
for all of the people
who call this land home.

Sing to us, O Great Love,
of the beauty of your people.
Invite us into their stories 
and let us praise you
again for the wonder
of your creation 
in each body and soul.

We grieve what 
has not yet come to be
and struggle with what 
we thought we knew. 
We grieve but we dream.
We still dream that 
love will change us.
Love will inspire us
to reach our ideals. 
Love will show us again
how much beauty there
is here in this place.

O God, our Great Love,
let us never tire 
of pondering your 
steadfast love. Let it 
be this wonder that 
guides the work of our hands
so that this love
encourages us 
to dream new dreams
that will truly change everything. 
Amen. 

Blessing Song

I’ve been wanting to use this song since it was released for Advent by The Many. It was intended to be used with the Sanctified Art worship series by the same name but I like how it picks up on the first poem. If you want to opt for something more traditional, you might opt for Be Thou My Vision.

There is so much goodness out there. I wanted to include this song that I adore so much but I feared it might be too much. Still, I love this video and I’m going to go ahead and share it because beauty should be shared.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I hope that whether you use the prayers, the poetry or the song suggestions or the whole thing, this is a blessing to you. Maybe it’s something you file away for next year when you actually get a vacation over this weekend. I pray you get the rest you need.

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

Last Minute Pandemic Prayers for Proper 7B

Though I am struggling to find a new normal, our world continues to turn. It has been announced that there is hope that the EU will open to American tourists leaving me to wonder if this is good news. Is this over? Can we go back to normal? Or does normal mean that we choose to embrace new holidays and traditions as President Biden demonstrates in making Juneteenth a federal holiday?

I was thrilled to discover this liturgy for Juneteenth Day from the Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America offers this worship resource for the day including a litany inspired by Lift Every Voice and Sing.

I remain uncertain if it is really appropriate for white congregations to sing this black anthem. There is a nice history of the song on the NAACP website that explains why. CNN goes a little bit more in-depth. If your white congregation opts to include the anthem, this would be a great time to use the gifts of other talents on the internet like this one though I can find nothing about licensure.

Or maybe what is needed is some poignant words of poetry to stir heart and soul about the power of Juneteeth. I was stirred by these words from Kenneth Carroll in his poem A People’s Historian. It seems to speak directly to the hymn. Or perhaps Fenton Johnson’s Tired might speak to the languishing so many of us feel in the pandemic and call us to the work of racial justice again.

I am assuming, dear pastor, that you have already done all you can to plan worship for the Sunday. I imagine you have perhaps already recorded or are just catching your breath before leading in person worship on Sunday morning for the first time. I offer one prayer of my own that might add to the work you’ve already done or perhaps it is a prayer to care for your soul in this season where so much weight is heavy on your shoulders.

A Prayer for the Other Side
Inspired by Mark 4:35-41 and Job  38:1-11

O God, it has been 
a whirlwind. We have 
felt caught up in the storm
of change. We have felt
stuck, hopeless and confused. 
We have languished and waited
on the other side 
of whatever
will be. 

O God, let us go
across to the other
side where you lead
us into tomorrow and
and next. Lead us through
these uncertain winds 
and across this great sea
of possibility to find peace
because we have been
so afraid. O God, we 
have felt like we needed
to move heaven and earth.
It has rested heavy
upon our shoulders
and we need to know
that you will make a way.
You will lead us, O God, 
to the promise of possibility. 
You will get us to the other
side if only we can find
a little faith. O God,
give us faith. Selah. 
Selah. Amen.

I know that many of you have already moved to hybrid or in-person worship. I’ve seen questions about liturgical gifts that might bless the regathering of the body of Christ. I hesitate to write something general as it seems that the particulars of each first worship service off-line will depend on so many variables but I would love to help craft something for you. If there is something that I can help imagine with you and your congregation, please contact me.

That’s all I’ve got for you, dear pastor. I am praying for you. I am praying for you so much.

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.

Lessons and Carols in Coronatide

Christmas will look different this year.

Our favorite traditions will not have the same warmth as being gathered in the same sanctuary singing beloved carols and lighting candles for the Light of the World. It will be different, but the promise will remain the same. Christ will be born.

Miracles will never cease.

As I’m busy writing other liturgy for this holy celebration, I wanted to also share a service for Lessons and Carols. It was all I knew as a child growing up in church. It was what Christmas Eve was but I’ve come to really love sharing this tradition in the midst of the Christmas season. It’s what I opt for on the Sunday following Christmas as a reminder to everyone — including myself — that the season is twelve days long and we should embrace the mystery of telling and retelling this story. (It’s also when I remind the deacons or altar guild that they are not to take down the decorations until after Epiphany. Ahem.)

Here is a simple liturgy for this beloved tradition that makes room for the weirdness of this season in which we still find ourselves. It is, of course, a wonderful Sunday to feature the musical talents of your congregation. Bring out those handbells and voices. Adjust carol suggestions as needed. I didn’t include a blessing carol so you can feel free to choose something that I would not think to choose. You might even choose to include different lessons. You might find some other poetry here. It’s a list I update every year.

BIDDING PRAYER

Let us pray:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel!
We gather once again to journey with you 
Through the deepest darkness of our hopes and fears
To be warmed by the mystery 
That your light shines in the darkness.
But, the darkness will not overcome it.

Even as we pray these words of joy,
We know that we pray amid the slaughter of innocents,
Lives lost in earthquakes and battles, persecution and genocide 
and hatred and viral outbreak.
We come searching for your light 
while the poor and homeless huddle in dark corners, 
while the hungry and sick search for wholeness,
while the lonely and unloved wail in despair.
So come into those dark places with us, Emmanuel God.
Let your light shine in the places we fear most.

Help us to follow the light of that star.
Let it illuminate our lessons, our carols and our lives
So that we might be filled with
More hope, more peace, more joy 
And most of all, Emmanuel God, 
More love.

Let us each, in our own way, 
join the chorus of praise, proclaiming the greatest of wonders,
The redeeming presence of God among us here and now.
Teach us in these lessons and these carols to search for that redeeming presence in every place that we might call out your name. 
Let our voices rise like candle flames,
Brightening this place to celebrate a holy child
That is born in our hearts and in our wildest imaginations
On this most holy night. Amen. 

BIDDING CAROL Once in David’s Royal City

FIRST LESSON   In the Time of Plague by N. Scott Momday

SECOND LESSON Isaiah 40:1-8

LIGHTING THE ADVENT AND CHRIST CANDLES

adapted from Maren Tirabassi's Advent Wreath Ceremony for Christmas

Leader: 
           
In our homes / in our church and homes
we gather around wreaths
to pray our lost hopes,
broken peace, limited joys,
and love so hard to find and share
in this season of coronavirus.  
We affirm that our candles mean
we claim the power to call this season Advent,
when God’s light comes into the world
and nothing can overcome it.
We light the candles of hope, peace, joy and love.

People/ SL:   
 
We now light the candle of Christ candle
even though we have been so afraid. 
We haven’t truly believed that there is good news, 
but light still shines in the shadows.
Emmanuel, God with us now.
May your love shines through us
and make us radiant with hope. Amen.

CAROL We Light a Candle by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan

THIRD LESSON Hush by Lucinda Hynett

FOURTH LESSON Gabriel’s Annunciation by Jan Richardson

CAROL Mothers and Shepherds by Common Hymnal

FIFTH LESSON Luke 2:1-14

CAROL Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

SIXTH LESSON Luke 2:15-33

CAROL Joy to the World

SEVENTH LESSON You Still Dream by Nikki Grimes

EIGHTH LESSON Now the Work of Christmas Begins by Howard Thurman

PRAYER FOR CHRISTMAS

BLESSING CAROL

BLESSING

If you’re finding these pandemic prayers for the first time, dear pastor, please know that the liturgy here is yours to use. Adapt it. Edit it. Don’t worry about giving me credit. You are doing enough right now. You are doing so much.

You are in my prayers, as always, dear pastors and worship leaders especially as Advent approaches.

Words to Speak to the Unknown

I am as uncertain what tomorrow holds as anyone. I’ve done my part. I’ve cast my ballot and now I can only pray that I live in a land that chooses love over hate.

I pray so much and fumble for the right words to speak my hope. I admire you so much, dear pastors, for your courage and strength in reminding us what the gospel calls us to do and be.

I find myself tripping over words in my worry for what 2020 will dish up for us now. When I don’t know how to pray, I sing broken and out of tune. Only my kids really suffer the discordant praise while we are under lockdown. Still, I sing.

i

I don’t know why this is the song on my heart right now but it’s what I’ve been singing all morning. It got me thinking about other words that speak to the unknown fears so many are carrying right now. There are other songs, of course. Even when we cannot sing together, there are hymns that can proclaim our hope like a good poem. Among my favorites are these wonders of words:

  • This Is My Song
  • O for a World
  • God of Grace and God of Glory
  • For the Healing of the Nations
  • We Would Be Building
  • Toda la Tierra
  • Come, O Long-Expected Jesus

I haven’t included links as I hope that these are familiar enough that you can sing a few bars even if you were confused why Advent songs appear on this list. Isn’t that how we feel right now, like the whole earth is waiting even if it’s actually just those within the borders of these United States of America? There are two more newer hymns that I would add to this list. One of these songs was included in the All Saints liturgy I shared a few weeks ago. Those songs are:

There are, obviously, poems that dare to name our hopes and fears of all the years of 2020. (That carol is another I’ve found myself singing lately.) Here are some poems that have spoken to my heart recently and I hope dare to dream of what will be beyond the election results.

There are certainly more words to speak to this moment. You, dear pastors, are offering so many wonderful words of life. Thank you for reminding us all to hope.

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. 

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 20

It has been six months. I lost count.

I could have sworn it had been longer since my husband redeployed from South Korea and we almost immediately cancelled the vacation I’d been looking forward to for nine months and went into lockdown. We moved across the state but my kids and I remain in lockdown while my husband goes back and forth to work. Complaining feels good. It feels right. It matches my grief in this moment and so I’m drawn to the Exodus story where our ancestors find themselves, as Michael J. Chan points out, in the “uncomfortable space between departure and destination—or in the case of Exodus, between liberation and covenant.”

I feel less certain about the destination and more and more removed from the departure. I feel all the discomfort. I don’t think I’m the only one that feels this tension that is profoundly explored in the Letter to Philippi. I want to figure out what it means right now to “live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ” especially when I feel anything but firm in my Spirit. But then, there are many that are struggling with suicidal thoughts that I wonder how we dare to preach that bit about being pulled to depart but then choosing to remain in the flesh. There is good news in there. I know it, just as I know there is good news in you.

Gathering Together for Worship

Singing from the Lectionary suggests John Bell’s Stand, O Stand Firm for the epistle. I love the refrain and think it would be lovely to begin worship and repeat in the prayer time. You can find the full version for purchase here. You might even request your members send in pictures of themselves standing tall and use those images as a visual for this prelude.

Or you might be feeling really punchy and start worship with this. Kidding. Sorta.

I offer the words below but if you are focusing on the Gospel, you might prefer this beautiful invitation. Some of the prayers I wrote for Labor Day could also be adapted or you can find the liturgy I wrote six years ago for Worship Ways here. Here is another possibility that could work no matter what your focus text is.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Exodus 16:2-15 and Philippians 1:21-30

We come with the whole congregation
to find ourselves still in the wilderness
between where we were 
and where we are going
and we are full of complaint.

We cannot stop complaining
for what we do not understand
and whatever forces brought us here. 
We complain about our leaders
and the lack of available resources.
We bemoan every injustice
that now seems so obvious. 
We are tired and we are scared.

We come with this 
whole congregation
because we are convinced -- 
even in our constant complaint -- 
that there is joy.
There is abundant hope
when we can stand firm
in one spirit. Together,
we strive for the faith of the gospel.
Hope by hope, heart by heart,
we struggle together to see
what God will do.

Or for something completely different, you might start with a poem like Wait by Galway Kinnell particularly if you are wandering into the struggles of suicidal thoughts. It’s a poem I found reading this essay and I rather like the wildness of it. It might be followed by this favorite Taize song of mine.

Prayers for the Day

Picking up on the complaining spirit in Exodus, here is a confession and assurance to center this prayer time. I wonder if there might be an action for this week so that in the week ahead when members of the whole congregation notice that whine inside them, they could be compelled to act with hope. This simple recipe for gratitude might be an easy enough place to start. I’ve also wondered about neighborhood walks in the pandemic particularly for neighborhood churches.

Prayer of Confession

O God, we have complained so much.
We have felt stuck and scared
and so we've summoned the only power
we could find. We know you haven't seen our best sides.
Forgive us. Forgive us for ignoring that every whine
and worry reveals our hope. Help us 
not to not to get stuck in our fears 
but to lean into what we hope
will come in the future of your realm.

Assurance of Grace

I have heard your complaining, God assures us.
I have heard your worry and concern
and I will feed you with grace
and love and hope. I will assure you
that all is forgiven. You are my beloved,
now and always. Amen.

I also felt pulled to write a prayer that spoke to the particular words of the poem mentioned above and the issues surrounding mental health and the pandemic particularly in National Suicide Prevention Month. I wondered if I should write it as if this is happening to others but that would be dishonest for me. I’m not one of those people who has never considered this, particularly in my youth but even now. Still, I confess that this is an issue of which I’m still learning and so these words may drastically fall short and I hope that I will be corrected.

These words reflect my own struggle. As with so many things, we are works in progress but endlessly and completely in the struggle together. Or so I pray. Similar to the above prayer, this might be a good week to encourage some action particularly around suicide awareness if you use these prayers. I’ll link to the United Church of Christ toolkit because it is what I know best but there are tons of great resources out there.

Prayer for the Waiting

Wait with us, O God,
in the wilderness 
where it feels like we have been separated 
from every one and every thing we ever loved
only to be told to wait. We don't trust it.
We can't and maybe that is why depression 
and suicidal thoughts feel so familiar here.

We have complained 
and we have felt like nothing matters
even if we wish that everything did. 

Wait with us, O God,
in this wilderness
because it is familiar
and we haven't yet given up.
We are still waiting.

Wait with us, O God,
wait with all of us
who struggle with futility
and suicidal thoughts in this coronatide.
We pray in your holy name, Amen.

Prayers of the People

I haven’t written as many prayers of the people or intercessory prayers but I’ve seen that there is interest and need for them. It feels awkward to write as those prayers are so intimate for me. Those are the prayers I’ve prayed from the heart without a script for sheer love of these people God has called me to serve but I know you’re struggling for words so here are some great words that I found written by other wonderful people. It is admittedly a short list.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. I hinted last week that I was going to do some thinking about All Saints and Christmas Eve but I hope to spend some time this week daydreaming about World Communion Sunday. It’s apparently soon. Gulp. There is so much to think about. I am continually in awe of you, my dear colleagues. You are amazing.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always. 

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 19

Though I didn’t do anything with the text last week, I’m still thinking about the question Kathryn Matthews posed in her weekly musings in the United Church of Christ’s Sermon Seeds about the grieving parents in the Passover story. How is this OK? How is any of this OK? How can God come along and strike down the first male child in every Egyptian household? How can we hold that grief now when 189,000 have died in our own country to COVID-19?

It’s a question she repeats in her reflection this week when she asks about the Egyptians swallowed up by the sea. It’s the same question that is stuck in my throat. It’s the grief that feel constant in these pandemic days. So, these prayers might not part any waters but those walls of tears that we are all so carefully holding at bay.

Gathering Together for Worship

A dear friend of mine texted a few weeks ago looking for words of comfort after a death in her family. It sent me looking for some of my favorite poems and reminded me that the early days of the pandemic added to my files with some lovely words that might be just what is needed to part the waters in your worship experience, including If the Trees Can Keep Dancing, So Can I. I also rather like If you had been here, Lord by Mark Goad and Kaddish by Marge Piercy. The last of which really fits well with the Exodus reading.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 114 and Romans 14:1-12

Tremble, O earth,
for everything that feels strange
and new. It has already shaken you.
It has already caused you to wonder.
It has shaken your faith
because every day feels the same
and it is harder and harder
to believe that tomorrow will be a better day.

Tremble, O earth,
feel that shiver down your spine
and that stirring in your heart
that knows, deeply,
we do not live to ourselves,
and we do not die to ourselves.
We live in hope.
We exist in love.

Tremble, O earth,
we gather in the presence of God,
the God of Jacob, Leah and Rachel,
Moses, Aaron and Miriam.
We gather to praise God who
never stops bringing wonder
and new life to the living and the dead.

Tremble, O people,
let us worship all we wonder.

Gathering Our Grief

I don’t think that there are enough prayers to articulate the tremendous loss that we are experiencing in the global community. There have been several beautifully stunning essays that have appeared upon my screen recently that I could imagine using in worship as sermon fodder or even to read excerpts mingled with scripture as a sort of lessons and carols, including one on collective and personal grief and this one that will just break your heart open again. You’ve made this worship thing happen remotely on the fly for over six month now, dear pastor. You can take a break from preaching. You deserve it. Here is a prayer to speak to the grief we all feel.

O God, there have been six million cases.
Over six million people have gasped for breath
and lost their sense of smell. 
Some have recovered by a number
that is too hard to account. 
Others have been on ventilators
in Intensive Care Units.
They died in sterile
hospital beds under the careful 
attention of nurses and doctors
hidden behind masks. They said 
goodbye to their families at 
the hospital doors without comprehending
that this would be the last time. 
O God, nearly two hundred thousand lives 
have been lost. Eight hundred ninety-eight thousand
lives around this earth have been lost.
It causes us to tremble. 
It shakes us to the core
and so we need you God.
We need you to stretch out your hand
to offer comfort hope. Bring your full 
presence into this pandemic moment 
so that we might feel your grace again. 
We pray in your wonder. Amen.

Praying Through Rage

Though I knew that the reality of this pandemic was impacting minority and immigrant communities ten times harder than others, I had not imagined how hard until I read about the ministry of this Mexican pastor in New York City. This prayer speaks to the tears I shed reading this story.

I’m not assuming your whole congregation read this story and so you might need to adapt it for your context or headlines that are more familiar to your people. If this doesn’t sound like grief to you, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross thought that the second stage of grief in death is anger. It comes after refusing to believe this thing is real. It’s where I find my current pandemic reality.

Hear Our Rage
Inspired by Exodus 14:19-31

Angel of God, move behind us
so that we might find ourselves
in a protected place
away from the corruption of empire
and greed, away from the powers that
make their own gods.

Light up the night
for there are things that we need to say
that only you can bear, O God.
Drive back the seas of polite prayers
and get ready for the pillar of grief
that has been wedged into our lives
since we first heard of COVID-19.
Stretch your mighty hand over
this fury and rage, O God.

Just as it was not fair to drown
the entire Egyptian Army that day, it is no more fair
to condemn your beloved kin to this virus.
On our best days, we believe its not your fault.
We know better. We are mature in our faith
but it is not OK that a man lies in terror

next to his dead brother in a studio apartment in New York City
because he fears deportation and lacks the funds
for a proper burial for his brother's decomposing body.
O God, this is the pillar of our grief.
Hear our rage.

"Why did you bring him here?"
should not be the first words 
shouted in English to an immigrant
who has just rushed his brother 
to the emergency room.
We are all scared of getting sick
but a language barrier should not deny anyone care.
O God, this is the pillar of our grief.
Hear our rage.

Our pastors phones constantly rings
their email dings every second
and their social media is haunted by the doomscrolling
of every tender heart in their care.
They need a break.
They are tired but this virus
refuses to retreat.
O God, this is the pillar of our grief.
Hear our rage.

There is no dry ground to stand on.
This pandemic rages on our right
and on our left. It towers over us.
O God, this is the pillar of our grief.
Hear our rage.

We are spinning our wheels
only to churn up mud and despair.
We are spinning our wheels
only to churn up mud and despair.
There is no escape
and we fear we might drown
in our lack of care for each other.
O God, this is the pillar of our grief.
Hear our rage.

We need your grace to lead.
On our left and on our right,
we need a waters of love and hope
to gently ease us into 
whatever comes next.
Move behind us and before us, O God.
Hold us in our fury
and help us to discover what good
this anger can become. For we know, O God,
even when we doubt,
that we do not live to ourselves
and you will bring new life
even out of death. We pray it will be so.

Another Thought

Years ago, I first heard the story of Nachshon who stepped into the water after Moses raised his staff over the water and nothing happened. He waded into the water until it was up to his nostrils and it was only then that the waters split. It didn’t feel like a story for this moment until I read this reflection that concludes:

When Nachshon and his people get to the other side of the sea, what is there to greet them? Not a Promised Land, but a wide, wild desert that will take years to navigate. Just because the sea splits doesn’t mean we know exactly where we are going or how we’re going to get there. But we do know this: The first steps are the hardest ones, and the most necessary. With those steps, with Nachshon, the story really begins.

Rabbi Adam Greenwald

I do not know exactly how this would tie into worship but it feels like there is something there because we are not yet on the other side of this pandemic, as much as we might dream about it. As with grief, we do not know where we are going or how we will get there but there is something about the steps we are taking now. There is something to the lament, the protest and even the dreaming. Something is beginning. I have to believe that.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. I’ve also shared some ingredients (though maybe not a whole recipe) for stewardship and backpack blessings. This particular Sunday makes me wonder how we will honor the saints on All Saints Day and has me thinking about what Christmas Eve will look like for my family and yours when worship is not in-person. Maybe I’ll start some liturgies for those sooner rather than later. God knows, you are already thinking about those things.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always. 

How Shall We Pray?

For the past several weeks, I’ve offered prayers as a gift to my colleagues in ministry who are serving faithfully during this pandemic. I’ve written liturgies following the Revised Common Lectionary that I have hoped were copied and pasted into Facebook Lives and Zooms and every other platform that congregations find themselves gathered in this moment.

I opened my email on Monday to find that two of my favorite cooking blogs are not offering new content. Yes, that’s how white I am. I faithfully read cooking blogs still these two particular cooking blogs are hitting the pause button. They are intentionally stepping back to wrestle with their own racism and the various ways that they unintentionally play into white supremacy. It’s something I know many of us are doing.

Before reading their words, I already knew I wasn’t going to offer prayers this week. I wasn’t going to attempt to assert my privilege into the grief and pain after the unforgivable deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed and Tony McDade because of the racism burning in our blood.

We have heard enough from white women.

White women should be asking, like all white people, how shall we pray?

We shall not pray for peace because we do not know the grief and pain of this moment. We do not wish that there was a better way because too much has been broken. We have dared to assume we could build on a broken system and only now can we see that wrong, but then, how shall we pray?

How do you pray when your country is on fire? How do you pray when there is greater concern for property than people? How do you pray when the grief and despair is too big to name?

EZYHcAoVAAA3BAKI am listening for what I do not understand. I’m opening my heart and mind to the grace of God as I wrestle again with the demon of my own racism.

I cannot pray with my own words.

I won’t. I can’t.

I want to confess the sins of my own racism starting with my White Privilege as captured in a poem by Judith Lockhart Radtke found in The Anti-Racism Prayer Book created by Trinity Church in Boston. There are several other powerful prayers collected in this digital booklet.

Those that are still feeling the winds and fire of Pentecost might opt to use this Prayer by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat written way back when in 2014 in honor of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. It might need only a slight adaptation to feel that wind that moved over the waters of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:4a.

As social media blacks out to focus on the wisdom of black and brown bodies, in churches in my own United Church of Christ and other white dominated congregations, this litany of confession for Lent might be adapted to evoke the power of Creator, Christ and Spirit. This prayer remembering the last words of Eric Garner from Praying with James Baldwin might also be fitting or one of these two prayers addressing white supremacy found on enfleshed. Martha Spong offered a beautiful Trinity Prayer meditating on Psalm 8:4 in her weekly email that she admits is a prayer for majority white communities of faith. 

The United Church of Canada somehow always has words for the prayers closest to my heart as they do in this prayer To Root Out Quiet Racism.

The Unitarian Universalist Association has a Black Lives Matter Worship Collection which includes a reflection about singing Lift Every Voice and Sing by the Rev. Aisha Ansano that I found powerful especially because I remain unconvinced that it should be sung in white congregations.

When I can’t find the words for my own prayers, I turn to poetry. This poem by Ross Gay popped up in my timeline again this week. As the fires blaze in riots across our country, I find myself returning to Christopher Gilbert’s Fires Gotten Brighter. Donte Collins’ what the dead know by heart sends chills down my spine and leaves me staring at my own palm. I’m not sure how you’d use these in worship just as I’m not sure how a white congregation might meaningfully use Get Home Safely which the SALT Project is offering for free download.

For better or worse, I know that my prayers as a white woman aren’t the same as my black and brown sisters and brothers. I know that as much as my throat catches watching that video, it’s not the terror I feel every day for myself or my children. I can cry listening to the Rev. Otis Moss III preach powerfully but I also learned something that I’m sure black and brown folks have known for a long time. I am new to this fight no matter how many anti-racism workshops I’ve attended.

My prayers are different because I’m not in the streets right now. I’ve got time and space to contemplate how I might pray when others are struggling to stay alive or even assert that their lives have worth.

I believe we should pray just as I believe in the power of God to do things that I cannot fathom in this moment. I’m going to hold onto that hope as I confess the sins of my own racism. That’s what it feels like these prayers are.

These are prayers to confess that we bought into the idea that this system actually worked even as we balked at 45’s great campaign slogan. We thought we knew. We thought we had done the work until this moment when a pandemic should keep us inside our homes but the grief is just too damn big.

I confess that I want to hear something like Maya Angelou’s Alone on Sunday because it might not be just about some idealized kum-ba-yah moment like in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 but it could actually say something about our collaboration with the Trinity. Of course, it doesn’t really matter what I might want or how big I might like God to be. It’s not a question of my comfort.

I’ve been too comfortable. That’s the problem and the challenge of the gospel is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.

Worship has already changed. It already feels so different ten or eleven weeks into this new normal so perhaps how we pray and when we pray and how long we allow God to speak needs to change too.

We shall pray that black. brown and indigenous lives matter because God already knows they do. We shall pray so that we might be changed.

Pandemic Prayers for the Ascension

At the end of the last week, I sat on a picnic blanket in my backyard with my two babies reading the Ascension from their new Sparkhouse Story Bible. (I discovered that Sparkhouse is offering a discount for Bibles to support families during this pandemic.) When I’ve preached on this passage from Acts, I’ve always been drawn to that bit about the disciples gazing up toward heaven.96310241_904628923324224_3491067924926431232_n

I rather like how the Story Bible turned this around for me. It caught my attention and made me wonder what it was that I’m doing right now to carry on the love of Jesus especially for those that feel like God has abandoned us. In the Story Bible, the narrative doesn’t end with the question about staring up to heaven. It doesn’t end with any sort of claim about when Jesus will come back but picks up with a disciple daring to be brave enough to say, “Right! Meanwhile, we have some work to do. Let’s get going.”

These prayers pick up on that hope because it’s been eleven weeks and I’m tired. I’m riddled with doubt that any choice I make to stay home or wear a mask actually matters. I need to hear a bit more from scientists and God.

Opening Worship

I really wanted to write something else about face masks but I’ll settle for the gorgeous art. Instead, I offer a simple responsive prayer to begin worship.

Welcoming the People of God

People of God, where is your hope?
Our hope is in God
who has blessed us
and given us great joy.

Why, then, do you worry?
We fear the unknown.
There is so much that is unknown.

Where do you look for hope?
We look to the scientists
eagerly working in labs
with more than 78 projects in process.
We marvel at what they have learned
in a mere five months
and we hope the healthcare workers
know how much we admire them
and appreciate them when
we are not banging pots and pans. 

Where do you need God today?
We need God
to help us to understand this moment
as much as we might understand
the scriptures.
We need God
to remind us there
is still work to do
and great joy to be found.

Unison Prayer

In the first church I served and the church of my childhood, there was no prayer of confession. There was something dubbed a unison prayer meaning that it was something we all shared together in one voice. Might I suggest something like this this Sunday even if you skip over the Ascension and find yourself in Easter 7A? Consider a Prayer for Medical Scientists or a Prayer for Chaplains and Healthcare Workers. There are surprisingly few of these out there.

Something for the Offering

I wanted to write something about wearing masks and staying home and socially distancing and how all of these things are the things we can do in this moment, but everything I came up with was garbage. (Yes, garbage.) This isn’t the perfect solution. It assumes a point of privilege and that’s not what I hope, but I did want to add something simple to celebrate our gifts to the church and beyond. It admittedly leans heavily on church. Oops.

I use Luke 4 in the second to last response but it could easily be adapted to include your church’s mission or vision. Remembering who we are and who we belong to in these days is critical. Use the words that your congregation has created. Remember. Celebrate. Adapt everything.

Invitation to the Offering

People of God, why do you stand
looking up toward heaven?
Christ has gone up with a shout,
but he will come again with trumpets and praise.
How then will you live?

We will live in hope
and be guided by peace.
We will dare to believe that
there are better days ahead
but we will do all that we can to protect
this earth and its people. We will love.

Who will you love?

We will love the forgotten and the ignored.
We will love the discarded, abandoned and abused.
We will love brown bodies, black bodies
immigrant and refuge bodies, fat bodies
and hollow bodies that feel they’ve nothing to give
but we will give.

How will you give?

We give with our whole hearts
with our bodies and souls
to support the things that matter most.

People of God, why do you give?

We give to bring good news to the poor;
to proclaim release to the captives and
recovery to the sight of the blind,
to let the oppressed go free
and allow all people to believe in hope.

How will you hope?

We will put our hope in our church.
We will believe in its mission
so much that it becomes an extension of ourselves.
We will hope that every dollar 
and every cent
is used to make Jesus Christ present
We will hope with out who hearts
and reach out to the world in love.

I may have had this song in my head while I was writing this particular prayer.

That’s all I’ve got for this week.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always.