Pandemic Psalms for Third Sunday after Epiphany

In this season after Epiphany, I’m focusing all of my energy on the psalms. As I shared last week, I’m offering one prayer inspired by the psalm from the Revised Common Lectionary knowing there are tons of wonderful resources out there that could add to this simple practice for your weekly worship.

I’ll share some of those other gifts from other places first. Maren Tirabassi shares monthly communion liturgies throughout this pandemic but last March there was a consecration prayer inspired by this week’s psalm. The whole liturgy might work for you too. There is this longer meditation on the psalm as part of the Living Psalms project Maren curates with great love. I rather like this Responsive Call to Worship if the Week of Christian Unity is something that you are uplifting in your congregation this week. (Or at least I’m pretty sure it starts this week.) And this Prayer for Others might work for your Prayers of the People. I rather like this prayer by John Birch too. I was once an avid follower of his prayers and used them in weekly worship often.

Prayers of Confession
Inspired by Psalm 19

Slow us down, O God. 
Even when it seems 
like nothing is happening,
give us moments of awe
for your handiwork. 

Surprise us with the work
of your heavens and the awesome
wonder that love always finds a way
because even in this slowness
we cannot stop our restlessness.
We want to push our way 
out of this discomfort.
We want to know what 
will come next.

Revive us from this awkwardness
to awake with wonder
each morning to find
again and again, O God, 
you are faithful.
You give light to our eyes
if we can only slow down
enough to look for your grace.
Slow us down, O God,
enough to hear you 
and see you in each 
new day. We need you.

I feel like I took a big detour from this psalm but it still hints at what I hear in this ancient psalm. It reminded me of all of the weddings that have happened even through this pandemic. Somehow I find that amazing in my own version of isolation — and I want to awake to that delight each and every day. And though I thought of using Great is Thy Faithfulness to accompany this prayer (maybe even as as Assurance of Grace), I opted for this lesser known song.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

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

Prayers to Celebrate Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The talented pastor at Old First United Church of Christ in Philadelphia had this great idea to focus the celebration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the third Sunday in January (which appears to be sooner than I’d like to admit) on a reflection of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

I promised I would gather him some resources because I’m eager to help but Michael likes to write his own things so I’m only offering fragments here that he can piece together on his own. Still, you might be interested in using these too as we celebrate the life of such an inspirational man. There are some lovely tributes including this one from the Dalai Lama and this one from the National Civil Rights Museum. Most others reminded tweet-size like this one by Bernice King. (And I just love the picture she chose.)

There are also a ton of wonderful things that connect the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. There is this wonderful essay by Charles Krauthammer that names Tutu as King’s “natural heir.” In 1986, Tutu received the Martin Luther King Award.

The New Yorker published this wonderful article Remembering Desmond Tutu’s Hope that might inspire a sermon. He wrote so many books that have been transformative that it would be hard to pick one theme or one quote to highlight from his immense wisdom. There was even a new book released earlier in 2021 exploring the depth of his faith, entitled Desmond Tutu: A Spiritual Biography of South Africa’s Confessor. In our house, we are big fans of his children’s book God’s Dream. My girls also love the Children of God Storybook Bible he released around the same time but I’d be inclined to share God’s Dream with the children.

Forgiveness was, of course, a big theme in his books and so this Prayer Before the Prayer that the Archbishop shared on his Facebook page in 2014 might be an important prayer to share as we commit again to truth and reconciliation. Another prayer that might be highlighted in your worship is this Prayer for the Children of God by the Archbishop. He did publish An African Prayer Book though I can’t find any prayers from it in the public domain. I really like this prayer entitled Disturb Us O Lord as a confession that seems to speak to the injustices that both Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King Jr. worked so hard against in their lifetimes — and hopefully it is justice work we are committed to continuing even if we need a little reminder and nudge to keep going. I really hoped to find a prayer from his funeral earlier this week but I can’t seem to locate one in my search. There is, however, this prayer Grieving Archbishop Desmond Tutu by Maren Tirabassi.

I struggled to find more information about this composition by James Whitbourn from 2004 entitled A Prayer of Desmond Tutu. I can only surmise that was written to be performed by the choristers of Westminster Abbey on Commonwealth Day. The text is written by the Archbishop though. I did find that. It appears that you can purchase sheet music for this original composition here if your choir is feeling ambitious though there are several versions on YouTube that come with the caveat that streaming from YouTube is not a good idea.

The last piece I found for your worship celebrating this wonderful man is this collaboration with John Bell entitled Goodness is Stronger Than Evil. It is published in the United Methodist’s The Faith We Sing so there is a complete history here. Hymnary also indicates in the new Presbyterian Hymnal Glory to God that includes an audio recording that can be purchased from Hymnary here.

That’s all I have got right now. I’m praying for you, as always.

Please also share what words from the Archbishop you might share in your worship celebrations. There is an abundance of goodness and I’d be curious to hear what you choose from his writings.

Pandemic Psalms for Second Sunday after Epiphany

I want the bright lights that send the wise people home by another way to carry beyond Epiphany Sunday. I want it to be something that we continue to find again and again in the weeks that follow as we try to understand more and more about who and what Christ is in our lives.

I began the New Year with that hope. Inspired by Martha Spong’s annual reflective practice, my family outlined some aspirational hopes for this year. High on my personal list is nurturing friendships and actually making it through to read the whole Bible. I’ve tried several times and given up every time — but this will be the year! I already completed week one. Watch out 2022!

I read somewhere else in these first few days of the new year an invitation to keep it simple. What we need in times of uncertainty and anxiety is a reminder to be present. That wise person said it better than I just did and I honestly can’t remember where I found this wonderful invitation, but it is what is inspiring this wandering through the psalms for the next seven weeks of this season where we look for light and wonder how Christ might be made known.

I don’t know what to think anymore as friends and family members are all testing positive with this variant. There is rumor that this is pandemics end but I am skeptical and finding it hard to find hope. What I need is to take it slow and practice gentleness with my self and the world. And for me, that means inviting the truth of what this moment is. It means feeling every bit of this moment which is why I’m turning my heart to the psalms in these seven weeks.

I’ll offer one riff on a the psalm from the Revised Common Lectionary knowing there are tons of wonderful resources out there that could add to this simple practice for your weekly worship including Martha’s The Words of Her Mouth: Psalms for the Struggle. I’m also interested in last year’s release of Open and Unafraid by W. David O. Taylor.

I’ll also share a hymn that may or may not work for your worship style right now with the reminder to seek out permissions particular to your context. I’m hoping this limited format will help me to crank out the thing I want to create for Lent but only had the idea for this morning after most of you have already made your plans. Ha. Oops.

Prayers of the People 
Inspired by Psalm 36:5-10

Isolated and still somehow together, 
we have plummeted into the great deep.
O God, we have felt like there is no way.
We have sunk to the bottom of our hope
and not been able to find the surface.

There has been so much death...
So much sickness... 
So much weighing on our mental health...
So much that still feels uncertain...

We are waiting out this next surge
and hoping that it won't be that bad
even it feels awful to be here again
so we reach. We stretch out our hands
to hold your precious hands. 

Take our hands, Precious One.
Pull us close so that we might 
find your protection and strength. 
Pull us up out of this great deep
and give us life again. 
Remind us of all that means 
to live in your love. Shine the light
of that deep love for your people
in the caverns of our uncertainty
and remind us again that your light
lets us enjoy this life. Your light reaches
across the heavens above peeking through clouds
and dancing through rain and snow. Your light
invites us to dance with all of creation. 
Take our hands, Precious One, 
and lead us in your dance. Amen.

It might already be in your head as it was in mine when I entered into this psalm. Take My Hand, Precious Lord could underscore this prayer with soft music playing that swells after the amen into a meditation in song.

It was sung by Mahalia Jackson at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral which you may well be remembering this week. There are videos of that on YouTube too but I wasn’t allowed to post those here. Aretha, however, comes through. I can’t imagine that you can use this in worship but it’s still a gift and worth a listen.

If you are looking for other prayers to uplift the psalm, I commend to you the amazing work that Maren Tirabassi has done in the Living Psalms project within the United Church of Christ. She shares this telling of Psalm 36 on her wonderful blog Gifts in Open Hands. The official psalm from the project can be found here. I also found this Litany of Confession that seems particularly relevant to this moment in the pandemic with a few minor tweaks. Thom Shurman, whom I adore, shares this Call to Worship inspired by the Psalm. I confess I went for this particular moment in worship after I saw how much goodness was out there. There is goodness. May you feel it, dear pastor.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

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

Another Pandemic Christmas Eve

I was busy updating my favorite poems for Christmas Eve when a colleague posted about permission for a beloved Christmas poem she hoped to use Christmas Eve. It was just another one of those reminders that pastors, like you dear one, are juggling so much right now. You’re not just crafting worship but tending to all of the legalities that might exist around every bit of artistic inspiration you might use.

I use a lot of poetry on the highest of holy days to give new meaning and insight to our hearing of those more familiar stories from scripture — but this season is busy enough. You don’t need to chase down permissions for the rest of Advent. You need to print the bulletin, assemble the slides and move onto the next thing. So I’m giving another option for Christmas Eve that doesn’t require chasing down permissions. Everything is either public domain or permission has been granted for this purpose by the artist. Credit should be given to the artists those attributions are at the very end of the liturgy. It will require you to click through to find these things in other places because I did very little actual writing for this liturgy — and my colleagues in the United Church of Christ are just so dang talented.

The liturgy follows the Proper II for Christmas Eve because I never, ever choose it and I wondered what it might look like to use these lessons. It’s a lot of scripture because I think that scripture tells it best — and I wanted there to be a push toward Howard Thurman’s The Work of Christmas, which is my very favorite Christmas poem and how I like to conclude every Christmas Eve service but it’s not public domain.

I did find that Bosco Peters wrote a hymn with the poem text so that might be an option if you’re interested in introducing a new song on Christmas — though after a long season of not singing together and that thing where we don’t sing carols in Advent, people are likely to want to only sing carols. Maren Tirabassi also has this improv poem inspired by Thurman’s beloved words. Or you might swap out Michelle’s candle lighting for this simple Advent candle lighting also by Maren. Especially if you are using the Prayers of the People I offer, it might be worth doing the whole thing where the Advent candles are slowly lit in this service. It might need to be shortened a bit for that to work but it’s a really lovely option.

Carol: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Invitation to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 97

We lift our voices 
with all of creation 
in praise and wonder 
for all that will be 
born this night. 

We are listening
to all that can change
and all that will change
with this birth.
Light will dawn
and there will be 
rejoicing on the coastlands
and way up high in the mountains.

The landscape of our imagination
will shift and it will be glorious. 
It is this change that we have
been waiting for. We have been
waiting so long. 

Carol: O Come All Ye Faithful

Engage Worship offered these Christmas carol videos last year for free. They are still available and free to use for Zoom or other worship formations.

Prayer of Invocation (Responsive)

Prayer of our Savior

First Reading: Isaiah 62:10-12 from the Common English Bible

Prayer for the Lighting the Christ Candle

Second Reading: Titus 3:4-7 from the VOICE translation

Prayer for the Light
Inspired by Psalm 97

It could happen
like this where
a tiny spark changes 

Tonight, O God, 
by this feeding trough
and listening
for the sounds 
of little ones
too delighted 
to keep quiet, 
assure us
that it could 
happen just 
like this.

The world
we have prayed
for could begin
with one light
that is shared 
again and again
and again. May
it be so tonight.

Carol: O Little Town of Bethlehem

Engage Worship offered these Christmas carol videos last year for free. They are still available and free to use for Zoom or other worship formations.

Gospel Reading: Luke 2:1-7 from the Message

What it Was: A Christmas Poem by Michelle Torigian

This is the big moment — and it deserves more than four voices in a choral reading. Consider adding sung responses to each bit of good news that is shared from beloved carols like Hark the Herald Angels Sing or The First Noel. Or move pieces of a nativity set into place as the readers share the story. (This would work on Zoom too if you focus the camera on a central spot and move the figures slowly toward that spot. This reading could also be easily shared by four readers in different households on Zoom.) It may even work to have the readers in costume as they read. For copyright reasons, I didn’t alter the text but I really want to make it inclusive.

Heralds of Good News in Four Voices
From the Voice Translation 

First Voice
Nearby, in the fields outside of Bethlehem, 
a group of shepherds were guarding their flocks 
from predators in the darkness of night. Suddenly 
a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, 
and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—
the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!

Don’t be afraid! Listen! 
I bring good news, news of great joy, 
news that will affect all people everywhere.
Today, in the city of David, a Liberator 
has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, 
the Supreme Authority! You will know you have found Him 
when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, 
lying in a feeding trough.

First Voice
At that moment, the first heavenly messenger 
was joined by thousands of other messengers—
a vast heavenly choir. They praised God.

Heavenly Choir
To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God!
And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God!

First Voice
As soon as the heavenly messengers disappeared into heaven, 
the shepherds were buzzing with conversation.

Let’s rush down to Bethlehem right now! Let’s see what’s happening! Let’s experience what the Lord has told us about!

First Voice
So they ran into town, and eventually they found 
Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the feeding trough. 
After they saw the baby, they spread the story of what 
they had experienced and what had been said to them about this child.  Everyone who heard their story couldn’t stop thinking about its meaning. Mary, too, pondered all of these events, 
treasuring each memory in her heart.

The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God 
for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God 
for the way the experience had unfolded just 
as the heavenly messenger had predicted.

Carol: Joy to the World

Engage Worship offered these Christmas carol videos last year for free. They are still available and free to use for Zoom or other worship formations.

For this next moment in worship, I imagine each person is given a globe stress ball or eraser or whatever palm-sized globe you can find in bulk with the current supply chain issues. If that’s not possible, maybe just a small coloring page of the globe would work with some crayons. You will want to edit the italicized directions based on what you find and also edit the OR in the Christmas Prayers.

Imagining the Joy the World Needs

Joy to the world! And this world needs joy.
In another pandemic year, there is so much 
isolation and loneliness. We have seen how far
we are willing to go to take care of each other.
We have felt the earth weep from climate devastation
and have witnessed the acceptance of words like "Black lives matter"
and even "Love wins" even when violence toward black, brown and queer bodies continues. This world needs more joy -- 
the joy that we have seen and heard with the shepherds.

Tonight you hold the world in your hands
and it is your joy to imagine 
how you will begin the work of Christmas
to repeat the sounding joy of this good news.
What kind of joy can you imagine for this world this year?
What can your hands do to bring hope to hurting people?

Ponder these questions, like Mary, as music plays softly in the background. Sharpies might be provided to write a word representing your intention on the globe. Or you might ponder the joy the world needs in color with the crayons provided.

Christmas Prayers 

Emmanuel God,
it has happened again.

We have heard your good news
and just begun to imagine
your liberation and hope.
We have heard the familiar chorus
of the angels singing of peace.

We have considered your world
and all the joy it needs.

Like shepherds, we are cautious 
about this news and approach your possibility slowly, 
illuminating the shadows of this world with one candle,
and then another, and another, and another...
until we light your candle, O Emmanuel.

In your candle, O Christ, 
we see your face shining upon us, 
We see the miracle of our own light 
shining through the hopes and fears of all the years.
That candle reminds us that there is work 
to do toward your liberation and peace.
It is a hope that you ask us 
to share with our hearts and hands
even when we are still pondering 
these great mysteries in our hearts. 

Help us to shine 
and to announce peace, 
to encourage joy,
and to share the love that begins – 
but does not end – 
in this small child 
in a feeding trough.

May this love be felt 
especially by the sick and hospitalized...

May this love reach
around the grieving and broken-hearted...

May this love inspire us 
all to bring justice and peace to...

May love carry each of us
and encourage us to hope
through all that we do not understand
and all that we dare to dream
and may we find ourselves, like the shepherds,
so excited about this good news
that we can't stop thinking about 
it's meaning and how this good news 
might change how we live. 
We carry the world 
with us in our pockets
OR folded up in our wallets
to reminds us that this good news
repeats with our sounding joy.

Bless us, O Christ, 
with possibility and 
understanding. Wrap us
up in your love and
encourage us to grow
with you in the work 
of liberation and peace.

Carol: Silent Night

Christmas Blessing

Carry your light
into the world to bring
joy where it needed.

Bring the love 
of this newborn child
into the whole wide world
so that all might see
their own image in God's glory.

This child was born
for you. It was born
for the hope of this whole world.
God is with us. Alleluia! Alleluia!

The Prayer of Invocation is by Eliza Tweedy. The Lighting of the Christ Candle and What it Was: A Christmas Poem are both written by Michelle Torigian. Used by permission with deep gratitude.

I know that this platform has made it very difficult to copy and paste for some. In the new year, I’m contemplating moving these prayers entirely to my newsletter on Substack. Or it may become a separate newsletter. I haven’t quite decided this but I’m troubleshooting as best I can. I offer this complete service for free download here.

I offer no instructions for Silent Night because I think you know what to do there. It’s everyone’s favorite moment and it simply requires some candles safely distributed within the gathered body. The blessing could be done in the dark or the lights could come up a little. Again, you know this part well.

I want there to be other rituals on Christmas Eve than gathering around the table. That’s me. I know I’m weird on this one so I didn’t include a communion service but you might opt for this one by Thom Shuman. His words at Lectionary Liturgies are ones that I’ve turned to often in my imagination of what worship could be again and again.

As Christmas comes again, I’m praying for you, dear pastor.

Pandemic Prayers for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

This lovely meditation on the Magnificat was in my email from The Work of the People a few days ago. I love the slightest twist on the more familiar words from those verses in Luke’s first chapter. If you’re looking for another paraphrase to bring these words to life, there is this adaptation by Jim Taylor. (Scroll down to Psalm Paraphrases.) There’s also this one by Katy Stenta that is just fabulous.

I find it really weird that there aren’t more actual singable congregational songs about this beloved text but maybe this one will work as you share the good news that is about to break forth.

Please be sure to research permissions based on your congregation’s licenses.

Lots of you are probably doing a pageant where the good news is told through actors, movement and song. If there aren’t enough young people in your congregation, this might be an option for you. Oh, I kinda want to write that service now. Maybe I can find time to do that!

My favorite song for this text is this one from Taize and I wonder about weaving it through worship as part of the Call to Worship as the prayer below might lead. It could appear again in the silence that follows the Prayer of Confession before the Words of Assurance as the congregation tries to claim that forgiveness for themselves. It could even be part of the Prayers of the People as the congregation continues to sing this hope.

Please be sure to research permissions based on your congregation’s licenses.
Call to Worship
Inspired by Luke 1:46b-55

All generations
gather here to find
blessing and hope.

We come to join 
our voices and sing
for what could be
and what we pray
will be soon.

Mary taught us
to sing big words
of hope and wonder
so that in our signing
this dream deepens and
intensifies. Increase
our hope as we sing
together in every

There is so much goodness out there that it is really tough to choose the right words that give the power that Mary’s words need for our time — like these terrific suggestions from Barn Geese Worship. A Eucharistic Prayer grounded in the Magnificat?! Yes please! Also check out the prayer for December 19. It’s another goodie.

As you look beyond Advent, you might be looking for new poems to tell the story on Christmas Eve or during Christmastide. I’ve started to update this list for this year but still have a few more to add — I think. I also have a complete Lessons and Carols Service in Coronatide from last year that you might opt to use if you are looking for something a little different than the usual Christmas Eve celebration. I also think it’s a great way to celebrate that first Sunday after Christmas which comes really soon after Christmas Eve this year. Or you might opt for this fireside experience designed for Zoom. You get to stay in your pajamas, dear pastor, and you deserve it.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

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

Pandemic Prayers for the Third Sunday of Advent

A few years ago, I heard Gaudete by Brad Reynolds in worship and I loved it so much that I have no idea what happened through the rest of the service. I was lost in wonder of these joy-filled words. I am not sure I am one of those people that does joy well.

I am keenly aware of that when this Sunday pops up — or it’s friend over there in Lent. I’m not sure I am ready for it. I’m not sure what to do with it because it feels like it has be bigger than I am able to claim when it really does feel like the world is ending. I’m just never sure how to enter into it fully while still in this sense of expectation. I love how this poem welcomes me into a joy that feels possible even when every passage this week seems to insist on that joy. I don’t like the bossiness of this week’s epistle. I really don’t. I prefer the playfulness of Gaudete that can be hard to find in sacred text.

Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Philippians 4:4-7 

It doesn't feel right 
to sing when there is
so much that is wrong.
Judgments, condemnations,
variants and fears
make us quiet. 

We don't make
a sound when terrors
and worries overwhelm.

We forget to look 
for joy -- and there is 
always joy just as this
world is always moving closer
and closer to your hope. 

Forgive us
for not rejoicing 
in the tiny wonders. 

Forgive us
for not singing
into our fears.

Forgive us
for ignoring
how close you 
are, now and always.

Silent contemplation follows.

There’s another version of this song that mixes this song with Joy to the World. It’s a lot peppier and maybe that’s the vibe you’re going for but I rather like this one as an Affirmation of Grace. I’m pretty sure the You is supposed to be God so maybe you’d rather use it in the Prayers of the People but I think it could work both ways. That said, I have no idea about permissions with your congregation’s licenses and you would, of course, need to make sure that it’s possible to use this song. I want to offer an alternative but I can’t find one I’m really excited about so please share in the comments your ideas.

Please be sure to research permissions based on your congregation’s licenses.

Last year, I wrote these prayers for this third Sunday of Advent. The confession might not work but the Call to Worship inspired by What Child is This? might work for your worship planning if the above suggestions don’t work for you.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

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

Pandemic Prayers for the Second Sunday of Advent

Last week, I shared my own candle lighting liturgy for Advent but then Maren Tirabassi posted this beautifully simply liturgy inspired by Howard Thurman and I love it. If you haven’t chosen something because you’re exhausted and it’s Thanksgiving and all of the other things that are taking up your time, go and find this wonder.

I was also delighted to find these offertory prayers by Joanna Harader in my email a few days ago. These are just delightful and a blessing to hand off to any nervous layleaders that aren’t quite sure how to find words of their own. (This is a compliment to you, dear pastor. You do such an amazing job crafting worship that these dear souls only want to addd to your hard work. They might not have the words for it so I’m here to remind you.)

This is that Sunday where John steps into the murky river waters and starts pointing fingers. It’ll happen again in the early weeks of January and I like that full story told then. Here, I want hints of what it means to welcome such change.

I found myself singing this after reading the lections for this week. This is a quiet, meditative version that could work for the beginning of worship if your licenses allow use of it. It might lead into the following call to worship.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Baruch 5:1-9

It is morning and 
sleep still clings to our eyes.

It is morning and 
there are new wonders
awaiting our tired eyes.

It is morning and 
we have shuffled into 
the living room to find
community and praise 
before we've really prepared
for the day. We cling to
our mugs and sip on hope
because sorrow and affliction
clung to us all night. It has wrapped
us up and held tight for too long.
We are ready for something else.

It is morning and 
we are ready to put on Jesus.
Let us put on our robes of splendor
and may God show us glory in
every thing under heaven.

It is morning and
we are ready for glory.

Could there be a wee hint of those angels singing from Angels We Have Heard on High here? Why not? Really, bring on the glory. We all need it. Or at least I need it. I also really like Jesus, O What a Wonderful Child but I can’t find a version that I like.

As I wonder about singing in these Advent days, I wondered about what would lead to singing a Nunc Dimittis. It’s so often used as a blessing or even a funerary song as this collection of variations from Natalie Sims reveals. I wanted it to be something else for those other moments of worship when we are not sure how to praise but we want to find God’s peace. I wrote this thinking that it might lead toward singing one of these songs. Or maybe just listening to a soloist sing as it is in these pandemic days.

Sometimes Prayer for Peace
Inspired by Luke 1:68-79

Sometimes it is hard 
to remember all that is promised
and imagined to be with
God's glory. Sometimes
we forget or we are 
just too tired from another 
restless, sleepless night
so full of worry for the world.

Sometimes we are not
sure what blessing 
looks like or feels like.
We get stuck on what it was 
back then so that it feels
impossible to find now.

Sometimes it doesn't feel
like anything will ever change.

That is when it is too hard
and we need a tender hand 
to hold. We need to know 
that we are not alone in 
these shadows and frustrations.
We need to remember
that God is with us
just as God has always
been with us leading 
us to the peace 
we need most.

Sometimes this 
is what peace feels
like. Sometimes it 
is just like this.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

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

Pandemic Prayers for the First Sunday of Advent

It was just yesterday that I was in a Zoom meeting daydreaming about what Advent might look like in 2022 with my collaborators at Seasons of the Spirit FUSION. It was such a fun conversation with so many ideas on how we might claim ritual and community in whatever stage of the pandemic we might be then.

Pandemic Lighting of the Advent Wreath

I’ve already been daydreaming about this year. Hopefully, you’ve already found the Pandemic Lighting of the Advent Wreath I wrote for multiple voices and storytelling within your church community. It will 110% work on Zoom but it will take some extra planning. That might not be what you need to hear, dear pastor. You might be looking for something simple and easy to cut and paste.

I wrote the following prayers for that reason and though they’re intended to pair with the wreath lighting I wrote last month, you could opt for this beautiful Advent Wreath liturgy infused with poetry by my friend Martha Spong. It’s written for the Narrative Lectionary but I still think that it works for the mood of this year. Another Narrative Lectionary version written by another friend is this God-With-Us Advent Candle Lighting but if you’re not interested in reworking anything then there is this one from NEXT Church.

I find myself wanting there to be singing perhaps because I still haven’t felt that wonder of singing together in worship. It’s an active part of my pandemic grief and I long for a song to sing that will make sense for the living of these days when I’m exhausted by the waiting and wondering what Christmas will look like this year when it seems that lockdown is just around the corner here in Germany. I find myself — again — leaning into our most ancient hymns for lyrics to stir my heart.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 25:1-10 and Luke 21:25-36

Come, lift your hope 
to listen for the singing
echoing from the hills.

Come, lift your wonder
to hear the gentle humming 
of neighbors and friends
needing a song to sing.

There are angels
announcing good news
here and there and everywhere. 

Come, come and join 
the song. God leads you in truth. 
God sings to you with wonder.
Come, lift your voice and sing. 

Advent is one of those seasons where we want to sing the familiar hymns that we have sung for so long. Full disclosure: they are some of my favorites. There are even some who think that this is a time to sing carols. Tsk tsk. I don’t even know if I am kidding about that anymore. Is that a hardline to hold? I remain uncertain especially in this second year of the pandemic but this particular invitation to worship makes me wonder about this hymn that isn’t commonly heard in Advent.

There’s a version of this that has been made popular by John Bell but I rather like this recording and confess I have no idea what the permissions might be for this talented choir. According to Hymnary, it appears in quite a few hymnals so that might help you out. I love chants like this one as they can be learned and repeated throughout the worship service.

As you look beyond Advent, you might be looking for new poems to tell the story on Christmas Eve or during Christmastide. It’s a list I update every year — but I haven’t done so yet. Last year, I also shared this Lessons and Carols Service in Coronatide and this year I created this Pandemic Fireside Prayers for Christmas to use in on that Sunday immediately following Christmas Eve.

There are other wonders in my kitchen for Advent and Christmas and if you sign up for my email list, you’ll be the first to know about this new release I’ve linked to way too many times. I’m putting final touches on it now so get excited!

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

Pandemic Prayers for Reign of Christ

Time still eludes me. I had forgotten that I had managed to work a week ahead in what I offer here in these pandemic prayers. It hasn’t always been that way and I’m sure I’ll fall behind again but I gave myself a small heart attack when I clicked ahead in the Revised Common Lectionary. I gasped. Surely, it is not Reign of Christ already. Advent is that soon? No! It’s still two weeks out but it seems impossibly soon.

I am going to play a bit more this week with format as I try to troubleshoot this annoying glitch that doesn’t seem to allow for easy copying and pasting. If you are in the habit of copying and pasting from these pandemic prayers, could you let me know if it’s easier? Please drop a note in the comments so that this isn’t a problem any longer. I am so sorry that I’m only just learning how tricky this has been.

Reign of Christ seems to be a Sunday I skipped last year. There is nothing here for that Sunday though I can’t remember a Sunday n my ministry when it wasn’t the focus of worship. I always liked the movement of meditating on the wonder of God’s reign and Christ’s place in the world before diving into the uncertainty of Advent where it feels unclear where God is. The realm of God is, however, really hard to imagine. It feels even harder now and so I find myself wandering back into the familiar words of that beloved prayer that Jesus taught us.

The following prayers are adaptations for prayers I wrote for First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Smithville, MO and Overland Park Christian Church in Overland Park, KS. The two brilliant pastors of those congregations combined forces last year to imagine a special series inviting their beloved people to imagine what life after the long pandemic exile might mean. It was a beautiful series and I was so honored to offer my words to their worship experience and I love how these two friends supported each other in a preaching series that was life-giving to them and their congregations.

Opening Prayer
Inspired by Revelation 1:4b-8

Holy One, our fingers have scrolled 
and turned newsprint pages looking 
for the promise of good news. 

These palms have cradled remotes
and clicked channels scanning the world
inside our living room 
and our bedroom
and even our kitchen
for what might be 
on the other side 
of this. 

We hope our eyes
will see you, O Christ,
while our hands our busy
searching so that 
we can find hope 
and faith in the wonder
that you were there in 
the beginning and
are here now in this
present chaos and 
your glory and power
are imagining what will 
come in the days head. 

Our hands tremble
with hope and possibility. 
We rub our eyes in confusion.
Strengthen these tendons
and muscles with your promise.
Fix our gaze on your glory.
This we pray with the
One who is our Alpha and Omega
and gives us strength in praying...

I love this version of the prayer. There are a lot of other wonderful versions of this prayer that I love to add to worship to make these familiar words come to life in new ways. My current favorite is from the New Zealand Anglican Prayer Book. A visual interpretation follows below. With both of these videos, permissions would still need to be obtained to use them in your worship experience.

Pastoral Prayer
Inspired by Psalm 132:1-12 and John 18:33-37 

O God, the heavens 
and the earth have been shaken. 
We have felt unsteady and uncertain. 
We’ve been tempted 
to relish in the past
when everything seemed easier,
but things are not what they were. 

We are not where we were 
anymore. The world looks different now. 
We are different.
Or so we pray now that we find 
ourselves here waiting for heaven
and earth to meet. 

It’s not what we imagined.
O God, it is nothing like 
we ever imagined when we
thought your realm was not 
from this world. It is still not
here and maybe we though by now
that it should be.
Or it would be.

We never thought it would be this hard.
There have been so many hardships
that will not give sleep to 
our exhausted eyelids.

We have lost of many lives
to this virus. We have lost
lives that were untouched 
by the coronavirus 
but consumed 
by other diseases.
There has been 
so much death
and not enough 
hands to hold
in the loss we share. 

We have lost income
and financial security. 
Best made plans
dissolved with 
all our savings and 
we felt powerless 
as our favorite local businesses 
shuttered and closed. 

We have lost more, O God, 
awaiting your realm to come 
to this earth and into our lives.

We have questions
like Pilate of how you 
can transform this mess 
when we do not know 
how else to help and 
we can't help but give thanks
for the things that we do not know
of your realm. There is so much 
that we do not know so we
pray for the things that 
Christ taught us to pray for:
enough food to fill our bellies, 
forgiveness for all that we cannot understand
and grace to strangers and friends.
We are all connected. Forgive us
for ignoring this fact.
Our bodies are plagued
by the trauma of this pandemic
and we all need love. 
We need the love that
hangs on the end of every question
in our hope for the future. 
We need the glory and power 
of your divine love 
to redeem our present
with hope and wonder.
We pray in the truth
of you are the source
of all that is all that shall be,
Our Eternal Spirit, Earth-Maker, 
Pain-Bearer and Life-Giver. Amen.

If you don’t use the New Zealand version in your worship experience, I recommend adapting that last bit of the pastoral prayer to words that evoke the wonder of the version you have chosen.

As you may know, I’m also hard at work on a special service for the first few weeks in January with something I’m calling New Year Epiphanies. It’s why I didn’t opt for the new year celebration here. It wouldn’t make sense with what I’m imagining for the first Sundays in January.

You can find a brief summary in my kitchen as well as the other materials I’ve created for Advent and Christmas. I pray all of these things help your planning for the upcoming season that I know you are busy imagining with great love.

I am praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. I’m praying for you so much.

Pandemic Prayer Stations for Proper 28

A few weeks ago, in Zoom worship, someone popped on the screen while on a walk. She had been walking the whole service around her neighborhood while still being present for worship. It made me giggle but it also reminded me how much innovation has happened in worship since this pandemic began.

You are a part of that, dear pastor. You have innovated and made amazing things happen. You are still doing that and I give thanks for your faithfulness and creativity. You are a gift to me and to the people who are lucky to call you pastor.

Every so often, I like to offer some thing that allows for you to take a break from preaching. This is one of those weeks where I wanted to offer something a little more than a couple of prayers. This is not a complete service but it hopefully allows for you to create a space rather than a sermon. I also know that there are some weeks where it is easier to write a sermon that attend to all of the details that these special worship opportunities offer so feel free to use these prayer stations as they inspire and support your worship experience this Sunday.

Though prayer stations are most often done in a space of communal worship and not on Zoom, I wanted to avoid that assumption. It may well be that you are worshipping on Zoom and so there’s no need or elaborate set-up or long supply lists. Instead, I would invite the members of your faith community to go for a walk this week before Sunday morning. Go for a walk and collect stones. If you use these prayer stations while still preaching, have them look for something in these stones that relates to the things you are already thinking about in your sermon.

The last prayer station requires permanent markers in one or more colors. I am hoping that that is something that folks might have at home in their junk drawers. I have lots in mine anyway.

I had this Easter litany in my head when I started these meditations on stones. It’s for Easter and we are a few weeks away from Advent so it probably won’t work but I still love it. Then, I found this quote from the wonderful poet Joy Harjo and so I made a slide for that too. Why not?

Please download these slides and use them as they fit your worship experience on Sunday or in the days ahead. Could this also work for that Sunday in Advent when we wade into the Jordan River with John the Baptizer? Maybe if there was another couple of stations on water. Maybe with a few more edits so that it more closely ties to those gospel words.

It has come to my attention that it is near impossible to copy and paste from this site which is kinda a big problem because that’s the point of these pandemic prayers. I’m trying to trouble shoot that but I would love if you would comment and let me know if this is easier or harder. This week is a little different as I wanted to offer prayer stations and I gave images instead of copied text which may be super annoying or really nice to pull for your powerpoint presentation. Or this is what I hope anyway.

My newsletter went out last week with ideas for Advent. If you missed it, you can sign up here and there is a way to look in the archives. I’d shared that the collaboration I was looking forward to released with the talented Jo Owens of Vibrant Church Communications wasn’t going to happen — but some things changed and well, stay tuned. I can’t say for sure yet but there might be some good stuff coming your way soon. I’m also hard at work on a special service for the first few weeks in January with something I’m calling New Year Epiphanies.

You can find a brief summary in my kitchen as well as the other materials I’ve created for Advent and Christmas. I pray all of these things help your planning for the upcoming season that I know you are busy imagining with great love.

I am praying for you, dear pastors, liturgists and musicians. I’m praying for you so much.