Recipe for Resurrection Awe Strolls

Here in Texas there has been a terrible freeze. There was snow and it left a good chunk of the state without power including most everyone in my sweet Texas church back in Central Texas.

We did have snow over here in West Texas and it actually stuck around for a day or two but now there is only the faintest hint of white on the peaks of the mountains that surround the city. We never lost power. We have water. These were not worries we had being on an alternate power grid than the rest of the state. Instead, like the rest of the country, we watched in horror and dismay. We wrote angry letters to people in power. We prayed and I thought this was a really stupid thing to post when the sidewalks in places that are not even used to getting snow are frozen solid with sheets of ice.

It is not the right time to go out for a walk but now the snow is starting to melt in Austin. The thaw is coming and hope is always out there waiting for us to find it again.

I am interested in how we encourage each other to find hope right now. It’s why I wrote this liturgy to carry us through this whole season until Easter comes again. I want us to see it and feel it. I want to be able to point to it beyond the vaccine card that proclaims that my parents and my husband got their first doses of the vaccine this week. I need tangibles here.

This idea comes from an article I read way back when in Coronatide about awe walks. Another article from Psychology Today describes these walks like this:

An “awe walk” is a stroll in which you intentionally shift your attention outward instead of inward. So, you’re not thinking about the tight deadline, the unfinished project, the strain in your relationship with your spouse, or concerns about the coronavirus.

Psychology Today, 3 November 2020

It reminded me of resurrection. There is death and destruction all around us. There is so much that has gone wrong in this Good Friday world but we are people who dare to live in hope. We dare to look for possibility and wonder. We choose delight.

Or at least, we try. Sometimes I think we need to have someone help us see what is possible. It’s why all of the encounters after the resurrection are with a community. It’s a shared experience. We are never left alone to wonder if that amazing thing really did happen. We merely have to turn to the person beside us, and ask, “Did you see that?”

In the original study of these awe walks, there were groups that went walking together. They were not alone. They did not have a toddler with them to point out every bit of fantastic amazingness in this world that it takes forever to walk the half block to the cluster mailbox just to get your mail, but they were together to take selfies before, during and after the walk three scientists were able to observe the changes in their faces with this simple practice. I did not want to assume that others might have a walking buddy whether it might be someone in their own household or someone within their pod. I wrote this recipe as a personal prayer practice. As with everything else I offer, please feel free to adapt it as it best fits your ministry. Use it as a spark of creativity and see where it leads as you encourage people to find hope in this time.

Just as I didn’t want to assume that there might be groups walking together in masks, I wanted this to be an accessible experience to anyone and everyone assuming that the streets in their neighborhood are safe to walk. That feels like a big assumption in itself but I also wanted it to be something that could be done while rolling on a wheelchair or pushing a scooter. (I confess that is my toddler’s preferred method of walking.) I called it a stroll because I didn’t want anyone to get the impression that we were going for distance here. That’s not the point. It doesn’t matter how far you go in your 15 minutes of strolling upon your chosen path. It matters what you see and what you feel. It matters that you train yourself to look for wonder and delight while all of the things that have kept you up at night are left behind the locked door at home.

If I were to encourage this in Lent or Easter, I might borrow from the original study and encourage people to take selfies after their walks to share with the church community on social media with a witty hashtag about the hope that they’ve seen. It would be a simple way to share hope beyond the church community.

We all need hope right now. I hope this recipe helps you to cook up some creative ways to find hope in your ministry. I am praying for you, dear pastors. I am praying so much.

Recipe for a Pandemic Neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liturgical Lights for Sunday May 17, 2015

J A S M I N EThe Narrative Lectionary on May 17, 2015 is Romans 6:1-14 where it boldly claims, “So you must consider yourself dead to sin and alive in God and Jesus Christ.” My first instinct is to start singing along with Bon Jovi but it really has nothing to do with this text. Except there is something compelling about this idea of Dead or Alive. It would make a good sermon title, I do believe.

Because we’re in this in-between space. Over at Working Preacher, J. R. Daniel Cook points out that in this chapter the verbs referring to Christ are consistently past tense. But the verbs referring to our new life are regularly in the future tense. That is to say that we know about the dead part — but we’re not sure how we’ll come alive. We’re not sure what that resurrection will look like or if it will come. But, the awesome mystery is that we do not have to sin anymore. But, that’s a tricky word. Most might like to avoid it. Perhaps because it’s been overused. Perhaps because it’s hard to define. Or maybe because we’ve used it as a weapon. We’ve charged each other with sin rather than examine our own hearts and minds for sin.

In her little book on this very topic, Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that sin is a “holy, helpful word.” It is in fact “our only hope, the fire alarm that wakes us up to the possibility of true repentance.” It is what points us toward the possibility of becoming alive.

Call to Worship (Responsive)
Inspired by Psalm 51

Dead to the guilt we’ve carried for so many years,
Alive we walk into the newness of life.
Dead to the many things we have done wrong just this week,
Alive we will move for God in Jesus Christ.
Dead to sin that is always before us,
Alive we will be with the grace of God.

Prayer of Invocation 

Come to us, Living God,
As we come together as your people,
With our hearts broken and crushed
Feeling like we are more dead than alive,
Wondering how we might walk into your grace again, Come.
Because we are pretty sure that we can’t do anything right
and that we’ll only make it worse if we even try, so come.
Come to us, Living God,
so that we might feel so alive that we might
be moved to walk or dance or sing
because your grace is so present.
Come, Living God.
Be in every word.
Be in every voice.
Be in every song so that we might come alive again.
Come and walk us into the newness of life.
Help us in all our awkwardness and missteps
to move gracefully into your grace.
May it become so alive in us
in our worship and praise
that we can’t remember when it wasn’t there.
Come to us, Living God, and make us alive again.
In Christ Jesus, Amen.

Call to Confession 

Never feeling like we’ve really found it, always bound by the weights that we carry from our many failures and mistakes, we come before the grace of God to glimpse resurrection. We seek to come alive for God in Jesus Christ by confessing those things that have deadened our hearts and minds. And so we pray together,

Prayer of Confession (Unison)

We don’t like to talk about sin because we don’t really want to admit that we’ve done anything wrong. We don’t want to believe that we’re all that bad. But, Living God, you know. You know that there are things that we’ve done and things we’ve said that have made us feel dead inside. We’ve carried this guilt around for so long that we can’t forgive ourselves. Living God, forgive what we can’t forgive. Or, if that’s not possible, if we can’t believe that even you would forgive us, help us to see these deadening sins as reminders of your grace. Living God, help us to walk into the newness of life in Christ if we could only let go of these sins.

Silent Prayer & Personal Confession

Assurance of God’s Grace (Responsive)

Walk into the newness of life.
Come alive to God in Jesus Christ!
Because God forgives you. God always forgives you.
So we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive in God and Jesus Christ. Alleluia!

If you use the prayers I’ve written in your worship, and I hope you will, please do offer me credit with as follows:

The prayers in our worship this morning were written by/adapted from Liturgical Lights for Sunday May 17, 2015 by the Rev. Elsa Anders Peters. Elsa is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who blogs at revelsaanderspeters.com.

Mother’s Day is NOT a Liturgical Holiday

It was months ago when I agreed to preach on the second Sunday in May. I said yes ever so willingly. I was just so thrilled to be preaching again after this new reality seeking (im)possible things.

I didn’t realize then what is all too real now.

The second Sunday in May is Mother’s Day. It is the Sunday where churches offer corsages and carnations to mothers. It is this Sunday where prayers to “Mother God” are lifted in congregations that would otherwise struggle with inclusive language. It is the Sunday where the grieving and the childless stay home along with those that struggle with infertility and those that don’t ever want anyone to know that she had an abortion. There are those that we abandoned by their mothers and those that never knew gentle touch of their mother. They don’t come to church because they know that they will not be celebrated. They will not be honored.

IMG_4444They will not hear so much about the resurrection as they will about mothers. And they know this, so they stay home. Each congregation has their own traditions and there isn’t one of these bodies of Christ that seems to realize that Mother’s Day is NOT a liturgical holiday.

The liturgical year moves from Advent to Easter. From birth to death, we are led into the Season of Easter which continues for much more than one day. Because we are still in it. It is the season that we find ourselves us in now. This second Sunday of May is the Sixth Sunday of Easter. It’s nothing flashy really. Just another chance to talk about this amazing thing that happened. It’s a chance to talk about the awesome possibility of resurrection and what it means right now. You know, no big deal. Or perhaps it really is no big deal because it seems that most congregations replace this talk of resurrection with something called the Festival of the Christian Home. (This is also what it is called in my denomination but I can find nothing on the United Church of Christ website about it.) And it seems that churches expect it. Something must happen on Mother’s Day in our worship. Something must be said. Something must be done because that’s what we always do. But, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Mother’s Day is NOT a liturgical holiday.

Christmas is a liturgical holiday. Easter is a liturgical holiday. Even St. Patrick and St. Valentine have feast days. But, this isn’t one of them. There is no feast day for mothers. It’s simply not part of the liturgical calendar. You’ll find it on other calendars — those printed for dry cleaners and banks. On the second Sunday of May, it is Mother’s Day. So let there be brunch and flowers and perhaps even some chocolates. Make mom breakfast in bed. Or, at least, give her to break. But, when it’s time to live into the resurrection in the pulpit or pews, let’s remember that that’s not everyone’s story. Not everyone has a mother who was as kind and gentle. Handing every woman a carnation will only remind some of those women how they don’t fit in. Because those women came to church this morning needing to hear some good news. She needs what we all need: to hear the good news of resurrection.

Preach that good news.

Because every man, woman and child needs to hear that good news.

Make that good news the focus of your celebration on this second Sunday of May. Make it known in stories that reveal that what Jesus commands is that we love one another. Make that love known in the caring ministries you offer each other. Make it known in the works of justice and peace. Try not to make every single story about mothers. Please.

And if you need a call to action, read the Mother’s Day Proclamation. Because this is how it really began. There were brokenhearted women who saw a hurting world ripped apart by war. They would not allow one more child to lay down their life. Arise, all women who have hearts, they called out. They called out for new life from death. They called for new stories and new words. They called for hope where it couldn’t be found. Do we have that same heart? Might we rise with those women?

Mother’s Day is NOT a liturgical holiday but it is a good time to ask who we are as people of the resurrection.

6 Ways for Congregations to Care for Grieving Families

Last week clergy did all that they could to proclaim the greatest mystery of Christian faith. They preached with all that they had in them. They led beautiful, inspiring liturgies throughout the weekend — some did so all week long. They proclaimed a faith that they might not have been feeling themselves, but they did it anyway. They dared to make the impossible feel possible for their congregations and themselves.

angels-458341_1280This week, after the brunches, egg hunts and brass, they are tired. They are so very tired because it’s hard to practice self care during Holy Week. It’s hard to find that perfect balance where every ordinary detail gets covered as well as the extra demands of Holy Week. And this week is no better. Easter is over but the busyness hasn’t yet subsided. Pastors are tired. So tired. They would like nothing better than to binge watch episodes of Call the Midwife or the last few episodes of Mad Men. They would love to lounge on the couch all afternoon but members of their church are dying. My Facebook feed is full of clergy expressing their grief over the recent deaths in their congregations. There is some dismay in those posts on social media too. Because it isn’t just one member of the congregation that has died. There are two or three.

It’s hard for the church. It’s hard for the pastor. It’s just hard. Recognizing this, here are a few things that congregations can do to support each other when death comes.

1. Recognize that every family has different needs. Every family has a different experience of death and loss. Each person within that family responds different than the next. Some will want to talk about their loved one and their feelings. Others will want to hide. You may or may not think that the family is doing it the “right way” but please do everything you can to recognize that there is no right way. What honors the grief of one family will not work for the next.

2. Get busy in the kitchen. It is only natural after recognizing that each family has different needs to ask what they need. It seems like the right thing to do. But most families haven’t a clue what they need or want — so it’s best not to ask. Instead, get busy in the kitchen making something that can be easily stowed in the freezer for the family to enjoy in the days to come. My last congregation loved to hand deliver lasagna purchased from Costco. It works if you’re short on time — but I still think that there is something special about something homemade. Deliver it to their home, but don’t expect to talk much to the grieving.

If you have a knack for reception style catering or have been blessed with baking skills, call your pastor to inquire about the family’s plans for the reception following the memorial service. Some churches have women’s groups (and rarely men’s groups) that provide this particular hospitality. But, as those groups are disappearing, this very special care for grieving families falls to a local catering company. This is wonderful for supporting local businesses but we can do better. The early Christians were known for how they took care of each other in the most difficult times — and food is one of the best ways to do that. So, get busy making those veggie platters and finger foods. Bake some cookies filled with chocolatey morsels of love. Bring them on the day of the memorial service to the church — and maybe even offer to host. The family will be so moved by the love of your church family by this gesture alone.

3. Comfort the mourning. There was a widow in my last congregation who reminded me nearly every week how much and how long grief lingers. As a child of grief myself, it was something I knew and should have been more conscious of in my ministry. And my own life. But, I wasn’t. It was she that made me realize this because she wasn’t afraid to say that it still hurts. Her husband died two years ago — and for most members of the congregation, it was old news. She had received the message from more than one person that she should “just get over it already.” Of course, no one had ever been so blunt. It was something they said by omission. They had stopped asking how she was. It only took six months for this to happen — and she still isn’t over it. She is still hurting.

When someone dies in your congregation, make a special effort to comfort the mourning. Look around and be aware of those that have lost a spouse, a child or a sibling. Blessed are those who mourn, Jesus tells us. Be part of their comfort by sending a card like one of these or simply saying in coffee hour, “I’ve been thinking about you. How are you?”

4. Proclaim the good news. Christ is risen! You proclaimed this truth on Easter Sunday. Now it’s Friday again and it seems like Barbara Johnson is right: we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. Death has come to your church family so that it seems that it’s just back to normal.

Don’t believe it. When Mary and the disciples went to the tomb, they were told to tell everyone what they had seen. You might not see those signs so clearly — but you have probably seen something amazing in this person that has died. Tell that story. Keep telling that story to everyone in your church and beyond. In this storytelling, Mary and the disciples saw the Risen Lord. They saw what work needed to be continued by their own hearts and hands. They started baptizing and healing. They taught and preached. They made disciples as they allowed themselves to be taught by the stories they told. Proclaim the good news.

5. Pray for your church familySomeone in your family has died. It may not have been someone that you knew very well or it may have been someone that everyone knew because he served on every committee there was. This person was a part of your church family. Offer prayers for his family and friends — but offer prayers especially for your church. Because there is no “right way” to grieve for any one person or a whole community. As it says in the United Church of Christ liturgy,

We humbly acknowledge that death is no stranger to your people, for it comes to us all, the strong and the ill, rich and poor, the proud and the humble. But to us, death may come as an intruder or a welcome friend, leaving us with confused and mixed feelings.

Help us to see in this ending, new beginnings as well, and remind us that you are always bringing light out of our darkness, and new life even out of death.

Only God knows where that beginning will emerge. It’s not for any of us to predict — but as people of the resurrection, as Easter people living in a Good Friday world, we believe that there will be new life and light. As you wait to see it, pray for your church family’s confused and mixed feelings.

6. Pray for your pastor. My favorite part of ministry is this particular work. I love walking with families through the grief process and writing liturgy for memorial services and funerals, but few pastors love it as much as I do. Your pastor may be carrying her own grief. She may be among the mourning and be struggling to write the liturgy for this memorial service. Or she might just be tired after all of the stuff surrounding Easter. Pray for her strength, her wisdom and her compassion.