Pandemic Prayers for Proper 17

In the past week, my clergy groups have been full of posts and comments about how tired you are. Not just because you’re working so hard, dear clergy, or even because you need a vacation. Though, I imagine, those add fuel to this exhaustion but it is not this tiredness that you lament.

It is the exhaustion of your people complaining that church isn’t supposed to be a place where we hear more political banter after you raised your voice to offer voice to the voiceless. You preached to a screen about racism and immigration. You dared to call out the systems of neglect and violence only to be scolded by email. I would be tired too. You have not pointed fingers or cursed evil. Maybe you did but that’s not what I’ve seen. I’ve watched you lament that something about the love of Jesus has been misunderstood. You have bemoaned that the call of the gospel isn’t as strong as other powers.

You are so tired that I can’t quite imagine how this week’s gospel sits with you. Does it further convict you? Does it cause you greater despair? Are you tempted to skip it to opt for something in the Epistles or Hebrew Scriptures? I wouldn’t blame you.

In this moment, you might be struggling to figure out God’s way. These prayers invite you to preach what you truly believe no matter how much doubt you might have right now. You have a powerful witness to share. Once again, you have an opportunity to tell that story and you get to encourage those you pastor to boldly tell their own version.

Gathering into Worship

Maybe you’ve started to think about stewardship and wondered how to empower your people to think about the particular blessings of the church. Maybe you wonder how to share the power of the remembrances that Psalm 105 invites us to do in your life, in your own church, and in the world. Maybe starting with a video like this from the Fund for Theological Education might spark some energy.

Maybe it flows into your own call story or a retelling of Moses’ call story. Or perhaps you share your conviction of what the church is or could be. Maybe this video leads to an activity in coffee hour break out rooms where people write visions of the church for this moment.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. This is supposed to be the beginning of worship. Maybe you start with words like this.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Psalm 105

Let us come to give thanks
for every good thing
that God has done.
Let us tell
of all of
God’s wonderful works.
Let us remember
when we first
believed that God loved us
and remember how it felt
to know that we
were forgiven.
Remember. Remember
how we came to believe
that church wasn’t just
a building and
that the good news
in all those confusing
and confounding parables
mattered for this moment
and this world.
Let us come together
again to remember
these miracles
but let us also
remember the struggles.
Let us remember where
we failed and
when the church failed
and even still,
God did wonderful things.
Rejoice! Give thanks!
Praise God!

That’s one option. Here is another.

Call to Worship
Inspired by Matthew 16:21-28 and Romans 12

We come because we think
we know something about great suffering.
This has gone on so long.
We have lost so much.
Too many have died.

We come because we thought
we knew what great suffering
could be until another headline
flashed across the screen
and we could only utter,
God forbid.

We come because we know
there is more than we know.
There is greater love
and more hope to rejoice in
when we can be anything but patient.
We come to worship
and praise when we can barely
hold together what is good.

Guided Breath Meditation

My friend Katie Yahns mentioned a while ago that her people like guided meditations. It’s not something she finds the space to create in the space of her worship planning right now and while this isn’t exactly that, it is a nod to something that her people value and could be used in the space of a confession. It borrows imagery and words from Romans 12.

Let us find a minute
to catch our breath

after all that has happened
in six months
and in just one week

let us breathe in love
breathe out fear

breathe in hope
breathe out every evil

expel all the air
so that there is nothing
left but mutual affection

feel that catch in your
throat and let go
as you fill your lungs
with honor and zeal
for people and creation
and even the future

breathe in what will serve
God and fill your spirit
feel that stuff
pump through your veins
with every bit
of oxygenated wonder

push the uncertain
discomfort that has
lived so comfortably in every fiber
of your being for the the
past several months
out through your pores

release the toxins
that have held you back
from believing
that God is with you.
God is in every
breath and every hope.
God is in every
blessing and
every need.
Breathe in
this faith.

Breathe in.
Catch your breath so that you are not be overcome by evil
but let that evil go and know that evil will
only be overcome with good trouble. Let us
catch our breath so that we can be the
good trouble God needs.

It’s weird and a little different so you might prefer something from Jurgen Moltmann. I also like this prayer of confession from John Birch.

Pastoral Prayer

Black_Lives_Matter_logo.svgAs we dare to comprehend great suffering, another black child of God was shot seven times by those that are supposed to serve and protect. His father watched. Jacob Blake has been paralyzed while racism thrives.

Our prayers are many during the COVID-19 pandemic but I pray this injustice and outrage might focus our hope for the future of what the church is called to be. Here are some prayers that might inspire your worship planning:

Prayer for Kenosha, Wisconsin by Maren Tirabassi

Together We Pray by Salt & Light Media

Litany for Racial Justice by John Carroll (June 2020)

I hope to update this list with more prayers that particularly uplift Jacob Blake.

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. If you find these prayers helpful and would like some help thinking about the fall, click over here to do a little pandemic worship planning together. I’ve also shared some ingredients (though maybe not a whole recipe) for stewardship and backpack blessings. If there is something you have zero time for but your people like, as it was for my friend Katie, drop me a note.

Dear pastors, liturgists and musicians, I’m praying for you, as always. I’m also sorry that I’m posting this so late in the week. I know many of you post your services on Thursdays. I’m praying for you all the more.

Stewardship in Coronatide

I shared a few days ago some worship brainstorming for the season ahead and it got me thinking about the other big thing that often happens in the fall season in our churches: the pledge drive.

Most churches still tend to run this program in the harvest season while crops are being gathered from the earth. There is a strong link to the celebration of Thanksgiving in the hymns that we sing and the way that we celebrate these gifts for ministry even if these dates on the calendar are not so close together. For clergy, like you, this may be an especially stressful season. I’ve heard more than a few stories of churches that have downsized or even let go of their pastor in the midst of this pandemic even though most churches worked hard to get a federal loan to ease the hardship. Months later, attendance in online worship might not be as robust. People are tired. You are tired and we all want to know when this will be over. The Faith Lake Institute illustrates this tension well. This is not an easy reality to inject an enthusiasm for giving especially when unemployment across the country continues to climb and our government continues to debate how much insurance these workers deserve.

I want to offer a few resources that might help get you thinking about how to encourage generous giving in yourself and your congregation, including some of my favorite prayers and books. We might first need to start with what makes this time so different. Maybe. Here is one Zoom call from the good people in the Episcopal Church you can speed through to the important parts that speak to you.

Pandemic Campaign Materials

Most denominations provide some materials to gather the beloved community in considering how and why to give. More often than not, it links to denomination-specific ministries and includes stories from real-life members of that denomination, but as the institutional church struggles to change with this moment, those resources might not speak exactly to our pandemic reality. Here are a few that might. 

Together in Joy

Together in Joy Stewardship Campaign Suite by the SALT Project pulls together today’s best stewardship campaign practices, a compelling theological theme and a clean, beautiful design aesthetic in a plug-and-play style. It offers a customizable kit of resources including letters, pledge cards and worship materials all by digital download.

The campaign is built around Psalm 98: “Sing to God a new song, for God has done marvelous things. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy.”  As we’ve all learned over these difficult months of physical distancing, staying connected – being “together for joy” – has only become more important.  And though the financial challenges are real, so are the opportunities to sing to God a new song, for God has done – and will do – marvelous things. The link is for congregations of 100 to 500 members for $45.00. There are two other sizes available.

Our Money Story

Our Money Story from Sanctified Art provides resources to invite us to discover and tell our money stories in light of God’s money story of liberation and love. This series encourages us to transform our stewardship practices into more full expressions of who we are and what we believe including a sermon series planner, journals for home use, visual art and poetry for worship and even children’s stories. For the same congregation size 101-300 members, it is $150.00 for the bundle. There are also a la carte options. If you’re uncertain, you can download the free infographic here and learn more about the scriptures informing this campaign.

Devoted to Generosity

In this new reality, you might be thinking about changing your congregational approach to stewardship from a short giving campaign to a year-round event. It sounds exhausting but it’s not meant to be especially with a resource like Devoted to Generosity for just $59.99. Though it was created before online worship became the norm, it offers 12 full worship experience with music that I bet is covered by your CCLI license. (Or it better be if we are good stewards.) There are 12 youth studies, 12 adult studies and 12 children studies around the particular scripture passages that carry through the year. It has the usual pledge cards, bulletin covers and logos that will all come to you by digital download and also something that touts “detailed guidelines for 5 different stewardship emphases.” I confess I haven’t seen this material myself but trust the organizations that recommend it. If you order this, I want to know what this is. Please share.

Faithful, Loving, Hoping

Another option for year-round stewardship is Faithful, Loving, Hoping also from the Ecumenical Stewardship Center for $59.99. It sounds very similar to Devoted to Generosity except that it has an update for this pandemic reality in something they call the Faithful, Loving, Hoping Essentials. This updated resource provides editable, reproducible materials applicable for print and digital communications for emphasis preparation, invitation, and follow-up, including devotionals, ways to give, commitment forms, thank you letters, and more.

Books and More Webinars

I know you are tired of webinars but it looks like there are some good ones coming up.

Ask, Thank, Tell

The Southern New England Conference of the UCC is leading a book discussion of Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation by Charles R. Lane. The title might not fascinate but it seems that this particular book is centered on shifting away from the idea that stewardship pays the bills. Even if you don’t attend the four session conversation, it might be worth checking out this recommended resource.

Creating Congregations of Generous People

This book by Michael Durall published by the Alban Institute way back in 1999 is still my favorite for all things stewardship. If you are interested in moving toward a year-round stewardship model, this is a great place to start. You can find it from the publisher here.

Prayers and Blessings

I have been writing prayers weekly and sharing Ingredients for Worship but these are pulled from my files to help you plan your worship for this unique season. Of course, if you do order one of the campaign bundles above or use any of your denomination’s blessings, there will be prayers offered there too.

Stewardship Blessing

I love this one from Mary Luti. Her prayers are always gorgeous.

For the grace upon grace which is this community of faith – sanctuary and sermon, music and mission, practices of hospitality, of education, of discernment.

We give you thanks.

For grace we each bring to add to others’ graces – our personal hopes and skills, the time we can share, the experiences from which we offer tenderness, our willingness to take responsibility or expose vulnerability. 

We give you thanks.

For unexpected grace in trouble’s face that sustains us in hard times – diagnosis, discouragement, downturn or despair – and the way community granites that grace so that it is strong enough for any situation. 

We give you thanks.

For grace in the spaces – all those possibilities of next year – the new people who will sit in these pews, the new programs though which we will reach out, the transitions completed and the transitions begun. 

We give you thanks.

For the grace of prayer, the grace of scripture, the grace of forgiveness, the grace of the resurrection promise, the grace of a single cup of cold water for a child, a stranger or a friend.

We give you thanks. 

All these we have and do and will receive through Jesus Christ who opens our hearts and hands so that grace may flow through us to all the world.

For so many blessings we give you thanks and praise. Amen.

Responsive Stewardship Prayer

I have noted in my files that this litany reflects the wording of Ozzie Smith Jr. but nothing further to indicate where I first got this. I’ve used it repeatedly and probably have failed to credit well.

It’s God, not the economy, who reminds us of our abundance.

We have received grace, and grace we give.

It’s the Bible, not the budget, that calls our church to faithfulness.

We have received grace, and grace we give.

God, who created the bull and the bear,

teaches us stewardship beyond boasting or fearfulness.

We have received grace, and grace we give.

God who is the source of all resource, inspires creative uses

of finances, time, energy and enthusiasm.

We have received grace, and grace we give.

God is not broke – never has been, never will be.

God is not broke — God is blessed.

We have received grace, and grace we give.

Other Ideas

I firmly believe that stewardship should be fun and that there are creative ideas to ask for money and pledge our hope to the future good we will do in our communities. A UU congregation in Minneapolis hosts a Pledge Day with a catered dinner, games and a bouncy house. These are not good ideas right now but there might be ways to host a socially distanced parade to celebrate your congregation’s ministry. Could that parade go from house to house delivering pledge cards or even journals from Sanctified Art?

For congregations questioning the capitalist driving forces spurring so much of our country’s tensions right now, this old video that I used to use in youth ministry – when it was new – might be worth sharing in some format.

There are probably tons more things that could be offered but I’ll stop here because my toddler really wants me to play legos. What are you planning for your congregation’s stewardship hopes?

I continue to pray for you and look forward to your thoughts and ideas in the comments. You can also message me if you would prefer.

The Stewardship of Eating

I have met people – ok, just one person comes to mind – who don’t like to eat. I am not one of those people. Food is to be savor end and enjoyed. It inspires conversation and gives space at the table for connection. I don’t understand what is not to be enjoyed any better than I can understand it as a simple biological function. No, to me, eating is as close as I can get to God.

With that holy awareness comes lots of responsibility. The church that I’m serving as interim pastor just spent the last several weeks rolling and dipping peanut butter and coconut filled chocolate eggs. Today was pick up day. It was the day that all of the orders were filled and the hard work of selling these eggs to friends and family begins. For, you see, it’s also their biggest fundraiser of the year. I watched in coffee hour as orders were piled. I noted some overwhelming preference for the peanut butter filled and then I went into the kitchen to try to get a few for myself. I had somehow failed to place an order and I was feeling guilty. Guilt, as you know, is an awesome motivator for holy observance. So I was ready to spend my money on the ministry of this church except that I didn’t actually want the eggs.

Two weeks ago, I happily wolfed down two boxes of Girl Scout cookies. (I had help.) But, as the wedding gets closer and closer, I’m making better decisions about what I eat. I don’t like that my upcoming wedding has made me into the most vain person alive but resistance seems futile. So, I stopped myself from buying the eggs. There are other ways that I can contribute to the ministry of this church. I can practice stewardship in so many other ways.

Stewardship is really all about making choices to savor and uphold what matters most. It is a practice that starts at the table. This week, the weather is going to be off-the-charts beautiful. It’s going to be in the 70s and the sun is going to be shining and I want more than anything for one of our local farmers markets to open. But, I have to wait another six weeks and it is agony! It is not only because I miss the produce but that I don’t know how to practice my faith at the table when I can’t get local produce. I do not believe the signs at the supermarket. I want to support my farmers directly. I want to be connected to their work and their love. It is part of what makes eating so holy for me. It’s a practice I began around the same time that Barbara Kingsolver wrote Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in which her husband Steven Hopp expresses the stewardship in my heart:

“If you’re picturing Farmer Juan and his family gratefully wiping sweat from their brows when you buy that Ecuadorian banana, picture this instead: the CEO of Dole Inc. in his air-conditioned office in Westlake Village, California. He’s worth $1.4 billion; Juan gets about $6 a day. Much money is made in the global reshuffling of food, but the main beneficiaries are processors, brokers, shippers, supermakets, and oil companies.”

I want my money and my life to support Farmer Juan, not the corporations. I want to build up God’s people with love. But, in this place, there are no alternatives to the summer farmers markets. It baffles and frustrates me but I try to keep the faith and hold onto my holy practice as best I can.

So, I’m furiously googling to see if there might be some slim chance that there is a farm on the way to my meetings this week. No such luck yet so I’m off to the grocery store today. Last week, I brought this delicious salad to share with an old friend who just had a baby. It was so good. I want to eat it all of the time. Because the weather is suppose to be nice, I am hoping my beloved might be willing to grill. I pulled our Bon Appetit Grilling Guide from last summer off the shelf and found this recipe in its pages. My beloved has been hankering for some Korean BBQ so this should be perfect. We will enjoy this on the side. The weather also makes me want to eat a ton of salads so we’ll be enjoy this one and this one this week. I also have a hankering for hummus so I’ll be making this delicious hummus that is all the rage. We’ll enjoy it with this.

I don’t feel like I’m at my best in practicing stewardship but I’m trying. I still eat bananas but I’m trying. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to the practice to which I aspire, but I’m trying. That has to be enough for today. How do you practice a stewardship of eating?