Illuminating the Way to Hope in Another Pandemic Lent

Years ago, and I mean years ago, I wrote this liturgy for the six Sundays in Lent. It was an extended Tenebrae or a reversal of the Advent wreath. I wish I had explained it better in the original post.

I had completely forgotten about it until some kind soul mysteriously found it in my archives. I remembered that the dare came from Ashley Goff when we were sharing in a virtual liturgy lab with Janet Walton. I remembered how much fun it was to share in those calls with our worship professor from seminary but I didn’t really remember the moment in worship. There are some liturgical moments that stick with you. They etch into your being and reframe your hope. This wasn’t one of those but I liked it when I reread it enough to play with it again.

In the original post, I comment about how lovely it was to hear these words spoken by one of our youth. In these days of online worship, I’m not entirely sure that’s possible. I think it might be possible to record the audio and play it over the central set of candles that guide this weekly practice but that also sounds annoying. I wanted something simpler and something a little less somber. That doesn’t feel like the right tone for this Lent. We have had enough quiet introspection about our humanity and plenty of questions have arisen about our mortality so that it doesn’t seem like that should be the focus of this season.

This will not be super traditional and that’s OK. It’s OK to break the rules. It’s ok to play with tradition and sometimes that means that you turn tradition on its head as you try to find hope and make it real. So instead of a central set of candles that is the focus, this imaginative play invites each household to make their own worship centerpiece.

My inspiration comes from this gorgeous Advent wreath created be a member of my sweet Texas church pictured here.

This was an unprompted creation of Kimberlee Flores, but of course our focus is Lent so it’ll look a little bit different.

You might choose to send home these elements in bag of goodies your church offers for each season or you might include a simple supply list (perhaps even using the one below) and see what creativity comes with this invitation.

I’m suggesting some familiar symbols from the season including rocks and water. Rocks recall the temptation Jesus experiences in the wilderness. Sand is maybe a smaller version of that and something that can be dug out of the children’s sandbox easily. Water reminds us of the water that washes the feet of the disciples and the living water that the woman finds beside the well. Bulbs remind us of resurrection and the promise of new life. I really like the greenery in Advent and I am really uninterested in seeing anything barren on my table so bulbs feel right to me. I might just order some paper whites for myself. I received some as a gift years ago and they are a wonder to watch. They fit perfectly in a pie plate if you are not interested in ordering a kit.

If you do blessing bags as my sweet Texas church calls them, you might want to order paper white bulbs to send home to each household. Your local nursery should be able to provide them.

They require no soil to grow and they will bloom by Easter without the gross overwhelming smells of lilies.

They would be a lovely addition to a centerpiece and if you share in this little ritual below, you can compare blossoms over Zoom.

I like hearing diverse voices in worship and I know you, dear pastor, are tired of hearing the sound of your own voice so my hope is that it is easy enough to ask six different households to share in this simple ritual in the beginning of worship. It would be my choice to send this simple liturgy and collect videos from those households. Or if Zoom worship is your thing, I’d unmute that household for this moment but you know what’s right for you and your church, dear pastor.

It could take the place of the Call to Worship or could follow an invitation to contemplate God’s wonder and hope. (Yes, you will see such prayers here soon.) I would repeat these words each week. The things that surround it can change as hope is continually made new.

Invitation to Hope 
Inspired by Psalm 25:1-10

It is in this holy season that we are led into hope.
We have been waiting for hope to come for so long. 

We have put our trust in scientists and experts
and more often than not, 
we have not put our trust in God. 

We have felt unsteady as the sands 
have shifted again and again underfoot. 
We have been waiting for the waters 
to part so that we can find our way
into the hope we know will come.

We need to remember 
that hope is promised. 

Lighting the Way to Hope 
We light one candle today
to remember that hope is promised in 
rainbows and stone tablets. 
Hope is promised in the light 
that shines in you and me.

[Candle is lit.]

I would conclude this moment of worship with song. Maybe the song changes every week or maybe it’s the same refrain about hope that carries us into the promise of Easter. I’m undecided on what that song should be though I am strongly thinking about this hymn. Or really, let’s be honest, I can’t resist singing this song to myself in these strange pandemic days.

This is not covered by CCLI license. You knew that already but it’s a really great version.

That’s all I’ve got so far for Lent, dear pastors, but I’ve got more cooking up on the back burner. Until then, I’m praying for you.

Pandemic Longest Night and Christmas Eve Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Ingredients for Worship in Holy Week

Though I’ve continued to write liturgy throughout the season of Lent for my lovely church here in Texas, I have completely failed to pepper my blog with any of those prayers. I managed to share semi-regular posts during Epiphany but it seems that my writing project which has long since surpassed 70,000 words has taken up all of my head space. Or perhaps I’ve been cooking up other things. I’m honestly not sure.

Nonetheless, Holy Week is here. On Sunday, we’ll wave palms and find ourselves in the midst of a confusing celebration before we find ourselves washing feet and weeping at the foot of the cross later in the week. Pastors and musicians are busy creating meaningful worship moments for this holy season of transformation and change.

These particular prayers pick up on theme of stones and hard places as you may have found in the liturgy I wrote for Ash Wednesday. On Palm Sunday, we pay particular attention to the stones shouting out and focus our devotion on Easter on the stone being rolled away.

Poetry plays heavily into the style of worship at my lovely church and so I’ve included a selection of poems we shall be hearing in these holy days, plus a few that I found just yesterday from the beautiful offerings of my sisters in the RevGals community.

Poetry for Holy Week

States of Being by Luci Shaw

Sweet Darkness by David Whyte

Who Baked the Bread by Katherine Dale Makus

Like The Water by Wendell Berry 

Roll Away the Stone by Janet Morley 

It’s All About Her by Liz Crumlish

If These Were Silent by Rosalind C. Hughes

Ingredients for Palm Sunday

Call to Worship

One: We begin here, together,
waiting and wondering
what could happen.
Many: What will happen when
Jesus enters through those gates.
We wonder what will change
and how it might change us.

One: Hosanna! We chant with the whole crowd
for we need saving. We need for things to change.
Many: Blessed is the one who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!

One: We begin this holy week
pushing through the crowd
kicking at the stones
and hoping that this year will be different.
Many: We begin waving our palms
and hoping that God’s steadfast love
really does endure forever.

Benediction

One: Go into this holy week
raising your voice:
shouting for justice,
speaking your questions,
naming even your doubts aloud.
Many: We will ask for God’s salvation.
One: Dare to hope and dream
that change can come. Change will come.
Love will endure again.
Many: May love find us when we are silent.

Ingredients for Maundy Thursday

Call to Confession

On this holy night, when we remember
friends gathered in an upper room,
we step into the sweet darkness ourselves.
We wonder if this new commandment includes us,
and we lament all of the ways we already fall short.

Prayer of Confession (unison)

Holy One, our worlds have been small.
We have settled. We have made exceptions. We haven’t felt like we could
ever be enough. We have felt way beyond love, even your love.
So we have wondered where we fit, believing that someone else could
bake the bread. Someone else could make the wine. Someone else could clean up
the fragments left behind. Someone else could mop up the spilled water
on the floor. We are thirsty for your love. Forgive us
for all the ways that we have allowed ourselves to believe
that we are beyond your love.
A time of silent meditation and personal prayer follows.

Assurance of Grace

One: Lift up your heads, dear ones, to hear the good news:
It is a new commandment, that you love one another.
Just as Christ has loved you, and will love you to the end,
we are to love each other but do not miss out on the fact
that God in Christ has loved you from the very beginning
and will love you to the end of the age.
Many: Thanks be to God!

Ingredients for Resurrection Sunday

Call to Worship

One: No more shall there be in it an infant
that lives but a few days, or an old person
who does not live out a lifetime.
Many: No more shall the sound of weeping be heard
or even a cry of distress.

One: They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.
Roll away the stone from your hearts.
Remove the rocks from your eyes
and dare to see the new heavens and new earth
that God has created.
Many: Create joy in us, O God.
Fill our hardened hearts
with your delight.

Benediction

One: Roll away the stone.
Dare to be perplexed, even amazed.
Many: We will look for new life.
We’ll try not to expect death.

One: Roll it away! Let the former things
not even come to mind,
but go into this world be glad.
Go and rejoice in what God is still creating.
Many: God is doing a new thing. Alleluia!

If you use these prayers as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear about any adaptations you make for your context and hear how it goes.

A Service to Break Down Walls on Ash Wednesday

Sometimes cooking begins just by opening the pantry and realizing that that something delicious with peanut butter (because you mysteriously have a surplus of peanut butter) sounds really good. That’s kinda how this service came together.

It all started with an email from the Salt Project which brought me to their blog to read this familiar poem. Or at least, it should be familiar. It should be one that I know well but I realized as I read these words that I don’t think I’ve ever read the whole poem. And then, there’s the fact that there is a larger news story that activates this poem. It gives it new energy when the United States has gone through a shut down, a national emergency, charges of sexual abuse of young children and ongoing separation of families all because of an imagined wall along the Southern border of our nation.

Lent begins with a similar tension. There is awareness that something is amiss. The world is not as it should be but no one quite seems to know how to fix all that is wrong. It is a season in the Christian calendar when we recommit ourselves to seeking God’s help. We confess that we’ve made other gods. We’ve separated ourselves in countless ways and we need help. We want to break down those walls that we’ve built with our very own hands.

To imagine such a thing, I’ve called upon poets. There are three poems in this service. I’ve linked to the poems in other places. You’ll hear lines of those poems repeated in the liturgy as we move through the ritual actions of this day.

It is a service that invites dramatic play with the news headlines in that the congregation is invited to literally break down a wall that has been set up on the communion table. Each brave soul gets to carry one of those rocks home with them, holding onto it through the 40 days of the season. I didn’t dare interpret what it might mean to carry that rock but trusted that God will lead in making it known what it means to carry that weight.

I’m really looking forward to being in the pews and experiencing this myself.

A Service for Breaking Down Walls 

Gathering Music

– WE GATHER IN FAITH

Welcome

Opening Words of Meditation

Mending Wall by Robert Frost

These words of poetry are to be read without introduction by a liturgist or pastor. 

Song of Invocation

Beginning the Journey

One: We begin this journey together
on the other side of the wall,
feeling separate, distant and alone.
All: We have built this wall.
We have placed each stone
for our own protection,
to feel safe and secure.
One: We begin here, again,
wondering what we have walled out.
All: Each boulder was set in place
to guard our hearts and souls.
One: We meant well but this construction has blockaded us
from so much more than we ever intended.
All: Holy One, help us to move these stones.
In the forty days ahead, help us to break down
the barriers we have erected from your love.
Blast through our arrogance
and push us toward your grace.
One: We know now that we’ve separated ourselves from
neighbors, friends, strangers, and our truest selves,
but Holy One, we’ve distanced ourselves the most from you.
All: Holy One, give us strength for the journey.

WE LISTEN FOR GOD’S WORD

Song of Illumination

Seeking the Word in Scripture

Psalm 51:1-17 

These words of scripture are to be read with an introduction that fits the norm of that congregation by a liturgist or pastor. 

Song of Illumination

The people are invited to sing the song once more.

Meditation on Scripture

Lent 1991 by Maren Tirabassi

These words of poetry are to be read without introduction by a liturgist or pastor. 

Anthem

–– WE CONFESS OUR BROKENNESS ––

Call to Repentance                               

One: We begin this sacred journey by remembering together, the very things
that challenge us from experiencing and knowing God’s love. These are the very things that have caused us to build walls.
All: We are called in this holy season of Lent to struggle against
anything that leads us away from the love of God and neighbor. We
recognize that so much is broken in this world and even in ourselves and together we commit to partner with you, Holy One, in mending what has been so very broken.
One: You are invited to come forward and find a rock along the constructed wall
along the communion table. Take that rock, the one that calls to you as a
reminder of all that has separated you, all that has distanced you from love, all that has caused you to seek protection instead of grace. Take that rock from the wall and place in your pocket to keep with you on the journey through these next forty days to remember that you are called to mend what has already been broken. You are called into love.

You may come forward, as you feel so moved, to remove a rock from the constructed “wall” on the communion table and place it in our pocket for the journey through the next 40 days. 

Kyrie

Affirmation of Faith           

One: Having stepped into the unknown together, daring to seek another way,
we are upheld by God’s grace as we remember:
All: All things, even our troubles, become dust. We give over to Holy Mystery that which we cannot solve or heal alone. We dare to trust the promise that the Spirit of Christ takes these first steps with us. We begin this journey courageously together into the unknown love that awaits us.

–– WE SHARE OUR GIFTS AND HOLY COMMUNION ––

An Invitation to Mend the Brokenness

One: Here, now, we enter into Lent.
We draw the holy comma
between what was and what could be.
We stumble over our humanity. We admit we’re stubborn
and confess that sometimes we think we know better even than God.
We begin here, at the table, where all are fed.
We begin here where grace abounds.
We begin here to mend what has been broken
in the ourselves and in the world
with the crazy contradiction that we don’t have the answers.
We don’t know what is best
but we dare to believe that resurrection matters.
Change can come and so we place ashes on our foreheads.
The dust of a thousand stones reminds us that we have
come from earth and one day will return to earth.
We remember here that life is fragile and delicate
but so deserving of blessing, as are we.
We come to remember that blessing
with bread and cup, oil and earth,
that will mend all that has been broken.
All: Holy One, give us strength for the journey.

Holy Communion and Stations of Devotion

All are welcome at Christ’s table – members, guests, first-timers, long-timers, baptized or not – all who desire to know and share the love of God are invited. When and if you are so moved, you may visit any or all of the following prayer stations during our time of communion: 

    • Imposition of Ashes: All are invited to come forward to receive ashes to remind us of the hard truth of limited lives. The sign of the cross in ashes will be given to all who desire saying, “Remember, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
    • Anointing: You may also receive this ancient blessing of the church to remind us of the never-failing power of God’s limitless love. Holy oil will be placed on the top of the head or hand saying, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
    • Holy Communion: By the side aisles, you may receive communion by intinction, coming forward to take a bit of bread and dipping it in the cup.
    • Offering: Finally you may place your tithes and offerings for the work of the Church in the plate.

Table Song

The Prayer of Our Savior

using these or whichever words are closest to your heart:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

–– WE GO FORTH TO SERVE ––

Closing Words of Meditation

In My Soul by Rabia

These words of poetry are to be read without introduction by a liturgist or pastor. 

We Are Sent Forth

One: We go forth, O Holy One, on a quest to find you.
All: We go forth with our senses heightened
to recognize the needs of the world around us.
One: We go refreshed with our hearts lifted up to you,
All: With our minds open to your leading,
One: With our gifts to share with others,
All: And always with your word of peace on our lips.

Sending Music

If you use these prayers as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear about any adaptations you make for your context and hear how it goes.

Prayers for Epiphany 5C and 6C

I am blessed and honored to continue to cook up liturgical elements for worship at the United Christian Church in Austin. Admittedly, it feels like I haven’t been in the kitchen in a very long time. I’m editing more. I’m pulling more books off the shelf.

I don’t have the familiar recipe of these liturgical words memorized anymore. It’s not a part of my breathing as it once was when I led worship every Sunday. I am shocked that Epiphany has been so short in years past and I don’t have anything in my folders from past worship services, but it’s forcing me to be creative.

Our church is in the midst of transition. The Senior Pastor left for another call just before Advent and so the first set of prayers reveals a bit of that angst and struggle. (Honestly, I don’t think that this church is struggling at all.) Having done work with churches in transition most recently, it felt right with the Gospel.

The second set of prayers for the Sixth Sunday of Epiphany pick up with the Beatitudes. As we are a congregation in transition, I pushed myself to write something that wasn’t a unison prayer following the Call to Worship. And so, the second ingredient for that Sunday is something to spice up our prayer time. This will be shared after the congregation shares their spoken prayers and just before the Prayer of our Savior.

Prayers for Epiphany 5C

Call to Worship

Adapted from a poem by the Persian poet Rumi

One: Come, come, whoever you are.
Many: Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving — it doesn’t matter,
One: Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Many: Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times,
One: Come, come again, come.

Prayer for the Weary in Transition (unison)

We come tired, weary and worn.
We have already done so much work, so much heavy lifting.
We long to hear assurances or maybe even “a job well done,”
but instead we are invited again to roll up our sleeves.
We must haul out the boats and put in another hour, maybe two.
There is more to be done. There is always more to be done.
We wade together into the deep water, dragging the boat out of the sand,
wondering what could change. What will one more hour do?
We let down our nets, just as we are told.
We wait for what will catch us. O Holy One, catch our tired bodies today.  

Prayers for Epiphany 6C

Call to Worship

One: We have come to this level place.
Many: We have come to look each other in the eye.
One: No one will stand above or below,
Many: but we will turn to each other
and call each other blessed.
One: We have sorrows and woes, God knows,
but we have come to rejoice.
Many: And so, we will leap into blessing.
Holy One, be with us in this praise.

Praying Our Blessing and Woes

One: There in that level place,
Christ looked upon his disciples and said,
Woe to you who are rich.
Many: Remove from us the lust for power.
Let greed not enter our hearts, O Christ.
One: Woe to you who are full now.
Many: Remind us that our full pantries offer no guarantees.
Make us aware of how very vulnerable we are, O Christ.
One: Woe to you who are laughing now.
Many: Forgive us for every sarcastic comment.
Empty us of snark, O Christ.
One: Woe to you all speak well of you,
Many: O Christ, heal us of our arrogance.
Call to us with your words of blessing.  
One: Here in this level place, Christ heals us, saying,
Blessed are you who are hungry now.
Many: Blessed are we who believe justice has not yet come,
for we will be filled.
One: Blessed are you who weep now,
Many: Blessed are we when life just feels much too hard, for we will laugh.
One: Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you,
revile you, and defame you.
Many: Blessed are we who feel we haven’t done enough and know we
could do more. Blessed are we no matter what other names we’ve
been called, for in this level place there is healing.
One: There is reason to leap for joy. We’ve been cured of our evil spirits. We’ve been touched with grace and love. We are children raised in blessing, who dare to pray:

The Prayer of Our Savior

If you use these prayers as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear about any adaptations you make for your context and hear how it goes.

Prayers for Baptism of Christ Sunday and Epiphany 2C

I attend a church with a super talented and dynamic staff, but as it happens when a lead pastor leaves for a new call, they’re carrying more than they usually do. There’s more work for each and every one of them. I could see it on their faces. It wasn’t obvious but I knew that look in my own eyes when it was me that was feeling overwhelmed in parish ministry. So I asked if I could help and somehow I ended up writing liturgy.

I wrote liturgy for all of Advent and then asked if it would help if I could create bulletins while they search for a new administrator. My heart breaks for them. No administrator? Now? Good grief. So, I kept writing prayers and now I’m formatting bulletins and having a ton of fun doing it.

The following are the prayers I cooked up for the next two Sundays. The first prayer will be Call to Worship and the congregation will be invited to come forward and touch the water. I suggested even having small cups so that people could take a drink, but I don’t know if that will actually happen. There is a sung response between it and the Prayer for the Many Waters.

Prayers for Baptism of Christ Sunday

Gathering Around the Baptismal Font

Adapted from the Call to Celebration for a Baptistry Dedication at Grand Avenue Christian Church (Disciples Of Christ).

One: We are a people of the water!
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like a rain shower, awakens the sleeping seed
within the soul and lures it to blossom.
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like a wading pool, inspires the delight of children, jumping,
splashing, spraying each other, shivering with wet joy.
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like a hot shower after a long day’s work,
cleanses us, reawakens us.
Many: We worship a God whose love flows through water.
One: Love, like little drops, drips from fingertips to forehead;
like a great depth, in which to sink in and immerse our entire body.
Many: Through the waters of baptism, the family of faith always,
lovingly, makes room for one more.
One: And so, God makes room for us by inviting us again and again to remember the gift of water. Come and touch the water to remember God’s love for you.

Prayer for the Many Waters

Awesome God, we thank you for the water in our bath tubs and sinks.
We thank you for the water that rains from the sky and the water inside our bodies. We thank you for rivers and lakes and Barton Springs.
We thank you for oceans and ponds full of fish, turtles and frogs.
We give thanks for the gift of water. May water always remind us
of your love. Amen.

Prayers for Epiphany 2C

Call to Worship

One: Your steadfast love, O God, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds that rain
down the blessing of water upon our heads.
Many: How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
One: There is wonder and mystery for all the people
that you invite to drink from the river of your delights.
Many: You are the fountain of our lives.
One: You pour out your blessings.You bring us to overflowing.
Many: We worship you in wonder and love.

Prayer to Open Our Hearts

Today, O Holy One, we might not feel like there are miracles all around.
We might not feel like there are things to celebrate or wonders to behold.
We might feel like there is nothing we can do with our gifts, our services or even
our activities for the common good. Still, Holy One, gather all our doubts and wonders into this hour and fill us like jars of water. May we be changed
in our wondering about you and your love, we pray. Amen.

If you use these prayers as one of your Ingredients for Worship, please give credit to Elsa Anders Cook. I would love to hear about any adaptations you make for your context and hear how it goes.

To Be Regular in Worship (Or Not)

In the middle of Advent, I joined a church.

It was important to me. I wanted to do it. I’m already a member of another church where I never get to attend worship, but I read their newsletter and pray for their ministry. We’ve moved too faraway for regular worship to be possible and I’ve wanted to find someplace to be known. I’ve wanted some place close by to belong. And so, I met with the pastor of my local United Church of Christ and expressed my desire to join this small tribe and waited until this day when it could finally happen. Even so, it felt strange.

It felt odd to stand in front of this lovely group of people and makes these promises I’ve so often asked others to make. Repeating baptismal vows should be so shaky. Not just for those who stand before the congregation to say they will, but for those seated and listening, it’s another chance as the church calendar changes and the birth of Christ comes to wonder if we’ve really done these things or if we need to promise to start anew.

To say again that I’m ready “to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as best I am able.” It comes as a question. Or a series of questions to which I can’t help but stand a little taller each time I say “I will, with the help of God.”

Yes, I want to grow in this faith. Please help me grow. It’s why I’m doing this thing. It’s why I’m joining another church because I want to grow. Ore than that, I want my little girl to grow into this faith. It’s why I’m repeating these words. I want to be changed by this group of people in this place where we try together to celebrate Christ’s presence.

I want this. I’m ready for this. It’s why I pushed the pastor for a day to join but it feels a bit different the moment I stand there before all those people with my baby strapped to my stomach snoring soundly. It’s different and I’m not sure why.

I still get excited. I feel my chest soar and my back arch as I repeat these questions I’ve asked so many times of others. I remember all of them in that moment — every fourteen year old kid who sat in my office weeks before their Confirmation while we tried to figure out what these questions meant not just in the liturgy but for them at this moment, every one of the kids that couldn’t get onboard with these questions and refused to be confirmed much to dismay of their parents, every soul that came looking to serve and every broken heart that needed community. I knew every one of their stories when they answered those questions. I knew what had brought them to make these promises and why it was a big deal.

I also knew what scared them. I knew how many of them hadn’t been around church for awhile. They’d been hurt by the church somehow and they wanted to be sure that this congregation wasn’t going to repeat those wrongs. Maybe it was that that felt odd for me. Maybe I felt in that moment the weight of all of those worries add concerns. Maybe. But it seems it hit me most when that last question was posed. The one that asks if we will be regular in worship which I cannot quote correctly because I can’t even find my Book of Worship anywhere, yet I heard this question and I gulped. I wondered if I could answer it or if I should just sit back down in the back row.

It’s this question that has tripped up nearly everyone of whom I’ve helped to make these promises. It’s this question that I’ve interpreted again and again in each and every new member class. To every group of people at every church I’ve been careful with these words because I know that attendance in worship is changing. Though I would be there every Sunday as their pastor, I might only see these faithful people once or twice a week and that would still be considered regular. I never bemoaned them this, it’s just that I never imagined that I’d become one of them.

It hit me then. It has been more than a year since I’ve been anyone’s pastor. I’ve missed Sundays. I’ve slept in. I went to brunch before I’d had this baby in my arms. Now it was the question of whether or not I’d slept that night that decided my Sunday plans if I could even remember what day of the week it was. I wasn’t going to be a weekly worshipper. I was going to choose family time over church sometimes. Or I might simply choose not to drive the 40 minutes and go someplace closer. All of that interpreting I’d done for others on recognizing their own rhythms and staying attune to what their family needed to know the love of God was about me and my family.

It felt strange. Maybe it should always feel a little odd to make these promises, but it’d never felt this strange. All of the many times I’ve answered these questions before it felt radical. It felt like something was changing. Something g was shifting and that somehow, together, we were going to change things and it would be good. I’ve felt that each time I’ve stood beside others as they’ve made these promises with the waters of baptism glistening on their foreheads.

I’ve even felt it as I’ve flung water from evergreen sprigs into the pews full of bewildered people. The questions always seemed important. It felt like it was important to weigh each word and understand each enormous promise we were making. But, on that Sunday In Advent with my baby cuddled close to my heart, it didn’t feel like the questions mattered as much as my answers. All I know now is that it will be different. It will be different than it ever was before.

Prayers for Abundant Life

Though it has been a month since I’ve been in the pulpit, and I’ve even said no to a possibility for ministry, I will be preaching again this Sunday at Gower Christian Church. It is their church that is the image above this post.

I had the opportunity to serve a Disciples of Christ congregation while I was in seminary but it’s been ten years and I’m not really sure that I remember it all that well. There is some holy trepidation in my worship planning this week as these are people of the table. These are people that gather every week at the table to share in gifts of God for the people of God. And well, I’m just not in that habit. I’m a bit more informal when I lead worship alone and I’m not used to sharing in this holy work with elders (though I’ve done it before).

Below are some prayers that will lead these good people and I through worship on Sunday inspired by the readings from the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost in the Revised Common Lectionary. They are prayers I’ve written. Some of which I’ll even offer with my own voice. Others will be voiced by others. I am not yet sure where my sermon will go and if it will even hint toward All Saints Day or if I’ll focus on the stressors we are all feeling leading up to election day. But, that last line in the Gospel sent me back to the words in Joel 2 so you’ll surely hear those words in the prayers I’ve written for this day.

Call to Worship (Responsive)

Inspired by Job 19:23-27a and Luke 20:27-38

One: O that we might live, and live abundantly!
That life everlasting might be more than words
but the eternal hope we keep together.
All: O that we might live in hope!
One: O that we might live, and live abundantly!
That our worship and praise might inspire our sons and our daughters to prophesy, for our elders to dream dreams, and our young to see new visions.
All: May that hope be resurrected in us again this day.

Prayer of Invocation

Come Holy Spirit, come into this place.
Come into every heart and every open hand
for in this place we know that our Redeemer lives.
We know it and we believe it but our words do not always show it.
We open our mouths only to reveal more of our doubts than our hopes.
So, come, Holy Spirit, come.
Come and mediate between the words that we say.
Move through every pause and whisper through every silence
so that our eyes can behold your hope, rather than our own.
So that we can see your grace and hope
standing so close beside us that it becomes our own.
Come, Holy Spirit. Come.
Come into this place today, we pray.

Invitation to the Table (Responsive)

One: You have heard it said how some Sadduccees came to him saying that there was no resurrection. They had questions but no answers. You may too have heard it said that those with faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains, but you had more questions than faith.
All:  Christ invites to come to this table whether we doubt or believe. Christ invites us again, as he has so many times before, to partake of the questions that we have not yet answered.
One: Christ invites us to find life and find it abundantly in the ordinary gifts offered on this plate and in this cup. Might we find here, again or perhaps for the very first time, that our Redeemer lives. There is new life to be shared and hope to be restored.
All: O that we might live, and live abundantly!

I missed last week. Maybe you noticed. Oops! Still, check back for more Ingredients for Worship next Tuesday and don’t forget to share what you’ve cooked up in the comments below!