Pandemic Prayers for the Rest of September

I have recently joined the team at Woodlake Publishing to help edit and create the upcoming resources of Seasons of the Spirit’s FUSION curriculum. I get to work with amazing people and bounce ideas all over the place and contemplate what good news means right now. It’s super fun for a church nerd like me.

I’m currently working on the season of creation which I didn’t really know was a thing until I started working on it but if you are inclined toward an earth-focused theme to carry your good people through the Blessing of the Animals, then you might consider this. In 2022, the year in the Revised Common Lectionary I am writing for in FUSION, the season of creation follows the Books of Wisdom in Psalms, Proverbs and Job. The Lectionary this year skips Job but centers on the same tradition.

Right now, it feels like we need Wisdom. We need to hear from her and understand her truth when so little seems to make sense right now in the world. Maybe it’s what you need too, dear pastor. To find yourself in these strange illustrations and poems to remember what matters. Here are a few prayers and thoughts to add to your worship planning. There is at least one prayer for each week.

Call to Worship

Inspired by Proverbs 1:20-33

Wisdom cries out
in the streets
and we are listening.

Wisdom raises
her voice above 
the chatter
and we strain 
to hear her truth.

Wisdom stretches
out her hand 
and we try to 
hold on together.

Wisdom calls
out of the dread
of disaster. Wisdom
calls us to worship
and we are ready.

Though I know that there is a retelling of Proverbs 31 that will not make me cringe, I cannot find it. This poem by Semaj Brown has been an open tab on my browser for well over a month. I keep listening to it and cherishing it. It might work well in these weeks when we are listening so closely to Wisdom though it’s not public domain so copyright concerns should be on your mind. Still, it’s so good.

Prayer of Confession

Inspired by Psalm 1 and James 3:13-4:3

We are pushed and pulled 
by what we cannot control.

We feel every heartbreak,
every hospitalization, every death,
and every failed policy hang around
our necks. We are weighed down
by all that has gone wrong. 

We feel responsible. We could 
have done better. We could have
changed our ways. 

It didn't have to be this way.
The fires didn't have to burn.
The storm didn't have to rage.
The war didn't have to end like this.
No, it didn't have to be like this.

We try to remember what it is
that you teach us, O Wise One. We 
try to plant ourselves in your hope
but so much as washed away. 
Forgive us for what we
do not understand. We don't know 
what more to ask but this one thing.
We need you to be near.
Come O Wisdom,
draw near to us today. 

I would probably opt for the Esther text as the focus for Proper 21B but I would add to its weight with prayers from the other lections like this one inspired by the psalm. I initially tried to write something that would be fitting to more traditional elements of worship but this is instead what emerged. I hope it’s something that you can use in your worship planning.

Prayer for Choosing Sides

Inspired by Psalm 124

Be on the other side 
of our anger and in the middle 
of our doubt.

Be on the side
of questions and 
wondering, O God. 

Be on the side 
of the immigrant and
refugee, widow and orphan.

Be on the other side
of raging waters and floods
so that we can work 
with you to rebuild
and reimagine.

Be on the side
of lamentation and
grief, O God. 
It is just so much.
It's too much.

Do not choose
sides, O God.
We do enough of that. 
We exclude and belittle,
diminish and forget. 
Be our God on
the other side
of our imaginations.
Be on the side
of what only can 
be with your love and grace.
Be with us, and 
with all of creation,
O God. Amen.

That’s all I’ve got for the rest of this month. I’ll be back with some fresh ideas for World Communion Sunday but if you’re planning all the way into October then you might find these ideas from last year helpful. I also have never posted a Blessing of the Animals though I did such a service every year I was serving a local parish. Would you like a socially distanced service for this pandemic year? Are you looking to meet outside with wagging tails? Drop me a note and let me know.

For those of you preparing for gathering pledges and promises from your church in this year without any stimulus package on the horizon, you might find these ideas for stewardship in coronatide helpful. That makes me also wonder if a harvest celebration might be fun.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 18B

I confess to you that I can’t touch this Jesus who a woman has to remind of who he’s supposed to be. I appreciate what it says about the humanity of our Christ but that’s not who I need him to be right now. I need Christ to be the savior of the world when so much is going wrong.

To all of that is keeping you and me awake at night, I want to remind you that there are people of faith praying even when you cannot. There are people that continue to find words to what is beyond words. I offered two prayers from Maren Tirabassi last week but again this week she speaks to the horrors that climate change bring to the shores of the United States in this prayer as Hurricane Ida approaches landfall. And then, there is this lovely prayer from enfleshed for when there is only sadness. And then, there was this prayer by the Rev. Stephanie Crowder for back to school that arrived in my inbox and reminded me of what is possible.

Laura Stephens-Reed shared this prayer and it is what I needed to hear most. It could work well as a prayer in worship this coming Sunday as you lean together into trust. It’s that word that caught in my throat in praying through Psalm 25 and the center of the prayer I offer you this week.

A Prayer Seeking Trust

Inspired by Psalm 25

O God, we trust in your goodness.
We step into the unknown every 
day in the hope that that
goodness will carry us.

We want to trust
that it is there
and that it has always
been there but we have 
been moved. We have been
pushed to the edge and doubted
that goodness in the land of the living
but we are not as strong
as we thought. We are
not who we believed
we were. 

O God, we want to trust 
you with our whole hearts.
We want to believe that you
surround us with possibility.
We do. Is is in that faith
that we beg you to
be good. Be the goodness
that we cannot see in 
every headline. Be the goodness
that we cannot find in every
unmasked stranger and let
that goodness -- your goodness -- 
turn our crooked, jaded,
hurting hearts away from
every doubt and worry
so that there is only trust.
There is only your 
infinite grace.abiding 
within us. Let us 
find that goodness
again in you. O God,
we seek your goodness.
Amen.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 17B

They noticed that some of the disciples were eating with defiled hands.

Just reading that line sends a chill down my spine after these many months of worrying about how much I wash my hands. We have just returned from Paris with our two little children where we were did such things as ride the metro and wander around inside museums. All the while I was squirting huge blobs of hand sanitizer into my children’s defiled hands.

My two year old has just reached the moment where she loudly announces “I do it myself” when any task is to be accomplished. She is furious when I attempt to help. This is most frustrating to me when it comes to hand washing. Toddlers are terrible at washing their hands. They eat with those things. They run around the place and smear whatever was on their defiled hands onto everything else. It is disgusting.

That’s not what this text is about. And you know that, dear pastor. You’re thick into your text study and you know that there is more to this good news. And there is good news. There is hope even when this pandemic is crushing us again with fear and worry. It is easy to point to what defiles. It is harder to point to hope.

It’s why I offer this gathering prayer again with adaptations for this week because I think it matters that we choose to gather online and masked in-person in sanctuaries and outside spaces. We choose to find hope together. This is good news.

Call to Worship

Inspired by Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

We come together
especially when it is hard.

We come together
when nothing makes sense
and every thing pushes on
our last nerve.

We come, O God.

We come together 
because all we see is evil.

We have seen the worst
that humanity can be. 
Our lips have curled 
in disgust one too many times 
so that we need to be
reminded of your heart.

We come, O God.

We come together
because we are repulsed
and exhausted. We are 
not even really sure what
we believe anymore.

It is not what we
hope. It is not what 
we want. It is why
we come together.

We come, O God,
to find your spirit
and your heart
leading us to find new
wonders and rhythms.

O God, we come 
to worship.

There is plenty of fodder here for a good, long Prayer of Confession that focuses on all the people that bug you. But also from within you. Me, too. (I love this line from Matt Skinner’s commentary.) I thought about writing one but it feels that traditional words would work really well. Or maybe just some silence because it seems like most people are really angry. They are aware of their anger and rage but what might it mean to sit together with that feeling especially on Zoom where you are likely peeking at the gallery view of all of those lovely faces in your community. Does all defile? Really?

Maybe. Or maybe not.

Prayer for Anger

Inspired by James 1:17-27

We do not feel generous or giving. 
We don't feel kind or even loving
because our rage burns so bright.

We didn't have to be here.
It didn't have to be like this
and it is maddening. We are
angry at all that we cannot control
and all that we have thought
we could control. O God, we are 
so angry that we cannot listen. 
We do not hear. 

Still, we turn to you. We cannot
rid ourselves of all that defiles. 
We need your grace, O God.
We need your heart. O God,
give us your heart so full of love.
Let your love change us again.
Amen.

There are other things that cause our rage right now other than halting vaccination rates and refusal to wear masks in schools and anywhere else. There is more including the devastation in Haiti. Here is a lovely prayer for that heart. Anger might not feel like the right reaction but there is an element of the climate crisis that is within our control when so much feels out of control.

And, of course, there is watching the Afghan people flood the tarmac in Kabul trying to flee horrors yet unknown. Mine is a military family and though my husband never deployed to that region there is a lot of sadness about what we did in that place over the past twenty years. These are conflicted and complicated feelings and I don’t even think we should have ever been there in the first place. But we were and there is heartbreak and frustration in the military community right now. I hope you’ll offer a space for all of those complicated emotions. I know you will, dear pastor. I know you are doing so much to love your people and just want to help in my small way to provide words when yours fail. Here is a prayer for Afghanistan by the lovely Maren Tirabassi.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 15B and 16B

I feel like I should be living with abundance but then I read this.

Like every other parent, I am exhausted. I am tense with worry and trying like hell to make the best decisions fo my kids while still teaching them that there is wonder and glory in this world. It is, however, not something I feel in my own body. I feel like all I’ve got left is crumbs.

Mary Luti shared another beautiful original hymn composition pondering the gift of leftovers. I also really appreciate her critique of those little bread cubes that I know the deacons so carefully and lovingly prepared in the churches I’ve served but it is a ration of possibility rather than a hunk of hope. I need something to chew on.

I need real hope that I can grasp with both hands. I need grace to be so free that I can’t help but taste it in the air around me. I don’t even need to put my lip to the cup. The aroma of it is already in the air. I need that kind of abundance from God right now — especially when this most sacred act is something I’m doing all by myself in my living room. I don’t think I’m the only one but I haven’t a clue if you have it in you to offer that kind of wonder right now, dear pastor. I know you believe in it deep down. You know it is exists but I don’t know if you are able to claim it right now. I offer you two prayers for this week and next to add to your worship.

Prayer for Life Abundant

Inspired by John 6: 51-58

Give us life, O God. 
Because if we are honest
and we were really to
tell the truth:
we feel
as though
we have no 
life in us. 

We are so tired.
O God, we are so tired.
We are exhausted 
by worry and risk.
We have been here
before and we
are furious 
to find ourselves
here again. 

That is the truth.
We do not feel 
like we will live
forever. We wonder
if there is even 
enough life
left for tomorrow.

Give us life, O God.
Give us life for this world
so that our tired flesh can face 
another day. Fill us 
with the wonder
that you are here.
You are here, O God, 
in this world 
and in the very life
beating inside our hearts. 
Help us to find life -- 
your life -- in each
cell and every breath.
Give us life and 
may it be abundant.
Amen.

I found this on Mark Miller’s YouTube channel. It’s a song he wrote from a verse chiseled on the wall at a Nazi concentration camp sung by a church in New Jersey for Easter Sunday. Though I went looking for a song about bread or even communion, this might speak better to this moment. I did not research copyright issues this time around. I’m tired too.

Call to Worship

Inspired by John 6:56-69

We come together
especially when it is hard.

We come together
when nothing makes sense
and every thing pushes on
our last nerve.

We come, O God.

We come together 
because there are things
that we cannot accept.

There are things that
we know that you do 
not accept too and
we need to be reminded 
of those things. We need
to find you in our struggle.

We come, O God.

We come together
because we are offended
and exhausted. We are 
not even really sure what
we believe anymore.

It is not what we
hope. It is not what 
we want. It is why
we come together.

We come, O God,
to find your spirit
and your life
alive in this 
blessed communion.

O God, we come 
to worship.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 14B

My colleague and friend, Sarah Lund, shared on Facebook the simple joys of making banana bread. She called it Banana Bread Therapy. That sounds right to me.

I should add Sarah is also a talented and wise writer who offers her whole heart in writing about her own mental health and the struggles within her family in her two excellent books. She is committed to breaking the silence about mental illness and it is so inspiring.

Banana bread is a quick bread. It doesn’t need need any leavening and so it can simply bake after being folded together. It doesn’t need time to rise. There is no yeast to coax. It happens quickly and deliciously.

Banana bread is one of those wonderful comfort foods that so many of us share. It was the first recipe I really learned to make on my own with the guidance and encouragement of my stepmother. We both still use that recipe from my first cookbook geared for children. It was and is just that good.

I wonder what it would be like this week to invite people to share their favorite quick bread recipe. Perhaps zucchini bread is the best option for all that is bumping out of the garden or in other regions there might be a preference for cornbread. It may even include drying and grinding your own corn from the farmer’s harvest. How might we experience the Bread of Life come alive if we were to nurture our hearts and souls in something like Banana Bread Therapy?

Here is a prayer for such a possibility.

Prayer for Bread Making

Inspired by Sarah Griffith Lund 
and John 6: 35, 41-51

Stir us together, O God,
in the simple act of making bread.

Let our clothes and 
our counters be covered in flour. 
Let it clap from our hands 
so that it might feel like
a part of who we are. 

I am the bread of life
says our God. Let us 
meditate on this 
living surrounded 
by all of these ingredients
that we so carefully fold
into the batter with love
and hope. There is joy 
in this bowl too
as surely as there
is a hint of grief 
and loss. This recipe 
has been shared 
so often that 
it too has life. 

Bake with us, O God,
and make us ready
for another slice
of life together. Amen.

Here is one more prayer that might be a better fit within congregations that are struggling with the reversal of what was hoped for in the emergence of the delta variant. For the record, I have plenty of complaints of my own.

Prayer for Complaining Anyway

Inspired by John 6: 35, 41-51

Do not complain among yourselves.
Do not complain is the wisdom
that the Lord gives
when we have so many 
complaints to air.

It is a long list to worries
and concerns as the delta variant 
makes us pause again
to consider how 
best to care for ourselves,
for our children and our neighbors. 

We have complaints
and we know that God 
is listening. We are not being 
told to be silent but are invited 
to learn from God. As it is written 
in the prophets, we could choose 
to be taught be God and 
it is this understanding
we need now. O Lord, 
teach us now. Teach
us especially through
all our complaining.
May it be so.

Two week ago, when these bread words first appeared in the Revised Common Lectionary, I shared this Prayer of Illumination. It could be used with these prayers or in your personal devotion and study.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 13B

We have moved into our home and there is now work being done to install new heaters in our very old building. The wall of the garden behind our home was a fortification built to protect the city from Napoleon. People hid from US bombs in the cellar that is now our storage in the First World War.

I have so many questions about how the German people have made these realities part of their identity. I am not even sure how to start this conversation with strangers but it’s what I am thinking about every time I clean up the dust from these workers. And there is a lot of dust.

I have been making multiple trips to the markets to stock our pantry. I really want to get back to baking bread but we don’t yet have a working oven even if there was not such a mess. So for now, I’m just gathering the ingredients. It didn’t feel much like a spiritual practice — honestly my spirit is just tired — until I read this story in Capernaum on the other side of the sea. You might also hear a nod to Simone Biles and her strong no.

Prayer of Confession

Too often we have 
allowed ourselves
to work and work
and work until 
exhaustion and burnout.

You know, O God.
You know that your church
doesn't set out with a new mission 
until we are certain 
of our success.

You know that 
we want to win.

You know that we
haven't even rolled up
our sleeves to try 
to feed ourselves
with flour, yeast,
salt and water because
we already know
it will not be perfect.

Encourage us, O God,
to take the time to 
gather the ingredients
and ready our hearts
for what will endure.
For we have not 
yet had our fill
and we are waiting
for your assurance.

I am partial to sung assurances rather than spoken ones. This is one of those moments where I want there to be a melody that assures us. I want that tune to carry us in all of the doubt and frustration. This is the one that comes to mind but maybe you have another suggestion.

Last week, I shared this Prayer of Illumination that is written as a corporate prayer for worship but could certainly be used in personal devotion for the preacher preparing for study or the family sharing in meal time meditation. Maybe this is the week where you make stress balls in worship and knead them through the Gospel Lesson. Or maybe you save that for next week.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 12B

It happened again. I missed a week. I’m so sorry and I hope and pray that you found words to inspire and delight you in worship. There are so many good words out there right now and I’m honored to share in the creativity of this moment in even the tiniest way.

Barn Geese Worship offers a six-week Bread of Life Series. It includes prayers for worship, eating meditations for personal devotion, preacher notes and pastoral considerations. I personally think that it should be paired with the great work being done by Edible Theology especially when it comes to children programming. Who doesn’t want to bake with the Bible? Ok, maybe not if you can’t imagine turning on the oven right now to cook dinner but what a treasure of gifts these two ministries offer as we wander through these crusty Gospel Lessons in the Gospel of John.

We move into our new home this week. We picked up keys just yesterday and the movers arrive on Friday with all of our things. Our stuff has been in storage up where that terrible flooding has been happening and so many of you have wondered if we are OK. We are. We are not close to that destruction so that I can think about baking bread again. Last year was the year I had decided I was going to learn to bake bread. It was a choice that I made before we knew that there would be a scramble to get yeast or that a global pandemic would alter everything we known. It’s why you see that bread book tucked into my worship books on the top photo of my blog. It has become one of the primary ways that I connect with God especially when I yearn for the wonder of incarnational worship with the gathered body of Christ.

I won’t get to return to worship with a group of familiar faces and so my faith is cultivated in the kitchen that I can’t wait to unpack this weekend. I wonder if I am the only one with this longing especially after this story was shared with me by Mary Luti. She read it from one of the great works by the Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff and shares it in her own words:

“A woman approached [Leonardo Boff] after he finished saying Mass. It was many years ago, but he never forgot her. She told him that she had just received Communion unworthily, because she hadn’t been to confession first, and she was truly sorry. “But I haven’t eaten anything for days,” she explained, “and when I came in, you were handing out the wafers. So I ate one, because it’s bread.””

In the clergy group of United Church of Christ pastors in which this story was shared, she went on to point out the significance of hunger. It reminded me that sometimes we just need really delicious bread as sweet Melanie reminds us in this reflection and hymn that Mary offers on her blog. There is nothing that can separate us from this table, this mystery, this gift. It is an invitation to be nourished. To be fed in body and soul that so many of us need right now.

I offer but one prayer today to carry us through the weeks of bread. Each time we approach these holy words of leavened hope, we might pray these words to listen for the hunger within ourselves.

Prayer of Illumination

Rise with us, O God,
like yeast bubbling 
with expectation
for what could be. 

Make us ready
to to hear your 
teaching even
when it is difficult.

Fill our hunger
with holy words 
that will make 
us come more
and more alive. 

O God, knead
us with words
that will abide 
within us so dearly 
that we are forever 
changed. We are ready. 
We are waiting. 

It is written as a corporate prayer for worship but could certainly be used in personal devotion for the preacher preparing for study or the family sharing in meal time meditation. Either way, I wonder about adding a kneading gesture to the worship. It is not quite COVID-safe to gather around a shared table and knead play-doh as would have been my suggestion in the days before but it might be possible to invite worshippers to make their own stress-ball and knead it throughout the worship experience.

I wonder if you used linen that made it feel like a bread bag and maybe even added flour. I am not quite sure it would work but I wonder if that might add the senses of connecting to this hunger and longing.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Proper 10B

I loved the movie. I did. I still do but I always found this one repeated line creepy.

It’s the same line that I hear repeated in the Gospel Lesson forcing us to wonder how any one of us will answer that question, “What should I ask for?”

It is a woman that asks this question and we rarely hear women speak so boldly in Mark’s story or any other gospel account. I really wish that I had my copy of the Women’s Bible Commentary unpacked. (I also wish that I wasn’t still living in a hotel.) There is something both about the femaleness of this question and the overwhelming privilege that unsettles me. It’s this that I’m praying out in the following confession and assurance. I warn you: it’s dark but if you’re brave enough to choose this text as a preaching text then it may be what you need.

Invitation to Confession

We come today thinking that we know 
how the story goes. We know the plot
lines and the story arc but we come
together as people of prayer and hope
because we are disquieted with
the idea that some things have to 
be this way. We come to share 
in our human struggle 
by confessing our sins.

Prayer of Confession

Inspired by Psalm 48 and Mark 6:14-29

It doesn't feel like we danced.
It doesn't feel like we could have had
such rhythm getting to this point
but maybe we were more graceful 
than we imagined.

Maybe. Maybe that's how it went
or how we just managed to survive
to this moment in time. Maybe that's 
what it feels like now that vaccines are
widely available and the world shifts 
into a new normal that anything is possible.

Whatever you wish can happen 
now. That's the temptation. 
That's the tipping point
but it comes with caution
because our choices make 
a difference. Someone's head
could end up on a platter
and that was never our intent.

It was never our intent
but we always have the best
of intentions. We would never
mean to cause harm. It just happens
sometimes. That's what we tell ourselves. 
O God, we are so frail 
and so human.
Save us.

Words of Assurance

Inspired by Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed are you, dear child of God,
for being brave enough to name the discomfort.
You have set your hope on Christ
and you will live in praise of such glory.
You are part of the great story of redemption.
You are forgiven. You are loved. Amen. Amen.

It was two cycles ago when Amos’ plumbline came along in the Revised Common Lectionary that I was candidating for my last settled call. I preached on Amos that day but the liturgy I shared was rooted in the psalms. I’ve adapted the following prayer from that morning for the present day.

Prayer of Illumination

Inspired by Psalm 85

Show us, O Holy One,
as we come together as your people 
with our hearts open to your steadfast love
show us what you see. 

Because our eyes 
have grown tired.
Pass us that pair of bifocals.
Hand us that magnifying glass.
Uncloud our vision 
so that we can see what you see.
Show us, O Holy One.

Search with us
for that moment 
when love and faithfulness meet
because it has happened
and it will happen again
but we have forgotten to look.
We have forgotten so much
in our languishing and 
we need to open ourselves
to possibility again. 

Open us to the wonder
and delight in seeing 
righteousness and peace kiss
and feel faithfulness spring up 
like tiny bubbles of hope.
Come, O Holy One, 
into our worship and wonder
and lead us onto 
that path of possibility. 
Guide us there. 
Lead us with your love.
Come, O Holy One. 
Come.

That’s all I’ve got for this week though I know that you are busy with many things. As it helps you prepare for the ministry ahead, I want to share these prayers for Vacation Bible School from last year and encourage you to think about what options there might be for Labor Sunday this year. These suggestions from last year might not be the liturgical gifts you need for this year’s lections but I hope the prompts encourage you to think about another Sunday off from preaching. Some of you may already be planning for Backpack Blessings in Coronatide even if that title feels so last year.

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

Pandemic Prayers for Returning to In-Person Worship

I have hesitated to share any particular prayers for gathering together in-person again because it feels so unique to each circumstance. There is something particular about this experience.

It involves a particular group of people. It is the unique story of how the pandemic took hold in that exact location among those blessed souls and maybe there are universals. There are things we have all experienced in this pandemic but we are not all in the same place as this shift to in-person worship occurs.

I can’t think about this possibility — which for me is just a possibility as I continue to worship online with my sweet Texas church and have no options for in-person worship in our German city — still, I can’t think of this possibility without thinking about music. I remember vividly standing in my kitchen when The More We Get Together played for the third time that day on my kids’ Pandora station and I burst into tears. And then, there is this beloved hymn that closed every worship service in the early days when we thought this would only be a few weeks.

I will never hear this song again without remembering what it felt like to sing these words through broken sobs to my computer screen. At that point, I knew I was moving. I didn’t know that there would ever be a return to this group of people or this sanctuary. I had no idea we would move again within less than a year. And maybe especially because of my story, I am curious what it would be like to sing or hear this song again at the close of worship back in the sanctuary.

Music, as you know dear pastor, changes us. It gives us a melody to our struggle and a harmony to our hope. It pinpoints our memory to a particular time and place and congregations are full of these memories. So, what have been the songs that carried your people in this season? What would it look like to sing those songs again?

I might be extra tempted to shell out some extra dollars from the worship budget for some musicians to help us celebrate this reunion but I won’t assume that that is possible for every congregation. I know too that each church has chosen a different date for this reunion and that makes it really hard to choose focus texts but I’ll go with some old favorites including Psalm 133, Isaiah 65, and Ephesians 4:1-16 because it’s actually in the Revised Common Lectionary on the first of August if you happen to have chosen that day to gather. No matter what the chosen day might be, I pray these prayers might bless your regathering.

These prayers are still written for one voice as my other church in Pennsylvania — who I think you’ll be hearing about more and more — has wisely decided not to have responsive readings in their regathering. I want to honor that commitment but go ahead and adapt these prayers as they fit your worship experience.

Call to Worship

Inspired by Psalm 133 and Isaiah 65

How very good and pleasing it is
when people come together
through wireless routers
and cables buried in the earth
to pop up on each other’s screens
with a familiar smile that remind us
again that we your people, O God, 
are made for community.

We dwell together in harmony.
Or at least we tried
after servers crashed
and internet was lost
when we wanted most
to be together and praise 
your wonder and grace.
We tried so hard, O God.

And now, now
we are all together again
in the same place to 
worship and praise
so that it really does 
feel like expensive oil 
poured over our heads,
running down our collarbones
with blessing and joy.

There is such joy
today. There is delight
in this fellowship even 
when we know that all is 
not as it was. We are not 
the same people who last gathered
here in this blessed place.
We have become 
a new creation in your sight
and so we pray that our praise 
will have such movement
for the people we have become
and the God that has shown 
us how all things become new again. 

If this prayer sounds a tiny bit familiar, it is adapted from one I wrote in August of last year for Proper 15A when Psalm 133 was last in the Revised Common Lectionary. I want there to be something that recognizes what has been lost. There is a nod to it in the previous prayer but I imagine it will be strange to be gathered back together again and know that there are some missing. Some might still be online as many families with small children may well choose but more than 600,000 have died in the United States now. It’s hard to believe that that toll won’t impact churches in some way.

For those using an outdoor space, I wonder about using a fence to create a community weaving as part of this remembering. Maybe a shape like the church building or logo that could be filled in with scraps of colorful cloth or even yarn.

If this is happening in the sanctuary or far from a fence, a temporary loom could be constructed. People might need to be reminded to socially distance as music is played and they each come forward to add their bit of color but I don’t think it would take much more than a reminder. I think it’s worth the effort to make something beautiful to call us into this new creation.

Or if that all sounds too daunting because it’s been a hell of a year and you don’t have time for something so large scale, maybe steal this wedding guest book idea to make a large poster board that can be a focal point in the narthex or even in the worship space. I might tweak the language in the following prayer to draw a stronger connection to the chosen ritual.

Prayer for Re-Membering

Inspired by Ephesians 4:1-16

We have come this far 
with all humility and gentleness.
Or so we pray O God.
We pray we've had 
patience though
we know we did not
rest easy in this time apart.

We have been broken open 
by what we could not comprehend
and what has taken to many lives
so that we cannot look around
today without remembering
what we have lost. We pray
that we might truly bear one another
in love and grief and hope.

Today, O God, we pray
you will take the lonely remnants,
the frustration, the grief
and the shreds of hope
with re-member us 
into one body and spirit.

Gather who we once were
with what we have lost
and all that still remains uncertain
to equip us for ministry
and the building up of the body of Christ.
We have been so tossed and blown about 
by every kind of thing since we first 
heard the word coronavirus
and we need you, O God.

We need you to be above us all
and through us all 
and in every bit of this 
new creation we are 
becoming together.
There are variants 
and variables we cannot control
but we pray you will take our whole lives,
knit/graft us together 
and build us up in love
and truth. Amen. 

That’s all I’ve got for right now because my children are totally losing it. Still, I hope you’ll share your hopes and dreams for this regathering. Or if you have already shared in this reunion, please share with us what most inspired you about this first in-person worship.

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

Weaving Bridges by Laurie Wilson

Pandemic Prayers for the Fourth of July

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

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

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

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

Invitation

Inspired by Psalm 48

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

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

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

Prayer of Illumination

Inspired by Psalm 48

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

Come into the broken 
cracks of despair 
to find beauty. 

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

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

Poem

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

Song

Prayer for the Work

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

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

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

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

Poem

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

Quiet Meditation

Offer this invitation:

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

Poem

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

Song

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

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

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

Or you might skip right ahead to the prayer.

Prayer for the People

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

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

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

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

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

Blessing Song

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

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

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

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