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.

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.