Lament in a Purple Church

Post Author: Emily Mitchell

person sitting in darkened room by window clasping hands and looking outside at dark, rainy sky

If lament is largely about naming loss, how am I to lead when there isn’t agreement over what is lost?

Increasingly, I look around at the state of the world and my response is to lament. My heart breaks at all the violence and injustice. In my ministry, I oversee and plan corporate worship every week and, correspondent with my personal desire to lament, I have grown in my desire to create space in worship for public lament.

I serve, however, in a majority-white congregation that is decidedly mixed in its political and socio-economic identities. It has been a challenge at times for me to serve in the purple context of Maumee, Ohio. If lament is largely about naming loss, how am I to lead when there isn’t agreement over what is lost?

In August 2017, James Fields, Jr., most recently a resident of Maumee, Ohio, drove his car into a gathering of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, and killed Heather Heyer. In response, I explicitly named white supremacy as sin and condemned it, full stop, from the pulpit. Some people thanked me sincerely afterward, but others were less receptive. One church leader threatened to leave the church because I was “taking cues from the media and not from God’s Word.”

The next week, I was speaking with a church member, and she said to me, “I just don’t understand. There is so much hatred in the world right now.” I nodded vigorously; I was thinking of the KKK. But then she continued, “Why those people want to tear down historical monuments make no sense to me. It’s history!” My nodding stopped. I realized in that moment just how much disagreement there is in a purple church about what hatred looks like.

What’s more, there is disagreement in a purple congregation about what to be outraged by. I heard little to no reaction from congregation members when the video came out in 2016 of Philando Castile being shot and killed by a police officer in Minnesota. Rather, I have heard responses by parishioners who are deeply upset by certain NFL players who “disrespect our military” by taking a knee during the national anthem. I can get impatient: why can’t people come around and see things correctly (that is, my way)?

I am grateful that, in my impatience, a friend gently testified to the importance of humility: when she looked back on where she was with her comprehension of race relations five years ago, she’s humbled by the reality that God has brought her a long way and God was not finished with her yet. I could resonate. How easily pride seeps in! How easily had I redirected my outrage with injustice to be outraged at people who disagree with me! I want to stay humble: God is the one to renew our minds and bring transformation.

It is not feasible or faithful for me to postpone public lament until this purple church agrees on all things. I want to believe that worship is formational: as people come to the house of God week after week, the songs they sing and the prayers they pray can help them develop habits that instruct them in God’s grace and knowledge that they might grow in maturity. For a majority-white, mostly middle-class congregation, it is not fair to assume that they should know godly lament already. Perhaps worship will be the means by which lament is taught, where lament may be embraced as a spiritual practice.

I have been sitting with this question for a while: “What does it look like to publically lament when some in my context are grieving the loss of monuments and some, including me, are grieving the loss of human life which was once enslaved and trafficked?” The answer I have sensed is: use Scripture as the guide, name suffering in both generalized and specific ways, incorporate silence, and trust God. As 1 Thessalonians 5 reminds us, the One who calls us is faithful, and God will sanctify us—and the congregations we serve—and make all things new, holy and whole.

Sharing Our Lament

Below is a prayer of lament I hope to use in my purple congregation in the future. You are free to use it in your context as well. It is inspired by Psalm 88 and is a responsive prayer so that one person leads the non-bold sections and all speak together the words in bold. Through it, may God produce a harvest of righteousness.

O Lord, God of our salvation, we cry out to you.
Turn your ear and hear our cry.

We pray for those who say, “My soul is full of troubles; and my life draws near to death.”
Lord, we acknowledge that many people are suffering in places of war and violence; those who are displaced are in need of your great mercy.
God of mercy, turn your ear and hear our cry.

We pray for those who say, “My eye grows dim through sorrow.”
Lord, we lift up those who are grieving and those who are lonely; bring your comfort and help.
God of compassion, turn your ear and hear our cry.

We pray for those who say, “I feel cut off from the hand of God.”
Lord, we intercede for those who are oppressed and neglected; strengthen and give hope. Grant all of us the grace to persevere in being your hands and feet, Jesus, instruments of your justice and peace.
God of love, turn your ear and hear our cry.

We pray for those who say, “O Lord, why do you cast me off?
Why do you hide your face from me?”
(time for personal reflection)
Lord, we are desperate for you.
Lord of light, turn your ear and hear our cry.

Lord, we are so desperate.
To you, O God, we cry out.
Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Emily has been serving as Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Maumee in Northwest Ohio since January, 2015. She previously served as a pastoral resident at Bellevue Presbyterian Church in Washington State. She holds degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary and Whitman College. Emily grew up in Seattle; therefore, she recycles, makes her own granola, and enjoys spending time outdoors. She averages reading over 35 books a year.

Image by: JuiMagicman
Used with permission
2 replies
  1. Courtney
    Courtney says:

    Thank you so much for this. I feel the tension and responsiblity you name each week. Thank you for sharing your words and reminding me that I am not alone.

  2. KathyCr
    KathyCr says:

    Emily, this is just beautiful! Coming also from BethanyPC/Seattle and living now in DFW for the last 8yrs, I so identify with the struggle. So appreciate your words and perspective.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *