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The author prays over her morning coffee.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

The author prays over her morning coffee.

The author prays over her morning coffee.

Holy One,

Source of all good things in this world:

Let’s be honest. It’s 2020.

You’ve seen this year happen.

In a year of pandemic, and politics,

and isolation, and exhaustion,

we feel a lot more like saying,

“How long, O Lord?”

instead of “in all things, give thanks.”

 

Give us eyes to see your wonders, O God,

even in a year like this one.

Give us hearts that overflow with gratitude

for the ways we’ve made it through.

For binge-worthy shows and new crafting skills,

for fresh pots of coffee and surprise deliveries of wine,

for fires to burn and rooms to paint,

Good Lord, we give you thanks.

For decent internet connection and love-to-hate-it Zoom,

for the ding of a text and long phone chargers,

for online shopping and unemployment checks,

Good Lord, we give you thanks.

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2020 Thanksgiving Prayer

“Thanksgiving Drive” by katmeresin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

God of all of us,

Life as we knew it has changed.

Thanksgiving as we knew it is different this year.

We have lost people we love.

We have lost gathering in the ways we used to gather.

Some of us have lost jobs or trust or optimism.

So we grieve today, even as we give thanks.

We lament today, even as we hold onto moments of joy.

You are a God who hears and knows our lament.

We also lament the state of our nation and the division among us.

We don’t want to move too quickly to unity

without addressing the pain that lies under that division.

We give you our hurt. We give you our anger.

May your hearing of our prayers and our pain

open the way for healing and new hope and restored community.

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A Prayer for Essential Workers

“Thank you essential workers!” by spurekar is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Loving God,
While some of us are in the safety of our homes,
you have called others to risk themselves and their families to keep our communities running.
We give you thanks for the doctors, the nurses, the respiratory therapists, and all working in healthcare.
We give you thanks for the store employees, factory workers, and delivery people.
We give you thanks for those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and bury the dead.
We give you thanks for the teachers working to raise up the next generation in physical and virtual classrooms.
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Dear Clergy: A Letter for November

My dear, weary, fierce colleagues in ministry,

It’s been a year, hasn’t it? None of us knew going in to 2020 what would come; none of us expected to spend the majority of the year figuring out how to minister to and with people we couldn’t be within an arm’s reach of. And yet, here we are.

photo taken by the author at a clergy retreat in 2019

Let’s recap, shall we? We ended Lent during stay-at-home orders and celebrated Easter in parking lots and dining room tables. We canceled VBS, camps, and mission trips. We figured out cameras and live streaming and answered questions we never even knew we needed to ask. We learned Zoom and taught it to our congregations. Then taught it again. Then trouble-shot it. We switched platforms, software, hardware, and techniques, using skills that we never learned in seminary. We planned sermon series to speak to our trauma and danger; we found new ways to distribute food and serve our communities. We have planned and started over and planned some more; we have figured out how to administer communion in ways that are theologically and physically sound; we have presided over weddings and funerals over cameras and screens. We have held relationships together that are strained because of a contentious election; we have risked and weighed when, how, and how much to speak prophetically. We provided care over phone calls and texts instead of hospital beds and coffee tables. We have cried and prayed, wondered and doubted… all while trying to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our congregations healthy.

Whew. That list isn’t even exhaustive.

And yet. AND YET. Every step of the way, pastors made it happen. Surrounded and upheld by the Spirit, we served God’s beloved. You served God’s beloved.

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A World Communion Story and Liturgy for Strange Times

A Story before the Meal

Communion at Calvary United Methodist Church in Frederick, MD.

I was not excited about my first in-person communion service during the pandemic. I felt like the virus was just taking away one more thing. It had taken from my life in big ways, like the deaths of people that I loved, and in smaller ways, like canceling first-year milestone celebrations for our long-awaited child. At that first in-person service, we were finally together, but the feast of abundance I usually loved to celebrate was not possible in these strange times.

As we partake of the one loaf, we who are many are one body, I recited. But we weren’t partaking of the one loaf. Instead, we were holding individually wrapped wafer-and-juice combo packs. And we were separated by masks and chalk marks six feet apart, seemingly so far from ever being one body. How could this be communion?

That Sunday, half of us couldn’t open the cellophane to get to the wafer. The next time we had communion, we used juice boxes and rolls crammed into snack-size plastic baggies three days before worship and made jokes about juice boxes at the Last Supper. But even in the imperfection of the symbolism, this meal nourished us. It nourished me.

I acknowledged: It is right to give our thanks and praise. “So what are you thankful for?” I asked right in the middle of the liturgy. As we prepared to take our meal, I asked where people saw the Spirit poured out in these strange times. I was thankful to see faces distant and masked but still full of warmth. I saw the Spirit poured out as we lifted up in prayer those who work in hospitals, those who protest for justice, and those who work in education. Even in the strangeness and disappointment I felt as I approached the table, I also felt lifted out of my isolation, if for a moment. I felt directed toward the day not when we feast at the heavenly banquet but when we could feast together without barriers of masks and cellophane.

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A Trauma Informed Pandemic Ministry

Drawing close in the distance

When I modified the passing of the peace for worship on March 8, others in our county-seat town in Northwest Ohio didn’t seem concerned about the virus yet. I received some funny looks but mostly laughs, and the congregation went along with it. On the way out the door one of our oldest members came up to me and thanked me for changing the way we passed the peace. She explained that she too had been worrying about the virus since she was in the vulnerable population. I shared with her that I understood where she was coming from. I am immunocompromised and take immunosuppressant medications, so I too, am in the vulnerable population. This virus was on my radar, and I was prepared to do whatever I could to keep my people and myself safe. When our administrative council met later that same week in March and made the decision to worship via videos, a switch flipped inside me, and I became not only a pastor, wife, and follower of Jesus, but also a crisis manager.

In the early days of the pandemic I was running on pure adrenaline, waking up every day at 4:30am because I couldn’t sleep. I was filled with ideas about how to reach out and offer Christ to my people through the ingenuity of the internet. The Holy Spirit was working on overdrive in my life and I was pouring out peace, love, and mercy to my people in the name of Jesus. I was constantly texting to check on someone or calling to make sure one of our shut-ins was doing ok. I wanted to share God’s grace and love to try to help people get through this with their mental health intact. All my leftover energy was spent making sure our online Easter worship service was “special and meaningful.” The online service was beautiful and turned out so well. Then on Easter Monday, something in me clicked again. I was exhausted. I think for the first two months of the pandemic I had been so focused on making sure that others were ok that I had forgotten to care for myself.

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Praying while Frayed

“even when we are at the end of our rope…” -Rev. Elizabeth Grasham

Let’s pray together:

We try to have a good attitude about it, God,
but sometimes we just run out of juice for that.

We’ve got no more energy to pivot,
to try things a new way,
to have patience.
It all boils out.

Sometimes we stop talking, and sometimes we talk too much.
Sometimes we yell, and sometimes we cry.

Sometimes we dread the future,
and sometimes we find ourselves nostalgic about the past.

But we give thanks, God,
that we can show up to you on Sunday mornings
even when we are at the end of our rope

It turns out that when we show up, you give us more.
It turns out you’re the one we hold onto.

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The Lonesome Valley of Birthing this Holy Week

New life is coming into a sick and suffering world for me this Easter, just as it did that first Easter. As I sat reclined in the dim monitoring closet of my OBGYN’s office listening to the heartbeat of the new life growing inside me, I realized I was beginning to understand Holy Week in a deeper way. I feel my feet matching the footprints of Jesus as he made his way to the Holy city for the last time. My child is due to arrive just after Easter, and so this Holy Week I walk the lonesome valley of doctor’s visits, ultrasounds, and monitoring alone; even my husband is not permitted to join me. The virus has turned our world inside out and this joyous time into a time of great fear and sorrow.

Fetal heart monitoring

Last week, I felt resolved to let go of my visions for birth and instead just show up when it was time to do what I must. “We’ll just do what we have to do,” became my mantra every time a new worrying arose. But as I sat in a mostly deserted waiting room on Monday of Holy Week with my N95 mask on, I struggled to breathe and couldn’t help imagining what trying to breathe through contractions would be like with a mask on. Breathing got harder and by the time the nurse took my blood pressure things did not look good. As I reclined hooked up to the fetal heartbeat monitor, I wondered if Jesus had a similar resolve that he then lost. Palm Sunday’s mantra could have sounded like mine: “Just get to the city and do what you have to do.” But of course, just a few verses later in John 12:27, we hear Jesus is “deeply troubled.” Having defiantly removed my mask to breathe easier and hopefully lower my blood pressure, I feel some comfort at the thought that perhaps Jesus waffled a bit this week too. He showed such grace in getting in his last lectures and final blessings, and then in the garden he prays for any other way. I totally get it, Jesus. If there is any other way, I’d love to hear it too. But we both know there isn’t. The only way to new life is through death. The only way to bring this new life into the world is by entering the halls of death, risking, fearing, and hopefully, eventually trusting God will bring us out again. Knowing you’ve been through it already helps for sure, but I’m most appreciative to know you had moments of doubt and fear too.

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