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Blessing of the Backpacks

Amelia, age 4, after her first day of preschool in 2018

I have always loved back to school season. As a child I looked forward to picking out my new folder and composition book, eagerly watching as my mother painstakingly wrote our names on every item that would accompany us on our first day of school. When I finally graduated for the last time, I would find myself in the back-to-school section of Target, looking wistfully at the bins of 24 count crayons and Bic highlighters. Sometimes I grabbed a box or two—$0.25 is a great price for crayons, after all.

This year is different, though. This year I have two excited five-year-olds who don’t quite understand the concept of a supply list. They want new lunch boxes even though their preschool ones are fine; they want the folders with kittens and unicorns instead of the plain red and yellow requested by the teacher. They want the MEGA pack of crayons. In another week or so I will sit on my bed with their supplies scattered around, just as my mother did, and carefully write their names on everything, including each pencil.

In a few weeks I will send my little ones on the bus for the very first time, and my heart will do little flips. Now more than ever I need a blessing on these children and the grownups I am entrusting with their care.

A Blessing of the Backpacks is a wonderful way to begin the school year, surrounding the students, teachers, and educational support staff of your congregation with prayer and blessings. I’ve developed the following liturgy over the last few years, and usually use it during the children’s sermon. It could easily be adapted into a litany so that many voices are represented and heard. The school supplies are in bold as a visual cue to hold up the item and let the children call out its name if you wish:

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silhouette image of a hand placing a piece of paper into a slot in the top of a box

A Prayer for Election Day

silhouette image of a hand placing a piece of paper into a slot in the top of a boxEven as we speak the words
“A Prayer for Election day”
We find in our guts
the traces of humanity:
in suspicion
in wondering
what kind of prayer this might be.

For what are we asking of you,
Divine One who gave us voice
And thought
And will

What shall our petitions be
On this day we deem to set aside
For democracy
For exercising each of our own
Civically gifted political authority

And yet, still, we have need of you
Of your Wisdom and your Word.
In spite of and because of
This worldly yet holy belief in our collective voice
For it is exactly that divisiveness our suspicion breeds
That we seek to heal and make whole

So we come to You,
God of a power that is beyond our understanding.
With these prayers for our day of voice and vote.

 

For all those who vote, for their diverse voice and conviction, and for our collective discernment as national community.

We pray to You.

For the casting of ballots, may they become our voice of your creation, calling out the promise of your Love and Justice.

We pray to You.

For candidates and ballot measures and all those who work to share their message

We pray to You.

For our thoughtful considerations, debates, discussion and research

We pray to You.

For just access to ballots

We pray to You.

For volunteers and election workers and their equitable exercise of stewarding the election

We pray to You.

For what seems to us the inevitable tragedy of voter discrimination

We pray to You.

For the waiting and the watching, for our doubts and our dreams

We pray to You.

For all those who will be elected this day and for all those who currently hold public office, that their work might be enlivened by Spirit’s stirring toward our common humanity.

We pray to You.

And for the courage in the days to come to continue to seek and speak our values that are rooted in Your Love and Promise,

We pray to You, O God of Love
Who gives us voice
Who convicts our thoughts
And who calls us to lives of justice, peace, and reconciliation.

woman with head in hands

WTF, God? A Prayer after Pregnancy Loss

woman with head in hands

I was in a church meeting when I found out I was having a miscarriage. I had stepped out of the conference room at our diocesan offices when my phone rang, assuming it was the fertility clinic calling to give instructions for starting the next round of medications. We had been told that the last round had failed, and we were hoping to try again as soon as possible.

I went into a small meeting room for some privacy while I spoke with the nurse and, as she began to talk, her words made no sense. She didn’t give instructions for when to start the medication or the the dosage I should take. She explained that the blood work I’d had that morning showed I was pregnant. Or I had been pregnant. Well, I was technically still pregnant. But I wouldn’t be for much longer. I needed to return for more blood work to be sure.

So I got more blood work. The results were unclear. It might not be a miscarriage.

Maybe an ectopic pregnancy. I had to come back again immediately. My life and future childbearing at risk.

“Well we don’t see anything. So it’s not ectopic. Guess it’s ‘just,’ a miscarriage after all.”

I hadn’t even known I was pregnant.

I bled for eight weeks.

When the initial shock started to lift, and I gradually felt able to tell people what had happened, I was amazed by the stories that flooded out of others, of their own experiences of losing loved ones they’d never known. Several people spoke about their difficulty setting foot in church after this kind of loss. Certainly not at Christmas when church is all about expecting a baby, but other times too. It’s so easy to talk about God when pregnancy is going well. “What a blessing!” “A gift from God!” But when that gift, that blessing, is gone before it’s even visible to the people in the pews, the silence is staggering.

I felt this same silence. From the people who had no idea what I was losing as I led them in worship each of those long weeks. Week after week, I consecrated the body and blood of Christ, and I bled. Read more

I’m Done Waiting on You

I was ready to meet my mate in high school, when I first learned what the term “high school sweethearts” meant. As high school flew by with no dates, I was then certain that college would hold meeting Mr. Right, but I needed to do everything right and follow all the advice given from my various evangelical “Christian” beliefs. Blog articles I consumed contained titles like “Twelve Things All Christian Girls Need to Do to Prepare for Their Husband,” or “What Christian Men Are Looking for in a Christian Wife.”

Despite all my research, college yielded nothing, so I started soaking in the advice from family, friends, church members, leaders, and more:

“Marry your best friend.” Yeah, seeing as all of my best male friends are gay or married, that’s pretty much a no go.

“I prayed about it.”

“I had given up on dating and marriage. I was ready to be single for the rest of my life.” Done that about a thousand times as I’ve been on all of two dates in my 29 years of life (OK four—two father-daughter dates come to mind).

“I prayed about it.”

We met online.” Tried four different sites. Went on two dates. Bad, horrible, awful, hellacious. It was too much on my soul, and as the inner critics started shouting, it was clear there were more important things to be working on than trying to go on dates.

“I made a list of all the dream things I wanted in a mate…and prayed about it.” I’ve made the evangelical list from my high school days, and made another list with a friend about six months ago about what I truly, legitimately want in a mate. Results? Nothing.

Over a year ago, as I was lamenting my desire for a mate, my counselor asked me that fated question once more: “Have you prayed for one?”

If prayers for a future mate were a dime a dozen, I’d be in the top 1% by now. Because the years have gone by and there’s been nothing. Yet through it all, the desire to meet someone, the hope of finding a mate has journeyed with me from every transition—high school to college, college to internship, internship to seminary, seminary to first call—and each move has come the lingering questions: “Is he waiting here? Will I find him when I go there?” The hope would build, the crushes would develop, and the reality would come crashing in every time: No, it can’t be him, or, No, it won’t be him.

So, at my counselor’s question, I wanted to cry out, “Pray for him? Honey, I’ve done every damn thing in the book for him. I’ve read books, journaled, written him letters, had conversations aloud with him, and prayed every damn prayer in the world for him. But Mr. Rev. Rachy (MRR)? He’s. Still. Not. Here.” Read more

blank book laying open on copper-tinted plant with small blue flowers

Wordless

blank book laying open on copper-tinted plant with small blue flowers

Wordless

For Anneliese and Luke

 

I am a pray-er and writer

a speaker and singer

I am a word weaver and warrior

but you

have taken my words away.

 

From the breath and keen of labor

to the fog and ache of nursing

from the midnight

three

and five a.m.

giving myself

to the smile and sigh

and wet and messy

I have lost my words,

lost their place and purpose

their rhyme and rhythm.

I have barely enough presence

to play and read with you,

clean and dress you,

feed and comfort you,

rock and carry you

in my arms

in my heart

in my mind

every waking

and dreaming

and worrying

moment.

 

So these are my prayers, now,

these are my poems:

the kiss on your cheek

the light in my eyes

the fullness in my breasts

the cushion in my belly

the tightness in my back

the warmth in my skin

the love that swells my heart

to bursting.

 

These are the Words made Flesh

that I write, speak, preach, pray, sing

for you, my children,

fruit of my body,

beloved of my soul.

 

I am wordless

with wonder

erased

and re-written

by love.

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

Lament in a Purple Church

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. Read more

#BelovedCommunity

Hashtag my trauma
Publicize my drama
Go ahead, paparazzi me and my mama.

Don’t understand
The supply and demand
For our vulnerable blogs
And sensational vlogs
Voyerism or loneliness?
My addiction to the blue screen
My thumb scrolling fast and mean,
A desire to know and be known
Yet the tandem desire to be left alone

Get one mention in Sunday’s sermon
And his/her/their pain goes viral
Tweeting for a few days
But what’s the homiletical plot?
Does the preaching change the lot?
Did we give an altar call,
eyes closed,
heads bowed,

Alleviate affliction, humble the proud, did we end with the cup and the bread, somehow praying for the sick and remembering our dead?

Did you have a moment of reflection for their rejection,

Did we have a what next, a call to action?

Is anyone on their feet, or is it social media reactions?
Am I the hands and feet? Or the typing fingers of the body,
Will we see each other face to face and meet?
Will we let ego keep us separated and haughty?

Or is the virtual perception, my new reality, our only connection.

Maybe I need the church to help me feel,
Your blog to help me heal,
But maybe and I think you know it, too,
We need to touch and pray like we used to do,
Then go out and serve
Instead of remain
Impotent outside of a web domain
Nothing wrong with the internet
But human contact Just might yet
Be the way we were meant to be
Somewhere inside of the beloved community

Blessing our Caregivers

Third Sundays in our congregation are healing Sundays. During communion, two healing ministers position themselves behind the altar rail, anointing oil in hand, to offer healing prayers and blessings to anyone who approaches them.

Some people come forward to ask prayers for themselves – prayers for upcoming surgeries and for broken relationships and for grieving spirits.

Some people come forward to ask prayers for loved ones – prayers for family members in medical crisis or friends in economic distress.

Some people come forward asking for nothing in particular. They just want to hear again the good news that God binds up the broken-hearted and promises healing for us and for all creation.

Healing ministers lay hands on their shoulders, pray, trace the sign of the cross in oil on their foreheads, and remind them, “You are a blessed and beloved child of God, and you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” There is nothing in death or in life that can separate these beloved children from the love of God shown to us in Christ Jesus.

It is a privilege to pray for healing. But as a church we recognize the great privilege it is for so many of our members to be called into the work of healing as their vocation, both inside the church and out in the community.

We have many caregivers in our congregation: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, hospice workers, guidance counselors, and the list goes on. At least once a year, we take the opportunity as a congregation to craft a Sunday morning worship service around themes of healing and caregiving, and to offer a special blessing for all the caregivers in our midst.

We believe that Jesus walks with all who are in need. We believe that Jesus carries us through our times of trouble. In the same way, Jesus empowers those who care for the needs of others and Jesus strengthens us to carry one another through times of trouble. Our experience of healing most often comes through the blessing of human hands and hearts that have been set apart for the work of tending to body and spirit. Caregivers of all kinds do this holy work. Their vocations take them to places of immense joy and profound grief. Their work is vital.

When we bless our caregivers in worship, we recognize and honor their gifts and their work. We involve the entire assembly into the blessing process, whether by using a spoken dialogue, inviting members to raise up a hand in blessing, or inviting the assembly to participate in a laying on of hands. We ask God to bless our caregivers and to give them strength and peace in their vocations. Should you want to include a blessing for caregivers as a part of your community’s worship life, here is a template to help you get started: Read more

Monday in Beverly Hills

Blessing of the worms for All Saints’ compost bin

Blessing of the worms for All Saints’ compost bin

I had just arrived a block west of Rodeo Drive to the church I would serve in Beverly Hills. The rector told me not to bring my lunch, that it would be the church’s treat on my first day. I decided that morning that the lunch venue would offer me some clues about how to navigate my future ministry and the people I would serve. Where would we be eating lunch?

When I was a seminarian, part of the thrill of preparing for serving a church community for me was the thought of integrating into the community I served. My bishop told our ordination class, “Be prepared to go anywhere and serve anyone.”

Being a young woman from Central Indiana, ministering to people in just about any place other than the Crossroads of America felt like a great frontier. I read the experience of author Kathleen Norris, a Washington, D.C., native, who discovered a vocation to serve God and God’s people in the quiet monotony of the Great Plains. As she writes in her spiritual autobiography Dakota, “The fact that one people’s frontier is usually another’s homeland has been mostly overlooked.”

I had arrived at my very different frontier: amid selfie-taking tourists, harried traffic, and busy storefronts.

On my first office day at All Saints’, I met the people who called this place their spiritual homeland. And as the noon hour drew closer, it was time for lunch. Read more

Commended to God: A Service for Embryos

A few years ago, a couple came to me, because they had to make the difficult decision of what do with the leftover embryos that were created as part of the process of conceiving their twin children. They were so grateful for these embryos—and the beautiful children that had come from the two used embryos. They wanted a liturgy to honor those embryos and the potential life with in them. Together, we adapted the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer’s funeral service for a child and created the following liturgy.

Embryo

A Service of Thanksgiving for Embryos

Gather in the Name of God

All stand while the following is said

Jesus said, Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it
is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.
(Matthew 19:14)

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he
will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away
every tear from their eyes.
(Revelation 7:17)

The Lord be with you

People And also with you

MinisterLet us pray.

Creator God, we thank you for the gift of children. We thank you for name(s)—their joy, curiosity, kindness, boldness and infinite appetite for life. We thank you for the embryos and science that gave us the gift of name(s). Your beloved Son took children into his arms and blessed them. We entrust these embryos to you and pray you will care for and bless them. Amen.

The Lessons

Romans 8:31-39

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 10:11-16

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Prayers of the People

In the peace of God, let us pray, responding, “Oh, God, have mercy.”

Loving God, we thank you for your faithfulness to parent’s name and parent’s name as they journeyed through the wilderness of infertility. You remained faithful to them along their entire journey, and strengthened their faith and love in You and in each other.

Oh God, have mercy.

Creator God, we thank you for the gift of science and technology. We thank you that it can be used to help create life. Lord, this presents us with many difficult decisions to make. Your Holy Word does not speak of these choices. We pray your grace and mercy upon all choices parent’s name and parent’s name have made and make today.

Oh God, have mercy.

Gracious God, we thank you for the longed-for gift of name(s). We pray that they will always feel loved and cherished—by you and by those around them. We pray that in their relationship with their parents they could experience a taste of the kind of love you have for them.

Oh God, have mercy.

Embracing God, we pray for these embryos. However you acknowledge them to be—as a life or as the hope of a life—they were created through love and prayer. Welcome them into your kingdom, Lord.

Oh God, have mercy.

Bless parent’s name and parent’s name, Lord, as they complete this journey. Help them know your love and peace.

Oh God, have mercy.

The minister concludes the prayers with this Collect:

Compassionate God, your ways are beyond our understanding and your love for those whom you create is greater by far than ours; comfort all who grieve. Give them the faith to endure the mystery of life and the mystery of faith and bring them in the fullness of time to share the light and joy of your eternal presence; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

The Commendation

Give rest, O Christ, to your servants with your saints
where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither sighing, but life everlasting.

You only are immortal, the creator and maker of all mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust, yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

Give rest, O Christ, to your servants with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither sighing, but life everlasting.

We commend these embryos to the mercy of God, our maker; redeemer, and comforter.

We entrust you to God. Go forth from this world in the love of God who created you, in the mercy of Jesus who died for you, in the power of the Holy Spirit who receives and protects you. May you rest in peace Amen.

The Holy Communion

The blessing and dismissal follow.