The Freedom to Celebrate Independence

Post Author: YCWI

fireworksJuly 4 strikes fear into the hearts of many young American pastors. Often, our seminary training included some cautionary tales about taking care to make sure that a secular holiday not overtake worship and and blur the lines between love of God and love of country. Some congregations agree with this idea. Others do not. (And then, of course, there is the eternal question: do you note the occasion the Sunday immediately before or after July 4th?) Controversy ensues, and you have to make a choice: is this one of the things you are willing to spend your pastoral capital on? There’s a pretty good chance that this is one of the first areas of ministry in which you may have to reach some sort of compromise, however small or subtle.

Gathered from the wisdom of members of Young Clergy Women International, here are some of the options pastors and congregations have crafted.

A Special Service

Some churches have a separate service, or an annual Sunday tradition to celebrate Independence Day. One of our member’s churches does a special service on July 4th in the morning, which satisfies the needs of those to whom this is most important.

Another church, in celebrating their 150th anniversary this year, had already planned a special service early in July using the liturgy as it would have been 150 years ago. This young clergywoman writes: “We didn’t PLAN it to fall near July 4 but since it does I’m taking that as our ‘patriotic duty’ and that’s all we’re doing.”

There’s also the option of crafting something new and different. “We just had our 2nd annual ‘American Voices’ service. It is a ‘lessons and carols’ type service with readings and music that has shaped our spiritual heritage.”

Slightly Subversive Preaching

While these may be some of the hardest sermons to write, it is possible to carefully craft a sermon that is respectful of appropriate patriotism, while still calling people to think deeply about the relationship between faith and nationality.

One pastor shared with us a sermon on Galatians 5:15-26, in which she reflected on the theme of freedom in our Christian lives.

Psalm 146 has also been a great preaching text for another pastor, as a way to point out that our ultimate trust is not “in princes” but in God. (This text also works well after an election season that has left your congregation a bit split.)

It doesn’t hurt to be brave, either. Another of our members plans to talk about immigration reform and the concept of citizenship this Sunday.

Often, if you take care with these sermons to speak respectfully about varying opinions, you may be surprised that those you’s have assumed would be offended compliment you on addressing the issue, respecting their position, and even being patriotic. (Freedom of speech, after all!)

It’s About the Music

In the midst of our discussion about the 4th, one woman made this very insightful remark: “For most of my folks it boils completely down to the music not at all what I say. They want to sing the America songs.” Church is one of the last places many people have a chance to sing as a community. They may just want to sing the songs.

So some of us simply throw in a few of the “America Songs.”

But we’ve also found some favorites to add, which seem to have a slightly more hearty theology in their texts: “Lift Every Voice and Sing;” “This Is My Song;” and even “This Land Is Your Land,” which, it turns out, may have had some religious connotations in an early draft.

And don’t forget about verses you didn’t know existed: check out additional verses of the Navy Hymn (“Eternal Father, Strong to Save”) that make special mention of information specialists, nurses, military families, and astronauts. It might be worth it just to sing this line in church some year, “Oh hear is when we seek thy grace for those who fly through outer space.”

Get Out of Town

Some pastors handle the dilemma of the day by getting out of town: it’s a vacation week, and one of the few when we clergywomen can leave without missing a religious holiday with our congregations. And while this strategy means that a pastor can simply pass the buck for the Sunday, one woman came up the rather creative solution of inviting a friend who is a former worship professor to lead worship in her church.

Grin and Bear It

And, as with many things in ministry, you may find that this is an occasion to remind yourself that, in the end, Jesus will figure it out. It’s not all about us. And we can grin and bear it and assume that God will forgive us and our congregations if we don’t get this one entirely right. It can be hard for this Sunday not to become a battle between your pastoral ego and your congregation’s traditions and desires. It may take time to change both their hearts and yours. And, anything could happen.You could, as one of our members had happen, have a congregation member who stands up during worship and proclaims that this is a good day for everyone to join in saying the pledge.

We all know the solution to that: you smile, you love your people, you put your hand over your heart, and you pray fervently that you remember the words, because your microphone is on.

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

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Image by: SJ Liew
Used with permission
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