Posted on Leave a comment

The Body Remembers

Sunday Morning is everything. As church culture shifts, we are trying to fit more and more into Sunday morning because folks are willing to prioritize that time. There’s fewer weeknight Bible studies and fewer Saturday service projects. So, we take Bible studies and service projects and bring them to Sunday morning. As pastors and worship planners, we are trying to bring the complexities life and ministry into the worship experience. How can worship embody congregational care? Where can worship facilitate spiritual formation? When can worship be a vehicle for social justice? 

The Season of Lent is a perfect opportunity to delve more deeply into spiritual practices, to deepen connections between our bodies and spirits, and to examine the systems of injustice that connect us all. The Body Remembers accomplishes this through the lens of our bodies. It focuses on the connections between our bodies and spirits as the Body of Christ.

We are learning more and more about our physical bodies are connected with our emotional and spiritual lives. Our bodies are even connected with lives of others in our family tree and the current community around us. With important research in trauma theory, we are learning how we bear and heal traumas and that healing is always better in community. Popular books like The Body Keeps the Score and My Grandmother’s Hands, demonstrate these connections. We, as the church, already have the truth of these theories in our faith and in our scripture. We are many parts but we are all one body. Lean into the faith of our ancestors and the healing in your own ministry setting in this important season.

This Lenten series makes it possible for a congregation to share in body and spirit in healing and care. It also has the flexibility to bring in social justice issues that matter to your congregation like mass incarceration, hunger and poverty, access to healthcare, refugee and immigration and more. It has flexibility and creativity. Make the most of Sunday morning this Lent!

All the beautiful artwork for this series is by Andrew Ostrovsky.

Posted on Leave a comment

Let Love Rise: Lent 2023

In my congregation, food has always been very important. We like to share meals after worship together. We have an annual chili and pie cook off. We have big engagement on ministries that address hunger and food insecurity. We bring meals to families with challenges. We love Holy Communion as we come forward to accept our places at God’s table, with all the costs and joys of that discipleship.

For as prominent as bread is in our faith rituals and communal life together, I’ve delved shockingly little into the topic. I’ve heard so many times that Christ’s prayer for “daily bread” was asking for basic provision for all. I’ve never realized that, in Jesus’ time, daily bread was an extravagance reserved only for the wealthy. I’ve preached about how Jesus compared himself to this common, everyday thing, bread. Just sustenance, survival. But that is what bread has become over a couple thousand years. That’s not what bread was for Jesus. Bread was such a communal gift. If you want to engage the bread of Jesus’ time and what it means for us today, try Let Love Rise.

Writing, preaching and worshiping this series deepened my own faith and challenged me to think again about so many things I take for granted in Christianity. In addition to the meaningful reflections on theology and scripture, this series was also very accessible and practical for our worshiping community. It helped us all understand better our common practices like the Lord’s Prayer and Holy Communion. It gave us an opportunity to hear from the bakers and cooks among us about their craft and why it is meaningful to them. We have a person who bakes our communion bread every week and a youth who started a home bakery for racial justice who both shared their experiences. Our children could engage by trying to grind wheat or watching as yeast activated in water.

If you are looking for an innovative worship series, then I encourage you to try Let Love Rise. Holly and I put everything in this bundle that we used in our own congregations. In addition to our usual liturgies, planning guide, and branded and sized images for the series and each week, we have added a huge list of suggested contemporary readings and additional materials, a folder of unsplash free images (no searching for you!), a set of interactive worship stations, video recordings of our own sermons, a four-week adult discussion series with PowerPoint slides based on the weekly themes and Michael Pollan’s book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, and MORE.

Join the journey of transformation this lent from a small seed planted to the Bread of Life!

~ Amber

Posted on Leave a comment

Is God on the Move?

Here we go again. For those in church leadership (or any kind of leadership), the surge due to the Omicron variant of Covid 19 is exhausting at best and triggering at worst. Congregations are spending time and energy once again discussing, discerning and deciding about whether to be open for in-person worship. What are the risks? What is gained? What is lost? And it in that discussion is an underlying ocean of grief because we don’t want to be doing this again. We would rather do anything else. We feel like our community is called to MORE than this. But here we are.

One of the things that has been hard for me as a congregational pastor in the pandemic is making space in the congregation for the many points of view on the topic. There are some folks who will only attend in-person and it is radically inclusive to be open for them. There are some folks that will only attend online and it is radically inclusive to have a virtual option for them. The only thing we do is lift up the diversity of people in the congregation to one another and invite us all to listen for the Spirit of God. How is God showing up in this pandemic? What kind of church is God calling us to be?

Sometimes it helps to have some historical perspective for privileged 21st century people. There have been many many struggles that have struck churches in the past. God has never abandoned us. God heals us, strengthens us, and calls us in new ways.

Sometimes it helps to get congregations in action work, so they can channel their frustrations into helping build the realm of God.

We have a two-part worship series called God on the Move that can engage your congregation from both perspectives. The first part of the series is three weeks on Faith and Technology, exploring the ways that God worked through different technology changes in the past to expand the reach of the gospel. From Paul riding new Roman ships to Martin Luther’s use of the printing press, this interesting series invites us to think about technology as a tool. The series also touches on ethics and the sins of technological advancement. How do we discern whether we are building the Tower of Babel or breaking through to a new frontier?

The second part of the series centers of Faith and Democracy and the ways in which we can engage voting rights and other justice issues. One worship focuses on racial justice specifically. The others give opportunity to explore concepts like freedom, truth and justice as they interplay with faith and democracy.

You can order just God on the Move: Faith and Technology or God on the Move: Faith and Technology or both! Here’s a sample Call to Worship. May it inspire you to trust that our God is moving and would never leave you behind.

CALL TO WORSHIP

One:    We are constantly in motion, with our minds and bodies often going in different directions.

All:       Now, we pause, and we bring our whole selves together for worship.

One:    Our culture has advanced technologies to quickly move all around the world – bikes, cars, planes, and even rockets to outer space.

All:       But we need to remember to stop moving, too.

One:    In this hour, let us explore how connected we are as one community.

All:       In this worship, we will imagine how to travel in new ways with our minds and hearts. 

One:    God is on the move!

All:       Let us rejoice and follow!

Posted on

Can Christmas Eve be BOTH holy and fun? 

Christmas Eve is an evening loaded with so many hopes and expectations that no night will ever really live up to the hype. Some of the adults are looking for a quiet and serene evening of beautiful music and candlelight. Others are looking to engage their children who are focused on cookies and presents. While still others are struggling, bringing tender, triggered hearts to worship. The pandemic adds even more expectations with some folks wanting a room full of hugs and song while others want a technologically flawless worship from home.

Now I have stressed myself out just writing about these realities of Christmas Eve. As church leaders, we are holding so much every year at Christmas time. We are balancing the needs of our folks while trying to live faithfully into a story that is sweet, transformative and terrifying all at the same time. How can we do it? I’ve included here some of my favorite tips and a free sample Christmas Eve liturgy with Lesson and Carols script. But here’s my biggest tip for ministers and leaders this season- remember that Jesus will be born regardless. While God is certainly grateful for all of our Advent midwifery, we are attending to the miracle; we are not the miracle itself. So, remember that Jesus comes as a gift for you too. Take a deep breath and plan away!

Tips for intergenerational Christmas Eve:

  • Keep little hands busy- one favorite tradition in our congregation is to hand out nativity pieces from several different sets to children as they come in. Kids attending virtually can color pictures of the nativity or show their own sets at home. As we move through the lessons and carols, the children bring up to the altar the different characters as we read the corresponding story. They build quite the eclectic scene, but it keeps them focused and listening for their turn.
  • Use the story- Christmas Eve only happens once a year, so let the story lead you. Whether you do a pageant, preach a sermon, or have a carol sing, let the coming of the Christ child take center stage. If children are present, let them be helpers and storytellers.
  • Include interactive elements like lighting candles (or glowsticks!), following the star, putting hay in the manger, tucking in baby Jesus, or opening gifts of peace, hope, joy and love.

But here’s my biggest tip for ministers and leaders this season- remember that Jesus will be born regardless. While God is certainly grateful for all of our Advent midwifery, we are attending to the miracle; we are not the miracle itself. So, remember that Jesus comes as a gift for you too. Take a deep breath and plan away!

Check out this FREE downloadable Lessons and Carols Script