Homecoming Rituals Edition
Kicking off a new season of worship and community
Pull up a chair, dear pastors. Grab a plate and heap onto your platter portions of what you need. You are eager to be satisfied and find some inspiration for the things you’ve already started to plan but haven’t quite figured out yet. This is a feast for you.
Welcome to another potluck that I’m so glad to host full of ingredients and recipes for your worship and ministry. I’m sorry I kinda fell off the earth after Holy Week. I wasn’t sure — ok, I’m still not really sure — if this is helpful now that the pandemic is now officially over. I’m still trying to figure out what this is and how it might work. If you read all the way to the end, you’ll find a hint of what I’m starting to imagine as I bring my spiritual direction practice into my love of writing liturgy. The resources I’ve created have been so tied to this moment and there is so much other great stuff out there for worship as it once was.
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I know. You haven’t really gone back to whatever your worship looked like before. You have added technology that never existed before and still have some people meeting online. There are other things that have changed — small things that have become so normal that you barely think about it anymore. I guess that’s why I’m thinking about what my home church called Homecoming Sunday. It’s Rally Day or Kick Off Sunday or any other of names in other places but for us, it was the idea that from all of the places we have been over the summer we get to gather back to a place and a people that feel like home.
It’s making me think about familiar rituals that bring us together which include holidays and big observances and smaller moments that make us feel safe and welcomed. Home, of course, has become one of charged concepts as every bit of life happened within the four walls of the places we abide in the pandemic. Home is something I’ve thought a lot about even before the pandemic with so many military moves. Last year, there was a wonderful gathering of reader's voices from the New York Times exploring how our ideas of home have changed in the pandemic. Readers shared in seeing their homes as a fortress and sanctuary. It was a place where things felt normal and a place where there were even new surprises. My favorite of these submissions comes from Susan R. Fallbrook of California who wrote:
I have been “housebound” for several years with an illness, so Covid was a significant threat for me. When I bought my house 10 years ago, it was a dream come true. I never thought I would own a home, so I started a little ritual each morning: I stand with my coffee and look out at the garden. For a minute or two, I think about all of the good things in my life and how lucky I am to have a home. Since Covid, this ritual has even more significance for me. So many people are struggling to keep their homes. Mine has become a fortress against a dangerous, invisible invader. It has kept me safe.
It’s these kind of rituals that I think we need in this new season where home has new meaning. Don’t get me wrong. Home will still be charged for some. It won't feel safe just as churches have not felt like safe. I still don't think we really know what we have learned from this moment. You know much more than I do, dear pastor. You have done so much and loved so hard in these past three years and I’m so grateful for your faithfulness. I know I’m not the only one.
The Calvin Worship Institute points to the fact that many churches have found rituals worth keeping after the pandemic. It reminds me that we need to be careful of our language. Diana Butler Bass pointed out that we've emphasized loss. That’s how we’ve talked about the pandemic but maybe that’s not quite right. Maybe, as Bulter Bass suggests, dislocation is better, the kind of dislocation that reconnects us and reminds us what matters. That’s what I hope I’m offering here. A smattering of recipes to reconnect with each other, with ourselves and especially with God. I’ll start with something written just for my new friend Susan mentioned above.
Lucky Home Pause
Your community might not allow for hot beverages or any beverages at all to be in the worship space. Even so, think of this invitation as a way to begin worship. Instead of a cup of coffee, there might be candles that are lit. Maybe everyone gets to light a candle and breathes into this pause for reflection. The above photo is from the Munster here in Ulm, Germany which could be inspiration for a simple sandbox and some tapered candles for this moment. Notice there’s an option in that first line depending on what you use.
Let us begin here in this pause with a light to warm our hearts/a warm cuppa to soothe our souls. Welcome this warmth from God. Let it find a home within you as you pause to consider what makes you feel lucky today. What feels too good to be true? Where are you finding joy? Take a warm, gentle moment to feel that joy.
These words could be on a screen or in a bulletin but I think it’d work best to have them spoken by someone. It might follow the Call to Worship for a whole month or two or even three. Each week, there could be a new voice offering this invitation. As always, adapt this as it works best for you and your people.
Labor Day (US)
Home is where holidays are celebrated too. There are rituals that go with these holidays that your congregation already has. Some of these might be changing and that is probably a good thing. Or so says the interim pastor in me. It might also be time to introduce some new holiday celebrations like Labor Day in the United States.
When I was in seminary, I did a summer internship with Interfaith Worker Justice and learned that I’m way too much of an introvert to be a good organizer. That summer makes me turn to look at whatever IWJ has published for Labor in the Pulpits. (This is a big event and requires a lot of planning.) It does not require a big event to uplift the rights of workers in worship and so I always find a way to include it in worship including these prayers from the pandemic. If we are indeed in that season that follows the pandemic, there is lots to consider now that the coronavirus has changed the way we work. There’s lots in here from the Pew Research Center that might shed new light on how we think about workers and workers rights. There’s some room to wonder about the workers that aren’t mentioned at all in this coverage. I also thought this article about queer clergy working at home was enlightening as much as it maddens me.
House Blessings are what happen when we move into a new place. We dispel the bad energy still lingering in these walls and welcome the presence of God into every room. We sprinkle water and sing. The good folks at Old First UCC in Philadelphia just did a version of a home blessing as they stepped into their new sanctuary space and it’s got me wondering about how we bless the spaces we inhabit including our worship space. How have we changed? What new meaning have we found in these spaces? What do we want these walls to hold going forward? I wrote a simple Home Blessing for this new season that you can find here.
Home is the place from which we go out into the world: kids to school, adults to work, Jesus followers to love. How might we bless these movements?
Backpack Blessings in Coronatide was the first gathering of gifts and then there was so much more out there one year later that I posted More Backpack Blessings in Coronatide — and there are still things I would add now. If you’re looking to include more people in this blessing, you might find something inspired in Blessing of the Backpacks and Briefcases I wrote way back in 2016.
I would most definitely order these stickers from Vibrant Church Communications but I wouldn’t limit it to kids. We all need this blessing. Get one for everyone and enjoy the liturgy provided with your stickers.
World Communion Sunday
Bread gathers around tables all over the world, especially in Europe. There is so much bread here in Europe. It’s hard to maintain my baking habit. I was indeed one of those pandemic bakers as evidenced by my first rosemary focaccia pictured above. Yum.
Though I will probably share something new this year, there are some good things kneaded into this Pandemic Prayers for World Communion Sunday post. I don't like the follow-up post quite as much. It just doesn’t seem to carry beyond that moment but there might be something unexpected and delightful in Kneaded Love which I wrote for Maundy Thursday last year. There’s a teaser complete with a typo here. Please correct the typo when you use it. The whole service would require some adaptation as this isn’t really the right celebration but it might still work especially if you are eager to be outside together. You can order Kneaded Love here.
Late in October, Psalm 84 appears in the Revised Common Lectionary. It’s the one that begins “how lovely is your dwelling place.” You know the one. It’s an alternate reading so you might not choose it but I wrote a little something inspired by that psalm that might begin your worship. You can find that here. And as you consider the psalms of this season, I would commend to you the amazing work of the Living Psalms Project. There is a treasure trove of new interpretations including one I’ll write for Labor Day.
All Saints Sunday
Once upon a time, our homes were where death happened rather than merely the place we grieved what had been lost. Funeral homes have replaced that along with a million other things we have normalized to escape the reality of death. Grief is one of the things that remains with us, even as we try to claim joy. So many have died and so many are still dying. We need a place for this grief because we have come to live here.
I have two liturgies for the day the church sets aside to remember all that have died in the past year including Pandemic Praying Our Goodbyes and a Pandemic Liturgy for All Saints Day. I’m not sure either quite fits this moment. What do you think is needed for the grief we now share?
As the Reign of Christ approaches in November, the Lukan Jesus keeps talking about the stones that won’t be where they once were. Dislocation in his own time, perhaps. In one of these weeks, it might be worth using these prayer stations wondering about stones. There are slides you are welcome to take and use. Another option might be these rock-centered prayers as you might explore all that feels unsettled. It might even be this year that you welcome a six-week Advent for just this reason.
I want there to be other rituals for this homecoming. Maybe you’re starting to imagine some of your own creations. I hope so. I’ll conclude by sharing an invitation to something I hope will catch your attention. There is always a risk in sharing something that is still in formation. I’m still imagining what this will be but I’m excited enough to share that I’m looking to gather 3-5 pastor-types quarterly for an hour of group spiritual direction. From this shared time together, liturgy would emerge uniquely attuned to the hopes and dreams of the congregations of the participating clergy. I hope to start with a group in October planning for Advent and at least for now, it’ll be free. Worship Threads is something that I hope will become part of my spiritual direction practice and inform the liturgy I create in the future. Interested to hear more or even to sign up for the beta group? Send me a note and let me know what you’re thinking. I’m really excited about this possibility of collaborative worship planning and hope it catches your attention.
I pray that these things from my kitchen help to add spice to your cooking up something delicious and nourishing for the whole people of God.
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