Worship, Prayer, Brokenness and Syria

As I approached leading worship this past Sunday September 8th I had mixed emotions.  I had decided that I would have a sermon series on Jeremiah during most of September, so the plan was already there for the readings and some of the elements of worship.  But then as the week went on, with the war drums around Syria getting louder and louder–I wanted to incorporate this into worship as I knew many attendees would come wanting to reflect on how to respond to the Syria-question that is out in our public square as people of faith.  I also knew that I really didn’t have sufficient words to speak into the ongoing war in Syria, nor do I have connections to that place that really give me the standing to appropriately speak into that situation.

So what I did was a few things:

  • Offered printed materials about the response and policy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in regards to the ever unfolding disaster in Syria to those who wanted more information in worship.  I also provided information with links on the church website and provided links to that via our social media sites.   Like me, many of those who come to worship at my church are also hungry for information, background and theological reflection.   I had a number of people thank me for offering clear, concrete and usable information to them.  So many of us feel helpless and having information and something concrete to do is helpful.  I am so grateful for all the communication our denomination has offered us to us over the last two weeks.  We have had wonderful information and wonderful opportunities for solidarity and giving to offer to those in our congregations.
  • Stayed true to my original focus for the day which was Jeremiah.  Didn’t try to preach a full/traditional sermon (my heart was too sad for that).  Didn’t worry about that the way I usually would.  Instead I offered images, an outline of Jeremiah and let people go with it in whatever way they felt called to that day.  I also offered the words of our sisters and brothers in Syria via a mission letter.  And I allowed myself to shed some tears as I read it (I practiced many times the day before so I would not cry, but the emotionality of what the Syrians wrote was too much for me).  I would usually beat myself up for not being in 100% control in leading worship, but you know what–we are talking about bombing a country that’s been in the midst of a crippling civil war for nearly three years and of raining more hell down on innocent children and people.  And if we cannot offer some tears of sadness and rage as worship leaders on a Sunday like this…and it not be ok, then I guess we are in the wrong business….this should make all of us cry with the overwhelming sadness that we are in the midst of and the failure of leadership that our country and world is experiencing in this time.  This is the reflection I offered. 
  • Offered something with touch.  My daughter helped me prepare these little baggies that every worshipper go on their way into the sanctuary.  It was a snack-size ziploc bag with a piece of sculpie, a wet-wipe and part of the Jeremiah reading.  What I invited people into after a brief sermon reflection was about 7 minutes of quiet prayer with the clay.  I invited them to close their eyes, let the music wash over them and let God’s Spirit guide their hands.  I let them know they could keep the Jeremiah reading close, take it home and put it on the fridge or in their cubicle at work.  A reminder that we are in God’s hands and that God is with us.
The scripture reading and clay all attendees at worship got to work with their hands with prayer.

The scripture reading and clay all attendees at worship got to work with their hands with prayer.

As I watched people in worship work the clay as our music director played and sang the most beautiful song about the Potter.  I noticed a few things:

Misty Eyes

Tears in Eyes

Faces raised up in prayer with eyes closed

Hands working the clay

Some sitting in silence

A few playing with their electronics…that’s ok!

Couples and families inch closer to each other in the pews


Quiet and deep reflection

After Jeremy (our music director) finished the music we had a brief prayer and then finished up with worship.  As is our custom at Watchung Avenue, on the second Sunday of each month, after regular worship we have a Healing Service.  This consists of myself and usually our Deacon standing at the front of the church during the postlude and anyone can come forward, share something with us and we pray with them privately and anoint their forehead with oil.  This Sunday our Deacon was ill so one of my seminarians helped.  What happened after worship was the longest line I’ve ever seen in 4.5 years at Watchung Avenue come forward for healing.  Heartfelt and deep longings of the heart were shared with us.  Moving prayers were offered.  More tears were shed.  Oil was placed on everyone’s forehead and hugs were exchanged.

My wonderful Roman Catholic priest-friend and I have talked oftentimes about the role of personal confession that is a part of his tradition but not ours in the Presbyterian Church.  My daughter is a student at a Catholic school and last year surprised my husband and I by coming home to say she went to confession for the first time that day and proclaiming to us that “it was great!”  She felt unburdened.  Father George tells me the same thing.  That sometimes people just offer him their burdens, they pray together and it is helpful.  Other times something is shared that gives him the opportunity to go further in pastoral care with that person or family.  And still other times he’s entered into the role of inviting some to spiritual direction.

I am left after a very powerful worship experience two days ago wondering if we can in our tradition reclaim some of that idea of confession.  And some of the idea in worship of tactile prayer in moments of deep worry and great emotional hunger–as was the case this past Sunday as the evil drums of war surround us.

It is not just a political conversation, but a deeply emotional one.

We are weary of war.

In my location here in New Jersey we are also always in a deeply emotional place this week with the anniversary of September 11th tomorrow.   I always get weepy and sad at this time of the year and always offer something special in worship on the Sunday closest to September 11th because for us in NJ near NYC this is a very hard week.  I remember my first year of ministry when I was 100% caught up in the day of September 11th as I served a bedroom community of NYC that lost many people and the first funerals in ordained ministry I participated in were for those lost in the twin towers.

We entered worship raw and broken on Sunday, by these huge things swirling around us–but also by the daily stuff life hands each of us.

By God’s grace–many of us left worship this past Sunday still broken–but healed and put back together by word, song, touch, oil, and the Spirit.

And for the last two days every conversation I have had with members of my community have started with something about those holy moments we shared together this past Sunday.

And the experience of cultivating worship this week helped and healed my soul as well.

Peace to everyone, everywhere.


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