Category Archives: Liturgical Practices

Liturgical Confession from Iona Community

I stumbled across this today and I absolutely LOVE it!  Far too often, liturgy is assumed to be a one-way street.  This confession from the Iona community in Scotland embraces the mutuality between liturgist and congregation.  We are ALL in this together!  Amen!

Before God, with the people of God, I confess to my brokenness:
To the ways I wound my life, the lives of others and the life of the world
May God forgive you, Christ renew you, 
     and the Spirit enable you to grow in love.

Before God, with the people of God, we confess to our brokenness:
To the ways we wound our lives, 
     the lives of others
     and the life of the world.
May God forgive you, Christ renew you, and the spirit enable you to grow in love.

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Children’s Church IS the Church – Rodger Nishioka

The following article is by a friend and professor of mine, Rodger Nishioka.  It was posted by “Next Church” at their website here.  It is a wonderful article which concisely speaks of the historical creation of the “Children’s Church.” Image

In their book, The Godbearing Life, which has now become a youth ministry standard, Kenda Creasy Dean who teaches at Princeton Theological Seminary and Ron Foster, pastor of a United Methodist congregation, identify one of the most problematic models traditional youth ministry as the “one-eared Mickey Mouse.”  In their description, the congregation and its ministry form the head of Mickey Mouse while youth ministry forms one ear that, like the Mickey Mouse image, is barely attached to the head.  The problem, they say, is that young people grow up with an understanding that youth ministry is only tangentially connected to the life of the whole church if it is connected at all.  They view youth ministry as something that is separate.  This view ends up reinforcing the natural egocentrism of adolescence and while that may suffice for a while, when young people grow up, they find themselves bereft of any understanding of church and the whole church’s ministry and their part in it.  That is when they drift away.  Tragically, we set them up for this by locating their ministry as something apart from the rest of the church.  This analogy is potent as we consider the place of children in the church.

In too many congregations, our children are “dismissed” to go to “children’s church” or something like it either a few minutes into the congregation’s worship or in place of being present in the congregation’s worship at all.  As far as I can tell, this is a 20th century phenomenon.  In reviewing session minutes from Presbyterian congregations in the archives here at Columbia Theological Seminary, this action of sending children out of worship began in the 1950s at the height of the post-war baby boom.  Prior to this, no such thing existed.  Children were in the whole of worship with their families.  But in the years following the second world war with the tremendous influx of newborns, congregations began looking for immediate and cost effective ways to gain more space in the sanctuary to accommodate all these young families and their children and some inventive pastor or church educator thought about sending the children out to make more space for adults and thus, the phenomenon of “dismissing” children from worship was born.  If a generation runs approximately 20 years, then we are into our third generation of this experience and it has become normative for us all.  Indeed, when I have preached in congregations where there is now plenty of room for all ages to worship together, church after church still sends children out of worship because “that’s what we have always done.”  The truth is, that is NOT what we have always done and even more, we are now reaping what we have sown.

We have sown three generations of children leaving or never worshipping with us, and it is no wonder that so many find worship boring and incomprehensible when they come of age and are expected to join us.  Further, when I suggest that children remain with us during the whole of worship, some of the loudest objections come from some young parents who want worship to be a time for them when they do not have to worry about their child’s behavior.  My own sense is that this reflects the current belief among developmental theorists that adolescence is extending well into young adulthood and what else is a true sign of adolescence but the primary focus on one’s own needs over others.  And after all, these parents of young children experienced the pattern of a separate “adult worship” and “children’s worship” when they were young so is not that what church is supposed to be like?

Here is the greatest problem I find in separating our children from us in the worship of God.  In Matthew’s gospel, he relays the story also found in Mark and Luke about Jesus encountering little children.  Parents are bringing their children to Jesus because they want their daughters and sons to meet him, but the disciples turn them away.  Jesus tells the disciples to , “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.”  (Matt. 19:14).  Readers of Matthew know that the gospel writer often uses the words “kingdom of heaven”  euphemistically for “God.”  Given the quote from Jesus, he seems to be telling us all that God belongs to children.  This is unique, truly.  I can find no other place in the gospels where God is said to belong to anyone.  It seems that there is something about children that they alone are named as the ones who possess God.  For me, then, the question of children and the church is first and foremost a theological one.  If we are called as the body of Christ to worship God and to glorify God and to enjoy God (as the Westminster divines tell us in the catechism), then does it not make sense that those to whom God is said to belong, our children, should at least be present among us?   In fact, should not our children be leading us in this endeavor for which we were created?

There is no “children’s church” separate from the “church.”  Children’s church IS the church.  Amen.

Rodger Nishioka is the Benton Family Chair in Christian Education at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA.

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A Prayer of Confession Inspired by Psalm 106

The following prayer of Confession was written by Stephen Fearing and used at Conyers Presbyterian Church in Conyers, Georgia on Sunday, October 27th, 2013.  On this date, CPC dedicated the newest addition to their worship life, the new Presbyterian Hymnal, Glory to God.  The sung response throughout this confession is hymn number 576 in Glory to God.  It is a simple, heartfelt, and concise sung confession that can be easily learned in almost any group.  The confession is based off of the text of Psalm 106.

Forgive us for what we have done….
                                We have sinned.
                                We have rebelled.
                                We have forgotten your works.
                                We have put you to the test.
                                We have worshipped idols.
                                We have grumbled, provoked, and angered you.
                                We have sinned.
                                          (Kyrie #576)

Forgive us for what we have left undone….
                                We have not considered your wonderful works.
                                We have not remembered the abundance
                                               of your steadfast love.
                                We have not waited for your word.
                                We have not had faith in your promise.
                                We have not served you.
                                (Kyrie #576)

Remember us, O Lord.
                                Show favor upon us, your people.
                                Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us
                                that we might give thanks in your holy name
                                and glory in your praise.
                                           (Kyrie #576)

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“Death Has Died, No Longer Holds Us”

Well, here it is: my first ever attempt at hymnody. The following text that I have composed is structured as D. Suggested tunes are ABBOT’S LEIGH, BEECHER, HOLY MANNA, HYFRYDOL, HYMN TO JOY, and NETTLETON.

Death has died, no longer holds us;
God’s embrace and love endure.
Never ceasing, always blessing,
grace has found us, made us sure.
God the Alpha and Omega
gives us life anew each day.
Christ has died and Christ is Risen;
all our fears have passed away.

Text by Stephen Fearing.

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“Glory to God” | Sung Response to Assurance of Pardon

Here is a youtube video of a congregation singing one of my favorite parts of the upcoming Presbyterian Hymnal, “Glory to God.” The song is an adaptation of the Gloria Patri and is entitled “Glory to God (Whose Goodness Shines on Me)” by Paul Vasile. You can find the piano music here.

Although this song can be used as a “stand-alone” hymn, it works best as a sung response to the Assurance of Pardon. Enjoy!

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Doubting Thomas | Nickel Creek | Second Sunday in Easter (Year C)

One of my favorite Nickel Creek Songs, “Doubting Thomas” is a great way to get the gears going for preparation for the Second Sunday in Lent (Year C). You can listen to the beautiful song here.

Doubting Thomas by Nickel Creek

What will be left when I’ve drawn my last breath
Besides the folks I’ve met and the folks who’ve known me
Will I discover a soul-saving love
Or just the dirt above and below me

I’m a doubting Thomas
I took a promise
But I do not feel safe
Oh me of little faith

Sometimes I pray for a slap in the face
Then I beg to be spared cause I’m a coward
If there’s a master of death
I bet he’s holding his breath
As I show the blind and tell the deaf about his power

I’m a doubting Thomas
I can’t keep my promises
Cause I don’t know what’s safe
Oh me of little faith

Can I be used to help others find truth
When I’m scared I’ll find proof that it’s a lie
Can I be led down a trail dropping bread crumbs
That prove I’m not ready to die

Please give me time to decipher the signs
Please forgive me for time that I’ve wasted

I’m a doubting Thomas
I’ll take your promise
Though I know nothin’s safe
Oh me of little faith

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Holy Week Devotional Guide (Year C)

The following is a Holy Week Devotional Guide organized by Hillary Ann Golden via The opening prayers for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are taken from prayers previously posted on this blog. May God continue to bless you through this Holy Week as we prepare to praise the Risen Christ! You can download this free devotional guide here.

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A Sabbath I’ve Never Known (and Always Missed)

A poetic reflection on short sabbath I took last week at a dear friend’s cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Northwest, Georgia.

stubborn hill, spinning tires,
back it up, try it again.
Focus, Feel…forward!
Up it goes and forward I look…
and there it passes
by my right, unnoticed.

It will not scream out to me;
it will simply
to be found

for waiting is its only
its only calling.

At the top I weave and wind, whither and wane
as I shift and rev to return
to a lane that I once wandered far
and traveled upon alone
and with courage.

I celebrate my victory for the briefest of moments
and then remember
that I have yet to find that which begs to be found.

Rain gently drums on my windshield
and the wipers wake me from my thoughts.
I could call, I could ask, but, no,
this is the point, isn’t it?

I return and slowly slide down
that same stubborn hill.
the first time, I had no choice but to speed
for only momentum would do.
But this time
I creep, I crawl, my neck is free to turn
my wandering head back and forth.
My eyes squint and

there it is!

My heart leaps and I delicately turn into
a sanctuary that I have never known
and I have always

I welcome the rain for it reminds me that I am alone.
While others see it as dismal, distant, and dark,
I feel it, in this moment at least, as soothing,
as something that reminds me that things
are in need of being washed away.

I am
I am
I am

Here I was….here I am….here I will be.

I adjust to the quiet; it is, after all, alarmingly present.
It isn’t a simple thing
going from an everything that is nothing
to a nothing that is everything.

I walk around, it take it all it,
or perhaps it takes me all in…I’ll never quite understand.

The mist rolls over the mountains
and the chimes,
ever so gently,
respond to the wind’s subtle push.

You’re here, it’s time, let go, and listen
their song so simply suggests.
And I relent, and reluctantly retreat into nothingness
and there abide
for a while.

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Benediction (Iona) | Easter (Year C)

This is a prayer from the Iona community. It is a responsive benediction that is best led (in my opinion) not from the pulpit, lectern, font, or table but in the very midst of the people with confidence, conviction, and clarity.*

The cross, we will take it.
The bread, we will break it.
The pain, we will bear it.
The joy, we will share it.
The Gospel, we will live it.
The love, we will give it.
The light, we will cherish it.
The darkness, God shall perish it!

This is a prayer that I first experienced at a worship service at Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. I have used this as the responsive benediction for most of the Sundays that I have been preaching at Silver Creek Presbyterian Church in Rome, Georgia. I love this prayer for many reasons. First and foremost, like any good liturgy, the language is rhythmic, poetic and yet very easy to grasp. The responsive nature of the benediction gives a sense of shared responsibility among the congregation. It is almost as if the one presiding and the congregation are making a promise to themselves or, perhaps more accurately, are keeping a promise already made to them by God. As this prayer is uttered as we prepare to follow the Word into the world, this prayer empowers us by reminding us that it is our job to cherish the light and it is God’s job to perish the darkness!

*worship spaces differ greatly. For some communities, the table and font are the central focal point with the congregation gathered around them. If so, this prayer would best be done from that location. If not, care should be taken that the physical location of this liturgy is intimate!

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Call to Worship (or Laughter) | Easter (Year C)

I found this liturgy by Thom Shuman and I had to share! What a brilliant representation of the absurdity of the cross and the defiance of the empty tomb. It reminds me of the reason why I prefer to call Easter Sunday “‘Suck it, Rome!’ Sunday.” May we all continue to preach the joke that God has forever played on death!

One: This is the time to rejoice!
All: What better time than now!
One: This is the day to laugh:
What did the cabbage pastor
say to the people?
Pastor: Lettuce pray!
One: How many choir directors does
it take to change a light bulb?
Choir: No one knows, because no one
ever watches the director!
One: How many Presbyterians does it take
to change a light bulb?
All: Change? Presbyterians don’t believe
in change!
One: What’s the greatest joke ever?
All: The one God played on
death on Easter morning!

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