Worship Resource: Advent Wreath Liturgy 2020 (inspired by UCC Book of Worship

Advent wreath readings 2020

Advent Wreath week 1: Hope

Introductory Sentences

Today is the beginning of Advent–the preparation time for celebrating Christ’s birth. We are here because God’s promises to our ancestors came true when Jesus was born. God’s promise is kept each Sunday when we worship and wherever we worship because Christ is in our midst. God will keep the promise to come again in glory. 

Scripture 

Isaiah 60:1-2

 Arise, shine; for your light has come,

and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 

2 For darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples;

but the LORD will arise upon you,

and his glory will appear over you. 

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is hope. (Share one thing that gives you hope.) We believe in hope that is more than wishful thinking. We believe in hope that is grounded in the birth of Jesus. 

Light the first candle on the Advent wreath.

Prayer

God we thank you that Jesus brought hope into the world. Help us to be ready to welcome Jesus so that we may be a people of hope for the world. Amen.

Advent Wreath week 2: Peace

Introductory Sentences

We gather around the Advent wreath today knowing that we are not perfect–we all make mistakes and cause others harm. Jesus creates a more peaceful world by helping us repair the harm we’ve done. Jesus helps us accept ourselves and others so that we can be at peace.

Scripture

Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,

a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

and he is named

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

7 His authority shall grow continually,

and there shall be endless peace

for the throne of David and his kingdom.

He will establish and uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time onward and forevermore.

The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is peace, for Christ is called the “Prince of Peace. We believe in the power of peace to heal the world.

Light the second candle on the Advent wreath.

Prayer

Eternal God, we thank you that through all the years you have given peace to your people. Help us to cultivate peacefulness in our lives. Show us how to be peacemakers with those around us because we believe in peace. Amen.

Advent Wreath week 3: Love

Introductory Sentences

St. John wrote, “God is love.” As we gather around the Advent wreath today we celebrate God’s love sustaining us moment to moment regardless of our actions or circumstances. God’s love is embodied in Jesus and in each one of us. Because of this we say, “We believe in love.”

Scripture

1John 4:7-8

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to porcelain the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is love. Such grat love helps us to love God and one another.

Light the third candle on the Advent wreath.

Prayer

O God, we thank you that Jesus showed your love for every person–old people and young, sick people and those who were strong, rich people and those who were poor. Your love in Jesus changed the world. For this reason we say, “We believe in love.” Amen!

Advent Wreath week 4: Joy

Introductory Sentences

Soon we shall celebrate the birth of Jesus. We worship God with joy in our hearts as we are reminded of the words the angel said on that first Christmas Day: “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people.” With the angels long ago we say, “We believe in joy.”

Reading of Scripture

John 15:9-11

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

Lighting of the Candle

We light this candle to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world. With the coming of this light there is joy. Joy is ours not only at Christmas but always.

Light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath.

Prayer

O Holy One, as Christmas draws near, we look for that familiar sense of excitement. Perhaps we glimpse it out of the corner of our mind’s eye: a wisp of memory, a childhood song. In this time of global pandemic and political transition we confess to you and to all the world that we believe in joy because you promise us that while “weeping may linger for the night, joy comes with the morning.” Thank you for the gift of Jesus–Morning Star, light of life, bringer of joy.

Christmas Eve

Introductory Sentences

Good evening! On this Christmas Eve we are gathered as God’s people to celebrate again what Christ’s coming means to the world. We join with Christians and all people of good will around the world who are celebrating tonight in saying, “We believe in hope. We believe in peace. We believe in love. We believe in joy.”

Reading of Scripture

Luke 2:10-14

0 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”  13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 

Lighting of the Candles

Tonight we relight the four Advent candles and recall what the good news means.

A leader lights a candle while saying each word: hope, peace, love, joy.

Jesus Christ is the greatest gift who makes all these other gifts possible. So we light the Christ candle now as we welcome the birth of Christ in our lives.

A leader lights the central Christ candle.

Prayer

We thank you God, for your gift of Jesus Christ to the entire world. We thank you that Christ’s coming makes hope, peace, love, and joy possible. Make us your hands and heart to our hurting world because we believe

In hope,

In peace,

In love,

In joy,

And in the matchless gift of Jesus.

Amen.

Worship Resources for Blue Christmas 2020

Words of Welcome                                                                                                                                                                    

The holidays bring with them a mix of emotions: nostalgia, anxiety, anticipation, hope, joy, grief and more. Some of these emotions are more welcome at this time of year than others. We might feel pressure to act happy because it’s Christmastime when inside we don’t feel that way. That’s not the true message of Christmas. God sent the Christ child for the very purpose of sharing our common lot with all of its circumstances and emotions pleasant and unpleasant. In becoming one of us, God accepts all of us. So bring yourself, just as you are to grieve, remember, celebrate, and cherish loved ones who have passed on and the God who embraces us all.

Opening Prayer                                                                                               

God of mercy, we pray for ourselves. We pray for our dear ones. We pray for those who have passed on. We pray for our neighbors and communities. We pray for all of us, who in one way or another have been affected by this year of global pandemic. Because of the pandemic, some of us haven’t had the chance to say good-bye in a way we had hoped. Our grief is complicated; our loss ambiguous. Wrap us in your boundless embrace. Heal our hearts made heavy with sorrow. Lift our spirits so that we might join the heavenly chorus singing, “Peace on earth and good will to all.” Amen. 

Advent Wreath 

 This Advent we light the first candle acknowledging our grief and inviting God’s consolation into our hearts.

Lights the first candle.

We light the second candle accepting our pain and inviting God’s comfort.

Lights the second candle.

We light the third candle noticing our fears and remembering that God’s perfect love casts out fear.

Lights the third candle.

We light the fourth candle honoring our struggle as a sign of the divine life that lives in and through us. 

Lights the fourth candle.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 11-27-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 11-27-20

The theme for this Advent season at First Congregational Church of Granby is “I believe.” In the Bible the same Greek word is used for both “believe” and “faith.” Many people equate “believing” with assenting to certain propositions. Take the Apostle’s Creed, for example: “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord . . .” and so on. That’s one way to understand believing. I understand belief in terms of “faith.” Belief as “faith” tends to be in short supply these days.

Rev. William Sloane Coffin famously wrote, “Faith is not belief without proof but trust without reservation.” In a world where some powerful people see it in their self interest to actively destroy our faith in institutions, our faith in our neighbors, our faith in our ability to work through our differences with love and compassion, saying “I believe” can actually be a radical act.

So this Advent we’re saying “I believe”: I believe in hope. I believe in peace. I believe in love. I believe in joy. I believe in Christ. Belief is the risky act of entrusting ourselves to each other and to God’s boundless love. 

Worship Resource 21st Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 25)

Prayer

Holy God, your one law invites us into the infinite complexity of your vast universe. Give us the courage, clarity, and patience to meet each moment as it arises with your boundless love. Open our hearts to each person we encounter as an expression of ultimate worth. Lure us beyond our comfort zones. Stretch us past our fear of heartbreak. Teach us to keep your Great Commandment. Amen.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-14-20

Sporty Red

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-14-20

I had two experiences in the last two weeks that changed my perspective on the accessibility movement for people with disabilities: 1) I listened to a podcast on the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act; 2) I had my regular visit to the audiologist.

I’m writing to this topic not only because of these experiences but also because I’m wondering if a part of our vision for the future of First Congregational Church of Granby might be reaching individuals with special needs and their families. I’ll explain, but first my recent experiences.

Did you know there was such a thing as “ugly laws?” I didn’t. That was one of the shocking things I learned listening to the history of the ADA. 

In the United States a number of cities in the 19th century enacted laws that prohibited beggars, poor people, people with mental illness, and people with disabilities from public spaces. An 1881 Chicago law read as follows: 

Any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, or an improper person to be allowed in or on the streets, highways, thoroughfares, or public places in the city, shall not therein or thereon expose himself or herself to public view, under the penalty of a fine of $1 for each offense (Chicago City Code 1881).

“An improper person” . . . What a telling line. I had always assumed that the need for making public spaces accessible arose from the ignorance of the able-bodied people designing the spaces. I didn’t realize that the lack of accessibility also arose from a feeling much deeper than that: disgust, embarrassment, that uncomfortable feeling that arises when one encounters someone with obvious physical differences that remind us of the fragility of our own bodies. I am aware of having those feelings myself, for example, when I encounter an amputee or someone with severe mental or physical challenges–particularly, if I haven’t met them before. There is a little moment of adjustment as my mind shifts to encountering this person whose ways of moving through the world are different from mine.

The disabilities movement isn’t only about access to public spaces. The disability movement is saying, “We want you to see us. We are human beings with intrinsic worth. We will not be ashamed of who we are.” This new (for me) perspective resonated with me. I can now see connections with other civil rights movements: racial justice, LGBTQIA+ movements, and women’s movements, for example. 

It also helped me understand the conversations I’ve had again and again with my audiologists over the years. Every time I go in for a new pair of hearing aids (like I did two weeks ago) I get to choose a “color.” There are usually six or seven colors to choose from. Five or six of the colors are different shades of beige, brown, or black–to match skin tone or hair color. But there’s always one color that’s bright. I remember when years ago I chose electric blue. It created quite a bit of consternation for my audiologist and even my family. A few years later I chose emerald green. Once again my audiologist said, “Wouldn’t you rather match your hair?” My newest pair is “sporty red.” Now instead of asking, “Why did you choose that color?” my family asks, “What color did you get!” But my audiologist still somehow felt obligated to ask, “Don’t you want something less visible?” 

Learning the history of the ADA and the “capitol crawl” demonstration of 1990 taught me that visibility is the point.  I invite you to watch the video of Jennifer Keelan, who at 9-years-old got out of her wheelchair, crawled up the steps of the Capitol Building, and changed the world. 

I also invite you to follow the links below for videos of an inspiring weekly worship service called “Parable” developed by Wayzata Community Church, a UCC in Minnesota. 

The service is designed with differently abled people and their families in mind. The joy is infectious. I know it’s difficult to plan during COVID time, but I find this time is a great opportunity to dream. It might seem like a heavy lift for our little church to do something like “Parables,” but perhaps if we partnered with South Church and maybe even East Granby?

In his famous hymn to love the Apostle Paul wrote, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I am fully known.”

To be seen and known is to be loved. When we see each other with all of our brokenness and beauty, a new world is possible.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 6-26-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 6-26-20

On Sunday, June 28, 1970 the first Pride Parade was held in New York City. Similar events were held in June of 1970 in Chicago and San Francisco. All were in response to the Stonewall uprising the previous year, which marks the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. 

For the first time in its 50 year history the NYC pride parade is cancelled due to coronavirus. Cancelled for the first time in 50 years, on its 50th anniversary.

A couple weeks ago I began an online training for leadership and organizational coaching during the COVID pandemic. As the group was naming the different dynamics around loss, grief, and trauma folks are experiencing during this time, the AIDS epidemic came up. For those of us who lived through the 1980s/1990s decades of the AIDS epidemic, when thousands upon thousands of mostly gay men were dying in places like New York City, San Francisco, and Miami, COVID brings up ghosts of that trauma. As many of you know, my dad was one of those gay men who died of AIDS, so this year’s Pride is just a strange, strange time for me, and I’m guessing for many of my LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters. 

Folks are hosting virtual Pride events, but for me and my family the highlight of Pride has always been the parade. My kids tell me that Providence (RI) Pride was their favorite event of the year. People of all ages, colors, and creeds gathered downtown for a day of fun and joy and celebration. We marched as a church. We waved banners and wore silly hats and cheered for the crowd as the crowd cheered for us. The City of Providence was never happier or more together than on Pride weekend. 

My Pride story is a family story. It’s a story of my family finding its family: a community of people committed to living without shame; people of all different identities committed to accepting and loving every inch of themselves and every part of every other. Nothing needs to be hidden. Everything can be talked about. Vulnerability, instead of a sign of weakness, is lifted up as a sign of strength. Pride is a time of honoring those who have gone before: martyrs and heroes and loved ones lost who had the courage to live their truth, and because they chose to do so, paved the way for those of us who would follow to more perfectly manifest what, for me, is nothing other than God’s boundless, unconditional love.

Worship Resources, Trinity Sunday, Year A, Holy Communion #systemicracism #blacklivesmatter

Opening Prayer                                                                                                                                          

Holy God, you call us to make disciples, but how can we invite others to follow when we ourselves have such a tendency to stray from your way of love? Tune our hearts to your call to return to the boundless embrace of your never changing love. Amen.

Invitation to the Table 

Jesus said: “I am the bread of life; anyone who comes to me shall not hunger; anyone who believes in me shall never thirst.” Nevertheless, we hunger; nevertheless we thirst. We hunger for justice on behalf of Black lives lost and Black bodies broken under the crushing weight of systemic racism. We thirst for righteousness that is necessary for all to live in peace.

This table is open to all who hunger and thirst for God. Come to this sacred table not because you must but because you may. Come not because you are fulfilled but because in your emptiness you stand in need of God’s mercy and assurance. Come not to express an opinion, but to seek a presence and to pray for a Spirit. 

Come to this table, sisters and brothers, as you are. Partake and share. It is spread for you and me that we might again know that God has come to us, shared our common lot, and invited us to step past the bonds of hatred and fear into God’s boundless embrace.

The Great Thanksgiving 

Holy God, we praise and bless you for creation and the gift of life and for your abiding love which brings us close to you, the source of all blessing. We thank you for revealing your will for us in the giving of the law and in the preaching of the prophets.

The prophet Amos called on the ancient Israelites to “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Centuries later your prophet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called on the people of America to do the same. 

We thank you for the prophets of this moment who call us to once again examine our hearts, to shake free of our complacency, to open our ears to the cries of those suffocating in the grip of racial hatred. We thank you for calling us to be the healing hands and passionate heart of Jesus to our world.

With the faithful in every place and time, we praise with joy your holy name:

Holy, holy, holy God of love and majesty, the whole universe speaks of your glory, O God Most High. Amen.

Worship Resource 5-17-20, Easter 6A, John 14:15-21

Opening Prayer

We love you, Jesus, and we do our best to keep your commandments. You said that no one has greater love than to lay down one’s life for others. Though we are too often tired, discouraged, and preoccupied we once again offer ourselves as your hands and heart for the world. Bless our worship that we might offer a sacrifice worthy of your boundless love. Amen.