Preparing for Worship in a Crisis

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It has happened all too often…

  • an act of violence and terror strikes a community…
  • the mayor calls the community to prayer…
  • the people come together from different faiths, organizations, and backgrounds, united in this time of pain and sorrow…
  • they need to be together…
  • they need a safe place to weep, to pray for healing, and to be assured of hope for the future. 

So who plans the service? This is something worth thinking about proactively, ahead of the crisis, ahead of the storm. As medical and rescue teams prepare for crises, so should churches and communities. How can a diverse group of leaders prepare to support each other and their communities?

Who is your neighbor?

If a real crisis strikes your community, you may be called to worship together in an ecumenical setting with the whole community. A good question to ask now is who are the others in your neighborhood that you could gather with? Make a list of churches and religious organizations within a reasonable distance, including those of other faiths. Invite them to an ecumenical communal gathering of pastors and leaders to proactively talk together about the potential reality of worshiping together in a crisis.

Plan a follow up meeting in which each organization is asked to bring the following:

  • Three scripture passages or readings to suggest
  • Three songs/hymns from your congregation’s core repertoire
  • Three prayers or readings from your tradition that speak healing in a crisis

Draft a document with the names and contact information of those interested in participating in a service in event of a crisis. Include the scriptures, songs, and prayers that were submitted, and share the doc with each other. Consider gathering this group every 6 months or so to stay connected and pray for your community.  

If the dreaded time should come when disaster strikes your city, you have relationships in place for a community gathering. Think about being gracious hosts to each other when planning an ecumenical service. Keep in mind all those who are in your ecumenical group and find common ground in selecting scriptures and prayers. The Psalms are widely accepted across cultures and faiths. Ancient prayers can be effectively used. Consider returning to an original version of hymn texts for ecumenical and generational continuity.

Familiarity is important to draw from in a crisis according to speaker Rebecca Abbott (Hymns for a Crisis). It’s important to sing familiar songs and hymns in times of crisis because of how our brains are designed. In his book, Memory and Liturgy: The Place of Memory in the Composition and Practice of Liturgy, Peter Atkins states that familiarity saves energy. Familiarity opens established pathways, allowing the brain to recapture feelings that were in place BEFORE the crisis. This can renew the strength to deal with the crisis. The hymns chosen should express both an acknowledgement of struggle, weakness or pain and an affirmation of hope. Abbott recommends that in a crisis service, 95-100% of the hymns should be familiar to those attending if possible.

This is difficult to think about. But in these perilous times we live in, it is something that we would all be wise to think about. While each of these crisis services will need to be tailored to a specific place and circumstance, if you have an ecumenical service that you have been a part of in your community, please share it here on The Network.

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