Monday, March 18, 2024

unless a grain of wheat falls: Lent 5 DIY Dying to live seed sprouting prayer resource

It was fun to make up wheat seeds as a DIY practical prayer resource for Sunday (Lent 5B) worship! The Dying to live prayer resource was sparked by the words of Jesus in John 12:24 24 – “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit.” The verse got me researching wheat seeds.

DIY seeds sprouting

First, was realising that some wheat can be planted in autumn and other wheat in spring. So the verses from John 12:21 work equally well in Northern (spring) and Southern (autumn) hemispheres. So giving out wheat in the autumn/Lent in the Southern hemisphere was realistic.

Second, was realising how easy, fast and nourishing it is to spout wheat.

Third, was locating resealable plastic bags, to provide for ease of carry and address any hygenie concerns.

Fourth, was making up a handout with those easy sprouting instructions, along with a short prayer.

The result was a DIY practical prayer resource, given out during the children’s talk (when I played a youtube video of seeds sprouting). Then, the invitation during prayers for others to hold the seats as we prayed for seeds of justice to sprout in our world and seeds of Spirit to sprout in our community and in us. Finally, the invitation to prayer with seeds sprouting in the week coming.

Here’s the Lent 5B Dying to live seed sprouting handout I made up …

dying to live

Posted by steve at 08:49 AM

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Prayer in local place

I preach monthly at our local Presbyterian church. They are a small group and as a visiting preacher, I’ve wrestled with how to engage them in meaningful and contextual ways. How to enable their unique local voice to be expressed in gathered worship? This year I have turned part of the thanksgiving and confession time into a time called “Prayer in place.”

I provide a photo of a well-known local place – the school, the local garden, the town hall and local park. I do a bit of research prior and craft a draft prayer.

But before I pray, I show the photo and ask if there are memories and stories and experiences of this place. This generates a buzz of conversation and a lovely sense of interaction, as folk share with me – the visitor – some of their local knowledge. Community is encouraged. The sharing also gives me some local and communal texture. I can pray, weaving some of the phrases and memories that are shared into the prayer.

“Prayer in place” takes about 15 minutes. It is a relatively simple exercise yet it is proving to be a great way of generating sharing and locating the worship in the unique texture of this community.

Here is the prayer from Sunday, for the Lady Thorn Dell Garden, in Port Chalmers.

As we pray, we recall the words of Scripture, from Colossians 1:
The invitation for us to see God’s original purpose in everything created
And so today, we look at the Lady Thorn Dell Garden
We see your original purpose in creating gardens of beauty, places of peace, moments to walk and wonder and draw aside to hear your voice in the garden more clearly.

Gardening God,
We say thanks for the beauty of flowers and the gift of rhododendrons
The hope as we see the buds begin to thicken
Promise of spring and colour

As we say thanks for the creation we see,
We also say thanks for creation that we cannot see,
Microbes and the worms and the agents of compost at work in the Lady Thorn Dell Garden
The leaves that play their role in CO2 absorption
Every individual leaf playing their small tiny part

We say thanks for special places
For how they help change our view of the world, how they offer a sense of peace and give special memories – of picnics and weddings and Carol services and Garden parties

We say thanks for people from the past who provided the Lady Thorn Dell Gardens, those who quarried the stone that made so many of the buildings we now admire, Lady Thorn, a former Mayoress of Port Chalmers, who dreamt of turning the quarry into a garden, the hard work by the local Lions Club, cutting the paths and planting the rhododendrons.

And so we pray that you will help us live out the original purpose that you created us for
Whether it is large, like building a garden
Whether it is small – like a smile or a caring comment or an unseen prayer for our grand children or picking up some leftover rubbish – help us share in your message of love and compassion and care for creation, Amen

Posted by steve at 09:33 AM

Friday, April 15, 2022

Easter cross flowering as public witness

This Easter, I’ve been privileged to lead worship at Emmanuel, my local Presbyterian church. With Otago at a peak in terms of Omicron the decision was made not to gather for worship.

As a creative response, I moved the cross outdoors (left hand photo from Thursday). The “Home church Easter Friday” service I created included an outdoor benediction. Folk were invited to flower the cross outside the church at some point over the weekend.  As you can see from the Friday afternoon (right-hand side) photo, it’s allowed a delightful participation by the community.

The cross had some words attached, borrowed from a colleague, Rob Kilpatrick, who had done something similar during the covid lockdown in 2020.

There is a story
that the cross of Jesus
sprouted flowers and branches immediately after he died.
A reminder
that death is not the end.
Life springs from a seed ‘dying’
This cross is available
for anyone to flower
over Easter weekend.
To express our sadness for those who suffer pain and loss,
including in Ukraine and
invite us to hope
for new life.
Anyone is welcome to add a flower.

The outdoor flowering did a number of things.

  1. Public witness. Emmanuel has a large carpark on the main road through the village. A cross, with flowers being added, was a visible expression of Easter.
  2. It provided a chance for church folk to do something collectively, to express in a visible and communal way their devotion. For health reasons, folk could worship alone yet still have a way to worship together.
  3. The cross, wrapped in the colours of Ukraine, offered a way for folk to be in solidarity with Ukraine. (And practically, the blue and yellow ribbon also provided a way for flowers to be placed on the cross). I have deep concerns about Christian nationalism and the fusion of faith with national identity. Hence the words – “to express our sadness for those who suffer pain and loss, including in Ukraine” – which I hope focus on the horrors of war, rather than coopting God to the side of any one particular nation.
  4. As public worship, it was a chance for anyone from the community to also engage in devotion. Passers-by from the local community could add a flower and without having to attend worship.

There are risks. As I noted to the leadership of Emmanuel Church in testing the idea, it could get vandalised. A strong southerly wind could blow the flowers away. No one might put any flowers up. However the risks can be managed. The cross could be checked regularly including after strong winds. More flowers can be added if it’s a bit thin.

Importantly, the vulnerability is actually deeply congruent with the events of Easter Friday. A man is being exposed to violence and his disciples might not turn up to. So the risks resonate with the Easter story.

There is more to follow, with “Home church Easter Sunday” service going to invite another way to engage …. what this space …

Posted by steve at 06:09 PM

Monday, February 05, 2018

Anna, Simeon and the mission of the church (at Candlemas)

February 2nd in the lectionary is a Feast day in the church; when Jesus is presented at the temple. The Bible text is Luke 22:22-40. In terms of speaking parts, the main characters are Anna and Simeon. They are presented in the Bible text as elderly. So today, in our intercession, we pray for elderly.

God our friend, we give
Thanks for the elderly, for those in our family photo album who are going before us in time
Thanks for our parents and grandparents, those we know who have gone before us.
Thanks for those in our congregations and placements who are Anna and Simeon, who are elderly.

We name the reality of aging. We name the losses that can be physical, psychological, spiritual, financial, social and of autonomy. In every loss is grief and so we pray for grace. For space to name the changes and honestly confess the reality.

In every loss is an invitation to change and so we pray for grace to be adaptable, to find God in the process of aging, to trace the grace of God’s presence in every day, in every breath, in every memory. In the way we pause with examen and seek your grace in our day, we pray that aging may be a step into the examen of a lifetime, and so an experience of grace, mercy and new hope.

Thanks for those who care for the elderly, who provide meals, who offer medical advice, we pray. We ask for good humour, for people centred care.

For policy makers, making decisions about New Zealand future, setting codes of practice for care, we pray for wisdom;
For the medical decisions that surround ageing we pray for wisdom, for listening ears, for full disclosure;
For those wrestling with decisions about the types of care of retirement homes, we pray for wisdom;
For those experiencing dementia and those watching people experience dementia, we pray for ability to find faith in a God who holds all memories.

Erik Erikson calls this stage of life a journey into an age of integrity. In that sense we give thanks for Anna and Simeon, for their integrity as they waited in the temple, for their commitment to prayer, for their willingness to hope, for their ability to let go and trust the future to another generation.

We ask that grace for the elderly.

We ask that grace for the church. We have many congregations entering this age of integrity. We pray that like Anna and Simeon, they would have a commitment to prayer, a willingness to hope and an ability let go and trust the future – of their church, of their denominational identity, of their buildings, of their polity structures – to another generation.

And so we pray for ourselves, that like Jesus in the temple, we will commit ourselves in this internship, to increase in wisdom, and in favour with God and in our intern placements.


Posted by steve at 09:39 PM

Friday, March 08, 2013

Prayers of illumination

Preparing for Pocket lamp worship first, with Jonny Baker and CMS Pioneers, second with the mission shaped ministry Board, a few weeks ago got me thinking about Prayers of illumination. I think it was holding the pocket lamp open, thinking about light, and the phrase – prayers of illumination – sort of floated through my consciousness.

Liturgically, a prayer of illumination is the prayer prayed before Scripture is read and spoken. In churches that consider themselves non-liturgical, it has a predictable pattern asking for God’s help as Scripture is preached, a predictable place just before the sermon and a performative dimension, inviting a focus on what is about to be said.

In liturgical churches, when used (curiously more infrequently, in my experience, than in non-liturgical churches), it tends to be a set prayer, more likely to be varied, drawing from church tradition or various Scripture.

One example of a prayer of illumination, slightly varied from Scripture, is drawn from Psalm 19:14

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our heart, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and Redeemer.

What is interesting is the context, what comes in the 13 verses prior. You see, in the Psalm illumination comes from two places – nature and Scripture.

The first six verses (1-6) reference illumination in creation – heavens, skies, sun, heat – all of these are proclaimers of God’s handiwork. From them “pour forth speech.” (19:2). As for example, in this “baptism” experience, or in this recent book release – Forest Church: A Field Guide to Nature Connection for Groups and Individuals by Bruce Stanley – which I am hoping to blog review chapter by chapter over the next few weeks.

The next five verses (7-11) reference illumination in Scripture, and the hope of wisdom, joy and light.

So, presumably when the prayer of illumination is prayed, it is invitation to consider both the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture. And it suggests that the sermon that might follow will tell stories of human experience, offer insights from nature and reflect on Scripture. Perhaps in at least equal measure? Now that’s the type of prayer, I’d love to say Amen too.

Because, according to the Psalm, both are arenas of illumination. Sure, not without discernment. I mean, you sure need discernment to read Leviticus, or Proverbs, or Revelation or any portion of Scripture. And yes, you need discernment to read nature. Which is probably why you pray the prayer. Because illumination is a gift, from God’s Spirit. And prayed in community, because faith is corporate and discernment is always about what seems “good to the Holy Spirit and us.” (Acts 15:28)

In community and in need of God.

So a variant on pocket lamp worship would be to spend an entire service exploring Prayers of illumination. Place a whole lot up around the walls. Give people a lamp. Get them to walk, to read. Invite them to place their lamp beside the one that most connects. Share this in groups. Invite discussion on where God reveals Godself, on how discernment happens, both in practice and in the history of the church. Invite them to chose the prayer most meaningful, and pray it individually, at home, as they gather around Scripture. In so doing, the use of Prayers of illumination corporately would be enriched and renewed for another season of the life of the church.

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 11:06 AM

Sunday, April 01, 2012

holy week at the movies

Last year, in the week leading up to Easter, each day I posted a movie a day that I consider speaks directly to the challenges, unsettling questions and faith demands of Jesus’ journey toward the cross. It is one way to respond to the importance of popular culture in faith expression –

The fact that popular media culture is an imaginative palette for faith … the church has to take that imaginative palette seriously… if part of the pastoral task of the church is to communicate God’s mercy and God’s freedom in a way that people understand then you have to use the language that they’re using, you have to use the metaphors and forms of experience that are already familiar to them. Tom Beaudoin

This year, I’ll summarise it here as a resource:

  • On Monday, The Insatiable Moon (2010), while reading Mark 11:15-16.
  • On Tuesday, Serenity (2000), while reading Mark 14:3.
  • On Wednesday, Gran Torino (2008), while reading John 12:23-14.
  • On Thursday, Dark Knight (2008), while reading Mark 14:10.
  • On Friday, Never let me go (2011), while reading Mark 15:33.
  • On Sunday, Never let me go (again) and Invictus, while reading Mark 16:6-7.
Posted by steve at 09:46 PM

Saturday, March 31, 2012

palm sunday worship as mission – with more time

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

I posted earlier this week some Palm Sunday resources, first some creative prayer stations and second some soundtrack ideas. They were in relation to the 20 minute chapel services we do as part of our prayer life at Uniting College.

If I had more time, both in preparation and in length of service, I would have added two further stations – indoor spirit signs and outdoor spirit signs.

Indoor spirit signs – this would involve some large street maps and some stickers, probably circles and in different colours. I would invite people to consider the city through Jesus eyes. I would invite folk to place the stickers on the map in places they consider spiritually significant. For examples, places that Jesus might weep over, temples that Jesus might want to overturn, annointing places where Jesus might unexpectedly be annointed with perfume. I would want to keep the maps and place them on the walls around the church/chapel, as places for ongoing reflection and prayer in the months ahead.

Outdoor spirit signs – this would involve giving people chalk (washes off in water) and invite them to walk their streets. As they walk, to draw signs on the pavement that might symbolise the entry of God into their neighbourhood. Perhaps tears, perhaps rainbows, perhaps broken perfume bottles. And perhaps to take pictures of these, to text back into the church, which could be added into a powerpoint.

If I had even more time, I would get people to make the symbols prior to walking, as stencils (see here and here).

The aim of both of these are an attempt to connect worship and mission, our neighbourhoods today with the activities of Jesus in Holy Week.

Posted by steve at 01:09 PM

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

the J(esus)POD on Palm Sunday

So if Jesus were entering Jerusalem today, what songs would be on rotate on his ipod? (4 other Palm Sunday prayer stations are here). 

Here are the contributions so far from the twitter-verse and facebook-verse.

  • U2 – City of blinding lights, Yahweh, New York, Angel of Harlem, Elevation
  • Jefferson Starship – We Built This City
  • Diana Ross and the Supremes – Stop in the name of love
  • Lou Reed – Walk on the wild side
  • Elvis Costello – What’s So Funny About Peace, Love, & Understanding
  • Laura Marling – All My Rage
  • Arcade Fire – Abrahams Daughter
  • Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
  • Ben Harper – Pictures of Jesus
Posted by steve at 03:55 PM

Friday, March 09, 2012

inking the stations of the cross

This takes the Stations of the Cross to a whole new level:

A pastor of a Montrose-area church recently challenged members of his congregation to live out their faith in an atypical way by getting tattoos that represent different Stations of the Cross, images of Christ’s journey from condemnation to resurrection. (Full story here)

Tattoing the stations of the cross on one’s person! (Lots of pictures here)

The church’s artist-in-residence, Scott Erickson, designed 10 distinct Stations of the Cross tattoos and as part of Lent, the church were challenged to chose one of the tattoos (all the designs are here). “The tendency we have as Christians is to skip past Jesus’ suffering. Not only do tattoos come with a bit of suffering, they are also an art form that has not fully been embraced.” (here) More than 50 folk decided to participate.

Here’s a radio station interview with the Pastor, Chris Seay.

Posted by steve at 08:42 PM

Monday, August 08, 2011

Prayer for the dead of winter

in this winter I run,
and so much feels dead
in me, in others, in our world.

help me not forget
nor run on by
the unseen sap of your presence
the hard-worn history,
summer work and autumn blaze
hope in blossom

If you want to make this prayer your own, you could add your initials in the comment section. Similar prayers can be found here.

Posted by steve at 05:52 PM

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Prayer for those with a common cold

I’m suffering from a common cold – sore ears, sore throat, snuffles, blah.  This prayer (hat tip Michelle Coram) is proving helpful.

God bless those who suffer from the common cold.
Nature has entered into them;
Has led them aside and gently lain them low
To contemplate life from the wayside;
To consider human frailty;
To receive the deep and dreamy messages of fever.
We give thanks for the insights of this humble perspective.
We give thanks for blessing in disguise.
Amen – Michael Leunig

Posted by steve at 10:24 AM

Friday, February 25, 2011

prayer to a mothering Jesus: updated

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) was the outstanding Christian theologian of the eleventh century. I’m not sure that he ever lived through an earthquake, but he certainly lived in a world subject to the whims of nature. Here’s one of his prayers, A Song of Christ’s Goodness, that I find moving, both in light of the earthquake in Christchurch and in light of my own struggle to live as a child of God.

Jesus, as a mother you gather your children to you;
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.

Often you weep over our sins and our pride,
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds,
in sickness you nurse us and with pure milk you feed us.

Jesus, by your dying, we are born to new life;
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.

Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness;
through your gentleness, we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead,
your touch makes sinners righteous.

Lord Jesus, in your mercy, heal us;
in your love and tenderness, remake us,
in your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness,
for the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.

Read it listening to Sinead O’Connor’s This is to Mother You. (From her Gospel Oak CD which was produced in June 1997). (This still leaves the theodicy question – what type of mothering was happening during the quake. But that’s a matter for another time!)

Posted by steve at 08:19 AM

Saturday, February 05, 2011

a fabulous Lent and Easter resource

I’m working on a distance course for lay folk on the subject of Jesus Christ. In preparation, I’m reminded again of what a fabulous resource is Richard Harries The Passion in Art. It is part of the Ashgate Studies in Theology, Imagination and the Arts, which means that you not only get 33 full colour art pieces, but also a few pages of written reflection. Some words that probe theology, provide background to the piece, offer information about the artist and their techniques.

So in looking in this distance course for examples of people reflecting on the relevance of Jesus and suffering, what better resource than a few pages reflecting on the Isenheim Altarpiece, linked to the Holocaust.

In looking for ways people find hope in Jesus and reconciliation, what better resource than a few pages reflecting on Supper at Emmaus by Ceri Richards and the call to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

In looking for Jesus as liberator of all creation, what better resource than a few pages reflecting on the Carolingian Bookcover, depicting all of creation being integrated around Jesus.

I brought The Passion in Art a few years ago. At the time I was about 10 years in preaching Easter. I was getting a bit flat and needed some fresh resources. The Passion in Artbeen a fantastic help ever since, opening me visually, deepening me theologically, broadening me through exposing me to the global church.

Posted by steve at 11:58 AM

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

prayer for ordinands

May you have the courage and discernment to name yourself,
and those you serve,
both truly
and uniquely.

My prayer for those from Uniting College today who received candles as a symbol of transition from phase 2 (intentional training through formal and in placement mechanisms) to Phase 3 (first full-time ministry placement).

Posted by steve at 07:05 PM