Tuesday, September 22, 2009

worship in the down: in the premature death of child

A few days ago I described an “Up” act of worship I curated. Since then I have noted a post on Jason’s blog, lamenting the lack of online resources when gathering for the ‘down’ that is the death of a child. Which brought to mind two services I have curated in the last while: One was worship in the “down” of a miscarriage, another in the “down” of a 21st memorial service for a cot death baby. Both have a similar structure, so here they are, followed by some explanation of what I was hoping …
INTRODUCTION: welcome, gather people in circle:

REMEMBERING: Read the funeral notice:

GATHERING IN GOD: And so we light this candle. It is the Opawa candle, the one we light every time there’s a death in the church family. Way for us to give thanks for life, no matter how short. Way for us to pray that God’s light will be present in darkness.

God our friend, who promises to be light in dark places
Turning pain into change, Reminding us of the warmth of your love
Come, Encircle us, in the love of family and friends
May we find in each and in you the courage to face the future. Amen

SHARING MEMORIES: A treasure box, held by mother, who introduces the child to us. The treasure box is then handed around. People (who have been offered prior a stone/piece of paua) are invited to add their treasure, our presence adding to the treasure of memories.

Bible reading: Jeremiah 31:15 15

SOME brief words leading into Romans 8: 35a, 38-39, offered as a dedication of child into God’s hands.

PRAYER IN RESPONSE: We have in the middle a bowl of water, with flower floating. Water is a sign of life. Water is also a sign of tears. (Add salt). It is soothing, healing, relaxing, forgiving, cleansing.

As a way of us praying, I am going to hand the bowl of water around the circle. You could (options): Hold it, pass it on; Make a fist in anger; Hold our palms open in release; Swirl them seeking of comfort; Make heart, sign of love. And when you’re done we will sprinkle our prayers on the grave.

COMMITTAL: Into God’s loving care and compassion
We entrust name, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust
in the sure and certain hope, of the resurrection to eternal life
through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen

To all of us; May God, the Good shepherd
enfold us with love, fill us with peace
and lead us in hope; this day and all your days. Amen.

Some thoughts in preparation: These need to be short. Everyone feels awkward and finds this hard. It is important to name the reality, hence the gathering and use of the funeral notice. Another is to create memories, hence the use of treasure box. As much as possible I try to use something physical – words float away, while things we touch and hold connect us in different ways – hence in this case the treasure box, the water and the candle. Very few are willing to speak aloud at such times, so the need to allow ways to pray without words. Options are important, trying to help people name a range of emotions. Passing things around a circle reinforces the circle of love, and allows people to participate as much, or as little, as they want.

An absolutely excellent resource I’ve recently discovered is this: – it offers such a wide range of actual services – in birthing, addictions, mental illness, aging, violence – and as such gives a wonderful jumping off place in terms of curation.

Posted by steve at 02:57 PM


  1. I have put this comment on Jason’s post too

    I have some other NZ resources that people might find helpful. Things that helped me following miscarriage have been the planting of a tree and creation of memory album. But we too had to make up our own funeral service which we did just as a family.
    These may be of help
    http://www.skylight.org.nz/ (grief books for kids)
    http://www.thelostones.co.nz (on line candles for miscarriage or stillbirth)
    Thank you for sharing this liturgy and i too am forwarding it to my friends at sands

    Comment by Jo Wall — September 22, 2009 @ 4:47 pm

  2. thanks Jo. very helpful. love the idea of online candles,


    Comment by steve — September 22, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

  3. Hi Steve. The ‘New Zealand Anglican Prayer Book’ is a useful tool when used as a resource. I have used it for the basis for a number of pastoral occasions. It was particularly helpful in a large country parish where being an Anglican minister corresponded with offering care to those who were not affiliated with any denomination. I find the language ‘earthy’.

    See you Tuesday @ Tabor.


    Comment by Chris McLeod — September 23, 2009 @ 12:40 pm

  4. yes, thanks Chris. Yeah for New Zealand Anglican prayer books aye!

    yep – Tuesday will be fun,


    Comment by steve — September 23, 2009 @ 2:33 pm

  5. Steve, thanks for sharing these resources….a lot has been developed in the 22 years since one of our sons was stillborn. Which got me thinking about all the women and men who experienced the loss of a child in the past and have never received the comfort of any kind of liturgy. Recently an aunt mentioned going to church on the anniversary of the birth of her stillborn son 51 years ago, and lighting a candle for him….not much room for that kind of rememberence in lots of churches.

    Comment by kerry — September 23, 2009 @ 4:45 pm

  6. Thanks Kerry. At Opawa, I light a candle at the start of a service when there has been a loss among us during the week. It provides a way to name the event to the community and pray the pain. We have a special set of candles that we use.

    In talking with a couple who miscarried at Opawa last year, I asked if I could light a candle for their miscarriage, believing that it would provide a way for us to pray as a community with them, to which they agreed.

    What struck me was the number of older woman who came forward, afterward, thanking me, and sharing how they wished something like that would have been done for their miscarriage. It seems that the fact that it was not named made the grief harder for them,


    Comment by steve — September 23, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

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