When disaster strikes, whether in the form of nature, violence, war, or other tragedy, the church becomes a place of refuge and solace. While many of us attended services in our own churches after 9/11, television stations aired a service from the National Cathedral for the nation-at-large and those around the world. Humans need ways for grieving together as well finding hope and a path forward together.
In the past weeks, I have looked at a variety of services centered around grief and healing. Several key elements appear in most:
Certain thematic elements
While I was tasked with developing an order of worship, I thought it might be more helpful to offer suggestions for each of these key elements as a way for you to develop your own order of worship –– one that fits your congregation. With that in mind, these are some of the ideas I came across:
The invocation is a pivotal moment, stating why we have come together, what we are feeling, and what we need in the way of spiritual help. Use it to put words to unspoken pain and unexpressed yearning for comfort.
By grouping your worship activity in thematic elements, you assist the congregation in moving through the natural process of grief. Think about incorporating one or more of these worship sections into your service, with specific prayers, scriptures, litanies, and music for each: Sorrow, Comfort, Hope, Courage, Remembrance, Peace. In each, remember specific groupings of people as well: victims and their families; responders (police, fire, military); government and other public officials/leaders; communities, nations, the world-at-large; the church.
You might punctuate each section of worship with a symbolic action. This could be lighting a candle, ringing a bell, or honoring/remembering those affected by reading a name. Preparing your sanctuary with visual symbols can also be comforting whether with floral arrangements, candles, banners, or artwork in the order of worship (e.g., grain of wheat symbolizing death and resurrection).
Using the thematic elements you decide upon, find supporting scripture. Here are a few of the standard scriptures of comfort, hope, and promise.
Psalm 9:7-13; Psalm 23; Psalm 46:1-3, 9-11; Psalm 94; Psalm 103:13; Isaiah 25; Isaiah 40:31; Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 43:1b-3a; Isaiah 66:13, 9-11; Amos 5; Matthew 5:2-12; John 14:27; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4; 2 Corinthians 4:1, 5-10; Revelation 21:1-4
While it is always comforting to hear a less-familiar or newer anthem by a choir, remember the importance of corporate singing which brings people together in times of sorrow. One option is to weave one song throughout the service, singing each verse at a different moment order of worship.
Look specifically at prayers used in past tragedies by Reinhold Neibuhr, Peter Marshall, Congressional Prayers. Also see Resources, below.
https://chaplain.house.gov/archive/index.html (searchable by date)
See resources below. Also, many the scriptures listed above lend themselves to weaving a meaningful litany.
This is the point in the service where two things come together: blessing and action. To be able to move through the days and nights ahead, a congregation needs to feel the blessing of God’s presence, comfort, and strength as well as an individual and corporate purpose. That purpose can come through remembrance, community action, living lives that honor those who have lost theirs, and through the difficult challenge of forgiveness. Each tragedy is similar yet unique. Think about what is needed at this point in time.
RESOURCES (Many of these are 9/11 related but may be adapted)