For Congregations that Need to Lament Before God

After serving in several churches as an intentional interim co-pastor, Lydia Neufeld Harder writes:

These churches were often in crises or at a turning point in their communal life. The challenges that they faced were conflicts around ethical issues, power dynamics within leadership, unresolved issues from the past, or different expectations of the church’s worship and communal life. At the same time, there were personal traumas and personality differences that hindered healthy relationships among congregants and leaders. – Lydia Neufeld Harder, The Challenge is in the Naming: A Theological Journey, CMU Press, 2018, page 278.

As part of her work with these churches, one approach was to create a psalm of lament as part of congregational worship. Comments were gathered from congregational members one Sunday, then shaped into a litany along with Scripture and song, and offered to God in worship on another Sunday. The result?

We discovered that a communal worship that included ancient words from the Bible but also personal words from the present would become a healing moment for many, allowing the community to let go of the past and enter the future with hope. – page 278

The following litany is a composite of several congregational litanies of lament, reprinted with permission (pages 279-281). I share it here as an example of congregational lament as part of worship, and an encouragement for us to include lament as part of our pastoral care, worship, and congregational life.

I appreciate Lydia’s willingness to share this litany, and her ministry as theologian and pastor. The Challenge is in the Naming is a wonderful collection of her work over the years along with some of the background and context for it. Thank you, Lydia, for this expression of your theological journey.

Litany of Acknowledgment and Lament

by Lydia Neufeld Harder

Voice 1: For God alone my soul waits in silence;
. . . God is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
Trust in God at all times, O people,
pour out your hearts before God. (Psalm 62:5, 6-8)

Voice 2: We pour out our hearts before you this day, O God.

Voice 3: Some of us bring our personal pain, our family stories, our sense of loss and discouragement and anger over the blows of life, or over our personal failures.

All Voices: We lament our inner personal pain.

Voice 1: I am tired of feeling lonely. I desire deeper and more meaningful relationships, but struggle to find the strength to be vulnerable with others.

Voice 3: I am disappointed that I have not taken action when I should have.

Voice 2: I am confused about how to act on personal beliefs.

Voice 1: I am frustrated that I am not able to communicate well.

Voice 2: I am afraid that the decisions I am making are not the right ones.

Voice 3: I feel that I have refused to open my heart to everyone.

Voice 1: I wish I could just let go of the pain that abuse has inflicted on me so that I can enter healthy relationships.

Quartet: Cast thy burden upon the Lord.

All voices: We also pour out our communal laments to you, O God.
We grieve what has happened in our congregation.

Voice 3: You know, God, how much we have loved this fellowship. It has been for us:
a place to worship you in peace and harmony,
a place where we felt welcomed and comfortable and challenged.

Voice 1: a place where people held differing views, with integrity, and we seemed to be able to live with these differences,
a place of many visions of how we might serve you,

Voice 2: a place of great energy, creativity, and caring,
a good place to meet and to worship you, God.

Voice 3: But something now feels broken, changed, damaged
as if we have gone through a rough storm and our church vessel is thrown off course.

All voices: Some of us feel troubled and disappointed.

Voice 1: I am disappointed that our faith does not bring us joy. We seem downcast and worried.

Voice 2: I am disappointed that we let our personalities get in the way of the very good things that are happening here.

Voice 3: I am disappointed that this congregation and its members failed to live up to its commitment to its principles, such as, peacemaking, justice and, community.

Voice 2: I am disappointed that I don’t have more competence in dealing with conflict.

All voices: Some of us feel angry.

Voice 1: I am concerned that some members have continued to hold onto hurts from the past.

Voice 2: I am tired of people who don’t let go of their differences.

Voice 3: It pains me when we continue to question one another’s motivations within our fellowship.

Voice 1: I am afraid of anger and don’t know how to respond to it in others. I grieve the loss of connection when anger occurs.

Voice 2: I still find it deeply troubling that there was so much anger and meanness in the way we responded to our leaders.

Voice 3: I grieve that I am still angry. I grieve that my eyes are blind to the divine spark in some members of our community.

Quartet: Cast thy burdens upon the Lord.

All voices: Some of us feel that there has been an erosion of spirituality, creativity, and respect in our congregation.

Voice 1: I feel sad about the state that we’ve gotten ourselves into.

Voice 2: I lament the loss of innocence.

Voice 3: I grieve that we were not always kind to each other.

Voice 2: I am concerned about our young people.

Voice 1: I grieve that our congregation does not always feel like a safe place for differing opinions and approaches.

Voice 3: The chipping away of prime values has left me with a feeling that I no longer belong. I no longer feel at ease. My sense of loyalty is diminished, and that makes me profoundly sad.

Voice 1: I lament that I frequently do not look forward to going to church on Sunday mornings.

Voice 2: I am getting old. Family members are gone from the church. Values that I have aren’t shared by others. Is there a place for me here?

Voice 3: I lament the absence of carefree joy in the congregation.

All voices: Gracious and loving and forgiving God, we have laid before you our laments, our disappointments, our tiredness, our pain, our anger. Now we want to let go of them. Embrace us, God, with new freedom, and new joy, and new hope for the future. We cast our burdens on you, O God.

Quartet: Cast thy burden upon the Lord.

_____________________

Reprinted with permission from The Challenge is in the Naming: A Theological Journey by Lydia Neufeld Harder (CMU Press, 2018).

Lydia Neufeld Harder and Gary Harder are partners in life and ministry, including six years as intentional interim co-pastors. They even had a dual book launch that you can catch part of it here:

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Ordained minister with 25 years' experience as lead pastor of a mid-size, multi-staff church, now resident author with a liturgical worship community, and editor of Purpose, a monthly magazine of everyday inspiration. Author of Four Gifts, Sacred Pauses, and other books on Christian living. For more, see aprilyamasaki.com and WhenYouWorkfortheChurch.com.

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