On Line Worship Service March 29, 2020

Welcome and Announcements

Hello, I’m Pastor Tom Kinder of the United Church of Strafford, Vermont. Welcome to this online worship service for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 29, 2020.  We have suspended worshipping together in person until at least April 19th in response to what I believe is now being called the Trump virus.

Today we continue our informal and intimate format of worship.  As you will see, we are not professionals at videography, nor are we polishing our performances or doing many takes.  This is not high church, it is human church, and we hope its informality will not get in the way of its usefulness for spiritual reflection and worship.

There are some high points, though, thanks to Annemieke McLane and Becky Bailey and their beautiful music.  I hope you will let me know if you would be willing to read or sing, or if you have found something that inspires or comforts you in this difficult time.  You can find a posting on the website with videos, poems and other forms of inspiration we are collecting.  You will find a link to them at the top of our Welcome page.

You can respond with thoughts about the service or with anything you would like to share by using the comment feature at the end of the post or by emailing us.  You can also bring others into this experience by sharing the link to this service by email or social media.

Today we have a series of videos including:

  • this Welcome and Announcements;
  • an Annemieke McLane Piano Prelude
  • a Call to Worship that gives an orientation to the rest of the service;
  • a Becky Bailey Introit to sing along;
  • a Children’s Message;
  • the New Lord’s Prayer led by another church family;
  • Scriptures and a Sermon;
  • a Hymn to sing along;
  • a Prayer and Benediction; and
  • a Choral Benediction to sing along.

Below each video is its written text or a link to where you can find it.

Please note that we are gathering as a congregation by Zoom at 10:30 AM on Sunday mornings to say hello to one another and share our Joys and Concerns and Prayer requests and offer our compassion and support and company for this wilderness journey.  Our Heartfulness Contemplative Training Circle is also meeting by Zoom on Thursdays at 6:00 PM.  This is for anyone who is interested in practicing mindfulness or meditation, or heartfulness and centering prayer, and it is a time for talking about those practices and also more generally about our spiritual life.

You can find links to instructions on how to be part of those Zoom gatherings on the Welcome Page of our website.

It is extremely important that we stay connected now.  Please reach out by phone or email to neighbors and other members of the congregation, especially those who live by themselves or are struggling or vulnerable.  Our Deacons, Becky Bailey, Kim Welsh and Maggie Hooker, are coordinating our outreach to people in need of support, and Danette Harris, Chair of our Mission Committee, is leading our work with the Food Shelf.  If you would like to help the Deacons or Mission Committee in these please email us or use the comment feature on this page.

Now let us become centered and open our hearts to receive whatever the Spirit would have us receive here today.

Here is our weekly haiku from Herbert Goertz.

What a rude welcome.
Seven inches of fresh snow
greet the first robins.

I invite you to move to Annemieke’s beautiful prelude when you are ready.  You can listen to the entire service in one sitting in under an hour or you may spread it out over the course of the day or week. Thank you!


Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonate in G, Earstausgabe, performed by pianist and United Church of Strafford Musician Annemieke McLane, from her CD “Birds & Beethoven”


Call to Worship—Two wilderness journeys serve as metaphors for Lent: the forty days Jesus spent being tempted and tried and the forty years Moses and the children of Israel wandered lost.  We are now in the deepest, darkest part of Lent, and we find ourselves suddenly in a wilderness as a nation and human race.  I hope that everything we offer in our on line services will be useful to you, however you experience this wilderness and wherever it leads from here.

As a Call to Worship I will share a hymn I wrote several years ago.  I had left a church I loved because I felt the Spirit calling me to serve in a new, exciting way.  I had a clear vision of that Promised Land but I took literally one step toward it and immediately entered a long, terrible wilderness of sickness, social isolation and grief, my personal version of what the world is going through now.  The hymn describes my devastation and the spiritual path that got me through it. It begins:

The wilderness is dark tonight,
No path ahead, no star above,
No distant window throwing light
To guide me home to hope and love.

The Spirit’s dove first drove me here.
It left me then, alone and lost
In desert wastes of thirst and fear,
A land faith tells me must be crossed.

God inspired Moses to enter the wilderness with a vision of the Promised Land, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove drove Jesus into the wilderness, but once there the children of Israel wanted to give up and go back to slavery and Jesus was tempted to take the easy way out, escaping into pleasure or power.  Spiritual wisdom says that we cannot undergo the needed transition and reach the Promised Land of a new and better way of being without accepting the work the wilderness demands.  The hymn goes on:

The Spirit asks I leave behind
The comforts I have craved and known,
It asks that I renew my mind,
A birth like death, my prayer, a groan.

A wilderness of stone and dust
Can tempt the strongest faith to doubt.
It strips my soul to one last trust:
God led me here, God will lead out.

Jesus came out of the wilderness calling us to undergo metanoia, meaning to move beyond where our heart and mind are now, to be reborn at a new developmental level closer to the Spirit-filled heart and mind of Christ.  Like any birth, it takes dying to our old ways, and that is painful.  A spiritual wilderness asks us to let go of everything and trust, turning our wills and our lives over to God so that the Spirit can help us see and live in new ways.

The hymn ends,

O God of Moses, God of Christ,
I turn to you to find my way.
I offer all they sacrificed,
Your will the one will I obey.

For you, the smallest step I take,
For you, each work of word or hand,
And then night lifts, light comes, I wake
To find this is the Promised Land.

Our wilderness task is to make each step true.  If we enter each moment with the intention that our words and actions will be Spirit led and serve God’s realm of compassion, justice and love, then each step brings a glimpse of light, a feeling of home.  We arrive in each moment to find the Promised Land.  Our wilderness is transformed, one step at a time.

The church is here to help us with its collected wisdom and company for the journey, whatever our wilderness, whatever way we take, whatever Promised Land we hope to reach.  Let us worship together.  Please join Becky Bailey singing this hymn in the next video and make it your own.

The Wilderness Is Dark Tonight
tune: Woodworth   L.M.

The wilderness is dark tonight,
No path ahead, no star above,
No distant window throwing light
To guide me home to hope and love.

The Spirit’s dove first drove me here.
It left me then, alone and lost
In desert wastes of thirst and fear,
A land faith tells me must be crossed.

The Spirit asks I leave behind
The comforts I have craved and known,
It asks that I renew my mind,
A birth like death, my prayer, a groan.

A wilderness of stone and dust
Can tempt the strongest faith to doubt.
It strips my soul to one last trust:
God led me here, God will lead out.

O God of Moses, God of Christ,
I turn to you to find my way.
I offer all they sacrificed,
Your will the one will I obey.

For you, the smallest step I take,
For you, each work of word or hand,
And then night lifts, light comes, I wake
To find this is the Promised Land.

copyright 2013 Thomas Cary Kinder

Children’s Time 

Note: The stream is loud in this video, and that is intentional. It’s choir of voices is as important to take in as what the pastor has to say. If you have trouble hearing the words, you can read an edited version of them below the video.

Children’s Time—Good morning! This is one of my favorite places on all the earth, I come here almost every day and often sit on this rock and meditate and pray and write.

Before long the opposite bank will blossom with trout lilies and hepatica and there will be water skaters on the pools.  When it gets really cold the ice formations are amazing works of engineering and art.  We just had a ten inch snow which is melting fast and making the stream sing for joy.  I hope you can hear the music of it.  If you listen, sometimes you can hear different voices, like a choir, including a deep bass.  The waterfalls stir up the depths and a froth of bubbles rise.

I come here especially when life gets too stressful or the world feels too troubling or chaotic.  There is an old firepit with steps down to the stream that show that generations past loved this spot, too, and probably came for the same reasons.

Last week I talked about the shepherd boy whom Samuel anointed to be the king of Israel.  David was a poet and hymn writer, he wrote many of the Psalms in the Bible, and he clearly had favorite streams because they show up in his poetry.  The 23rd Psalm starts, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters…” and from the 42nd Psalm, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for the living God.” and “Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your waterfalls.”  And Psalm 130 begins, “Out of the depths I call to you, O God.”

Nature speaks to us, its depths call to our depths, it teaches us, we learn peace beside the still waters, we learn of caring and nurturing, we learn of thirst and music, we learn of renewal.  We learn that our own health depends on the health of nature, that to hurt the earth is to hurt our souls and our ability to live.  We learn humility, because the stream always seeks the lowest place.  We learn to hope and trust in the way that Jesus taught of giving ourselves, laying down our lives for others, because the stream is always giving away all it has, and then in the same instant refilling, which is what the Spirit does for us: as we give our love and energy, more love and energy refill what we give away.

But what about the answer to every question I ask you, what about prayer, does the stream pray? I think it does, I think our hearts are like streams when we pray, we open them and pour forth whatever we are feeling and thinking and let them go, and we open to receive whatever the Spirit will give us, and we come away both emptied and filled.  Try it and see…

The next video is the new version of the Lord’s Prayer that we pray together.  Let’s say it along with some special guests who will lead us…

The New Prayer

I invited children, parents and teachers to record themselves saying the prayer.  My original idea was to splice together lines from each, which I still may do, but they are each so beautiful in entirety that I plan to share a different one each week.  Like many of the videos we are doing, these include rough edges and bloopers which I hope will not offend you.  God must love to laugh as much as we do. In fact, I consider laughter a form of prayer.  It opens the heart and mind for love to pour in and out, just as weeping does, or silent contemplative prayer, or feeling moved by beautiful words or music.  So it is still worship when these get a little silly.  Note that the words to say are below the video.  Let us open wide our hearts and minds in love and prayer…

Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer,
Way, Truth and Life,
Force of Love and Light
flowing within and all around us,
may your realm of compassion,
justice and peace rule our world.
Thank you for nurturing and guiding us,
forgiving us and helping us forgive,
and leading us away from harmful desires.
Please save us from all forms of evil,
for you are our source, our home, our power,
all goodness and beauty forever. Amen.

You can read the text of the scriptures and sermon on this website by clicking here.

Here is a hymn to listen to or sing. Annemieke McLane recorded the organ for this hymn and sent it to Becky Bailey.  Becky recorded both the melody and harmony and put them all together. The words are on the video and below.

When Peace Like a River (with new verses)
tune: Ville de Havre (NCH#438) with refrain
verse 1 by Horatio G. Spafford: verses 2-4 by Thomas Cary Kinder

When peace, like a river, upholds me each day,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot you have taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

My grief is a shipwreck beneath a dark wave,
My heart, a hull crushed on a shoal,
Your love is a current you send forth to save
And make life flow again in my soul.

When death seems an ocean where all hope will drown,
When dark depths have swallowed me whole,
Your love still will rise and will not be dragged down
And will lift to the light my lost soul.

You pull me ashore by a friend’s loving hand,
Restoring the hope that death stole.
You give me new strength and this rock where I stand
To lift others to wellness of soul.

copyright 2011, 2012 Thomas Cary Kinder

Here are two Prayers and a Benediction.

A Blessing for Healthcare Workers in a Time of Pandemic by Kate Williams

Blessed are the ones who cannot be isolated.

Blessed are the doctors, nurses, chaplains, and hospital staff. Blessed are the hands that are raw from scrubbing and sanitizing, the palms that glisten with oil of healing. Blessed are the shoulders that carry the weight of life and death.  Blessed are the feet that are aching from standing at bedside and running between rooms.  Blessed are the hearts that are frightened and breaking.

Blessed are the mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, sisters and brothers, partners and friends who cannot go home. Blessed are the families who become isolated from one another, who sacrifice their own comfort so that we need not be alone in our suffering.

Blessed are the sick and dying, those who bear the image of Christ before us. Blessed are those who believe that when part of the Body suffers, we all suffer.

Blessed are those who look upon this sacred work as gift. Blessed are those who have had enough.  Blessed are those who are overwhelmed.  Blessed are those who lack the space to process all that lies ahead.

Blessed are those who are found weeping in secret corners of an emergency room so that we might see a strong face to meet our need.  Blessed are those who weep openly with us, so that even our tears have companions.

Blessed are you, O God: quietly holding each one of us along the way.  Come quickly, abide unceasingly. Love us while we see the worst and give us the hope we need to see our way out.  Amen.

And now an anonymous Prayer in the Time of a Pandemic

May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake.

May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.

May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.

May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options.

May we who have to cancel our trips remember those who have no safe place to go.

May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all.

May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.

As fear grips our country, let us choose love.

During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.  Amen.

And now may the God who is love guard you and keep you and flow through you this day and forever more.  Amen.

Here is a choral benediction that you can listen to or sing:


3 Comments on “On Line Worship Service March 29, 2020

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