A Prayer for Boston City Council

I was asked by my City Councilor Matt O’Malley (a politician proficient at using social media to connect with the people he serves- and a great example for religious leaders to follow!) as a constituent to offer a prayer of invocation before the Boston City Council began their work on Wednesday October 9,2013. I asked my Facebook feed what they would pray for in this setting; many of those responses were incorporated into the prayer I wrote. I share this as an example of one way for Christians to pray in public in multi-faith settings. 

Between the federal government shutdown, a mayoral election, busses and budgets and a blessing over Fenway, I think we’ve got plenty to pray for today!

My name is Rev. Laura Everett, I have the great privilege of serving at the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, a statewide network of individuals, congregations and Christian denominations convinced that what binds us together at the Church is stronger than anything that divides us. In the days following the Boston Marathon bombing, we worked to coordinate the inter-religious response. Last Sunday, I guest preached in South Walpole Methodist Church, the Sunday before that at Grace Episcopal Church in Great Barrington, and the Sunday before that at first Congregational West Tisbury, but I am a proud resident of Ward 11, Precinct 8 in the city of Boston. I want you to know that in every church I visit, everywhere I go, the people pray for those in elected office and positions of power. Know that you are held in these prayers.

My father’s side of the family has deep history in Boston, though I grew up in New Jersey. And like many Bostonians, I came here for school and never left. On a very personal note, nothing did more to make me an engaged citizen in love with this city than beginning to move through it by bike. Before, I could keep to myself and my head in my newspaper or phone on the T. By bike, I see the new playground getting built day by day at Jackson Square. By bike, I cannot avert my eyes from the men who live in all weather tucked behind the transformers along the Southwest Corridor. By bike, I ride past the Boston Police Department and pray for the safety of our city. And the women blocking the bike lane, pushing their grocery carts full of scavenged recycled cans in the opposite direction of traffic, give me a chance to practice compassion. I ride with the transplants, and the students and the new immigrants who ride because they cannot afford a car. By bike, I actually see this city and the people in it, rather than rushing past. Thank you for the many ways you make this possible for more Bostonians.

Each Sunday, many Protestants and Roman Catholic Christians will read and preach on the same scripture texts. This Sunday, we’ll hear of Jesus healing the 10 lepers and the only one who comes back to thank him is the migrant, the marginalized Samaritan. Another reading is from the prophet Jeremiah, chapter 29. Jeremiah is speaking to a weary people in exile, far from the city of their origin, Jerusalem.  Through the prophet Jeremiah, God tells the people “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Seek the welfare of the city. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. From the very earliest times, our prophets know- our individual welfare is inextricably linked to the welfare of us all.  As you are led, will you join with me in prayer?

 

Holy God,

We pause before the work of this day to confess, to give thanks, to share our burdens, and to pray for our city and these city councilors.

We confess the ways we have become weary and worn by a political process more often marked by venom than by grace. We confess our participation our national idolatry of guns and the stranglehold of violence in our mind, in our hearts, in our streets and in our homes. We confess the ways we too grow resigned to the way things are and systems that refuse to change.

Holy One, save us from weak resignation. Remind us of our power to seek the welfare of this city.

We acknowledge the many burdens we carry into this work. Attend to them, O God. We give thanks for the communities that support us, the spouses, friends, neighbors and loved ones who sacrifices so that we may be here this day. Bless them.

We pray for all elected officials entrusted with the holy calling of public service. Keep them pure in heart. We pray for those running for elected office. We pray for Barack our president, Deval our governor, and Tom our mayor. We pray especially for Congress, that you might intervene in hearts that have grown hardened.

We pray for the residents of this city and the constituents we serve.

For all those seeking full, meaningful employment, we pray for work.

For all those seeking education, we pray for powerful teachers

For all those seeking peace, train us to work for justice.

We grieve with all those who grieve in this city, remembering those who have been killed this year in Boston: Anthony Spaulding, Jonathan Reyes, Carly Jones, Rayshawn Lamont, Corey Thompson, Courtney W. Jackson, Thaddeus Clark, Edward Villalona, Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, Joel D. Phillips, Clifton Townsend, Malcolm Campbell, Maiqui Hernandez, Misbam Wiggins, Tremayne Jackson, Steven Jones, Lloyd Powell, Brianna Bigby, Jordan Miller, Jajuan Griffin, Erick Pierre-Louis, Felix Garcia, Brian Tirado, Ana Cruz, Melissa Hardy and two men whose names are known to you alone.

Holy One, bless the work that is before this city council today. May ever decision we make, every phone call we pick up, every email we respond to this day be done with generosity of spirit. Turn us again, reorient our hearts. Remind us of the truth of Jeremiah that in the welfare of the city, we will find our own welfare. In all we do, in all we say, may we seek the welfare of this city.

We know you by many names, I pray in the powerful name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

 

What the Living Do: A Sermon after Watertown

As seen on Mt. Auburn Street, Watertown, where just 48 hrs before police with machine guns patrolled.

As seen on Mt. Auburn Street, Watertown, where just 48 hrs before police with machine guns patrolled.

“What the Living Do: A Sermon after Watertown”

St. James Armenian Orthodox Church, Mt Auburn St. Watertown MA

Sunday April 21, 2013 Memorial of the Armenian Genocide Martyrs

”Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” ~John 5:28-29

It was years after his body was in the grave before she wrote the words down. Marie Howe’s brother died in 1989, but it took years to write the words. It wasn’t far from here, just over the town line into Cambridge that Marie Howe had to wake up, brush her hair, and walk out the door of the apartment into that bright, clear New England sun after her brother died of AIDS. When she finally wrote down her experience, she wrote a poem in the form of a letter to her brother:

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.

And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.

It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.

For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those

wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.

Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

Her poem goes on…this is what the living do.

Many among us have been entombed this week: shut in our houses in Watertown and beyond, encased in grief and fear. Many are bound in their sleeplessness. Many were held fast by their work at a critical time- those who patrolled our streets, tended the wounded, guarded our safety, cared for our children, stayed up for 26 hours straight to report the news. We have been bound up, locked down, sheltered-in-place, held by this strange, harrowing series of events. We have been wrapped tight in our burial shrouds.

In the days after the Easter Resurrection of Christ, the disciples finally left that stuffy apartment in Jerusalem where they’ve been bound by fear and dread, where they had run out of milk and toilet paper. They venture outside, into a world utterly changed. The sun seems brighter, but harsher. The roads seem busier, but scarier. And they did what the living do. They walk along the road to Emmaus. They go fishing. They sit down for breakfast and try to comprehend their new reality.

This is what we Christians do. We are a people of the Resurrection. We are a people of Christ’s resurrection, and we cling to the promise that we will be resurrected too. We know that no grave can hold our bodies down. We’ve been here before. We know that story of a week that begins with a parade and ends with death. We know that buried Hallelujahs will eventually rise. We know that the curtain will open again to reveal to us the altar and the bread of heaven. We are the people who say death does not have the final say. You heard it in the gospel lesson this morning from St. John. Jesus says to them, “Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” We, who have been waiting in our houses watching the clocks tick away, are waiting to hear His voice. We are straining our ears that are burned with the sounds of sirens to hear the voice of God declare for us release.

We are the disciples who leave our apartments in Jerusalem after the shelter-in-place order is lifted. This is the practice of our resurrection. And even if you don’t feel it now, even if you don’t believe it now, this is what the living do. In the hours we were bound to stay inside, huddled around the television or the computer screen, strict New England gave way to early spring. While we were in doors, the early leaves came out on the trees. We step outside with the sky “a deep, headstrong blue,” to go to church, to drive to the grocery store, to go to school or work. This is what the living do.

And this is what your church did. In the midst of chaos of Friday, Fr. Arakel came to the church. He unlocked the thick wooden doors. He escorted the police in to inspect the church, to ensure that this sanctuary was still a place of peace. Your church. Your strong Armenian coffee powered the police who rested in your parish hall chairs. Your electrical outlets powered the phones of the first responders who texted back home to worried families. This place was a sanctuary not just to you who worship here today but to those who patrolled our streets just 48 hours ago. This is the practice of resurrection.

This is what the living do- the mundane, the ordinary acts of living that defy that which would entomb us. This is what the Armenian Genocide survivors did. They crawled from their tombs and rebuilt lives, alive but utterly changed. Their faith was an act of defiance. The raising of children, the singing of the liturgy, the baking of choreg, this is what the living do. This is what the living do to stay living after facing so much death. This is why we remember their names and their faith so that we might be alive too.

So this is what we do. We come to church. We walk outside. We practice normalcy knowing that it is not. You may not feel ready to venture far from home. Everything is not as it was. This week has utterly changed us. We are not going back to lives that are the same. Or normalcy has been interrupted. On Friday, synagogues stayed closed despite Shabbat prayers. On Friday, mosques stayed closed despite Friday prayers. Local Muslims here in Massachusetts have already been harassed, threatened and even beaten. Everything is not as it should be. Trinity Episcopal Church in Copley Plaza is still part of the crime scene. They will worship at Temple Israel this morning, a Jewish synagogue that graciously opened their doors to a displaced people. Old South Church, United Church of Christ is still part of the crime scene. They will worship this morning at Church of the Covenant. The pastor, Rev. Nancy Taylor told the Boston Globe, “The last time Old South Church in Boston was closed for this long was in 1775, during the British siege of Boston.” This is not our life as usual. Our colleagues from the American Red Cross of Massachusetts gave me cards to share with you, with suggestions for how to cope after a time of disaster. They are in the back of the church. Take one as you leave. We have all experienced trauma this week. To be “Watertown Strong” or “Boston Strong” is to recognize when you need someone else to walk with you. To be among the living is to know that we need help to stay alive. Recognize that we do not run this race alone.

This week all began at the marathon, which now seems so long ago. This week, one of the hymns from the African American tradition has been playing in my mind. The songs of our faith has a way of tracing pathways in our minds, to follow well worn paths in times of uncertainty. For the enslaved, spirituals were a way to pass on the faith and defy the death around them.  And so you sang, even as you were running from those who would hold you captive.

I’m not the strongest singer in the world, that’s not why we sing. If you know it, join me. If you don’t know it, you are welcome to join me too. I’ll sing it twice. I know singing and clapping are not standard in an Armenian Orthodox Church, but consider it a gift from the wider body of Christ.

“Guide my feet, while I run this race. Guide my feet, Lord, while I run this race. Guide my feet, while I run this race, for I don’t to run this race in vain.”

In this time of uncertainty and fear, we cling to the sure promises of our God that we do not go on in vain. We tune our ear” for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out.” Even as we grieve, we will remain steadfast in charity, defiant in hope, practiced in forgiveness, and constant in prayer. This is what the living do. May it be so for you in the days ahead. Amen.

An Interfaith Litany to #PrayForBoston

Bishop Devadhar and others pray with Stan Smith, a member of Union UMC who was running the Boston Marathon when the explosions happened. Photo & Article by Alexx Wood http://www.neumc.org/news/detail/773

Bishop Devadhar and others pray with Stan Smith, a member of Union UMC who was running the Boston Marathon when the explosions happened. Photo & Article by Alexx Wood http://www.neumc.org/news/detail/773

Please feel free to use or adapt this litany for your personal or public use. I ask that you attribute it.

Behold, I will bring health and healing to the city. I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth.~Jeremiah 33:6

This is what we do when we don’t know what else to do. We cling to one another, voice our grief, and offer up our prayers to God. Please join in the response, Heal Us, and Reveal to Us the Abundance of Peace and Truth.

We pray for the dead, remembering Martin Richard of Dorchester, Krystle Campbell of Arlington, Lingzi Lu of Shenyang, China and Boston University, and those who may die still. May the God of Life welcome them into that place where there is no pain or grief.  In this hour of darkness, surround their families with a peace that passes all understanding.  Gracious God, Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

We pray for the wounded. Bodies trained for running, hands trained clapping have been forever damaged. Our eyes have seen more than they ever should. Our ears still ring with the blast in the streets. We pray for runners who never finished the race. Attend to the wounded bodies and spirits of the survivors.Gracious God, Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

We pray for the EMTs, doctors, nurses and staff who tend to brokenness. Soothe those whose feet ache after hours and hours of attending to broken bodies. Bind up their unseen wounds. Make steady shaky hands, mend broken hearts and wipe away every tear. Gracious God, Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

We pray for the police, fire and emergency personnel who risk their own safety to preserve ours.  We pray for our neighbors who serve in the National Guard. In a time of chaos and uncertainty, O God, steady those who protect us. For generations, you have been our refuge and our strength.  Gracious God, Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

We pray for our counselors, clergy and mental health professionals. May they guide troubled minds and broken spirits. Bless those who devote themselves to the care of others. Give them strength for the long days ahead. Gracious God,Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

We pray for the media, our reporters and photographers. We give thanks for those who strive to share stories of suffering and hope. We remember that all who work telling stories of truth and beauty, return home to their own families. Flush their eyes. Renew their passion. Gracious God, Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

We pray for the students, visitors and tourists far from home. Give them comfort in a strange city. Gracious God, Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

We pray for those who make their homes on our streets, displaced from familiar areas of the downtown. Strengthen our resolve to work for a more just, free and secure society. Gracious God, Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

We pray for our children startled by such chaos in our streets. Give us wisdom to raise them up in the paths of peace. Be with our city’s parents, teachers and child care providers who try to answer the questions of anxious children. Gracious God, Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

We pray for the FBI, the investigators and all who guide our justice system. Help us not seek vengeance but truth and justice.  Gracious God, Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

We pray for the perpetrators of violence. We confess the dark places in our own hearts that lust for revenge. Give us a love stronger than hate and a peace stronger than violence. May peace flow through our city like the Charles River. Gracious God, Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

Convict us to rise above the hatred that wrought such violence. Guide us to resist gossip and rumor. Preserve us from quick judgments. Give us wisdom in the days ahead. Reveal to us peace and truth. Gracious God, Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

We pray for our President Barack, our Governor Deval, our Mayor Tom, and all our elected officials. Give them gentle words and wise hearts in the days ahead. Gracious God, Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

Train our eyes to see acts of kindness in our city. Prod our hands to reach out to strangers. Silence our tongues when we are tempted to lash out in frustration and fear. Give us all words of comfort and love. Gracious God,  Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

Give us the courage to endure what cannot be avoided. Bring us hope that we will be made equal with whatever lies ahead. Bind us together as a city on a hill. Knit us together as a Commonwealth. Draw near to us in this time of sorrow. Gracious God, Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

Even as we grieve, we will remain steadfast in charity, defiant in hope, and constant in prayer. Though the race before us this day is hard, remind us again and again, that we do not take a single step alone. Gracious God, Heal us and reveal to us the abundance of peace and truth.

Let the People say, AMEN.