I am at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s Transform 2018 Conference in Orillia for a few days. This is the first of what is expected to be a yearly conference with the goals of helping participants to:
- Embrace a missional culture that encourages initiative and risk-taking
- Discover new ways of nurturing faithful, vibrant and generous ministry
- Encourage generous investment in the mission to which God calls us
- Build relational connections that embody Christ’s missions
I would just like to take the opportunity while I am here to share some reflections and thoughts. Here is what struck me after only the first few hours.
This evening our keynote speaker, Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim, mostly took the time to introduce herself and her story — setting the remarks that she will make during the rest of the time in a context. She also introduced some themes that will be highlighted.
One of the themes she introduced briefly was lament, stating, as I have often thought, that lament is a practice that we need to rediscover in the church. One of the things she said was that, while you will almost always see a prayer of confession in a Presbyterian worship service, you never see a communal prayer of lament. That set me to thinking about confession:
- Communal confession and communal lament are both part of our Biblical tradition, and yet we regularly practice one but not the other. Do not both have a place. In fact, you could even argue that lament is more important than confession in our tradition, at least if we are to judge by the numbers: there are many more psalms of lament than of confession in the Book of Psalms.
- I have not felt good about the way we do confession in church for some time. That is not because I don’t think there is a place for confession — there is. It is just the way that communal confessions are written that bothers me. Most prayers of confession seem to be based on models and ideas of thinking about God that don’t really work for me. They portray God as a somewhat distant being who is only interested in judging us. If you asked me to describe the God that I have come to know through Jesus Christ, that is not what my description would be, yet that is the God we always seem to pray to when it comes time to confess. I do sometimes try to go out of my way to write prayers of confession the introduce different ways of talking about God and our estrangement from God, but that often seems to be hard work — going against the grain of people’s expectations of what a confession should be.
- Some people (especially young people) have communicated to me that the prayers of confession are the part of worship that most irritates them, probably because they see the hypocrisy of addressing a God in our confession that does not fit the God we are trying to describe in the rest of the service.
It also got me thinking about lament:
- We really need to lament these days. There are so many things that are happening for which the only proper response (at least initially) is lament. When 11 worshippers are gunned down in a synagogue (for example) we want to respond in our worship, of course. And we do so in our prayers of confession (“Lord, forgive us for the anti-semitism that we hold in our hearts…”), in our prayers of intercession (“Lord, bring healing and hope to the wounded, comfort to the grieving, repentance to those so motivated by hatred…”), and in the sermon. That is all good, but we also have a real need to lament in that situation; we need to be able to say, “Lord, why did this happen, why do things like this keep happening! Why don’t you stop it!! Are you there, do you care!” We need all of those responses and they are all biblical.
- Most (though not all) biblical laments do end with an expression of hope in which the worshipper usually comes to reaffirm trust in God. This would be as essential to a communal prayer of lament in a church as an assurance of pardon is in a prayer of confession.
And so I am looking for ways to make communal lament a regular part of worship. I am willing to even lay off a bit on the prayers of confession to make room for this. I am thinking, at the moment, of alternating between prayers of confession one week and prayers of lament for whatever might have gone wrong in the world the next week. Of course, such a regular pattern might sometimes be interrupted when particularly lamentable events happen in the world, which, unfortunately, seems to happen all too frequently these days.
Anyways, I think it might be a worthwhile experiment to introduce more communal lament.