Prayer for a Gathering, perhaps for Ash Wednesday

Leslie Coates of Kansas, a wonderful friend, actor, liturgist, shares this prayer. I am sure that this will be one to touch folks in my community of faith on Ash Wednesday, and perhaps in yours. You may be interested in Les’ reflection on decision-making in liturgy language that follows the prayer.

Remember how much I welcome poetry, worship, brief essays — not in the comment boxes here but at giftsinopenhands@gmail.com

Tonight at The Gathering at Mead’s Corner we are going to begin our worship with a new prayer. We are an eclectic and diverse group which can lead to struggle. This opening prayer looks to address the struggle, every week. It needs a little work, maybe, but it’ll do until then. It’s yours if you need it!!

THE GATHERING PRAYER

Precious Lord we gather in your presence not as refined Christians, but as works in progress. We gather to worship, we gather to share, we gather to be.

We welcome you, God, into our space, this place of gathering.

Welcome. Welcome. Welcome.

(a moment of silence as we open our hearts to God and to each other)

we welcome the threatened
we welcome the dangerous
we welcome the unsure and the arrogant
we welcome the single, the married, the divorced
we welcome the annoying, insufferable, and just plain bitchy.

we welcome the clean
we welcome the dirty
we welcome the majority and the minority
we welcome the activist and the apathetic
we welcome the optimist, the pessimist, and the realist

we welcome the healthy
we welcome the sick
we welcome the addict, the felon, the fraud
we welcome all who rejoice and all who suffer
we welcome those who agree and those who disagree

We welcome all, Lord, because in this space “they” become “we” and we are your children.

We welcome the past, the present, and the future whatever each may hold because you are in all three, and we welcome you, and you, and you.

Amen.

Les writes this:

A note about the word “bitchy.” Should we use this word? The context is important. This prayer was developed from an exercise we did in worship the week before. We had the gathered “congregation” each take two pieces of scrap paper. On one piece we wrote the thing about ourselves we think others would find hard to welcome and on the second piece the characteristic we might find hardest to welcome in others. We read them aloud in the middle of a extemporaneous prayer of welcome. I promised I would write a Welcoming Prayer/Creed to be used weekly. On one slip of paper someone had written, “bitchy, sometimes I’m just plain mean.” It received a positive reaction. I wrote it into the prayer. In preparation for worship, our worship team had a conversation second guessing ourselves. Should we use the word? None of us in the worship group thought our worship space couldn’t handle the language. We used the word “bullshit” from a scene in the play J.B. by Archibald McLeish (yes, PT, reduce, reuse, recycle). The issue we first raised was the gender discriminatory nature of the word. This is often a word used to reduce women who are assertive. Secondly, what if someone was worshipping with us and the word “bitchy” put them off just enough they missed the rest of the prayer. Was it so important to include “bitchy” as to create a new exclusion? This is the trouble with intentional inclusion, it often necessarily creates a new exclusion. Tricky stuff. The group of worship leaders I collaborate with are a wonderful group. I hope, for your sake and theirs, there will be a day you all get to meet. The final deciding comment was the following, “If we were discussing whether we can or cannot use the word bitchy, I would vehemently fight for leaving the word in the prayer. Since we are instead discussing whether we SHOULD use it or not, I say we change it.” I found this an honest reaction by a rebellious and passionate twenty-something. We changed the word to “mean” for the weekly use in worship, which remains true to the original slip of paper but avoids the potential distraction. The prayer, for the record, as I composed it includes the word bitchy. The word “mean” is a completely acceptable and an understandable edit.

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2 Responses to Prayer for a Gathering, perhaps for Ash Wednesday

  1. rezrevres says:

    Really good prayer which I can easily predict borrowing (with appropriate accreditation) in the future. Although I certainly appreciate the sort of semantic wrestling you and your worship team went through over the word “bitchy”, isn’t it a rather sad reflection that as the contemporary followers of an itinerant peasant Palestinian preacher,we get ourselves in such precious-twists over the use of earthy language. I somehow suspect Jesus would be a lot less concerned over the word “bitchy”, than over our routine attitudes and practices that give this word such a readily understood meaning – whether we’re female or male!

  2. Maren says:

    Amen, indeed! I am visiting my daughter in California but will try to make sure Les sees this response.

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