Celebration of Welcome … Open and Affirming Words

It was a joy and honor to help shape two worship services for the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration this coming weekend of Plymouth United Church of Christ in Plymouth, New Hampshire becoming the first Open and Affirming congregation in the New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ. There are two services Friday evening and Saturday morning. If you are in the vicinity, you want to be there!

The only possible excuse for my not being present is the one that I have – my daughter having a baby across the country and her toddler needing grandma’s care when they go to the hospital. The truth is — as much as I honor Plymouth’s incredible witness twenty-five years ago, I also wrote my words as a prayer for the world we give these two boys who will be twenty-five and twenty-seven when Plymouth has doubled its history of welcome, advocacy and grace. And I believe that they will and that they will discover in every one of those coming years new ways of breaking down barriers and affirming God’s love. We do not live in an easy time.

I am sharing here this morning a little from each of these services to celebrate them and in hopes that they might be helpful to someone else. Wherever your worshiping community is, please add a prayer of thanks for the witness of the Plymouth people of faith and your own commitment to share their work of love.

St. Francis Prayer for the Plymouth UCC 25th Anniversary

God, make us instruments of your Church.
Where there is fear — let us give singing;
where there is loneliness — real peace-passing;
where there is injustice – courage to take a stand;
where there is division — Communion
deeper than a Sunday ceremony;
where there is despair, hurt, confusion
because of experiences in faith communities
of the past —
silent prayer and listening.
And wherever and whenever
your children have found barriers —
let us continue to be an open door.

O Holy God, grant that we may not so much seek
congratulations for twenty-five years,
as new advocacy for your children today;
our theology understood
as understanding pain caused by “Christians;”
rainbows displayed, as open hearts;
focus on our church,
as willingness to be a beacon
to other churches on the journey.

For it is in trying to be church that we find one;
it is facing our failures
that we learn forgiveness.
It is in doing the simple holy things
every year – Advent to Pentecost
and walking the path of disciples
that we discover your love already surrounds us. Amen.

A Call to Worship

One: Knock, Knock.
Many: Who’s there?
One: God loves.
Many: God loves … who?
One: God loves whoever is standing outside.
Many: God loves the lost, the lonely and the locked out.
God loves gay and lesbian, transgender and bisexual,
gender non-conforming and gender queer.
One: Is this a joke?
Many: There is hope, joy and, yes, there is laughter, too,
in the welcoming presence of God’s love
and the open doors of God’s people.

Opening Prayer (unison)

Gracious God, oil the hinges of our hearts’ doors that they may swing gently and easily to welcome your coming. Amen (Prayer from New Guinea)

Song “Woke Up this Morning”

I woke up this morning with my mind — stayed on Jesus
I woke up this morning with my mind — stayed on Jesus
I woke up this morning with my mind — stayed on Jesus
Hallelu, hallelu, Hallelujah.

I’m singing a rainbow with my mind — stayed on Jesus
I’m singing a rainbow with my mind — stayed on Jesus
I’m singing a rainbow with my mind — stayed on Jesus
Hallelu, hallelu, Hallelujah.

We open the doors up in our church — stayed on Jesus
We open the doors up in our church — stayed on Jesus
We open the doors up in our church — stayed on Jesus
Hallelu, hallelu, Hallelujah.

Scripture: Psalm 84

Response: We are called to be door keepers, not just door openers, in the house of God, so that all may find a home, a nest, a place of springs for those who carry on, for those who travel the darkness. We are called to be doorkeepers, threshold levelers, hinge oilers, latch lighteners.

Scripture Litany

Psalm 24: 7 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! so God’s glory may come in.

Let us be the openers of doors.

Revelation 3:8 I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Let us keep our doors open!

2 Chronicles 29:3 In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he (Hezekiah) opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them.

Let us keep our doors repaired.

2 Corinthians 2:12 When I (Paul) came to Troas to proclaim the good news of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord.

Let us affirm that God is the one who will push the heaviest doors wide.

Revelation 3:20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

God is also the stranger on the other side of the door. Let us prepare a table for God and all of God’s people.

Acts 5: 19-20 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.”

Let us remember that some people we will meet have lived in churches that were prisons, and that all people need to hear the whole message of welcome, of hope, of pride, of new life.

Matthew 7:7-8 “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Today at our gathering, let us ask, search and knock, for in this community of faith, this Body of Christ we will receive, find, and be welcome.

Song Somebody’s Knocking at your Door

Somebody’s knocking at your door;
somebody’s knocking at your door;
O Christian, why don’t you answer?
Somebody’s knocking at your door.

1) Knocks like a stranger.
Somebody’s knocking at your door.
Stranger and lonely.
Somebody’s knocking at your door.
O Christian, why don’t you answer?
Somebody’s knocking at your door.

2) Just wants to worship.
Somebody’s knocking at your door.
Just needs some praying.
Somebody’s knocking at your door.
O Christian, why don’t you answer?
Somebody’s knocking at your door.

3) Just wants a love blessed.
Somebody’s knocking at your door.
Needs to hear — “God loves you.”
Somebody’s knocking at your door.
O Christian, why don’t you answer?
Somebody’s knocking at your door.

4) See — it is Jesus,
Somebody’s knocking at your door.
who looks like a stranger.
Somebody’s knocking at your door.
O Christian, why don’t you answer?
Somebody’s knocking at your door.

 

Notes; The opening prayer is  from Gifts of Many Cultures, ed. Tirabassi and Eddy, Pilgrim Press, 1995. Hymns are in public domain with new stanzas by Maren Tirabassi. “Woke up this morning” (African-American spiritual; African-American traditional), “Somebody’s Knocking”( African-American spiritual)

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2 Responses to Celebration of Welcome … Open and Affirming Words

  1. Stephen Price says:

    I love this. And I love that you’re where you are, being Grandma and being the love of “Grandma God” (we need to work that image too). Congratulations

  2. Maren says:

    Thank you Stephen. It certainly feels like “Advent in May.”

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