by Meta Herrick Carlson and Liv Enstad.
Creating the Space
In Person: The invitation should include clear expectations about physical distance, masks, and COVID-19 safety. Offer students a candle or a stone as they enter the space. The candle is a sign of the light of Christ that shines in them, and the stone is a symbol of heavy things they carry with them these days. A fall bonfire or a large, dimly lit room with candles might provide ample personal space for reflection.
Virtually: Begin with an icebreaker question (shared in advance to give introverts time). Suggestions:
- Tell us something about the room you’re sitting in.
- Bring an object to show and share why it is special to you.
- If you could go back to the beginning of 2020 and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say?
Open your gathering by saying these words of invocation.
We gather in the name of God,
who knows the grief of perfect plans falling apart,
who felt human suffering as the person we call Jesus,
who still stirs in the wisdom and hope of this generation. Amen.
Lead the group in prayer.
God of presence and peace,
this year is fractured by the layers of loss, the global trauma and cries for justice,
the weary unraveling of expectations and dreams.
We are tempted to compete in our suffering,
to downplay our struggles, to refrain from sharing what feels vague and heavy about this season.
But you understand. And you care.
You are the God who understands and cares.
You listen to the cries of your people and come closer,
raising up brave leaders, renewing promises and making a path where your people cannot.
So give us the strength to trust your good reputation for understanding and caring and listening up close. Call us into your power and promises.
Guide us home, into the sacred story of our ancestors, who grieved and struggled and lived,
bending the arc toward justice, loving their neighbors as themselves,
changing the world in the name of Jesus who is heaven on earth. Amen.
Share these readings, based on Scripture.
Based on Exodus 18
Moses and the Israelites were figuring out how to be free people in the wilderness when his father-in-law, Jethro, came to visit. Moses was glad to see a familiar face and fell down at his feet to greet him with genuine welcome. During his stay, Jethro noticed the way people brought every question and concern to Moses. He worked from sunrise to sunset, and the pace of his leadership was not sustainable. Jethro spoke to Moses about his concerns because he loved Moses like a son. He taught him how to delegate and share power so Moses could build trust, raise up other leaders and make time to rest. Moses was grateful that Jethro saw him as a human being in the midst of so much challenge and change. His father-in-law’s wisdom was a gift to the rest of his ministry and reminds us that we can share our burdens and build healthy boundaries with help from the people who know and love us best.
Based on Psalm 86
God, in our grief we cry out to you. We need to remind you of your own reputation. You promise to be trustworthy and compassionate, forgiving and good in all circumstances. We are surrounded by enemies and danger. We are filled with panic and fear. We are hanging onto hope by a thread. Please, God, keep your promises and do what you say you do! Turn to us and have mercy, God. Because you are slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Based on Romans 8:11
When you are weary and weighed down by the burdens of this life, remember that your body is filled with the breath of God. Remember that the same Spirit of God who had the power to raise Jesus from the dead is alive in you!
Based on Matthew 5:25-34
Do not worry in large doses for the sake of your whole entire life, especially while you’re trying to fall asleep at night! Instead, remember the way flowers and birds flourish. Trust that God’s care for your life is even greater than this, that you are even more valuable. Remember that worrying does not change a thing. You are already priceless and beloved. Tend to the call of this day. Give it your courage and love and good trouble, believing that tomorrow arrive in its own time, and offer even more ways to abide and act with love.
Invite students to share what they are grieving and losing this season. Remind them that it matters. Grief is not a competition or a sliding scale. With collective compassion and care, we will make enough room for it all.
In Person: If you are using candles, invite students to watch the flame. Take a few minutes for stillness and personal reflection before inviting the them to bring their candles to the center of the space, one by one, making the center of the circle brighter.
If you used stones, invite students to bring their stone to the center of the space and leave it there as a symbol of laying a burden down in community and with Christ. If they are not ready to lay it down, they can keep it to remember that we’re all carrying heavy loads and they are not alone. God will wait with them while they bear it, and so will we.
Liv suggests instrumental music like “Lay It All Down” with Will Reagan and United Pursuit. Meta loves Taize and would teach “O Lord, Hear My Prayer.” Remember to credit musicians and honor copyright laws.
Virtually: Invite students to turn their cameras off and mute themselves. Have the meeting host share their screen with a soundless deep breathing app or image to guide everyone in deep breathing for a few minutes.
In Person: Pray together, pausing for silent reflection so students can add to the prayer silently or aloud.
Virtually: Pray together, pausing for silent reflection and inviting students to share their specific prayer requests using the chat feature.
Dear God, you know that this pandemic and the layers of loss it reveals are enough to crush our bodies and spirits. But you continue to show up and care for us with steadfast love and faithfulness in the midst of our mess. Thank you for being here, and for the signs of your hope and healing at work in our world.
We pray for the whole church, faith communities of every tradition and nation, for the indigenous peoples of this land we call home, for all of humankind, for the cosmos and every living thing. Unite us in the call to reveal your goodness and care for all of creation. Your creation cries out for repair and restoration. May your healing flow through us and every living thing.
Your son Jesus remembers instability, for he was highly mobile, oppressed, surveillanced and criminalized. We pray for those without work and income, those who struggle to learn while experiencing homelessness or food scarcity, those who feel abandoned or ignored in this crisis, those who doubt their sacred worth and those who ache because their pain is great.
We pray for the grief that comes out sideways—milestones missed, celebrations postponed, special days we do not get back again. Our world has been turned upside down. We are filled with emotions and deep wisdom, while adults have the power to make decisions about our present and defer what matters to our future. Rise with our generation, God, and give us your moral imagination for what is still possible and always true.
We give thanks for the technology, tools and relationships that keep us connected to ourselves and each other during this time apart. Thank you for trusted adults who work for safety and hope in this season of change. Their allyship gives us hope.
We pray for those who feel the weight of death deeply, for those tending to the logistics of death, for those remembering loved ones who have gone before us. Give us vulnerability and courage to feel death’s chorus and hear the cries of our neighbors.
Make us instruments in your symphony for the sake of peace and for those who have none.
We offer these prayers to you, God, because it’s a lot and we are broken and tired. Use our prayers to change our hearts and our world, through Jesus who is liberation and love. Amen.
Invite students to share what is giving them life and hope these days. It can be a TV show, a new family ritual, a small victory for homebodies, a form of activism or personal power they’ve discovered or a silver lining of pandemic life. After each student shares, everyone can respond in unison, “Heaven is breaking in,” or “There is goodness, even now”.
Close with this blessing.
Good news, Beloved Ones. God has skin in the game when it comes to our real lives.
Our grief and loss are known in Jesus. Our hopes and dreams are too.
May the God of salvation, who makes a path
where there is no path, who suffers every plague and knows grief and loss,
sit beside you in your grief today and guide you into the unknowable
adventure and challenge of tomorrow,
for the sake of those who went before you and those who will come to follow. Amen.
Meta Herrick Carlson is a pastor and poet living in Minneapolis, MN. Her goddaughter, Liv Enstad, is a high school student living in Madison, WI. They enjoyed bringing their perspectives and creativity together to write something that feels timely and valuable.