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Monday, January 10, 2011

2nd Monday Discussion: Breaking News

Breaking news. Our weekend was full of it. At our 11th Hour Preacher Party and in conversations on Twitter and Facebook, preachers wondered whether to address this particular news story in sermons, whether that meant adapting something already prepared or starting all over again. We wondered aloud whether people in the pews would have paid attention to a story that happened on a Saturday. We worried about the political implications of the way the story was being reported and whether talking about it would be perceived as prophetic or partisan.

For today's discussion, please share in the comments, or link back to your blog, how you handled the news from Arizona, or if you did. And please don't feel this is limited to those who preached yesterday. If you attended church at all, let us know if and how the news was mentioned and whether it felt helpful or not. And if you read anything helpful to your thinking, put a link in the comments and I will add it to this post. Thanks.


Here is a challenge from Diana Butler Bass on her Beliefnet blog: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords: Speaking for the Soul.


  1. I had a sermon direction, but nothing written yet, when I heard the news and from that point on could not seem to type anything other than the opening thought that led to this: Put it into Words.
    I'll be honest and say I hesitated and puttered around and really felt a sense of not just permission but insistence from the blog post by Diana Butler Bass that allowed me to go ahead. The sermon was well-received, I think even by people who were not up on the news, and especially by people who were distressed by it.
    Once a month we have a candlelighting time, where church members come forward and light a candle and speak of someone or something that is a concern or a celebration. The prayers yesterday felt particularly deep, and I was glad when a Deacon spoke of the contrasting story of the Muslims who stood up for their Coptic Christian neighbors in Egypt.

  2. I went to a church where the rector addressed it to say how horrible it was and that we should pray and then preached a sermon that he had clearly written before and did not address it further. The prayers of the people were nuanced with local, national and global concerns, but had also been prepared in advance and were not modified.
    Sometimes I despair of my Episcopal people.
    I offered a (traditional Jewish) prayer for healing for the Congresswoman and the other victims. on my blog.
    I need to add a prayer for the dead. But that has been hard.

  3. I will repeat what I said at the preacher party on Saturday: I wonder if it wasn't too soon. At least for me and this congregation. I also know that could come across as a cop out.

    For me, a raging liberal serving in a congregation that is FAR more conservative than I, anything I say that touches on political issues has to be carefully nuanced. I believe that the issues of violence and hate and toxic rhetoric transcend politics and are in fact a gospel issues. But I want to preach it in a way that will be heard for what it is and not "heard" as partisan no matter how I meant it.

    I did include petitions in the prayers of the people. The prayers we're using for Epiphany already contained petitions that made the additions appropriate.

    I've read some powerful sermons folks did preach on the topic and I admire those who were able to preach them. But I am also starting to feel a *wee* bit defensive for making a different choice. I suppose that is another effect of our instant internet connections. (I also recognize my reaction is MY reaction and I'm not blaming anyone for it. Just trying to be honest.)

  4. My church yesterday was comprised of my Dad bringing Communion to Mom and me at home (she was recovering from surgery and I was there to help).

    And also of reading the comments on Preacher Party, the sermons that came forth, the Facebook posts about the Tucson shootings.

    And talking with my parents about those things.

  5. I didn't make church, but listened on the radio. There was a famous preacher preaching and she did what famous preachers do, preach her current sermon, off lectionary, and completely irrelevant. For my friends who were oohing and ahhing over the sermon, I wanted to say, "you know, she preaches about one sermon a year, but over and over again, refining it and making it wonderful. Your pastor runs a church and preaches a new and relevant sermon every week." The prayers did mention the shooting, but just.

  6. I awoke this morning to the Diane Rheme's Show on NPR and they were talking about rhetoric in the political process. I was going to write a question to the Matriarchs re. How can we, who are people of mediphor, can help model a different way of speaking the truths of life with out it being a WWF smackdown.

    I live in a volitile red state with way too many gun-toteing folks running around. I no longer put a rainbow on my car. And it bothers me that I have become a wuss in the light of rhetoric. But such is the reality of where we live.

  7. I was away from the news all day on Saturday so didn't hear about it until that evening. I already had my sermon written around Baptism of our Lord and kicking off Confirmation class. I was talking about how we grow into full understanding of our baptism and confirmation after they happen, so I incorporated how these events make us question and reflect on where God is amongst suffering, violence, and evil as part of coming to understand what it means to have been baptized or confirmed.

    During joys and concerns time, it was first mentioned in the context of the little girl who was killed. I expanded to offer prayers for all involve: those killed or wounded, their families, the first responders, the doctors and medical personnel caring for the wounded, the family of the perpetrator and yes the shooter himself. I prayed for God's healing of the great wounds and divisions currently open in our nation. I failed to specifically address the rhetoric of hate and violence that has been referred to by so many. Many if not most of my congregation fall between conservative and extreme conservative.
    Lots of factors can serve as excuses for not having done more: It was a full service with Confirmation Covenant, Remembrance of Baptism, and Holy Communion. I was constantly thinking about what came next. The congregation was very high spirited due to snow (a rarity here) and 7 kids starting confirmation (big for our little church...
    The truth is I didn't give this enough thought in advance and I'm still a chicken when it comes to confronting this congregation where I've been for only 6 months.

    Finally, while I'm quite sure that the current inflamatory atmosphere is wrong, and the people who promote it are wrong, I'm not sure we can make a direct link to this particular incident just yet.

    What I do know is this is an opportunity for both sides to take the high road and begin to work together "for the common good." This is a phrase we almost never hear anymore, and sadly I must say I don't hold much hope for and end to the divisive atmosphere that has gripped our country.

  8. We were on epiphany, and my sermon was on the darkness of the world, and God sending the light. So I wove Tucson into the darkness of the world part of the sermon, a world so dark that people think picking up a gun or a knife (recent knifing in town) or a bomb is a part of discourse or a solution to a problem. but God sends the light and the darkness has not overcome the light...

    We also prayed for them in prayers of the people, along with giving thanks for the Egyptian muslims and prayers for those killed or imprisoned for celebrating Christmas.

  9. Let's be clear. This thread isn't to say there was a right or wrong way but to give us a chance to talk about what we experienced/did in this case, so that we might be better prepared in the future.
    In my first call, I remember being quick to respond to the shuttle explosion on a Saturday morning and getting a response from my congregation which added up to "Wow, she is weird."
    I agree that we don't know the etiology of this act of violence, but it felt important to me to respond to the shock people who had heard the news were very likely to be feeling, and to address the noise going on around us about the likely causes without suggesting I knew what the cause was.

  10. I was guest preaching at a church which leans to the more conservative side (unlike moi), and which I do not know well. I found Saturday's discussion and Diana Butler Bass's article to be extremely helpful, and decided to stick with my sermon on Jesus's baptism, but incorporate issues of discourse and debate and freedom into the prayers of the people, as well as prayers for all involved.

    I sensed that the sermon was received well and happily, and that the prayer cast a pall over the sanctuary, especially when I prayed for the perpetrator(s) and their families - something which I thought would raise skeptical eyebrows, but to which I feel a deep personal commitment.

    After the service I received many complimentary and engaged comments about the sermon, and heard not a word about the prayer or the events of the day before.

    My sense is that this is a congregation which does not necessarily "seek to make sense" of events such as the shooting in the context of worship -- quite the opposite of my home congregation. So I tried to balance their expectations and hopes for worship with my own convictions -- not an easy thing to do as a guest preacher and not something which I do particularly well. It's one thing to say, with Karl Barth, Bible in one hand and newspaper in the other, and quite another to do it with both sensitivity and forthrightness.

  11. I really, really, really don't want to be insensitive here.

    What has happened in Arizona is profoundly shocking. But RevGals is meant to be on the Worldwide web. Just a few words acknowledging that, and then inviting USA responses would be helpful.

    My prayers (from the UK) are with those in the US, but are also with Alexandria, Pakistan and many other places of violent death.

  12. We were on Epiphany as well, after being snowed out last week, and it fit well to say, 'This is the world into which Christ was born, a world that needed Christ to teach us a better way, a world that still needs followers of Christ to demonstrate a better way." Other than that, I tend to agree with Rev. Dr. Mom: In my congregation, it was too soon to try to analyze it. Our vigorous discussion in adult Sunday school made that obvious to me. Often I think it's better to let such subjects bubble up in the prayers of the people than to jump right in and tell them how they ought to feel. We were also reeling from the news that a homeless person had frozen to death in the park, and I didn't want to suggest that his life was worth less to God than that of a Congresswoman, a federal judge, or anyone killed in a more public way.

    (And I want to echo what someone else said above: This is not, in any way, a judgment of what others of you did in your own congregations. I am fascinated by your ways of dealing with this. I learn so much from all of you, and I am grateful.)

  13. i preached on baptism and how the waters are meant to roll from within us, out into a thirsty world bringing healing, the hope of christ, forgiveness, mercy, grace...

    so yes, i mentioned in one sentence the shooting in arizonia. i also mentioned the school shooting in omaha. i also mentioned the husband who shot his wife this last week... indicators of how parched our world has become...

  14. Were I still preaching, I think I would have changed my sermon. I have no idea what I would have said. Barth's admonition that one should preach with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other rings in my ears. It just felt really weird to me to be listening to a sermon that didn't touch on it at all. I'll admit I'm in a strange place: listening to sermons, not crafting them. And I bring a handicap: I'm always critiqueing sermons and services. I'm hoping time will bring me to the point that I'm not constantly saying how something could be improved. And I'll admit to a bit of aggravation (jealousy?) over the "famous preacher" hullaballu.

    On the other hand, were I preaching, I might not have paid as much attention to the news as I did. I will admit that I was constantly checking for updates and even watched CNN.

  15. Barb, it seems like a pertinent question, in a more general way, no matter where you live in the world. If there is major news affecting your country or community, do you make adjustments to a worship plan to allow for preaching or prayer on the breaking news? Perhaps that would have been a better way to ask it, and I'm sorry for being so insensitive. But I would also like to point out that when the earthquake occurred in Haiti last January, we pointed out discussions there, both in the Preacher Party and on the following Monday.

  16. I was a pew-sitter yesterday, in a church where I was pew-sitting for a specific and unbloggable reason (which I might be able to talk about later, but not now).

    The prayers of the peeps touched on the event in AZ, but the sermon did not. It was a preacher I did not know very well and a congregation I knew even less well. But for many reasons I'm not trying to make too much of my mild disappointment at the sermon not touching on it.

    I think context has a lot to do with how such things are handled. I thought the article by DBB was great, BTW.

  17. I addressed it in the prayers of the people when we pray for the needs of others and the world.

  18. I found myself sitting in the pews and was mildly perturbed that the preacher said NOTHING in anyway that addressed the spiritual dimension of baptism, even though the readings were the Baptism of Jesus readings.

    There are so many ways and layers of opportunity to consider brokeness and hope when reflecting on baptism and these readings without needing to dwell on the potential politcal nature and maftermath of the violence in Arizona - which also opens it up to the more human and global problem of violence in the world.

    The priest did pray for Congresswoman Giffords in the prayers of the people, which I appreciated.

  19. Songbird, sorry for being anonymous - it is for good reason.

    Thank you for your response - I promise I didn't find you 'so insensitive' and you are right to ask how headline events affect pre-planned worship.

    I was reacting to what felt like a statement that US headline events were such for all your readers - but that is not to diminish in any way the tragedy on your shores.

    Peace and prayers to the US and to all our hurting world.

  20. I posted part of my sermon which deals with violence, here.

    Prayers for all areas in the world where violence is the norm were lifted up in prayer as well as the specific items in the sermon.

    Good discussion. Thanks for this!

  21. Leaving aside the events in Arizona for a moment (which I did change my sermon to address, btw), I think the whole question rising up in this thread of why we preach what we do is very interesting.

    I'm not as personal a preacher as some, but my preaching (as does yours, I am certain) does rise out of my lived experience of the week, as well the concerns/joys/anxieties/etc that I hear expressed by my congregation. The thing that is challenging for us, I think, based on this conversation, is helping the congregation surface the things that are most important. In any given day, there are a gazillion tragedies (and lesser events) happening all over the world, as has been pointed out.

    I dont think our job as preachers or in prayer is to lift up every hot button issue (otherwise, here in Oregon, I would only be preaching about the college Bowl Championship which is what's REALLY on everyone's mind right now!) but to bring the world and the Word together in such a way that people are encouraged to see their connection during worship, and then in the rest of the week too no matter what news comes at them, or when.

    I guess all this is a long way to say that when a tragedy occurs, we can authentically choose to preach about it or not. And, not knowing what is in the hearts of our congregations, I think it's a safe bet to say that every single Sunday there are at least a few who leave vaguely disappointed (as I think Jules said) as well as a few who leave thinking it was the really helpful -- no matter what we say.

  22. I was torn about whether or not to "deal" with the shooting in Arizona or not. We are 90 minutes from Omaha and so we had been shocked earlier in the week about the student who killed his vice principle. As other news rolled in...the 27 murders (15 beheaded) in Acapulco, and Boston I felt overwhelmed by the violence and opted to work all of the above into the sermon and prayers.

    I noticed a few looks (I'm the flaming liberal in an extremely conservative place--I feel your pain Muthath and RevDrMom) and no one really commented on the sermon. However, one woman did approach me to talk about the Acapulco murders.

    I tried to work it into being baptized into a community of faith that lives differently than the world, emphasizing radical love and forgiveness. I challenged all of us not to give into the anger and finger-pointing but to respond in love and grace.

  23. I scrapped the worship service and bulletin and started from scratch, wrote a new sermon and made the event the entire focus of worship. No need to dither and wait for "analysis", the problem is obvious prima facie. Words kill and our political climate is increasingly evil and it has to stop and the church has to play an active role in that process or we have completely lost any claim to be a force for moral good in the world.

    Friends, we are called to preach the truth as we see it even if our audience is uncomfortable with the words coming out of our mouths. I'm theologically rather orthodox and socially/politically far left. I have a few members who are hard right conservatives. Fear of offending them cannot ever under any circumstances stop me from preaching what God inspires me to preach. Ever. If it does I need to remove my collar and go find a whale belly to sit in for a few days.

  24. Every week I forget/ neglect to mention world events that I know should at the very least be held in prayer. Some events grab my attention more than others, and they may make their way into either my sermon or the prayers. But it would be disingenuous of me to claim either that I had or adhered to a hard and fast rule on this issue.

    After the Virginia Tech shootings, I made my sermon entirely about it-- I was an interim chaplain at a university which also had a big engineering school (in fact, I think our dean of engineering had a child who was attending VA Tech). So... our community was affected, even though we're six hundred or so miles away.

    I did not change my sermon for yesterday, nor did I feel any pressure to do so, even in the face of Diana Butler Bass's excellent article. While I agree that we need, as preachers, to be open to addressing these kinds of events in our sermons, I also think it could be addressed a week later with little ill effect, and possibly a better, more thought out approach. Rushing to address the event may result in a sermon that is more emotion than thought-- and as a strong "F" on the Myers-Briggs scale, I'm all for emotion. But when we are talking about issues with such complexity, such delicacy, it can be good to take a week.

    That said, I am one who sat in the pews stunned when not one but two Sundays in September of 2001 went by in my home church without a mention of 9/11. Actually, I was furious. I think we are obligated, as Juniper said, to bring the Word into conversation with the world, especially when we are confronted with news that shakes us (and our people) to the core.

    Thanks for this thoughtful discussion. I don't believe any choice was wrong, if the choice was made thoughtfully and with a sense of responsibility to bring the Light of the world in such dark times.

  25. Everything changed Saturday night. Sunday's sermon still had some elements of what I'd prepared during the week, but it definitely was a sermon in response to the shootings in Arizona.

  26. I should add that I did speak of the shootings at some length when we were taking joys and concerns, and read the names and a one-sentence biography of the dead. When I got to the little girl, I cried and it took me some time to pull myself together. Took me by surprise

  27. We had a guest preacher who gave his Baptism of Our Lord sermon, comparing Christs's baptism to Gandalf's transformation from Gandalf's the Grey to Gandalf the White. I have the feeling it "sounded like a good idea at the time." It fell flat for me, in part because I am used to the more personal style of our pastor who will often incorporate global and/or church community events into her sermons. Our pastor did work Tucson into the prayers of the people. It was something.

  28. Perhaps none of us pew-riders (whether or not we're also preachers) could have been comfortable with anything anyone did or said. Perhaps it's all too awful. Perhaps the frustration and discomfort some are voicing about the services we attended is not judgment of our peers but our acknowledgment that for some ills, there are no words, perhaps only moanings and groanings that the Spirit can interpret.

  29. jonathan edwards and I have a lot in common, but I have mellowed a bit over the years :-). And to Barb, I agree we tend to get quite US centric here. But I do think that we have an obligation to take what is happening in our world and speak to it through the Gospel. Or perhaps take the Gospel and speak through it to the world. My ordaining bishop said that if you need to preach with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. I am sure he was quoting someone like Tillich or something, but it has meant that I cannot ignore either one.

    Barb, the only problem is that our newspapers are so insular that we often do not know the news in other parts of the world unles you take the Christian Science Monitor.

  30. I rarely change a sermon on Saturday, but I rewrote mine last weekend. I don't know why I was compelled to do so for this incident and not for others. We all have to trust our gut in these situations. I wish I had a list that would allow 'diagnose' whether or not I needed to address something, but alas, it's our best guess with the hope that HS has our backs. I posted my remarks here.

  31. I added it to prayer concerns at the beginning of the service. We are always open to prayer concerns altho if I had made it a political statement, I would've heard some complaints, but only from the minority...ha

  32. I was halfway through writing my sermon when I got the news. Like many of you posting here, I agonized over what to do. In the end, I continued with my Baptism of the Lord theme, but every sentence was a struggle, because my heart was elsewhere. Maybe I shoulda -- but I'm not sure I was yet in a place where I had something to say beyong "ain't it awful." So I included it in the pastoral prayer, speaking of grief and outrage and how could we come together to find ways to end this violence that has become all too common in our country.

    In the summer of 1999, when I was a seminary student preaching in little churches outside Atlanta, a man went on a homicidal rampage one afternoon because he had lost a lot of money day trading. He murdered his family and then went to some brokerage firms in the Buckhead area and killed people at random. He got away, but a few hours later the police found him in his car at a gas station, having committed suicide (at least that's what they reported). I had already sent in my bulletin information to the church, but I tossed that sermon and wrote a new one, using Psalm 23 as my text: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me." I did the same thing on the Sunday after 9/11 -- same text. But for this one, as I had just learned about it on Saturday evening, I simply didn't have the time to work through the event emotionally, spiritually, theologically, writerly, whatever.

    What distresses me most is that "these things" are happening far, far too often, and yes, I include the school shooting this past week and the beheadings in Acapulco (although the latter seemed to be far more calculated). I do feel a sense of helplessness about it all. If I sat down to write a sermon about this violence today, I'm still not sure what I would say.

    And next Sunday we are ordaining and installing officers, so this subject isn't going to be addressed next week, either.

    Much pondering to do.

  33. Having just read all the comments, one thing that really strikes me is that we all need to be very sensitive to our own particular contexts, and to the larger world. I am not "afraid" of speaking the truth in love nor of making people uncomfortable, and fear will not stop me from preaching the gospel. But the when and how might depend on a lot of factors--and might be different in different situations.

    I think the sermon I did preach was also one my congregation needed to hear, and because it was tied to the lectionary, not one that I could easily just move to another day.

    I worried a lot about whether I had made the better choice right up until the time I preached, but when I got feedback from my congregation about my sermon, it helped me to believe that I did, at least for my congregation.

  34. I didn't touch on Arizona in the sermon or the prayers. But it and similar events may get used next Sunday. But I have a pndering.

    How does the 24 hour news cycle and 24 hour news availability change these things? Not only in how fast stories break but also in the lack of detail we get when the story does break. ANd does it make heighten the "urgency" of responding?

    Years ago we might get a "This has happened, when we know more we will come back" but now we get the same few facts, along with a bunch of conjecture, repeated ad infinitum.

  35. Gord, I wondered, too, as I was changing my sermon on Sunday morning whether I "should" talk about the arizona tragedy because "everyone else" was talking about it. However, since I had already prepped a sermon on baptism as a response to evil, it did have a place, and seemed to make more sense to mention it than to not. However, the constant repetition of the same thing over and over IS very wearing, and I wondered if it would have been just as wise to wait awhile, and allow my own thoughts/feelings to settle over a week. We can maybe model a differnt way of approaching situations than the right-now way offered by the news/internet/etc.

    Wil - you are so very right, sometimes theres just nothing to say.

    Mags - "When I got to the little girl, I cried and it took me some time to pull myself together. Took me by surprise" -- Did the same thing and had the same surprising reaction.

  36. I wasn't preaching on Sunday. and being in Australia, I wouldn't have heard the news in time to make changes. What I have done in the past is include a prayer of Lament early in the service. We don't have a prayer of Lament every week, usually only when something major has happened. Or I may have used a hymn with a lament theme.
    I am not preaching this Sunday either, a few weeks post Christmas break.
    while the shooting has been big news in Australia, a large part of Queensland is flooded, and Toowoomba had a flash flood yesterday. this is what people talked to me about today when I was shopping. and if I was preaching last week or this coming week, this would have been included. after years of drought, now floods. Some towns are being evacuated for the second or third time in a few weeks. I would mention this if I were leading worship, it may have been a hymn or prayer, not necessarily in the sermon.

  37. Juniper,
    it flowed well with the sermon. And maybe that is part of the equation on such short notice. Does it work naturally or feel forced? THis Sunday I am taking the Servant Songs as a call to purpose/job description and I think reflecting on incidents like this might fit there.

  38. Appreciate reading this thread and seeing the journey of the larger body of Christ.

    I wasn't on to preach, but did offer the prayers of the people. like so many others I was inspired by Diana Butler Bass's call to be prophetic.

    I turned to Breuggeman's Prayers for a Privileged People for inspiration and included a lengthy petition not only for peace and comfort for the perpetrator and victim but for us to turn from fear toward hope, from self, toward neighbor.

    I am preaching this coming Sunday, and the lectionary Psalm lends itself toward a sermon about not only the shooting, but the larger culture of fear.

  39. I don't write my sermons until five a.m. Sunday mornings so I didn't have to change the sermon. I was doing a sermon on the baptism/temptation of Jesus and we were receiving new members. It happened that I included the question "Do you renounce evil and its power in the world?" in the liturgy in the bulletin and decided to make that the focues of the sermon and include the killing spree in that context. Here it is.

    I might not have mentioned it had not the Diana Butler Bass blog been posted on Facebook from another person I know. I am grateful for her article.

    A number of people thanked me for talking about it.

    Thanks for this forum!

  40. I have been thinking about this post a lot in the last day or so, and started to write a response, which turned into a really long response. My thoughts are posted on my blog here and the sermon I preached is in the previous entry.

  41. My sermon meandered (more than I anticipated) in Sunday worship, as I took the planned theme of "baptism and community" and widened it to wrestle with the weekend's events. Today I posted my sermon here:

  42. I'm late to this party. When I heard the news, the bulletin was done, of course; I had worked on the text, and chosen the poems I wanted to use, but then shaped the direction I took around the days events. I went to bed with more notes than usual, but still woke up Sunday and did I rewrite. Here's what I took into the pulpit. I also included the victims and the perpetrator in the prayers of the people.


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