“Responding to Disaster... Prayer, Song, Presence” is the theme of a National Worship Conference, July 16 – 19, 2018 in Victoria. www.nationalworshipconference.org. What is a worship conference and who wants to be there, especially if the theme is disaster?
The Lutheran Anglican National Worship Conference happens every two years in locations across Canada as a shared event expressing the Full Communion partnership of the two churches. The purpose is to support and inspire worship in communities across the churches and beyond. The conferences provide opportunities for worship planners and leaders, ministers and musicians, and all who participate and share a common interest in worship to gather for reflection, conversation, learning, encouragement, creativity, challenge and resources to support worship that is vital and life giving.
This conference’s theme recognizes the need for thoughtful reflection and consideration of what it means to worship in response to disaster. What is needed and possible as we struggle to pray, sing and be present in the Spirit of God that we trust is present among all who suffer. Speaker the Rev. Dr. Lizette Larson-Miller and musician Chad Fothergill will serve as resources for the conference along with a number of workshop leaders, including local first responders and interfaith panelists.
Recent tragedies in Toronto and Humboldt have made the urgency of these considerations present to many of us; so also violence in other parts of the world, floods and fires, severe weather in an increasingly changing climate, and the threat and reality of earthquakes. How do we pray, what do we sing, what do we say and how are we present in response to local, national and international disasters?
Candlelight vigils and memorial displays are expressions of this collective need and response shared together. They demonstrate our desire to gather in community, to express in some tangible way our sorrow and sadness, our support for those more directly affected, and our hope in the face of disaster, like light shining in the darkness. Is there more we can and need to do to support families and loved ones, emergency personnel, and all of us touched by these tragedies? What is sensitive and appropriate, inclusive and supportive, and needed immediately after, and over the days and months that follow?
These are complex questions without simple answers. But the need is clear. Within each religious and spiritual tradition and practise, there will be sacred texts and words, songs, and ritual actions that serve as resources. Within the Christian tradition, the central story is of a God who suffers with and for humanity in Jesus, brining life out of death. And there are Psalms and songs and prayers, ancient and new, that express the whole of human experience and emotion from lament to hope; tangible actions with waters of cleansing and rebirth, words of new life out of death, expressions of peace making and sharing, bread and wine, food and drink for all, for body and soul in communion with God, all others and all creation; and a mission, being sent out to share these same gifts for the love and healing of a hurting world.
Similar and many other gifts of hope in the midst of disaster are present in other partner spiritual and religious traditions and practises and so we need to respond together. And continue to build partnerships and understandings so we are prepared to respond together. And if we do this together, is there hope of greater collective healing and wholeness, and even the possibility of preventing more violence and creating more caring and compassionate communities and a world together? I hope so.
Rev. Lyle McKenzie is pastor of Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria and part-time chaplain in Multifaith Services at the University of Victoria.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, May 12 2018