Monthly Archives: July 2021



I was thinking recently about how we approach the Benediction in worship. I find myself using it simply as a sort of indicator that church is over. But of course, the Benediction is much more than a closer. It is actually a beginner, if you will. It is a jump-start to moving out of the church and into the world with the word of peace and love and comfort from our God.

The original and traditional Benediction comes from Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” It is spoken by Aaron, brother of Moses, as a way of placing the name of the Lord upon the Israelites. It was a way of God saying, “You are mine and I will take care of you.”

In Paul’s letters, we find new versions of the Benediction, such as:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5-6).

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:16-17).

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13:20-21).

For me, these benedictions from Paul highlight starting points that are helpful and practical for me to hear right now: seek harmony, let God do his great work, focus on Jesus, stay equipped with God’s will.

These are the good words that God has to give us as we go out and serve him. Don’t let the Benediction ever become rote. Let it be a rallying cry to get up and get going. The benefits will be beautiful.

Mantras of Ministry


Christianity Today recently published a mini-magazine called “9 Time-Tested Mantras for Ministry.” They included deep and wise quotes from such famous Church pillars as Augustine of Hippo, Bernard of Clairvaux, John Chrysostom and Hildegard of Bingen. Their stirring words dealt with being humble and contrite, paying attention to divine interruptions in life, finding fullness in God before pouring out our gifts, and speaking the will of God, not our own.

I found these nuggets of insight interesting, and wondered what our mantras of ministry should be for us today. I know a church whose mantra has been: Welcome. Grow. Serve. They made it their mantra so much so that they used it frequently in worship as a single verb, as in, “How do we welcome-grow-serve in our world today?”

My own church uses the mantra: Be still. Be one. Be faithful. We are reminded of that mantra every time new members are introduced to our congregation, reiterating for us what we are to be about as members ourselves.

My parents’ church uses their mantra interestingly. At the end of every service, pastor and people together say, “We go forth from this place where we are about equipping disciples to make disciples for Jesus.” I am always taken aback a little by the fact that everyone knows the words of their church’s mantra by heart and speaks it with such conviction every time.

What are the mantras that your church uses? And what are the mantras that you can utilize in your own spiritual life to keep you centered or grounded? There’s no better place than the Bible to go mining for a mantra.

I used John 16:32 for a while: In this world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

I know many writer friends of mine use Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

I know that many people put their mantra Bible verse at the ends of their emails, which I think can be a very effective practice. It gets the word out quickly and expresses well what you are about in a few words.

Consider today what your mantra will be for your spiritual life and how you will share it and live it. Godspeed to you.

Day Lilies

day lilies

A few weeks, these orange day lilies started popping up in my neighborhood. Then I saw them in other parts of St. Louis. Then they appeared in my own backyard (as pictured above). I learned from my mom that they are perennials that bloom once a year. They sure live up to the saying, “Bloom where you are planted.” They are blooming everywhere and they are blooming brightly.

I have been on the lookout for them lately and have seen them along the highway, in ditches, in alleyways and next to dumpsters as well as in front and back yards of homes and in flowerbeds alongside buildings. No matter where I see them, I can’t help but smile.

How can we be like day lilies in our Christian lives? We can be a bright spot in a person’s day when they weren’t expecting it. We can show up in rough places with the Good News of the Gospel. We can draw attention to the Lord’s beautiful work as we go about our usual routines at work or at home. Be a “day lily” this day and every day.

Ideas for reconnecting with members of your church family: Part 2

Last week, we talked about strategies for reaching out to people who have “disappeared” from your parish. Here, we’ll focus on parishioners who remain involved, but who could use a little inspiration during Lent. 

Last week, we talked about strategies for reaching out to people who have “disappeared” from your parish. Here, we’ll focus on parishioners who remain involved, but who could use a little inspiration. 

Revitalize your small groups

Many parish ministers and volunteers who meet online report that they’re suffering from “Zoom fatigue.” Are you seeing declining remote attendance for your ministry groups? Here are some ways you might help people beat that fatigue, and liven things up:

Invite a familiar guest

Ministries who meet online can benefit from a quick check-in with your parish spiritual leaders. You might arrange for your ministry leaders to spend ten minutes at the beginning or end of ministry meetings. They can offer a special blessing or some words of wisdom specific to the ministry. Or, they might simply use the time to listen to volunteers’ concerns and ideas for the parish. For many parishioners, just knowing a beloved pastor or clergy member will be participating at their next online meeting—even if it’s only for a few minutes—can be a great spiritual or social pick-me-up. 

Don’t forget fellowship

I attended an online parish ministry meeting over Christmas that wasn’t at our usual time. There was no agenda. There was no parish business to discuss. We wore silly hats and ugly sweaters and simply talked and shared our challenges and joys. Most important, we laughed together. That one unstructured meeting brought us together in a way that a year of meetings couldn’t come close to doing. Think about some parish ministries that could use a little unstructured fellowship time like this. Perhaps your Bible study groups could benefit from a virtual “Friday Fellowship” that’s purely social. Everyone can bring their own sandwich and beer to toast their friendship and spiritual growth. Consider using these Trivia Cards as discussion starters. Provide an inexpensive gift or prize to share—a bookmark, key tag or even a set of placemats can show your support. 

Help people take a step outside comfort zones.

Summer is all about shaking up our spiritual complacencies, so why not gently suggest your online groups to try something new? Bible study folks might read one of the narratives from the Psalm 23. Prayer groups might try a new topical study. Consider summer as a time to recalibrate for better living, such as Henri Nouwen inspired Art of [Christian] Living

Be specific about your gratitude.

If you haven’t done so in a while, take a minute to acknowledge and applaud your parish ministries for the good things they’ve done during quarantine. You might share a small token of your gratitude, but what’s really important here is the specific affirmation of the real things people have done. It can be as easy as writing a note on your parish website or sharing a video on social media. Share some of the specific ways ministries have adjusted their practices or made on-the-fly changes—ushers who learned how to direct traffic for parking lot worship, for example, or youth ministers who found creative ways for confirmation students to gather online. Who knows how your small expressions of gratitude will inspire other parishioners to take stock of their own lives and express their thanks to the Lord, who gives us everything we need?

ICYMI: Last week’s article on reconnecting with parishioners who have dropped out can be found here.

Connie Clark is the editor of Living Faith Kids and the author of numerous books and booklets for educators, families, and children.


many stones

Throughout the Gospels, there are many references to stones. Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” when they are ready to kill an adulterous woman (John 8:7). On Palm Sunday Jesus says that if the people stop praising him, “the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus goes “about a stone’s throw” away from his disciples to pray to his Father (Luke 22:41). Then when Jesus arises on Easter morning, the very large stone in front of his tomb is “rolled back” (Mark 16:4).

These stones in Scripture help us to learn what it means to be a follower of Christ in this world.

• We are never to throw stones at others in judgment of them. We are, instead, to be loving and forgiving. keenly aware of our own failings.

• Our rejoicing in the Lord should never be self-serving; rocks and trees and all the earth give glory to God just as much as we do. We blend with them.

• Prayer should be personal and something separate from those around us, set apart a stone’s throw to focus our attention on talking to God alone.

• Rolling back all the large stones that hinder us from our Lord is no small task. Only the risen Jesus has the power to cast aside every heavy barrier that blocks us from a new relationship with him.

May the symbolism of these stones keep you rock-solid in your faith.

Trapeze Artists


Renowned spiritual author Henri Nouwen wrote about trapeze artists and what we can learn from them in a Christian sense. The most powerful imagery for me is the moment that trapeze artists must let go of their own swing, trusting that their partner will be there at just the right time to catch them. There is inevitably a second or two when the trapeze artist is dangling in midair unattached to anything. Seconds like that can happen in our own lives, figuratively speaking, when we are between moves or between jobs or between schools or on the cusp of marriage or the birth of a child or retirement. But that is when trust and faith in God fill in the gaps until our God “catches” us on the other side of the transition and we find ourselves in the grip of his love and care for us.

When we “float” for too long, we fall, and when we “miss” our God, we crash into things. We must always be ready to meet our God when he arrives to help us and we must never try to fly solo through life. Without God, we do not know which way to go, and without his guidance, we can make a mess of things in our lives. In the presence of God’s strength and power, we have a better sense of our purpose and plan in him. We have confidence in what to say and do, according to his will. And we find comfort in the fact that we have a God who lifts us up to safety and security that will never fail. All we need to do is let him carry us.

Ideas for reconnecting with members of your church family: Part 1

The Ash Wednesday Scripture readings take on a whole new meaning this year as we think about the parishioners we haven’t seen in months. 

Depending on where you live, communities are trying to return to a “normal.” But, what does that look like for the Church? What does that look like for your church?

Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart. –Joel 2:12

Sadly, we know that for every parishioner who’s livestreaming church at home or participating in online faith formation, there are others who, for one reason or another, have walked away from regular worship. In fact, recent studies indicate that nearly one in three practicing Christians hasn’t attended church—online, in person or in a parking lot—in the months since the pandemic began. They’ve essentially dropped out. So, how can we bring them back?

It’s not an easy question to answer. In this two-part series, we’ve collected some ideas to help you reach out, even if you’re short on staff or funds. Not every suggestion will work for every parish, but we hope they give you something to think about—or maybe they’ll spark other ideas. Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments section below. 

Connect the old-fashioned way

Remember phone trees? They might feel outdated in the digital age, but many parishes are adapting a form of them during COVID-19 by having staff or volunteers check in with folks over the phone. If you don’t have the time or staff, why not put some of your parish ministries or small groups on the task? Simply provide names and numbers for a set number of registered parishioners to these trusted volunteers. You’re not asking callers to solve people’s problems, but simply to provide a listening ear and a human connection to the parish community. Callers might ask some simple questions like: “How are you doing? What’s going on in your life? How can we pray for you? Do you need anything from the parish?” This can make a great summer outreach project for families or single people, but don’t give out phone numbers to just anyone. You’ll need carefully screened volunteers or parish staff for this.

Refocus each day

With everything going on in the world, folks need something uplifting to focus on every single day. Why not give a gift of inspirational reading? You might invite people to ponder “the boundless love of Christ” through the readings of the great spiritual master Henri Nouwen or offer reflections on Scripture readings to “illuminate the darkness with God’s saving light.” Then provide a digital forum for folks to share their own thoughts about the readings. You can simply include a place for comments on your parish website or social media platform or invite people to an online meeting to talk about it. Summer offers a great time to connect outdoors, perhaps a morning in the park is a great option for you.

Help people serve others online

You might have families or individuals connect with seniors in assisted living communities to read one short devotion per day or week to them remotely. Or tech-savvy grandparents in your parish might read kid-friendly devotions online to families with small children in your faith formation program. It only takes a few minutes each day, but it can have a big impact for everyone involved.

Even smaller small groups

Small groups can take a lot of logistics to organize, and you may already have several in your parish. But don’t overlook the power of smaller, informal groups of people with common interests or issues who connect with each other in prayer. They might be parents whose kids were baptized last year, adults who were baptized recently, or people caring for elderly or ill family members. Don’t worry about organizing online meetings—these groups can simply connect by text or email, sharing their prayer intentions and promising to pray for each other. For instance, I have two sons. I began an email group called Praying for our Sons with other parents in the parish. I send out an email once a week to remind everyone to set aside some time to pray for our guys. Parents might ask for extra prayers when their sons are applying to college, getting married, or simply going through tough times. If you’d like to encourage groups like this at your parish, you might remind people to connect each week with a greeting card or other small token, like the “do small things with great love” pocket coin. Informal prayer groups like these are great ways to partner with your people as they evangelize within their own circles of influence.

More ideas? Share them here!

Next week: Reaching out to people in online ministries.

Connie Clark is the editor of Living Faith Kids and the author of numerous books and booklets for educators, families, and children. 

Songs from Prison


About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God,
and the prisoners were listening to them. Acts 16:25

I think sometimes of this scene of Paul and Silas singing songs in prison. What must the other prisoners have thought? I like to apply this scene to circumstances in our lives today when we are in prisons of various kinds: guilt, shame, sickness, chronic pain, grief, depression, loneliness and disabilities, to name a few. While we may not feel like singing at all at these times, or we may just want to sing the blues, this verse reminds us that songs of praise to God are just as appropriate in prisons as they are when we are free of anything that bars us in. As it was with Paul and Silas, people are listening to us and watching us. They see how we are acting in distress and hear what we are saying and singing in the dark cells of life.

Our role as Christians is to sing the praises of our Lord in good times and bad, when we are happy and we are sad, when we feel good and when we don’t. Perhaps remembering his time in prison, Paul tells us in Philippians, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13). Exuding joy and sharing joy with those around us when we are imprisoned by one thing or another is a perfect way for us to let the people around us know that nothing can get us down when we have Christ on our side. We have so much to be grateful for: forgiveness, eternal life, a relationship with our God, hope, faith, grace, prayer and above all, strength. The strength of Christ can break through any prison walls and restore any weary soul. Now that’s something to sing about!