Lenten Midweek Worship Series:
How To Be a People of Faith in a Time of War
Traditionally, Lent is a time for personal and communal repentance as people turn and return to God. Pastor Susan Tjornehoj and Christ Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, developed the following midweek Lenten worship series to address the personal and communal spiritual wounds and brokenness of war. This worship series offers powerful testimony regarding the Church’s capacity to bring hope and healing amidst the most challenging circumstances. The process described below is based on Christ Lutheran Church’s series format. If you wish to adopt this format, plan the event very carefully, use discernment in selecting participants to avoid exposing war survivors to unnecessary stress, and be sure each participant understands the purpose and expectations for his or her part in the worship service.
- Call upon a congregation’s capacity to facilitate healing by telling and hearing stories of the personal effects of war.
- Bring help, healing, and reconciliation to the church and community. Worship is a public event open to all in the community. This worship is a spiritual exercise that models care and concern for everyone in the community in times of war.
- A series of midweek Lenten services are scheduled to allow time for sharing personal stories related to the experience of war. Communicate the design and purpose of the Lenten series to congregants ahead of time.
- The pastor invites two or three members of the church (not limited to combat veterans) to speak briefly at each midweek Lenten service. These people already have a relationship of trust with the pastor and other members of the congregation.
- Ask participants to offer brief responses to the following questions:
When, where, and in what capacity did you experience war?
What role did your faith play?
How has this experience changed your understanding of God, Jesus, yourself, the Church?
What wisdom would you give us who continue to be a community of faith in a time of war?
- Let people know when they will speak. Ask them to keep their presentation to about three or four minutes.
- Christ Lutheran Church used the evening prayer liturgy from their hymnal to frame the presentation.
Among those who spoke at Christ Lutheran Church were Afghanistan/Iraq veterans, a veteran from WWII, family members of a soldier killedin war, and people from other countries who had fled war as civilians. One group was composed of the children of parents who had been war refugees.
The following details on series planning offered by Pastor Tjornehoj may help you think through how to use the process in your own congregation.
People often need encouragement to tell their stories. Preface your request by openly acknowledging that living through war is a formative part of a person’s life and point out how sharing their story can serve to strengthen the community. Offer the opportunity for conversation with the pastor before telling the story in church. This conversation may help prime the pump but should not lead to editing or prescribing any of the content.
Give people time to consider the invitation. A person may feel that it would be impossible to talk about his or her experiences. Not everyone will want to participate by sharing but may find relief in listening to others. Others may not feel comfortable being present. Just make the invitation and trust the internal wisdom of people to make a decision that is right for them.
It takes courage to engage in public conversation about such personal matters. !e willingness to be vulnerable challenges people of faith to listen with great care and respect. During the worship at Christ Lutheran, there were times a speaker would begin to cry but after a few moments was able to continue speaking. Without exception, sharing at such a meaningful level led to increased empathy and congregational care for one another. While some participants exceeded the allotted time, none of the services lasted more than 45 minutes. Sometimes the one who is sharing may find it helpful for a trusted person to stand alongside for support and to continue reading from a prepared script if necessary.
The stories told at Christ Lutheran Church were remarkable and memorable. !e WWII veteran, telling his story for the first time, brought a Bible signed by President Franklin Roosevelt. The outcomes of his sharing affirmed the premise that telling the story not only strengthened those who dared speak, but those who had the courage to listen as well. This WWII veteran appreciated the opportunity to finally recall events that were becoming distant history. Recalling the war gave him a chance to refresh his own memory and let others hear a first-hand account.
Another parishioner was a survivor of Liberian civil war atrocities. Significant prior therapy from the Center for Victims of Torture made it possible for her to share part of her experiences. She explained:
“I didn’t want to tell anybody about my life. Pastor Sue encouraged me. She told me the more you tell your story, the more it will be like a weight lifting in you, little by little. Things in life put a lot of weight on you. You don’t have to carry the weight alone. I have grown strong even though I had the bad experience. I had words of encouragement from brothers and sisters in Christ. It really makes me strong to go on.”