Contemplative Prayer Service

*On the third Sunday, our service is contemplative. Instead of a sermon, we share our worship bulletin from our prayer service. Italicized sections are words expressed by the pastor and not originally printed in the worship bulletin.

June 21, 2015
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
A Contemplative Service



MUSIC FOR REFLECTION      “Been in the Storm So Long”             Fisk Jubilee Singers

I’ve been in the storm so long,
Been in the storm so long, children,
Been in the storm so long.
Oh, give me a little time to pray.






In the words of the spiritual we just heard, we’ve been in the storm for so long, children, and we need a little time to pray. Our practice of worshiping on third Sundays is to forego a sermon in order to give ourselves to contemplative prayer, sung prayers, enacted prayers at prayer stations, prayerful reflection on scripture, and sharing from our prayer experiences. But let me ground today’s prayers in holy remembrance of sisters and brothers who gathered for prayer last Wednesday night at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, welcomed a young man to their prayer group, and were murdered by him.

When we read in a moment the story of Jesus calming the storm, let us recognize that a storm of racism continues to brew in coastal Charleston and in our own city by Mobile Bay. As hurricane season begins here, we can feel this metaphor deeply. Unacknowledged and unaddressed white privilege and systemic racism are sucking in volatile and violent people who leave behind a path of physical, psychological, social destruction. God, have mercy.

We dedicate today’s readings and prayers and resulting actions to the end of racism. We weep for the Reverend Clementa Pinckney and his eight parishioners who lost their lives as a young man, poisoned by prejudice and ignorance, a young man whose middle name is Storm, blew into a place of prayer and peace and left devastation in his wake. We are going to pray for the families of the slain, who already have exhibited miraculous forgiveness, and we will pray that we, too, can attain such a capacity for radical forgiveness. We are going to sing in defiance of hatred. We are going to listen—especially those of us with white ears and white histories and white privileges—we are going to try to listen in the days ahead for stories that teach us what we don’t really know. We don’t know, for instance, what our invisible privileges cost others. And then we are going to ACT against racism. We are facing into the storm—with words of peace. And justice.


by the Reverend Nancy S. Taylor, senior minister of Old South UCC in Boston:

Dear Mother Emmanuel,

You, who authored courageous slave rebellions, who suffered and survived wretched bigotry, burnings and earthquake, You, you who worshipped underground when black churches were outlawed. Dear Mother Emanuel, in this day of grievous heartache we wrap you in bands of prayer. We pour out upon your broken hearts the healing balm of Gilead. You, whose shepherd has been taken from you, whose building has become a tomb, whose children are terrified: We stand with you. We weep with you. We rage for you. We keep vigil with you for your beloved dead. May the God of Moses and Miriam, of Jesus and the Marys, anoint you with healing, furnish you with hope and, one day, some day, mend your torn hearts and wipe the tears from your swollen eyes. God help us. Amen  

 HEBREW BIBLE READING               I Samuel 17: 2-49

2Saul and the Israelites gathered and encamped in the valley of Elah, and formed ranks against the Philistines. 3The Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them.

Prayers for those today who stand on either side of a valley.

There seems in this country a great divide of race. It seems to some whites that they will lose ground, lose rights, lose privileges—by extending rights to others and meeting the other peacefully in the valley. An ancient Southern creed of a defeated people, still recycled by demagogues, says white rights are being eroded. Even for whites who are not rabidly racist, we have within us, buried deeply beneath a veneer of politically correct terms and an intellectual support for equality, our own unacknowledged prejudices, our own automatic negative associations we make. If we don’t recognize these reflexes and blindnesses and privileges, we cannot build a bridge across that valley, that chasm, between today’s empowered Philistines and beleaguered Israelites. You are invited now to name prayerfully some valleys or chasms in today’s world. . . .

4And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 8He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. 9If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.”

Prayers for those threatened by aggressors and oppressors.

You are invited to name victims of aggression and oppression in today’s world. Reflect also, more personally, on the Goliath you are facing, little David. Share, as you wish, with your sisters and brothers here. . . .

40Then [the shepherd boy David] took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. 41The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42When the Philistine

looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance.  48When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

Prayers for the underdogs whom God loves.

 You are invited to express thanks for specific evidence of courage and justice in this world. . . .

*SONG                                                “Stand Firm”                           p. 77 in songbook

GOSPEL READING                              Mark 4: 35-41

35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.

38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

SONG                                            “Be Still and Know”                     p. 15 in songbook


Where are you headed?
Who/what are you leaving behind?
What storms are threatening you?
Why are you afraid?

SUNG PRAYER     When the Storms of Life Are Raging, Stand By Me”             Spiritual

When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. (repeat)
When this world is tossing me like a ship out on the sea.
Thou who ruleth winds and waters, stand by me.

In the midst of tribulations, stand by me. (repeat)
When the hosts of hell asail and my strength begins to fail.
Thou who never lost a battle, stand by me.

In the midst of faults and failing, stand by me. (repeat)
When I do the best I can and my friends misunderstand,
Thou who knowest all the about me, stand by me.

In the midst of persecution, stand by me (repeat);
When my foes in battle array undertake to stop my way,
Thou Who savèd Paul and Silas, stand by me, stand by me.



David gathered five smooth stones before facing Goliath. Before you respond to an aggressor with more hurtful words or actions, it may be helpful first to prayerful self-examination. Recall that a young man committed violence against the innocent because he felt himself aggrieved:

  1. What seems to have provoked the harmful action against you? (Are you sure you know all the facts?)
  2. Who is responsible for the hurt? (The person who at first seems to have hurt you may not be responsible or fully responsible.)
  3. Was the hurt intentional? (Are you sure you’re the underdog in your story?)
  4. Was the action against you injurious to your physical or emotional well-being? (Or was it instead an injury to your pride, privilege, or status?)
  5. Have others been hurt? Might you or others be hurt in the future if something is not done to prevent a similar action? Are you equipped to respond?

Consider an incident, recent or in the past, when you were hurt by someone’s aggressive comment or action. Now choose five smooth stones on the table, one for each of the above questions, to help you sort through a Christ-like response to your sense of injury or fear. Hold one stone for each question you ponder with this tactile prayer. Consider a course of action to make sure the way you respond (if you respond at all) heals an injury rather than escalates violent words or actions.


At the table of the Lord, there is no valley separating people, there is no stormy sea to cross, there are no oppressors and no oppressed. All have equal access to a meal that represents God’s unfailing love in the peaceable kingdom. If possible approach the table with another person so you may take turns serving another and being served.


To have an impact for peace and justice in this world requires commitment. Your generosity to share with others allows our congregation to be a force for justice and peace in this world. Give as you are able in hopes of healing injuries and undoing oppression.


You may kneel or stand beside the pastor if you wish to share a concern for private prayer.




SENDING FORTH                      “Let Me Be Your Light”                    


* Please stand as you are able, in body or in spirit.

A well-staffed nursery is available for children ages 4 and under.

All are welcome at the Open Table. Gluten-free bread is available on the Table. Our cup is alcohol-free.

Welcome to OPEN TABLE. We hope you will join us again for one of our various worship and learning experiences. If you are a first-time visitor, we invite you to sign our guest book on the small table at the back of the chapel and share your preferred contact information. Our pastor, Ellen Sims, welcomes a chance to share more about Open Table UCC and hear about your faith journey. You can follow us at: and To become a member of Open Table, see our pastor to set up a time to learn more about our congregation and denomination, the United Church of Christ:

If you’re a visitor, we invite you to sign our guestbook and provide contact information. Please join us for light refreshments after our service.

Open Table is an Open and Affirming congregation that affirms the worth and dignity of every human being, extending extravagant welcome to all persons. We affirm lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in particular and assure them full inclusion in the life, leadership, and ministry of our congregation. We acknowledge the suffering they have endured in the context of the larger society. We aspire to develop an increasingly sensitive and informed understanding of God’s good gifts of human sexuality, gender, and relationships. We believe that all people are created in God’s image and thus are loved and blessed equally by God.

Worship at OPEN TABLE. Christianity is always evolving, and Progressive Christianity is experimenting with varied ways of worship (rooted in ancient traditions, responsive to expanding visions of the Sacred). Many among us do not primarily envision God as a being or see prayer as a transactional process whereby we request, and God delivers. Therefore, we explore a range of prayer practices. A diverse but unapologetically Christian congregation, we hope people of various religious backgrounds can feel at home and find spiritual sustenance here.

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