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Finding Words for Unspeakable Tragedy: 
Resources for Ecumenical and Interfaith Worship and Prayer

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings." --Psalm 36: 7 (NRSV)

People around the nation and around the globe are taking their grief, fear and even anger to God in prayer, seeking the enduring answers of faith. While the attacks have left gaping losses in our lives and increased our sense of vulnerability, many take refuge in God's love, and they are strengthened.

Clergy and lay leaders of all faiths are ministering to their congregations in critically important ways in this time of crisis. They and their congregations are also reaching out to others in their community, making the powerful statement that God is One and that God asks all people in the whole of Creation to care for one another.

Around the United States, people of faith are making available worship ideas and materials for such occasions, including the following sources.


Interfaith litanies

The following litany was part of the Interfaith Service of National Mourning held September 12 at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral (Episcopal). You may use all or parts of the litany as long as you give credit to the Rev. Sue Singer, Education Coordinator, Diocese of California and the Rev. Mark Stanger, Canon Precentor.

In our grief and fear, we turn to one another, and together we turn to God, seeking a light in the darkness which has come upon us:  [silence]

God of Life, gather into your heart those who have died: the air passengers and crews, the office workers and passersby in New York City, the Pentagon staff in Washington, the rescue workers and others who lost their lives in responding to the tragedy; that they may be welcomed into your eternity of life and peace. [silence]

God in your mercy: hear our prayer.

God of Grace, pour out upon the injured and the bereaved the abundance of your mercy. Be with those, wherever they may be, who still wait for news of their missing loved ones-in the Bay Area, in Los Angeles and in New York and Washington; Help them to know that they are not alone and that your will for them is healing and wholeness. [silence]

God in your mercy: hear our prayer.

God of Wisdom, guide our President and his cabinet, the Congress, our security forces, and all who are called to lead and protect us; may they embrace your gifts of wisdom and right judgment, and walk the difficult path towards security and peace for the whole human family. [silence]

God in your mercy: hear our prayer.

God of Mercy, we feel powerless in the presence of such raw and indiscriminate violence; gather our horror and pity into the compass of your wisdom and strength. Calm our fears that even in this dark night we may seek and do what is right, and when the morning comes, continue to trust in your never-failing presence. [silence]

God in your mercy: hear our prayer.

God of Peace, we are afraid of the violence around us; we are ashamed of the violence within us; we know our own anger and our eagerness for revenge. Help us to know what to do. [silence]

God in your mercy: hear our prayer.

God of Love, hear our desire for healing in our hearts, in our souls, in our minds; in our communities, in our nation, and in our world. Give each of us the courage and strength to open our hearts to your divine help, that we may be instruments of your peace. [silence]

God in your mercy: hear our prayer.

God of Righteousness, we lift into the light of your justice those who planned and committed these dreadful acts; turn the hearts of all who look to violence as a solution to their frustration and anger. [silence]

God in your mercy: hear our prayer.

God of Compassion, teach us to be patient and gentle with ourselves and each other as we grieve; Give us a sense of your presence which transcends fear and despair. [silence]

God in your mercy: hear our prayer

God of Hope, give us vision and courage to come together for the sake of a new future. Fill our hearts with such passion and commitment that we might go forward as your people and begin to mend whatever has been torn in our common life. [silence]

God in your mercy: hear our prayer.

 

The following litany was originally written in 1979 by the Rev. Canon Lloyd Casson for the first anniversary service of The InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington. It made a poignant contribution to the interfaith service that the Conference sponsored on September 13 at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. While the Conference holds the copyright to the litany, it has said, "People are welcome to use it or modify it for their use as long as credit is given to the source."

To Our Common Cause:
A litany of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington

(PLEASE READ THE RESPONSES IN CAPITAL LETTERS)

In an era when the forces of division and decay abound, we as religious communities in the metropolitan Washington area have dared to come together.

WE COME TOGETHER BECAUSE OUR LOVE FOR GOD AND HUMANITY INSPIRES IT; OUR CONCERN FOR JUSTICE, FREEDOM AND PEACE DEMANDS IT; AND WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM EACH OTHER REQUIRES IT.

Baha'i, Hindu-Jain, Islamic, Jewish, Latter-day Saints, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Sikh, we have begun to listen together to the spirit within our varied and venerable traditions.

IN SPITE OF OUR DIFFERENCES, WE SHARE MANY PRINCIPLES WHICH SPRING FORTH FROM THE TEACHINGS OF EACH OF OUR FAITH TRADITIONS.

A conviction of the fundamental unity of the human family under God and the equality and dignity of all human beings.

A SENSE OF THE SACREDNESS OF THE INDIVIDUAL PERSON AND EACH ONE'S CONSCIENCE.

A sense of the value of human community.

A REALIZATION THAT MIGHT IS NOT RIGHT; THAT HUMAN POWER IS NOT SELF-SUFFICIENT OR ABSOLUTE, AND THAT IN GOD IS OUR TRUST.

A belief that love, compassion, selflessness, and the force of inner truthfulness and the spirit have ultimately greater power than hate, enmity, and inordinate self-interest.

A SENSE OF OBLIGATION TO STAND ON THE SIDE OF THE POOR, THE HUNGRY AND THE OPPRESSED, AND TO SERVE THE CAUSE OF JUSTICE.

A profound hope that good finally will prevail.

BECAUSE WE AFFIRM THESE CONVICTIONS HELD IN COMMON, WE ALSO AFFIRM ONE ANOTHER IN OUR DIFFERENT RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL EXPRESSIONS. BECAUSE WE AFFIRM OUR DIFFERENCES, WE ALSO AFFIRM THE VALIDITY OF THE DIVERSE EFFORTS AND GIFTS WHICH WE EACH BRING TO THE COMMON CAUSE OF IMPROVING OUR COMMUNITY. BECAUSE WE AFFIRM OUR COMMUNITY, WE ALSO AFFIRM OUR COMMITMENT TO STAND TOGETHER AS A UNIFIED FORCE FOR ITS SOCIAL AND MORAL BENEFIT, AND TO BE A SYMBOL OF LIVING TOGETHER IN DIVERSITY WHICH THE CREATOR INTENDS FOR ALL CREATION.

 


Links to related resources from NCC member communions and partners

American Bible Society: www.americanbible.org
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
: www.disciples.org/wtc.htm
Church of the Brethrenwww.brethren.org/genbd/BP/resources.htm
Evangelical Lutheran Churchwww.elca.org/dcs/disaster/sept11-worship.html
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Americawww.goarch.org
Orthodox Church in Americawww.oca.org/pages/ocaadmin/documents/Official/NYCTrag/index.html
Presbyterian Church US: www.pcusa.org/crisis/worship.htm
Reformed Church in Americawww.rca.org/
United Church of Christwww.ucc.org/911/091201c.htm
United Methodist Church:  www.umc.org/usattack/


Prayers for victims and enemies in a time of war

Sid Lovett, Sr., 1916 Union Theological Seminary graduate, wrote a series of prayers during World War II and the Korean War with a timeless message.  This small excerpt is from Chapter 12 of Uncle Sid of Yale, published by Yale University, 1981:  Library of Congress catalog #81-51566

A Prayer for Innocent Victims

Almighty God, for the sake of whose Holy Child Jesus the children of Bethlehem suffered cruel death: have mercy, we beseech Thee, upon all those who innocently endure grief or pain, suffering wrongfully; and in all their afflictions incline Thine ear to hear them, and send the angel of Thy presence to console and save them; through Him who did no sin but bore our sins in His own body on the tree, Thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

A Prayer for Our Enemies

O God, Who art kind unto the unthankful and to the evil, and sendest Thy rain on the just and the unjust: send forth into our minds, we beseech Thee, the spirit of Thy Son, whereby we may acknowledge Thee to be the Father of all men, and may from our hearts pray for our enemies, not that their will, but Thine, be accomplished in them, even as we pray that Thy will and not ours be done in us.  So shall we all be children of the Highest, abounding in hope through the power of the same Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

A Bidding Prayer in Wartime

I bid you pray for that joy which is of a pure and clean heart, a consecrated life, that we may love God, obey His will and walk in His way in this our eternal life.

I bid you pray for all men: especially those who are afflicted in mind, body or estate: those whose lives are broken and disrupted by the cruel impact of war, that they may be strengthened by the love of God Who suffers with them, and by His patience be relieved according to their several necessities.

I bid you pray for this University, that we may love truth and earnestly seek knowledge wherewith to serve God and His Kingdom; that we may be alive to every motion of God’s Holy Spirit; that we may redeem time sufficient for the nurture of our souls, that we may comport ourselves daily as those to whom much has been given and of whom much shall be required.

I bid you pray for our nation, both its citizens and all in authority, that we may be a people living in the love of God and in peace with all men, each secure in the liberty which is his heritage: none without the means of livelihood and a just reward for honest labor, all mindful of our common duty to build here and now the Kingdom of God.

I bid you pray for Christ’s Holy Church: that it may be strengthened in faith, in holiness of life and love, as it does His service in bringing all men everywhere to the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ our Lord.

I bid you pray for peace, for which the whole creation is in travail at the present moment: for that concord of nations that shall enrich all and impoverish none, for that day when men shall be done with war and come to live like sons in their Father’s house.

Finally, I bid you labor for these good things till that labor is fulfilled and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. Amen.

 


 

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