“Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten. Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.” So read the lines in the Morning Office of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (1979) immediately following the Lord’s Prayer, where we ask that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The needs of the poor among us are manifold. Chief among them is the need for safe, stable, and affordable housing. The problem of affordable housing is reaching crisis proportions in North America, and it will only get worse as the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic roll out, leaving scores of evictions and foreclosures in their wake.
Many Christian churches are already at work in advancing the provision of affordable housing in their neighborhoods. Many more have become aware of the pressing need but have few ideas about how to address it.
In 2019–20, I received a generous teacher/scholar research grant from the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship to make an on-site study of communities of faith and affordable housing. I traveled to cities in the United States and Canada and visited several cities in the Netherlands with a long history of faith-based accommodation for households of limited income. Some of the efforts I witnessed were grand, others modest; some collaborative, others the work of an individual congregation; some took familiar approaches to the problem, others were highly innovative. But all had a common purpose: that the hope of the poor not be taken away. The results of my travels, interviews, and background research—the first part of the study—can be found online at www.center4eleadership.org/cnu-faith-housing.
The second part of the project involved the development of liturgical resources for Christian churches, that the needy among us would not be forgotten. Here the aim was to find ways to bring the needs of our neighbors into worship services by way of lament, confession, and intercession. No liturgist myself, I turned for assistance to the talent and insights of three people: Western Theological Seminary assistant professor of liturgical theology Sue Rozeboom; her then-student Linnea Scobey; and Canadian poet and liturgical writer John Terpstra.
Below is a sample liturgy written by Linnea Scobey, incorporating a Prayer of the People by John Terpstra and biblical texts with sermon suggestions adapted to the season of Pentecost by myself. Much more material—prayers, benedictions, contemporary psalms, modern parables, house blessings, building dedications, a thematic commentary on the church year, recommended hymns and sermon texts—can be found on the worship page of the website listed above.
Call to Worship
May be read by one or multiple liturgists or arranged as a call and response with the congregation.
To all who are hungry: come!
To all who are lonely: come!
To all who seek shelter: come!
To all who are weary: come!
The Spirit and the bride, the church, say, “Come!”
And let the one who hears say, “Come!”
Let the one who is thirsty come;
and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
Come, find rest and nourishment for your souls.
Come, dwell in the house of the Lord.
God whispers to each of us, “Come.”
—Based on Revelation 22:17
Song of Welcome
“All Are Welcome” Haugen, LUYH 269, GtG 301, SSS 228
A song of communal dedication and mutual encouragement, welcoming everyone into God’s house.
“How Lovely Is Your Dwelling” Psalter, LUYH 507, PfAS 84A, PsH 243
A song of praise to God for shelter and for God’s house. While the song is about God’s house, the temple, our domestic dwellings should also reflect and participate in the shalom God promises in the temple and thus in the world.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Call to Confession from Leviticus 19:9–16, 33–34
Prayer of Confession
Let us pray:
your love for people is so evident.
You love the rich and the poor,
the citizen and the foreigner,
those with family and those without.
You cause the sun to rise on the evil and the good;
you send rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
We confess that we have not loved others as you have.
We are quick to judge,
determining who deserves our love and who doesn’t.
We withhold love from those who have hurt us,
angered us, offended us, or disagreed with us.
But even they are your children,
whom you love enormously,
and you call us to love them too.
Forgive us for the ways we have withheld love,
in our actions or inactions, in speech or silence.
Forgive us for setting ourselves up
as judges in your place,
pardoning some and condemning others,
holding grudges and seeking revenge
even though you tell us that that is your business,
Forgive us for the ways we participate in larger systems
that value certain lives more than others:
white lives over black and brown lives,
housed lives over lives experiencing homelessness,
able-bodied lives over those with disabilities,
lives with money and possessions over lives without.
Forgive us for the ways we perpetuate these systems
even without realizing it.
Dismantle the systems that exploit human beings
and put their welfare at risk,
benefiting some at the expense of many.
Rise up, O Lord,
that our church and neighborhood and city
might exhibit your justice and peace!
Show us how we might participate
in the work you are doing among us,
that this corner of the earth
might look a little more like your kingdom.
—Based on Leviticus 19:9–18 and Matthew 5:38–48
Assurance of Pardon
We long for the day when we will see our Savior
face to face,
sacrificed Lamb and triumphant King, just and gracious.
On that day, there will be no more death
or mourning or crying or pain.
God will set all things right, judge evil,
and condemn the wicked.
And we face that day without fear,
for the Judge is our Savior,
whose shed blood declares us righteous.
In Christ, we are forgiven.
We live confidently, anticipating his coming
and looking forward to the time
when we will dwell together
with Christ in the new creation.
And until that day,
let us live as people marked by the Spirit of God:
proclaiming good news to the poor,
freedom for the captives,
release for prisoners,
comfort for those who mourn,
renewal for what has been damaged,
restoration through our Lord Jesus Christ.
—Adapted from Our World Belongs to God 56–57, with reference to Revelation 21:4 and Isaiah 61:1–4
A Prayer for Righteous Living
May be read by a liturgist or read responsively. May also be adapted into a plain-language prayer or a corporate prayer in the first person plural (we/us).
Teach me, LORD, the way of your decrees,
that I may follow it to the end.
Give me understanding,
so that I may keep your law
and obey it with all my heart.
Direct me in the path of your commands,
for there I find delight.
Turn my heart toward your statutes
and not toward selfish gain.
Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
preserve my life according to your word.
Fulfill your promise to your servant,
so that you may be feared.
Take away the disgrace I dread,
for your laws are good.
How I long for your precepts!
In your righteousness preserve my life.
Song of Dedication
“Teach Me, O Lord, Your Way of Truth” Psalter, LUYH 721, PfAS 119C, PsH 276
May be sung to the more familiar tunes of OLD HUNDREDTH (“Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”), DUKE STREET (“Jesus Shall Reign” or “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”), HAMBURG (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”), TRYGGARE KAN INGEN VARA (“Children of the Heavenly Father”), WOODWORTH (“Just as I Am, Without One Plea”), or the English folk melody O WALY WALY.
“Teach Me, O Lord, the Perfect Way” Psalm 119
May be sung to the more familiar tunes of NEW BRITAIN (“Amazing Grace”), AZMON (“Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”), or ST. ANNE (“O God, Our Help in Ages Past”).
Other song options that exhibit a longing for justice and righteousness
“Let Justice Flow” Romanow, RW 112:17, RW 119: 23, LUYH 295
This song is a prayerful call for justice based on Amos 5:24 that briefly addresses various forms of injustice and the need for communal transformation. It’s a prayerful affirmation of the world’s need for the fullness of God’s redeeming work to be manifested, and it implies our participation in God’s work.
“When Asked, Who Is My Neighbor” Brink, LUYH 294
Each verse of this song includes an observation about injustice and then a prayer for transformation. Verse 3 provides a smooth transition from confession to assurance and also expresses a longing for God’s justice and shalom to be realized. Could be sung to the more familiar tunes of PASSION CHORALE (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”), AURELIA (“The Church’s One Foundation”), or ST. THEODULPH (“All Glory, Laud, and Honor”).
“The Church of Christ Cannot Be Bound” Tice, LUYH 266, GtG 766
The church is not bound to a building but marked by acts of love, justice, and charity. Verse 3 says, “True love will not sit idly by when justice is denied. True mercy hears the homeless cry and welcomes them inside.” Other verses talk about sharing, meeting the needs of our neighbors, and washing the feet of the poor. This song reminds us how the church might live out faith through concrete acts of love.
“Diverse in Culture, Nation, Race / De raza, cuna y nación” Duck, SSS 413
This song affirms the diversity and unity of God’s people and goes on to offer several petitions for the strength to stand up for justice. Verse 2 includes: “Help us confront all fear and hate and lust for power that separate.” Verse 3 ends with: “let our resolve be strong to stand with those who suffer wrong.” There is a continued desire for connectedness, unity, and justice. The song closes with the desire for a table “where all find welcome, grace attends, and enemies arise as friends.” If the tune is unfamiliar, it can be sung to the tunes of OLD HUNDREDTH (“Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”), DUKE STREET (“Jesus Shall Reign” or “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”), HAMBURG (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”), TRYGGARE KAN INGEN VARA (“Children of the Heavenly Father”), WOODWORTH (“Just As I am, Without One Plea”), or the English folk melody O WALY WALY.
Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 61:1–4
Gospel Reading: Luke 4:16–21
New Testament Reading: Acts 4:32–35
The reading from Acts 4:32–35 records the immediate response of the believing community upon receiving the long-prophesied gift of the Holy Spirit. Already touched by that Spirit, Isaiah foresees a year of the Lord’s favor that will bring good news to the poor, when the people of God will “build up the ancient ruins,” “raise up the former devastations,” and “repair the ruined cities” (Isaiah 61:1, 4). In Luke 4:21, at the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus proclaims that the vision of the prophet Isaiah was to be fulfilled in him. Upon his ascension into heaven, Jesus extended his presence in the world as the Spirit that anointed him fell upon his disciples on the day of Pentecost. In anticipation of the coming year of the Lord as envisioned by the prophet, they immediately sold all they had and tended to the needs of the poor among them. It is interesting, almost shocking, how the energy of the Holy Spirit so quickly found its way into the material realm, into the formation of what many of us today might think of as a hippie commune. That’s perhaps not our response to the prophetic vision, but are there other ways in which God’s Spirit is active in setting up signposts of the kingdom, in establishing pilot programs of a regime that brings goods news to the poor? Are there other ways of God, other movements of divine grace close to us, that invite our participation? Examples from around the nation can be found at center4eleadership.org/cnu-faith-housing, or representatives of local examples could speak, “Lord, help us discern your ways in the world around us. And thank you for the great privilege of entering into them”.
Song of Response
“Will You Come and Follow Me (The Summons)” Bell, LUYH 742, GtG 726, SSS 598
Jesus addresses us in the first four verses: “Will you come and follow me” and participate in his redeeming work? Then in verse 5, we respond, dedicating ourselves to follow.
“We Are Called to Be God’s People / Del Señor el pueblo somos” Jackson, SSS 251, WR 580
A song of communal dedication to be God’s faithful people/servants/prophets participating in God’s justice work in the world. To the tune of HYFRYDOL (“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”). Could be sung to the tune of CONVERSE (“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”), EBENEZER (“Oh, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus”), HOLY MANNA (“All Who Hunger, Gather Gladly”), HYMN TO JOY (“Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”), or NETTLETON (“Come, Thou Fount”).
Prayers of the People
in whom is housing,
room and board,
a place to raise children.
We thank you
for these four walls,
and the property lines
that small portion
that is ours to care for.
We thank you
for the lawns and driveways,
gardens and porches,
sidewalks and streets
of our neighborhood,
and for our neighbors—
most of them.
We thank you
for the pipes underground,
that bring clean water,
that run into our homes;
and the pipes underground
that carry our waste,
and for the wires overhead,
unsightly as they are,
that keep us connected to others
and to the world.
In humility, we have and enjoy more
than anyone has any right to expect.
for the cracks in our street,
and the fractures
in our body politic,
the way we do things,
that make it difficult,
if not impossible,
for others, even our own children,
who are starting out,
of what we take for granted,
as we water the flowers,
and watch our house values rise.
We pray for our own children,
for whom even a small house,
is so out-of-reach, financially,
that it may as well be a very big house.
We pray for the single mother
who cannot find
a two-bedroom apartment
she can afford,
while holding down two jobs.
We pray for the students
into an abyss of debt,
and a gig economy.
for the burdened,
for those who carry
a backpack of family dysfunction,
abuse and addiction
and plain bad luck,
to use as a pillow
under the bridge where they sleep.
We could say, as we pray
our evening prayers,
that what we have
is a gift
from the work of our hands,
and a gift of blessing
but this truth
doesn’t fill in the blanks
or vacant lots
and neglect of neighbor—
and we know it.
for hammer and saw.
in your carpentry
—“A Landed Prayer,” by John Terpstra, © 2020 from Wild Hope; Prayers & Poems, The St. Thomas Poetry Series. Used by permission.
A special offering for the diaconal work of the church would be appropriate.
Charge and Benediction
The Lord our God has gathered us together today,
filled us with the Holy Spirit,
and sends us out to live as people of God
in a hurting world.
Where you see broken hearts,
offer the balm of friendship.
Where you see people held captive,
speak up and pray for their release.
Where you see mourning,
whisper words of comfort.
Where you see people in despair,
wrap them in robes of hope.
For Jesus has come, and is coming again,
to rebuild ruins with righteousness,
to grow gardens of grace,
to supply robes of salvation
and provide for the poor
in body and spirit.
And God sends us ahead of him
as heralds of Good News
to prepare a path in the wilderness
and make ready the way of the Lord.
—Based on Isaiah 61:1–4
“Here I Am, Lord” Schutte, LUYH 869, GtG 69, SSS 608
This justice-oriented call to action depicts God’s provision for the vulnerable and calls God’s people to have an active part in bringing about shalom.
“They’ll Know We Are Christians” Scholtes, LUYH 256, GtG 300, SSS 232
A simple and familiar acclamation of truth: by our love for one another and the world God so loves, we will be known as those who take seriously our participation in Christ’s redeeming work in the world.
“My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” Watts, LUYH 369, GtG 803, SSS 44
This song includes imagery of God’s provision, ending with God’s house. Verse 3 says, “May your house be my abode, and all my work be praise. There I would find a settled rest, while others go and come, no more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.”