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June 2018

The Parable of the Mulberry Tree

Last night I was offered mulberry sauce for my cheesecake and I felt myself recoil. It’s not that I don’t like mulberry sauce. I have never even tasted mulberry sauce. But I used to have a mulberry tree in my backyard—a lovely mulberry tree that dropped big, juicy, purple berries all over my yard and left behind a fermenting wasteland of purple juice. The mess—the stench! My daughter was six months old, getting ready to crawl, and I envisioned a future of purple handprints and footprints all over my home. Before the next summer that tree was down.

Pictures of the Kingdom

An Intergenerational Exploration of the Parables through Visual Art

The parables of the kingdom that Jesus told are word pictures that entreat the hearers to engage the imagination and visualize the story.

Speaking Well in Worship about Mental Illnesses

A Beginner’s Guide to Language and Resources

Most worship services regularly include preaching examples and prayers for people living with physical illnesses. Do your worship services regularly include people living with mental illnesses in these same ways? If not, why not? If so, what language is used for people who live with mental illnesses? Are psychological disorders or symptoms named? Are themes of human struggle and resilience, lament and hope included in your services?

Within Our Darkest Night

A Prayer with Sung Refrain for All Affected by Mental Illnesses

Refrain: “Dans nos obscurités/Within Our Darkest Night” Taizé, LUYH 417
God, our Creator,
who spoke light into the darkness,
we gather to offer our sacrifice of praise.
While it is right to give you our thanks and praise,
we acknowledge that there are some in our midst enduring a deep pain
and for whom joy and praise seem impossible.
Wherever we find ourselves today,

“Why, God?”

A Trauma-Informed Worship Service

I work as a chaplain at a private, nonprofit, intentionally Christian agency that offers residential treatment for boys and girls ages seven to nineteen. The majority of the residents are wards of the state, waiting to be adopted or to enter foster care. On average, the youth stay in the program six to eighteen months, allowing for significant relationships to be built. I offer spiritual care to the clients through pastoral counseling, weekly worship services, Bible studies, and off-campus volunteer opportunities.

The Sensitive Sermon

In one of the congregations I served, a friend of mine went through the training to become a Stephen Minister. Stephen Ministers work alongside the church’s elders and pastors in providing pastoral care to members of the congregation. One week the training focused on how to handle mental health issues. The training was given by an expert from a local Christian mental health hospital, and among the topics covered that week were depression but also more severe chronic conditions including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Litany for People Living with Mental Illnesses

Lord, you are the great Healer.
Today we pray for those who live with mental illnesses.
For those crippled by depression and anxious feelings,

bring healing, bring peace.

For those who suffer from the high and lows of severe mood swings,

bring healing, bring peace.

For those who are tormented by voices and hallucinations,

bring healing, bring peace.

For those who find it difficult to cope with tasks of daily living,

bring healing, bring peace.

Practical Insights for Leading Worship

How to Be Inclusive of Persons with Mental Illnesses

Psalms 139 and 88

A Scripture Reading of Assurance and Lament for Two Voices

Psalm 139 is a testimony to God’s unlimited capacity to know us and to be present with us. Psalm 88, by contrast, is a psalm of lament and unrelenting darkness and is the only psalm that does not include a vow of praise or a statement of hope.

Yet Psalm 139 contains surprising verses of imprecation asking for God’s vengeance, and even amid the darkness of Psalm 88 the psalmist cries out to the God believed to be his Savior.

Broken Beauty

A Vision of Hope

Several years ago, I hung an exhibit of art by John August Swanson in the Leep Gallery at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During the exhibit, I talked to Rev. Karl Van Harn, the director of pastoral services at Pine Rest, about how he was using Swanson’s art as part of his pastoral ministry.

What is a Liturgy For?

We are very grateful that Howard (Howie) willingly shared the wisdom he gleaned through out his years of ministry with Reformed Worship. Since 1990 he has written over eighteen articles and resources for RW, all infused with his pastoral heart. Howie passed away just before Holy Week and while these are his last words to us here on Earth we look forward to engaging with him again as we worship together in the new heaven and earth.   —JB

A Tapestry of Grace

Singing the Salvation Story

We often lead services that focus on a particular part of the gospel story, but we rarely step back to see the big picture—the “metanarrative,” as it is sometimes called. A Tapestry of Grace is a hymn festival that does just that, telling the story of God’s love from the garden of Eden to the new Jerusalem.

On Short Songs in Worship


I am a fan of short songs in worship—simple songs that don’t take a lot of rehearsal. No one on my praise team is all that interested in this. Help me convince them


I am happy to take a crack at this! Short songs (coritos) offer much:

A Good Farewell

Prayers of Taking Leave, Blessing, and Commissioning


Jennifer Holberg, writing for The Twelve (, describes a term she was recently introduced to: witness-trees. Witness-trees designated property lines or notable locations that are part of an area’s history.