Author’s Note: I am writing from my perspective as a priest, but many lay leaders provide meaningful pastoral care, even in the midst of clericalism that hinders the church’s ability to value the authority of all to exercise gifts for ministry.
The Need for Blessing During Covid-19
A few months ago, I got a request from a family worried about working/schooling from home who wondered if I could come pray with them the weekend before school started. A house blessing came to mind immediately, but that option was off the table in the time of Covid-19…or so I thought.
While brainstorming how to respond, I wondered about a theology of blessing, and what it might look like for the household to lead their own house blessing. Different communities have different lived theologies, but in my context, a common refrain is that “clergy help point people to God, we are not God.” There are certain functions that only clergy can do, but our community lay people lead the church in all liturgical and pastoral care roles that may be filled by lay people. I was surprised to realize that the Episcopal Book of Occasional Services affirms this view – the Presider of a “Celebration of a Home” may be lay or ordained, unless Holy Eucharist is included.
As ministry leaders helping households honor and celebrate the essential role of at-home faith formation, this is one way you can partner with people in leading worship in their own home. This kind of partnership might be especially helpful for families who are nervous or unsure about their own spiritual authority.
Leading The Blessing
This house blessing is adapted from the Book of Occasional Services, making adjustments for what would be said, how it would be said, and who would enter the house. The role of the leader is to create the container for this liturgy, equip the participants with the words and objects needed, and help them explicitly invite God’s blessing into this moment in their lives. I believe this role could be filled by any order of ministry.
As ministry leaders, we aim to give people a spiritual framework on which to hang their worries, fears, and hopes, holding all our lives up to God. My hope in sharing this reflection is to help you think about how to repurpose a familiar liturgy to meet emerging pastoral needs in a creative way, while helping people take small steps into leading their own household’s faith formation.
Adaptations for a Time of Covid
Most house blessings include a clergy person going from room to room, reading particular prayers in particular places. Due to Covid-19, I made some adaptations.
- The presider stays outside the home and provides the household with familiar liturgical items like candles, holy water, and other items appropriate for a procession. If the household includes more than one person, a leader can be appointed from among those gathered.
- The biggest challenge for many families is that the home is now the primary location for working, learning, and resting. The format of this blessing honors those three ways of being.
- Some of the prayers imagine a peaceful, quiet home with a dedicated library and woodshop, not the chaotic multi-tasking spaces of the reluctantly schooling-at-home family. Instead, I added a prayer adapted from one of the many I screenshot from Facebook during the back-to-school-season – I will include attribution if someone knows who wrote it!
- Children (and adults!) benefit so much from repetition. Using one versicle and response to repeat throughout the whole liturgy, instead of a different versicle and response for each location, allows non-readers to participate more easily.