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Office of Theology and Worship develops resources for prayer and comfort during the pandemic

Adapting portions of the 2018 Book of Common Worship for today’s trying circumstances

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The latest COVID-19 resources from the Presbyterian Church, (U.S.A.)’s Office of Theology & Worship, “Prayer at the Time of Death” and “Comforting the Bereaved,” are  stark reminders of the times we are living in  — and dying in.

As they heard news reports of coronavirus patients dying alone, of family members unable to visit loved ones and of medical workers seeking to show compassion, the Rev. Dr.  David Gambrell and the Rev. Dr. Kimberly Bracken Long were determined to help.

Co-editors of the 2018 Book of Common Worship, they knew they could provide Presbyterian resources from the book that could be used and adapted in just such situations.

“Not only is this pandemic putting a strain on the nation’s health care system, it also poses significant challenges to the standard practices for pastoral care,” Gambrell said, which include “the gifts of personal presence, human touch and just sitting with people in their grief.”

Gambrell knows these services can’t replace those basic gifts. But what they can do is provide words and gestures for times when people aren’t sure of what to say or do.

“Especially in such times,” he said, “the language and action of the liturgy help anchor people’s hope in the promise of the gospel: ‘Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant.’”

As the PC(USA)’s  A Brief Statement of Faith begins with “In life and death we belong God,” so these services, Gambrell said, “embody the conviction and proclaim the good news that even in a season of separation, ‘Nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”

Gambrell and Long work in the Office of Theology and Worship in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Gambrell is an associate of Worship; Long is editor of the quarterly journal “Call to Worship” and project director of Just Worship.

Each of the two new resources has two versions: “Prayer at the Time of Death” (booklet, larger print) and “Comforting the Bereaved” (booklet, larger print). These materials are based on the Book of Common Worship, © 2018. They are adapted with permission of Westminster John Knox Press. All rights reserved.

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