Prayers of Confession at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church

Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church has a three-part order of worship: Preparing for the Word; Listening for the Word; and Responding to the Word. A key part of Preparing for the Word is the Prayer of Confession.

Here are three such recent prayers that speak to me because of their simplicity and their use of contemporary English language to address current issues we all face.[1]

Prayer of Confession (May 29, 2016):

“When we limp around altars we have made to false gods, Lord, have mercy. When we sacrifice our very selves for that which cannot satisfy, Lord, bring healing. When we turn to idols to meet our deepest need and there is no response. Lord, save us!”

Prayer of Confession (June 26, 2016):

“God of forgiveness, as we gather for worship today we confess we do not offer you our whole selves. We come anxious of what others might think. We come with assumptions about one another, and how things ‘should be.’ Help us to come as we are, and allow others to do the same. Create open space in our hearts for understanding, empathy, and grace. Mold us into people who always choose love before hate. Make us peacebuilders, and those who point to goodness, in a world blinded by evil. We pray this for Jesus’ sake.”

Prayer of Confession (July 3, 2016):

 “ O Holy One, we call to you and name you as eternal, ever-present, and boundless in love. Yet there are times, O God, when we fail to recognize you in the dailyness of our lives. Sometimes shame clenches tightly around our hearts, and we hide our true feelings. Sometimes fear makes us small, and we miss the chance to speak from our strength. Sometimes doubt invades our hopefulness, and we degrade our own wisdom. Holy God, remind us again of your holy presence hovering near us and in us. Help us to see you in the moment-by-moment possibilities to live honestly, to act courageously, and to speak from our wisdom.”

I pray that these prayers are meaningful for you, dear reader.

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 [1] These prayers are set forth in the bulletins for the May 29, June 26 and July 3 services. Earlier posts have discussed other such prayers: The Order of Worship at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 15, 2012); Prayer of Confession, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 26, 2012); Prayer of Confession, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 29, 2014).

Call to Worship and Prayer of Confession at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church    

 

Westminster Sanctury
Westminster Sanctuary

The Call to Worship and the Prayer of Confession at the January 31, 2016, worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church were especially moving

They both are important elements of “Preparing for the Word,” which is the first part of our three-part worship service. The other parts are “Listening for the Word” with the readings from Holy Scripture and Sermon and “Responding to the Word” with the Offertory and Pastoral Prayer (and Communion on the first Sunday of the month). The complete bulletin for the service is available online as is a video of the service.)

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The Call to Worship (from Psalm 71) stated:

“One: Our hope is in God all of our lives.

All: God is a rock of refuge: a fortress against threat and shame.

One: God has held us since our birth.

All: So we are never in the full grasp of the unjust and cruel.

One: In love, God saves and support us.

All: Trusting in God, we continually offer our praise!

One: Let us worship God.”

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The following are the words of the Prayer of Confession (unison):

“God, our Deliverer, we confess that we are too reluctant to speak and to live

according to your truth. We grow comfortable with the way things are, passively

condoning injustice. We see ourselves as “insiders,” excluding those we

consider “outsiders.” We find it easier to pluck up and pull down, to destroy

and overthrow, than to build and to plant. Forgive us, O God, for being timid

disciples. Empty us to fear and shame, and fill us with love that is humble and

patient and kind.

We pray this in the name of the One who humbled himself, Jesus the Christ, Amen.”

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Prayer of Confession

Vocation or calling was the overall theme of the inspiring January 26th worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. Several parts of that service were especially meaningful for me and will be discussed in this and subsequent posts.

The unison Prayer of Confession led by Rev. Stephen Robertson was a major focus of the first part of the service—“Preparing for the Word”— and provided the right introduction. It went as follows:

  • “Hear us, O God, as we blend our voices in common confession. You have taught us that there are a variety of gifts, yet we judge others because they do not fit our mold. You have called us and blessed us, but we do not trust that we are good enough. We turn our attention inward and can’t see beyond our own perceived shortcomings to know the ways you would use us to feed, clothe, shelter, and comfort. Help us to realize that you have equipped us to be your instruments of peace, justice, and reconciliation. Forgive us our fears and the barriers we place between ourselves and you, between ourselves and others and free us for the new life you call us to in Jesus Christ.”

Several sentences of this prayer jumped out at me, especially after the article earlier that day in the New York Times about the purported determinants of success, one of which was a sense of insecurity, of not feeling good enough. Here again are those words:

  • “You have called us and blessed us, but we do not trust that we are good enough. We turn our attention inward and can’t see beyond our own perceived shortcomings to know the ways you would use us to feed, clothe, shelter, and comfort. Help us to realize that you have equipped us to be your instruments of peace, justice, and reconciliation.”

This rang true to me. A sense of inadequacy is natural when looking out at the many problems in the world and can, and often does, prevent us from doing what we can do to help others. We need God’s help to overcome such perceived shortcomings.[1]


[1] The Bulletin for the January 26th service that includes this prayer is available online along with a video recording of the service. Other blog posts have discussed Westminster’s order of worship and another prayer of confession while clicking on “Westminster Presbyterian Church” in the Tag Cloud at the top right of the blog will give you all of the posts about the church in reverse chronological order.

A Prayer and a Spanish Hymn at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church

Two parts of the August 4th worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church were especially meaningful for me.[1]

The first was the congregational unison Prayer of Confession that spoke to the sin of pride that infects most of us in these times. The words went as follows:

  • “Oh Lord, we come before you, knowing that even in our vast knowledge we remain ignorant of ourselves, deceiving and blinding ourselves. We lose hold of that knowledge given us at creation, of God’s generous and continuing favor toward us, and of the original nobility that God bestowed upon our ancestor Adam. When we do remember our great gifts, we think of them as belonging to us alone, in boasting and self-assurance, when we ought instead to honor those gifts among our neighbors, for Scripture bids us to esteem others above ourselves, and to apply ourselves wholly to doing them good. We despise others, and forget that in despising them we despise ourselves, for we re together made in the image of God.”

The second part of the service was the hymn Tu Has Venido a la Orilla (Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore), whose gentle melody is reminiscent of a rocking boat by a lakeshore and which is easy to sing. Its lyrics are based upon Matthew 4: 18-20, when Jesus encountered two fishermen (Peter and Andrew) casting their net into the Sea of Galilee and asked them to follow him and be fishers of men and women.The lyrics go on to urge us to do the same.

Here are the words of its refrain as translated into English: “O Lord, with Your eyes You have searched me, And, while smiling, have called out my name. Now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me, Now with You I will seek other seas.”  The four verses go as follows:

  • “You have come up to the lakeshore, Looking neither for wise nor wealthy.You only wanted that I should follow.” (Refrain)
  • “You know that I own so little, In my boat there’s no money or weapons, You’ll only find there my nets and labor.” (Refrain)
  • “You need the caring of my hands.Through my tiredness, may others find resting. You need a love that just goes on loving.”(Refrain)
  • “You, who have fished other oceans, Ever longed for by souls that are waiting, My dear and good friend, as thus You call me.”(Refrain)

The Presbyterian Hymnal also contains the original Spanish verses. While most of the Westminster congregants sing the English version, some sing the Spanish. With my very rudimentary Spanish language skills, I softly sang the Spanish words to remind me of my one trip to Spain and many others to Latin America and of my friends throughout the latter region. It thus becomes for me a song of solidarity.

Cesáreo Gabaráin
Cesáreo Gabaráin

This hymn was written in 1979 by Cesáreo Gabaráin (1936-1991), a Spanish Roman Catholic priest and composer of over 500 liturgical songs. He also held the position of Chaplain Prelate for Pope John Paul II.


[1] The bulletin and audio and video recordings of the service are online.

The Order of Worship at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

Westminster Presbyterian Church

Worship services at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church are divided into three sections: Preparing for the Word; Listening for the Word; and Responding to the Word.

Note that the focus of all three sections is on what the worshiper should be doing: preparing, listening and responding.

This structure helps me to focus and concentrate on the central message and thereby derive greater meaning from the service. Occasionally I have visited other churches without such a tripartite or any other stated structure and with a long list of different parts of the service with the sermon near the end. By the time the sermon is reached, I am tired or bored. They are not nearly as meaningful for me.

Preparing for the Word

We already have seen examples of the musical parts of Preparing for the Word:  the jazzy preludes, the percussive preludes, the Processional Hymn “O Holy One and Nameless,” the world premiere of Palestinian hymns and the choral anthem “God Be in My Head.”

A central part of this first section of the service is the Prayer of Confession, an example of which was set forth in a prior post.

All of the parts of this section of the service are designed to prepare the worshiper for the reading of, and listening for, the Word of God in Holy Scripture.

Listening for the Word

The central part of the worship service is the reading of the Word from Holy Scripture and the Sermon with commentary on the Word.

As an example of the intelligent, challenging sermons at Westminster we have looked at the one by Westminster’s Senior Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen: “How Do We Know God: Human Community.”

We also have reviewed the engaging sermons of two guest pastors in prior posts: Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb of Bethlehem Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Palestine and Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian of Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church. From time to time future posts will review other sermons.

Responding to the Word

Supplemented by the congregational singing of hymns and the choir’s singing of anthems, this section features the Affirmation of Faith, the Pastoral Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, the Offertory and on the first Sunday of the month communion.

 An example of the Pastoral Prayer will be provided in a future post.

The service concludes with this Charge to the Congregation: “Go forth into the world in peace; Be of good courage; Hold fast to that which is good; Render to no person evil for evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted; Support the weak; Heal the afflicted. Honor all people. Love and serve the Lord, Rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”

Especially meaningful for me is the Charge’s emphasis on rendering “to no person evil for evil” and on honoring “all people.” That means everyone; no one is excluded.

This emphasis on total inclusiveness is repeated in the following Benediction; “And now may the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Hold Spirit be with us and those whom God loves this whole world over.”

The worshipers are then invited to the Passing of the Peace, when the people are encouraged to greet one another with the peace of Christ.

The Postlude concludes the service.

Prayer of Confession

An important part of every worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church is the prayer of confession.

The text often differs, but the essential elements do not. They are confessing our individual and collective failures to do what we should do and our doing what we should not be doing and then asking for God’s forgiveness.

The Prayer of Confession on September 23rd was from the United Church of Christ, USA (1986). Here it is:

  • “God of all mercy, we confess before you and each other that we have been unfaithful to you. We lack love for neighbors, we waste opportunities to do good, and we look the other way when you cry out to us in the suffering of our brothers and sisters in need. We are sincerely sorry for our sins, both those we commit deliberately and those we allow to overtake us. We ask your forgiveness and pray for strength that we may follow in your way and love all your people with that perfect love which casts our all fear; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.”

The Prayer of Confession then continues with silent personal prayers by the members of the congregation.

In response to these prayers, one of the ministers leads the congregation in the Declaration of God’s Forgiveness (from the New Testament‘s Romans 8:34; 2 Cor. 5:17):

  • One: Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life has gone; a new life has begun. Friends, hear the good news:
  • All: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.