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Practical tips for introducing peacemaking into worship services

These tips provide a practical application of peacemaking to worship services.

John Rempel, now a seminary professor, spent 12 years as the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) liaison to the United Nations.

His work thrust Rempel into the thick of situations crying for justice. He believes churches need to include peacemaking and justice in worship. But he also knows that the average person in the pew doesn’t know that much about specific issues. At a recent Calvin Symposium on Worship and the Arts, Rempel explained how to bridge the gap.

Stay in touch with the activists in your denomination.
Many denominations have peace and justice ministry offices, some at the United Nations. Denominational peacemaking sometimes accomplishes what the United Nations cannot.

For example, the MCC seconded two people to the Anglican Church of Uganda to monitor a fanatical militia group, The Lord’s Army. They documented how village children were recruited, became disabled, and died.

“The Ugandan government wouldn’t let in United Nations monitors. They denied that children were forced to fight. But our staff people gave the U.N. office numbers and trends with which to confront the government of Uganda. We also provided a short report to the Mennonite churches and asked them to pray,” Rempel says.

Relate activism to prayer.
Rempel reminds worshipers that the Holy Spirit precedes us into situations of conflict and injustice, just as the Holy Spirit preceded Peter before his encounter with Cornelius in Acts 10.

“God works through political institutions. He works in other ways, too, directly and indirectly, through the church. The church must live close to people in need, through local and international programs, so it knows what to pray about,” he says.

Introduce peacemaking through intercessory prayer.
Sermons, songs, litanies, and liturgies all offer useful ways to introduce peace and justice issues into worship. But Rempel says that the congregation’s intercessory prayer is the best place of all to include peace and justice.

“Many churches have a time of sharing before prayer; 95 percent of these requests are about personal needs. But wouldn’t it be good to bring up needs of children in Uganda, too?”

Don’t burden the church with complicated details.
When you do ask for prayers or offer prayers, don’t overload people with details. Regarding the problem of Ugandan child soldiers, Rempel says it was enough for the average Mennonite congregation to know that MCC liaisons were working on their behalf with 40 Ugandan congregations.

Whether the intercessory prayer leader knows a lot or a little about an issue, Rempel advises against praying in a way “that prescribes to God exactly what should be done.”

For example, when U.N. liaisons from many denominations gather for a weekly ecumenical prayer service, their prayer litany refers quite generally to justice and peacemaking:

  • “We pray for the church in every place and for every ministry each of us has received from Christ…
  • “We pray for those in positions of public trust, that they might serve justice and promote freedom…
  • “We pray for those who make us their enemies and those whom we make ours, that we might find forgiveness and be transformed.”

Rempel says of the last petition, “That usually made me gulp.”

Be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading.
Rempel says that the optimal outcome of interceding regularly about world needs is for the congregation to “gradually start saying, ‘Okay, we’ve prayed about this. What are we going to do about it?’

“A congregation can collect money, pray, and think about parallels to injustices forced on Ugandan child soldiers. This might open our eyes to pray for guidance about child abuse in our own communities,” he says.

Adapted from Reformed Worship column by John Witvliet

Newspapers are full of stories about crime, homelessness, environmental and other societal problems. People sometimes ask me why these concerns don’t get mentioned in worship services.

I suspect these themes are more prominent in communities that face injustice but less so in more affluent places. It is always a temptation to prefer worship that comforts us without challenging us. But the gospel clearly involves both.

Also, Christians sometimes know of—and don’t want to emulate—churches that focus on social justice in place of a gospel of salvation in Christ. Of course, this is a false choice. Christ offers redemption that transforms individuals, cultures, and the whole creation!