A box of blessings – Saying goodbye well in church

During 2020, we will be trying each month to share an idea for worship that has worked well at St Clare’s. We have often adapted other good ideas we have stumbled on, and you will no doubt do the same with our thoughts. This first idea is ‘A service of sending on’ for when someone is leaving our church.

You will need:

  • A copy of ‘Praying our Goodbyes’ by Joyce Rupp (ISBN: 978-1594712050)
  • A decorative box to give to the person leaving
  • Pens and pieces of paper (about a 6th of a sheet of A4) for each person present
  • A small cross/holding cross
  • A keyring
  • A small heart ornament
  • Oil for anointing

Introduction

One of the more challenging aspects of leading a pioneer church community that is new and small, is that ‘goodbyes’ seem a much bigger deal than they did when I led a large and established church. But that shouldn’t really be the case. Having now devoted a whole service to saying goodbye to several people at St Clare’s, I truthfully feel a bit regretful about the people I didn’t do that for in my previous parish. I seem to recall farewell parties, or special cake with coffee after church, but not a full liturgical send off. Maybe a special prayer of blessing after communion, but that was about it, for those who didn’t slip away to pastures new without us really noticing.

Reflecting on this now, I struggle to see why what we do at St Clare’s couldn’t have been used for every teenager heading off to University, every elderly member moving to be nearer relatives, every person moving away for a myriad of deeply worthy or straightforwardly mundane reasons. I think maybe I was nervous about devoting a whole service to just one person or family. Was it taking the focus away from God? Would the people involved be embarrassed? Would the wider congregation mind?

None of these concerns crossed my mind when after a year of being with us, one of our first joiners at St Clare’s felt a clear call from God that it was time to move away from Coventry. Once we knew the date of her move, we crafted a special service of goodbye, giving everyone the opportunity to give thanks and pray blessings on her and her daughter. She shared with us what it had meant to her being at St Clare’s and we were all encouraged and inspired. What could have felt like a disappointment in a church climate weighed down with anxiety over numbers and a desire to hang onto people, felt instead like a wonderful commissioning and releasing.

In his book ‘Walk Humbly’ Sam Wells describes church as “a group of people doing their best to live with each other under God”. Surely that means bringing every part of our mostly ordinary and sometimes extraordinary lives into the presence of God where they can be celebrated and sanctified. So maybe not just goodbyes, but new jobs, lost jobs, new homes, retirements, illnesses and recoveries should be brought intentionally into the heart of our worship. Let’s be more like the woman who having found the coin she had lost, calls her neighbours together to rejoice with her (Luke 15: 8-9).

Stages

At St Clare’s, we held this service of sending on in the context of communion, so everything outlined below was between the Collect and the Peace.

Sharing – Firstly, the person leaving is encouraged to share something of what God has been doing in their lives. Maybe how they’ve come to this point of moving on, maybe more generally what God has been up to in their time with us. Our folks so far have been happy to do this, but for those lacking confidence an interview might work, or they could maybe write something for someone else to read on their behalf. This sharing of stories is so vital for the building of community. How can we mourn with those who mourn, or rejoice with those who rejoice if we don’t hear their stories?

Proclaiming – This sharing is followed by the gospel reading. As a church in the central Anglican tradition, we use the lectionary, and so far (thanks be to God!) the set reading for the day has worked perfectly for the person in question. Our most recent goodbye was on the celebration of the Baptism of Christ, with its reassurance of God’s unconditional love for his children and constant presence with us through the Spirit. After the reading, a short homily brings the reading and the story we have heard together, proclaiming the good news afresh in the light of the story we have heard.

Box of Blessing – Then we come to a time of blessing, and here everyone gets to take part. At St Clare’s we sit in the round, and a beautiful box is placed in the centre on a table, which becomes a ‘box of blessing’, a gift to the person leaving, for them to take with them with our love.

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As some music is played (we went for Rutter’s ‘The Lord Bless you and Keep you’ this time) everyone is invited to write on the pieces of paper, and put them in the box.

  • What blessings have you received from the person leaving that you want to give thanks for?
  • What blessings do you want to give them as prayers for the journey?

The person leaving is also invited to write blessings:

  • What blessings in your life do you most want to carry with you?
  • What blessings do you need as you continue your journey?

Three gifts from the church are also added to the box (if it’s helpful, these three items can be bought together from our online shop) .

  • A holding cross – to HOLD onto Jesus
  • A keyring – to BLESS your new home
  • A heart – to REMEMBER we love you

Praying – We used prayers taken from the very wonderful book ‘Praying our Goodbyes’ by Joyce Rupp. The prayers are rich in metaphor and poetry, enabling us to pray from our hearts, not just our heads. They are also beautifully constructed so they are prayers for all of us, and not just the person or people leaving. I’ve put a sample below of what we used to give you an idea of what they are like, but for the complete text and for a myriad of other ideas you will need to get hold of a copy of the book.

  • We give you praise, God of our journeys.
  • For the power of love, the discovery of friends, the truth of beauty
  • For the wonder of growth, the kindling of fidelity, the taste of transformation
  • For the miracle of life, the gift of becoming
  • For the taste of the little dyings which have strengthened us for this moment
  • For the mystery of journey, the bends in the road, the pauses that refresh
  • For the faith that lies deep enough to permeate discouragement and anxiety.

Anointing – And finally, the person leaving is anointed with oil; that ancient symbol of blessing and deep healing that also reminds us of our connectedness beyond the local church. This oil has been blessed by a Bishop and acts as a reminder that this person remains part of the Body of Christ, the church, even though they are leaving this small corner of it. We use this glorious blessing from ‘Patterns for Worship’ (Blessing J104)

  • Go forth into the world in peace;
  • be of good courage;
  • hold fast that which is good;
  • render to no one evil for evil;
  • strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak;
  • help the afflicted; honour everyone;
  • love and serve the Lord,
  • rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
  • and the blessing …

The service then continues with the Peace.

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