Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

ELCA Worship

Navigating the Modern Era of Death Practices


Today’s post is from Benjamin Stewart, Gordon A. Braatz Associate Professor of Worship and Director of Advanced Studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

Death is currently enjoying a season of fashionability.

I don’t mean our mini-liturgical-season of November, with All Saints Day and end-of-the-world lectionary texts. I mean something that is changing in the wider culture.

From the #DeathPositive movement, to the pop mortician Caitlan Doughty channelling Morticia Addams, to gimmicks like pressing your loved one’s cremated remains into vinyl for your turntable, there are signs that the cool kids have noticed that death practices are due for some rethinking.

Some things are on the way out. The SUV-style casket, the antiseptic funeral home, and the astroturfed grave are in decline. Even the dead body itself is disappearing from American death rituals. Theologian Thomas Long wryly observes that the dead are increasingly “banned from their own funeral.”

Where are we headed in death practices?

There’s a lot of noise in the cultural system now, but it may be that we are — in the old words of our tradition — returning to the earth. Increasing numbers of people are looking for death rituals that speak honestly about both earthly life and earthly death, and honor the body and its return to the earth in God.

This four minute video, The Coffinmaker, shows that even a simple wood coffin can lead us into the heart of theology and spirituality. (It would be easy to have 30 minutes of discussion on this video sometime during this little season of November, perhaps as part of a larger session or series.)

If you’re looking for inspiring help in navigating — and even shaping — this new era of death practices, I highly recommend this new book: In Sure and Certain Hope: a funeral sourcebook.

Worth the price alone:

  • articles on how to work with funeral homes (or to forgo them)
  • specific diversity and cultural considerations
  • planning resources — including helps for especially difficult deaths like suicide, the death of a child, or a funeral that occurs in a public spotlight
  • how to offer a natural burial ministry
  • a four-week course you can offer on spirituality and planning for death and funerals
  • up-to-date theological and historical overviews of funeral and death practices
  • three pages of film recommendations
  • e-versions of many of the resources are included

I’ve only highlighted a few things from this significant (280 page) book that offers a welcome mix of seasoned experts and emerging voices among its authors.

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. But there’s at least a fog bank of goofiness out there too. This new resource helps us do some sorting, discerning what we might welcome for this era, what we might let go, and what continues to promise abundant life even in the face of death as we return to the earth.


Free Webinar on Churches and Copyright


One of the questions churches ask is: what does the church need to know so as not to have problems with copyright? It is an important question and it is a complicated one, too. Churches often print or display content for education, to inform the congregation of events, and as an aid in worship. When they do, if any of that information is under copyright, the church may be liable for copyright infringement. While this might not seem like a big issue, and while it may be very unlikely that a church will ever get caught and punished for that infringement, the fines are huge, and the consequences are real.

For churches with questions about how to comply with copyright law, Augsburg Fortress has an archived webinar on copyright: Churches and Copyright: How to be a weekend publisher without going to prison. The webinar, presented by Augsburg Fortress’ Copyright Specialist Michael Moore (pictured), takes about an hour, and deals with copyrights, licenses, and the rights and responsibilities of churches when it comes to how to license content the church would like to use, but which is under copyright.

The webinar is available on demand at under the heading “Youth and Adult On Demand” or directly here. Select “register now” and enter your information then select “view” to take you to the webinar. Happy viewing!


Singing in Community: a New Paperless Resource


Today’s post is from Paul Vasile, Executive Director of Music that Makes Community.


For over ten years Music That Makes Community has hosted workshops around the United States and Canada inviting participants to experience the power of paperless singing. The work started with a question and a challenge: how could we invite worshippers to participate in liturgy without hymnals, bulletins, or screens? How might clergy and musicians develop the skills – non-verbal communication, modeling and imitation, focused listening – to lead song (and liturgy) with sensitivity and care? And without minimizing the richness and depth of musical experiences mediated through paper, how could singing ‘by heart’ strengthen community and invite the participation of reluctant or disenfranchised singers?


A central piece of our work has been finding and creating repertoire that lends itself to paperless singing. Looking to ancient sources, songs and song forms used in cultures where communal singing is the norm, as well as a talented group of living composers, MMC has been developing a body of song for use in liturgy and community life. Singing in Community published by Augsburg Fortress in July 2017 is our newest compilation, with 50+ songs drawn from our first collection, Music By Heart, global songs, and new material written by our workshop facilitators and participants.


There are gathering songs, prayer songs in several languages, Eucharistic responses, songs for distribution, and table graces, as well as tunes and texts well-suited to ecumenical and interfaith gatherings. The range of musical styles is intentionally eclectic and broad, and we encourage congregations to discover the songs best serve their worship context and needs. Introductory essays give helpful guidance in leading and introducing paperless song to your community.


We invite you to pick up a copy of ‘Singing in Community,’ find additional resources and repertoire on our website,  or join us for an upcoming workshop and experience our work firsthand!



To Lift in Prayer All Who Live with HIV/AIDS


Today’s post is from Savanna Sullivan, Program Associate for the Strategy on HIV/AIDS with the ELCA.


As Lutherans, we believe in the power of prayer. We believe in the power of song, of the gospel, of community. We believe in the power of worship.

There is power in calling upon God to touch the lives of people or groups who society has stigmatized or ignored by name. There is power in asking forgiveness for the ways we as the church have contributed to the perpetuation of that stigmatization and marginalization. There is power in reaching out to God for health and wholeness and healing; and all of this is exactly what the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS has tasked our church to do.

This Strategy was adopted by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in 2009, and has since served as a guide to outline the ways we, in ministry, walk alongside all whose lives have been touched by HIV. Worship is a huge part of that ministry, and so we call upon ELCA congregations to be intentional in their inclusion of language that lifts up People Living with HIV specifically in worship services.

This year, our church will intentionally reflect on the call we accepted in the Strategy on HIV/AIDS on three separate days:

  • On June 27th, National HIV Testing Day – we encourage all ELCA members to lead by example in their communities and get tested for HIV, and to talk about HIV with their families and congregations.
  • On September 10th, “God’s Work, Our Hands” Sunday, we encourage ELCA congregations to spend this intentional day of service reaching out to organizations that serve People Living with HIV.
  • On December 1, World AIDS Day, we encourage all ELCA congregations to take time to learn more about the HIV epidemic in the US and around the world, and to incorporate HIV-specific language into their Sunday worship services.

Join us! Below, you will find suggested petitions for prayers of the church that might be included in such a worship. (You will also find hymn suggestions and a World AIDS Day liturgy linked at the end of the post.) These petitions were written by different members of the ELCA churchwide staff, state public policy offices, and partner organizations – and identify many of the communities who disproportionally bear the burden of the HIV epidemic in the United States and around the world.


 Suggested Prayer Petitions:


Abundant God, You gave us a beautiful world with enough for all, but we have selfishly squandered your gifts and erected walls that prevent others from enjoying these gifts.
By your grace, turn our hearts toward one another, so that we may walk together and work together, accompanying each other toward a world without hunger or disease, without HIV. We pray that the systemic barriers that keep us and our neighbors from health, from sustenance, and from one another may one day crumble; so that we may all break bread together as one body and be made full in your Holy name.
Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

  • Phil LaDeur, ELCA World Hunger


We give thanks for the progress reached in understanding, reducing and treating HIV/AIDS. We also acknowledge that the pandemic of HIV/AIDS continues to be one of the most serious health concerns in the world.

We pray for individuals, families, and communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by this pandemic—both globally and domestically.

We pray for the silence, shame and stereotypes associated with HIV/AIDS to be broken. We pray that greater access in health care, treatment, testing, and education be provided.

We ask for a greater commitment from our church to educate, equip, and implement strategies to eliminate HIV/AIDS. We pray that our congregation be a house of hope and healing.

Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

  • Judith Roberts, ELCA Racial Justice


We pray for those in the LGBTQIA community who have been affected by HIV. Hold in your gentle embrace those who have to hide their identity or their status out of fear and stigma. Shower with compassion and love those who face a new diagnosis, dating rejection, health issues, or long-term survivor’s guilt.  Guide our hearts, O God of Healing, to work to remove barriers in our hearts and our communities for all those seeking care and understanding.  In your Holy Name, we pray.

Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

  • Leo Bancroft, ReconcilingWorks Board Member


You are a God of love, justice and compassion.

We pray for women who live with HIV/AIDS– especially those who feel overlooked. We pray for women who fight for the control of their own bodies, and women who have been victims of violence. Let their stories be heard with compassion and love. Grant us the love and compassion to create a space to listen and support each other.

Lord in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

  • Marit Johnson, ELCA Justice for Women and Lutheran Volunteer Corps


Additional Resource:

Includes World AIDS Day liturgy, hymn suggestions, scriptural suggestions, and links to ecumenical resources.



Using Worship Care for Reflection and Connection



John Weit recently wrote in the Worship E-news,

“As we near the end of the 50 days of Easter, I hope you have had some time to reflect on worship during Holy Week and the Three Days in your context. Worship planners often look forward to what comes next, but it is equally important to take time to think about how things went recently… [and] Spring is a good time to think about your congregation’s worship life in general. There are many resources available and we want to remind you of the free resource “Worship Care: A guide for reflection and connection” published in 2016.”

Here is a little more information about what Worship Care is and how you can use it in your context.

In essence, Worship Care is a free workshop resource designed to help worship leaders and worshippers have an honest and creative conversation about worship in their own congregations. It is flexible enough to use for a council retreat, a worship committee meeting or even a synod event. As the introduction says,

Worship Care is an opportunity for pastors, musicians and anyone who leads worship to check-in with one another about the worship lives of their congregations. It’s that simple. The material may be easily adapted for use in a congregational setting with all lay leaders of worship (ushers, musicians, assisting ministers, altar guild, and so forth).

If you choose to use the full resource as written, you can plan to spend approximately 90 minutes together in reflection and conversation. Worship Care has three objectives for that time:

  1. To care for, pray for and support one another as worship leaders;
  2. To provide tools, in a spirit of mutuality (not competition or condescension), to reflect on the worship life of the congregation(s); and
  3. To connect our contextual liturgical lives with outreach and mission.

A session leader should be selected who can guide and support conversation, but little preparation time is necessary other than becoming acquainted with the material and creating a welcoming space. The facilitator is encouraged to open conversation with the question, “How is worship really going?,” then continue on to sharing what’s working well in worship, and finally to describing the context of your worshiping community and discussing the ways in which what happens inside the sanctuary is connecting to what happens outside of the church doors.

You can download this Worship Care as a pdf at (under Worship Resources -> General) or directly via this link. A hard copy was also mailed to congregations along with the worship and culture resource “Can We Talk.”


Upcoming Classes for Musicians through LPM

Today’s post is from Tim Getz, Director of Music Ministry at Grace Lutheran Church in Palo Alto, California.


Being a good musician on any instrument, in any style of music, requires years of concentration and practice. Highly skilled musicians often find work in churches only to discover that specific skills are required for church music that are rarely addressed in music study. How does one effectively lead a congregation in singing? It’s not a matter of just starting playing and hoping people join in. How does one go about choosing appropriate repertoire for a congregation to sing? It’s not a matter of just choosing your personal favorite songs. How does one work effectively with groups of volunteers who come with vast differences of ability, training, and level of commitment?

The Leadership Program for Musicians is designed to help develop these skills, and many more. Originally envisioned as a two-year program, organized and presented by teams of local leaders using an established curriculum, LPM is now exploring new ways to present its material. Online classes have now been developed which offer many exciting possibilities for musicians working in churches throughout the country. These new courses offer flexible scheduling, shorter time commitments, and the opportunity to study from home rather than driving to a class location. Tuition is affordable and some scholarship money is available.

Two great online courses are being offered this spring: “Developing a Philosophy of Church Music” and “Liturgy and Music for Lutherans” each will run from March 22-June 7, with a break for Holy Week. The registration deadline is March 15.

Particular attention is given to the needs of smaller churches, and the courses are equally valuable for both musicians and pastors. A ministry team might consider registering and studying together for even greater benefit!

Visit for more information and to register for a course. Sign up today! You’ll be glad you did.