“Before the Amen”
A couple of years ago I received a request from a writing friend asking for items for a prayer book she was compiling. To be titled Before the Amen, Maren Tirabassi’s new collection was planned as a successor to a highly successful worship anthology of the early 1990’s, Touch Holiness. Although Maren and I both shared prior connections to The Old South Church in Boston, I met her in person at a clergy retreat she was leading for the New York Conference of the United Church of Christ just a year or so before she began editing “Before the Amen.” She is not only a liturgist, but also an ordained minister and a published poet.
Having a head-cold at the time of her request and only a brief time to respond before the deadline, the most I could do (and “do church” at the same time) was to send some poems I had already written; none of them written for church as such but some, perhaps, of use for her new project. I also sent her the name of my local Disciples of Christ colleague at the time, Anna Shirey, and my mother-in-law Patricia Robbennolt, herself a retired United Church of Christ pastor.
Anna crafted some new pieces for the anthology, and Pat sent some items her late husband Roger had written during their 35 years of co-pastoring. I learned a mentor of mine (June Goudey, who delivered my Ordination Prayer at Old South Church in 1995) was also contributing to the project. The possibility of being published in such company seemed incredible, though I had little idea which (if any) of the items I sent would be included in the final book, or when it would be in hand. So I decided to sit quietly until I saw the actual book – someday!
On the third anniversary of Roger’s passing on, I received my contributor’s copy—the sole material compensation offered for participating in the project. It’s a beautifully produced volume which will doubtless be of value to those involved in planning worship, and also for anyone interested in bedside readings that touch on the life of faith. Among the book’s 19 chapters are “A Clutch of Stars” (Christmas), “Awash in the Light” (Epiphany), “The Ragged Beginning” (Lent), “A New Day has Begun” (Easter), “The Storied Fires of God” (Pentecost), and “The Wide Window of Our Spirits” (Ordinary Sundays).
There are also chapters such as “Under Our Roof” (prayers for home, marriage and companion animals), “Under Our Steeple” (prayers for the community of faith), “On the Street” (on civic concerns), “At the Crossroads” (on justice and respecting sexual diversity), “Of Healing and Hope,” “Of Earth and Sky,” and “On Our Hearts.” A phrase from one of my own poems provides the title for the chapter on Baptism, “Breathe Deep the Beckoning Sea.”
It’s amazing to think how arcuate is the thread that gathers us in print. For Maren to make the invitation, and for Anna and Pat to respond as they did; for Rog’s storied poems to find life on a new shelf of worship resources; to have prayers written from my own need included with those from June, Maren, her daughter and co-editor for this new anthology, Maria, and those of the many other contributors; all this is more than I could have imagined.
So I give thanks for this chance to join the chorus, to add my “amen” to these many others’, and to be part of a church in which to pray it out loud, before the amen!
“Fidelity” from Before the Amen!
—William B. Jones, December, 2007