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Is your congregation’s heart burdened with injustice in the world? You may want to dedicate a worship service to praying for justice and reconciliation. Here’s a sample justice and reconciliation prayer service order of worship to use as a guide.

Your worship planning team may use it in its entirety or to select the elements that work best in your context. You may prefer to incorporate one or two prayers, hymns, or responsive readings in place of the typical elements in your church’s worship service. There are also a few places where you can choose between two options. Choose the one that works for your church or incorporate a different prayer or reading.

Note that the order of worship does not suggest a particular Bible passage for the sermon. You or your planning team can choose an appropriate Scripture reading.

As you plan, the Belhar Confession and related study resources may be helpful. 

This order of worship was put together by RCA ministers Sharon Atkins and Kelvin Spooner. Outside resources are linked to when possible.

Order of worship for a service for justice and reconciliation

Prelude

[To be selected by your church’s planning team]

Call to worship

Leader: Come, Lord God, to receive our worship. Come, Lord Jesus, to receive our praise. Come, Holy Spirit, to receive our thanks. Come, eternal God, come where we are gathered to celebrate reconciliation: yours with us, and ours with each other.

People: Your lifegiving Word and Spirit have conquered the powers of sin and death, which try to separate us from you. They have also conquered the powers of hatred, hostility, and bitterness, which try to separate your people from each other.
Leader: You have called us to be the salt of the earth—to preserve and enhance what is good.
People: You have called us to be the light of the world, to be beacons of your saving grace and your love.
Leader: You have called us to be peacemakers, and in so doing to be blessed and to bless many others.
People: Even as we bring our sacrifice of praise to you, help us to bring the peacemaking ceasefire of resolution, understanding, loving acceptance, and reconciliation to our neighbors everywhere.

Hymn

“Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”

Opening Prayer

Wake me up, Lord, so that the evil of racism finds no home within me. Keep watch over my heart, Lord, and remove from me any barriers to your grace that may oppress and offend my brothers and sisters.

Fill my spirit, Lord, so that I may give services of justice and peace. Clear my mind, Lord, and use it for your glory. And finally, remind us, Lord, that you said, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Amen.

—“Wake Me Up, Lord,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 

Prayer of Confession 

O God of the exodus, of liberation and new life, we come to you in prayer naming the “old things” to which we cling: stereotypes based on race; unearned privileges that are ours because of gender or skin colour; unwillingness to speak out against racism and all that diminishes other human beings; internalized racism that keeps us from acknowledging our cultural and ethnic gifts. 

O God, we confess our complicity in racism, whether we participate intentionally or not. We live in societies, institutions, and churches built on structures that privilege one group over the others. The word “racism” is difficult for us to hear and to speak. Open our eyes so we may understand that this is not your desire or vision for us. 

We come with contrite hearts, longing to have new hearts created within us, seeking the waters of righteousness that will overturn injustice and create anew ways of living faithfully together that honor the dignity of each person. 

We long for right relationships, O God, for abundance of life within you. In your grace, heal and transform us and our institutions so that the rainbow of humanity may be fully reflected, gloriously alive in you. Amen.

[or]

O God, who created and loves all people, we come before you today confessing the sin of racism in our country, our church and in ourselves. Forgive us for our part in it, for the ways we have contributed to the oppression of others whether knowingly or unknowingly.

We want to be different and for our nation to be different, but it is hard when we face the injustice of institutions as well as the prejudice in ourselves. Help us to see the reality of racism and bigotry wherever it exists and to have the courage to challenge it. Through your Holy Spirit, may we be given the grace and power to change within ourselves and also to join with others to do the work of love and justice in the world, to move toward the goal of bringing an end to racism.

Through the name of your son, Jesus, who came for all people, Amen.

—Heather Burtch, member, Western PA Conference of The UMC Anti-Racism Team

Assurance of pardon

2 Corinthians 5:17-18 [or] 1 Peter 1:22-25

Psalm reading 

Psalm 102

Hymn

“Spirit Of The Living God” [or] “Amazing Grace”

Scripture reading

[To be selected by the pastor]

Hymn

“We Are One In The Spirit”

Message

[To be prepared by the pastor]

Response

Belhar Confession (Section 4)

We believe…
  • that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;
  • that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged;
  • that God calls the church to follow him in this, for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;
  • that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind;
  • that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;
  • that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering;
  • that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the right; 
  • that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;
  • that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.

Congregational prayer of commitment

Lord, as you have taught us,
we bow down before you in all humility, gentleness and patience,
supporting each other with love
and trying to keep the unity of the spirit by the bonds of peace,
that we may become “one body and one spirit,”
according to our common calling and vocation.
With one voice, repenting of our divisions,
we commit ourselves to working together
for reconciliation, peace, and justice,
and we stand together in imploring you:
help us to live as your disciples,
overcoming selfishness and arrogance, hatred and violence;
give us the strength to forgive.
Inspire our witness in the world,
that we might foster a culture of dialogue,
and be bearers of the hope which your gospel has implanted in us.
Make us instruments of your peace,
so that our homes and communities,
our parishes, churches, and nations might resonate more fully
with the peace you have long desired to bestow upon us. Amen.

Nolan Palsma, RCA member

Hymn

“In Christ Alone”  

Prayers of the people

Creator of all races and peoples, who loves each of us for our uniqueness, we offer our prayers of petition:

We pray for an end to discrimination in all its forms …
We pray that each person may be respected and valued as a child of God …
We pray that the church may be a witness and a universal sign of unity among all peoples …
We pray that each of us may acknowledge our part in mistakes and sins of the past pertaining to discrimination and racism …
We pray for a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation among peoples who share a history of mutual mistrust, hatred, or aggression …
We pray that the victims of prejudice may forgive those who persecute them, and that their persecutors may have a change of heart …
We pray that the church will continue to strive to make every element of human life correspond to the true dignity of the human person …
We pray for those who have struggled in the past, and continue to do so today, for civil rights, economic justice, and the elimination of discrimination based on race, nationality, sexuality, or religion …
We pray for the conversion of the hearts and minds of those who allow another’s race to influence their relationships and limit their openness …
We pray that we may work to influence the attitudes of others by expressly rejecting racial or ethnic stereotypes, slurs and jokes, and be affirming of the cultural contributions of every racial, ethnic, and religious group in our world …
We pray that we may make a personal commitment to abolish social structures which inhibit economic, educational and social advancement of the poor …
We pray that we may work for decent working conditions, adequate income, housing, education, and health care for all people …

Holy One, source of our life, we acknowledge you as Creator of all people of every race, language, and way of life. Help us to see each other as you see us: your sons and daughters loved into being, and sustained by your parental care. Keep watch over our hearts so that the evil of racism will find no home with us. Direct our spirits to work for justice and peace so that all barriers to your grace which oppress our brothers and sisters will be removed. Amen.

—United Church of Christ

[or]

God of Heaven and Earth, you created the one human family and endowed each person with great dignity. Aid us, we pray, in overcoming the sin of racism. Grant us your grace in eliminating this blight from our hearts, our communities, our social and civil institutions. Fill our hearts with love for you and our neighbor so that we may work with you in healing our land from racial injustice.  

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. We have prayed and now, with changed hearts, let us move our feet to action. Amen.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Closing Hymn

“The Church’s One Foundation” [or] “My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less”

Benediction

May God’s grace and love fill the earth and also our hearts
May justice flow like a roaring, mighty river
May peace descend like a dove upon quiet waters
And may we be mindful always, that in God’s kingdom
All are loved to overflowing. Amen.