On the first Sunday of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, churches across America took to their knees and their feet, and turned to song and silence to utter their prayers for Ukrainians under siege.
“When people were sharing their prayer concerns, a third grader prayed that there won’t be World War III. A fourth grader prayed that the war against Ukraine would stop. It may be a conflict far away, but even our children know what is going on and are praying for peace,” said Kerry Sumpter Smith of Greenland Hills United Methodist Church in Dallas.
The National Council of Churches issued a prayer for peace used in many Christian services across the country. In other areas, Episcopal bishops issued regional calls to prayer. In many Baptist congregations, sermons and prayers and choral music addressed the crisis in individual ways.
An informal Sunday night Facebook survey quickly drew 64 comments, with Sunday morning prayers being the most common action reported for the day.
“We prayed very specifically for the people of Ukraine and Russia. We took up a special offering for our denomination’s disaster relief ministries. We heard a sermon from Matthew 25 about God’s judging of the nations. We committed to caring for vulnerable populations in our own midst,” said Dawn Darwin Weaks, co-pastor at Connection Christian Church of Odessa, Texas.
At Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville, nearly every element of the Sunday service touched on the crisis in Ukraine. April Baker’s sermon wove together multiple events of the past week, including Ukraine and the Texas governor’s attack on transgender children and the 10th anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death. In addition to prayers and a children’s sermon, the service closed with pianist Jake Schaub playing the Ukrainian national anthem.
At St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., the sanctuary was washed in colors of the Ukrainian flag and two prayers were offered, reported Susan Jones Harmon. The congregation also will hear this week from CBF field personnel in Kiev who are former members of the Louisville congregation.
In Hawaii, at Keawalaʻi Congregational Church, Interim Pastor Scott Landis read the poem “I No Longer Pray for Peace” by Presbyterian elder Ann Weems. The poem says, “I no longer pray for peace: I pray for miracles.”
The idea of faith and action permeated many congregations’ worship this week. At First Baptist Church of Jefferson City, Mo., Melissa Hatfield, youth and missions pastor reported her congregation not only prayed for Ukraine but on Friday wired money to ministry partners in Ukraine, promoted ways for congregants to give and pledged to wire more money to Ukraine this week.
Members of Friends Congregational Church, a UCC church in College Station, Texas, carpooled to the Russian embassy in Houston after the church service and protested peacefully there.
St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Norman, Okla., not only prayed for Ukraine on Sunday but has scheduled an all-day prayer vigil for Wednesday, according to staff member Kelly Poteet.
Bob Ballance, pastor at First Baptist Church of Gretna, Va., reported on plans for a multi-day emphasis on Ukraine.
“Last Sunday, we showed Elijah Brown’s Baptist World Alliance report from Kyiv in our morning worship service. When the Russian attack become aggressive during the night Thursday, we had an emergency prayer gathering at our church at noon and encouraged those who couldn’t be present physically to pray where they were. We were stunned at how many came and how many participated in place.
“Sunday we had another report from Ukraine and are going to observe the Baptist World Alliance’s call to prayer tomorrow, Monday, Feb 28, by having our sanctuary open at 10 a.m., the time BWA suggested for the East coast (others will be praying around the world at the same time). Some of our people will come to our sanctuary to be together for the time of prayers, while others will pray where they are. We’ve also reported to the church on several Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel involved in Ukraine and are waiting to hear how we might give through the Baptist General Association of Virginia where we are.”
Not lost on many American Christians is the timing of the liturgical calendar, with yesterday being the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany and this coming Wednesday being Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the penitential season of Lent.
“We prayed for the situation the last two weeks during the pastoral prayer. I’ll be weaving ways to help in church email and make some references during the sermon and service over the next few weeks as well. Especially with the next two Lenten Gospel texts,” said Ryan Busby, pastor of First Baptist Church of Danville, Va.
At Centenary Community in Macon, Ga., Senior Pastor Sara Pugh Montgomery recalled a trip to Ukraine in 2009, when she brought back a hand-embroidered bread cloth. Remembering the Easter Sunday tradition in Ukraine of baking fresh bread, wrapping it in a cloth and bringing it before sunrise to the church to be blessed by the priest, she brought fresh bread wrapped in her treasured bread cloth to worship this Sunday even though it’s not Easter.
This explanation was given: “This morning, our community wrapped bread with the Ukrainian cloth and will hold the bread in the sanctuary this season of Lent to remind us of their holy tradition as we pray for the end of war and stand in solidarity with our Ukrainian siblings.”
Some churches turned to music as a form of prayer this Sunday.
At Heart of Steamboat United Methodist Church in Steamboat Springs, Colo., the opening prayer was a video of the opening segment from Saturday Night Live the night before, which featured the Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York singing a song called Prayer for Ukraine.
At Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, an adult ensemble sang its own prayer for Ukraine, an arrangement of a common morning prayer in the Orthodox Prayer Book that begins with three repeated statements of glory to God. “Morning Prayer” was adapted from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s (ironically, a Russian composer) Vespers.
And at St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, this weekend was the church’s traditional Mardi Gras jazz service. “A member also spontaneously made buttons on Saturday that congregation members could wear during our Mardi Gras Jazz Service,” said administrative pastor Marc Boswell. “She felt we should all remember our Ukrainian neighbors even as we were celebrating this festive season in New Orleans.”
Meditation on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine | Opinion by Ken Sehested