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A Pastoral Letter in Response to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Today carries an undeniable weightiness. Though the war unfolds on the other side of the world, the mix of helpless sorrow, resigned anger, and anxious energy that cuts to our hearts makes clear how quickly and deeply the reverberations are felt. I cannot help but recall King’s timeless insight in moments like this: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

At this early juncture of formal warfare, it feels difficult to know what to do, what may yet come, and what it means to be the church. And so, we return to one of our most fundamental postures – that of prayer.

It is a posture of humility. A posture of trust. A posture of lament. A posture that makes clear that while we do not nearly know what to do or say, we do know Jesus – the Lord of all Nations, the Prince of Peace, the One Who is our Hope. And we recognize a new urgency to lean into him and his way.

How then shall we pray?

At a Peace Vigil held yesterday and attended by leaders from our own denomination, The Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church reminded the church that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” and prays for us when we don’t know the words to say (Romans 8:26). Holding dear to that promise, Rev. Curry offered this prayer that I think we can all rightly and continually pray today:

We pray for peace, but maybe we don’t have the words. We pray for a just peace, but maybe we don’t have the words. We pray that the lives of innocents and the lives of any human child of God will be spared. We pray that our leaders will find a diplomatic way, a nonviolent way of solution. But we don’t know how to pray as we are. So, the Spirit must intercede for us at this time.

As well, Sallie Watson, our Executive Presbyter, reminded me (and the Presbytery) earlier today that we can rightly use the prayers crafted and collected by our denomination for moments like these. In particular, Sallie commends a prayer from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is found in our Book of Common Worship:

We bring before you the disunity of today’s world:
the absurd violence, and the many wars,
which are breaking the courage of the peoples of the world;
militarism and the armaments race, which are threatening life on the planet; human greed and injustice, which breed hatred and strife.
Send your Spirit and renew the face of the earth;
teach us to be compassionate toward the whole human family;
strengthen the will of all those who fight for justice and for peace; lead all nations into the path of peace, and give us that peace which the world cannot give.

Amen.

Finally, no matter how we pray, I invite us to remain especially attentive to those who are most vulnerable before this unfolding violence. May they know the God of the broken-hearted draws near. And, amid our own prayers and weeping and fears and advocacy in the coming days, may we likewise know the same truth. For truly, “God is our refuge and strength and an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46).

Leaning into Jesus alongside each of you – for the sake of our broken world,

Pastor Bobby


PS For those who would like more resources related to this war, the countries involved, and the church’s presence and response, here are five options to consider:

  1. For more details about how some of the pastors in Ukraine and Russia are speaking to their congregations about this (and how the congregations are preparing for the realities of war), see this recent article from Christianity Today, Amid War and Rumors of War, Ukraine Pastors Preach and Prepare. These courageous voices and examples can serve as inspiration for how we, too, can be the hands and feet of Christ in bold, relevant ways.
  2. Here is Salle Watson’s letter to Mission Presbytery sent earlier today.
  3. You can go to the PCUSA’s website to read about our denomination’s presence in Ukraine and Russia.
  4. Many of you have used Adam Hamilton’s resources for your book clubs and Bible studies. He is a Methodist pastor in Kansas. Earlier today, he posted the following resource on social media: I’ve been reading a lot, as I’m sure you have, to understand both the historic relationship between Russia and Ukraine and the recent history that led to the current situation. For recent history, I found this interview with Steven Pfifer, former US Ambassador to Ukraine, helpful. Pfifer’s now at Stanford. The article is six weeks old, but regarding the motivations and fears that have precipitated what’s happening today, you might find it helpful – a five minute read.  
  5. More generally, You can read section 9.45 of The Confession of 1967 (from our Book of Confessions) which speaks directly to the church’s hope and call in relationship to the nations of this world, particularly when there is mounting violence and warfare.