For the past year I have been participating in a new program sponsored by the Penn Northeast Conference called Communities of Practice. Developed by our conference minister, the Rev. Dr. Bonnie Bates, groups of ministers in the conference meet once per month for a few hours. The facilitator of the group decides on the topic which is discussed after a very brief time of worship.
My group consists of myself, Rev. Dr, Jane Hess pastor of Faith UCC in Hazleton, and Rev. Rick Dennison, former pastor of First United Church of Christ, now retired. It is very helpful to me in discussing ministry with two ministers who have over sixty-five years of pastoral experience between them!
Recently, our discussion centered around the Serenity Prayer. In its entirety the prayer is as follows: “God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”
The prayer was written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr(1892–1971). Niebuhr used various versions of the prayer widely in sermons as early as 1934. The prayer spread rapidly, often without attribution to Niebuhr, through church groups in the 1930s and 1940s and was adopted and popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs. The Serenity Prayer has appeared in a sermon of Niebuhr’s as part of the 1944 A Book of Prayers and Services for the Armed Forces,while Niebuhr himself first published it in 1951 in a magazine column. I have known of this prayer for quite a while, yet, discussing it in detail led me to a much better understanding of what it is saying to you and I.
We as ministers asked such questions as, “What is Serenity?” “How can we accept things we cannot change?” Where do we garner the courage to change the things we can?”
This was excellent fodder for our discussion. But I won’t give you the variety of answers we came up with. I challenge you to think these questions through, and answer them for yourself.
I see this prayer as something we can apply to our spiritual life as well as our daily life. Some questions you might ask yourself is what is the difference between Serenity and Peace? How accepting am I to change? Do we really have the courage to change the things we can? And finally, how do we live this prayer?
No answer is incorrect. We are all unique individuals who will view this prayer and these questions from our own perspectives.
In a rapidly changing world, the church is running full steam ahead to catch up. Let this simple prayer them become a mantra as we face change, the courage to change and of course, the wisdom, which comes from God, to know the difference.
Peace and Serenity to you,