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What do we sing

There is a long-held view that Methodism sings its faith, that the hymns sung Sunday by Sunday help to form what we know and think about God. This can be seen in the debate about hymn books and so forth, and the content. However there are far more hymns than those in a book, and new ones coming out after the book has been published.

However the Untied Methodist Church – in the US – has looked over the top hundred hymns and songs from CCLI and scored them to see how well the conform to Methodist doctrine and practice, the scores can be seen here.

Now as some one who leads worship, I have to say that such guidance is of help. However I do wonder if the tool being developed can also be applied to current, and historic material, and what that would show up. When looking at the criteria being used:

So I have to ask how many of our traditional hymns would meet these criteria, or is it only some verses. Hence when looking over time at some hymns we see that some verse are no longer sung.

I have to say that I like that some one is looking over the new material, but do we have to also do likewise with some of the older material?

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Posted by on August 13, 2016 in Ministry, Worship

 

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Dressing the part

I’ve looked a little at how ministers appear as they do in the past, mainly to do with age. However I came across this today, which speaks of being dressed in a cassock and the the effect it had on the wearer. Also the fact that it is seen as a uniform, which is very much the reason I wear it, and that’s the answer to the question. Which is sometimes asked, and mainly when I’m ether wearing a clerical shirt and collar or in vestments. So I thought I’d put together some answers. Firstly however I’ll say that there is no required dress code for British Methodist Presbyters – however British Methodist Deacons being part of a religious order do have a uniform. However there is still the question of what to wear when “working”.

Why I tend to wear a clerical shirt and collar

Part of the ministers role is a public representative one; this means often being a public face on behalf of a local congregation or the wider church. And even today most people seem to recognise a clerical shirt and collar. So at the student lunch, or the church Coffee Morning I’ll wear it so folks can pick me out with ease. This also comes in useful when I’m around different parts of the circuit, people will see the collar and see a minister, and this can be the start of many conversations, a chance to reach out. So the shirt and collar to me is a uniform, something that signals to people what I am, and at times let them see the role rather than the person – much as with shop staff in uniform so you can spot them; a police man or a doctor in white coat.

Why I tend to wear vestments

So when leading services I can be seen at times wearing a black cassock, with white preaching bands, and sometimes a stole on.

So first the cassock, this was originally an overcoat, worn to cover up the every day clothes, and was till not that long ago standard outdoor wear for some clergy. I tend to wear a cassock to remind me that when leading worship I’m doing something out of the ordinary – and also to cover up the clothes I’m wearing be it smart or not. Also this presents a plain black image, so as not to distract with what I’m wearing. As one person put it, “It’s just a fancy boiler suit” and for me it is. It is something I put on to remind me of what I’m doing.

The preaching bands – the two strips of white cloth that hang down from my neck – are an extension of the clerical collar, and in part related to the neck tie. I tend to wear this as one would wear tie, to finish the outfit off. Also it is part of the traditional dress of Wesleyan Methodist Ministers, and acts as an expression of me placing my self within this traditions.

Finally the stole – the scarf like item – is one of the traditional symbols of ordination, and something shared with the wider church. This tends to be why I mainly wear it when leading sacramental service (Baptism and a the Lord’s Supper), or other special services (high days, weddings and funerals and so forth). Also the colour relates to the season of the year;

  • White for celebration – Christmas and Easter
  • Purple for penitence – Advent and Lent
  • Red for the Holy Spirit – Pentecost and times of renewal
  • Green for the rest of the time.

So part of why I dress as I do is to express a link with the wider church, and with the church tradition of which I’m a part. However there are also practical considerations, in not distracting and appearing in a respectable manner. Though as said, there is no right or wrong way for a Methodists minister to dress, and the verity of clothing that can be seen on ministers is as varied as the ministers.

If you would like further history of how some Methodist ministers have dressed; then Norman Wallwork’s “Blackbirds and Budgerigars” might be of interest.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2015 in Ministry, Seen by the outside

 

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Sing out in good voice

Singing is a part of Christian worship, in part from the early days – we are told to have a hymn by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:26 – and still forms a part of communal worship.

However some blogs I’ve seen of late have asked questions about our congregational singing. The first of these asked the question about why people are not singing any longer – Nine Reasons People Aren’t Singing in Worship by Kenny Lamm. Lamm suggests that with the professional musician is the return to the pre-reformation performance of worship, and I’d have to say it can feel at times more like a performance at times. For me the performance is not all bad – we have the choral evensong, with bits that no one but the choir sing as another method – however to move completely to just this model  does leave people out of what is happening. And are we not there to worship God, and not just watching others do it. In fact it can come to feel like this does:

The second blog came at the issue from another direction, 13 Solutions for a Church That Just Won’t Sing and looks at how to encourage singing.

The cross over between the two blogs is interesting, and a couple of things stand out to me:

1) The use of Hymn Books

The common book that all can share in and sing from. Singing from the same hymn sheet in fact. But that the hymn book is more than just a way to get the words out to people so they can sing them, but that it is also a book to be engaged with and used as part of everyday live. Within my own Methodist tradition the hymn book is a key part of the devotional material of the church, and has been part of the worship resources from the early days when John Wesley put together collections of hymns including Select hymns with tunes annext: designed chiefly for the use of the people called Methodists (1761) (a digital copy of the original can be seen here) which included his Directions for Singing:

Even today the daily lectionary in the Prayer Handbook, gives for each day a Reading; a Psalm and a Hymn. There was also the controversy about the new hymn book – Singing the Faith. However what this has done, is to put common words into the hands of all, and not just those who can search them out on the web.

2) The need for congregational singing

“Directions for Singing” by John Wesley

That this part of Divine Worship may be the more acceptable to God, as well as the more profitable to yourself and others, be careful to observe the following directions.

I. Learn these Tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.

II. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

III. Sing All. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.

IV. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.

V. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.

VI. Sing in Time: whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.

VII. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your Heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

Mr Wesley’s Directions for Singing show a need to sing together, and this is the second key part for me of what both blogs say. That the congregation all sing together, that it is a communal act. In this we see that God is the one to whom our worship is directed, that God is the audience for our worship, and not any of us in the worship space. Thus we need to sing together.

What now…

Well I agree we need to have some new worship songs; and some old ones. Also having new songs to old tunes. We don’t need to be perfect in what we sing, but need to know that God is at the centre.

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2015 in Ministry, Worship

 

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Time, and it’s use

First apologies for the lack of updates of late, but here is one.

So about a month ago, I heard on the radio about a new nutrient pill, that meant one didn’t have to “waste time” eating. On the radio program “A Point of View” John Gray spoke about the fact that people want to be busy all the time, and have our time filled. Now about the same time on Seedbed they had something about Why Worship is a Royal Waste of Time. Now this spoke about worship being there for its own sake, and not to generally do other things.

Now looking at these two things together, first that people want their lives to be filled and with no space in them, but then worship is not a “productive” use of time. I ponder if the filling of time is a good thing, should all be measured in how many time units are allocated to things, or do some things have a different measure on them.

But also is this one of the ways that the church is counter-cultural?

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2014 in Ministry, Spiritual Vocab

 

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Hear the words

One of the things that I find helpful in worship is to listen. Now some may say, yes but that is what we all do. But for me it is a case of listening to readings and other long sections of text, to listen and take in the words. And to not be reading them. Now I know different people engage with information and so forth differently, however I do like listening to readings in church. I find that I will often hear things that I may never of noticed when reading (this even happens during services, that in hearing the words something new to come to light).

However I do wonder if we lose something when everyone has their head in a book as the person up front reads out what they are also reading. I’d also say that I like worship that uses set texts – in fact I raised on it. A Greek Orthodox Priest on this topic spoke of the words being learnt from childhood, that they become part of us and we don’t need to follow them in a book. And to this I say Amen.

Christian say we follow the living Word, so let us have to words dwell in us.

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2014 in Mystery, Spiritual Vocab

 

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