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John Wesley was one of the founders of the Methodist movement in the 18th century.  His directions for hymn singing are still printed in the front of the United Methodist Hymnal.  One of his instructions is to sing hymns “exactly as they are printed here.” Yet all too often, in United Methodist Churches and others, congregations sing only the first and last verse of each hymn, in order to save time.

In my opinion, this is so wrong.  The hymns are there for a reason. The words, the music, the act of singing all have much to teach us, and we do not get the full impact by singing  just the first and last verse. Also, I don’t think worshiping God should be kept on a schedule!

Here’s what John Wesley had to say about hymn singing in 1761. We would do well to follow these instructions in the 21st century (although I don’t think I’ve ever sung the songs of Satan).

Directions for Singing

  1. Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.
  2. 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.
  3. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a single degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.
  4. 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, then when you sung the songs of Satan.
  5. 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.
  6. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing to slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
  7. 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 do 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 here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

–John Wesley, from John Wesley’s Select Hymns, 1761

First off, I highly recommend this book. It’s overdue from the library right now because I couldn’t give it back yet.

Take This Bread is labeled as both “A Radical Conversion” and “The spiritual memoir of a twenty-first-century Christian.”  Sara Miles was an atheist until she wandered into a neighborhood church and found a home.

She didn’t just find a church home, though (and she didn’t always get along well with others in the church). She became a new kind of church planter.

Sara Miles decided to start a food pantry at her church. But it wasn’t just a food pantry. It became a church service of a kind itself, and a new congregation.  And her food pantry has gone on to help plant other food pantries. To Miles, giving away food is Holy Communion, every bit as much as handing out wafers or bread in a traditional service.

The food pantry has had its own problems. This isn’t a story of perfect miracles. In fact, Miles makes some disturbing statements about Russian and Chinese people in San Francisco.  But it’s an incredible story, well worth reading, especially for anyone who has been disillusioned by the institutional church.

Yesterday I attended a memorial service for a great lady who had been married for 58 years. At her request, her husband got up to speak at the end about their 58 years of marriage.

“About 58 years of marriage – what I’m going to talk about is the anger.”

What?

He went on to say that in 58 years of marriage, there is plenty of anger. But over the last three weeks of her life, there was only love. And that there will be times of anger in any marriage, but that’s OK.

I know that sometimes a marriage really does need to end. But for most of us, this is real wisdom.

Bonus: Read 1 Corinthians 13