Saturday, September 15, 2007

charles wesley at 300 and other thoughts

Our church hosted a gathering of over 230 singers from choirs across North and South Carolina, mostly from Methodist and Presbyterian congregations, over this weekend. The event culminated with a service/concert, which included a number of Charles' hymns, following the basic pattern of the liturgical year, beginning with "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" and concluding with "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus". The clinician, Andre Thomas from Florida State University, was superb: dynamic as a conductor with the choir, engaged as a speaker with the congregation. It was all very inspiring.

One of the high moments for me was the singing of "And Can It Be That I Should Gain", which is rarely sung in our congregation but which possesses a depth that is nothing short of remarkable; the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has described it as the finest hymn in the English language.

For example:

"He left his Father's throne above
so free, so infinite his grace;
emptied himself of all but love
and bled for Adam's helpless race.
Tis mercy all, immense and free
for O, my God, it found out me".

In my book on Methodist Spirituality (A Way of Life In The World, see link to the right), I argue for the centrality of the Wesley hymns if our church is to retain its vitality as a movement. The concert yesterday, and a renewed engagement with these texts was a gift. Singing and standing next to my district superintendent George, with whom I once served as an associate pastor, was also a wonderful experience. I am grateful to Father Charles, but mostly to the God for whom these classic hymns were written!

But there was more this morning: baptisms in each service; a report about Family Promise, formerly Interfaith Hospitality Network, which our church hosts; an introduction of a family who are moving into an apartment because of the ministry; and the musical response to the benediction, consisting of "If You're Happy and You Know It" and "Amen", with the congregation clapping in time and Danny, one of our adults with developmental disabilities moving into the aisle and was as close as I will be, I am sure, to the Kingdom of God this week.



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