Turning

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Katie Styrt

“My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great.” The worship hall in Stony Point’s retreat center looks big until you crowd it with millennials. Dozens of future Young Adult Volunteers were packed in, worshiping with our fellow Presbyterians in a way that didn’t feel very Presbyterian at all. There was no stained glass, no pews cemented to the floor, and no bulletins, just us singing loud enough to shake the rafters. I’d signed up to spend a year in discernment and service, and already I was learning new things. We sang hymns brought back from other countries by past mission workers. My favorite was “Canticle of the Turning,” (hymn 100 in Glory to God) a loud, brash song.

More like a pirate shanty than a traditional hymn, the song retold the Magnificat to an Irish tune. Sung as a crowd at the top of our voices, Mary’s words sounded more like an anarchist manifesto than a virgin’s hope. “From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone.” I sang it and I believed it. Soon our group would be spread throughout the world, completely devoted to fighting injustice with groups in their communities. I had spent years praying for change, without the focus to actually do something. Now I would finally get my chance.

A year went by quickly. Unsurprisingly, I was changed more than the place I served. Also unsurprisingly, I went on to seminary (if you want to feel excited about the future of the church, go be a YAV). Now I’m at my first call, a church in a stately behemoth of a building. And here, we sing the “Canticle of the Turning” every Sunday of Advent.

Our first week was an experience. Here was a song I’ve only heard on guitar and djembe, now ready to be performed on our sanctuary organ. I looked at the brick walls around us and tried to imagine this place in post-Kingdom revolution. I was surrounded by retirees and their grandkids in satin dresses. Our choir was robed up and immaculate. And then, we stood up sang about turning the world upside down.

It was perfect.

Week after week in Advent, our souls cried out. Every member of our congregation proclaimed that the world is about to turn. And we they took those words with us, out into our imperfect, stuck-in-the-mud lives.

I love singing “Canticle of the Turning,” because it reminds us how truly revolutionary Mary’s hopes for the Christ child still are today. Those big dreams and revolutionary songs fit in our solid church buildings just as much as in drum circles ; if anything, our established churches need them more. Song by song, we proclaim our allegiance to changing the world, whether it’s comfortable or not. We celebrate the dream of God’s kingdom, and admit that we aren’t there yet. The tension between our lives and God’s call resonates through us, shaking us forward to new things.

As we seek what’s next for the church we lift up these texts that demand revolution. We hold them close and cry out with joy, even when the gap between the gospel and our reality seems too far to overcome. That distance drives us to keep searching for the Spirit’s influence in our communities. Ready or not, our world turns, and we are preparing ourselves to turn it into the Kingdom of God, song by song.


katie styrt pic

Katie Styrt

Associate Pastor, Gates Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New York and

Pastor, Laurelton Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New York

There’s a Wideness

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Colin Pritchard

The disciples did not choose each other. There is no way they would have chosen each other. Fisherman, zealots, brothers, tax collectors choosing to take this kind of extraordinary, dangerous, spiritually intimate journey together? Nope. In my experience, this just doesn’t happen. People choose the company of people like themselves when the going gets tough and the road is uncertain. Each unique, passionate, and particular, the disciples made for an idiosyncratic group. The brothers had to have moments of family drama. Peter had to drive the others crazy with some frequency. Did Thaddaeus ever say anything ever? Thomas didn’t believe the others even when they told miraculous truths. Scripture lets us know that while they may have invited some of their own number to “come and see,” the disciples did not choose each other.

And yet…they were undeniably and powerfully chosen. They journeyed and witnessed, struggled and served, loved and succeeded together, brought together by the One who changed the boundaries and embodied The Word. They did not choose one another, but each was chosen by Jesus. Not the same, but each essential: all a different part of the body that would go to the ends of the earth sharing love and life, hope and the Holy.

Artwork by Shawna Bowman

Artwork by Shawna Bowman

In these modern days we individuals, seekers and followers of The Way, we the Church, continue to walk an extraordinary, dangerous, spiritually intimate journey together. We are in the privileged place of having heard our names called by Jesus and having chosen his companionship. We are just like the first disciples: needed, blessed by opportunity, gifted in our own ways. We are also just like the first disciples: with different stories and means of employment, different personalities, and certainly plenty of family drama.

We share another thing with the disciples: the road ahead remains uncertain. I am certain of this uncertainty. I am also certain that the efficacy and integrity of our witness will be profoundly impacted by how we choose to walk together. We can retreat from the challenges of broad community and its particularities and limit ourselves to our gifts alone. We can participate in the drama of trying to be just a little more chosen, a little more right, and one step closer to Jesus than our sisters and brothers. Or we can wade through the chaos with our eyes set on the One who has called us all, remembering ours is only to do our part.

I have found that the second verse of the hymn, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” (hymn 435 in the Glory to God Hymnal) can serve as a helpful reminder for us all.

“For the love of God is broader that the measures of the mind”: We love to study and debate and discern, but beyond our prodigious collective intellect, the love of God reigns.

“And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind”: So kind that the quiet ones and the zealots, the blue collars, white collars, and no collars, the broken families and the unique individuals are all wanted, needed, and guided by Grace. Christ’s kindness is a model for us all.

“If our love were but more faithful, we would gladly trust God’s word”: If we remain deeply grounded in the love of God, then we will know our assurance of both pardon and security, we will compete no more, and we will trust not just the written Word, but also the resurrected living One.

“And our lives reflect thanksgiving for the goodness of our Lord”: Who we are and how we walk together will be a worthy witness to the rest of this world. Friends we may well have not chosen each other, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we’ve each been chosen to walk together.


COlin

Colin Pritchard

Pastor

First Presbyterian Church

Victor, New York

Building a House

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Susan Thaine

The provocative words of “Let Us Build a House”, beckons to Jesus’ followers in this time and place, from its page in the new Glory to God hymnal at hymn 301. In both its verse and refrain, this new gem in the PCUSA repertoire reminds us that we are called to be builders of a provisional sign of God’s kingdom of extravagant love and grace in our own corner of the world, until that day when all the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord and Christ.

I am moved by the powerful call in all five verses to become more fully “a doer of the word and not merely a hearer who deceives themselves” (James 1:22). Perhaps I am drawn by this hymn and its powerful message because it is so very counter-cultural. Too often, I turn on the news only to hear harsh and unkind voices speaking words of rejection and rebuke that tear others down, and do so in the name of Jesus. In response to this exclusionary version of Christianity, “Let Us Build a House” invites us to refocus in order to get busy doing what God has called us to do; build places and create safe spaces where all are reminded that “in life and in death, we belong to God” (The Brief Statement of Faith).

It makes me want to gather my friends and get busy working as builders of a welcoming community of faith, where: love dwells, where we are marked as being claimed by grace at the font, where all are fed by Christ at the table, where God is worshipped and where peace and justice meet.

So, sing loudly, my friends, and may this song propel us forward as builders of a place where all are welcomed to “glorify God and enjoy God forever” (The Shorter Catechism, 7.001).


susanSusan Thaine

Pastor

Penfield Presbyterian Church

Penfield, New York

Children, Music and Glory to God

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter! Read more

Meeting The Holy Spirit Again (for the 61st Time)

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Amy Williams Fowler

Holy Spirit and Pentecost Hymns in Glory to God

2015BirdI was baptized on Pentecost in June, 1954, at the First Presbyterian Church of Woodbury, NJ. Amy, meet the Holy Spirit. But I grew up in Presbyterian churches that were uneasy with references to the third person of Trinity, with the exception of the Apostles’ Creed recited on Communion Sundays. I don’t remember any Pentecost celebrations until the 1980’s. While I was under care in preparation for ordination I was asked each year by the Presbytery’s Committee, “What Christian doctrine causes you the most difficulty?” My answer was the same for four consecutive years: The Holy Spirit. Each year the committee members responded: “Yes, me, too.”

After I was ordained, when I experienced the touch of God’s Spirit on my spirit in real time, it occurred to me that this might be what people had been talking and writing about for so many centuries. I was able to revisit times of real grace (pre-ordination), and to say, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not realize it.”

When I was serving as an Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA, in the early 1990’s, we learned a beautiful Pentecost hymn, set to a tune arranged by one of my favorite composers, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Come Down, O Love Divine (Glory to God, 282). The text is dated c. 1367, and it is lovely.

Come down, O Love Divine; Seek out this soul of mine, and visit it with you own ardor glowing.

O Comforter, draw near; within my heart appear, and kindle it, your holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn to dust and ashes in its heat consuming.

And let your glorious light shine ever on my sight, and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long, shall far outpass the power of human telling.

For none can guess God’s grace, till Love creates a place, wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.

When I moved to Indianapolis and began interim ministry, I vowed that I would share this wonderful hymn with every congregation I would serve. I am delighted to see that it “made the cut” as one of sixteen Gift of the Holy Spirit hymns in Glory to God. It is an impressive collection of new and old hymns — well worth singing on days other than Pentecost, too.

During my interim ministry in Anderson, IN, we sang Come Down on Pentecost, and one of the members met me in the narthex to say, “Dear, we only like the old hymns here.” I replied, “Then I know you enjoyed this one — written in the 14th century.” Actually, I was compelled to include it. I had heard it earlier in the Spring as I was driving up I-69. It was the day after the Oklahoma bombing, and one of firefighters was being interviewed on National Public Radio. He talked about carrying the babies’ bodies out of the daycare center, and how his life would be forever changed. I remember that he said something like: “I can’t say why this has happened, and all I can do is pray.” My eyes were so full of tears that I pulled over. The musical interlude that followed on NPR was the tune of Come Down, O Love Divine, thus proving that there is at least one Christian at NPR, despite what we have heard to the contrary.

I sang along: For none can guess God’s grace, till Love creates a place, wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling. Amy, meet the Holy Spirit!


 

Amy-July-2014-214x300Amy Williams Fowler

Presbytery Leader

Presbytery of Genesee Valley

Will You Come and Follow Me?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Carolyn Grohman

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us about the day when Jesus called his first disciples. We can presume that Jesus called them by name: “Simon!” “Andrew!” “James!” “John!” And immediately they all left what they were doing and followed him.

I believe that Jesus still calls people to follow him, calling us by name (reminiscent of the verse in Isaiah 43, when God says, “I have called you by name, you are mine.”) Have you heard God or Jesus calling you by name, perhaps through the voice of the church or through a trusted colleague or mentor or friend or relative? Or perhaps through a relatively new hymn that can be the voice of Jesus calling us to be his disciples: John Bell’s “Will You Come and Follow Me?” (Glory to God, 726)

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?

Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?

Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known, will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?

Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?

Will you risk the hostile stare, should your life attract or scare?

Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?

Will you set the pris’ners free and never be the same?…..

Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?

Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around, through my sight and touch in you and you in me?     [from verses 1, 2, 3, and 4]

We usually think of these words of John Bell, the Scottish Presbyterian theologian and musician, as Jesus’ call to us as individuals to follow him as his disciples. But what if we look at those words as Jesus’ call to our church, our denomination, to follow him as his disciples? What can we learn from John Bell’s words that could help us as we look toward the future of the PCUSA and our many congregations? I invite you to re-read those words above with that question in mind.

As I reflect on those words, I believe, first of all, that Jesus is still calling us by name: “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” or “First Presbyterian Church of Anytown, USA.”   Second, I think Jesus is calling us to “quell” or let go of our fear that has held us hostage—fear of conflict, fear of the “hostile stare,” fear of offending our sisters and brothers in the PCUSA who are on the opposite side of the hot-button issues in the church, fear of offending our Jewish friends and neighbors if we speak out on behalf of the Palestinians, fear of decreasing numbers and dollars, fear of our diminishing influence in our country, fear of change, fear of the unknown. Instead of being fearful, I think Jesus is calling us to be faithful in following him, wherever that leads us.

Third, I think Jesus is calling us to be courageous in moving into the future, “to go where we don’t know,” where things will never be the same. For people who are my age (80), this is perhaps the hardest thing to do, because we want the church to be like it was when we were younger (though not totally—women and LGBT people were not able to be ordained back then, and gay marriage was not possible, so we don’t want to go back to those days!). But we do yearn for the days when our churches were full, and most congregations could afford to call a pastor. However, it’s clear that those days are behind us, and we need to move forward into a new way of being church. Jesus is calling us to “reshape the world around,” and that includes reshaping the church. As John Bell says in verse 5, “Let [us] turn and follow you and never be the same.” Amen!


Carolyn

Carolyn Grohman

Honorably Retired

Presbytery of Genesee Valley

Singing Glory to God in Life and Death

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Melissa DeRosia

“The service should have lots of music, and most of it, if not all of it should be congregational song. Accompany them with singing!” Thomas G. Long reminds the church in his book by the same title.[1]

lily

photo credit: Lillies 5 via photopin (license)

When meeting with a family to plan the funeral or memorial service for a loved one, there are hymn requests a Presbyterian pastor becomes accustomed to hearing. “Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art,” and “In the Garden” are at the top of the list for a generation dying in their late 80’s and 90’s. I have noticed over the past few years there is a generational shift taking place. On more than one occasion a spouse or adult child says to me, “That hymn reminds me of mom/grandma’s service, can we sing something else?”

For years I have assured families there are plenty of hymns, aside from the ones they normally hear at funerals. I confess, early in ministry my suggestions were not very creative and rarely steered from the section labeled “Funeral” toward the end of “The Presbyterian Hymnal.” A few years before the release of the Glory to God hymnal, I distinctly remember learning from the congregation I now serve in Rochester, New York that the church need not be bound to one section of hymns to witness to the hope of the resurrection and give thanks to God for the life of their loved one.

On one of my first Sunday’s I chose a favorite hymn of mine, the one played at my ordination, “Here I Am Lord.” (Glory to God, 69) The organ began to play and the congregation sung the words of the refrain:

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?

I have heard You calling the night.

I will go, Lord, if You lead me.

I will hold Your people in my heart.

I gazed out over the congregation to see tears traveling down cheeks and tissue dabbing at the corner of eyes. This was not exactly the reaction I anticipated. I leaned over to the Associate Pastor with a perplexed face and she responded, “This is a funeral hymn for this church.”

For a generation now in their 70’s, “Here I Am, Lord” was sung through most of their adult life. The hymn echoes the confirmation of God’s grace made in made baptismal vows and fulfilled in death. Only one page in the Presbyterian Hymnal separated the “Funeral” section from the “Ordination and Confirmation” section. A reminder to me how intimately connected these two moments are for God’s people.

When the Glory to God hymnal was discussed for purchase in my congregation, “Here I Am, Lord” was at the top of the list of most inquired about hymns to be sure it had a place in the new hymnal. Indeed it found a home in Glory to God, though in a new section of the hymnal, “God’s Covenant with Israel,” a reminder that God’s promises remain for all those seeking assurance of God’s presence in life and death.

With Glory to God, a new generational of hymns are finding life at funerals, though most begin with an introduction on a Sunday morning. On the typically sparsely attended Second Sunday of Easter, when the majestic triumphant sounds of Easter comingle with the promise of spring after a long cold winter, I introduced “In the Bulb there is a Flower.” It was tucked safely in the order of worship where the awkwardness of a new hymn does not set the tone of worship or serve as the parting melody in their heart. The congregation caught on to the simplicity of the tune. They were moved by the note at the bottom of the page that “shortly after this piece was completed, the author/composer’s husband was diagnosed with what proved to be a terminal malignancy, and the original anthem version of this hymn was sung at his funeral.” Standing at the door to greet the congregation following the service, a number of church members in their 50’s and 60’s said to me “Can we sing that again? I would like that hymn for my funeral.”

There is no “Funeral” section in the Glory to God hymnal. There doesn’t need to be. Generations continue to gather in worship to discover through the tears of grief the hymns that boldly express our faith and hope we have in Christ’s resurrection.

 

[1] Thomas G. Long. Accompany Them With Singing, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 172.


MELISSALYNN - WIN_20140804_135300 (2)Melissa DeRosia

Pastor, Gates Presbyterian Church

Rochester, New York

 

Be Thou My Vision

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Jeff Falter

In 1994, I was getting ready to graduate from seminary and looking for my first church. My first interview was with a small rural church where I had preached once before, on a controversial subject. During the interview, the chair of the committee asked me, “What other controversial subjects might you preach on?” I was flustered, and didn’t know how to respond. The chair said, “Let me give you an example. Through those trees is a small black Presbyterian church, but if you or presbytery or anyone else tried to make us worship together, you would hardly see a white face in the crowd.” I was stunned.

I was a thirty year old white man, married, with my first child on the way. I had the privilege of being raised by parents, and in a community, that believed in meritocracy–that all people should have the opportunity to succeed in life, and participate in society, to the best of their ability. I had the privilege of growing up in a church that believed all people are beloved children of God, that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. I had the privilege of believing that the racial issues that had confronted our society were a matter of history, not a present reality. That interview opened my eyes.

coneThis past year has awakened me even more. It started when I read The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone. Then came the death of so many African-Americans in our society: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Charly Keunang, Sandra Bland, the Charleston 9, just to name a few. Some died at the hands of police; others at the hands of a white supremacist. Some were saints; some were sinners. All died unjustly. My heart breaks for the lives lost, and for so many lives dehumanized. I want to stand at the top of the world and shout to the four corners of the earth, “Black lives matter.” It is what my parents taught me. It is what the Declaration of Independence taught me. It is what Martin Luther King taught me. It is what my faith taught me.

In heart-rending times such as these, I find comfort in the promise of God proclaimed in baptism, “You have been … marked as Christ’s own forever” (G2G, page 18; Hymn 482). I find hope in the central proclamation of the Christian faith, “In life and in death we belong to God” (G2G, page 37; Hymn 326). I find joy in the claim of God in Isaiah 43: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You belong to me.” Hymn 76, 177, 463). But this is not enough. Discipleship demands more.

In baptism, “we choose whom we will serve by turning from evil and turning to Jesus Christ” (G2G, page 16). In baptism, we pray that the same God who claimed each of us as God’s own child, will also send each of us forth “in the power of [God’s] Spirit to love and serve [God] with joy, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth” (G2G, page 21). In other words, in our baptism we not only receive assurance of God’s amazing love for us, we also receive commissioning to do God’s work in the world.

As long as I can remember, I have cherished the hymn, “Be Thou My Vision” (Hymn 450).

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
naught be all else to me, save that thou art;
thou my best thought, by day or by night,
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

I pray that I will remain true to that vision of God as the ruler of all–black and white, Anglo and Hispanic, rich and poor. I pray that I will remain true to sharing that vision with others, so that they too may find their souls’ shelter in God. I pray that my own life will proclaim that “Black lives matter”— matter to God, matter to me, matter to our society. And I pray for God’s wisdom in making that vision a reality in our society.


Jeff Falter

Jeff Falter is a member-at-large of the Presbytery of Genesee Valley, having served congregations in Washington, West Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama and New York. He is currently working for Community Computer Service in Auburn, New York as a computer programmer. Prior to attending seminary, he worked as a software and electronic engineer.

This is My Song

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Becky D’Angelo-Veitch

I stood at the children’s worship table holding the hymnal to share with the boy next to me, ready for the morning’s last hymn. Across the short table, I shot my Play-Doh kneading daughter a look that said, “time to stand up,” and then, finally, just as the intro to the hymn began, I gave my attention to the text we were preparing to sing.

Artist: Nevit Dilmen

Artist: Nevit Dilmen

It was Independence Day weekend. The afternoon before, our family had all been together for our annual Fourth of July party. As my generation has grown into adulthood, we have traveled far further to find life partners than our parents had. Through marriage, our little family of life-long “Buffalonians” has grown to include in-laws from across the world, and so we celebrated the 4th (or “Good-riddance Day,” as my British born husband affectionately calls it) with citizens of England, Canada, Japan and the Ukraine, in addition to our Italian-American clan.

So as we worshipped on that July 5 morning, my head was still partially at our family picnic. The service had started with Hymn 338—O Beautiful for Spacious Skies. A lovely, and, indeed, appropriate choice for such a weekend; but, admittedly, not a personal favorite. Although I had sung our closing hymn, Hymn 340 a handful of times, this morning the words stuck with me in a new way:

This is my Song, O God of all the nations,

a song of peace for lands afar and mine.

This is my home, the country where my heart is;

here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;

but other hearts in other lands are beating

with hopes and dreams as true as mine.

 

My country’s skies are bluer than the oceans,

and sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.

But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,

and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

So hear my song, O God of all the nations,

a song of peace for their land and for mine.

 

This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth’s kingdoms;

thy kingdom come; on earth thy will be done.

Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him,

and hearts united learn to live as one.

So hear my prayer, O God of all the nations:

myself I give thee; let thy will be done.

Having had the privilege of serving the church as a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer in Mission years back, these words resonated with my experience. I often say that living abroad has made me both more patriotic and more critical. I am proud of the nation that I call home, but seeing our country through the eyes of others provided me with a broader lens to view our nation’s policies, attitudes and practices. This hymn spoke to me that morning of the beauty of diversity. It, more eloquently than I could, expressed that national pride is something that can unite us, and that we can serve God and God’s world best when we acknowledge and celebrate the beauty and value of every nation.


BeckyBecky D’Angelo-Veitch

Coordinator of Children’s Ministry and Congregational Life

Third Presbyterian Church

Rochester, New York

A New Song

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Jeanne Fisher

The church of Christ in every age, beset by change but Spirit led, must claim and test its heritage and keep on rising from the dead. Across the world, across the street, the victims of injustice cry for shelter and for bread to eat, and never live until they die. (Fred Pratt Green, 1969)

GTGI was first introduced to this powerful text at the Montreat Worship and Music Conference, shortly before the publication of the 1990 Presbyterian Hymnal. The words were written at the height of the Civil Right Movement by British Methodist minister Fred Pratt Green, but they still rang true during that hot summer in the mountains of North Carolina. In the late 1960s, “The church of Christ in every age” spoke to themes like Christian unity, racial inequality and poverty. At the end of the 20th century, this hymn called upon the church to work for the common good by confronting issues of homelessness, hunger, AIDS, and peacemaking.

I am happy that the Reverend Green’s hymn is included in our new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God. (Hymn 320) Nearly 40 years after the words were first penned, they continue to speak of a broken world in need of God’s grace. They call us to address the issues that are part of our daily prayers: diversity, AIDS, terrorism, bullying, climate change, marriage equality, social justice.

In every generation we are called to bear witness to God’s work in the world, and our hymnody is a reflection of that response. It’s easy to sing “Joyful, joyful we adore Thee” or “Come, Christians, join to sing” on Sunday morning, and then turn a blind eye to the suffering in the world. But Christianity is love in action. It’s important to sing those more difficult texts too. Hymns like “All who love and serve your city” and “What does the Lord require” remind us that the church’s response to the world develops from generation to generation, and that many of the customs and values of earlier times are changing as we learn to expand our definition of God’s love.

The Psalmist tells us to make a joyful noise to the Lord, and to sing to the Lord a new song. Our new songs are the church’s opportunity to evolve and grow in the way we respond to the world, and to proclaim the good news of God’s love to all of God’s children!

Then let the servant church arise, a caring church that longs to be a partner in Christ’s sacrifice, and clothed in Christ’s humanity.


 

Jeanne Fisher 2Jeanne Fisher is a ruling elder at Third Presbyterian Church, and currently serves on the Worship, Music and Arts Committee. She is Vice President for Radio at WXXI Public Broadcasting, and Executive Producer of the nationally syndicated radio program With Heart and Voice.