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 Orr
There is a small, little worshiping community in the Presbytery of Genesee Valley named People’s Ministry in Christ. This store-front ministry is situated in a high poverty area in the city of Rochester. Set in a modest location, a former auto parts store, in fact, the room bursts its tiny seams on Sunday mornings, especially on days when a meal and fellowship are shared following worship. It’s the kind of place that reminds me how privileged I am, have always been, to live, work and play where I do. Members of this community embody the “least of these.”
People’s Ministry has been around for a number of years and so, unfortunately, doesn’t really qualify for the 1001 NEW Worshiping Communities initiative. Still, I am frequently amazed by the numerous ways this little church teaches me new ways of being the body of Christ. On Sunday mornings, a joyful noise can be heard ringing in the air. They don’t have a musician – no funds for that or hymnals sadly – so they sing along boisterously to Christian music from a CD player, lyrics projected onto a screen by an overhead projector. There’s hand-clapping, tambourine-tapping, even people dancing as they sing their glory to God.
A few years ago, I mentioned to my friends at People’s Ministry that I play the piano, not really well but enough to get by. I wholeheartedly accepted their offer to accompany their Christmas service, delighted to be able to share this gift. Jesus’s birth provides such a richness of song, does it not? We wouldn’t need hymnals or overheads, I thought. Everyone knows Christmas carols! I was perplexed and I admit, a little ashamed when I called out a hymn – “Let’s sing Joy to the World. It’s one of my favorites! We sing it every year!” (yes, I speak in exclamation points). I was met with tentative voices from people attempting to read my lips as I sang. Do they not know this song? How is this possible? Can you be a Christian and not celebrate Christmas by singing Joy to the World after blowing out your little candle? What??
Glory to God’s introduction states: We know this hymnal will change lives. We know this hymnal will inspire the church. We know the familiar songs will sing anew.
This is what People’s Ministry does for me. They make me stop and think. Now when I worship with them, I try to be aware, at least more aware, of everything. Every song, every piece of liturgy, every testimony. To look with fresh eyes, with new eyes. To proclaim the words, not just speak the words. Or sing the words. Familiar songs, made anew.
They’ve taught me well. In the last few months, I’ve had a couple of opportunities to share the new hymnal, Glory to God, with the People’s Ministry family. On Easter, when they invited me back to the keyboard, we learned together In the Bulb There Is a Flower(hymn 250), subtitled “Hymn of Promise.” The lyrics so meaningful, so life-giving, that a parishioner exclaimed, “Let’s sing that one again!”
There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
And just last month, we car-pooled from the city up to Lake Ontario so we could worship in creation and community. We read Genesis 1:1-2:4a and praised God for the glorious summer day and the ability to enjoy it with one another. This time, when we sang hymn 370, This Is My Father’s World, I wasn’t surprised the tune was unfamiliar to the gathered body. Instead, the lyrics resonated within me and were alive in a way they had never been before:
This is my Father’s world. O, let me ne’er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world. The battle is not done:
Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.
Thanks be to God!
Presbyter for Mission and Education
Presbytery of Genesee Valley