The Grass Withers and the Flower Fades

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” Today’s piece is excerpted from a sermon preached by Joe Clifford on December 6, 2015 for the second Sunday of Advent at the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, Texas. You will see that it does not directly answer the question that has guided our blog postings this month, but you will also see that question is answered by God’s promises to us in scripture – promises that save us. To listen to the sermon in its entirety, click hereWe invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter! 

By Joe Clifford

Isaiah 40:1-11 (click for text)

“Comfort, Comfort my people,” says your God.

That is the call God issues to the prophet Isaiah in the midst of the people’s exile in Babylon. No more indictment for idolatry. No more rebuke for ignoring widows and orphans. No more calls for repentance. There was a time for that, but now the call is to comfort. “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her time is served, a new day is coming.”

In the midst of our world of exile, a world defined by terrorism, born of a dangerous mix of extremism and distorted religion, a world where in this nation mass shootings have occurred at a rate of more than one per day this year, surely that is the word we are called to offer our world: comfort, comfort my people. A new day is coming.

Cry out! The Hebrew verb there is better translated, “Preach!” That’s what Isaiah was called to do. And that is what we are called to do. Cry out! Preach! The good news. The good tidings.

How does Isaiah respond to God’s call? “What shall I cry?” he says. “All people are grass,” dust in the wind, as the old saying goes. Every Advent for the past twenty years I’ve heard this passage and preached on it. I’ve heard its beauty. I’ve heard its comfort. I confess this year I heard something different. This year I heard Isaiah’s cynicism. What shall I cry? What shall we cry in a world gone mad?

December 2nd, 14 dead 21 injured in San Bernadino. November 29, 3 dead and 9 injured in Colorado Springs. October 1st; 9 dead, 9 injured in Roseburg, Oregon. July 16, 5 dead, 3 wounded in Chattanooga, TN. June 18th; 9 dead in Charleston, SC.[1] May 17th, 9 dead, 18 injured in Waco, TX. Those are some of 355 mass shootings in this country in 2015.

What shall we cry? Racism? Terrorism? Extremism? Gun violence? Mental illness? Xenophobia? Security now? What shall we cry?

“The grass withers, the flower fades,” says the prophet, “…surely the people are grass.” For some reason this year, I know how Isaiah felt. Don’t you?

How does God respond? This is a matter of interpretation, but I believe God says, “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever.” The word of our God will stand forever. What shall we cry? What shall we preach? What shall we proclaim? The word of our God! And what does this word say in Isaiah? Let me give you a taste.

Later in Isaiah 40, that word says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

What shall we cry? In Isaiah 43, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

What shall we cry? In Isaiah 2, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not take up the sword against nation…ain’t gonna study war no more!”

What shall we cry? In Isaiah 58: “Loose the bonds of injustice… let the oppressed go free… break every yoke… share your bread with the hungry… bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, … cover them, and do not hide from your own kin…Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly…Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”

What shall we cry? Again in Isaiah 58: “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”

This is what we are called to proclaim. This is what we are called to embody. Or as the Lord tells Isaiah and all the people, “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together. All people shall see it together. ALL people shall see it together.”

What shall we cry? The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our Lord endures forever.

[1] Los Angeles Times Staff. “Deadliest U.S. Mass Shootings: 1984-2015,” published in the Los Angeles Times on December 2, 2015. Cited here: http://timelines.latimes.com/deadliest-shooting-rampages/


JoeJoe Clifford is the senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, Texas. He serves on the NEXT Church Strategy Team.

When Creativity Saves You from the “F” Word in Ministry

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” Lisle Gwynn Garrity is one of our workshop presenters for the 2016 National Gathering. Learn more about the workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Lisle Gwynn Garrity

We all know the feeling.  You’re neck-deep in sermonizing, lesson-planning, worship designing, or any venture that requires you to put your blood, sweat, and tears into creating something as an offering to others, and then the “F” word starts to rear its ugly head. FEAR is creativity’s brute oppressor; it shows up right when we’re in the thick of imagining or creating something new, and whispers not-so-sweet nothings in our ears.

“This is the WORST sermon ever written–even Calvin will be snoring from his grave.”

“We can’t possibly try this new youth activity–the youth will mock it and laugh in my face.”

“Members will certainly LEAVE THE CHURCH if I suggest we do something different for the prayers of the people this Sunday.”

Fear has this way of gripping us by the throat, choking us of any God-breathed inspiration for which we are gasping. And, too often, the “F” word wins out, shutting down the whole creative operation.  God forbid, the “F” word may even have something to do with that dreaded and familiar moniker, the frozen chosen.

Lisle Gwynn Garrity1

As a liturgical artist, retreat leader, and worship consultant, my ministry is constantly butting heads with the “F” word. When leading worship arts retreats, where I invite anyone and everyone (artist and “non-artist” alike) to create art in community, I talk a lot about the “F” word. There’s something about a blank canvas and a paintbrush that tend to strike fear into the hearts of most grown adults. So we talk about that fear. I declare that, if the “F” word shows up, we can acknowledge it, observe it, and then move right past it. That is the gospel promise, after all–fear and death will not have the last word.

When creating live visual art during worship, I am forced to practice what I preach. Being a self-proclaimed “artist” offers no protection from the “F” word, believe me. Painting for an audience to witness and scrutinize any mistake is vulnerability at its finest. But, when I step past the “F” word, I can fully offer myself as a vessel to be shaped and molded by God. Giving my whole self to the creative process is a full-body prayer; in those moments of fearlessness, I am most open, most willing, and most able to offer my gifts to others and to God.

Lisle Gwynn Garrity

So, what’s your fear-stomping creative practice? What’s one way you can regularly practice creativity (perhaps through painting, singing, cooking, gardening, wood-working, etc.) to strengthen your capacity to confront the “F” word? What’s one way you can offer your whole self to a creative process and to God? Most importantly, how can tapping into your unique, God-given creativity open yourself to that wild and restless divine Spirit that is so ready to do good work through and in you?

Lisle Gwynn Garrity2

 


Lisle Gwynn Garrity HeadshotLisle Gwynn Garrity is a Pastorist (pastor + artist) diving into ministry with a creative and entrepreneurial drive. A recent graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary, she holds master’s degrees in divinity and practical theology. If you’re interested in pushing past the “F” word to create art in community, sign up for her workshop, “Arts & Worship” at the 2016 National Gathering. See more of Lisle’s work at www.sanctifiedart.com or on Facebook at A Sanctified Art.

Greatest Hit: Worship as Pastoral Care in an Intimate Church

This fall, in addition to sharing reflections on “what is saving your ministry right now?”, we are also bringing back some of our most popular posts over the last couple of years. We hope these “greatest hits” will allow you new insight in this busy time of year. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

This post on worship as pastoral care is one of our most popular posts in the history of the NEXT Church blog. We’ve updated it slightly below in hopes it becomes a fresh resource for you.

By Esta Jarrett

Every Sunday, during the final notes of the last hymn at Canton Presbyterian Church in Canton, NC, I walk from the chancel to the center aisle of the sanctuary and invite the congregation to join me. We form a long, loose circle (as best we can, with the odd walker and wheelchair). We join hands, or rest our hands on our neighbors’ shoulders, as I speak a charge and benediction.

photo credit: padesig via photopin cc

photo credit: padesig via photopin cc

This moment of laying on of hands, friend to friend, daughter to mother, veteran to child, has become a highlight of the week…for me as well as the congregation. Our joined hands create a circuit through which the Holy Spirit jumps and sparks. The hairs on our necks stand on end.

Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what I say in those moments. (Trying to read a scripted benediction is a mite impractical when holding hands.) I think the words tie in with the words of the last hymn, which relate to the scripture and sermon (hopefully), which connect to the church season.

Mostly, though, I just talk, and keep it simple. The benediction voices God’s longing and love for these people in this moment and in the week ahead. It’s something along the lines of, “Remember that you are loved.” Such ordinary words can hold such great power.

We started doing this a few months ago because we desperately needed to feel connected to each other. Our congregation has suffered significant losses this year, with far, far too many loved ones dying and moving away. It has sucked, at times beyond the telling of it. These blows to our part of the body of Christ have left us reeling.

We’re an intimate congregation (using the excellent terminology of Erik DiVietro, in his October 2010 blog post “Shifting from Small to Intimate”), with average Sunday participation of 20. Everybody matters. Everybody’s gifts and presence are valued. When one of us hurts, we all hurt.

There’s been a lot of hurt lately.

In response, we look for ways to love on each other and build each other up in everything we do. Our worship services have become a form of pastoral care.

In addition to the laying on of hands during the benediction, we really enjoy passing the peace. It’s sacred chaos for a few minutes. Everybody gets hugged. Some of our members who live alone confess that these may be the only hugs they get all week. Sometimes there’s so much laughter that people don’t realize I’ve introduced the Gloria until our organist starts playing. (I’m totally okay with that. What is a Gloria if not holy laughter?)

Later in the service, we spend a few minutes talking about a faith-related topic. We used to call this the “children’s sermon,” but the adults (who now threaten that they want to come sit on the steps like the kids) love it too, so now this is simply a time for open conversation. We talk about fear, and hope, and the meaning of Advent, and the origins of Santa Claus…whatever is relevant and engaging.

This pattern of connection in worship sprang out of our deep need for Christ. It all began in a moment of prayer in September, when the session gathered for our own service of healing and wholeness. We went around the circle, anointing and praying for each other, praying for Christ to heal us and use us in our brokenness.

Ever since, we have felt and seen the Spirit at work, binding us up, making us one. We are given inordinate amounts of courage and hope, so that we can go out and feed homeless kids in the schools, visit the home-bound, and share God’s love throughout our little town. Our enjoyment of worship spills over into our daily living.

And, I can’t deny that all this feeds my spirit too. As we laugh, and hug, and celebrate being a church – as we minister to each other – my heart is filled with gratitude. God is faithful. God is using us, as we are, who we are, here and now. It’s a blessing to be part of it.


 

esta jarrettEsta Jarrett is the Pastor at Canton Presbyterian Church in Canton NC, through the “For Such a Time as This” small church residency program. She is a graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary (although she still calls it Union PSCE in her head).

Looking for more? Here are more resources from NEXT:

Greatest Hit: A Child Speaks About Church

This fall, in addition to sharing reflections on “what is saving your ministry right now?”, we are also bringing back some of our most popular posts over the last couple of years. We hope these “greatest hits” will allow you new insight in this busy time of year. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

This post on children in church is one of our most popular posts in the history of the NEXT Church blog. We’ve updated it slightly below in hopes it becomes a fresh resource as you look towards December.

By Steve Lindsley and Lynn Turnage

Hey.child reading bible small

HEY!

Down here….

Yes, thanks.  Hello.  It’s me.  I’m a kid in your church. Nice to meet you.

I’m sure you’ve seen me before.  I’m the one who sits with my family in front of you in worship every Sunday. Remember that blur you saw running around the fellowship hall at the church potluck dinner last week?  Yours truly.  I sang a stellar solo in the children’s choir last month; I’m sure you remember.

Anyway, now that I have your attention, I thought I’d share with you what I need from the church.  Because there are a whole lot of ideas out there about what kids need to grow in the faith and stick with the church when we become grown-ups ourselves.  Thing is, no one’s bothering to ask us kids what we think.  So here are some thoughts to ponder:

Just tell me the Bible story.  I know it sounds simple enough, but it’s amazing how complicated this can get.  Honestly, I don’t need gimmicks, flash, fluff.  If I want entertainment I’ll ask my parents to take me to the movies.  I don’t need a Vacation Bible School that “takes me on an Amazon expedition” or involves surfing, camping or clowns.  And please, don’t let some random B-rate Bible cartoon video do it for you.  I want you to tell me the Bible story. You. Me. The Bible. That’s it.

Remember: I can’t sit still for long.  I know, shocker.  Don’t blame me; God made me this way.  Anyway, just make your story-telling segments a little shorter and cut to the chase, and help me experience the story with as many of my senses as possible.  And when it comes to worship,  give me something to do – “worship bags” with chenille sticks, or some paper or mandalas and good crayons or markers would be great (although I’d suggest changing them out frequently so I’m not coloring the same picture of Jesus every week).

Give me, at the bare minimum, an hour a month with the pastor.  This would be awesome. Because sometimes it feels like you all think that I’m too little or too young for the pastor.  Which is just silly, if you ask me (see: scripture on Jesus and the children).  So give me time with him or her.  Let them tell me a Bible story or take me on a nature walk or just have doughnuts with me.  You tell me all the time how important the pastor is. Well, I’m important too; so it’d be the perfect match, right?

My best adult teachers/leaders/volunteers are the ones that I KNOW care about me.  Makes sense.  Because they’re not there out of some sense of obligation, or because they were guilted into it by a desperate teacher recruitment committee member.  They’re there because they want to be there, because they genuinely like me.  And because they like me, they tell the stories better, play the games better, teach better. So I learn more.  And I make an adult friend too.  Because I really like it when someone calls me by name and says “HI!”  The don’t have to comment on how cute I look, just call my name in a nice voice.

Give me some responsibility in the church. See, here’s the thing: you expect me to be a bystander in church until I hit some age (18? 22?) when voila!, I’m suddenly supposed to dive in and do everything.  Honestly, that’s silly.  If you want me to grow up committed to and participating in the life of the church, you need to empower me to do that now.  I’d make a great usher on Sunday morning.  I know I could help serve food at the weekly homeless meal if you’d be there to help me.

I like to be with my family and all ages together in worship.  There’s this tradition a lot of churches have in worship of escorting the kids out to some remote location following the “Children’s Time.”  Personally, I’m not a fan.  You think I don’t want to be in worship during the sermon because it’s “boring.” I actually listen to what they say and it sticks with me – as you are well aware in other contexts, I’m great at remembering everything you adults say.  All things being equal, I’d rather stay in worship with my church family – we call ourselves a family, right?  I might get a little antsy (worship bags will help).  But I promise you I won’t fall asleep like that dude in front of me every week.  Surely you’ve seen him.

So that’s it, I guess.  Mainly just focus on telling the story and letting that be the focus.  If you do that, I have a pretty good feeling I’ll stick around in church for a long time.


Steve Lindsley is the Senior Pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC.  Lynn Turnage is Director of Children and Family Ministries at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC.

Looking for more? Check out the resources below from NEXT:

Image: Andi Berger/shutterstock.com

Senses and Sacraments

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During September, Leanne Pearce Reed is curating a month of blog posts exploring stewardship of all creation. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter! Read more

Music and Memory: In the Bleak Midwinter

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 Bonny Claxton

I serve as the Chief Financial Officer for the Rochester Presbyterian Home. In that role, I spend a great deal of time with our residents, whom we call “elders.” “Elders,” for us, is a term of respect and dignity. All of our residents are facing memory loss issues of one kind or another, including some with significant levels of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

We know from research and our experience that music is an invaluable resource for people living with dementia and those caring for them. “We tend to remain contactable as musical beings on some level right up to the very end of life,” says Professor Paul Robertson, a concert violinist and academic who has made a study of music in dementia care.

Robertson says: “We know that the auditory system of the brain is the first to fully function at 16 weeks, which means that you are musically receptive long before anything else. So it’s a case of first in, last out when it comes to a dementia-type breakdown of memory.”

We know that’s true for our elders. We recently had a music therapist come in and do an in-service for our staff, helping us to learn how to sing to and with our elders. We regularly have musicians come in and lead sing-alongs with our residents, whether family songs, patriotic numbers, hymns or Christmas carols.

Even when speech and other cognitive functions are diminishing, I have learned that music is a deep-seated form of communication and expression, reaching the deepest places of an elder when nothing else can.

Here’s one example…

As you might guess, we have regular holiday gatherings, and the Christmas season is especially meaningful at the Rochester Presbyterian Home. Many groups of youth and adults come to visit. The youth of our own congregation, Third Presbyterian Church, come in near Christmas every year to visit with our elders and sing carols.

I remember one such gathering. I have always loved the carol “In the Bleak Midwinter.” (Glory to God, 144) I suggested to our song leader that we sing that carol. I was sitting next to Millie, who had lost much of her ability to use words. We began to sing, and the most amazing thing happened… Millie was quietly singing along!

She sang:

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Her spirit changed immediately as those words, and that tune – so embedded in her spirit –came pouring forth.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him –
Give my heart.

It was a special and sacred moment. Memory loss was suspended, as a lifetime of faithfulness returned abundantly.

Whether it’s singing with our children, singing with our elders, or the songs – secular or sacred – that define our own lives, music allows us to tap the deepest parts of our memory, and, in this case, draws us closer to God.


 

Annie and BonnyBonny Claxton

Chief Financial Officer

Rochester Presbyterian Home

Member, Third Presbyterian Church, Rochester

A New Heaven and a New Earth

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!

 


 

susan orrSusan Orr

Presbyter for Mission and Education

Presbytery of Genesee Valley

In the Shadows of Our Past

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 Laura Fry

Covington United Presbyterian Church

Covington United Presbyterian Church

At a bend in the road, encircled by cornfields and cows, our small congregation loves to sing. From the days when only psalms were sung and the pitch set with a tuning fork up until the present day, music has remained a central part of our life together.

As our church dedicated the Glory to God hymnals this spring, we retold this history of song, recalling the musical reformations that have taken place here over the years: the introduction of an organ, an ever-expanding repertoire of song, and gifts of bells, chimes, and several editions of new hymnals.

We did more than tell this story though; we sang it, as our ancestors did. We began unaccompanied, singing a psalm, led by a precentor. Next we added the organ, then several beloved hymns of the 19th and 20th centuries, and children’s songs from Vacation Bible School, accompanied by guitar and bells. As we sang we claimed our story once again; we were amused and encouraged by our spiritual ancestors who persevered amid debates about the propriety of organ music during worship; and we celebrated the truth that our tradition as a church and denomination is one of reformation.

Each congregation’s musical heritage is unique yet we Presbyterians share a common refrain: We are reformed and always to be reformed by God. Our musical life is no exception.

Brian Wren invites us to hear the beginning notes of reformation “Deep in the Shadows of the Past” and to discover the many ways God’s promise changed and grew.   In the very name of our God, “I AM WHAT I WILL BE,” we find the pitch of faith set for our on-going reformation. (See hymn 50, Glory to God)

The future of God’s people has always been unknown—wonderfully, beautifully so. Our faith has always been emerging.

We do not know how the church will change and grow, only that it will.

We do not yet hear the musical variations of faith in the years to come.

What do we know? We know the God who gives us song.


Laura

Laura Fry

Pastor, Covington United Presbyterian Church

Pavilion, NY

A Church At Rest

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 Carin Farmer

photo credit: 6315 Houck's Ridge, Gettysburg via photopin (license)

Gettysburg – photo credit: 6315 Houck’s Ridge, Gettysburg via photopin (license)

“The Church’s One Foundation” is the hymn that has haunted me for years. I first met it as hymn 333 in the old pine green 1933 hymnal. I saw the dates of the 1860s – and heard this hymn as the great cry of faith against the division and violence of the U.S. Civil War. The third verse – “’Mid toil and tribulation, And tumult of her war, She waits the consummation of peace forever more, Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest, And the great church victorious shall be the church at rest” – echoed in the church of my childhood as I tried to understand what it must have been like to have Christians fighting Christians, each side’s churches proclaiming the justice of their cause.

I was wrong, of course. This hymn was written over a very different battle – one in England between two bishops. Bishop Colenso brought modern scholarship and historical techniques to his understanding of Scripture, questioning the historical accuracy of the Pentateuch and Joshua. Bishop Gray opposed Colenso’s writings and the disagreement between them became a church-wide controversy. This is the fight that inspired Samuel Stone’s “The Church’s One Foundation.” Samuel Stone feared that the fight within the church was taking the church’s eyes off Jesus, off her oneness in “One Lord, One Faith, One Birth.”

The third verse continues to haunt me and challenge me. After all, I remain part of a church that fights. I remain part of a church that is tired of fighting and is offering a discernment process, whereby churches may peaceably leave. I was quite young (age 3) during the Angela Davis controversy – and yet that was brought up to me by elders as recently as last month (despite the 45 year intermission). I was just leaving for seminary when there was controversy about women calling God “Sophia” (Greek for Wisdom) at a conference. During my years at seminary, we fought over “Amendment B” – we fought so much over it – it continued to be called an amendment, even though it was in the Book of Order. And then it wasn’t. I hear debate about abortion, Israel, and marriage, and yet I continue to be haunted by that line – “the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.”

I am seeking a church at rest. A church which hears that Jesus has said “take my yoke, learn from me, and you will find rest for your souls.” I seek a church at rest – where the dividing walls of hostility have crumbled into rubble. I seek a church resting on her one foundation in Jesus. I admit it is tempting to add “and.” I want a church at rest in Jesus AND agreeing with me politically. I want a church at rest AND matching my social and economic priorities. I want a church manning barricades of my choosing – which perhaps is all that needs to be said about why we are not a church at rest.

Nor are we “the great church victorious.” We seem to be losing ground yearly in almost every measure of money or people we use. Perhaps there are more casualties to our battles than we have counted and more damage to our foundation than we have considered. St. Paul suggests we “look not to our own interests, but to the interests of others,” or in another letter that we “outdo one another in showing honor.” The command to love one another is clear, but I love my own ways, my own thoughts, my own interpretations as well – perhaps too well. I hate to give up the fight – but that line continues to haunt me “the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.” If I want the church to be victorious, perhaps I need to learn to rest. Perhaps I need to stop adding the word “And” after the word “Jesus.” The greatest foundation ever in existence surely ought to be enough for me. This hymn reminds me to focus on the One. I need that now more than ever.


Carin

Carin Farmer

Pastor

Central Presbyterian Church

Avon, New York

We Are Walking

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 Pati Primerano

I have sung in the Chancel Choir of Third Presbyterian Church, Rochester, NY, for almost 24 years. We have an amazing array of musical groups at Third Church, including five choirs, about that number of bell choirs, plus ad hoc music groups for specific events. Music has been, and will always be, an important part of my life. I served on the committee to look into the new hymnal, Glory to God, and appreciated an early look at this extensive hymnal, which we recommended for adoption, and has since been purchased, distributed and dedicated. I was impressed by the number and quality of new hymns. Some of them we have already used in worship, when a more appropriate hymn was not available in the previous hymnal.

When thinking about a particular hymn in Glory to God that holds meaning for me, that choice is different now than it would have been a few weeks ago. Having spent a week at Montreat with some of the youth from Third Church in July, I was thoroughly immersed in many hours of singing. This singing happened in a huge hall, surrounded by 1200 youth from all over, plus assorted support adults. Some of the music was written that week, specifically for week 3 of the conference, some were well-loved standards (“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” for example) and some were from GTG, which is the hymnal used in Montreat.

Anyone who’s been to Montreat will understand that the schedule is jam-packed, and it’s impossible to do everything available. One of my boys decided to sing in the evening worship choir, a volunteer group that rehearsed after lunch. I wasn’t sure if it was open to teens only or included adults, so I had my son find out for me. Since adults are included, I went to the next rehearsal with my son. They handed out copies of a hymn familiar to me already, “We Are Marching in the Light of God,” which has been sung by our Junior Choir, with the congregation joining in. This hymn is not found in the old hymnbook, but is the last hymn in GTG, hymn 853. The leader modified it to “we are walking,” and we alternated that with the verse in Zulu, “Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos.” If that looks tricky, trust me, it’s a bit tongue-twisting as well. We memorized it, as we would be singing it as we walked and clapped. This was to be the benediction response at the end of the service, and we walked from the back of the room to the front, sang a last set of verses, and then exited as we sang. We reunited outside, on the steps into the building, and sang at least four more verses, just because. For me, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my time in Montreat. The use of the hymn was perfect, memorable, and accessible to the congregation.


Pati

Pati Primerano

Member, Hymnal Committee

Third Presbyterian Church, Rochester NY

I am a retired city school district Spanish teacher, married, and the mom of three boys. My retirement gift to myself is my wonderful dog, who trains with me, learning obedience and agility. I am a member of a Dining Room Ministry team at Third Church, which serves a hot, homemade lunch every Saturday. I am an advisor in the Youth program, as well as an alto in the Chancel choir. We have a home near a popular local park, where we enjoy walking, photography and picnicking. I’m pretty busy in retirement, and honestly not sure how I managed it all while working full time…