Hello again! Our weather is never boring. Yesterday morning the melt began completed by pouring with rain later in the day. This morning even the deep snow had cleared from the back garden and the stray was like a lake especially on the West Park Stray where the lake had spread across the footpath! It was still gloomy and wet this morning although the rain subsided by 10 am and the sun came out at lunchtime.
This morning our service was led by our minister Trevor Smith with the assistance of our Deacon David Hunt and it was a Songs of Praise compiled of the choices made by members of our congregation. Trevor had selected 12 hymns so I knew we were in for a good sing; something we Methodists are good at. Trevor explained that he would be saying a few words about the songs before we sang them. He also told us that there had been 17 of the congregation had chosen a favourite hymn; 2 people had chosen the same hymn and we would be singing the 4 missed out next week.
We began with a favourite of mine, ‘Be still for the presence of the Lord’ by David J Evans. Apparently it was described as a peace song which would be suitable for remembrance Sunday and it is one of the best modern hymns. Another good modern hymn was in Trevor’s opinion was the song, ‘If I were a butterfly’ which can sometimes be dismissed but has a good message of giving thanks and especially the line, ‘Thank you God for making me me!’ The song ‘Be still for the presence of the Lord’ is simply profound. It is full of Biblical references; an illusion to Jacob’s ladder and his realisation that surely the Lord was in this place and he had not known it. God may be encountered in the whole of life; Moses met him in the burning bush. It is very difficult to find anywhere quiet nowadays. Trevor commented that the radio came on automatically in his daughter’s car when she started the engine! I must admit I usually listen to the radio but on the way to work I often switch the radio off and chat to God, bringing people to him and thanking him for the beautiful scenery I drive through to work; the silhouettes of the trees in winter, the autumn leaves and the fresh new leaves of spring. Trevor encouraged us to take time to be quiet and rest and listen; as stillness and quietness is something to desire.
The second hymn we sang was ‘New every morning is the love’ by John Keble. It reminds us of how much we have to be thankful for. It was written in 1822 and there were originally 16 verses! It has a good message of how much we have to be thankful for. It shows the reliability and dependable nature of God. However there is the lines, ‘Room to deny ourselves, a road to bring us daily nearer God’, which is often missed when we sing it. Each day we are called to deny ourselves and grow closer to our Lord.
David then led the opening prayers of praise and thanksgiving.
The next favourite hymn was not one I knew before, ‘Deep in the shadows of the past’ by Brian A Wren. It shows the progression from Abraham and the promise given to him and his ancestors of the Promised Land, Moses and the wandering in the wilderness and on to Nazareth. All this is still there for us today in the words of the Bible to guide us.
David then read Psalm 19 which I found myself anticipating as it was read. It was a chorus I knew in my student days; the words are something like this if my memory serves me correctly: ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the statutes of the Lord are trustworthy making wise the simple. The commandments of the Lord are pure giving light to the eyes; the law of the Lord is perfect; the fear of the Lord is sure and endures for ever; the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey from the honey-comb. Moreover by them is thy servant taught; and in keeping of them is good reward.’
I had not sung hymn no 4 which was ‘God is love: let heaven adore him’ reflected the words of the psalm.
Trevor then introduced us to the 5th hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’ by John Greenleaf Whittier. It consists of 6 concluding verses from a strange poem called; ‘The Brewing of Soma’ first published in 1872 in Boston Massachusetts. Soma is a plant grows in north-west India and producing an intoxicating juice used in religious rituals. John Whittier as a Quaker saw parallels between the sensuality in worship and the rituals in Christian worship of incense and even music in church as distractions from the true purpose of worship; for example;
‘In sensual transports wild as vain
We brew in many a Christian fane
The heathen Soma still!’ After listing the distractions as he saw it Whittier suddenly introduced the quietness of the last verses of the poem with the words, ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind.’ Trevor agrees that we do have distractions which take us from focussing on God and thinking of spiritual things. When our ordered lives are resting in stillness then it is easier to recognise God’s presence with us. The tune did not quite fit the hymn but did if the last line was repeated; repeating the last line adds to its impact as it is sung more quietly and reflectively such as; ‘O still small voice of calm!’
The sixth hymn was ‘Give me, Lord, a thankful heart’ by Caryl Micklem and was not a hymn I knew before. He wrote both the tune and the hymn; some hymn writers only write the words which are set to tunes by others. When Trevor wanted to use this hymn a few years ago in a service he had to write to the author and request permission. The writer said he would not charge for its use but wanted to approve his order of service. Most of it was approved but he had to change the title of his order of service. The tune was called ‘Gatescarth’ was called after a farm in the Lake District near the head of Buttermere on the path to the Scarth Gap. The hymn presents a challenge and yet an opportunity for us to work for the bringing of God’s Kingdom into being; asking for God’s help in ‘righting wrong and turning sorrow into song’.
I will describe the other half of the service in the next blog post.