‘A Song of the Sea’ was published recently on this blog. It is the Hymn of the Day today 30th July 2021. The reflection on it tells how it was written and there is a link to it being sung – click here to follow to the reflection
Buy the book here The Body of Christ It’s hard not to be moved by the way in which people who have shared a devastating experience find themselves feeling closer to one another than they do to members of their families. After all only they know what they’ve been through. There is a bond which can never be dissolved. There is a great temptation to try to form such a bond between people. The longing after a sense of community in which we care for one another and no one is left out is, perhaps, one such symptom of this. And it is given expression in clubs, organizations, religious orders and trades unions. Not least is this seen in the Church. There is a hankering after that supposed ideal world, born out of hardship, that is pictured in Acts 2 where the believers held everything in common and there seemed to be a sense of harmonious agreement, however short-lived, between them. John and Charles Wesley sought after something of this sort in the Holy Club in Oxford and afterwards in the Methodist Societies that they began to form. Here people could be open with one another and they were encouraged to build each other up, to think of each other’s needs. At its best the Church is a body of people in which no-one is excluded and in which those things which humanly separate us are swept away by God’s love for us and our love for each other. Here ‘Names, and sects, and parties fall’ as women and men are bound more closely to each other in commitment and fellowship. Here is a vision of what the world could be. Christ, from whom all blessings flow 1 Christ, from whom all blessings flow, Perfecting the saints below, Hear us, who thy nature share, Who thy mystic body are. 2 Join us, in one spirit join, Let us still receive of thine; Still for more on thee we call, Thou who fillest all in all. 3 Closer knit to thee, our Head, Nourished, Lord, by thee, and fed, Let us daily growth receive, More in Jesus Christ believe. 4 Never from thy service move, Needful to each other prove, Use the grace on each bestowed, Tempered by the art of God. 5 Love, like death, has all destroyed, Rendered all distinctions void; Names, and sects, and parties fall : Thou, O Christ, art all in all. Charles Wesley Buy the book here
The publisher says –
For Christian believers, hymns offer an opportunity to bear witness to their faith and lift their voices in praise of God with their fellow worshippers. Hymns, even those dulled by familiarity, far from being trite and complacent, have the power to alert us to grave dangers facing the world today, and even to move us to decisive action.
Tempting though it is to disregard older hymns thinking of them as past their sell-by date, for many of the faithful, these traditional texts form the bedrock of worship and liturgy. Yet, what can be done if treasured hymns express social attitudes we no longer share, for example with regard to gender or colonialism?
Gillian R. Warson blows the dust off unfashionable texts and argues that they can now be regarded as “vintage”. She argues that hymn singing can continue as a flourishing tradition with old and new coexisting comfortably alongside each other, and suggests that vintage hymn texts should be lovingly preserved so that they can be enjoyed for generations to come.
The following items are all written by Marjorie Dobson or Andrew Pratt. More of Marjorie Dobson's writing can be found at Stainer & Bell Ltd - Marjorie Dobson More of Andrew Pratt's writing can be found at Stainer & Bell Ltd - Andrew Pratt Hymn: It was a new beginning on the day the Spirit came It was a new beginning on the day the Spirit came. The house was filled with roaring wind and heads were touched by flame. Their lips were blessed with languages that all could understand and Peter led the charge into this new uncharted land. It was a revelation when the doors were opened wide and all could see what happened to the ones who were inside. “These men are plainly very drunk, at only nine-o-clock. It’s surely very clear they’ve had a monumental shock.” It was a new translation when the Spirit led their speech and Peter stood in front of them and then began to preach. The people were amazed because they understood each word and, what is more, they acted on the message that they heard. It was a new beginning, but the story carries on, as people still find inspiration, though the years have gone. For Pentecost is permanent, the Spirit still holds sway and helps us to translate God’s word and challenge for today. Marjorie Dobson © Words © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk. Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd. Metre: 14 14 14 14 Tune: THE LINCOLNSHIRE POACHER Poem: Common language Confusion – as the Babel-babble of languages ripped apart a proud people and scattered them in misunderstanding. Resolution – as a Spirit-filled language swept swiftly through a listening crowd and united them in understanding and community. Same God. Same Spirit. But now in longed-for reconciliation, as the word of death defeated by the love of God was spoken with Pentecostal power. ©Marjorie Dobson Hymn/Poem: Simultaneous translation Simultaneous translation, Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, all the world, it seemed, was listening, here the Spirit cheers, unites. Awe and wonder stunned the people, something new had come to birth, now the Holy Spirit, flaming, spread God's grace across the earth. Faith's foundations shudder, quaking, preconceptions shift and shake, people share anticipation, joy has come and love will wake! Andrew E Pratt (born 1948) © Words © 2012 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk. Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd. Metre: 8 7 8 7 Tune: DRAKES BROUGHTON; SHIPSTON Inspiration: I hate balloons! I hate balloons! Ever since that day one horrid child burst one behind me at a party, when I was only four, or thereabouts - I’ve hated balloons. And yet …… a street-seller captivates children – and me – by making shapes and animals, as he breathes life into long, thin balloons and curves and twists them in his hands. Then, suddenly, a dog! And a delighted child sees, not breath encased, only a new friend to carry home with glee. Empty, balloons are nothing. Air-filled, they live. Come Holy Spirit, pour new life into me, that I may fill and change and live and grow, transformed by the very breath of God. Marjorie Dobson © Words © 2004 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk. Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd. Song: Lithe spirit you're bounding and leaping Lithe spirit you're bounding and leaping, stars shimmer and flash from your heels, until the whole world burns with pardon and praise, until the lost know how love feels. O harlequin dazzle by dancing, let joy spring like sparks from a flame, until every person consumed by your love comes blithely to join in your game. Come juggler, spinning and turning our chances and dreams like a top, until all our values are turned upside down whirl on through the world, never stop. Andrew E Pratt (born 1948) © Words © 2002 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk. Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd. Metre: 9 8 11 8 Tune: LITHE SPIRIT – from Reclaiming Praise & Whatever Name or Creed (https://stainer.co.uk/composer/andrew-pratt/ ) This can be heard with different words at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTFG7EXQQNM Drama: Pentecost People – Acts 2: 1-21 (Could be used as a substitute for a sermon, or in an interactive service, or in a discussion group. The characters could lead into topics for discussion or conversation.) Reader - Acts 2: 1-21 Narrator: Can you imagine what it must have been like on that day? It must have been sunny – and very hot. What would you have been doing if you were in that crowd? They were mostly Jews from all over the world and this was a religious festival for them. Maybe imagining how you would have felt then is not easy. For that reason, each of the following characters has brought the story into their own time – our time, maybe? Maybe this was your regular visit to Jerusalem and you wouldn’t want to miss it? Regular attender: Do you know I’ve never missed a Sunday at church for the last forty years – apart from holidays and illness, of course. It’s just a part of my way of life. Every Sunday, get up, get dressed in my best, and off I go. I meet my friends, we have a gossip and coffee after the service and it’s all very pleasant and starts the week off on the right note. The service is OK, so long as the hymns are right and you don’t have to listen to the sermon if you don’t want to. I’ve heard it all before anyway. But these extra visitors are not like us regulars. Narrator: Maybe you’re local. You live here and have to put up with the visitors. Local worshipper: I’m not really comfortable when we get too many visitors crowding our church out - like at Christmas, or Harvest Festival – but I reckon they’re not really serious about the service, so I don’t pay them much attention as long as I can be first in the queue for coffee. I’m not sure why these people come, even if it is a special occasion. We’re not a very adventurous kind of church. We know our own ways and like them and nothing exciting is ever likely to happen round here, so we just carry on as usual and they can make of it what they will. Narrator: Maybe you’ve travelled a long way – you’re a Jew, but this isn’t even your country. Stranger from another place: I’m not from round here. My country is very different to this. So I came here to look for safety and security, but it’s not always easy being here. I hoped the church would offer me some kind of refuge, that’s why I came at this special time. I believe in God, so I should be as much a part of this company as anyone else. I struggle with the language sometimes and some people don’t seem very comfortable because I’m here, but I hope that God will speak to me wherever I am, even if the language is different. Narrator: Maybe you think all this is a rip-off. People making money. Cynic: I reckon there’s something fishy going on here. You come to church only because you’ve had your arm twisted up your back by the girl friend to be here for this celebration thing and then it’s just like any other big crowd anywhere. There’s always somebody making a noise, or acting funny, or talking about strange things happening at the front that you can’t see or understand. There are rumours that something’s going to happen and then nothing seems to – not that I can see anyway! I wonder who’s making money out of this and is all this talking and singing just a way of getting you in the mood to hand over even more money Narrator: Maybe you feel others should recognize that it is a privilege for them to be here with you? VIP: It’s really difficult for me when there are all these strangers milling about. Some of them even try to talk to me. But do they know who I am? I have been a pillar of this church and taken on every office I possibly could and given loyal service to this building over many years now. My name has even gone down in its local history and when I speak in a meeting, most people take note of what I’m saying. But it’s so difficult to command respect in a crowd that doesn’t know you. They only come on these special occasions, so I think I should just keep my distance and maybe some of them may recognize that I’m a person of some importance and a force to be reckoned with. Narrator: Maybe you are panicking because you feel out of control? The anxious one: I don’t like crowds. I have never liked crowds. I get panicky and afraid because you never know what might happen. That’s why I keep myself to myself – even in church. I don’t want anyone to know how I feel, so I hide it. And who would be interested in my worries and anxieties anyway? I do try to pray about them sometimes, but I’m not even sure that God would want to listen to someone as insignificant as me. So I just keep quiet and hope that I can get away by myself as soon as possible. But it’s so difficult in this crowd. And I’m so easily frightened. Narrator: The city is hot and noisy and dusty and sweaty and you’re lost and simply moving with the crowd. The lost one: I have no idea of how I got here, or why I should be here. I never do have much idea of who I am or where I’m going. I just keep looking for something new, or interesting and seeing where it leads me. Most times, that means nowhere. I don’t suppose this day is going to be any different. I’m sure there must be lots of people who have definite ideas of where they’re going in life and I sometimes envy them. But, for the moment I’ll just drift along following the next craze and not really caring very much about anything. These people seem to be finding something interesting. I suppose I might as well go along with them. For now. Narrator: Then they come to a standstill outside one particular house. You hear the rumours about the strange people in it. You wait because you’re curious – or simply because you can’t move anywhere else. Then, suddenly – Cynic: What did I tell you, Drunk as lords, they are! The anxious one: Somebody said there was fire somewhere. I’ve got to get out of this! VIP: Oh dear, what a dreadful noise. This isn’t the sort of behaviour you expect from church people. And they tell me he is a common fisherman! Local worshipper: They can’t do that kind of thing round here. It’ll give the neighbourhood a bad name! Regular attender: That man seems to be preaching a very long sermon. I do hope that kind of behaviour won’t catch on! Stranger from another place: Why are they talking like that? Hey, I can understand that! What does this mean? The lost one: What that man’s saying really makes me think. Maybe I ought to start taking things seriously. He’s down to earth, but he’s certainly a powerful speaker. This could be the start of a whole new life! Narrator: All those strange events and Peter filled with a new Spirit of power – surely that was bound to have a tremendous impact on the people there. It certainly did! For one thing, three thousand people were added to the church on that day, as they responded to the message that Peter was giving. Why? Because it was powerful and they could understand it, as it was being explained in their own language. Is there some lesson in this for us – HERE and NOW? ©Marjorie Dobson Hymn: Wind of the Spirit, move us on Wind of the Spirit, move us on, drive us before your force. We need that power to strengthen us of which you are the source. Blow off the cobwebs of the past and set us on your course: O come Holy Spirit, move us on, move us on. O come Holy Spirit, move us on. Fire of the Spirit, burn in us, surround us with your light. Destroy our sense of apathy, give us the will to fight. That with our hearts on fire for Christ we set the world alight: Chorus Voice of the Spirit speak to us, give us your words to say. Inspire the language of your love, help us to preach and pray. That all may hear of saving grace translated for their day: Chorus Christ, let your Spirit sweep through us, your serving church renew. Give us new hope and confidence in all the work we do. That those who seek for faith today may find their way to you: Chorus Marjorie Dobson © Words © 2004 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk. Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd. Metre : 220.127.116.11.8.6. & Refrain Tune: GOD REST YOU MERRY. Monologue: Three thousand – plus one! He certainly got through to me, that Peter bloke. I’ve never heard anyone be so forceful and so sincere in what he was saying. It was amazing. I don’t know where he got the courage from. After all, he’d been hiding away with the others for weeks and I don’t blame them. They knew the authorities were out to get them if they showed their faces and tried to stir up trouble. The Romans and the religious leaders thought they’d settled their problems by killing Jesus, but they certainly knew that they had to keep his followers under control, or everything would flare up again. So when things seemed to be happening in the hideout, it wasn’t long before a crowd gathered and I was determined to get as good a view as I could. Everybody thought they were drunk when they spilled out of the door. The general opinion was that they’d been drowning their sorrows while they’d been locked away, but now the drink had given them enough courage to get outside again. Then Peter started and we couldn’t believe what he was saying, or his confidence in saying it. By the time he’d finished, he’d totally convinced us that it was our fault that we hadn’t recognized Jesus as the Messiah and so we were the ones who’d crucified him. We’d rejected the very person we’d been expecting for hundreds of years and God wasn’t best pleased with us. All around me people were crying out and asking what they could do to make things right again. As if we could? How could anything change the situation? He was dead and gone and according to Peter, he’d already been taken back to heaven. What difference could we make to that? But he had an answer for that too. If we were really sorry for our mistake and were prepared to be baptised into the name of Christ, as a sign of our repentance, then God would honour that act and be a part of our lives for ever. It reminded me of those days at the Jordan river, many years ago, when that odd, hairy prophet, John was pushing people under the water as a sign of repentance. I didn’t fall for that one then and I wasn’t going to be caught out by this Peter either. All over the place people were falling on their knees amd begging God for forgiveness. I found it really difficult to get out of the crowd; pushing my way through distraught and supposedly repentant people. But I had to get away. I was in danger of being dragged into all this emotion and I didn’t like the idea. So I escaped down a side street and ran home. A little later one of my sons came back and told me that apparently three thousand people had been baptised into this new group. It was unbelievable. I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t. I spent the night pacing up and down, talking to myself and trying not to talk to God. Because I knew, deep in my heart, that Peter was right and I was wrong. And,until I admitted that, I would have to keep God at a distance. So, as day dawned, I knew I had to do something about it. That’s why I’m off now to become number three thousand and one! ©Marjorie Dobson Hymn: A commonwealth of love A commonwealth of love where all are held by grace, it seems idyllic on the page, could it infect this place? Within that upper room were people just like us, but meeting Christ in faith and love transformed their depth of trust. And when we meet with God we cannot but be changed, for God confronts our doubt and fear as lives are rearranged. This day the change begins, the vision is fulfilled, and life will never be the same where love can be distilled. So let us grasp this hope that set the world alight, that love can never be destroyed and fear is put to flight. A commonwealth of love: let's risk a seed of grace to bring this vision into life within this time and place. Andrew E Pratt (born 1948) © Words © 2012 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk. Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd. Metre: DSM Tune: FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH
Just passing through…
Although the title of the latest Methodist hymn book, Singing the Faith, suggests that there is just one faith the more people I meet the more I feel that there are almost as many expressions of faith as there are people. As you read this, reflect back on how you came to faith. Who influenced you? How did you learn? In what ways is your life different because of your faith. The poet Dylan Thomas once said that he loved hearing about people’s stories, but they had better be quick or else he’d be talking about his. So excuse me if I indulge myself a bit. Though I didn’t go to Sunday School as a child I did go to church with my parents until I was eleven. I didn’t really go again with any regularity until I was in my twenties. In spite of this I remember two influences, impressions if you like, which have remained with me. Our head teacher was our RE teacher. I found him boring and not very sympathetic. On the other hand my botany teacher enthralled me. I still have little memory or knowledge of botany, but I do remember him saying, ‘I can see some good in any body’. We pushed him on that. He insisted that he could. Not only that, but he lived it out as an example to us. Why do I bore you with this? Simply because that impressed me and made me have a different outlook on others. Though I came to faith through something of a mystical experience (more of that another time perhaps) my ‘conversion’ was as much ethical as religious. I changed paths, pulled out of biological research. Attending a new church as I began to re-train as a teacher, after one visit, I asked the minister how I might join that church. I was just passing through – a one year teaching certificate, living partly in a bed-sit, partly commuting 20 miles home each evening depending on my parents’ health. Only later did I come across the story of Philip and an Ethiopian (Acts 8: 26-40). The Ethiopian was a government treasury official. He was also a eunuch. He would have assumed that, in a religious sense, he had no ultimate hope. But he was curious. As he travelled he had been reading Hebrew scripture, as we now know it. Philip explained something of what he was reading. It was a passage from Isaiah. It spoke of someone led to the slaughter, who would not open his mouth, to whom justice would be denied, whose life had been taken away from the earth. Hopeless. Philip explained that this spoke of Jesus and that Jesus, in some way offered hope. If you read this passage in some translations verse 37 is missing. Let me explain. The Ethiopian, we do not know his name, asked what could prevent him from being baptised. The missing verse says this: Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may. And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” The reason that this verse is missing from, the New Revised Standard Version and other translations, is that it is not in all the original manuscripts from which our New Testament has been translated. Some scholars, and I would agree with them, feel that the original is just too scandalous to be accepted. How can anyone be baptised without a confession of faith? and, no certainty of the belief of the person? See how it reads without the missing verse: v. 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. v. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. It has often passed through my mind that if Philip had been a Methodist he would surely have offered a course of study, have asked the Church Council whether they were accepting of this person. Of course, he’s black, that might have been a problem. I hear you saying ‘of course not’. Listen to black people sharing their experience of the ‘welcome’ they have so often experienced in our churches, not to mention the recent disclosures about racism in the church of England (a similar story might be told in many other churches). Don’t dismiss what has been said and what people say they have felt. But this story speaks of someone of a different language, colour, ethnicity, faith. And so I return to a bedsit in Exeter and a minister sharing coffee with me, this student ‘just passing through’. We spoke for an hour, I suppose. Apart from attending one service we’d never met before. There was no confession of faith, not that you’d recognise as such. And what did the minister say, ‘Ok I’ll make you a member’. I asked what people of the church might think? He answered that what they thought didn’t matter, it was between me and God. I never did find out what they thought, or said to the Minister. I wasn’t going to be involved in that church, not for long anyway. But I’ve been in the church ever since, moving from place to place, some more welcoming than others, some where I’ve felt at home. Some not. Strange though, those that have mirrored best that open, trusting attitude of Philip, not counting numbers or treasuring buildings, just accepting anyone even if they are just passing through, seeing something good in everyone; those places felt most loving, most Christian. And the others, so often, sadly, seemed to want people like themselves and to control who could belong, and who they’d prefer not to. I think it was Jesus, of all people, who said, ‘My father is the gardener’ the one who chooses, who prunes, who casts dead wood on the fire. Not you or me. I thank God for the minister who welcomed me and who I learned much later, behaved like Philip with the Ethiopian. He didn’t know me or where I had come from, nor where I would go, but accepted me as I was. Without him I would not be writing this fifty years later. As the author of Acts records it, as the Ethiopian ‘came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing’. I’m still here in the Methodist Church. And I pray that we might continue to welcome strangers, no questions asked, no hurdles of belief or creed to jump over – something good in all of them, sending them on their way rejoicing… And may the community where you meet be one of unconditional love… A temple where all people will be welcome, a city where all poverty will end, a promise of an unexpected future, a depth of love we cannot comprehend. For love is all we ever need to offer, no vast cathedral, pinnacles of light; but shining love illumines every morning while scattering the shards of dying night. New every morning is this love's creation; new every day, our hope will be reborn, until Your people stumble from the darkness and recognise that this is love's new dawn. And seeing how such love infects our being, transforming fear, eradicating hate, we praise You for your loving understanding, and pray our loving may not come too late. A Prayer: May we see good in everyone, meet Christ in all and offer love without question to every person so that when we sing ‘All are welcome’ it will genuinely reflect what we live in our lives. Amen. Poem/Hymn Andrew Pratt © 2016 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, email@example.com Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.