Softly and Tendonly Jacob is Wrestling (or, Thinking about Children and Rituals)

Today’s reading in The Bible in One Year was Jacob wrestling with God. It’s a well-known story where Jacob meets the stranger the day before he meets his brother for the first time since robbing him and doing a runner.

Today as I read, the last bit of the story stood out to me. In the story, the unknown combatant (whom Jacob names as God) has to injure Jacob’s hip in order to beat him. The author comments, ‘Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon’ (Genesis 32:32, NIV). I wonder if this had been a teaching moment among families as they sat down to dinner. All the parts of whatever animal would be served, but noticeably the tendon left out. The children ask ‘Why?’ and the parents retell the story of Jacob and wrestling with God.

I think this stood out today because we had our Covenant Service. This is really one of the high, holy moments of the Methodist Church year and it offers us the opportunity to teach children and newcomers why we do this year after year. Unfortunately, the children today weren’t present, as it was decided that they wouldn’t be able  to sit through this, so they missed out. The Covenant Service isn’t our most flashy of services, even though I and many others find it meaningful. But, what about the opportunity to tell them why we do this? Why do we gather together every year to repeat these words? Why might we ask them to sit through rather than do something else?

Maybe it won’t make it less ‘boring’ for them, but it will children that something very important is going on. Maybe we sell them short by assuming what they can and can’t make it through. Rituals allow time and place for explanation of greater things, not simply rules that are to be followed. By participating with us, people will gain more of the ritual’s meaning rather than learning if something is boring then no matter how important it is then its OK to skip out.

What Hymns Are Essential?

I have been meaning to post my thoughts on the first week in my ‘new’ church, and I will get to that this afternoon. But I wanted to ask a question. I was quite surprised that very few people in my Methodist home church know the song ‘And Can It Be‘ by Charles Wesley. This is something of an ‘unofficial’ Methodist anthem in Britain. I will of course be teaching it to them! I think every Methodist needs to know this song!

That got me thinking: what hymns should every congregation know and sing? Are there ones that reflect who we are so much that every congregation should be able to say, ‘Yes, I know that one’?

Methodist Conference Day 7: #methconf, Wesley College, and Israel-Palestine

The morning started out with communion. One of the wonderful things about conference is their intentionality about making prayer and worship interweave through the business. All the worship has been well-done and hasn’t been sidelined even with all the business. Special thanks to Mickey Youngson for organising. VP Eunice Attwood was the preacher and I may have to become a self-proclaimed Eunice Attwood groupie, but I doubt my superintendent would let me off. Eunice is fantastic, and I am going to mark my calendar with the dates she’s coming to Lancashire.

Lots of business with lots of discussion. Despite the pleas of the business committee chairman to keep speeches short, affirm what is said silently, and not to repeat, conference has largely ignored the poor man. We voted to send the resolutions regarding the changes to the presidency to be talked about in synods. The new hymnal passed with largely without any problems (it was going to happen). And there was lots of other business needing to get out of the way. There were, however, two resolutions that were quite controversial.

The first, and biggest, was the proposal to close Wesley College in Bristol. The college has run into financial difficulty and connexional committees did not see a plan working. A group from Wesley and Bristol had put together a plan to save it (in part with help from the Baptist), but most felt it wasn’t viable. The most remarkable thing was the emotional pulling from many supporters, including the campaign outside with the tagline ‘Justice for Wesley College’. One tweeter remarked, Justice is for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable.. not for bricks and mortar!’ It was eery as supporters silently stood outside in a circle with their t-shirts with that slogan on it. In the end, conference voted to close Wesley College.

The second big item, while it didn’t play out as much on the conference floor, was the resolution to support justice for Palestine. There has been a lot of media attention on this, and the chief Rabbi and other leaders of the Council of Christians and Jews have condemned it. Twitter was alive and a glance at the #methconf hashtag gives the views of many who believe the report inaccurate. Many in The Methodist Church have wanted to find ways to support Palestine in the hostile environment. The report condemns Israel’s treatment of Palestine and goes on to say that the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza blockade are unlawful. These are issues mired in difficulties. The report, which I supported because I believe we need to support the Palestinians, did not go far enough in condemning those who wish to destroy Israel. The report DID support an Israeli state. No one denied Israel has a right to exist. What this will do for Methodist-Jewish relations, I don’t know. I am a little nonplussed that many would take the report of one of the smaller Christian churches so seriously. Maybe we have more influence than I thought. In addition to supporting the report, Conference voted to boycott goods from Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, for which I did not vote. Boycotts in this situation will likely hurt the people we are tying to help. It passed, but with less majority than others. I guess we will see what the fallout will be. I do hope that even has we support the Palestinians (and especially our brother and sister Christians there), we will still be able to offer a prophetic word to the terrorism that also goes on there.

So ends the final full day of Methodist Conference. Actually, it wasn’t. I haven’t blogged about the fringe events I have attended the last two nights (Methodist Sacramental Fellowship and Inspire). I will hopefully get around to it, but these posts have been long enough.

Contemporvent Worship Using Growtivation!

Each Monday morning I think to myself that I will blog more this week. Hasn’t happened in a while. So, I thought I would have a go this week with something simple – a video that my friend Wyman Richardson has found! It pokes fun at the worship styles of those large churches, and while it doesn’t say so, shows that despite what non-denominations and evangelicals say, they, too have a liturgy! Enjoy – and it makes for a good break from the election news over here!

Pulpit and Pews: My Homosexuality Question

This post really has nothing to do with homosexuality – it’s more about how people can try to size one up when arriving in a new church.  When talking to ministers in the United States, I have had a few tell me that within a week of their arrival someone (or a few) asked them, ‘What’s your stance on homosexuality?’  The answer more or less determined how the person (or church) judged the minister.

I haven’t encountered that question in my churches, or any other theological question, or at least ones that try to ‘peg’ me.  Within a week of my arrival in the Blackburn Circuit, the question I got bombed with is, ‘What do think of the pews in the church?’ or, ‘Do you want to remove the pews?’ And, like homosexuality for some of my American counterparts, some have judged me based on my answer.  I was a little unprepared for it, and I answered, ‘Well, I prefer not to have them.’

This church has been quite traditional, and seems to regard changes like this as an attack on who they are. I am told this became an issue when one of my predecessors walked in the church and made an announcement, ‘These pews will have to go.’ That particular minister was pulled out to help another circuit, so he didn’t get to make any progress.

It’s interesting how churches will view what ministers do with the furniture as the key to knowing who they are, and interesting to see what they consider essential for ministry.  Another issue becomes where I preach on Sunday morning. I don’t use the pulpit.  For nearly two years each Sunday I preached, we went through the same litany:

Steward:  Are you going into the pulpit?

Will:  No.

So there is this underlying pull between who the church fears I am and what I am going to do to them and me, who really isn’t trying to do this to rile them up – just trying to imagine where God is calling us.

It’s All Downhill to Christmas Now

Sally at Eternal Echoes wrote on her blog ‘Where has the year gone…‘, which made me realise the date.  Yesterday was the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and today being 25 June, we are six months away from Christmas.  Or, as a colleague of mine from a previous circuit put it, ‘It’s all downhill to Christmas.’

Sally asked about where the year has gone and decided to give a moment to ask God to allow her to savour her children.  As Savannah grows older, I make that my prayer, too.  She is growing up much faster than I would like!  But, I have enjoyed each age which she is.

As far as Christmas goes, last night at our house group, I mentioned I was organising a group to talk about what they would like to do for Advent and Christmas.  They all looked at me like I had grown a second head.  The problem is that Advent and Christmas take a lot of planning, but no one in the church wants to start thinking about it until late November when they are starting their family/personal preparations.  You can’t organise Christmas then.  And the start of the connexional year brings too much with it to do anything serious in September.  So, I’m trying to give it a start in July!