Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Gathering around a new Presbyterian hymnal

"Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long; beneath the heavenly hymn have rolled two thousand years of wrong; and we at war on earth hear not the tidings that they bring; O hush the noise and cease the strife to hear the angels sing!"

Thus reads the third verse of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" in our new Presbyterian Hymnal, "Glory to God", which will mostly likely become to be known as "The Purple Hymnal".  We enjoyed reflecting on this verse in one of our Soup and Study devotionals and the Christmas Eve service last month at our church in St Paul.  It spoke to me as a reminder that Jesus came into the world for those who suffer, and even though the suffering continues, Christ's peace remains with us until we can receive the fullness of his redemption when he returns and we are all made new. You might wonder if this is a new verse that someone has added, but it is actually one of the original verses which has been frequently cut out of many hymnals.  The new hymnal provides a wealth of older hymns which are not in the "Blue Hymnal" as well as many new hymns, which have been in popular circulation in many congregations as inserts or in other supplements. Our session thought that such a collection would be a worthy supplement for our congregation, and we give thanks that Bettie Mae Wegner and her family have decided to donate a set of hymnals in memory of Gib Wegner and his love of music. What a wonderful way to remember him and offer generations to come a way to express their faith through song.

One of my favorites of the new hymns is called "Here in this Place" or commonly known as "Gather Us In". I like it, because it describes why I love coming to church. "Not in the dark of buildings confiding, not in some heaven, light years away: here in this place the new light is shining; now is the kingdom, and now is the day." When I think back to the churches of my childhood, I remember many loving Presbyterian congregations. We moved around a lot, and as we did so, we always ended up at another Presbyterian church. The buildings were very similar, tall and colorful stained glass in the sanctuary and large fellowship halls ready to serve big meals. Sunday services were very formal, with high class worship and lots of vocabulary words I didn't know.  Presbyterians were called "The Frozen Chosen", and I think it was mostly because we liked to sit quietly and wait for God to speak. In college I went to some very loud and very "not frozen" worship services. I loved the peace in the loud music as much as the soft music. I tried a lot of churches, but it always seemed that when my heart felt worshipful because of the joy in the service, I missed my Presbyterian theology, which leaves room for questions and mystery, doubt and imagination. So, I went back to the Presbyterian church and sat through frozen worship services, hoping for the day I could help others express their creativity in worship, and discover the God which calls us out into the world, not just into the pew. 

Now a lot of our presbyterian churches are not as full as they were 20-30 years ago, but the people are more alive, the churches more welcoming and the worship more joyful. The last thing I would call us today is "frozen". In fact, I feel like our congregation especially is warm and welcoming, gathering people in as the song says, "the lost and forsaken..the blind and the lame." We come in our brokenness to be made new. How have you seen the church change over the years? Do you feel the space to be joyful in worship? Do you feel like you can bring your brokenness to God to find healing? Do you feel welcome? What could we do to be more welcoming in our worship services?

In the following months we'll be exploring the new purple hymnal alongside the blue one; we"ll hear some old favorites and be introduced to some new ones. We will join in the song and ask God to gather us in, "nourish us well and teach us to fashion lives that are holy and hearts that are true."