Thoughts on the Methodist Covenant Service – Anthony Reddie

Anthony Reddie posted the following on 18th August 2020.

He points out the need to be careful in our use of familiar material in worship and even whether we should continue in its use. Tradition is not sufficient reason.

‘Speaking with Azariah France-Williams and others about his wonderful book ‘Ghost Ship’, I am reminded of the dangers of Whiteness as an unacknowledged generic theological and ecclesiological norm. I have NEVER spoken the words of the Methodist Covenant service because I have always found them deeply problematic. For a long while I couldn’t work out why I recoiled from speaking these words. Now as a Black liberation theologian I know the reason why is because they are steeped in privilege of patrician Whiteness. Black bodies have been colonised for centuries to the point where prior to the various Black power movements of the 20th century the notion of Black people having agency was an oxymoron. I remember as a young child sitting next to my Mum in church as she uttered these words of being ‘put to whatever use’ decreed by the White colonial God proclaimed by British Methodism and wondered how this applied to a poor Black woman who once literally broke stones with her hands for a White stone merchant in Jamaica in order to find the coach fare to travel home to see her dying elder sister before it was too late ( Andrea DA and Karen Hope that was your paternal grandmother Alvina). I didn’t have the words or the concepts to give voice to my anger at this exploitative framework that saw my family volunteering (no doubt under the guise that this was an expression of OUR discipleship) to clean the church floor prior to the 1978 Methodist Conference at Eastbrook Hall Central Mission but not good enough to be invited to the opening of the conference, when all the White people for whom the Covenant service of ‘being used by God’ didn’t include cleaning the floor, but were unsurprisingly invited and given seats of honour. And then remembering being scolded by the then General Secretary of the Methodist church for retelling the latter story at a Connexional event at Swanwick because presumably it was a worse crime to retell the story than it was that the only Black family in this church were deemed good enough to clean the floors but not good enough to sit in the balcony when Donald English was sworn in as President of the Conference. So the next time any of you have the unoriginal idea of asking me to stand for Vice President of the Conference again, please do remember this post and the stories contained within it and know that it will be a cold day in hell before I stand for such a post given the hypocrisy of White Christianity. Now, not only do I not recite the words of the Covenant service, I stay in my bed and not even dignify the service with my presence.’

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Andrew Pratt

Andrew Pratt was born in Paignton, Devon, England in 1948. For his first degree he studied Zoology (B.Sc. Hons., London) before going to the University College of North Wales in Bangor. Andrew obtained a M.Sc. in Marine Biology which was partly dependent on a thesis on the Effects of sympathomimetic drugs on the rectum of Pleuronectes platessa (effects of drugs on the guts of the plaice). From here he went to St Luke’s College, Exeter, since absorbed into Exeter University, to study for a PGCE. Andrew taught in Essex, Wrexham, and Liverpool together with some brief spells of supply teaching since entering the ministry. Subjects have ranged through biology, chemistry, religious studies, swimming, personal and social education, and health education. During his M.Sc., he began to foster a belief in God. He became a member of the Methodist Church in Exeter. Moving to Essex he saw little of the church as both his parents died in a space of a year and he was away seeing them at weekends. In Wrexham (Gresford) he sensed a call to the ministry and in 1979 went for theological training at the Queen’s (Ecumenical) College in Birmingham. He was there for three years, partly doing a post graduate Diploma in Theology at Birmingham University and partly doing ministerial training. It was here that Andrew began to write hymns as a means of exploring theology. He had already written poems (mainly for private consumption!) one of which was published in a college magazine at St Luke’s in 1972. Since leaving Birmingham, Andrew has been stationed in Northwich, Nantwich, Leigh and Hindley, and Orrell and Lamberhead Green (near Wigan). While in Nantwich he began to achieve publication of his texts, firstly in Hymns of the City and then, under the guidance and constructive criticism of Bernard Braley, with some regularity in Hymns and Congregational Songs. Andrew was asked to be part of the groups that edited Story Song, Big Blue Planet and Sound Bytes. He has been regularly published in Worship Live and has had articles, hymns and reviews published in the The Hymn, The Bulletin of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland(of which has been the Editor since 2004) Theological Book Review, Writers News, Writing Magazine, the Methodist Recorder, Reform and Crucible. For some time he broadcast regularly on BBC Radio Merseyside. From 2004 he was a member of the Music Resource Group appointed to compile Singing the Faith, convening the words group until its dissolution in 2009 when he resigned. Blinded by the Dazzle, his first hymn collection, was published in 1997 by Stainer & Bell. Further collections, Whatever Name or Creed, Reclaiming Praise and More than Words were subsequently produced. Over a period of three years, with Marjorie Dobson, he wrote material for the Revised Common Lectionary which was published on www.worshipcloud.com HymnQuest includes over 1400 of his hymn texts. He is a Non-Executive Director of Stainer & Bell Ltd., and was instrumental in their establishing a web site (www.hymns.uk.com) carrying contemporary hymn texts which could be downloaded for local use. He is Chair of the Pratt Green Trust. On two consecutive years Andrew entered the Pratt Green Essay Competition, achieving second and joint first prizes. This work acted as a springboard for his research in hymnody. In 1997 he gained a M.A in English from the University of Durham for his research into Frederick Faber’s Hymns on the Four Last Things. He has researched the origins of the Methodist Hymn Book (1933) for a Ph.D., at Liverpool Hope University College. A book based on this research, O for a thousand tongues – the Methodist Hymn Book (1933) in context was published by the Methodist Publishing House. In 2004 he was appointed as a tutor and then Acting Principal at Hartley Victoria College (part of the Partnership for Theological Education in Manchester) to its closure in 2015. He continued as an Honorary Research Fellow with the Partnershp. While there he wrote Net Gains (Methodist Publishing House) and Study Skills for Ministry (SCM). He has lectured and led workshops in the UK, USA, Finland, Poland, Ireland, and Germany. He has written and contributed to many books relating to hymns and worship including Charles Wesley: Life, Literature and Legacy (2011, Epworth, edit., Ted Campbell, Kenneth G.C Newport), Why Weren't We Told? (2012, Polebridge Press, USA, R.A.E. Hunt) Hymn, song, society (2014, Unigrafia Finland, edit Tapani Innanen, Veli-Matti Salminen), Methodism Abounding (2016, Church in the Market Place, edit., John Vincent), The Servant of God in Practice (2017, Deo, edit., J.W. Rogerson and John Vincent). He has written a series of reflections on selected hymns of Charles Wesley (Inextinguishable Blaze) and co-written with Marjorie Dobson two books of worship resources, Poppies and Snowdrops and Nothing too religious (both Inspire, Methodist Publishing House). In 2017 with Jan Berry he edited and contributed to Hymns for Hope and Healing (Stainer & Bell Ltd). He was one time Chair of the Methodist Peace Fellowship.

One thought on “Thoughts on the Methodist Covenant Service – Anthony Reddie”

  1. Powerful. But times do change. It is no longer 1978 and we know – or, at least are starting to know – that Black Lives Matter. White Christianity is indeed hypocritical. But there are white people who are Christian who do not adhere to White Christianity. We may have done so in the past, unwittingly; we are still tainted by mothers sins of our fathers. But Jesus assures us that we are not condemned for the sins of our fathers. We are who we are. I would even argue that we are not condemned even for our own sins but, being told ‘neither do I condemn you,’ are invited to god and sin no more.

    So, despite everything, I will say the Covenant Service, and ask God to put me where God wills. If called to do so, I will clean the church floor, and be honoured to do so.

    Like

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