God still needs prophets – now perhaps more than at other times – thanks to Simon Sutcliffe and Andrew Emison for reminding me of this hymn.. Kiki

1 God still needs prophets who will rage,
against discrimination,
who speak God’s words amid despair,
to this and every nation;
who reach again with nail?scarred hands
into the pain we’re feeling,
to hold us when we weep at loss,
who bring a hope of healing.

2 God still needs prophets who will hold
a mirror to our blindness,
to show us, each and everyone,
how hollow is our kindness;
how empty are our words of love
when shrouded in derision;
how clever words can’t justify
unloving indecision.

3 God still needs prophets who ignore
religions that confine us,
who magnify our words of love
through actions to refine us.
May we be prophets through our words
and in our hands of healing,
that others might see Christ in us
while Christ to us revealing.

Andrew E Pratt (born 1948)

Words © 2015 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 D

Covid-19 and communion – Methodist Recorder May 1st 2020

The following article was submitted to the Methodist Recorder and published under the head: The crucial challenge facing us all. It expresses a personal view but is written from the perspective of Methodism in the UK. I am re-publishing it here, being aware that not everyone reads the Methodist Recorder.

Central to our faith is an understanding that God is love, and an expression of this is our capacity to see Christ in others and represent Christ to them. If Christians use this as a lens to test their response to Covid-19 it might produce some interesting reflections. An early response to the virus was to set up networks to distribute food to vulnerable people. That makes sense in that it mirrors early Christian care in Acts. Following Peter’s Pentecost sermon the people repented and began an exploration of what it meant to live differently. They met to share their meals in their homes, with the affirmation that they held all in common and distributed help to those who would otherwise be in need.

This has led me to wonder how different the church might be after Covid 19. Just how willing are we as individuals, and as an institution, to risk embracing change, renewed after some form of repentance, or will we reassume our old ways.

As we approached Easter, the denominations entered discussion and debate as to how, in lockdown, they could worship. Hitherto this had been corporate, taking place in dedicated buildings with formalised liturgies and, sometimes elaborate, ritual. The degree to which this formality had been concretised over millennia was evidenced by the form and tradition of the words and the actions that accompany them. In addition, in some denominations liturgical dress itself has been determined down to the nature of the garments, how they are prepared and worn. For some this is significant, but it lacks the simplicity that I read of in Acts or the Gospels.

As Christians sought to celebrate the Eucharist this Easter we witnessed the Archbishop of Canterbury in his kitchen with his wife presiding at a liturgy while fully robed. Nothing could be further from an ordinary meal shared in a family home and it had the feel of having crossed over into a TV cookery show. I don’t say that in criticism of the Archbishop who is as much captive to culture, tradition and expectation as any of us. Others tried to ‘gather’ virtual congregations who were expressly directed not to share bread and wine and were, by definition, separate from one another. Still others provided recorded presentations of worship or contemplation. At the same time those who can’t access the internet have been offered varied fare by radio, television or in print.

All of our attempts to maintain worship are laudable, but perhaps miss a crucial challenge. The first worship of the early Christians was, arguably, under lockdown, took place in family homes, with no sense of hierarchy or superiority of any participants. Probably they decided amongst themselves who would break the bread. Maybe culture dictated the eldest male. I’m not sure it was a religious or theological choice. Perhaps Mum decided?

(See https://twitter.com/ruthmw/status/1256317999792832512?s=21)

For us at Easter, and for the immediate future, a truly refreshing sense of repentance of misunderstanding could be to encourage the acted parable of people sharing a meal of bread and wine organised by and participated in by family members, or individuals, themselves at home. This might be regarded as radical or innovative, if not wrong, yet it would actually be more closely historically grounded than our authorised acts of worship to which we have become accustomed Sunday by Sunday.

All this would lack would be an assurance of ‘authenticity’. It would be outside of the authoritarian control of those who ‘know’ how it should be done. We still haven’t learnt the lessons of colonialism from a negative point of view, or liberation theology as a positive. Putting it another way we seem to have re-learnt the Pharasaism that Jesus criticised. I recollect a story of Jesus. A beast of burden had fallen into a ditch. But it was the Sabbath. Human rules said it should be left there. Jesus countered that. Our human rules say that special authorised people like me have to Preside at communion. Far nearer to Pharasaism than to Jesus, I think. Reading scripture carefully, from where we are under lock down in a 21st century world, might well take us to a very different place than that in which the church finds itself. There is talk of a new Reformation. Interestingly, some other denominations are nearer to this than Methodism. Perhaps we are clinging too much to John Wesley’s authoritarian governance, rather than owning his willingness to risk breaking rules when this is what the Gospel, the love of neighbour, required.

Rev Dr Andrew Pratt (Supernumerary Presbyter and one time Acting Principal of Hartley Victoria College).

 

 

The powerless whisper in the void

The powerless whisper in the void,
the powerful take the stage.
God give us courage and the voice
to share and speak our rage.
Then may that rage, inspired by grace,
mould, challenge and persuade,
until decision makers hear
and love those they betrayed.

When wealth is allied to the cause
of politics or class,
God give insightful empathy
to clear the misted glass,
to help us see with clearer sight,
the way another lives,
to recognise that we can change
the fate that hist’ry gives.

Give credence to the claim we make:
we share a common birth,
that all are equal under God
upon this ravaged earth.
Let actions magnify the words,
the arguments we make,
until decision makers feel
their old assumptions quake.

Andrew Pratt 1/11/2019
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.

Tune: SOLL’S SEIN; KINGSFOLD
Metre: CMD

When faith has lost its energy – learning brings about challenge and change

When faith has lost its energy
and hearts have turned to stone,
communities are lacking love,
and prayer is said alone,
we cling to old, familiar things,
firm routed in the past,
not knowing that rigidity
ensures faith will not last.

To challenge frozen certainty
a fiery Spirit came,
to melt the hearts that sadness killed,
to mend a sagging frame.
Tradition smeared our faith with rust,
we clung to what we knew.
We felt that any change that came
would leave us fraught and few.

A lost, bedraggled remnant feared,
our cherished gift once sold,
would leave our worship cold, bereft,
devalued, rank and old;
such change would lead to darkened skies,
a deep and feared unknown,
diminishing our treasure trove,
all we had left to own.

Another generation then
would gasp in disbelief,
as though God’s loving, faith and care,
was plundered by a thief!
By holding on so tightly then,
we missed the vital chance,
to grasp God’s wonder, grace and love:
we hardly caught a glance.
Andrew Pratt 18/10/2019

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.
Tunes: ELLACOMBE; VOX DILECTI
Metre: CMD

What does singing do to us?

When we sing we embody (in-body) the theology that we have read. We take it in, translate, interpret and transmit. In the process are we, perhaps, formed or changed by the medium? Not pushing the metaphor too far, is it in any way like eating – what we eat becomes part of us, we excrete some of it, and it can nourish or poison…

So what we sing, and even how we sing, becomes important in a way we may not have envisaged before. It is one thing to read a text which remains remote, like looking at a cake and not eating it; it is something altogether different to take the text in and to re-transmit it. That we might do by reading aloud. The sheer physicality of singing, the presence of music, steps everything up a gear. Wesley knew that. That is why hymns were so important. The hymns provided portmanteau scriptures or interpretations, theology or doctrine. These were memorised and could be shared with others. And you can never lose them – which can become a bit of an irritation!

Why do you like this hymn or that? Why do you find some hymns abhorrent? ‘A good sing’ says as much, if not more, about feeling as it does about understanding or literary or musical quality. But Britta Martini wants to push us further by asking what is there in the expression of the music or the structure of a text, key or melody, image or metaphor, that causes a hymn to affect us in this way?

What hymns or songs affect you? And how? And why?