Many of us have become familiar with “Wesley’s covenant prayer,” but we participate less often in the service in which it was set. The prayer itself has a complex history. On Sunday, Lisbon’s pastor, Elizabeth Bachelder Smith, reminded us Wesley himself first heard it in a French church’s service led by Richard Alleine.
Personally, I remember one New Year’s Eve, doing last minute supper shopping, when I ran into a new parishioner from Jamaica. “I’ll see you tonight,” he said enthusiastically. I hated to tell him that true Watchnight services, that old Methodist tradition, were no longer as popular in the U.S.A. as they still are in the Caribbean. But the church I then served had begun a new tradition of annually combining Sunday morning worship services to covenant using a contemporary and interactive form of covenanting worship. It was deeply meaningful, though initially uncomfortable for a few used to a more presentational worship style. (We did offer a guided meditation in the chapel for the few who needed something with less movement.)
Many, particularly younger family members, were taken by the 5th station. Here, the words of the Wesleyan Covenant were written out in a large scroll. We altered the planning instructions slightly and invited people to place a finger print by any word or phrase that reached out to them. The multi-colored result hung for several years creating conversation about aspects of covenant and reminding us of ours.
As I worshipped with sisters and brothers Sunday in Lisbon, in an older form of the service, I was held by the Spirit from the first words of invitation: Commit yourselves to Christ as his servants. Give yourselves to him, that you may belong to him. Christ has many services to be done. Some are more easy and honorable; others are more difficult and disgraceful. Some are suitable to our inclinations and interests; others are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves. But then there are other works where we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. It is necessary therefore, that we consider what it means to be a servant of Christ.
The opening phrases carry such joyful abandonment. There is such potential in the many services Christ offers! The following words lead me into the reality of what a life of service entails, through things I’ve learned or been challenged by in my own life and to other lives I’ve witnessed. Most of the service I’ve given Christ has been easy and honorable. But last month, reading about Marion Pritchard, who posed as a socially unacceptable single mother in order to move Jewish children out of harm’s way, I realized anew how what God honors is not always what we honor. It is necessary that we consider what it means to be a servant of Christ.
May the early days of this New Year provide space for your own reflection, recommitment, and renewal.
In God’s Grace, Karen