The turn of the year commonly brings with it the declaration or renewal of resolutions, personal and corporate, private and public.
Methodists have a very particular way of renewing their faith commitment known as the Covenant Service. Traditionally held at the beginning of January, some congregations also hold a Covenant Service in September, at the outset of the new Church year.
Created in 1755 by John Wesley, this form of service encapsulates his understanding of Christian discipleship as a relationship with God – something like a marriage; between human beings on the one side (both as a community and as individuals) on the one side and God in Christ on the other (cf. Ephesians 5.21-33). You can read more about the Covenant Service, its origin and implications, on the Methodist Church website.
John’s brother, Charles, wrote a number of hymns especially suited for use during the Covenant Service, including Come, let us use the grace divine (StF 549), Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go (StF 550) and Let him to whom we now belong (StF 557), while John himself translated a text by Joachim Lange that includes words central to John’s own Covenant prayer: “Now, O my God, you have my soul, / no longer mine, but yours I am” (StF 562).
Poem reflects covenant prayer
The Covenant prayer is central to the service, and a distinctive gift of Methodism to other traditions. Kirsty Clarke wrote this poem, based closely on the prayer, while undertaking her Church of England ministerial training at the ecumenical Queen’s Foundation in Birmingham. It offers an expansion and reflection upon words that, despite their challenge to all who speak them, can be danger of becoming over-familiar.
Contemporary Covenant hymns
To John and Charles Wesley’s hymns and other hymns in the Covenant, Commitment and Dedication section of Singing the Faith, we have published on StF+ additional hymns by Gillian Collins and Linda Ashford, together with a text suitable for New Year by Andrew Pratt.
Linda’s hymn, Our God is a God who is faithful and tender, was written with tune “Laredo” in mind (Youth Praise 2, Church Hymnary or Rejoice and Sing) but also works well with The Road and the Miles to Dundee (StF 604). It emphasises particularly the idea that our love of, and commitment to, God is a reflection of the love and commitment that God has first offered to us.
Gillian Collins’s Listen, my people (which can be sung to “Bunessan”, the same tune as for Morning has broken) explores the implications of the self-giving to which we commit during the Covenant Service. Gillian sets up a dialogue between God and ourselves, during which God poses two questions: “Can you be loving as I love you?” and “Can you forgive as I forgive you?” Gillian has us respond:
Do you mean us, Lord? Can it be done, Lord?
Self-giving love that looks for no gain?
If you’ll stay close we’ll give it a try, Lord,
Showing your mercy, sharing your pain.
In Just as we are, Gillian touches on some of the emotions that not only make many of us ambivalent about marking the turn of the year but also may make the self-giving commitment demanded of us in the Covenant Service a tough call: “Deeply-felt wrongs which long remain, / Chances we know won’t come again”. This is an honestly “human” hymn as well as being a faithful hymn of praise.
For a more obviously corporate hymn with which to bring in the New Year, try Andrew Pratt’s This day is a day of both prayer and of praising. It is based on Jeremiah 31: 7-14, which touches on the prophet’s vision of inclusion and equality in a world that is truly at one with God’s hopes for creation: “The poor will not stumble, the weak will not fall. / The hungry are feasting, the children are dancing.” (We suggest that Andrew’s words, like Linda Ashby’s above) work well with the sprightly traditional Scottish melody, The road and the miles to Dundee, StF 604.)
Finally, if your Covenant Service is being held in January, another lovely text by Gillian Collins – Mary, joyful mother, resting from the birth, which reminds us, in the post-Christmas season, of all that is still to come in the life of Mary and of her son – models of discipleship and faithfulness with which we are called to reconnect during the Covenant Service and which serve as inspiration for any New Year’s resolutions.