Sometimes it’s tough to sing from the same hymn sheet

Originally posted at Livejournal 16th Feb 2011

We had a Church meeting last night; they happen once a month and this one focused on accepting the budget for this year.  After the last meeting and the rumblings there have been since that, I was expecting at least a heated debate. However, maybe people had expressed their concerns and had them addressed in the interim, because when it came down to it, despite strong opinions from some quarters, it was a remarkably well-natured affair and the budget was accepted.   We’re not in dire straits, but with the financial climate as it is we can’t do things in the way we did last year so a degree of cutting your cloth has to happen.  People don’t like cuts and when you are having to make those cuts across the board – including to the portion you give away, people get very animated.  And quite rightly too.  We would be no sort of people at all if we didn’t care that we didn’t think we could give away as much money this year as we did last year. Nobody resigned though, at least not today.

Resigning your church membership over an issue rather than resigning it because you move away or choose to worship elsewhere is a very sad thing to happen and one that I’m sure our Leadership Team would work very hard to avert.  As a group of people they do their best to be sensitive to and take into account the opinions and wishes of over 300 people that we class as our congregation; discerning, with the Church Members, (around half that number are actual members*), the will of the Lord for our church and taking it forward as best and – most importantly – as cohesively as they can.  Although our Church is remarkably united these days, that hasn’t always been the case and there have been periods of difficulty over the years that have taken a long time to heal.  No church is immune to these things and it is the job of every church member to guard against such things happening, as much as they can.

So on one hand we might giggle about the news today that a Scottish Minister has resigned because his church has voted to allow instruments and the singing of hymns and songs in services, where previously they only allowed the unaccompanied singing of psalms. How odd you might think, something as ‘normal’ as hymns in church.  What a thing to throw your teddy out of the pram about.  There is no way this minister will have taken this decision as part of any spur of the moment hissy fit.  I can’t even begin to imagine the internal wrestling and pain than he must have gone through before he decided he must leave.  It is also a wonder he managed to get off his knees long enough to do any work because this decision would have needed industrial amounts of prayer.  Trust me, I would be in agony if I had to make the same decision about leaving my church.  My love for the people of my church runs through me like the lettering on a stick of Blackpool rock and it would be every bit as difficult to pick out that lettering as it would be to pick out that seam of love that runs through me. I am inextricably bound to these people in ways I can’t explain but have everything to do with our shared love of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

I do admire his principles and I applaud the way he has decided to step aside, because his unhappiness with the decision would have caused problems with the unity of the congregation, even if on the surface there didn’t appear to be any.  These things do not stay buried forever.  Unhappiness breeds resentment and holding any of that is a surefire way to let malign forces have a way in.

And I appreciate that musical worship is not to everyone’s particular tastes. One particular friend of mine views hymns and songs as something to be endured, he does not care for them and would rather they didn’t exist.  I however, regularly commit the hideous crime of jigging about to them.  Occasionally I find my hands in the air, even more occasionally I clap them and wave them about.

The church is rich in musical tradition and countless writers over the centuries have been moved by their love for God, to write songs to express it in ways us mere mortals cannot.  There are a raft of fabulous classic hymns written by people such as Charles Wesley and I was going to say Isaac Newton, but he’s less known for his hymn writing than his accidental discovery of gravity.  I mean of course Isaac Watts, writer of such hymns as When I survey the wondrous cross and Joy to the world. Contrast that with modern day hymn and song writers and you can sort of see where difficulties might creep in.  For every Timothy Dudley Smith ‘Lord for the years‘ and Stuart Townend’s ‘In Christ Alone‘ (a modern classic that we’ll be singing forever), there’s the theologically tougher call (for some), of singing about bird poo and enchilada’s in your average Doug Horley children’s worship song.  Now personally I don’t have any difficulty with bird poo, but I appreciate that some do and that it’s hard to follow your Charles Wesley with a ‘top enchilada’.  The Wesley / Horley / Wesley sandwich is something we used to do at our church, but we’ve stopped now as some people didn’t know whether to worship or order re-fried beans with that.

But at the end of the day, despite the sniggers from others who don’t understand and vacuous quips from me, the sad fact remains that a church in Glasgow is now looking for a new Minister.  It will have hurts that will need to heal – losing a minister is traumatic for a congregation – and those hurts will only heal with prayer, time and love.

* I can’t comment for other denominations, but Church Membership of a Baptist Church is a choice you make.  You may freely attend the church for any length of time, but becoming a member tasks you with the challenge of working together with the other members to make decisions about how your particular church is run.  It’s an honour to work together to build up God’s kingdom in your village, your town or your city.  Think of it as buying shares in the church, although there is no financial reward for you, just rewards of a greater and more intangible nature.  As ever, the marvellous and wonderful Baptist Union General Secretary, Jonathan Edwards, can say it better than me.

To be a member of a Baptist church is an awesome and exciting privilege.

Yes it is.  It’s just that sometimes it’s hard work and a bit like having root canal.

…Great quiche though!

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