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I once took a course entitled The Hymnal as a Tool of Christian Education.  The hymn book is still one of my primary tools for ministry, but I am also grateful for online resources like hymnary.org, which is a vast database of hymns and songs.  It is searchable by title, first line, subject, scripture text, tune, and more.  Texts and tunes that are in the public domain can often be copied from the site.  It also refers searchers to published choral and liturgical works that are related.

I also frequently use the online edition of Glory to God, our newest PCUSA hymnal.  It has been well worth the cost.  It is searchable, and it includes liturgical resources that go with the Revised Common Lectionary.  PDF files of hymns in the public domain can be downloaded and printed, plus there are a few newer hymns and songs where permission to reprint has been granted purchasers of Glory to God.  The copyright information on each hymn is easy to find, along with what to do to get permission if permission is required for reprints.

I came across a welcome commentary on why reports of the demise of hymn books have been greatly exaggerated.  In Ten Reasons Why Hymnals Have a Future John Witvliet

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churchisthebest

“Church is the best ♥”

 

 

As congregations look towards the future, what kind of community do we want to be?  More importantly, what kind of community does Jesus want us to be?

The Beloved Community*

A Sermon on Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37; and John 13:33-35, 15:12-15

 

Back in June I read an interesting article by New York Times columnist David Brooks.  He started out with some reflections on billionaire Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge campaign in which he and other wealthy people are pledging to give away most of their wealth during their lifetime.

Then Brooks described what he would do if he had a billion dollars to give away.  He said he would do something to reweave the social fabric of our country.  He said he would use his money to support the formation of small groups of twenty-five people each all around the country.  These groups would meet weekly to share and discuss life.  They would be multigenerational with older members mentoring younger members.  These groups would engage people’s hearts through deep friendships, their hands through service, their heads with reading and discussion to stimulate the mind, and their souls to help them reflect on the purpose of life and orient them spiritually.

Here is Brooks’ reasoning behind this:  He said that people need to grow up enmeshed in loving relationships.  Quote, “Only loving relationships transform lives, and such relationships can only be formed in small groups.  Thus, I’d use my imaginary billion to seed 25-person collectives around the country.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/06/opinion/giving-away-your-billion-warren-buffett.html?_r=0)

I couldn’t help thinking of the 4-H club head, heart, hands, health pledge.  But Brooks reminded me of another group I am even more familiar with.  I grew up in one of those twenty-five person groups, a group of about twenty-five followers of Jesus, give or take a few, and now I am the pastor of another one.

As he walked with his disciples, Jesus patiently formed them into a community of love, a community of beloved people, a community that was itself beloved.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus told them what to do.  He showed them how to do it.  And on the last night before he poured out the last ounce of his love for us on the cross, Jesus summarized it this way.  After humbly washing his disciples’ feet, even the feet of those who betrayed and denied him, Jesus said, “Love each other just as I have loved you.”

The early church wasn’t perfect, but they tried to do what Jesus said, and their loving manner with each other left a positive impression on people around them.  Continue Reading »

When Presbyterian minister Fred Rogers, beloved Mr. Rogers of public television, stood to acknowledge his induction into the Television Hall of Fame, he spoke about the power of neighbors, including people on TV, to shape the lives of children.

You can view his acceptance speech and other videos here.

I just came across this piece from the Alban Institute at Duke Divinity School: The Demise of Haystacks and the Future of the Rural Church.  This author, R. Alan Rice, is preaching to the choir with me when he says that rural people matter, and that pastor as gardener is a good way to think about the kind of pastoral leadership small, rural congregations need.  The fruit we are looking for is lives transformed through life in Christ.  The measure is not how much money we raise and how many programs we generate.  The measure is in the difference we make in people’s lives.

The need is great in our rural part of God’s garden, with so much struggle in our area, and downright hurt.  It is a blessing to be able to help folks see Jesus’ loving face, as he reaches out to them offering a future with hope.

IMG_0287No matter what our age, music can nurture our faith in a wonderful way.  Here is a collection of music and prayers drawn from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal. It’s aimed at young children and those who love them. I heartily commend it, and here’s why:

The selections are arranged in an order that takes one through the day, from greeting God in the morning to bedtime prayer.  They can be used in many settings, including worship.  The Doxology medley stands out.

Different cultures are represented, along with a variety of musical styles, rhythms, and instruments.  Have you ever heard “For the Beauty of the Earth” played on banjo?  You will here!

Children and adults sing and make music together.  I loved hearing voices of all ages.  The singers sound natural, and the sound quality is excellent.

Spoken rhymes and instrumental selections add to the collection’s appeal and usefulness.  You can get out your shaky eggs and other rhythm instruments and play along, and you can give glory to God through dance.

I look forward to using Glory to God: Hymns and Songs for Children and Families as I make music with children of all ages.  Ideas for pastors, educators, musicians, and families are posted online at the PCUSA Store.  I plan to use it in our congregation’s Music for Little Friends program.

You can order CDs at the PCUSA Store, and you can also download the collection from iTunes, where the artist is listed as Nassau Presbyterian Church.

Many thanks to the Nassau Church and to all the musicians, to the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, and to the hymnal committee. Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal is a great gift to the church, and resources like Hymns and Songs for Children and Families make it an even greater blessing.

IMG_0267Rachel Held Evans and others maintain that it’s not hip-ness and cool-ness that most young adults need and want in a faith community.  It’s authenticity.  It’s real, loving, stand-by-you-no-matter-what community.  It’s a family of people from all generations.  It’s a congregation where all–and I mean ALL–truly are welcome and wanted in the  congregation’s heart and life together.   Many small congregations cannot be “cool,” and yet we are this kind of community.  Real.  Mine is.  So how do we raise our profile so we can connect heart to heart with people hungering for the God we love, and who loves us without condition or limit?  How do we mingle with people “out there”?

I recommend Rachel’s book Searching for Sunday, and here is an article she wrote for the Washington Post: “Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church ‘cool.”

Here is a thought-provoking article from pastor Carey Nieuwhof: 6 Disruptive Church Trends that Will Rule 2017.

Click on the link to read the whole article.  There you will find other links that discuss these trends in more detail.  In brief, his six points are:

1. Consumer Christianity will die faster than ever

“Christian maturity isnt marked by how much we know or what we can get, it’s marked by how much we love and how much we give in light of how deeply we’ve been loved and how much we’ve been given.”

2. Cool Church will Morph

“Having great preaching, a decent band and an awesome facility or environment is not a bad thing. It beats having terrible preaching, pathetic music, and a dingy facility.

But unchurched people are increasingly interested in the mission more than the method. They want to meet Jesus.

They have enough cool in their lives. They don’t have enough Jesus.”

3. Preachers Who Can’t Speak to the Unchurched Will Preach to a Shrinking Crowd

“If you’ve never thought through what it’s like to be in church for the first time, with little to no church background, with a different moral code operating in your life, hearing truths that are thousands of years old, and trying to figure out your life through a very different lens, well, it will be exceptionally difficult for you to connect with unchurched people.”

4. Preaching will fuse both the head and the heart

“Information alone doesn’t bring about transformation. Preaching to the head can lead to a changed mind, but not a changed life….Preaching only to the heart creates emotional followers, whose faith rises and falls with their feelings.”

5. Anonymity will continue to give way to community

“Figuring out how to connect people faster, at their own pace and in their own sequence, will become the hallmark of churches where many gather.”

6. Engagement will become the new attendance

“One of the changes you’ll see happening in 2017 is leaders who measure engagement as much or more than attendance.”

How many people serve, how many give, how many invite their unchurched friends and how many jump into community beyond Sunday will become the new measure of effectiveness in growing churches even more than attendance.”