We are not alone...

Last night, after a long day and an intense band practice for our 250th
anniversary concert, we played/sang through a new hymn written for this historic event entitled, "We Do Not Go Alone." I confess that I am partial to both the place and people who gave birth to this creative gift - I treasure them - so I am not an unbiased critic.  What's more, I have been in deep reflection mode of late as I sense a stirring connection with this congregation's past as well as God's promise to us as we look to the future. 

So it will not come as a shock to anyone when I say that I was moved to tears when I first sat with this hymn. And once I got into the musical flow of the hymn , I was equally moved. Both the poetry and music express the journey of faith - its length, its ups and downs, its beauty and challenge - while articulating the realities of our present moment, too.  The lyrics pay homage to our tradition without idolizing it; they honor that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us while addressing what it means for us to live by faith in grace in the 21st century. And the music pushes the journey of faith forward: it begins in B flat and ends in E natural with a melody that expresses both the highs and lows of "seeing as if through a glass darkly." There is movement in this music that evokes trust as well as hesitation, past as well as present moving towards the future.  In a word, I love it.  

Following in the footsteps and making brave new roads;
Bringing Christ's compassion in all the ways we know;
Seeking new traditions while hon'ring those before;
Living Christ's forgiveness, we open wide our doors.
We are a church of history, a church still strong today.
We are a church of love and grace, we choose to live Christ's way.

Being here we promise to hold each other dear;
Gentle with our own hurts, and with each others fears;
God has turned our hearts and our world upside down;
God's word will guide us, we are not alone.

In both style and content, the artists have turned our mission statement - in community with God and each other, we gather to worship, to reflect on our Christian faith, to do justice and to share compassion - into a sung affirmation of faith.  And after we finished practicing it, I said to the composers: "This song speaks to who we ache to be - and sometimes are..." They smiled knowingly and said, "Yes... as we sometimes are" which is a confession of faith, a statement of fact and a prayer all at the same time.

Probably the best we can anticipate in this life is "sometimes," don't you think? Sometimes I know that I am rarely consistent in Christ's compassion. And sometimes my journey, like so many others, contains lots of darkness mixed with light.  Sometimes we are gentle as best we are able and sometimes we move into each day trusting the blessings of grace. And, of course, sometimes we don't.  Our sometimes doesn't change God's always, it is just a humble confession and petition for more.

Entering into this celebration has been a slow process for me.  When we first set the date, there were tons of other immediate concerns requiring my attention so I know the magnitude of the anniversary was obscured. It was first just one more thing to do. But as we have planned it over the past few months, and particularly practiced the music and secured our mission partner guests during the past two weeks, I have been tenderly consumed with this celebration. It has helped me critically reflect on how church and culture have changed in 250 years. It has enriched my appreciation of both the blessings and curses that have grown out of our shared history. And it has given me a chance to articulate a contemporary vision for our little congregation that I pray resonates with God's grace. 
I will post my anniversary comments later next week; I am still fine tuning my address. So now, it is onward to the festivities: we need to purchase something stylish for the festival, enter into tomorrow's art show (and later a birthday dinner with our family) with awe and then embrace Sunday's celebration of Eucharist and our anniversary concert with affection and respect. I can't wait.   


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