Pray It If You dare

Why am I a Methodist? Partly a historical accident involving a bus-strike... partly an emphasis on evangelism AND social action... partly the hymns of Chuck Wesley... But a huge part is the service that I will lead tomorrow with fear and trembling... The Covenant Service.

The first Methodist Covenant Service was based on an idea by Richard Alleine, and was apparently held under the leadership of John Wesley on Monday 11th August 1755, at the French church at Spittalfields in London, with 1800 people present (although JW is widely believed to exagerate his estimates of people attending his events). Wesley published "Directions for Renewing our Covenant with God" in 1780 and from that time the people called Methodists have celebrated this service... Usually on the first Sunday in January, but rarely with the large numbers associated with that first service. Indeed, in many churches it is the worst attended service of the year. First because it is the last week-end of the winter holidays, second because congregations vote with their feet in the face of the promises they are invited to make.

Thankfully we do not undertake the fulfillment of these promises in our own strength, but are entirely dependent on the grace of God in the Holy Spirit.

Traditionally the minister leading the service invites the congregation to renew their covenant with God in these or similar words:

Beloved in Christ,
let us again claim for ourselves this covenant which God has made with his people,
and take upon us the yoke of Christ.
This means that we are content that he appoint us our place and work,
And that he himself be our reward.

Christ has many services to be done:
Some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach;
some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both;
in some we may please Christ and please ourselves; in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.
Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.

Therefore let us make this covenant of God our own.
let us give ourselves to him, trusting in his promises and relying on his grace.

The congregation then responds in these (or similar) words. Pray them if you dare:

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.


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