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METHODISM AND ITS MUSIC M A R T I N V. C L A R K E

THE LEGACY OF THE WESLEYS In different ways, John and Charles Wesley established Methodism’s strong tradition of congregational hymnody; Charles, as author of over 7,000 hymns, provided the staple repertoire for Methodist Societies, while John oversaw the compilation and publication of many collections of hymns designed to meet the needs of individual believers and of the various groups that existed within Methodism’s early structure. They were shaped by the Moravian understanding of hymnody as both devotional and pedagogical, combining expressions of worship with theological exposition. The Wesleys’ unshakeable Arminian theology can be seen in many of Charles’s hymns; a notable example includes the hymn ‘Father of everlasting love’, where the message of salvation being offered to all is forcibly expressed throughout, and most powerfully in the final stanza: Arise, O God, maintain thy cause!   The fullness of the nations call; Lift up the standard of thy cross,   And all shall own thou diedst for all. Hymnals issued by John Wesley established the Methodist precedent of ‘authorized hymnody’; while this does not mean that hymns not included in an authorized collection cannot be used in Methodist worship, those that have been can be formally regarded as expressions of Methodist theology and doctrine.

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The selection of tunes was also an important, and often contentious, matter; John Wesley records his displeasure at the use of elaborate music by certain Methodist Societies on several occasions. The guiding musical principle was congregational suitability; the message of the hymns was meant for all, and therefore it was crucial that there was full participation to foster a sense of ownership of the beliefs espoused therein. John Wesley’s famous ‘Directions for Singing’ (see next page) indicate how important he regarded congregational hymnody: the first six points, which are more practical in nature, are given their proper context by the crucial final point concerning the reason for singing in worship.

CONTEMPORARY DIVERSITY Contemporary Methodist worship, as with that of other denominations, is extremely varied, not least musically. While Charles Wesley’s hymns are still frequently sung, a whole range of other repertoire is commonly used in Methodist churches week by week, including recentlywritten songs from leading songwriters, contemporary hymns, music from Iona, Taizé and songs from around the world. In some churches, singing will be largely accompanied by organ, while in others a band will lead the music; many churches now combine old and new repertoire and a variety of different instrumental © Leah Gordon

Autumn 2011 sees the launch of a new Methodist hymn book, Singing the Faith. This is a major event in the life of the Methodist Church, reflecting its beliefs, values, priorities and history. Congregational hymn singing is commonly regarded as a defining characteristic of Methodism, due in no small part to the legacy of its founders, John and Charles Wesley. The Wesleys’ understanding of hymnody continues to inform Methodism’s approach to hymnody, although repertoire and practice have continued to change and develop throughout the intervening centuries.

> Members of the Methodist Church’s Music Resources Group work on the musical arrangements for Singing the Faith (clockwise from back: Paul Wood, Ian Worsfold, Martin Clarke, Paul Leddington-Wright and Nicola Morrison).


John Wesley’s ‘Directions for Singing’ (1761) That this part of Divine Worship may be the more acceptable to God, as well as the more profitable to yourself and others, be careful to observe the following directions. I Learn these Tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please. II Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can. III Sing All. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing. IV Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan. V Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound. VI Sing in Time: whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first. VII Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your Heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

accompaniments either within a service or across a number of different services. The selection and placing of hymns within a service is similarly varied, although the pattern of four or five hymns interspersed with readings, prayers and a sermon is still undoubtedly common. Such services are often described as a ‘hymn sandwich’, but this term overlooks the significance of how hymns are often employed within Methodist worship. Whatever number of hymns and wherever they are placed within a service, an authentically Methodist approach seeks to use them to illuminate a particular sentiment, theme or message rather than simply to cover some other liturgical action or to provide some variety for the congregation. At its best, this approach combines worship, prayer, challenge, evangelism and commitment.

SINGING THE FAITH The Methodist Conferences of 2007 and 2009 affirmed the compilation of a new hymn collection for the Methodist Church, building on work begun back in 2004. The team responsible for compiling the collection has sought to draw on Methodism’s rich heritage of congregational song, both in practice, through the continued presence of hymns by Charles Wesley and other Christian writers from down the centuries, and in spirit, in selecting the best of more recent repertoire from a variety of styles that will enrich Methodist worship and enable worshippers to explore and express their faith. Literally thousands of hymns and songs from around the world were reviewed and evaluated until the final list of just over 800 was agreed. However, the task has been much more than simply compiling a collection of popular or useful material; each individual item, as well as the whole collection, has been scrutinized by the Methodist Church’s Faith and Order Committee to ensure that the collection’s breadth, theology and doctrine make it suitable for authorization by the Methodist Conference. Texts have been examined and revised where appropriate taking into account sensitive issues about the use of gendered language, especially referring to humans, and also to ensure clarity of meaning. Considerable work has also taken place to ensure that the collection is musically approachable; as well as selecting tunes and evaluating original compositions submitted, a team of arrangers have produced new versions of many songs that are designed to be accessible from the page while retaining the integrity of the composer’s intentions. A companion website, Singing the Faith+ is also being developed as a resource for worship leaders and musicians, helping them to make best use of the collection and to share their own ideas and resources. Singing the Faith will be launched in October 2011 with a service of thanksgiving at Wesley’s Chapel, City Road, London, and a series of circuit and district events around the country. It is the hope and prayer of all those who have been involved with the project that it will enable and inspire the Methodist Church in its worship through the years ahead. LINKS > The dedicated Singing the Faith website has upto-date information on the production of the collection as well as further background on the project: www.singingthefaith.org.uk > ArtServe is a Methodist organization that seeks to support the use of all creative arts in worship: www.artserve.org.uk

MET H OD I SM A ND I TS MUS IC 17

Methodism and its music  

Reprinted from the September 2011 issue of Church Music Quarterly, the journal of the Royal School of Church Music, by permission of the aut...

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