Friday, 14 December 2018

Annual Covenant Service


The idea of a covenant between a Christian and God appears frequently in the Bible. John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement, wrote a ‘Covenant Prayer’ to be read aloud once a year at a special service. He held his first service on Monday 11 August 1755, at the French church at Spitalfields in London. It was attended by 1800 people.
  Wesley attributed it to the English puritan Joseph Alleine (1634–1668), but he wrote it through the lens of his own Churchmanship. We don’t know the words of his original Covenant Prayer, but many think its words will have been similar to those Wesley published in his 1780 pamphlet Directions for Renewing our Covenant with God.
  This idea of a covenant between a Christian and God was basic to John Wesley’s understanding of Christian discipleship. He saw the relationship with God in Covenant as being like a marriage between human beings (both as a community and as individuals) on the one side and God in Christ on the other (cf. Ephesians 5:21–33). Later versions incorporated words from the wedding service: Christ is ‘my Head and Husband, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, for all times and conditions, to love, honour and obey thee before all others, and this to the death’.
  Wesley recognised that people need to grow in their relationship with God. He emphasised repeatedly that God’s grace and love prompts and seeks to transform us, and so we should continually seek and pray to grow in holiness and love.
  Over a number of years, Wesley gradually saw the need for some regular ceremony which would enable people to open themselves to God more fully. He looked for some means of helping them to hear God's offer and challenge ever more deeply and to allow God to prompt and enable them to respond.
 
Wesley’s first service came from the Puritan tradition of pastoral and spiritual guidance. He therefore insisted that his own Covenant Service be located in a framework of pastoral care, preaching and guidance.
  That framework dealt with the corporate needs of a particular society of Christian disciples and, within that, with the needs of all the individuals within that group. It therefore linked personal devotion with corporate worship.
  Although Wesley's early covenant services were not held at any particular time of year, in British Methodism the custom soon developed of holding Covenant Services near the beginning of the New Year.



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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