First Day Back

A nice surprise was awaiting me when I arrived this morning at St Augustine’s to take my first service after the sabbatical. They had taken the trouble to buy a ‘welcome back’ card. Many members of the congregation had signed it. I’m not sure, but if I’ve identified the handwriting correctly, then I think it was the initiative of the Anglican priest, Jane. The old cliché says that little things mean a lot, and in this case the cliché was true. It was a simple gesture of love and thoughtfulness, and that from the congregation that gets the least of my time. 

Tonight was the café church service at Broomfield with a lot of DVD clips. Well, I say café church: really it was simply an informal service. I had wondered about the wisdom of constructing an act of worship entirely without hymns, but as it happened, no musician was present, and few present with strong voices to pitch a note, so the format worked better than it might have done. 

To some more liturgical traditions, a service without music might not always seem surprising, but it goes against a core element of Methodist spirituality. As the preface to a previous official hymn book famously put it, ‘Methodism was born in song.’ The rôle of Charles Wesley alongside John in the eighteenth century revival makes that clear. You could say that if you spotted a traditional Baptist, Anglican and Methodist on their way to worship, each would be carrying a book. The Baptist would be carrying a Bible, the Anglican a prayer book and the Methodist a hymn book. It tells you something about the expression of spirituality. Some put it like this: Methodists sing their theology.

Perhaps that’s why a ‘worship war’ over musical styles can be much more painful in Methodist churches. I certainly found that in my first circuit. Having spent my first two years battling a serious problem with unsuitable children’s workers, we had no sooner put that issue to bed than some traditionalist members tried to split the church over music. Ironically, the more charismatic members who enjoyed the contemporary worship songs had no problem singing the great hymns alongside the modern material, because their spiritual experiences helped them identify with what Wesley and others wrote about in their hymns. 

Most of the technology worked tonight – well, the DVDs did, but the XP laptop didn’t want to play a slide show of photos I’d taken on the sabbatical. It only seems happy to pass them onto the video projector if they’re in a PowerPoint show. They weren’t.

Beyond that, I then got embroiled in a church property problem that it wouldn’t be diplomatic or sensible to recount here, and I got home much later than usual.

So that’s about as up to date as I think I can reasonably bring you. It’s not been the smoothest of re-introductions tonight, and I’m back with a bump.


  1. Hi

    Oh, to hear such passion with regard to Wesleys hymns… I certainly sung my theology and have learnt a great deal from it. I had a conversion in a field on my knees in mud and sh…

    Please see ‘faith to live by’ on my blogg for more on that. Back to the wesleys- Sung ‘God of all power and truth and grace this morning-beautiful. I’m now a pre-ord at Wesly House in Cambridge! As part of my degree I’m looking at this question ‘Catholic or Evangelical’ Does Brithosh Methodsim suceed in balancing the two? Dicuss with refernece to one or more of the following…Hymns, the Sacraments, preaching, evangelsim or social action.

    I started the blogg originally to look at ‘Methodist spirituality’ based on the Hymns of wesley and the covenant prayer. But, alongside it the traditoins of the AA and the NA.


    1. Hi,

      Good to hear from you. I hope your training goes well, and I’ll look out your blog when I get a moment. Do stay in touch.


  2. I found this post quite interesting – not sure you would get away with not having hymns in our circuit, it may end up at a tree with a rope on it. I had a whoops moment last night when the organist decided to change the tune to the first hymn I had (HP36 God is Love) and used the tune that is normally sung for a hymn I had later in the service – fortunately there are three tunes for the second hymn but as an organist myself I really do think she should have spoken to me about it.
    I trust the remainder of your return will not be too hectic and you will be able to come back in reasonably slowly.


    1. We worked on the basis that if someone wanted to pick a hymn, we’d busk it, but our organist has arthritis in her fingers and her husband is very poorly, so I wasn’t too surprised not to have a musician for an evening service. I dream of being musical, but all I can play is the fool. 🙂 As it was, I don’t know of anyone who was present who would have been confident enough to pitch a note. Many other talents among them, but not music.

      There was plenty of music in the backing to some of the DVD clips, but it was instrumental. Some time as a church we are soon going to have to grapple with what we do when no musician is available. I may end up looking at some of the various options at the Christian Resources Exhibition this week. We did have a provisional look a few years ago, but expense was an issue. If we’re going to have music, then from experience I far prefer having a ‘live musician’ to lead us than the electronic options: I’ve used a gizmo with MIDI files before, but it requires a lot of tweaking to get it right, and we relied on one techie enthusiast in that congregation who played around with the pitch and tempo of every hymn or song before Sunday.


  3. I was interested to read about your cafe service because i led my first one last week. We have just started a midweek service, held in the vestibule of our church, where there is no piano. Since the first two had only been attended by the six of us who are trying to establish this, I said when I was asked to lead it that I would do so if they would announce it as a cafe service and with a subject (which was ‘Health’). This didn’t get into the Notice leafelt, so we had only the six of us again. We were ready with coffee/tea and bicuits/cake and the magazines ‘The Pulse’ produced by the local hospital on the tables and I played a tape of hymns quietly before we began. The Deacon and Minister present had both been very recently discharged after operations, so I led our thoughts and conversation by likening each stage of a physical illness – GP, Consultant, X ray, Surgery, convalescence, recovery – to our spiritual life, using Bible readings and prayers as appropriate. No-one seemed to mind that we sang no hymns.

    This was my first attempt at a cafe service (and I’ve never been to one) and it was hardly what i was hoping for because it had attracted no others. I would, however, appreciate any help that you can give in this form of worship, please.


    1. Hi Olive,

      Fascinating to hear about your experiences. We’ve been doing café church services once a month in the evening for a year or so now. Until last night, we’ve always had hymns as part of it. At most (but not all of them) we’ve used episodes from Rob Bell’s Nooma DVDs, but some folk were getting tired of the style and others couldn’t pick up his American accent too well. So gradually we’re looking for other material. Just before I started the sabbatical, we did a couple using some segments from the ‘Talking About Prayer’ DVD from Damaris Trust, and during Lent while I’ve been off a Bible study group has used another of their DVDs that is also split into bite-size chunks, ‘Talking About Jesus’.


  4. Hi Dave, just a couple of thoughts as you get back into the rhythm of circuit life: firstly, please be gentle on yourself and make space to reflect on this transitioning. I guess you will be seeing most things as though with new eyes, and that depth of acuity is really special and precious. It soon goes! Not using hymns and offering worship that is reflective / meditative is a great way of keeping some of that freshness alive and of bringing the ‘poetry’ of your sabbatical journey into play (Carol Ann Duffy says that poetry is the “music of being human” and I think that this is what you have been sharing with us through your sabbatical blog posts). And as someone who takes Ramipril for my high blood pressure and Crestor for high Cholesterol I would simply say that for me these drugs do the trick, even though I wish I did not have to take them; combined with jogging and mindfulness based stress reduction its possible for me to keep my GP happy – as well as myself! Go well and go gently Dave.
    love and peace, Dave P


    1. Hi Dave,

      Always great to hear from you and thank you very much for the advice. I’ll have a first indication next Tuesday on admission to hospital for the surgery what the initial effects of Ramipril are. I’m sure I’ve inherited hypertension from my mother. She started getting it in her forties, too. As for the cholesterol, the GP has postponed discussing that until a month or so’s time, so it remains to be seen whether I’ll be put on statins or the like. I’m certainly aware of some dietary changes that need making. Some are about self-indulgence, others are about cooking quick convenient dinners between whatever I’ve done in the afternoon and making time to eat with the kids and help bath them before going out to evening meetings. We’ve said we’ll have a look at our cookbooks and see if we can find some other quick meals that are healthier.

      As for returning gently, if only! The fact that I didn’t have time to post anything yesterday says something. Today it’s been a meeting all morning with the super about stationing (my invitation is about to come up for discussion), new rear tyres for the car (it failed the MOT yesterday), Messy Church this afternoon (they set the date while I was off) and a stewards’ meeting tonight. Just grabbing a sandwich at 2:30 and wondering when I might begin to think about Sunday’s worship. The only consolation is that with the forthcoming two weeks’ convalescence after the operation, I hope I can get some reflective time in then.


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