I've just got back from a wonderful covenant service at Prestbury Methodist Church in Pietermaritzburg, in which Michael Stone reminded us that of our entire liturgy that we use, the covenant order of service is fairly unique for its Wesleyan flavour.
And for me as a probationer minister, the words of the covenant prayer are a particularly strong reminder of how God has called us, and what God has called us to.
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
(wording as used in the Book of Offices of the British Methodist Church, 1936).
I sometimes wonder, though, that we pray the words of this prayer, and then shut the book, tick, that's the covenant service done for another year ... yet we pay so little attention to the words that we are praying.
Which brings me to a Facebook entry, posted by Delme Linscott from Howick Methodist Church, entitled "Sacred versus Secular", in which he also ponders the question of people the world over, going to their various places of worship, yet once the minister has said the final "Amen" they take off their "God suits" for another week and return to their "secular" lives.
Last year when I was a Phase One probationer in the Rosedale area of Uitenhage, it never failed to amaze me how one could drive through the area on Sunday mornings and literally see just about the entire community, decked out in their Sunday best, Bible under the arm, off to church somewhere. Yet the socio-economic problems in this particular area are in total discord with this apparent showing of faith. It's almost as though the attitude is that there are six days in which one can screw around, drink oneself into a stupor, and beat on one's wife and children, but on the seventh day one needs to be "ordentlik" (an Afrikaans word for "decent", "proper", or "respectable") and show one's face at church.
It didn't reflect well on my work as a minister!
But according to a recent statistic that I read (I can't remember which - it may have been the last census), 86% of South Africans regard themselves as being "Christian". But the vast majority take "Christian" to mean "not Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu". I also heard that, as a rough estimate, perhaps 10% of those who state themselves to be Christian actually believe in Christ, while only 10% of those venture through the portals of a church on some sort of regular basis.
I wonder how many of those who do in fact attend church regularly, actually have a relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour? This would be reflected, not in the volume of their "Amens" on Sunday morning, but by the volume of their deeds from Monday to Saturday. As St Francis of Assisi once said, "Preach the Gospel of Jesus at all times - and, if necessary, use words as well".
Where do we measure up? Even as ministers - is Christ just something we do for a living, or is Christ a central part of who we are?
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