Of music, Methodists and Charles Wesley

May 03, 2007

Of music, Methodists and Charles Wesley

Charles Wesley’s 300th birthday is being celebrated in churches around the country and the world in 2007. In honor of the co-founder of Methodism and prolific hymn-writer (he published the words to nearly 6,000 hymns in his career) Garrison Keillor, the American author, satirist, and host of the radio program “A Prairie Home Companion,” offers some thoughts on the people called Methodists and their love of song.


This submission started as an e-mail circulated last winter at the General Board of Discipleship and is adapted from an essay by Garrison Keillor. It’s currently making the rounds at Cornerstone United Methodist Church in the Delta District. Enjoy!


We make fun of Methodists for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of giving offense, their lack of speed and also for their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese. But nobody sings like them.


If you were to ask an audience in New York City, a relatively Methodistless place, to sing along on the chorus of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear. But if you did this among Methodists, they'd smile and row that boat ashore and up on the beach! And down the road!


Many Methodists are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony, a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person's rib cage. It's natural for Methodists to sing in harmony. We are too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you're singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it's an emotionally fulfilling moment. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other.


I do believe this: People, these Methodists, who love to sing in four-part harmony are the sort of people you could call up when you're in deep distress. If you are dying, they will comfort you. If you are lonely, they'll talk to you. And if you are hungry, they'll give you tuna salad!


Methodists believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud.


Methodists like to sing, except when confronted with a new hymn or a hymn with more than four stanzas.


Methodists believe their pastors will visit them in the hospital, even if they don't notify them that they are there.


Methodists usually follow the official liturgy and will feel it is their way of suffering for their sins.


Methodists believe in miracles and even expect miracles, especially during their stewardship visitation programs or when passing the plate.


Methodists think that the Bible forbids them from crossing the aisle while passing the peace.


Methodists drink coffee as if it were the Third Sacrament.


Methodists feel guilty for not staying to clean up after their own wedding reception in the Fellowship Hall.


Methodists are willing to pay up to one dollar for a meal at church.


Methodists still serve Jell-O in the proper liturgical color of the season and think that peas in a tuna noodle casserole adds too much color.


Methodists believe that it is OK to poke fun at themselves and never take themselves too seriously.


And finally, you know you are a Methodist when: It's 100 degrees, with 90% humidity, and you still have coffee after the service. You hear something really funny during the sermon and smile as loudly as you can. Donuts are a line item in the church budget, just like coffee. When you watch a Star Wars movie and they say, "May the Force be with you," and you respond, "and also with you."


And lastly, it takes ten minutes to say good-bye!


The love of song will be a feature at this year’s Annual Conference Session.

S.T. Kimbrough Jr., General Board of Global Ministries’ Associate General Secretary for Mission Evangelism and an expert on the hymnology of Charles Wesley, will help us celebrate the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley’s birth. Kimbrough will be leading a Cantata built on the poetry and biblical interpretation of Charles Wesley. The cantata is titled, The Good Samaritan: Through the Eyes of the Victim, commissioned by Mary K. Jackson for the 110th anniversary of Wesley Methodist Church in Singapore in 1995.


Bishop Shamana has invited United Methodists from Cal-Nevada to join the combined choir that will present the Cantata on Sunday morning, June 24th at the Sacramento Convention Center. For more information, contact the office of the Conference Council on Ministries, Linda Wiberg, at (916) 374-1517 or e-mail: lindaw@calnevumc.org.