Let us build a house where love can dwell…

This week’s letter has been written for us by the Church Secretary, Keith Bradley.

Dear Friends Several of you will know that I like going to the theatre and particularly enjoy musicals. A few months ago there was a ‘warning’ in the programme which stated something like “This is not a sing-a-long show so please do not sing the songs when they are performed”. A few months on and now Churches are faced with a similar notice but for quite different reasons. Can you imagine words like that being necessary on the order of service paper? If there was a socially distanced solo singer or recordings of voices, choirs or even a whole congregation singing while we were sitting in the Sanctuary we should soon find it very difficult not to join in, even with a mask on!

Why do we sing in our worship? Have you thought about it? Singing has been an important part of worship in world faiths since earliest days. The 150 Psalms, with their themes of praise, petition and lamentation, were sung by Jesus throughout his life and remain central to both Christian and Jewish worship. Just one example, in Matthew 26 we read that ‘when they had sung a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives’. We sing psalms sometimes without knowing it. Near the back of “Rejoice and Sing” you will find the more obvious ones which are the metrical psalms (which come from our Scottish heritage) and chants (popular in some Anglican Churches particularly) or some of the hymns which come from the Psalms (like the 23rd). Those of you who have the URC Daily Devotions email (and if you don’t, join up now!) will know that each Sunday there is a Psalm and often at the end there is a link to a metrical version of it. Hymn writers through the ages have been inspired by the Psalms and three modern and popular examples are Stuart Townend’s “The Lord’s my Shepherd” (Psalm 23), Timothy Dudley-Smith’s “I lift my eyes to the quiet hills” (Psalm 121) and Bernadette Farrell’s “O God, you search me and you know me” (Psalm 150).

When Bernadette Farrell, a Roman Catholic, was interviewed on “Songs of Praise”, Pam Rhodes said that Bernadette’s hymns were ‘gritty’ and challenging. Bernadette (who writes both words and music for her hymns) acknowledged that and added that hymns, as well as challenging us, should express the Gospel in song and be a way of sharing our Christian faith. Her hymn, well-known in Woking, “Christ be our light” bears this out in the refrain alone:
Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light! Shine in your Church gathered today.

It isn’t necessary to look only to modern hymn and song writers to find challenges (or examples of being ‘gritty’). The best-known Congregational hymn writer, Isaac Watts (1674-1748) in “When I survey the wondrous cross” ends this with:
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small,
love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

Skipping centuries to 1963 when Sydney Carter wrote “Lord of the dance” there would have been some (or possibly many!) who thought that this was going a bit too far (too gritty?) but, over 50 years later, it is popular and expresses so much:
I am the life that’ll never, never die;
I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me,
I am the Lord of the dance, said he.

One which is gritty, challenging and is an encouragement to be inclusive is “Come all you vagabonds” (written in 2011) by Stuart Townend, Mark Edwards and Phil Baggaley, and it definitely would have been thought to have gone ‘too far’ not many years ago (and may be now!):
Come all you questioners looking for answers,
and searching for reasons and sense in it all.
Come all you fallen and come all you broken…..

The list of ‘challenging’ (and all the other examples of hymn types which Bernadette Farrell gave) hymn and song writers through the ages is endless and I could fill the whole newsletter with good (and even not so good!) examples. John Bell, Graham Maule and others inspired by their involvement with the Iona Community must surely come high on any list, together with the URC ‘trio’ of hymnwriters Alan Gaunt, Fred Kaan and Brian Wren. But I just hope the ‘winner’ of the nation’s favourite hymns poll by “Songs of Praise” last year did not represent any trend or category. Can you believe it was Jerusalem? It didn’t even make it for inclusion in “Rejoice and Sing” when it was compiled over 30 years ago, and it is rather ‘exclusively’ English, isn’t it?

However, it is inclusivity and welcome with which I end my examples and there is none better than the wonderful hymn by Marty Haugen (of the United Church of Christ in the USA, from whom the Church’s strapline was ‘borrowed’ – Whoever you are….) “Let us build a house where love can dwell”. If it is the most sung hymn in Woking URC, let’s not hear any apologies (and never mind if it is not in the nation’s top ten – yet!). We strive to live and believe every ‘gritty’ line and it challenges us, expresses the Gospel in song and shows us a way to share our Christian faith. Do read it again below (and sing it in your homes; this one and all the hymns and songs mentioned can be heard sung on YouTube).

In this strange peak holiday month I wish you health and happiness in whatever you are able to do until we are able to meet and sing together again ‘from floor to rafter’ in the house of the Church.

Keith Bradley

Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where prophets speak, and words are strong and true,
where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace;
here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine, and wheat:
a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space;
as we share in Christ the feast that free us:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone
to heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known.
Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face;
let us bring an end to fear and danger:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place

Marty Haugen