Aware that we may be getting into new, deep water, the first call of churches and worship leaders taking the risk of integrating environmental issues into their prayer and worship as well as their community action, is for
At the AGM and Gathering In Dundee, I mentioned how I do sometimes get funny looks when I reply to people looking for “recommended reading” that they could do worse than start with the Bible.
But there is such richness there, I wonder why we are still surprised.
Is there a remnant of the notion that the closeness of what people like to call the ‘Celtic’ church to Creation was merely a sign of their syncretistic paganism, rather than their complete immersion in study of the Bible?
Likewise, when I also emphasise that you yourself, your willingness to learn and change, are the best resource, (God’s greatest gift in a Christian response to the Climate Crisis, as well as in gratitude to the beauty, spiritual nourishment and encouragement we also encounter) this too seems ‘news’. It shouldn’t be.
Whilst EcoCongregation Scotland is actively involved in the production of material (and with the valued help of a very diverse group of writers, I’ve just assembled Creation Time Resources for this coming September), nonetheless, there are few local churches which can cope on a regular basis with a barrage of 100% new words, and -heaven forbid - tunes.
Even on the occasion of a Chaplain visit, I’m always looking to find appreciable existing common ground in which to plant the seeds of spiritual growth for further environmental commitment.
So, as a sequel to my ‘tatty wee guide’, some thoughts on what ‘normal’ and ‘well-kent’ hymns etc lend themselves to use, without setting the clock back, or diverting the focus onto those previous mission agendas of the churches which have led to the sidelining of the ‘Creation’ content of our Christian heritage.
Sometimes the answer might be to find a hymn poet in your midst, to pen a new verse or two, or even go back to the still-living writer of a an otherwise excellent hymn, and see what they would make of a request for an update to take account of climate crisis.
I might give numbers below, from CH4, which I know is used well beyond the Church of Scotland, though my guess is that these should be included in a number of current hymnals.
This might take a few entries, but I’ll make a start with the Psalms, of which there are so very many settings.
If you need nature poetry, the Psalms are a very rich hunting ground, though some of the ‘world’ references have been toned down to ‘people’. I mentioned the ‘Old Hundredth’ last time, and I’m still working on what to do about that. CH4 64: “Sing all creation, sing to God in gladness” is a more recent version, with the easy tune Christie Sanctorum’ as offered.
Psalm 8: many different settings : it’s difficult not to find this useful, though some wording is a bit heavy on the ruling/dominion of humankind CH4 4, 5, are nonetheless quite usable.
Psalm 19: The general praise of the cosmos: (though the tune at no 10 in CH4 may take a bit of learning)
Psalm 23: Again, many settings: good on the responsibility for Creation, as well as God’s exercise of care.
Psalm 36 (e.g. CH4 28) A very wholesome expression of gratitude, bringing together the essential concern of the Creator with justice.
Psalm 46: ( Many settings) A song of hope and faith in the face of crisis which sounds not unlike what is already faced in climate crisis by sisters and brothers around the world . it can be used to help us reflect on these things.
Psalm 77: More justice/creation linkage.
Psalm 90: reflection with wonder on the immense age of the earth, compared to God’s faithfulness. CH4 54 and CH4 161 “O God our help in ages past”.
“Psalm 121: I to the hills will lift my eyes”. Scholarship points us sometimes in a counter-intuitive direction: the threat of the mountains to the writer contrasts with the comfort we most often derive from them
Psalm 139: e.g. CH4 96, 97 “You are before me, Lord, you are behind”. Creation as the stage on which we encounter and learn to trust God, who nonetheless remains mysterious and beyond our knowing.
Psalm 147: e.g. CH4 103: Fill your hearts with joy and gladness. Verging into harvest. A song of praise to a generous and compassionate creator.
Psalm 148 e.g. Ch4 104 - We are invited to join in the praise of Creation, of which we are already part. Some lovely attention to mythical and mysterious beasts too! Lively modern setting from John Bell at 105
How do you face this challenge of relevance without overwhelming people with novelty? I’ll return to it in due course.