Maybe you didn’t know that the creation of a new United Methodist Hymnal was approved at the 2016 General Conference. This sort of thing might get lost in the current uproar within the United Methodist Church. Nevertheless, a new hymnal is on the way. This version will not, however, be like our grandparents’ hymnal. According to those who brought the proposal, it will be “a worship resource that is no longer bound by the front and back covers of a printed volume.” Instead, the cloud-based collection of worship songs will be available in many formats. A local church may choose whichever delivery method seems best to them. E-books, online viewing, print-on-demand collections and more are all possibilities.

Since this worship resource will be decidedly more open-source, I’d like to suggest that we include a chart-topper by Diana Ross and the Supremes from 1966.

The Singin’ Methodists

If you are disappointed / discouraged / despondent over the current conflicts, acrimony, dysfunction, and mean-spiritedness afflicting “united” Methodists, you might want to step back a moment to recall that one of the key signatures (allusion intended) of the Methodist movement has been SINGING.

Earlier generations of Methodists learned and experienced the Christian faith through the singing of hymns. Charles Wesley who, along with his brother John, founded the Methodist Movement in 18th Century England, wrote approximately 6,500 hymns. Some you might know, such as, “O, For A Thousand Tongues to Sing,” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” But out of all his hymns, 65, just 1%, are in the current UMC hymnal. And if you worship with a community of Christ-followers who have been impacted / afflicted / energized by “contemporary Christian music”, Charles Wesley’s work will rarely show up in the Sunday morning playlist.

Something to lament? Well, not really.

Charles Wesley wrote, on average, two hymns a week. Some were theological in nature. Some echoed biblical themes. Some were intended for seasons of the liturgical year like Advent or Lent. Many reflected various experiences in the life of faith. And some reflected challenges with the church.

That’s Why I’d Like to Suggest That we Include A 1966 Chart-Topper from Diana Ross and the Supremes

The song I have in mind is actually about a romantic breakup. He doesn’t love her anymore and she knows it. She can only plead for him to quit the overtures of love, loyalty, and commitment. There is no future for the relationship, so why does he keep her hangin’ on? Though not theologically nuanced, or liturgically aligned, it seems a pretty good fit for one of the contemporary internal challenges of United Methodism.

You Keep Me Hangin’ On (1966)
Set me free why don’t cha babe
Get out my life why don’t cha babe
‘Cause you don’t really love me
You just keep me hangin’ on
You don’t really need me
But you keep me hangin’ on

Why do you keep a comin’ around playing with my heart?
Why don’t cha get out of my life and let me make a new start?
Let me get over you the way you gotten over me, yeah

Set me free why don’t cha babe
Let me be why don’t you babe
‘Cause you don’t really love me
You just keep me hangin’ on
No, you don’t really want me
You just keep me hangin’ on

(If you want to sing or dance to the full version, here you go: The Supremes-You Keep Me Hangin’ On )

Methodists No Longer Sing from the Same Page

Sadly, the development of the new “united” Methodist worship resource has been postponed.

“The hymnal is a key resource in answering the historical questions: ‘What to teach?’ ‘How to teach?’ and ‘What to do?’” added the Reverend Brian K. Milford, president and publisher of The United Methodist Publishing House. “By allowing time for the resolution of conflicts and greater consensus to emerge about key issues in our social teachings, ordination standards, and rules affecting marriages celebrated in UM congregations—as well as providing ample time for an even more expansive search for additional tunes and texts selected from an array of new submissions that number as many as 5000—the adjusted schedule will help assure that the next United Methodist hymnal collection serves the church as it worships, grows, and serves in the next decade and beyond.” New UM Hymnal Timeline to be Revised

Many of our bishops reply that this is a silly and uninformed question. “Of course you can leave…it’s right there in the Book of Discipline, paragraph 2553. Pay up what we say you owe, plus whatever other exit fees we apply, and you are free to go.”

Though our bishops may “play with our hearts” by using words of compassion, commitment, and caring, the veracity of their words is undermined by a significant deficit of trust. It seems common practice that our bishops refuse to abide by the Book of Discipline regarding the UMC definition of marriage, standards of ordination, or administration of complaint processes. They are crystal clear, however, that all must follow the letter of the law for the disaffiliation of congregations. In addition, some slow walk the administrative process so that congregations who are just now becoming aware that the window for disaffiliation closes at the end of 2023 won’t be able to complete the process by the deadline.

“Why DO you keep us hangin’ on?”

We do not have a legitimate survey to gauge the overall perspective of United Methodists generally, but the most popular answer to that question I hear from the laity and pastors in our region is this:

The folks in the High Tower want to make it as difficult as possible for congregations to leave so that, finally, the local church property reverts to the Annual Conference and can be sold with the proceeds going to keep The Institution afloat. The abbreviated version of this is, “It’s all about the money.”

The other, less common version is this:
The folks in the High Tower have a deep desire to purify their church. There isn’t much room for people who hold their Bibles too tightly or whose devotion to Jesus Christ is too personal and who, largely, won’t support the latest advocacy, public protest, or political organizing efforts. The longer we make it harder for them, the more of them will just quit. The abbreviated version of this is: put the squeeze on them and they’ll find the exit on their own.

My summaries here may be very wide of the mark. But for all the words used by the leaders in the High Tower, we don’t really have a very good answer to the question:

“Set us free, why don’t cha?”

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REV. DR. SCOTT N. FIELD

REV. DR. SCOTT N. FIELD

Interim President
Wesleyan Covenant Association
1 Corinthians 15:58

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