Saturday, 10 August 2013

O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

Yesterday evening I joined members of the Charles Wesley Society for their annual dinner in St John's College, Durham. The society has been holding its annual meeting in the North East and members have enjoyed visiting heritage sites in this, far from desolate, region. They also spent time receiving papers and presentations on a variety of topics including Charles Wesley's eschatology and Charles Wesley's shorthand, which he used in portions of his journals and letters and which has made them difficult to read.

The group included Methodists from America, Austria and Ireland and it was great to have the opportunity to talk with them over an excellent meal. I don't claim to be an expert on Charles Wesley but I was able to reflect on a number of occasions when his hymns had been a means of sharing with other Methodists across barriers of language and culture. I remembered Zimbabwean Methodist choirs singing 'Captain of Israel's Host' in a choir competition during the celebration of 30 years of autonomy of the Methodist Church and 300 years of music. That celebration took place in Kadoma in October 2007 and the words of that hymn were appropriate and poignant in the context then, just months before the national elections in 2008. I  remembered finding that 'O for a thousand tongues' is popular in Bolivia, though sung there to a different tune. And, I remembered the first time I heard 'And can it be', sung in a chapel in Newport, South Wales. I was a child and it had a huge impact on me, undoubtedly Charles Wesley's hymn was a major influence in my own journey to commitment to Jesus and to membership of the Methodist Church.

After dinner David Hughes from the Charles Avison Society gave a musical presentation on this leading (but not now well known) composer from Newcastle who was a contemporary of the Wesleys and known by them.

My colleague, Leo Osborn (Chair of the Newcastle-upon- Tyne District and Past President of the Conference) was also a guest at the dinner and it was good to share with him in leading evening prayers at the end of the day.

If you would like to know more about the Charles Wesley Society their website can be found at www.charleswesleysociety,org

On Tuesday morning I will be leaving to visit MRDF projects in Cameroon and from there I will be going to visit the Methodist Church in Kenya. Blogs will follow as far as internet access allows.

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