The coming of a new year is an appropriate time to take stock of our lives and think about how we want to live and act in better ways over the next 12 months.
We often call this process “New Year’s resolutions.” I’ve got an alternative, if you’d like one. It is a way to think about your resolutions as aspects of your Christian discipleship. That might just make you think about them more deeply after the hog jowl and black eyed peas have been cleared away.
I’m talking about the practice of covenant renewal.
In 1755, John Wesley records the opinion that gathering a congregation together for a “covenant renewal service” is a “means of increasing serious religion.” He reports in his Journal for August 6th of that year that he spoke to a congregation about this practice, “which had been frequently practised by our forefathers and attended with eminent blessing: namely, the joining in a covenant to serve God with all our heart and with all our soul.”
A few days later, he led the congregation in just such a service. On August 11th he writes, “Such a night I scarce ever saw before. Surely the fruit of it shall remain forever.”
Services of covenant renewal are seeing something of a renaissance amongst Wesleyan Christians during our time. My own congregation in Marion, Arkansas, will be having a covenant renewal service this coming Sunday evening.
The idea behind the covenant renewal is not that you are establishing something new with God on your own initiative. It is instead a renewal of your baptismal covenant, made within the congregation of the faithful. And in that sense, it is a means of grace, which can open us up to the renewing and empowering work of the Holy Spirit.
If you are interested in investigating the covenant renewal service, start by checking out the Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition. (It can also be found on p.607 of the United Methodist Hymnal.) The full liturgy for the service is found in the United Methodist Book of Worship, pp. 288-294, which provides an order of worship that can be used in a congregational setting.
Pastors could think about using this service on New Year’s day, or as a way to orient Baptism of the Lord Sunday on the Sunday following Epiphany. If you are a layperson who thinks this could be an effective service of worship for your congregation, point your pastor to this blog post and ask him or her if it could be a part of your church’s worship in the new year.