As a student I would spend much of the Christmas holidays with family. A major consideration in deciding when to head back to uni was making sure I managed to attend a “Covenant Service” somewhere, whilst still getting back for the start of term!
The Covenant Service is used once a year in the Methodist Church, usually in January (and sometimes September, which is the start point of Methodists’ administrative year and the academic calendar). It always coincides with fresh starts and new commitments.
Through prayers and Scripture we tell the story of the God who makes and maintains a covenant relationship with the people of God. We claim ourselves as amongst that company; we confess the times we have lived for ourselves rather than for God; we are reassured of God’s grace (not least through sharing bread and wine) and we renew our desire to live as God’s people.
As much as the service happens at a “fresh” time, it connects us deeply to a rich history and story. There is nothing new or fresh in our covenanting, really. The service was created by the Moravians and adopted by John Wesley (Moravians have been so generous with their traditions, but are so often written out of them). More significantly, it connects us to one of the earliest ways the people of God have understood themselves; as those in covenant relationship with YHWH. In all the hype of a “new year, new me”, it is a gift to be reminded of our place as one generation in a great chain of the faithful.
At the time when we are put under undue pressure to think about improvement, when apparently we’re supposed to be making new starts, and committing to this year being the year we get our act together [pah!], I choose to REfresh my covenental relationship with God. Part of the real beauty of the service is the way in which we refresh; the Covenant Service is an annual event and it is therfore something we REpeat and REturn to, as we REnew, or REfresh our commitment and covenant with God.
I delight in being reminded that we did this last year, and we will do it next year. No matter what the last year held, nor what the year to come will hold, God is faithful, and steadfast in love. God is our God and we are God’s people. Nothing that we do or that happens can change or shake that. Each year I return and am refreshed in this reassurance of God’s grace. I am grounded in the truth of that, and the reality of the bigger story I am grafted into, and some of the January pressure eases.
Written by Supporting Member Revd Paul Parker. Paul joined SCM at Uni in North Wales and is now a Methodist Minister. He spends his Rest Day playing board games and solving crosswords.