Every year at Annual Conference, during the opening worship service, we sang “And are we yet alive and see each other’s face?” It is an old hymn with words by Charles Wesley. This hymn has been sung at Methodist gatherings for over 200 years. It certainly was a poignant hymn when most of the preachers gathered were circuit riders. The average circuit rider only lived to 32 years of age because life was so hard. When the preachers gathered each year at Annual Conference, they never knew who had, literally, survived the year.
“And are we yet alive and see each other’s face?” developed a special meaning for me when I attended Annual Conference. Each year we read the names of clergy and laity who had died since we last met. But, as a pastor, I also experienced times where I thought about quitting. So making it through another year was never a certainty for me. Verse 3 of the hymn always resonated with me: “What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past, fightings without, and fears within, since we assembled last!”
Sometimes the church has conflicts. We might imagine our local church or our denomination is perfect, but the reality is far different. People in a local church fight. A denomination struggles to stay together. The church is made up of sinful humans and we don’t leave our selfishness at the door when we come into church.
I love the hymn “And Are We Yet Alive?” because it is honest about life in the church. Troubles, conflicts, fighting, fears are part of our everyday life. But the hymn offers us words of hope and encouragement. Here are the rest of the verses:
4. Yet out of all the Lord hath brought us by his love;
and still he doth his help afford, and hides our life above.
5. Then let us make our boast of his redeeming power,
which saves us to the uttermost, till we can sin no more.
6. Let us take up the cross till we the crown obtain,
and gladly reckon all things loss so we may Jesus gain.
This next week, the United Methodist Church is having a special session of General Conference to decide if we can stay together as a denomination. I am praying for the people that go and praying for this church that I love. May God show us the way forward.
Revelation 3:1-3 says: To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
There are many ways of being dead. We can be physically dead, spiritually dead, emotionally dead. Do we have a reputation for being alive when we are really dead? There are many ways of being dead, but only one way of being truly alive. New life comes every day through Jesus Christ. Are we yet alive?