The Covenant Service
At the start of the new year Methodists make a distinctive
All are welcome to share in a Covenant Service. You
can find your nearest Methodist Church on our Church Search. You
will be welcome, whether you are sharing in a Covenant Service for
the first time, have done it annually for many years, or simply
want to watch what others do without taking part yourself.
The service is a gift not a demand! And God will give you the
grace to do it all. You are not alone!
The Covenant Service, often
celebrated on the first Sunday of the year, is at the heart of
Methodists' devotion and discipleship, and their dedication in
working for social justice. In the service the
Church joyfully celebrates God's gracious offer to Israel that
"I will be their God and they shall be my people".
This offer is then extended beyond Israel to all women and men
in Jesus Christ, who also provides the supreme example of what it
is to live in such a relationship with God.
That relationship primarily involves the corporate life of the
community of God's people (i.e. Israel; the Body of Christ). It is
concerned with individuals within that group.
What God offers is a loving relationship. The Covenant is not a
contract in which God and human beings agree to provide particular
goods and services for each other! It is not something that we have
to do to create a relationship with God. God has freely and
graciously already made it possible.
Rather, the Covenant is the means of grace by which we accept
the relationship and then seek to sustain it. It is therefore not
so much about getting in to a relationship with God as it is about
staying in it. It is not about acquiring a relationship with God,
but living within the loving relationship that God has already
God's gracious offer to us is therefore simultaneously a
challenge. If God is committed to us, are we prepared to accept
that as reality and commit ourselves in return to God? Even if we
do choose to accept it, how can we manage to live out our
commitment adequately, frail and human as we are?
The New Testament suggests that as we join the group of those
seeking to follow the way of Jesus, we respond to God's challenge
with him and begin to share his relationship with God as Father.
Within the group of disciples, this leads to his Spirit bubbling up
in us as individuals, encouraging and enabling us to live out our
side of the relationship (i.e. "writing God's ways on our hearts"
as Jeremiah 31 describes the Covenant).
Origins of the Covenant Service
This idea of Covenant was basic to John Wesley's understanding
of Christian discipleship. He saw the relationship with God in
Covenant as being like a marriage between human beings (both as a
community and as individuals) on the one side and God in Christ on
the other (cf. Ephesians 5.21-33).
His original Covenant Prayer involved taking Christ as "my Head
and Husband, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, for all
times and conditions, to love, honour and obey thee before all
others, and this to the death".
Wesley recognised that people needed not just to accept but also
to grow in relationship with God. He therefore emphasised that
God's grace and love constantly prompts and seeks to transform us,
and so we should continually seek and pray to grow in holiness and
Over a number of years Wesley gradually saw the need for some
regular ceremony which would enable people to open themselves to
God more fully. He looked for some means of helping them to hear
God's offer and challenge ever more deeply, and to allow God to
prompt and enable them to respond.
In 1755 Wesley created a form of service adapted from the works of
Joseph and Richard Alleine. These works came from the Puritan
tradition of pastoral and spiritual guidance. Wesley therefore
insisted that the Covenant Service be located in a framework of
pastoral care, preaching and guidance.
This framework dealt with the corporate needs of a particular
society of Christian disciples, and within that with the needs of
individuals within that group. It therefore linked personal
devotion with corporate worship.
There would be a series of meetings about the Covenant involving
sermons, explanations and exhortations. An invitation would then be
issued for "those as will" to come to the Covenant Service. After a
day's "Retreat" for people to prepare themselves in prayer,
fasting, reflection and self- examination there would be the
Covenant Service itself. This would be held in the context of the
Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Wesley thought that this Sacrament
brought into the realm of experience and made real all that was
said in the Covenant. He therefore urged Methodists to pay it the
highest regard, to put it at the centre of their spiritual life and
to share in it frequently.
The process did not end with the Covenant Service. People were
encouraged to continue to work out the implications for their lives
of the fact that their relationship with God had been renewed in
and through Christ. It was accepted that people might find this
difficult to do without help, and might "backslide". There would
therefore be further pastoral guidance offered to both groups and
individuals in the weeks that followed the service.
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Make a Journey of Faith
What is the Methodist Church?
What do Methodists believe?
What happens during Methodist worship?
Can I get married in a Methodist Church?
Can my baby be baptized in a Methodist Church?
You'll find the answers to these and other
questions in Make a Journey of Faith - a short
introduction to the Methodist Church.
free Make a Journey of Faith ebook
epub file* Right-click and choose 'Save Target As'.
For churches wishing to deepen their welcome to
visitors and newcomers, a printed edition of the booklet is
available from Methodist Publishing. It is priced £5
(plus postage and packaging) and sold in packs of 50.