27 February 2003

Methodist Covenant prayer features in Archbishop of Canterbury's Enthronement

One of the most valued prayers of Christian commitment of the Methodist Church is being used by Dr Rowan Williams during his enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury today.

The Methodist Covenant Prayer that starts "I am no longer my own but yours," is being recited by Dr Williams and the congregation gathered at Canterbury Cathedral for the formal installation of the new leader of the Church of England. In a demonstration of his ecumenical spirit, Dr Williams is the first Archbishop of Canterbury to use the words of a significant Methodist prayer for his enthronement.

The prayer's inclusion has been welcomed by Methodist leaders, particularly as 2003 sees the 300th anniversary of the birth of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement. The President of the Methodist Conference, the Rev Ian White, who today attends the Enthronement, said: "It is a very great privilege to be present in Canterbury Cathedral to witness the enthronement of Dr Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury, and it was a particular delight to see his spirit of ecumenism so well demonstrated by the use, during the service, of the Covenant Prayer so highly valued by Methodists. We pray that the Archbishop's ministry will be richly blessed."

The prayer is one of the most treasured prayers of Christian commitment for the 325,000 members of the Methodist Church in Britain. The Secretary of the Methodist Faith & Order Committee, Dr Clive Marsh, said: "The Covenant Service is often singled out by Christians of other traditions as a valuable and distinctly Methodist practice. Methodists find the Covenant prayer especially significant because of the commitment at its heart. The invitation to make such a covenant in commitment-phobic times offers a major challenge, especially when we are prone to live the illusion that we are wholly in control of our own lives."

From the earliest days of the Methodist Societies, John Wesley invited the Methodist people to renew their covenant relationship with God, explains the introduction to the Covenant Service in the Methodist Worship Book (MPH, 1999). Wesley drew much of his material for the Covenant service from the 17th-century Puritans. The Wesleyan Conference revised the service twice during the 19th century. The Methodist Book of Offices (1936) included a greatly popular form of the service.

The present Covenant Service, usually marked in Methodist churches on the first Sunday in January, follows a penitential approach to the words of the Covenant. It appears in the Methodist Worship Book in two forms, one traditional, the other more contemporary. The central prayer used for the Archbishop's Enthronement is the more traditional form.

In the traditional form, the words "put me to doing, put me to suffering," have raised difficulties for some people. The words do not mean that Methodists ask God to make them suffer, but rather that Methodists desire, by God's help, actively to do patiently to accept whatever is God's will for them.

Methodists make a distinctive feature of their Christian commitment by annually renewing their membership of the Church during their church's Covenant Service. But the covenant is not just a one-to-one transaction between individuals and God, but the act of the whole faith community.

The Methodist Covenant Prayer

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

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