Wesley Covenant and Prayer: Rev. Elaine Julian, Jan 16th

Wesley Covenant Prayer and Holy Communion

This service is based on a service I led on Zoom with Campbell River United Church on Jan. 2. You can watch the service and the hymn videos at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cypHE2sdD4w&t=1340s

This service has been adapted slightly for the Denman Island United Church online setting so the Order of Service is not exactly the same as in the video.

This land acknowledgement was written by one of my fellow students at St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon. Mitchell Anderson is a gay Cree/Metis minister now serving St. Paul’s United Church in Saskatoon. I adapted his acknowledgement to our particular territory.

Land Acknowledgement (By Mitchell Anderson)

Long ago, all of this land was covered by ice

Clothed in a winter without end.

But God our Creator brought back the warmth

pulling back the ice

And revealing this land plants and animals returned to the land.

And it was good

Then God gave to the land many peoples

And many peoples to the land

To care for one another

To live together

And in this time, we celebrate the gifts of the traditional and unceded territory of the K’omoks and Coast Salish peoples.

We celebrate all who make this place a home today

We celebrate together with the God of justice

As a people called to love and serve others

Called to seek justice

We eagerly await the day where the heavens are glad and the earth rejoices Where all will share our abundance together

We work and wait for that day, when all will live together

in hope, peace, joy and love. Amen.


One: As we light this Christ candle, we think of the interconnectedness of all creation, and our interconnectedness with the Creator and the Cosmic Christ, and we remember “All My Relations”.

All: All my relations.

One: Akwe nia’tetewa:neren

CALL TO WORSHIP: (By Beth W. Johnston, used with permission from Gathering Advent/Christmas/Epiphany 2015-2016)

One: The world asks us to celebrate a new year.

All: We wish each other, “Happy New Year.”

One: God calls us to continue our journey of faith.

All: We ask, “God, to what are you calling us at this time?”

One: We are called to allow God’s light to show us the way.

All: We come today seeking that light and praying that we may be guided by that light all year.

One: We come today to place our lives under God’s call and will.

All: Covenant God, we gather today in hope and uncertainty, thanking you for the gradually returning light and your promise in Jesus that as your beloved children you are with us in light and darkness. We ask that all our words and actions, today and throughout the coming year, reflect your light and the promise of your Word made flesh. Amen.

OPENING HYMN VIDEO: VU #94, “Lovely Star in the Sky” Golden Ears United Church


Jeremiah 31:31-34

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel

and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand

to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant,  though I was a husband to them, declares the Lord.

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.”

“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.

I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

John 1:1-14, 16-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word wasGod. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Reflection: Promises, Promises

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “When I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.”

Promises and renewed promises are one of the most important pieces of our Judeo Christian heritage. The Bible is the cyclical story of promises made, promises broken, promises renewed. Over and over, God covenants with the people. Over and over, the people disappoint God. Over and over, God forgives them and offers a new Covenant.

Our reading from Jeremiah is just one small chapter of that story. The people have broken the covenant God made with them when they escaped from Egypt. Their land has been invaded, their temple destroyed, but God is offering a hopeful new covenant. This part of the book of Jeremiah is sometimes called the Book of Comfort. God promises forgiveness and unconditional love, whether we deserve it or not.

It’s a time of year for promises. At the turning of the year, our thoughts often turn to what we would like to improve about ourselves. Sometimes we make New Year’s Resolutions, promises to ourselves to do better and to be better. Very often, our good intentions weaken and within a few weeks we have returned to our previous habits.

But there are other kinds of promises in this season. One of the best is the promise that winter will end. The days are getting ever so slightly longer, the sun (when we can see it!) ever so slightly warmer.

In our family, we also have the joyful memory of the promises made at my nephew’s wedding 9 years ago at Waskesiu, Saskatchewan, the first wedding I ever conducted. It was super cold and we had problems with connecting flights and got into the resort at 3 am the night before. I missed the rehearsal, but in spite of that it all went well! Except when the groom put the ring on the wrong hand, and the bride burst out, “What did you do that for?!” I have a cherished photo of that precise moment when we all broke out laughing.



The promises in the Biblical story cycle are a special kind of promise – a Covenant. Not a covenant in the modern legal sense between two equal parties, but a holy covenant, a promise made by God to God’s people. In many cases, it’s not really a two-way agreement. God is clearly in charge. God says, “I will make a new covenant”.

At the beginning of the Gospel of John, we hear about the new covenant God makes with us through Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” God gives us God’s Word, and we celebrate that gift as God’s greatest promise.

The concept of covenant has also expanded in the church to include a variety of promises made in the presence of God. Marriage in the church is a covenant, so is ordination, so is the relationship between a minister and a community of faith. We make promises to each other and to God, so God is intimately involved in the relationships forged through these covenants.

Recently, I was introduced to another covenant at the Island Voices choir concert in December. If you’re not familiar with them, they are a very talented chamber choir with members from Campbell River, the Comox Valley and Quadra Island. Pam from the Campbell River United Church congregation sings with them, as well as my library friend Thom from Quadra.

At the concert, they sang an achingly beautiful piece called “Wesley’s Covenant Prayer” with words by John Wesley set to music by Rev. Robin King, a United Church minister serving in Bashaw and Ponoka, Alberta. I felt a lump forming in my throat and tears in

my eyes as they sang. Afterwards, when I talked to Pam and Thom, they both said that it also touched them deeply when they sang it, although they come from very different religious backgrounds.

I have to confess that in spite of growing up in a United Church family with strong Methodist roots, in spite of having a Master of Divinity degree, I had somehow never heard of this Covenant Prayer. So I did a little digging. Fair warning: a little bit of church history is needed as a background.

The Methodist Church was the largest founding denomination when the United Church of Canada formed in 1925, so many United Church families have Methodist backgrounds. I have a strong Methodist background on both sides, although my mother’s side was from Ontario and my father’s side from Texas. My mom used to love telling me that both of my grandmothers had a lot in common in spite of being from such different parts of North America. Both had black hair and blue eyes, both grew up on dairy farms, and both were Methodists.

As you may know, John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement that branched off from the Church of England in the 1700’s. The early Methodist movement grew out of his sense that a relationship with God needed more commitment than just attending worship on Sundays. John Wesley and his brother Charles, who wrote the words to many of our hymns, led small group meetings where they cultivated a closer personal relationship with God through Bible study, prayer, and accountability to each other. John and Charles were strongly influenced by their mother Susanna and many of the early Methodist leaders were women.

The first of their groups at Oxford covenanted to lead a holy and sober life, take communion once a week, be faithful in private devotions, visit the prisons regularly, and spend 3 hours together every afternoon studying the Bible. They were mocked as a “holy club” and their methodical style of life led to the term Methodists.

It was not John Wesley’s intention to start a new church, but to encourage stronger personal piety within the Church of England. However, the movement grew quickly, especially in frontier America, where a number of disagreements led to the eventual formation of the Methodist Evangelical Church.

The early Methodists not only covenanted with each other in their small groups, they also made personal covenants with God based on Puritan devotionals and renewed them regularly. Wesley instituted a Covenant Service in 1755, and it became the practice to hold it on the first Sunday in January along with Holy Communion. The Covenant Prayer we are about to share grew out of this tradition.

One of the things that really speaks to me in this prayer is the strong sense of surrender, of relinquishing my will and trusting God. It is similar to the concept of kenosis, or self-emptying, which is the theological basis for the practice of Centering Prayer and rooted in the self-emptying love of Jesus which was at the heart of his life and ministry. It is the love of God that sent God-self to the world in the human one Jesus, and that led Jesus to give everything he had for the sake of the world. It’s fitting, therefore, that the Prayer is combined with the Communion feast celebrating those gifts.

And so, I invite you to join in this ancient prayer which is new to me and possibly to you as well. Perhaps it will become a new tradition in our lives, a New Years resolution with God instead of ourselves at the centre. As we make our covenant with God, and as we celebrate Communion at Christ’s table, remember God’s promise to us: to unfailingly forgive us and love us, no matter what. As we hear in the Gospel of John “Out of his fullness we have all received grace” May it be so.

Let us pray.


One: I am no longer my own, but yours.

All: Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;

One: put me to doing, put me to suffering;

All: let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,

One: exalted for you, or brought low for you;

All: let me be full,

One: let me be empty,

All: let me have all things,

One: let me have nothing:

All: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

One: And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

All: you are mine and I am yours. So be it.

One: And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

All: Amen.



Suggestions for reflection:

• Remember the covenants or promises that have been important in your life.

• Reflect on the difference between the Wesley Covenant and New Years resolutions.


VIDEO: Wesley’s Covenant Prayer, music by Jim Strathdee

Prayer of Dedication

(From www.united-church.ca):
All: As we present our offerings, we remember God’s generous gifts to us. This season, we are called to share the gifts of hope, peace, joy and love with others. Through the mission of our church and the service we offer others, we too can be a light in the world. Amen.


As we prepare to celebrate Holy Communion, you are invited into silence to bring your prayers of gratitude and your concerns before Creator God…

And now, as children turn to a mother who watches over them, let us turn to God saying:

Our Father/Mother who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
For ever and ever. Amen.

COMMUNION HYMN VIDEO: MV #195, “Long Ago and Far Away” Kanata United Church Choirs


As we come to this table,
we are reminded that this is the table of Jesus Christ,
a banquet prepared for everyone.
All who seek to be nourished and sustained in the journey of faith,
all who seek wholeness, and compassionate paths to peace and justice, all, all are welcome here.

One: The Peace of Christ be with you!

All: And also with you!

One: The Holy One is here.

All: God’s Spirit is with us.

One: Lift up your hearts.

All: We lift them to the Lord.

One: Let us give thanks to God.

All: It is right to offer thanks and praise.

One: It is indeed good and right to give you thanks and praise, O God of many names. You made a covenant with Noah, and caused nations, in their amazing diversity, to spread over the face of the earth. As of old you led your people out of a land of enslavement to a land of promise, so, too, you led our ancestors, and some among us, into new lands of possibility – there to find you anew.

In the fullness of time, you sent Jesus, in every aspect human as we are.
He grew up in a small town in Galilee, far from the seat of religious and civil power. He spoke with a distinct accent.
He learned of the breadth of your grace from a Gentile woman. Beside Jacob’s well, he was moved by an encounter with a minority woman and disclosed his messianic identity.
Therefore, with these and our other ancestors in the faith,
both named and unnamed,
who through the ages and all over the world
have borne courageous witness to the hope within them,
we praise you, saying:
All: Holy, holy, holy God, power of life and love!
Heaven and earth are full of your glory!
Hosanna through the ages!
Blest is the one who comes to bring your justice to the earth!

One: On the last night he spent with his friends, Jesus took an age-old tradition of his people and transformed it into something new.
He took bread, staple food of his land, blessed and broke it, and gave it to those around him saying, “Take, eat, this is my body, broken for you. Whenever you do this, remember me.”

After supper he took a cup of wine, common drink of his people, and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink this, all of you, this is the new covenant in my blood. Each time you do this, remember me.”

By remembering Jesus in this way now,
we claim our common heritage
as we proclaim the mystery of faith:
All: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

One: Send, O covenant God, your Holy Spirit upon us and what we do here,
that we and these gifts, empowered by your Spirit, may become signs of shalom to one another and to all peoples of the earth. Through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory is yours everywhere, now and forever.

All: Amen.

One: Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life. (We eat the Bread.) The Cup of the New Covenant. (We drink the Cup.)

ALL: Eternal God, we thank you that
you have called your people from east and west,
and north and south, to feast at the table of Jesus Christ. Keep us faithful to your will.
Go with us to the streets, to our homes,
and to our places of labour and leisure—
that whether we are gathered or scattered,
we may be the servant church of the servant Christ,
in whose name we pray. Amen.

CLOSING HYMN VIDEO: VU #87, “I Am the Light of the World” Golden Ears United Church


One: Go in peace and go in love, accompanied by the Holy Spirit, to be Christ’s feet and hands and face and hearts in the world.
All: Amen.


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