The First United Methodist Church of Arroyo Grande Celebrates 125 Years of Ministry

Rock founded, Christ centered, Faith sustained

125th Anniversary Cantata

Music Sunday
June 7, 2009

The Readings
by Jamie Foster

Perhaps our greatest commonality with our predecessors in this church, second to the Bible itself, of course, are the hymns we've sung over the 125 years since the First United Methodist Church of Arroyo Grande was formed. A rousing chorus of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God had to have been as inspiring and uplifting then as now.

My guess is that in 1884, talk amongst those forming churches was a bit more forthright about devil fighting, drinking, women of ill repute, and the like. We may be a bit more subtle about such matters in our spoken words these days, but the words of the hymns we sing occasionally spell it right out, that we are under attack from evil forces, and that God alone is our strength and salvation. In the first hymn of this 125th Anniversary Cantata, we hear, "And though this world with devils filled", and "Prince of Darkness grim", and "still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe". But our bulwark, in the first line of the hymn and our first line of defense, just as it was in 1884 as a small congregation in Arroyo Grande took on the trials of the day, is our God, truly a mighty fortress.

A Might Fortress Is Our God

O God, Our Help in Ages Past is based on the 90th Psalm. One translation of the first verse of the psalm reads, "Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations." And verse 4, "For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by." Imagine, then, the briefness of God's time that separates us from the beginning of our 125 year history. It is but an instant in His eyes. But to us, it's a matter of faith in God - the God who is a strength to both individuals and organizations across the changing and ever-passing years, the God who one day will welcome us, as he has already welcomed those of our past, to our eternal home.

O God, Our Help in Ages Past

If there's a Methodist theme song, it would have to be "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing", written by Charles Wesley about 145 years before the founding of our church. It's been the first hymn in our hymnal since I can remember. We met Charles' brother John Wesley, the preacher, at the Tabernacle last Sunday. Charles was the hymnwriter of the family, having written over 6,000 of them! The story goes that Charles was inspired to write this hymn by a comment from a friend, "You know, Charles, if I had a thousand tongues, I would praise God with all of them." Over the 125 year history of this church alone, many thousands of tongues have sung God's praises. Let's stand and join the spirits of all those folks in singing "O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing," Hymn #57. Please sing verses 1, 3, and 1 again when indicated by the director. The choir will sing 2 and 4.

O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

It's hard to ponder hymns of thanksgiving without thinking of "Now Thank We All Our God". This hymn was written only a few decades before our church was organized. Much was changing in the 19th Century, including the acceptance of hymn singing in public worship. Hard to believe, but in previous centuries, hymnody was associated with dissenting religious groups, prayer meetings of the Anglican Evangelicals, and Methodist prayer meetings, as if Methodist prayer meetings were a bad thing! Well, if you were of the Catholic persuasion, as this hymn-writer was, they were. Whether in everyday life or over the course of 125 years, or during the ups and downs, one is well advised to remember the line "and keep us in God's grace, and guide us when perplexed." Over these 125 years, we've no doubt benefited from "countless gifts of love". And God "still is ours today."

Now Thank We All Our God

Carrying on any endeavor, whether for a few weeks, a few months, a few years, or 125 years, takes some fortitude. Romans 14:8 offers a particularly interesting way to look at lifeā€¦ "If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's." The sooner we realize we belong to God, the better. This is a profound theological thought that no doubt supported the ongoing work of this church over the years. The hymn, "When We Are Living", is also meaningful in that it represents the Spanish influence in the history of our area. Whether we suffer or rejoice, or whether we speak in English or Spanish, or whether now or in the past. or in the future, we are to be Christ-like. Because we belong to God, we transcend the circumstances and rejoice in the serving.

When We Are Living

A leap of faith. An audacious stepping out. In the late 1950s, the people of our church ultimately decided to move physically to a new location, build a church outside the Village where the church had been humming along since the 1800s. It was bold, and it was controversial. It was not a unanimous decision, far from it. A pastor left with more than a little heartburn. Within a few years of that very same time, an audacious hymn-writer, Sydney Carter, was shaking up the religious establishment, too, "questioning how we've always done it", and "blasphemously using contemporary pop-style tunes". He was so bold as to suggest that Jesus was a dancer, but not just any dancer, He was the Lord of the Dance. Jesus was real. He lived, and preached, and died for you! He rose to bring us eternal joy! Come, as rebellious as it may seem, come, join in the dance. Come, for the next 125 years, for eternity, come join in the dance with Jesus!

Lord of the Dance

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Hymnals: a tie to our past.