Friday, July 30, 2010

Honored by the Bishop's Words

I was very honored by Bishop Willimon's words in the article below, which was published on the e-
Voice of the North Alabama Conference. It was a joy to collaborate on this hymn. More information about the new hymnal can be found at the Celebrating Grace Hymnal Site.

“Lord, You Call Us to Your Service” Published in New Hymnal

Six years ago the Reverend Steve West, pastor of Grace United Methodist in Huntsville, and Bishop Will Willimon collaborated on a new hymn, “Lord, You Call Us to Your Service.” Since then their hymn has been used in every Service of Ordination at the North Alabama Annual Conference. Now the hymn has been published in a new hymnal, Celebrating Grace Hymnal.

While the hymnal is designed for use in Baptist churches, it is expected to have wide ecumenical appeal.

“Steve, as we know, is the talented musician,” said Bishop Willimon. “He has been instrumental in the planning of our worship at Annual Conference. I tried to contribute a hymn text that would be Trinitarian in form and would speak of the high calling that we have as those who are called to Christ’s ministry. Steve is a multi-talented pastor who has much experience in hymnody and the arts.”

Sunday, July 25, 2010

"God Before Us" Published on GBOD Worship Site

I wrote the text and tune of "God Before Us" as one of my very first hymns many years ago. I had been chaplain that week at Music and Arts Week at Sumatanga and I believe I had been reflecting on the prayer of St. Patrick's Breastplate.

I am honored that "God Before Us" was published on the General Board of Discipleship Worship Website recently. You can find the musical arrangement on the General Board of Discipleship Website. Here is the text:

God, before us as we seek,
yours the path, our guiding.
Word our lamp and light of day,
show your will abiding.

God, behind us as we walk,
make our way unswerving.
Hands and lips in concert sing,
into freedom serving.

God, below us as we fall,
weakened knee our binding.
Race ahead, we take our cross,
strength in weakness finding.

God, above us as we reach,
yours the earth, our grounding.
With creation lift our praise,
guide our understanding.

Copyright 1994 Stephen P. West. All rights reserved.

Pictured: Bluff at Monte Sano Mountain in Huntsville, Alabama.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Courage of the Hummingbird

We have a hummingbird feeder outside our kitchen window. This week, we filled it with sugar water again and, lo and behold, we have had visitors. What fascinating little creatures, so awkward yet so beautiful. It is as if they don't really fly, they hover from place to place. They bless my day.

In a recent issue of Alive Now I saw this poem entitled "Courage" by Debbie Parvin. I think I'll post it in our kitchen.

With Goliath's might, you slice the air with needle sword,
race with monstrous wrath, defend your claim
to ruby water hanging
like a vial of blood in summer's sweetened air.

Yet you are more like David,
dwarf among the feathered flock -
a thimble bug
so slight that, when you light upon the willow's leaf,
it does not move.

Still, God has chosen you, the most unlikely -
fitted you with sequined garb
and fashioned beater wings to bear you
eighteen hundred miles each year to prove

though life may tower giant-like around us
we, the miniscule,
can rise
and hum.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Taken and Blessed" Published on GBOD Website

I wrote the text and tune of "Taken and Blessed" at an Academy for Spiritual Formation during the silence. I was reflecting on Henri Nouwen's teachings in "Life of the Beloved" after a presentation by Robert Benson. Nouwen saw a Eucharistic pattern Christian lives, modeled after the four actions Jesus took at the table. As children of God, we are chosen, blessed, broken, and shared as bread for the world.

I am honored that "Taken and Blessed" was published on the General Board of Discipleship Worship Website recently. You can find the musical arrangement by my good friend Nylea Butler-Moore on the General Board of Discipleship Website. Here is the text:

Taken and blessed, broken and shared,
We come back to the table the Lord has prepared.
Washed by the water, born by the wind,
We come back to the fountain all over again.

This is our story, this is our choice
To discover again your compelling, still voice.
Life is a circle of joy and pain,
So refresh us, oh God, with your soft gentle rain.

Take us, your children, bless us with grace.
In your hands, gently break us, who dodge your embrace.
Share us with others, bread for the world.
We're the body of Christ, now redeemed by his blood.

Copyright 2004 by Stephen P. West. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Pistol Swinging Preacher

This is my LifePoints column which appeared on the front page of the Faith & Values section of The Huntsville Times on July 9, 2010. It was accompanied by this picture in front of present-day Genesis UMC. The eye-catching title read "Pistol Packing Preacher Tames Town Bootleggers."

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled a Chicago ban on handguns as unconstitutional.

While I do not expect this to affect most gun control laws regulating availability, I imagine it will lead to some interesting debates.

I am generally in favor of gun control, and shots ringing close to home this past year have confirmed my beliefs. Yet I can not forget a story from my family history in Madison County that inspires me when I need some courage.

My grandfather was the Rev. C.P. Hamby, a fiery preacher who spread the gospel under the banner of Methodism. In the 1920’s, he was appointed as "conference evangelist” in North Alabama. His assignment was to lead revivals and start churches.

One year, he was sent to the community of State Line, on the border between Alabama and Tennessee north of Huntsville. In those days, State Line was a bootlegging town. There was an old, white clapboard church building there that had been vacant for years, and he was sent to start it back up.

After visiting in the community for a week, he held the opening revival service. With windows open in the heat of summer, a small congregation gathered. But as soon as the service began, the town bootleggers drove their cars up to the windows, revved up their engines, and laid on their horns.

The service could not continue with this disruption, so Grandpa drew things to a close and asked everyone to come back the following night. But in the morning, he went to Huntsville to be deputized. When you were deputized in the 1920’s, you were given a badge and two pistols.

On his way back to State Line, the bootleggers had set up a roadblock to keep religion out of their town. But after Grandpa Hamby swung his pistols around, they moved out of his way.

By the time of the revival that night, half the county had heard about the pistol-swinging preacher! The little place was packed.

A man of small stature, Grandpa walked slowly into the church as a hush fell on the congregation. One woman by the middle aisle said in an audible whisper, "no short preacher’s going to change this town!" He ignored it.

As our family tells it, Grandpa got up to the front, reached into his leather satchel to pull out his Bible, and thumped it down on the pulpit. After a dramatic pause, he got one of his pistols and thumped it down on the right side of the pulpit. Then he reached down for the other pistol, thumping it down on the left. You could hear a pin drop.

He began, "My name is C.P. Hamby and I’ve been sent by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South to lead a revival and start a new church. And I heard what you said lady!"

He pointed to the woman by the aisle.

"This short preacher can’t change this town, but God certainly can. And if you don’t believe me, I have two boys up here, and each of them speaks six times. I’d be glad to have a conversation with you!"

Later that week, thirty bootleggers professed faith in Christ, and the church has been going ever since. It is now called Genesis United Methodist Church.

Times have changed since the 1920’s. I certainly would never mix guns and religion. But when I get discouraged, I remember Grandpa Hamby. He risked his life for a gospel worth dying for. The fire in his soul was

stronger than the fear in his heart.

Present-day Genesis UMC. To see the article electronically published by The Huntsville Times, click this link.