The Community of Christ celebrates a couple of large moments in church history this weekend, the adoption of a new hymnal and, tonight, the 20th presentation of its International Peace Award.
That award is going to the Rev. John L. Bell, a hymn writer and a pastor in the Iona Community in Scotland. Bell, some of whose songs are in the new hymnal, has spent much of his career working to bring songs from around the world, rather than a focus on just North America and Europe, into the canon.
He said he believes “that if the church (is) going to be truly global ... we have to have an exchange between north and south.”
Past winners of the Peace Award include Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman and researcher Jane Goodall. Last year’s winner was Tadatoshi Akiba, former mayor of Hiroshima, Japan, and an advocate for nuclear disarmament.
The award is presented during the church’s annual Peace Colloquy, which is held this weekend. He speaks during the opening service – his topic is “Hymns as Subversive Activity” – at 7:30 this evening at the Temple, which is at Walnut Avenue and River Boulevard in Independence. His address is followed by “Let Justice Flow Down,” which is in the new hymnal, “Community of Christ Sings.” The church says more than a dozen songs by Bell and Iona Community are in the new hymnal.
Bell, who played a key role in developing a new hymnal for the Church of Scotland, said there shouldn’t be a problem adapting to new material given that North American Christians for hundreds of years have sung songs translated from European languages. Some of those old songs, he points out, are rooted in a militant nationalism and sometimes a dismissal of non-Europeans as heathens. His work is part of the shift away from that approach.
Asked if there is one song of his that perhaps sums up his work and his ministry, Bells mentioned “The Summons,” which is No. 586 in the new hymnal. It begins with this verse:
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known, Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Song is critical in the life of the church, he said. Hymns come and go over the years – some last, some don’t, he agreed – but he said, “There are always new things to be writing about.”
He travels to the United States for a few weeks about three times a year, and he said he’s looking forward to visiting Independence.
“I do what I’m called to do,” he said. “I enjoy it completely.”