From the Iona Community’s website, they define themselves in this way:
An ecumenical Christian community of men and women from different walks of life and different traditions in the Church engaged together, and with people of goodwill across the world, in acting, reflecting and praying for justice, peace and the integrity of creation; convinced that the inclusive community we seek must be embodied in the community we practice.
Iona was founded by Reverend George MacLeod in 1938, two years before Brother Roger founded Taizé. MacLeod was an officer in World War I, and it was this experience that lead him to ministry.1 He was a radical advocate for peace, economic equity, and service to God through service to your neighbor. Today, the Iona Community members commit to living by The Rule, keeping themselves and their community accountable for use of time and money, daily study of scripture, participation in worship, and working for peace and justice. Their publishing house, Wild Goose Publishing, is full of excellent worship and devotion resources, including an interactive daily morning prayer, which you can access here. Of their resources, the music written by John Bell is my particular topic this week.
I met John Bell when he was the conference preacher and youth keynote speaker at the Montreat Worship and Music Conference. It was probably 2003, but I couldn’t find archives of when it was precisely that he came, and my memory isn’t helpful… He made a big impression on me, but the biggest witness from that conference (in the early 00’s, mind you) was his story about the loving ministry two gay men had in the life of a woman he knew. The Presbyterian Church (USA) was divided on the question of full inclusion of LGBTQ+ members and pastors, and that division only intensified in the decade following that conference. I didn’t know that I knew gay folks, but my parents had already witnessed to me love for my gay neighbors. Even as a young person looking at an eventual vocation in music ministry, I knew that I cared about full inclusion and celebration of LGBTQ+ individuals. Although I’m a straight, cis-gendered woman, John Bell’s witness of love and acceptance was liberating for me, too. Our love for ourselves and for others is never separate, but interdependent. This hymn is about space but also about community, inclusion, love and care. God who loves us and cares for us delights when we do the same no exceptions made. It’s a wonderful hymn for beginning worship and intentionally creating a sacred space.
John Bell has collected and amplified music from Christian Communities around the world. Sometimes this means including music and words written together and other times he has provided music to words (here’s a song I discussed that fits into this latter category). This is his own composition and poetry. I could go on and on and on as I am so passionate about the work and witness of the Iona Community, but that’s not really what this blog is about. So if you’re interested in going deeper into Bell’s theology of worship and learning more of his music, I recommend this short video.
The song I have selected for this week is Praise God for this Holy Ground. I introduce it in this video, and have also recorded it at the organ.
Teaching just the refrain is a great place to start for young children. Older children might learn a few verses. Maybe reading through and discussing the ideas is where you and your family’s comfort level is at. You don’t need to learn it in order to learn from it. Lastly, may you find and create sacred spaces this week to come.
Praise God for this Holy Ground
Praise God for this holy ground, place and people, sight and sound. [Refrain:] Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah God’s goodness is eternal!
Praise God in whose word we find food for body, soul, and mind. [Refrain]
Praise God who through Christ makes known all are loved and called God’s own. [Refrain]
Praise God’s Spirit who befriends, raises, humbles, breaks, and mends. [Refrain]
Though praise ends, praise is begun where God’s will is gladly done. [Refrain]