Wesleyan Worship Project (WWP) launched in May 2018 at Trinity Church, Indianapolis, with enthusiastic, yet tentative, certainty. Trinity Worship Director Josh Lavender and a dedicated team knew God had invited them to dig the wells of Wesleyan revival again through song but weren’t sure of next steps. Prayer generated their plan to invite worship leaders, writers, clergy and laity to resurrect and give new form to existing Wesleyan songs and to write new music, underscoring Wesleyan distinctives and becoming agents of transformation and discipleship.
Their hope was that refreshed sung worship and prayer would encourage people already engaged with God. They also wanted to help birth an experiential faith for those yet to encounter the Holy Spirit’s grace-filled amen as John and Charles Wesley did. Christian worship historian and original WWP team member Lester Ruth said, “When they (the Wesleys) had those dramatic experiences with the Spirit, it was a major shift. It was a vivification.
“To seek renewal through song is deeply Wesleyan. There is something intrinsic about the wonder of God and Jesus Christ that requires lyrical expression in a song.
“Those of us who are the spiritual descendants of the Wesleys have forfeited ground in terms of contemporary songwriting,” said Lester. “That’s a shame because expressing great theology in the form of a song is second nature to us. So, for Wesleyanism to be true to itself involves more than just singing the hymns of Charles Wesley, it means writing our own.”
“To seek renewal through song is deeply Wesleyan."
God’s grace leads
Four years later, Josh reflects, “Looking back, it seems like God was just getting us started, birthing a desire for songwriting in us.”
WWP retreat veteran Andrea Merrill, Worship Arts pastor, Eastern Hills Church, Williamsville, New York, says, “I think the WWP opened my eyes to the process of co-writes. I had personally never really done that, but after the first retreat we started having one-day songwriting retreats for our team in the same format. We implement new songs for our congregation — about one per sermon series — and teach through it about the ‘whys’ behind the write. It’s changed our worship culture in so many ways!”
Just as shared song and worship is building a deeper connection to sermon content and among churches involved with WWP, it’s also calling worship writers and pastors to deeper reflection.
"With this pandemic, there’s a renewed need for worship leaders to ask the question, ‘what do our people need to sing in this moment?"
“Something I noticed,” Josh said, “is that with this pandemic, there’s a renewed need for worship leaders to ask the question, ‘what do our people need to sing in this moment?’”
WWP has made resources available through individual song releases, and, in late 2020, debuted a 12-song collection, “Path of Peace.” The collection’s songs reflect the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in contributions of WWP teachers and worship leaders across generations and geographic locales from California to New York.
Adjunct Professor Yamil Acevedo, Crown College, St. Bonifacius, Minnesota, spoke on being an outsider during a WWP retreat. The resulting song, “Perfect Love,” is a prayer that God would fill our hearts and churches with tangible love lived out, painting a picture in words and music of how that would look.
Fill us with your kindness to welcome others home. Send us to the stranger so no one is alone.
Fill us with your mercy. Come and make us one. Teach us how to love …
Make my life a table. Make this place a home. Where everyone belongs.
And no one is alone. Make this church a family. Where everyone is known. And fill us with your love.
God’s grace amplifies
WWP impacts The Wesleyan Church and other parts of the Wesleyan/Methodist movement. Jonathan Powers, assistant worship professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, recently co-sponsored a WWP songwriting retreat during which Constance Cherry, Wesleyan worship author, Indiana Wesleyan University professor emeritus and Wesley Seminary affiliate professor, spoke on confession.
“Several churches with pastoral or worship staff who attended have introduced a confessional aspect into their service believing God is reviving it as an element of their Sunday worship,” said Josh.
“It is my belief that the Wesleyan Worship Project is a divinely inspired movement to enrich the song of the church, especially for believers in the pan-Wesleyan tradition,” said Constance. “It’s making a much-needed contribution to that end. The organizers have responded obediently to God's call and are faithfully pursuing the aspirations God has placed on their hearts. It’s exciting to be a part of the project."
Spring and fall retreats at Trinity continue and will be augmented by summer and winter retreats at Asbury Seminary. Plans are also in place for a worship summit, calling the matriarchs and patriarchs of the Wesleyan/Methodist movement together.
“It is my belief that the Wesleyan Worship Project is a
divinely inspired movement to enrich the song of the church, especially for believers in the pan-Wesleyan tradition.”
A dream and a prayer
The March 2022 retreat focused “… on awakening and how we can allow God to birth prayer in us,” said Josh. “Those who came learned to wait on God and discerned the Kairos — right time — as he renews our strength. The idea was that while we wait, we’re praying, we’re travailing. We’re asking for God to give us his heart for this moment, for our people, for this season. We wanted to know what it means to wait on God, what it means to travail in prayer for what God is asking and wanting.” David Thomas, SeedBed NewRoom Movement, who wrote his dissertation on travailing prayer, was the speaker.
At the heart of the Wesleyan Worship Project is awakening by grace, holiness, prayer and living into the future of God’s kingdom now.
As we again dig the wells of Wesleyan worship, we pray God may teach us his ways, that we may walk in his paths and sing his praises, everywhere to everywhere.