The Methodist church where we attended from when I was a baby up until just before confirmation used the hymn Shalom to You, UMH #666, as a benediction for many, many years. At the close of service, the pastor would give his spoken benediction, and then the words to this would be projected onto the wall, and we would all reach across the aisles to grab the hands of our neighbors while the organist played the introduction. We would all look around at each other, a church family, and we became closer to each other in our Christian journey together as we sang,
Shalom to you now, shalom, my friends.
May God’s full mercies bless you, my friends.
In all your living and through your loving,
Christ be your shalom. Christ be your shalom.
My memories of this hymn, especially of singing it with my dad, make singing it in worship an intensely personal experience. He and I would always hold hands during this hymn; even if we weren’t sitting next to each other I’d reach across my brother to grab my dad’s hand, because it was “our” thing. Whenever we sang the word “you”, I’d try to turn my hand to point to him saying, “Shalom to YOU!” and he’d do the same thing, trying to point to me, and we’d end up twisting and wiggling around and eventually having to stifle giggles while my mom pretended to be irritated at our antics. At that age, goofing around with my dad was my absolute favorite part of the service, and when I sing it now, I smile at the memories that are inextricably connected to that hymn.
Now that I’m older, I realize this hymn has shaped how I believe a church family ought to be, as well as the church’s place in a community and in the world as a whole. Christians spend far too much time criticizing each other, arguing, disputing, trying to prove each other wrong, and not only is that tiresome, but it’s not the way to spread Christ’s love throughout the earth. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and we forget that when we get mired down in the nit-picky-ness of church politics and personal disputes, and arguments about who is a “better” Christian, or which denomination has got it “right”.
The conference’s pairing of the English text with a traditional Spanish melody was also an expression of unity– a reminder that American Christians are not the only Christians in the world, and that we need to live in unity with the global Christian church, supporting and encouraging each other across traditions, countries, and continents.
Singing that hymn as a benediction was a brilliant thing for that church to do. It brought us together, it reminded us of who we were as a church family, and of why we were there, and it sent us into the world feeling that connection among our Christian brothers and sisters. The hymn expresses sentiments that seem often lacking in churches, sentiments of unity and love that we should be striving to further in our own congregations and in the world.
So, shalom, my friends, until we meet again 🙂