During the tedious midterm week leading up to spring break, students, faculty and community members took some time out of their busy schedules to attend Wednesday’s special chapel called “Songs of Iona” led by John Bell. What most audience members noticed immediately about Bell was his Scottish accent, which he addressed in the introduction of his presentation.
“It’s better for me to sing than speak, because you all have an accent,” he joked, promising to speak slowly.
Bell’s animated and casual tone continued throughout his presentation, in which he led the audience in song and discussed the surprising origins of “European” hymns, the importance of caring for creation and the overlooked features of Jesus.
Bell is an ordained minister in the Church of Scotland, a musician and a composer. His work includes a number of collections of music, including hymns present in the “Sing the Journey” hymn book.
The Iona Community, based in Glasgow, Scotland, calls itself a community based on “the liberating power of Jesus Christ and a commitment to the personal and social transformation that spring from the vision and values of the gospel.” The community has a new theme every two years, the current theme being peace. A commitment to justice, peace and the integrity of creation are important values to the community.
On Wednesday, Bell explained that inspirations for his music mainly come from the musical traditions of other cultures. A main focus of his presentation was how the Celtic church traces many musical traditions back to places other than Europe, and especially to African cultures.
“There are gifts to receive from other places than Britain and Europe,” he says, “the rejuvenation of our interest in song has come from Africa.”
Over the course of the chapel, Bell introduced songs by explaining their origins and the messages behind them before leading the audience in song.
In between songs Bell also spoke about the surprising nature of Jesus, citing amongst other things Jesus’ affection for non-Jews and his straightforwardness concerning money as qualities that we don’t hear of very often. He also talked about Jesus’ lack of advocation for “traditional family values.”
“He came to initiate something that is bigger than the nuclear family,” he explained. He then explained that Jesus was a believer in a new kind of spiritual family, one that included everyone–even those who had no traditional family.
Bell’s next chapel is entitled “Ten Things They Never Told Me About Jesus” and will take place on Friday.