Recently I had the opportunity to worship in an African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) congregation. Part of the worship style of this church includes frequent voicing of AMEN, something I thought I understood until that day’s experience. Follow my thoughts into what may also be new for you—about AMEN as a feature of the worship of God.
The literal meaning of AMEN hearkens back to the Hebrew: truth. The Semitic root a-m-n includes these additional ideas: to be trustworthy, confirm or support. (See Deuteronomy 27:26 or I Kings 1:36 for some perhaps-strange examples.) Used adverbially, AMEN becomes an expression of agreement. Over the centuries of transferred meaning—Ecclesiastical Greek to Latin to Old English to Modern English—this word has also come to mean something akin to “Yea, Lord, may it be so.” So an AMEN-sayer would be agreeing with the truth or worthiness of an idea, affirming God’s power to make something true, to make something happen.
The forceful expression of AMEN! serves as a verbal affirmation of words spoken in sermons and in prayers. Preachers and supplicants might even ask, “Can I get an Amen here?” as a way of encouraging worshippers to find agreement in assured truth.
On that Sunday, I heard these familiar uses of AMEN. But something else was also going on, something I had not realized before. In this congregation “I agree with you” was supplemented by another meaning. There were several places—in prayers, announcements, presentations—when a requested AMEN response called for something else, something profound.
It turns out that several of the requested AMEN’s really meant, “Yes, I agree to this truth, and I promise to make it happen.” In short, “Yes, I’ll do that!” These AMEN’s weren’t so much about agreeing with the pastor or acknowledging that God should do something. Instead the persons voicing their AMEN’s were also agreeing that they would be part of that truth. That they would show up, get to work on this matter, pitch in, contribute to a cause or volunteer for a congregational effort. Their AMEN’s were closer to “Me, too! I’m in on this! I want to make this happen!”
Something significant is going on here, I think. Because a loudly voiced AMEN is clearly heard, we know who it’s connected to. Moving deeper into whole-life stewardship, this variety of AMEN is like a spoken commitment card with a name and face attached to it. Nothing anonymous about that kind of AMEN! From the standpoint of motivational psychology, these AMEN’s are the essence of any pledge. They are measurable evidence of actions to come. Because of these AMEN’s, invitations are issued and accepted, challenges are brought forward and taken up. Change is coming.
Most of the members of this congregation were older adults, which made their AMEN’s even more significant. These worshippers were still willing to engage societal needs and ills, still able to take up portions of the congregation’s mission, still eager to be part of God’s will in that place. In this church, “may it be so” may have an older face attached to it, but the power of AMEN! remains strong.
And may it be so among us!