Songwriter goes deep with UMC slogan

More than one United Methodist luminary has lamented the absence of anything overtly Christian in the denomination’s marketing slogan “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.”

Trent Chudej, a 22-year-old member of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Arkansas, felt challenged to do something more theological with it.

Already a prolific songwriter, he went to work last fall, expanding the slogan into verses, using the Apostles’ Creed for a chorus, and adding a melody that is at times delicate, at times intense. He called the result “Hearts Minds and Doors.”

The worship song had its big-venue debut last month at the Arkansas Annual Conference. Mr. Chudej (pronounced WHO-JAY) and other musicians from the Wesley Foundation played it to an audience of more than 1,000.

One happy witness was the Rev. Gary Lunsford, who had suggested the band be on the program, and reports a strong response to the song.

“Trent’s enthusiasm is incredible,” he said. “When he sings, it grabs everybody.”

Trent Chudej

Mr. Chudej remains pumped.

“We stayed the whole three days [of Annual Conference], and even on the day when everybody was leaving, we still had people coming up and wanting chord charts or wanting us to come play it at their church,” he said.

Mr. Chudej, of Tyler, Texas, recently finished his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, and will begin a master’s in math at the University of Arkansas this fall. At the Wesley Foundation, he’s been a leader of the band, but also one who has delved deeply into theological discussion and study.

“He’s been an integral part of the rebuilding of the ministry here,” said the Rev. Omar Rikabi, campus minister at the Wesley Foundation.

Mr. Rikabi notes that even most United Methodist students at the University of Arkansas arrive knowing little if anything about such Wesleyan ideas as prevenient grace. He has tried to correct that, and Mr. Chudej has been right there with him.

“He really felt like we were watching people leave the Methodist church, looking for a deeper theology,” Mr. Rikabi said. “We’ve got one, but we don’t talk about it.”

Last September, the associate campus minister, Amanda Cofer, brought up for discussion a blog post written by Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary.

Dr. Tennent’s post dealt, in part, with the UMC’s slogan, which debuted in 2001. He wrote: “It says nothing about our great communion with the global church around the world and back through time. It says nothing about the beauty and power of Jesus Christ.  It affirms, at best, congenial niceness, while carefully avoiding anything about Christian identity. The phrase ‘open hearts, open minds, open doors’ could very well have been a sign hanging over a 19th century brothel.’”

Dr. Tennent’s argument resonated with Mr. Rikabi, who had long found the slogan lacking. Mr. Chudej liked the slogan, particularly its commitment to openness. But he, too, felt Dr. Tennent had a point.

“That slogan says nothing about what we believe,” Mr. Chudej said. “It just says we’ll accept people. It’s not inviting people to accept Jesus Christ and to truly dive into our Wesleyan theology.”

Trent Chudej (second from left) led musicians from the Wesley Foundation at the University of Arkansas in playing his song “Hearts Minds and Doors” at the Arkansas Conference annual gathering in June. PHOTO COURTESY ARKANSAS CONFERENCE

Written in class

Mr. Chudej said it was after a Wesley Foundation discussion about the need for theological depth that he began to think of writing a song based on the UMC slogan.

“I went to my class, and I actually cranked it out during my teacher’s lecture, which is kind of bad,” he said with a laugh. “The lyrics came first, then the music came along.”

Mr. Chudej’s verses play off the slogan—“Father open our minds, we long for your sight, help us to see, all around is your glory”—and the chorus draws directly from the Apostles’ Creed, the faith statement that began in the early church and affirms belief in the trinity, the resurrection and the communion of the saints.

Mr. Rikabi recalls when he first heard Mr. Chudej’s effort, last fall.

“He walked in one day and said, ‘Hey, I’ve been working on this song where I try to redeem our media slogan,’” he said. “It was like he’d taken the Apostles’ Creed and crammed it down the ‘Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors’ motto’s throat.”

Mr. Chudej performed the song in November at Wiggins Memorial UMC in Fayetteville, Ark., where Mr. Lunsford was pastor. Eventually “Hearts Minds and Doors” became part of the repertoire of Broken Together, the informal ensemble of Wesley Foundation musicians, which plays for Tuesday night worship services there and at local churches.

Even before Mr. Chudej wrote “Hearts Minds and Doors,” Mr. Lunsford had recommended that the Wesley Foundation group play at Annual Conference. Their performance of the song prompted a run on the home-made CDs they’d brought along, featuring that number and a few others.

A free demo is online and Mr. Chudej thinks a music video will come together soon.

For Mr. Rikabi, “Hearts Minds and Doors” has mustard seed possibilities, growing into something big and influential.

“Our hope is that this song, as well as some of the others ones we recorded, are a prophetic voice to the church, and a resource,” he said.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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