The Christian Year: One Person’s Journey
How do you get started if your congregation and your staff knows little about the Christian Year? Some of you are undoubtedly in congregations that are quite familiar with it. But many others are not and don’t know quite where to begin.
Perhaps it will help if I take you into my journey of learning the Christian Year. Shortly after arriving in my fourth pastorate, where I spent 24 years, I began to realize that there would be great benefit from more attention to the Christian Year. The problem—I knew very little about it. I grew up in a congregation that regularly observed Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and Pentecost—but no more. So my knowledge of the Christian Year simply did not exist! And what’s more, my seminary education paid no attention to it either. My first three pastorates cared very little about something they didn’t know about! So here I was, half-way through a life-time of ministry, with virtually no experience in observing the Christian Year, very little awareness of what I was missing, and even less awareness of where to begin to make up for that deficit. And yet I heard many comments from other pastors about the value of the Christian Year and how good it was for their worship life as a congregation.
Where was I to begin? Very soon I discovered that others were dealing with the same questions I had. A colleague, the Director of Music, had many of the same concerns but was a bit ahead of me in the level of exposure to the possibilities of the Christian Year. We knew we needed to combine our efforts to lead the congregation in this new area. And it became clear that our efforts needed to be a balance of learning and teaching. We had to learn ourselves, and we had to be prepared to teach others.
So we made a commitment to learn. We read and studied materials that took us into the history and practice of the Christian Year. We attended conferences where we were exposed to the Christian Year. We paid close attention to the way our Children’s Ministry incorporated the Christian Year. And we began to think about the ways in which our worship life would be impacted.
At the same time we sought opportunities to teach. Three ready-made groups seemed the most likely places to begin. While I began to teach the church elders about it, the Director of Music did the same with the Music Task Force. Together we set aside time at the monthly meeting of the Worship Committee to engage them in conversations on the matter. Gradually the circle of those in the congregation who were more informed about the Christian Year grew.
During all of these efforts, our worship life was gradually being shaped more and more by what we were learning. My preaching plans took that into consideration. I planned sermon series that were appropriate to Christmas, Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, and Pentecost and scheduled those series for the weeks before each. I began to use the words “Advent”, “Lent” and “Eastertide” in my sermons, in worship services, and in the printed bulletin, so they became familiar to the congregation. When convenient, I took the opportunity to explain matters to the congregation, such as why Advent is not the same as Christmas, what Epiphany means, the purpose of Lent and the weeks after Easter, etc. From time to time I would use “The Pastor’s Corner” in our monthly newsletter to explain a little more of it. Little by little the awareness of the congregation about such matters grew. They may not have known a lot about all of it, but they knew it was present.
It all took patience. As a matter of fact, it took nearly five years. We were intent on not moving faster than the congregation was ready to handle. But with an incremental introduction of the practice of the Christian Year, we gradually came to the point where it was possible to include the subject in an Adult Education class and address the whole matter more directly. Momentum was building.
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