Advent · Church of England · Church Year · Epiphany

New Year, New Start?

Well 2009 is under way and the oasis of calm I described in my last post is officially over. Sunday saw the start of the year in terms of services. With 2 down that’s only 102 principle service to go before 2010. (excluding 8 o’clock communions, evening services and festivals etc).

Of course that is not really the way to look at it, but there is a sense that my life has started to revolve around Sundays and the Church calendar. A wise lady with whom I live and I had a banter via Facebook recently (See a modern couple, we don’t talk we FB each other). Although it was only joky I realised looking back through the posts, that we had started defining our year by points in the liturgical calendar – Easter, Pentecost, Ascension day etc. Really I think life needs re-evaluating when instead of refering to March you talk of “meeting in lent!”

I guess such is the danger when you find yourself immersed in the life of an organisation that dances to a different drum machine. The Church year is a curiosity. For those of you who are uninitiated in the sometimes obscure ways of the CofE, the Church year begins on the first Sunday in Advent – generally the last Sunday of November (sometimes the first Sunday of December) and runs through Christmas – Lent – Easter – Pentecost – Ascension – Trinity and finally Christ the King (the last-but-one Sunday of November)taking into account a whole lot of minor seasons and feast days along the way.

The thing about the Church year is that it is abit of an Enigma. The year ma start in Advent but for most of us there are still two main ‘beginnings in any given year – September when the academic year kicks off and January when the New Year begins. Advent is simply the start of the pattern of feasts, festivals and remembrances that the Church follows. It has to start in Advent because that is the run up to Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Christ. It would be difficult to enter that season unprepared.

But surely such a year, that is out of step with the rest of the world is a bit of a misnomer?

Perhaps, but then there is a tradition and centuries (millennia?) old reasoning for the Church year – would it be right to turn our backs on that? I think not.

In reality the Church Year is a liturgical year, a way of measuring the seasons and cycle of the Church. It helps us navigate and properly remember the key points in our heritage and the essential events that are the centre of our Christian faith. Where would the Church be without the annual celebration of Easter?

Perhaps our attitude in the celebration make the difference. If we celebrate Epiphany (the visit of the wise men) because we always have as a Church then it becomes meaningless. If we celebrate it in a way that helps those outside the Church engage with faith and learn more about Christ then the season is worthwhile.

Of course it probably isn’t that simple, and I am sure there are many good reasons for celebrating these events. And although the Church is about mission and sharing the message of Jesus it does also need to sustain the people of faith as well and not everything we do can be centred around those outside of the Church. In my experience however a select few Church members ever make it to the traditional services that celebrate events like Epiphany or Ascension day. Perhaps because even within the Church, these days we find the Church Year a bit of a misnomer.

Perhaps more than anything that speaks to us of the places where we need to engage with folk both within and without the Church.


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