One of the joys that comes from being in a multiethnic, economically diverse church is the constant exposure you get to experiences that are different than your own. I suppose that can feel a bit overwhelming at times, but overall I consider this a true gift. I love to learn new things, discover new perspectives, and discover aspects of God and life that remained previously unseen to me.
One of the new arenas of interest for me lately has been the (re)-discovery of the Christian calendar, and the significance of each season in the life of Christ. I vaguely remember hearing terms like Advent, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Pentecost Sunday and Lent growing up, but I really didn’t know what any of them meant. And I definitely had no idea how they were all linked together in joining a historic chorus of voices committed to honoring and tracking the full life of Christ.
I’ve also become curious as to how well the people in my congregation know the Christian calendar. So two Sundays ago I did an informal poll at the beginning of my sermon. I gave everyone three categories, and asked them to raise hands for which one matched their experience best when it came to the Church calendar:
- You grew up in a church background that followed the Christian calendar, and you feel like you have a solid understanding of what that means
- You didn’t grow up around the Christian calendar, but you still feel like you have a solid understanding of what that means
- You have no idea what people are talking about when they talk about the Christian calendar (and I tried to give permission to those in this category by mentioning that this was the one I fell in historically)
I should have probably expected the response – we were almost evenly divided between each of the three categories!
I only spent another couple minutes on this topic, because it wasn’t the main point of the sermon. But here is what I shared on the topic:
I am by nature a very in-the-moment person (high “P” on the Myers-Briggs if that means anything to you). I don’t like to get too far ahead in my thinking about much of anything, because I start to feel anxiety that I won’t be able to properly respond to whatever the current challenge is if things are too pre-planned. There are some advantages to a personality like this, and some clear disadvantages if I’m not balanced by different personalities.
One of the reasons I’m enjoying learning about the historic Christian calendar is because it helps guard against my in-the-moment personality. As I’m sure it does for most pastors, my personality bleeds into the personality of the church. I want River City to be a place that can respond to the current challenges of the day, and that consistently remains alert to the in-the-moment word of God.
However, I realize there are blind spots that come with that type of mindset. As Carlos Ruiz, one of the pastors at River City often says, the American Church is very susceptible to fads. We get caught up in whatever the latest thing is, and then end up revolving the life and programming of the church around whatever that fad is. By staying connected to the historic Christian calendar, we guard against this susceptibility of being caught up in a fad, and instead keep our eyes fixed on the holistic life of Christ.
So that’s one of my new commitments! I’m trying to live with a foot in each world. I want to remain alert to the in-the-moment voice of God, and respond to the challenges of our day, time, and place. But I also want to keep one foot in the historic Christian calendar. I want to rely on and learn from tradition, and I want to guard both myself and the congregation I’m part of from falling into whatever the latest fad is.
How about you? What’s your journey been like with the Christian calendar?