Celebrating Festivals as a Missional Community: Advent
All churches will differ in the way they celebrate the different festivals in the church calendar (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost etc), but engaging in these can be a really helpful way to add rhythm to your MC, and often these things can become part of your identity or like ‘family traditions’. They can also be a great way to involve your people of peace in your MC. Liz Lovell, Campus Chaplain at St Thomas’ Church Philadelphia in Sheffield, shares some of her tips and ideas on this topic.
The Liturgical Year is not about Sundays, rules and regulations, but about rhythm and creativity, richness of symbol, Word and Spirit, highs and lows. It is about celebration and memorial. Festivals help us celebrate our relationship with God, relationships in households and belonging community. They are opportunities for inviting others into our rich celebratory lifestyle. This was something I experienced when I was 12 and a Jewish school friend invited me to celebrate the Jewish ‘Feast of Tabernacles ‘with her family.
A festival is like a good meal – unhurried, joyful preparation, a celebratory meal followed by relaxation.
The challenge of Advent is choosing to ‘go against the flow’ of the world, making time for relaxed, enjoyable preparation, and using the period after Christmas to reflect and make life changes before the New Year.
Below are ideas used by households and Missional Communities – celebrating tradition yet bringing in the new.
• De-clutter before Decorating. To receive the new, first get rid of the old and make it fun! Items in good condition can be donated to charities. For children (as for all of us) it is discipleship in ‘simplicity’ and ‘generosity’. Are there things in your community and household lifestyle which need simplifying?
• The Advent Crown – with community, friends and neighbours make simple advent wreaths – 4 candles with a central candle set in greenery. Seasonal food, music and a simple ‘devotional time’ set the scene.
• Assail the Senses – find creative ways of doing this – scented candles, mulled wine, spiced biscuits, the Christmas Greatest hits CD, Christmas lights inside and out. Even making a Community Christmas Cake together is symbolic of the rich ingredients of a life lived together with Christ.
• Do things differently – food, music and decorations. Create new traditions and memories. Our children came to enjoy the classical albums and carols played in December. During Advent they came downstairs in pyjamas for bedtime stories, hot chocolate, spiced biscuits and candlelight. These simple pleasures can help us all engage with the ‘deep magic’ of the Narnia stories.
• Try something unusual – on the Christmas dinner table I put a small ‘gold’ bowl with tiny amounts of frankincense and myrrh. Others may not notice, but the symbols of someone else’s birth and death are there for me.
• Santa’s Grotto or Prayer stations? Yes – your home can be like a series of prayer stations!
o Well-worn decorations trigger memories. Use them to give thanks for these and for people who have helped your spiritual journey. Particular tree decorations can remind us of family and friends who we miss.
o The Nativity Scene was never static – try putting 1 item out each day or move the Wise Men gradually towards the stable each day.
o The Advent Calendar – along with chocolates or small gifts put verses of scripture in the pockets – one for each member of the household. How about a community calendar – each person responsible for one day?
o Put decorations, story books or Bibles open at the Christmas story in unusual places- as you move around the house they are reminders of who we celebrate. Yes – even the loo can be a place of reflection! Scented candles are particularly useful in this context!
o Use your home prayer stations when you gather as a community.
These ideas may be helpful but I would encourage you to create traditions which help you to look back yet eagerly look forward, so that like the Wise men you too can ‘go back a different way’. (Matthew 2:10 – 12)
Liz Lovell is married to John and they have 2 grown-up children. Liz is the Campus Chaplain for St Thomas’ Church Philadelphia, Sheffield.