Home Equipping Leaders Teaching Is the Christian Year Relevant? (February 2010)

Is the Christian Year Relevant? (February 2010)

Mangers, Chrismons, stars, ashes, palm branches, the Passover, the cross, an empty tomb, tongues of fire. The cycle of the Christian year rehearses the stories and events that shape us as Christians, beginning with the anticipation of Jesus’ birth, moving through his life and ministry, his death and resurrection, the beginning of the Church, and our on-going life in Christ. The seasons of the Christian year are full of symbols and rituals that may seem far removed from life in the 21st century. Is it possible for these artifacts to be relevant to people in our congregations today?

I believe the Christian year provides an amazing opportunity for exploring Christian identity and purpose. What we are learning from brain research is that emotionally-laden experiences lead to strong memory formation and recall. In fact, when our emotions are not engaged, we often do not remember an experience at all. The "high, holy days" of the church year center around events that evoke deep emotion—anticipation of the birth of a child, amazement at signs of God’s presence among us, sorrow over broken relationships, fear of consequences, the joy of healing and reconciliation. There are common human experiences with themes that permeate the festivals of the Christian year, such as:

  • Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany: expectation, hope, readiness, new birth, recognition of the sacred, new life in baptism
  • Lent, Eastertide: introspection, sacrifice and suffering, penitence, death, grace, resurrection
  • Pentecost: transformation, call to ministry, community of believers, mission of the church

While we may rehearse the Christian year in worship, it is our classes and other small groups that provide the settings for reflection on how a particular season relates to our lives. Our classes and small groups provide the opportunity to "unpack" how a particular seasonal emphasis shapes who we are as God’s people and what God is calling us to do and be in our particular context. Short-term studies, workshops, and other learning experiences related to the seasons of the Christian year can serve as one dimension of your congregation’s plan for intentional faith development. (See Robert Schnase’s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.) These experiences can range from intergenerational festivals to studies designed for a particular age group.

As you lead your class or group, consider these questions:

  1. Is there an emphasis in worship that can be reinforced in your class or small group?
  2. During the next season of the church year, how can you help class members strengthen their use of spiritual disciplines, such as prayer or Bible study and their participation in works of mercy, just as advocacy or mission?
  3. How will you engage the emotions of group participants?
  4. How will you reflect on your congregation’s identity and purpose through the lens of the next season of the church year?

Carol F. Krau is the director of Adult Formation and Discipleship at the Discipleship Ministries in Nashville, TN.


For Further Reading

Liturgy and Learning Through the Life Cycle
By John H. Westerhoff, III, William H. Willimon. This is a book for those interested in the renewal of individual and corporate life through worship.
Available from Amazon.comfor $14.95.

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations
By Robert Schnase. The five practices include Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity.
Available throughCokesbury for $14.40.



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