Hugh Baker welcomes the interest in the church calendar coming as it did from a most unexpected source
Every year, our Leadership Team plans the years Cell material. Those of you acquainted with Cell church will understand that this determines a church’s teaching programme for the year, and hence moulds its character. Weekly Cell teaching and Sunday preaching run in parallel, so what the Cell applies to everyday life mid week has been more academically set out in Sundays sermon. Past years’ programmes betray our interests: ‘Gifts of the Spirit in today’s society’; ‘Outreach in a non-community-based society’; ‘Walk-on actors in the Book of Acts’. Our charismatic, evangelical nature thus reinforces itself.
Advent to Ascension
Next year, they’re going for a change. The big green will indeed be given over to slabs of Bible teaching; but, from Advent to Ascension, Sunday teaching and Cell application will— follow the Lectionary from Advent to Ascension. This may seem unremarkable to you, dear reader, but to me it’s little short of a miracle. These are people who grew up as Pentecostals, Baptists or the most nominal CofEs: the furniture of Anglicanism is a total mystery to them. Do you remember, as a bored child leafing through the Prayer Book and trying to fathom Golden Numbers? These are folk who’ve never seen a Prayer Book. Their vicar has never tried to foist, untimely, these esoterica on them: accordingly, he applauds their unforced decision to follow the rhythm of the Church’s year. Let me share a little of their deliberations with you. Contributors to last month’s New Directions aren’t the only people who have concluded that Christmas is now only ‘for the children’. ‘Naff sentimental fodder’ was one Leader’s view of what we had on offer over the 2006 festive season. We reached the conclusion that ‘the problem with Christmas’ was that it had been cut free from its moorings. With no Advent preparation, the first coming as Saviour was not seen in the context of the sweep of biblical history. Without the drama of Epiphany, how could we begin to understand what’s described in the feasts that follow? Wrenched from its context, all we were left with was baby Jesus. This, is turn, reinforces the reduction of Christ to a Good Man Whose Example We Ought (if it’s expedient and not offensive to our neighbours) To Follow.
The value of furniture
Whence comes this ecclesiastical illumination? I blame the diocese, and foreign holidays. Some of my Team have trained as Readers, and crafty diocesan apparatchiks have sent them on placements to incense-infested Black Country fanes, where they’ve looked and learnt. For another, it was the sight of a motley collection of gaudy advertising vehicles, accompanied by children throwing sweets at the crowd, culminating in three men on camels, winding through Playa de las Americas High Street on 6 January, that made him question what British cribs had taught him from infancy.
My Leadership Team’s deliberations are one small part of a large process going on: the Church, like every other historic institution surrounded by a whirlpool of change, is trying to sort out what is useful to keep for the proclamation of the Gospel, and what is a hindrance. There are, of course, reasons good and bad for keeping the furniture. Institutions change more slowly than people, and if they’re not careful they attract support not from those who believe central their message, so much as from those who want an isle of security in a sea of puzzling change. This can be particularly true for those who have lived all their life in one place, and so cannot measure what they see through any lens of comparison.
Even so, there are compelling reasons for keeping some things as they are, even in the face of pressures to change. I’m cheered that my Leadership Team can see this.