The liturgical year offers us the discipline to follow in the steps of Christ during his ministry on earth. It is a compass for worship, and one I grew up with in the Lutheran Church and still cherish.
We are now at the beginning of a new church year in Advent, Year C in the three-year liturgical cycle. Advent is the shortest season and easily overshadowed by the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations. But I believe Advent is quite special, and can be of value to us if we so choose.
The word Advent is derived from the Latin Adventus meaning "coming." The season has been in existence from at least the 5th century. Advent traditionally recognizes three aspects of Christ's return: the incarnation in the manger, presence in our hearts daily, and the return of Christ at the end of all things. In our modern day progressive outlook, one could say that it's the birth of Christ and God's message of salvation to the world that is of prime focus. But is Advent just a nod to tradition in our worship services or is there more?
If we think about it, many of us already have an Advent state of mind post-Thanksgiving: shopping for Christmas presents, planning trips to see friends and relatives, or preparing one's home for guests. We are getting ready, staying awake, preparing for the coming of...something.
For myself, I can always use a little introspection, a little penitence. And Advent has those qualities built in, though not quite as overt as in Lent. But we can take stock of ourselves, make changes, and be grateful for God's presence in our lives. Remind ourselves to just listen to that small voice within.
Musically, the liturgical year has provided an abundance of inspiration to composers over the centuries. Advent is no exception, ranging from the chorale preludes of Bach and Buxtehude, masterworks such as Part One of Handel's Messiah to contemporary compositions by Olivier Messiaen, Arvo Pärt, and John Rutter.
So, Christmas will come, soon enough. Let's enjoy the journey there and stay centered, tethered to what really matters. I leave you with a poem by MaryAnn Jindra. The Chancel Choir sang this text in a setting by composer Libby Larsen last year, "Lord, Before This Fleeting Season." It encapsulates the meaning of Advent far better than I could ever do. Let's give Advent a chance to offer clarity in our busy lives.
Lord, before this fleeting season is upon us,
Let me remember to walk slowly.
Lord, bless my heart with love and with quiet.
Give my heart a leaning to hear carols.
Grace our family with contentment,
And the peace that comes only from You.
Lord, help us to do less this busy season;
Go less; stay closer to home; kneel more.
May our hearts be Your heart.
May we simply, peacefully, celebrate You.
Mark Heiskanen has been Plymouth's Director of Music since September 2017. Originally from Northeast Ohio, Mark has experience and great interest in a diverse range of musical styles including jazz, rock, musical theatre, and gospel. He is thrilled to serve a congregation and staff that values diversity and inclusion in all facets of life. Read his mostly-weekly Music Minute here.
Growing up, my extended family alternated who hosted Thanksgiving Dinner. It was a dance between mom’s side and dad’s side, grandparents hosting and aunts and uncles hosting. The years my parents hosted were a mixed bag. The best part was getting all the leftovers filling our fridge, the worst being all the prep work that went into the meal. My mom is an amazing woman, but you don’t mess with her when company is coming over. My brother and I would take turns hiding from mom as she tried to get us to help out. He was better at hiding than me so I got a lot of extra chores. Not that I’m still bitter about that...
After all the hours of cleaning, baking, cooking and setting the table we would sit down to eat together. My mom would always marvel and bemoan how much work went into the meal and how quickly we all gobbled it up. All that prep and we’re ready for our post-dinner naps in 20 minutes.
This hectic pace is how the holiday season seems to go. It is lots of work, planning, traveling, stress etc. -- and it's over in the blink of an eye. The radio is already playing the songs reminding us "it’s the most wonderful time of the year" yet sometimes it is hard to enjoy the season. Between the to-do lists, decorating, shopping, holiday parties, travel, end of semester exams, short days and long nights the time between now and New Years can feel rather overwhelming. In all the hustle and bustle it is the slow moments that we tend to find the most meaning.
Holiday comes from an old English word meaning Holy Day. In the midst of the busyness it’s really hard for me to remember that. These are holy days, holy moments of love, gratitude, and community. Too often the Holy Spirit is crowded out of these days by the busyness of the season.
I wonder what it would look like if we gave ourselves permission to slow down this holy-day season. What would it look like if we gave ourselves permission to let go of some of the to-do-list? What would happen if we didn’t worry about the food or the decorations being as perfect as Grandma would have done them? (My Grandma Joyce could beat Martha Stewart in a decorating or baking competition any day; I did not inherit that skill). What if we spent less energy on presents and more energy being present?
This holiday season, starting with dinner on Thursday, I’m going to intentionally slow down and be more mindful. I am going to give myself permission to enjoy the season and not spend all my energy preparing for it. I will spend more time connecting with friends and family and less time chasing the latest sale or instagram decorating trend.
How will you spend your holiday season? How will you put the holy back in your holidays?
Grace and Peace,
Director of Christian Formation for Children & Youth, Mandy Hall began her ministry at Plymouth in August of 2014. She is originally from Michigan where she followed her call to ministry to become a Deacon in the United Methodist Church. Her passion is helping young people grow in faith in creative and meaningful ways. Read more.
As I was driving home from church after our Leadership Council meeting last night, I saw Christmas lights illuminating homes in my neighborhood…wait…it’s not Thanksgiving yet…I haven’t heard holiday Muzak yet…wasn’t it just summer???
Without stressing you out, Christmas is coming; and Plymouth does something wonderful to help your gift-giving each year by hosting the Alternative Giving Fair. In fact, it’s happening this Sunday after the 9:00 and 11:00 services.
There are a lot of things that I love about the Alternative Giving Fair:
Doing some of your Christmas shopping helps three people: you (because you are getting your shopping done easily), the people the organization you are supporting serves, and the recipient of your gift, whose heart will surely be warmed.
I’ve loved the Fair as a purchaser and admirer, and this year Jane Anne and I are turning the tables to support the Iona Community and its capital appeal to make Iona Abbey accessible and environmentally sustainable…tough with a 13th c. building. We’ve made sets of prayer beads (that come with a cycle of Celtic prayers we’ve compiled) that we’ll be selling, with all proceeds going to the Iona Capital Appeal.
I encourage you to come on Sunday morning and join us in this annual festive and meaningful experience!
Merry Christmas…even though it’s not even Thanksgiving or Advent!
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.
The smell of autumn was in the air rolling down from the foothills in the distance. The sound of the now stiff and dry leaves clinging to branches and falling to the sidewalk echoed in my ears. It was a perfect Fort Collins blue sky, fresh, October Friday afternoon. You know the kind of day I am talking about? It could not have been a more beautiful day.
This was about a month ago, and I was doing what I had done every clergy-day-off (my Fridays) since April—walking for a campaign. I love having conversations with strangers about a political candidate I believe in. Regardless of where we all fall on the political spectrum, there is something wonderful about celebrating our democracy and beliefs by walking and meeting with other people. As a card-carrying extravert, there is nothing I love more than an election year autumnal canvas on a beautiful day. It combines four things I love: policy, speaking with new strangers, touring neighborhoods, and walking outside! I am giddy even typing about it.
I do pray for change in the world, but canvassing has been my spiritual practice to make good on my part of the deal.
While ministers do not bring politics to work, we can and should speak more about the importance of being involved in the process. All of this walking has paid off—20 lbs. lost, and three worn out pairs of shoes later, I feel like I am making a difference. Who says politics isn’t good for you!? Those soles were good for my soul. :)
I have been a local walker in Fort Collins since well before I could even vote. Canvassing in our beautiful community is an extension of my theological understanding of what I believe we are called to do as Christians. We are called to get involved and work for the greater good.
Something, however, is wrong. Something is gravely wrong with our community this year. Something is wrong with Fort Collins.
On that beautiful day, I greeted a man in his front yard who was on my walking list with a “Good Morning, Sir, I’m walking today for x who is running for y. How are you this beautiful day?” His response was to yell in my face “I hope you go to hell!” He held his rake like a weapon. I stood in shock before trying to regain my perennial smile and continue walking. In my entire life, nobody has ever said that to me; especially, with such sincere and earnest hope that it would actually come true. He really wanted me to go to hell simply for walking for my candidate! In that moment, I was overcome with one of the greatest feelings of sadness and clarity I have ever experienced.
Of course, he never would have known that he said that to a minister. In retrospect, I wonder what kind of anger could stoke such a verbally violent response to a stranger’s friendly greeting even if he didn’t like my candidate. What kind of hate is afoot in our city? It scares me. It worries me. It turns me to prayer. Sadness.
I have had doors slammed and hate speech uttered. I have been threatened this year. In all of my years walking, never have I experienced the feeling that even our fair city is coming apart at the social, communal, collective seams. Beyond the façade of inclusion, bike trails, and tidy parks, something is very wrong here…and probably everywhere. In all of my years of campaigning, never have I seen anything like this.
As a local minister, more than as a canvasser, this absolutely breaks my heart. Something is wrong with my beloved Fort Collins and Northern Colorado.
I do, of course, hope that you vote today (if you haven’t already). Regardless of your political leanings, I really do hope that you vote. And I hope in April, during the upcoming Municipal Elections, that you get involved and care. Be nice to canvassers, even if you don’t like their candidates. More than anything, I pray that you don’t give up on love.
This is my business. It is the business of the Church. It is the business of rediscovering fundamental ethics.
Lastly, I pray that the neighbor whose hatred was so strong receives abundant blessing in this coming year. I pray that God will bless him and his family. I pray with sincere hope that he finds God’s peace. I don’t know him, but as my neighbor in this city, I hope whatever fear and anger would make him act that way will be no more. I pray for his peace, for his peace is my peace as his neighbor. We are tied together now.
It is not the business of the Church to get involved in politics, but it is our business to find better ways of treating people. Regardless of the outcome of the midterm election, we have work to do to fix Fort Collins, Colorado, and our country. If we start treating our daily lives and disagreements like political television attack advertising, then maybe every faith community in Fort Collins needs to return to the fundamentals of love of neighbor. Please don’t hope, no matter how much you may disagree with them, that your political opposites go to hell. That is a sure way to make sure that none of us ever finds peace.
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph
(or just Jake)
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph ("just Jake"), Associate Minister, came to Plymouth in 2014 having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Read more about him on our staff page.
You may have noticed over the last few years that we’ve shifted the language we use to describe how we learn, grow and thrive in faith. Once called “Christian Education,” we now use the term “Christian Formation.” It moves us away from a focus on beliefs and solely cerebral activities towards an understanding of Christian growth rooted in the whole person. As the great commandment says, we come to “love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength.” Theological information is still vital, but it is not the only driver of growth; we need to feel, relate, and act. Human personhood is multifaceted, so how we are nurtured, the way we are shaped, the way we are formed into the fullness of mature faith uses many tools. Hence, Christian Formation helps our life in Christ to thrive.
At Plymouth, we also have the gift of permission to try new things. Some wag said that the “Last 7 Words of the Church” are “But we’ve always done it this way!” Familiar ways of doing something like Sunday School are actually pretty recent history. “Sunday school” as general education for children working in factories began in the 1780s. But it was only in the early 20th century that it became the primary engine of Christian education connected with Sunday morning church, dropping the reading, writing and arithmetic. So we count ourselves quite free to innovate with the hour between services we have designated for Formation, and also to extend Formation programs to other times and places. We can discover fresh ways to thrive in our faith!
All through the month of November, we will experiment with different ways of growing in faith, keyed to the theme of Thrive and informed by Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.” These experiences are designed so you can drop into them after coming from Totenfest, enjoying the Pie Potluck, or shopping at the Alternative Giving Fair. There are different activities in each room:
• Labyrinth: The outdoor labyrinth is open to walk, meditate, and enjoy (bundle up if the weather is bad).
• Forum Room: A different video (about 15 minutes) each week on various life-and-faith topics, by Rob Bell, followed by discussion. Video starts at 10:20 a.m.
• North Adult Ed Room: A quiet place for meditation, curated by the Centering Prayer and Healing Prayer groups.
• Club 45 Room: Honoring the Cloud of Witnesses. A place to consider the people who have formed your life journey, thanking God for their impact on you, by writing and drawing.
• Fireside Room: Poem Scrabble, playing with Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.”
• Sprouts Room (starting Nov. 11): Faith is a Growing Thing. Plant seeds in small pots to grow in a sunny place at home, and consider the spirituality of nurturing life.
• North Room (starting Nov. 18): Make an Advent Box for your family to prepare for Christmas.
To help you keep track of your travels through the building and month, use the Passport we will make available at a table in the Fellowship Hall. As you complete each spiritual practice, get a stamp in your passport. Yes, this is inspired by the Pilgrim Passport of the Camino de Santiago. Get four stamps and at the end of the month, turn it in to get a fun prize!
One of the great gifts that Church provides is the opportunity for intergenerational learning. These spiritual practices are designed for all ages, and we encourage children to go through the month accompanied by their favorite adults. Parents, grand-parents, gay uncle-recruited-for-the-occasion, all will be blessed by the chance to engage these activities together with children. Some will even lend themselves to use at home later on.
In these conflicted times, we need to tap into all sorts of different spiritual resources. I trust you will find these experiences helpful. I am writing this before going to the vigil in Old Town for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. And as I reviewed yet again Maya Angelou’s poem, this stanza stood out to me:
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Rev. Dr. Mark Lee
The Rev. Dr. Mark Lee,