Our Church Calendars

Our Church Calendars

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Sunday, November 6, 2022

I think there’s wisdom in the church calendar, I don’t think we need to slavishly follow it—in fact enforcing it is probably against Paul’s instructions (Galatians 4). There is something wise about catechising our people to think Christianly about their lives by shaping what we do across the year (and not necessarily just on Sunday) to fit the shape of the gospel. We will adopt a pattern of annual rhythms as a church whatever we do, it is inevitable, so it seems really strange to me that we would be shaped by anything other than the story of Jesus’ victory over sin, Satan, and Death.

Israel had a cycle of a weekly Sabbath, seven feasts a year, a sabbatical year every seventh year, and a Jubliee year every seventh sabbatical year. Their days were patterned for them, and it was wisdom to follow them.

They function how the Church calendar was designed by our Christian forbears to function for us—now of course that doesn’t hold the same force, it is set by the Church’s tradition rather than the word of God, but it holds some force—each year the story of the gospel, God’s dealings with humanity, are re-enacted for us in our cycle of Advent-Christmas-Epiphany-Lent-Easter-Ascension-Pentecost.

I’m a non-conformist and happily so, but I like the calendar because of what I read in the Old Testament Law. This is good for us to do as well for much the same reasons as them. It’s important to note though that it fits in the category of wisdom and not law. Paul has plenty to say about those who were enforcing the celebration of days and seasons on the New Testament church (Galatians 4).

Of course, almost every non-conformist church I’ve met still follows a church calendar. We follow the academic year, despite this only really being relevant for teachers and those with young children—I appreciate Paul Blackham’s suggestion that since this is irrelevant for the vast majority of any church, we should largely ignore it. Honestly, who cares if it’s half-term? The academic year means more to me than most since I work in a University, but it isn’t that academic year that most churches I know map onto.

We might well do something for Christmas and Easter—most will, but probably avoid Christmas Day due to the reality of not being able to get access to our venues. Which is understandable, but then we assume Christmas is over immediately rather than enjoy the whole twelve-day feast.

Most likely though its other considerations which form our liturgical calendar, particularly the national calendar. We celebrate Mother’s Day in March, Father’s Day in June, and Remembrance Sunday in November. We probably acknowledge Halloween exists by doing something for it, but ignore Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sundays. What particularly makes this weird is that those last three are still baked into our national character—factories are likely to be closed around Whit Week, we still have a Bank Holiday for Pentecost (though it’s now fixed and doesn’t always coincide), and in the upper echelons of society they name their ‘terms’ after these festivals.

It makes sense to me that the national church provides a religious angle on some of these national events—and a bunch more, including the Queen’s birthday—but it’s my non-conformism that means I don’t want to.

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