So quirky Episcopalians that we are, we now enter into the season of Advent as the commercialized world surrounding us enters the season of Christmas. Don’t worry this isn’t another post about christmas creep or commercialization vs. holiness. It’s actually a post about how to practice being Episcopalian, without becoming inhospitable.
Here is a summary of exchanges which happen this time of year in many Episcopal circles. A seeker or less catechized Episcopalian already in our midst begins to make mention of Christmas, and with a scoff and an eyeroll an elitist pounces and announces that this is Advent, and not Christmas. The less educated person is confronted with a combination of embarrassment at their own state of mal-Formation and annoyance at the inhospitable way in which they are corrected. The elitist values practice over people and the seeker turns away and may never return.
An imbalance of catechism and formation
In fairness, we do explain it every year. So to a cradle practicing Episcopalian this Advent season is really second nature, and it seems a bit as though the person making the Christmas comment just stated that the next month will be February. It does feel a bit like common knowledge that everyone knows.
However, we need to be very very careful to combat this taking-for-granted of catechetical knowledge amongst both the initiated and the uninitiated, and we absolutely MUST meet a lack of knowledge with hospitality and an invitation. This is vital to our survival.
The vast majority of adult Episcopalians whom I have ever met, became Episcopalians after a time in another denomination. I don’t have data to back this up, but I would wager that the vast majority of people sitting in our pews have had little to no sunday school, formation or catechism within the Episcopal church.
In addition, there is a wide variety in what those courses entail and emphasize. Having recently attended my middle son’s confirmation classes was amazingly informative, despite the fact that I was myself confirmed nearly two decades ago. I can state unequivocally that my education centered on the book of common prayer and spend little to no time on the Bible itself. My son’s course spent the majority of weeks on understanding how to navigate the bible and develop an understanding of the relationships between its books with only the tail end dedicated to the BCP.
For the practising attender, who is not practising formation activities, and read a bulletin rather than a BCP, the knowledge may never have been stated in a way that was accessible or meaningful to them. I came across this just last week when talking about pericope that better than half of my Adult Sunday School class had no idea how to find or use the Lectionaries in the BCP. Worse, they didn’t even know that it was there. Add to that the church calendar which many have had hanging in their houses each year in memory and never had any idea of the types of information it contains. After an eye-opening discussion, I had to work pretty hard to let them know that not knowing is not being a “bad episcopalian” and that we can all learn and grow.
Hospitality and Love
Imagine for a minute that you are a lifelong developed expert at anything, say playing piano. If a person approached you to play chopsticks, would you really correct them and say “The Celebrated Chop Waltz you mean?” If you were a football player and a person didn’t know the difference between a middle linebacker and a guard would your roll your eyes?
Perhaps you would immediately launch into a loud and drawn out explanation of the information from your area of expertise. As an expert you might bowl them over with your well-intentioned detailed discussion of the differences. Perhaps you would, or perhaps someone has done this to you. It doesn’t feel good.
As Christians we have explicit instructions from our Lord to treat all people with love. There is nothing further from love than being elitist rather than understanding about the difference in where each person may be in their learning journey.
How we are to respond?
Now that we have talked about what not to do, the road to navigate next is how to respond. There is a balance where our response is clear, inviting and invited. I am a fan of the T.H.I.N.K. acronym.
When responding to a question of church practices it should be
- Necessary and
If someone sings the twelve days of Christmas beginning on Dec 13, while we know that the song refers to the days between Christmas and Epiphany, it’s ok to let them sing. They will not be more inclined to prepare for the coming of our Lord by being corrected. If on the other hand they ask questions about when were the 12 days, or teach others incorrect information about the the 12 days, there is nothing wrong with kindly saying that the Episcopal church teaches that this is the time between the nativity and the epiphany.
In the context of Christmas versus Advent, if someone asks why we haven’t decorated the sanctuary yet, then a quick note of the season and when we will be decorating is a reasonable response. Even better would be to ask the question, what have you learned about the season of Advent? This would open the conversation and let you know if the person is open to learning more at this time, or just wondering when to wear their new sweater.
If someone calls a wreath with white candles an Advent Wreath, let it go.If they ask why your church has 3 blue and 1 red candle, offer information. As I found when I googled first Sunday in Advent
Wishing you balance in this season of Advent.