Taking an Overview
This is a good time to pause in the process of worship planning and step back to make an overview of the year ahead. Actually, doing this during the summer months, especially in August, is a very helpful thing to build into the calendar for each year.
Planning long range in the worship life of a congregation gives us an opportunity to think more carefully about the themes and patterns of our worship life, assures us of a greater balance, and provides better preparation time for all that are involved, both pastor and musicians.
The first choice we face is the choice of calendar. What considerations will guide the pattern of worship during the coming months? Which events will be included in worship? And how will the themes of worship and preaching be selected? In other words, which calendar will be our guide?
Our conviction and assumption is that to plan ahead without an intentional selection of a calendar, or to go ahead without planning, will produce worship and preaching that has little direction and misses major opportunities to proclaim the full gospel of Christ.
However, there are a number of potential calendars from which we can make our choices. Let's try to identify some of them. You will probably think of others.
- The catechism/confessional calendar - if the pastor is preaching through the Catechism or one of the other Confessions, you may be inclined to structure the church year of worship around the themes/events that are currently being covered.
- The secular calendar - many events on the secular calendar of our society will seem to call for attention in worship, and you'll discover that some churches follow it. Hallmark tells us that Valentines' Day, Mother's Day and Father's Day are big events. Our civic calendar tempts us to plan worship around Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.
- The church program season calendar - September through April/May is the season in which the largest number of church ministry events take place, with a major break for the "holidays". Worship planning can easily be determined by the rhythm of eight or nine full months, and three or four lean months. Within this calendar you will also find those "special Sundays" that each denomination likes to designate for specific ministries.
- The Christian Year calendar - in this calendar the entire year is geared toward the remembrance of the main salvation events in the work of God. Salvation events rank much higher than local and secular events. We highly recommend this calendar and will be saying more about it.
The Christian Year Calendar
We are creatures of time. All our living is in the context of and governed by time. Sometimes time makes us remember as we treasure the past; other times we anticipate as we look forward to the future. As Christians we know that time is linear - it has a beginning and an end. We also know that it is made up of progressive events along the way. All of Scriptural history is built around remembrances and anticipations.
Worship needs to take this into account. God's events in the time of history should form the pattern of our worship life over the course of a year. So which calendar we select as our guide has large implications.
Selecting the Christian Year calendar to guide our worship life and planning will provide several very precious benefits:
- Our worship will be anchored in the events of salvation history: the coming of Christ, the ministry of Christ, the suffering and death of Christ, the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
- The Christian Year will help us understand the Christian life. Each season has its own mood and spirit and they can be quite different from one another. We anticipate Christ's arrival. We are united with him in his suffering, death, and resurrection. We continue to receive new life from the Spirit. Each of these events provides a variety of themes, from anticipation, to penitence, to joy, to a challenge to growth.
- The Christian Year provides a framework for the celebration of the gospel message. As such it becomes a careful safeguard for the church so that its message remains clearly Christ-centered. Each year the major events of God's redemptive history are celebrated and exhibit their formative influence over our worship life.
It is certainly true that Scripture does not prescribe the observance of the Christian Year, and in the past Christians of many traditions moved away from it because they were afraid that it would become an end in itself and reflect too much of medieval catholicism. But in recent years, many protestant churches have recovered the Christian Year and find it to be a valuable framework for organizing their worship life.
For the reasons stated above, we highly recommend it. You will find that the worship services provided here in the months ahead reflect the calendar of the Christian Year. A few other carefully selected events will be fit in along the way, but the rhythm of the year will be established by the Christian calendar. Once you do, you will find that it has the basic pattern of the Apostles' Creed.
(This article excerpted from a Calvin Institute of Christian Worship ariticle by Rev. Howard Vanderwell.)