by Laura E. Moore, Th.D.
YIKES! It’s November already, and Advent and Christmas are fast approaching. How should parish leaders plan and prepare? I offer here some general principles for long-term planning, and some ways to approach Advent and Christmas this year.
This material was originally presented to The Advent Project, a seminar group of the North American Academy of Liturgy that advocates expanding Advent from four weeks to seven weeks. Our website, http://theadventproject.org/, presents our rationale and offers many seasonal resources, including a suggested schedule for much of the liturgical year (the Resources and Scholarship pages are particularly helpful.)
- Look at the big picture of the liturgical year: six months or a year at a time. Look at related seasons as a whole: plan Advent and Christmas together, and Lent and Easter together.
- Consider offering frequent intergenerational events (one per season, perhaps). These can provide an organizing structure for the season ahead, as well as reinforce the unity of the parish, guard against children being relegated to a “church school ghetto,” and emphasize that formation and learning are for adults and children alike.
- Remember that the events and activities suggested here are flexible and adaptable, and can be as simple or as elaborate as your parish’s resources allow. Don’t shy away from them just because your parish is small or your resources limited.
Suggestions for This Advent and Christmas
Advent begins on December 1st this year. On November 17th or 24th, hold an intergenerational event (perhaps around a potluck lunch or supper) to learn about the meaning of Advent, make Advent wreaths, and plan for Advent and Christmas in both parish and home. (The Advent Project website has resources that can be helpful for this.)
While it is difficult to resist beginning Christmas festivities too early, doing so means that the later weeks of Advent are neglected. Holding Advent Lessons & Carols on the 1st Sunday of Advent can immerse the parish in the rich texts and music of Advent, and give the people an opportunity to sing familiar and beloved songs like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Creator of the Stars of Night,” “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light,” and even “Joy to the World” (this carol is as appropriate for Advent as it is for Christmas!). Greening (decorating) the church on the 4th Sunday of Advent (as the lections turn from a focus on the Second Advent of Christ to his First Advent) is a fun and festive bridge from Advent to Christmas that the whole parish can participate in.
Think about recasting the children’s Christmas pageant as an Epiphany pageant. Making it an Epiphany pageant instead accomplishes several things:
- It solves scheduling questions like: should we hold the pageant on the 4th Sunday of Advent? on Christmas Eve? (but when? since it is such a busy day and evening anyway).
- It makes assembling a full cast easier, since school has started again in most places and potential Marys and Josephs (not to mention shepherds, angels, and wise men) will be back from visiting Grandma and Grandpa over the Christmas holiday itself.
- It permits the rehearsal schedule to be a bit more relaxed.
With a little thought and planning, you can help your parish become immersed in the beauty and richness of Advent and Christmas!
“Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
–Collect for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Laura E. Moore grew up in Connecticut. She got her B.A. from Nyack College in Nyack, NY and did her graduate work at Union Theological Seminary (M.A. in Old Testament) and The General Theological Seminary (S.T.M. and Th.D. in Liturgical Studies). She currently works at General, as the Head of Circulation at the Christoph Keller, Jr. Library and as an adjunct professor of liturgics. She is a member of the North American Academy of Liturgy, where she participates in the Advent Project seminar group. Her particular academic (and pastoral) interests are the liturgical year and the rites of initiation.