As we’ve been preparing for our celebration of Advent, I have heard that there are many in our community who, like me, were not raised observing it and are sure what it’s about. The way that I think of it is that there are two times in the liturgical year - that is the year according to the Christian calendar - when, traditionally, the church is called upon to sort of “go back in time,” to when sacred, history-making events were unfolding. Lent is one of those times. During the forty days leading up to Easter, we spend time intentionally focused on Jesus’ last weeks on Earth. The idea is to “walk with Him to Calvary,” in preparation for celebrating His resurrection. We anticipate a resurgence of resurrection power, in our lives and our church, when Easter finally arrives.
Advent is the other similar tradition; where, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, we “go back” and intentionally take on a spirit of anticipation and expectancy of the arrival of the Christ child. For me, it is a time of reflection about what the birth of Jesus means for me, in my life, and for the world. We anticipate a renewal and resurgence of Christ’s presence, in our lives and our church, when Christmas arrives.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t always get it. My logical mind asked, “How do you anticipate something that has already happened?”
But, after spending some time in churches where both Advent and Lent were observed, these traditions grew on me. Or, it feels more accurate to say I grew into them. I have come to appreciate the value of dedicating these two periods of time to focusing and remembering what a different Jesus makes - to me and to the world. It is the kind of thing that is like air - so monumentally important and yet so easy to take for granted. I have experienced, over the years, that actively observing these seasons does indeed produce a sense of spiritual renewal and revival in my relationship with God. During Advent, my focus is on how desperately in need the world was then, and is today, for the saving and reconciling work of God in Jesus. I also remember my own need for a Savior. I remember what my life was like during the times when I was not faithfully nurturing my relationship with him; and what a difference it makes to embrace is constant presence with me now; and to nurture that relationship. My gratitude for all that God has done through Jesus is renewed and deepened.
“If we build it, and you come, we will continue to offer it and you just might find a church home again.”
A couple of months ago, I was thinking ahead about Advent and those thoughts “intersected” with thoughts I’ve had, since I moved back here, about how Imani might broaden our appeal and serve more of our community. One obvious line of thought was the age-old “style of worship” conundrum. You know, the whole thing about different people preferring different types of worship services. And it occurred to me that it might be beneficial to our community for Imani MCC to offer two distinct styles of worship, as our sister-church, St. John’s MCC, has done for years. The question is: will the community support a second Sunday service at Imani? Well, there’s only one way to find out, and that is to offer it.
So we are offering a second service - an evening service - for the four Sundays of Advent this year. It will be a “distinctly different style of worship” from our norm on Sunday mornings. These Advent services will follow traditional liturgy, will last for about one hour, and will be offered in an atmosphere of sacred quietude.
When I presented the idea, first to Imani’s Board of Directors and then to our congregation, I was delighted at how readily everyone embraced it. Those who know us know that we love to “have church!” in that “Bapti-costal” style, with singing, clapping, and charismatic praise as the Spirit moves. That is not going to change in our regular Sunday morning worship.
We are as open to Spirit moving like a gentle breeze as like a mighty, rushing wind. We understand that a single tear rolling down a cheek is as much a form of praise as a dance.
The really great thing is that, even though we are who we are and we do what we do, everyone here also understands that other ways of worshipping are equally valuable and valid. We are as open to Spirit moving like a gentle breeze as like a mighty, rushing wind. We understand that a single tear rolling down a cheek is as much a form of praise as a dance. Most important, Imani heard and agreed that, because there are people who need the structure and connection to tradition provided by liturgy and a quiet, peaceful atmosphere for their deepest and best encounters with the Divine, we should offer that. We know that no church can be the church for everyone. But our desire is to meet the worship needs of as many as we can.
So I ask for you help - all who read this - in spreading the word about these Advent services. Please come and worship with us. Give us a chance to provide you with the kind of worship you need, whether it’s our “Bapti-costal” morning style or our new liturgical/traditional evening style. Someone said, “If you build it, they will come.” We are saying, “If we build it, and you come, we will continue to offer it and you just might find a church home again.” Wouldn’t that be lovely? Wouldn’t the restoration of fellowship and belonging in church community be a wonderful way to begin a new year? God is doing a new thing at Imani. Come see if it’s something you want to be a part of.