Happy New Year!

New Year's BlessingThe New Year is my very favorite holiday. That may seem strange for a pastor to say. I think most of my colleagues might choose Christmas or Easter. I am certainly grateful for those High Holy Days and all that they represent. My very favorite holiday, though, is New Year’s - both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

As New Year’s Eve approaches, I automatically start looking back over the outgoing year. I review good times and bad times, assess my progress toward achieving long-term goals, and just take stock of where I am in all aspects of my life; with particular attention to where I am relative to where I was at the beginning of the year.

This year, overall, has been one for the books! I entered this year in Connecticut, having resigned the pastorate of MCC-New Haven at the end of 2011, and having just heard, toward the end of 2012, that there would be a pastoral vacancy at Imani. I was praying, fervently, for God to open the door here for me, if that was consistent with God’s will. I missed Durham. No offense intended to the great people I met in Connecticut. It’s just one of those “heart wants what it wants” things.

So I entered the year praying, and with the kind of excitement that comes from having a strong feeling that something big is about to happen. And, sure enough, I was invited to do a candidate’s weekend with Imani the last weekend in January of this year. The purpose was to discern whether I would be the interim (or “gap”) pastor of Imani following Rev. Phil’s departure. And we all came out of that weekend convinced that it was meant to be.

So it was back to New Haven, for me, with a month to pack and prepare to move back to Durham at the beginning of March! I was coming home. Since my arrival here, I am so happy and blessed to say that I have not had one minute of doubt about this being the right move for me. There were other significant events and experiences this year as well, including the usual mix of ups and downs. But, for me, my move back to NC and my Installation as Senior Pastor of Imani are definitely the defining events of 2013.

A sense of potential is what I love about New Year’s Day. A whole brand-new year lies ahead, like a huge, blank page upon which we can write new life-story to build upon that which has already been written. There are many situations in life that we simply cannot change overnight, or in a week, or even a month. Think about the usual goals we set and hopes for change that we wish for - going back to school, getting a better job, losing weight, finding a life partner, reviving a relationship that is languishing, or leaving a relationship we’ve outgrown - many life changes of that nature cannot be accomplished in short periods of time. A year is enough time to accomplish many major life changes; and it is certainly enough time to take first steps, get the ball rolling, and get more long-term life changes well underway. You can apply for school in January or February and start classes in the Summer or Fall. Any day of the 365 days ahead could be the day that you meet a new love and begin your journey together! If you start making changes in your diet and exercise habits early in the year, you could look and feel like a new person (or your old self) by the end of the year. If you have been stuck because of difficulty letting go of something or someone, a new year gives you time to prepare yourself, do it, and spend the rest of the year healing and celebrating getting unstuck! I just love that sense of potential as a new year begins! That feeling of, “I can do this, and I can do it this year!” We can get a whole lot done in a year! Indeed, we can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us.

And so my prayer for you, as one year ends and a new year begins, is that you will take advantage of this transitional time to honestly assess where you are in all aspects of your life. May you recognize all of this year’s blessings and take pride and pleasure in your accomplishments. May you accept, with candor, clarity, and compassion, any unmet goals; forgive everything and everybody, and be at peace. Then I pray that you will turn your attention forward to the incoming New Year and see all of the potential 2014 holds for you to write new story for yourself.

When I was growing up, my elders would say, “Start the new year the way you want to go through it.” It was our tradition to have Watch Night service - a service that began in the old year and ended in the new year. We always began praying just a few minutes before midnight, so that at that precise moment, we were actively in prayer. It is a tradition that I still love. And we will have Watch Night service at Imani Tuesday night, December 31st, beginning at 11:00 p.m. If you’re in the area, please consider coming. Even if you come from a party and/or plan to go back to partying right after midnight. We don’t mind. You can run in from 11:50 to 12:10, if you want. It has always been a powerful experience, for me, to end one year and begin a new year in worship. Our Watch Night service will consist of sharing testimonies (voluntarily, of course, absolutely no pressure to speak!), congregational singing, a few words of exhortation from Rev. Annie and myself, and of course, the prayer that will begin just before midnight and carry us into 2014. It will be a blessed time, made even more so by your presence!

On behalf of myself and Imani MCC, I wish each and every one of you a happy, love-filled, joyful, and blessed New Year!