December 16, 2020

The Reverend Jemonde Taylor Shares Five Advent Resolutions

Every month ECFVP offers resources on a theme. This month we've asked the Reverend Jemonde Taylor to choose resources from Vital Practices to highlight. Please find his choices below. Please share this post with new members of your vestry and extend an invitation to subscribe to ECF Vital Practices to receive Vestry Papers and this monthly digest.

There is little middle ground regarding New Year’s Resolutions. People typically embrace or reject the idea of making new promises when the calendar changes from December 31 to January 1. Advent is the beginning of a new Christian year as we remember the first coming of Jesus Christ born in the manger and await Jesus’ second coming “on clouds descending.” This year, some wish our current Gregorian calendar followed the Christian calendar so that 2020 could be in the rear-view mirror as of November 29, 2020. Like the West African Akan symbol, Sankofa, with the two headed bird both looking back in time and looking forward to the future, we cannot ignore how the 2020 events will continue into both a new Christian year and a new calendar year.

Advent Resolutions, a take on New Year’s Resolutions, are opportunities to disrupt and disturb our normal way of worshiping, speaking, praying, and operating in the world.

Change the Metaphor
The Rev. Dr. Lisa Fischbeck’s invitation to “Change the Metaphor” is appealing. Much of the biblical and prayer language this time of year is negative toward darkness. Some examples are both the Collect for Advent I and the Advent Seasonal blessing. “Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light,” and “May the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you and scatter the darkness from before your path.” There are positive images of darkness in scripture, such in Exodus 20:21. Moses receives the Ten Commandments and withdraws to the thick darkness where God is. Changing the metaphor is important since people continue to map dualistic biblical language around light and dark onto racialized language of white and black.

God of Our Weary Years
The Rev. Nicole Foster uses the last stanza from the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, to disrupt weariness. “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears.” The Rev. Foster uses the Black American experience of seeing hope through weariness as a practice of sustaining faith in the midst of distress. Blessed Absalom Jones, the first Black person ordained in The Episcopal Church in 1795, preached in a sermon using the image of Psalm 56 of God placing the tears in God’s bottle of every African captured, forced into the hold of a slave ship, enduring the terrifying and deadly Transatlantic trek. Amma Foster’s article moves from weariness to God’s faithfulness. African Christian spirituality in Egypt calls the physical sign of being overwhelmed by God’s love the “gift of tears.” St. John Climacus wrote, “the fount of tears after baptism has become greater than baptism, though this be a bold saying.” The gift of tears is the infallible sign that the heart has been overwhelmed by the love of God.

Reclaiming Morning Prayer
Canon Annette Buchanan wrote four years ago about reclaiming Morning Prayer. What sounded far-fetched to some American ears in 2016 has become a reality in 2020. Many parishes that celebrated the Holy Eucharist weekly before the COVID-19 pandemic decided to move to Morning Prayer using technology to gather the scattered community unable to meet in person for worship. Telephone conference lines, videoconferencing, and livestreaming services prove invaluable given our current situation. Some lay people have taken a more active role in worship during this time. I recently had a parishioner ask, “I did not realize a non-ordained person could read the gospel lesson in church on Sunday?” That sparked a lively conversation about the Daily Office, lectionary, and scripture. This lay person left the conversation feeling empowered.

A New Normal 2: Communion
Written nearly a decade ago, Nancy Davidge’s article is about how disruptive it was and how uncomfortable she felt receiving Communion in the round instead of kneeling at an altar rail. Her body’s physical memory of kneeling communicated how Communion should be. She wrote, “Paying attention to my physical response to change helps me manage change.” Those words are appropriate today. How have our Eucharistically-centered Episcopal bodies responded to not being able to receive Communion at our accustomed cadence or for some, not at all, save the spiritual Communion prayer by St. Alphonsus de Liguori that some churches pray? Davidge invites us to acknowledge how change feels to us, both physically and emotionally, and to offer that to God in prayer.

Virtual Community This line in Linda Buskirk’s article struck me. “I don’t think any of us FDBD [Forward Day by Day] regulars would leave our “real” communities of faith – the physical church buildings where we worship, pray, learn and uphold others, in favor of our virtual gathering.” That is a true statement, and yet it is exactly where we find ourselves. Many churches have abandoned their physical buildings as community gathering spaces and now worship online. This continues to give life to some beautiful opportunities. This year, St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, Raleigh, NC, invites a different “geographically scattered” family weekly to participate in the Advent wreath lighting liturgy. One family with members in Raleigh, NC, Wisconsin, and California videoconference to light the wreath in our Sunday worship service. Another family gathers each Sunday to sit on their “virtual pew.” Each family member in Raleigh and Charlotte, NC and Long Island, NY, watches our church’s livestream worship service on their televisions while simultaneously using a different smart device, videoconferencing to communicate during the worship service. “It feels like old times when my daughter was young and three generations sat on the same pew in church,” is how my church member described it. We’re currently using this “virtual pew” idea to explore ways to engage our church’s teenagers during worship, to create a “video gaming” like experience Sunday mornings. Our current times teach us that whether virtual or physical, community is community.