The Church Year

Worship in the Episcopal tradition follows a cycle of seasons and celebrations which have fed souls since the dawn of Christianity. Our liturgies intentionally weave the changing seasons in creation into the rhythm of feasts, fasts, color, and pageantry in ways that highlight the events of Jesus’ life and ministry, and give us fresh insights into the meaning of our own sacred journey through life.

Our Church Year begins in the deepening shadows of late November (or early December) with Advent. Gathered under a six-foot diameter real and fragrant evergreen wreath suspended from the ceiling, sending blue fabric streamers cascading over us toward lanterns shining at the four corners of our church, we wait, pray, and sing in expectation as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas.

Christmas, ushered in amid brilliant white and gold, features a children’s pageant and the joyful singing of carols by candlelight. Twelve days of feasting, music, and merry gatherings of family and friends culminate in the feast of Epiphany.

Epiphany commemorates the journey of the Magi to offer gifts to the infant Jesus, guided by the light of a brilliant star. Deep wintergreen banners laced with icy snow and starlight reflect the winter landscape as we journey through the weeks of this light-filled season, wondering at Jesus’ call to share His love with the icy world around us.

Lent, which derives its name from “lengthening of days,” accompanies the movement of creation into springtime. It begins on Ash Wednesday, when our foreheads are signed with ashes as a reminder of our human mortality and we are called to deepen our relationship with God through prayer, fasting, and acts of charity. A graceful arrangement of bare branches, our unadorned stone altar, clear glass Communion vessels, dusky purple banners, and the solemn tones of unaccompanied chant all foster simplicity and sober contemplation in our worship for the next forty days.

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday. We recall Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as children join in procession, waving palm branches and singing “Hosanna!” On Maundy Thursday, we remember Jesus washing the feet of His disciples and sharing a last supper with them on the night before His death. Our feet are washed as we enter the church, then all gather around the altar for a simple celebration of Eucharist. As we depart, a dark, black, thorn-marked shroud is raised behind the altar, foreshadowing the events to come. Good Friday finds us gathered at noon to join in a dramatic reading of the arrest, trial, death, and burial of Jesus. Later, as night falls, songs of lamentation are sung by a chamber choir as we walk the Stations of the Cross in failing candlelight until all is dark, and we depart in silence.

The Great Vigil of Easter begins on Saturday night in darkness. Easter fire is kindled in a blaze of light and the Paschal candle is lit. This shining symbol of Christ’s risen life is carried through the church in procession as the Exsultet, an ancient song of joy, begins:

Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels,
and let your trumpets shout Salvation
for the victory of our mighty King.

We tell stories of God’s faithfulness in the lives of our Biblical ancestors, and greet the Good News of Jesus’ rising from the dead with radiant light, joyful Alleluias, and vibrant music. We renew promises made at our Baptism and celebrate the first Eucharist of Easter. On Easter Day the church fills in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, and afterwards children head outdoors to hunt for Easter eggs. The joy of Eastertide, a season spanning fifty days, culminates in the feast of Pentecost. Pentecost comes in wind and fire, celebrating the gift of God’s Holy Spirit to the Church. Vivid red streamers and banners, a children’s pageant, and spirit-filled singing make it a day to remember.

“Solstice Sundays” feature family friendly summer services with an early start time, casual dress, fun activities for children, and the sacred essentials of worship before we head out to savor the beauty of God’s creation. We pray each Sunday for those in our community who are traveling and celebrate our world-wide Anglican Communion with prayers from around the globe. Music by soloists and ensembles enriches our summer worship while the choir takes a break.

September brings autumn’s glorious colors and our patronal feast day—The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels. Children and parents help re-enact the drama of the Archangel Michael’s battle with the dragon (see Revelation 12). Angels confront a fifteen-foot monster, who shrinks back as energetic sprinkling with the waters of Baptism liberates all the children of God.

As harvests are gathered in, and the days grow cold and short, the ancient celebration of All Hallows’ Eve re-assures us that we need not fear the darkness or the power of things unseen—Christ, our light and salvation, is always near. Pumpkins, gourds, and autumnal leaves adorn the altar, scarecrows are carried in procession, and old and young alike are invited to don Halloween costumes in worship. Note: We mark All Hallows’ only when the last Sunday of October is between October 29 and October 31.

All Saints’ Sunday honors the lives and witness of faithful people of God who have gone before us and now dwell “on another shore and in a greater light.” Entering the church, we inscribe the names of our own departed loved ones on long white ribbons that are reverently carried in, used to vest the altar for worship, and finally are raised up to encircle all present as a “cloud of witnesses” who watch over and pray for us as we continue our journey on earth.

A final celebration of the reign of God in heaven and on earth, the Feast of Christ the King, brings the Church year to a close.