While we mark the beginning of the liturgical year with candles and Advent songs of anticipation, the secular New Year arrives with more of a bang – countdowns, calendars, and champagne corks – and resolutions to re-invent ourselves. Fitness classes will be busier in January, and stores will promise an organized home with their enticing rows of containers. The excesses of the holidays will give way to the moderation of a dry January and healthy eating for many folks.
The turning of the seasons – liturgical and secular – invite us to turn our attention and focus to the wheel of Creation. We focus on what is present in our lives and what is lacking, and mindfully engage in change. As Christians though, we are called to broaden our gaze and goals beyond our own “self-improvement” and commit ourselves anew to the path of discipleship.
I know that my gym will be more busy in the New Year. How I wish that it would be the same in our churches! For too long, we’ve watched our pews become empty and wondered when new people would arrive. Yet, despite the spiritual longing felt by many Canadians – new and old – our doors seem to be an impenetrable barrier. When I reflect on re-invention and the Church, I am convinced that we need to re-invent our practices of evangelism. I have heard yoga devotees or weight lifters enthusiastically preach the benefits of their practices and invite others to join them more often than I have heard mainline Christians invite people into our practices. Can we re-learn enthusiasm for transformative practice – for body and soul?
We are, I think rightfully, shy of evangelism, having yoked it to the catastrophic violence of colonialism. But I think we are also shy of inviting people into our faith communities and fearful of judgment. We might be uncertain of exactly what we are inviting someone into – especially other than a pew on Sunday morning. Do we know what our Christian spiritual practices are? Are we ready to share in the rhythm of the daily office? Can we tell a story about how our faith has been good news?
One of the more incomprehensible tenets of Christian belief is our articulation of the Trinitarian nature of God. Three persons, but one substance, eternal, begotten, processing one from another – tangled enough that it is no wonder the Celtic symbol of the Trinity is knotwork! Nevertheless, at the heart of Trinitarian theology is the assertion that relationship is central to divinity. God is in relation within God-self, in relation with us, and in relation with all Creation. We are called, therefore, to deepen our relationships – with one another, with God, and with all our relations in the natural world around us.
We are called, not to be Christian, but to be Christians in practice together. This can be the hardest part – the messiness of community and relationships. The invitation to the table is expansive and challenging – a reminder that the table and the Church do not belong to those who have become accustomed to familiar seats and songs and comfortable with roles and rituals. The challenge is not one of “welcoming others,” but of understanding that some of us have been taking up seats and authority that were never ours by right. The radical call of discipleship invites new people into leadership in the Church and congregations out into their communities. The radical call of relationship necessitates the re-invention of the Church community. The good news is that we are not alone. This is also our challenge – to step out of our illusion of individualism and self improvement and walk as companions together on our faith journeys.
As we step into the turning of our path that comes with the New Year, may we be attentive as we walk. May we watch for those whose paths intersect with our own. May we boldly share our faith stories and humbly listen to the stories of others. May we be moved. May we re-commit ourselves to travelling together and being open to changing our course.
Michelle Owens is a diaconal minister, and the Principal of the Centre for Christian Studies, a national theological school in Winnipeg with connections to the Anglican Church of Canada and The United Church of Canada.