Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Seven Sacred Seasons: An Overview

Two years into The Gathering’s history, the Crash forced our hand, accelerating an idea we'd been toying with: to go from a single leading pastor to a radical congregational approach to leadership, and consequently, church work. Initially, this resulted in a sporadic, haphazard series of services where music and preaching were unconnected: without some sort of guiding idea, worship leaders and speakers alike found choosing a path difficult. Coming out of a Baptist background, we were used to the sermon being the focal point, but were needing a model that would serve all levels of worship, including the speaking themes, so that volunteer preachers had an anchor for their preparations.

In addition to the congregational model, we'd been interested in liturgical approaches to worship, particularly Celtic modes, as Celtic worship was in vogue at the time. What emerged was the Gathering's Seven Sacred Seasons, a liturgical church year broken into seven sevens: seven “sacred seasons,” each centering on a different theme and lasting roughly seven weeks. While our liturgical year was intended to begin with Incarnation Season (Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany), it always felt like it began in September with Gathering Season. I've organized this explication of the seven seasons to begin with Carnival, since that's how the calendar year would begin as well. The following is a lightly edited version of what our Sacred Seasons document looked like:

CARNIVAL (From the celebration of EPIPHANY to the beginning of LENT on ASH WEDNESDAY)
In many countries, Carnival is a time of merrymaking and celebration, often done in ways which the church does not approve. The Gathering sought to introduce Christians to the concept of holy parties, or celebrations. In winter the weather can be miserable for long stretches of time. Traditionally, Carnival is a season for music, plays, art, and also for wild behavior and wearing disguises. Worship during this season was of a festive nature, often unpredictable, ranging from beach parties, comedy improvisation, dance music as worship (both by a dance-music-worship team on several occasions, and once by a DJ), and masquerade.

LENT and EASTER (Starts the service after ASH WEDNESDAY, ending on EASTER SUNDAY)
During Lent, the Gathering encouraged our faith community to give something up as a sacrifice to Christ, modeling his sufferings in some small way. Over the years, everything from coffee to video games to character traits were given up for Lent. One year, we asked each other to suggest the thing we ought to give up: I gave up giving unsolicited advice that year. During Holy Week, we held a series of worship services, dramas and vigils, contemplating the crucifixion and resurrection. A "real-time" vigil of the Cross was observed several times, where we would begin contemplations hour by hour of Christ's Passion, using James Bishop's The Day Christ Died as a guide. Easter Sunday was the only time of the year the Gathering meets on a long weekend: since we were run by volunteers, we gave our workers long weekends off.

Also called the Easter season, 50 days are a “week of weeks,” seven times seven plus one. Pentecost is 50 days to sing alleluia, 50 days to live as if God’s rule of justice and peace were finally with us. Because it is the beginning of Spring and people are thinking of being outdoors, the theme of Pentecost involves the Gathering going out “into the streets.” Major themes are the nature of the church and the Holy Spirit. We tried to incorporate more social justice into this season, but also took time to consider what it means to be the church. In later years, we used video teaching during this season to give our speakers a break, and to ensure we weren't just preaching what we all wanted to hear. It was a means of avoiding our teaching becoming "inbred."

CREATION (Pentecost Sunday to the end of August)
Since it is warm outside, the Gathering seeks to praise God for his Creation during this season. As a result, when weather permits, worship is held outdoors. During Creation, we often did prayer walks, utilizing labyrinths on a number of occasions. We held drumming circles, and did worship in city parks. In later years, we gave the community the summer off, as attendance was sporadic, and our volunteers became increasingly worn out. We held one other significant service in late August called the G-Arts Festival, which was a celebration of the community's creative gifts. People were encouraged to bring a creative display of any kind to present to the community. This included a wide range of expressions: salsa dancing, belly dancing, carpentry, antique collecting, poetry, music, visual art, scrap-booking, and card making are among the creative expressions I recall seeing over the years.

GATHERING  (Beginning of September to the Canadian THANKSGIVING long weekend)
This originally was two seasons, bookending Creation Season, but it became simpler in later years to just have one: Gathering Season was a time of remembrance, when we looked back to our first services together. For many years, this was marked with a "Year Video," a music-style-video montage of clips, highlighting the prior year. It was also considered a time to introduce others to the Gathering, a season when we were more focused on newcomers than any other time of the year. During this time we explained the reasons why the Gathering practices Christianity the way it does. Notably, this season would work for churches that aren't called the Gathering, since this season fell on the time traditionally known as Harvest season, culminating in Canada with Thanksgiving.

ALL SAINTS (Canadian THANKSGIVING long weekend to the beginning of ADVENT)
Traditionally, this is celebrated as one day, but the telling of the Saints’ stories as inspiration seemed richer as a season, not merely a single evening. Since the Gathering held that all Christians are saints, All Saints was a time for sharing our stories of how God changed our lives, and how He has used us since that change. We also hear the stories of saints outside the Gathering, the ‘heroes’ of the faith,” from scripture or history. We also observed a sort of Halloween service, complete with costume party and a darker theme for the evening.

Beginning four weeks before Christmas, and ending on the service closest to January 6, this season focused on more than just Christ’s birth: Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, could be about the traditional Nativity stories, or look toward the parousia, Christ's second advent. Epiphany, the story of the magi’s visit to Jesus, and Christ’s baptism are also included in this season. Christmas was considered, as it is in liturgical circles, only one event in the Incarnation Season. Most of the time was spent in anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s Nativity. Due to the Gathering’s emphasis on family, we did not hold a service on Christmas eve or day, but encouraged families to perform worship in their own homes, using the time to build their own communities.

Over the year of the Rabbit, I'm going to echo these Sacred Seasons in the content I reveal here at Gotthammer. Caffeinated Incorporated fulfilled the goals of Carnival Season - laughter and levity. We're about to enter Lent, and to observe that, I'm going to take the Lenten journey I started with the Gathering ten years ago with a web comic called Josh and Caleb. It was originally intended to be a little bit of media for the Gathering's web site, but it grew into its own thing, as many creative endeavors do. Each season thereafter, my posts will reflect the Sacred Season we're in. I've been missing the structure this liturgical year gave to my comings and goings, and want to reengage those rhythms, and share them with you.


  1. ladybug8:33 PM

    I was just thinking about how much I miss the G's Lent season. I always found it a tough but challenging season. I have not found that there is much focus on the journey up to Easter in the church that we now attend. And it is the journey that changes us.

  2. Brenda - but your pancake party shows you're still finding ways to celebrate it! I thought that sounded really cool.

  3. Anonymous9:43 PM

    I miss the G's liturgical seasons a great deal as well. I have yet to see any other church that takes the calendar as seriously. :( It was so amazing to come in on a cold wintery night and feel immediately immersed in the "alternate" reality of the church year.