Prepare Now for the 7 Weeks of Advent
In 2009, King of Peace took part in an experiment toward a Seven-Week Season of Advent, instead of the typical four Sundays before Christmas. We learned how things could have gone better and I want to share those learnings as I think the experiment is worth widening. I am an evangelist for a 7-week Advent and want to encourage you to consider giving the expanded season a try.
The expansion of Advent is not some out-of-the-blue idea as Advent was once seven weeks long and remains so for the Orthodox Church (Russian and Greek Orthodox, etc.) to this day in an unbroken tradition. The goal is to reclaim the time for preaching and teaching about the second coming as was traditionally part of the season and remains so in truncated form now. I know how how counter-cultural Advent already is and find the expansion back to its historic length to be something worth considering, especially as the Revised Common Lectionary readings fit this without making any change.
How a 7-Week Advent Was Done Last Year
Our liturgy as we ended the Sundays after Pentecost was Rite II Prayer A with chairs which face the front very much as pews would. Green frontal on altar and ambo.
As we moved into Advent, we had no cloth on the ambo and the altar was moved to the center of our worship space with chairs arranged in a circle around it. The 4-foot square altar then has no one-sided frontal, but a blue cloth batiked in white by Anglicans in China. As we have a 36-foot wide Chartes-style labyrinth on the floor, this means the altar was in the center of the labyrinth and the round shape to the chairs feels organic and not forced.
We used Rite II Prayer B Penitential Eucharist. The prayers of the people are changed weekly, adapted from those in Liturgy Training Publication's Intercessions for the People. We used a seasonal blessing for Advent from the Book of Occasional Services. We also used liturgist Bill Petersen's seven Advent collects written for this project.
In previous years, we has an Advent wreath on the way into worship and replaced that with a seven candle stand so to show the same season is lengthened. That stand was on the altar but in retrospect, I would certainly move it off the altar, top a table as one enters the nave.
We do not have a choir and music is by piano except on fourth Sundays when it is guitars, dulcimer and drum. I used O Come, O Come Emmanuel in the spot of a hymn of praising with verses 1 and 2 in week one, verses 1 and 3 in week two and so on.
Preaching reflected seasonal themes found in the texts each week.
Music was a huge challenge, but we made it work. This needs improving over time. Some hymns from the Lutheran Book of Worship helped us expand available music on the fly.
We experienced not one single complaint, but that may be the nature of starting from scratch 10 years ago as much as anything. Positive comments have been few and centered on our beginning the church's anticipation before the craziness of Christmas season got cranked up. Largely I think the 7-week Advent experiment was greeted with an attitude of enjoying it mildly while being mildly indifferent.
What I Would Change
I think that my wife, Victoria, hit on the issue in naming the distinction between Lent and Advent. For Episcopalians, Lent involves some changes to both corporate worship and one's daily life, where Advent involves solely changes in corporate worship. This would need to change in order to transform a congregation's experience of Advent.
In past years, we have pushed materials we created on Celebrating Advent in the Home (see www.kingofpeace.org/advent/ ). As we have a lot of young families, getting them to do a nightly devotion helped cross this divide. I didn't have the time this year to create as a seven-week version, and so did not promote that in-home devotion. A seven-week Advent, needs other ways to encourage a sort of Adventen discipline, hopefully different from Lent. This would take thought and preparation, but could be important. I think suggesting that families take on an Advent discipline specifically designed to counter the rampant concumerism of the season is the direction to go.
What do y'all think? Are you game to gear up for Seven Weeks of anticipation? Why not make Advent even more counter-cultural at a time of year when the message of the culture (Buy More Stuff to Be Happy) most needs to be overturned.
The Rev. Frank Logue, Advent Evangelist