Thursday, October 9, 2014

5 Ways to Address Ebola in Worship

The 2014 outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa and in remote villages of Province Equateur in The Democratic Republic of Congo have rightly grabbed headlines across the globe. Thousands have died in West Africa, and given conditions on the ground, it is likely that thousands more will be infected and die before the crisis is brought under control.

At the right is an infographic from the Centers for Disease Control, the world's go-to entity for accurate information about infections diseases. You can download the original (.pdf) here.

So what is a worshiping community to do about Ebola?

Here are 5 things for starters.

1. Pray. Take time to pray during worship for all who are involved with this crisis, those who are its victims, those who are working to contain and treat it, and those who are caring for and losing loved ones. If your congregation is not already engaging in fervent prayer for the world during worship as well as during daily devotional life, consider this your wake-up call.

2. Support organizations that are making a difference on the ground. United Methodists have UMCOR, that not only provides direct assistance, but also coordinates with others to make sure the financial support we provide can do the most good for the long haul. You can donate here.

But don't limit your support to donation. Stay up to date with how UMCOR and other UMC organizations are helping, and talk it up to folks in your social networks, your website, your social media pages or groups, as well as at offering times during worship. 

3. Speak truth and stop rumors. In countries where Ebola is spreading, one of the key strategies United Methodists and other Christians are using to prevent further spread is to talk frankly about what the disease is, how it spreads, and what to do to prevent it spreading further... during Sunday School or worship. This is critical work for churches to be doing. Many of the practices that make the spread of Ebola more likely come from spiritual beliefs, some of which may have been supported, if at least not opposed, by the churches. United Methodist Communications is helping provide a significant Twitter campaign to root out harmful superstitions while offering both encouragement and straight talk. They've also launched a video and television campaign with this animated video. United Methodist and other pastors are trying to get accurate word out, including calling for the end of millennia-long customs and practices of handling the dead that make spread more likely, since the infection can survive the death of its victim for 72 hours or more.

In the United States, we have other false rumors to counter. We need to know and be talking openly and actively about how Ebola is and is not spread. Use and distribute the CDC materials to worshipers, put some Ebola education into Sunday Schools at every level, and make sure your congregation knows and is ready to speak out about the difference between facts and unfounded fears and rumors.

4. Implement good and reasonable sanitation practices in your worship space. Thoroughly clean your pews or other seating, hymnals, pew Bibles, or other materials more than one person is likely to touch at least quarterly, and if persons in your congregation or more immediate community become infected, at least once between services.

Have hand sanitizer available at all entrances and encourage folks to use it if there is any infectious disease widely spreading where you are.

Take care with "touch points" in worship during flu season or other times when disease spreadable by contact with bodily fluids may be in play. Avoid shaking hands-- in worship or anywhere. Make sure communion servers have washed hands, and break off and serve the bread themselves (perhaps even dipping the bread for others) and place it into the opened hands of those receiving, careful not to touch their hands. Then sanitize or thoroughly clean all implements used for communion-- cups, plates, and napkins. For baptism or reaffirmation, pour the water over the hands/heads of persons from a pitcher, rather than encouraging multiple persons to use the same water from the font. For the peace, encourage folks to bow to one another rather than shake hands or embrace.

Note that almost none of these "extraordinary" measures around touch points are necessary at all if Ebola or other infectious diseases are not spreading. Normally, we can (and should!) encourage human contact as part of worship. These are not ways to avoid human contact, but rather measures to ensure such contact is as safe as possible when infectious diseases reach epidemic levels or when an infections disease as dangerous as Ebola is actually known to be present where you are. And for now, as far as we know, it is not, anywhere in The United States.

5. Confess and repent. Ebola can be contained when proper health care systems and sanitation practices are in place. It spreads rapidly when proper health care and sanitation are not available or are only scarcely available and soon become completely overwhelmed. That such systems are not in place or not sufficiently in place lies at the root of the current Ebola crisis. And at the root of the lack of those systems is a world-system that continues to be satisfied to keep Africans impoverished rather than making sure that access to safe health care is treated as a basic human right and made available to all persons, everywhere.

In short, this outbreak of Ebola reveals the reality of this continuing human sin at both a personal but especially a systemic level.  We Christians know what do to with sin. We do not make excuses for it. We do not try to hide it. We openly confess it. And we seek God's pardon and power to help us heal and put right what we in our sin have broken and mangled.

So in addition to praying for those dealing with Ebola on the ground, take time in worship, for some time to come, to confess our complicity in the sin which makes diseases such as this the capacity to spread and destroy far more than they need to. And seek God's power, vision, and wisdom to be part of setting it right.


Monday, September 22, 2014

World Communion Sunday: When Christ Makes Us Know We Are His Own

Text: Philippians 3:4b-14
Dr. Dawn Chesser
Director of Preaching Ministries
Discipleship Ministries of
The United Methodist Church

On this World Communion Sunday it might be good to reflect on Paul’s encouragement to the Christian community in Philippi to know for themselves the peace that comes from knowing Christ has “made me his own.”

Paul begins by talking about his worldly accomplishments. He’s a great success story on paper. He is Jewish, a blood member of God’s chosen people, born into tribe of Benjamin. Further, he is a Pharisee and has spent most of his life zealously defending the law. He was even a persecutor of Christians, completely righteous and blameless under the law.

But, he says, all of that means nothing when he compares it to what he has found in Christ. It is all considered rubbish to him now, because knowing Christ, being found in Christ, is all that matters. It is the only prize he seeks or wants or desires. He is willing, even eager, to bear these worldly losses “in order that [he] may gain Christ and be found in him, ” he writes in verse 9.” Knowing Christ” and “being found in him” are claims of personal knowledge, personal experience, with in Christ.
And of course, we who follow Christ can understand what Paul is talking about here because we’ve all experienced it, too. Probably most of us have personally known what it means to "be Christ's own" at some point in our lives.
Knowing we are Christ's own refers to those moments when we feel Christ’s presence, feel Christ’s grace, and know Christ’s assurance deep down in our very hearts.

The experience of knowing Christ has made us his own is almost never a sustained thing. It is usually momentary. Still, its effects may be permanent.

John Wesley speaks of his own personal experience of “knowing Christ had made him his own" in an entry from his journal for May 23, 1738. He writes,

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

What a powerful testimony!

Yet, even for John Wesley, that initial moment of assurance was fleeting, even if some of its effects were lasting. As Wesley wrote later in the same journal entry, “After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations, but I cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again.”

Though such moments are fleeting, there are things we can do as disciples to remind us of such moments along the way and continue to drawn strength from them.

In the case of Wesley, the memory of that night on Aldersgate Road burned constantly before him like a beacon in the night. It gave him a newfound sense of his own strength. “I as often lifted up my eyes, and He “sent me help from his holy place.” And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror.”

Likewise, we too can engage in practices that help us to recall our own individual moments of “knowing Christ has made us his own.” We can be reminded of how good we felt, and the more we are reminded the more we desire that feeling of God’s holiness. Just like Paul, the desire for knowing God’s overwhelming love and grace can become the prize that we seek. And Paul is right: it is a prize more important than any accomplishment the world has to offer. It is a prize more important than power, fame, wealth, or status. When living in the light of Christ becomes our primary goal, the greatest desire of our lives, the things of this world become more and more like rubbish compared to this desire.

John Wesley reinvigorated an Anglican method for helping to keep the Methodists’ eyes on the prize. It was called “using the means of grace.” He wrote a sermon on this topic ("The Means of Grace") that makes clear the relationship between the means of grace (especially the sacraments) and such profound experiences of knowing Christ has made us his own.

Wesley identifies the means of grace this way: “By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace” (John Wesley, “The Means of Grace,” in The Bicentennial Edition of The Works of John Wesley, vol. 1, ed. Frank Baker and Albert C. Outler, (Nashville: Abingdon, 1984), 376-397).  

The chief “ordinary channels” Wesley identifies are prayer (private and public), searching the Scriptures (reading, hearing, and meditating upon), and sharing in the sacrament of Holy Communion. It is not the means themselves, but rather the power of God working on a person’s heart through these ordinary means that, over time, brings a person to fullness of faith. It is possible to practice these means and not grow in faith. Wesley suggests that this is precisely what had happened for many in the Church of England in his day. 

For Wesley, participating in the means of grace inattentively puts the person in danger of “abusing the means of grace to the destruction of their souls. By "inattentive" use of the means Wesley meant practicing them with no attention to their meaning at the time, or with a false understanding of their meaning, including notions that the practices themselves had some sort of magical power.  Inattentive practice shows a fundamental failure to understand the nature of grace.

Grace, for Wesley, is a free gift from God, and, as such, there is nothing that God requires in order to bestow it upon God’s children. If, asks Wesley, it is a gift, how do we find assurance that we have received it? Is simply saying we believe enough? And if we do not yet really feel in our hearts that God’s saving grace is for us, what are we to do in the meantime? Should we simply wait quietly for God to send a confirmation?

No, says Wesley. He argues that God has given us, through the Scriptures, clear directions, or a way we are to follow while we await or to recollect those moments of knowing Christ has made us his own. It is a way that not only helps us be patient while we wait, but it also trains our spirits to be ready to receive Christ when he makes himself known to us.

·         First, he says, all who desire assurance of the grace of God are to pray while they are waiting.

·         Second, all who desire assurance of the grace of God are to search the scriptures.
And third, “all who desire an increase of the grace of God are to wait for it in partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

Wesley says the way it generally works is people are going about their business, mostly unaware of God’s presence (pretty much as Paul describes his life prior to his encounter with the living Lord), until suddenly Christ comes to them, is made known to them, and helps them know they are his own.

Perhaps they experience his presence from hearing a sermon, or from a conversation they have had. Maybe Christ comes to them because of a tragedy. However it happens, in that moment God convinces them of the need to “flee from the wrath to come.” This, says Wesley, compels persons to seek out a preacher or teacher who can tell them how to do that.

Upon hearing an explanation from a preacher who “speaks to the heart,” most often there grows a desire to search the Scriptures. The more persons hear and read and search, the more convinced they become, so they cannot help but meditate upon the words day and night. This compels them  to think, read and pray even more, and the conviction sinks deeper into their souls.

Then comes the desire to join with others in prayer and become part of a worship service where they are invited to the Lord's table. They hear Christ said, “Do this,” and enter into an inner struggle: “Does Christ mean the invitation for me? Am I too great a sinner? Am I fit? Am I worthy?” But if they are obedient, they do receive, and “continue in God’s way—in hearing, reading, meditating, praying, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper—till God, in the manner that pleases him, speaks to the heart, ‘thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.’”

That’s it! That’s the moment that Paul is talking about when the person knows that Christ has made us his own. It’s that moment that changes everything. It is that feeling which makes all else seem like rubbish.

The regular celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion is this essential in this process.  One of the places Christ invites us, reaches to us, meets us, and makes know we are us his very own most regularly is at his table. This is why the sacrament is central not only to United Methodist worship, but the majority of Christian denominations and communions around the globe. It is why sharing in Holy Communion (rather than the sermon) is the central act of worship in many traditions. It is, according to Wesley, the primary means through which Christ makes us know we are his own.

What are some ways you have known Christ and experienced him making you his own?

What about the people in your congregation? Might you invite a few people to give a witness of how Christ has come to them and made them his own? Perhaps for one it was on a Walk to Emmaus. For another it may have been when she witnessed the birth of her first child or the death of a beloved grandparent. Someone might speak of knowing the peace of Christ that passes all understanding as he stood on a mountaintop and observed the beauty of God’s creation, or marveled at the way a flower is formed, or the way year after year God brings the harvest, or the moment she was brought into the body of Christ in baptism.  Whatever way or ways Christ has made us know we are his own, it is important to claim them and celebrate them.

On this World Communion Sunday we might consider how sharing in the sacrament is, for many people, the most regular way in which Christ draws people to him and makes them his own.  As we join with our brothers and sisters around the global table of our Lord today, let us join Paul in rejoicing that Christ has come to us and made us his own... even ME!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Celebrate Advent and Christmas Season Fully in 2014/2015

"The Lord Jesus Christ Will Return."
Used by permission. CC BY-SA 2.0. 

The Need

We all know there is much competition for attention between Advent and Christmas Season (Advent 1 through Epiphany, January 6), and the wider culture's "Christmastime" (November through December 25).

The result of this competition? "Christmastime" generally  wins, and the primary focus of Advent on the second coming of Christ as fulfillment of all promised in his first coming, which we celebrate during Christmas Season, is lost.

That's a major loss. Advent is the one time of the church year specifically dedicated to this focus. While we rehearse and remember the second coming, new creation, and the fulfillment of all things every time we pray the Great Thanksgiving and celebration Holy Communion, Advent was developed from the beginnings to be the season where focus our worship and teaching around this explicitly. The Church Year starts with Advent precisely so we can "begin with the end in mind."

I've used the picture above in this kind of article for several years now because it still speaks so eloquently. Look at it closely. No one is paying attention to this man's sign except the photographer. Everyone else is walking by, as if the sign means nothing. The sign is there, yes. But it makes no difference in people's lives, except maybe for this man.

Of course, "Christmastime" causes us to lose more than just Advent. In effect, we often lose Christmas Season, too. These twelve days (December 25-January 6) were designed as a time of celebration and intensive contemplation of what the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ began to set loose in the world. Christmastime essentially ends with the babe in the manger and the comforting illusion that all is now well with the world. Christmas Season begins with the birth of Jesus and gives us two full weeks to encounter the extraordinary love, threats, dangers and opportunities God's Incarnation set off then and still sets off today. 

The contrast could not be more stark.  Silencing the cries of baby Jesus is the mission of Christmastime, because his cries would break the illusion that all is well if we have played our role as "seasonal consumers" aright. But the readings of Christmas Season do not let us do that. We hear poignantly of the martyrdom of Stephen on December 26 and the wailing of Rachel renewed in the "slaughter of the innocents" on December 28. The stories of terrified then joyous shepherds in Luke, of wandering Iraqi astrologers in Matthew, and of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us in John provide at best a "strange comfort."

Christmastime lulls. Christmas Season awakens. 

Christmastime offers a nostalgia- and consumerism-driven Lethean escape from this world. Christmas Season drives us directly into this world's deepest sufferings and most profound hope.

The powers of this world love Christmastime, because it gets them off the hook!  Christmas Season reveals the lengths to which the powers of this world will go to avoid, obstruct or halt the coming of God's kingdom.  

For the Church to keep Advent and Christmas Season need not call us to stand back from or in harsh judgment on what the surrounding culture has created (with our cooperation!) in Christmastime. Feelings of peace and comfort, the joy of giving and receiving, warmth in the midst of winter-- these are all fine things. We can still enjoy them with family, friends and siblings in Christ.

But actually keeping these seasons in worship and in the life of the congregation calls and equips us for something far more, and far richer, than what “Christmastime” offers.  A full celebration of Advent, four to seven weeks, followed by a full celebration of Christmas Season enables us to see what the wider culture often keeps invisible, to feel with a depth Christmastime may anesthetize, and to love with the fierce determination of “God with us, every one.”

Three Ways Forward: Modest, Restorationist, and Radical

A Modest Way

In our article, A Modest Proposal for Advent/Christmas Peace, Safiyah Fosua, Dean McIntyre and I suggested starting the singing of Advent music two weeks early, and Christmas music beginning with what is now the third Sunday in Advent. This would give four full weeks of Advent focus, at least musically, plus up to four full weeks for Christmas (counting Epiphany Day or Sunday), giving each some significant time and focus. This wouldn't require changing lectionary readings at all. 

A Restorationist Way

A similar approach is offered by The Advent Project. Developed by Rev. Dr. Bill Petersen, Episcopal priest and liturgical scholar, together with a seminar of other scholars and practitioners in the North American Academy of Liturgy, The Advent Project also suggests changing the liturgical calendar, but not the lectionary at all. Petersen and company note that Advent used to be a season of seven Sundays until Pope Gregory VI shortened it to four in the eleventh century.

While Pope Gregory VI shortened the celebration, he actually didn't change the lectionaries. This meant that the readings appropriate for a seven-week celebration of Advent were still being read for seven weeks, starting with the first Sunday after All Saints Day (November 1). The current lectionaries Western Christians now use, both Roman Catholic and Revised Common Lectionaries, have preserved that pattern as well. So the Advent Project's proposal, already tried in a number of Episcopal, Lutheran and United Methodist congregations, aligns our celebration of Advent with the lectionaries we already have. Nothing else changes. Just the starting date for Advent, and, perhaps, as the project notes, the number of candles that might in included in an Advent wreath (seven plus a central candle, rather than four).

The Advent Project website has not only rationale, but also a rich set of resources including suggested prayers and "O Antiphons" (related to verses for "O Come, O Come Emmanuel") for each Sunday to help congregations who want to try it get started with solid support.

The Advent Project proposal also seems also be to gaining some wider ecumenical traction. This year, United Methodist, Episcopal, United Church of Canada, Presbyterian Church USA, Anglican Church of Canada, and several other denominations will continue to raise awareness of this possibility through their websites. The Consultation on Common Texts (developers of the Revised Common Lectionary) hosted an ecumenical forum on the topic at our meeting in New York in March, 2012. 

A primary plus of The Advent Project proposal to me and to worship staff in other denominations lies in it being an actual restoration of an earlier Christian practice.

A Radical Way

Many of us recognize that while these proposals would restore a longer time of

The Peace Tower at Christmas. Ottawa, Canada.
Used by permission under a
Creative Commons License
Advent celebration, it may not yet directly address what for nearly all of us remains a serious truncation of Christmas Season. Our congregations seem to spend all their energy on Christmas Eve, few keep Christmas Day itself, and as for the rest-- it's one or two "low Sundays" at best until folks get back from various "Christmas vacation" schedules. While the church year calls for high celebration and deep contemplation together, we are most often more scattered and less focused on worship than at any other time of the year.

That is why I have offered a third, much more radical approach. So for several years now, I have offered an approach that rearranges the lectionary readings to produce for  a four-week Advent and a four-week Christmastide.

Here's how it works. Start Advent two weeks early, and celebrate it for four weeks, ending with Advent 2 on the current calendar. There are no changes in the lectionary so far. You just back up and use the previous last two weeks of Year A as Advent readings.

Then, on what would have been the Third Sunday of Advent, start celebrating Christmas Season by using the readings for the Day of Epiphany. For what had been Advent 4, use the readings for the Sunday after Christmas. For Christmas Day and Eve, flip the established readings-- so the Incarnation is front and center on what is likely to be the most widely attended service. Then, for the next two Sundays, use the readings for Advent 3 and 4 as further reflection on the implications of the Incarnation and as lead-ins to Baptism of the Lord Sunday (first Sunday after January 6).

Here's a proposed set of readings for Advent and Christmas Season 2014/2015 based on this plan:

Advent 1
: November 16

Advent 2: November 23 (Christ the King)

Advent 3: November 30  

Advent 4: December 7

Christmastide 1: December 14

Christmastide 2: December 21

Christmas Eve: December 24

Christmas Day: December 25

Christmastide 3: December 28

Christmastide 4: January4

This way, even if the people in your congregation are scattered after Christmas Eve, you will still have given two full Sundays while more people are around to the established Christmas Season Sunday readings, not to mention Christmas Eve and Christmas Day itself, and you will have a different of readings to explore for the Sundays after Christmas.

I acknowledge this proposal is also problematic.  It seriously messes with the calendar and the order of the lectionary we have and share with many other Christians worldwide. It widely separates Epiphany from Baptism of the Lord, while the two had originated as celebrations kept on the same day. It may represent too much of a concession to the pressures of US culture. And because it is such a radical change, it may also be very unwelcome, despite the fact it may address our theological, liturgical and cultural needs for giving serious attention to both seasons.

How Will You Respond?

The time has come, clearly come, to celebrate both Advent and Christmas as fully as possible in the lives and worship of the Christians called United Methodists.  So let me suggest you prayerfully consider how you will do something to ensure your congregations have a richer celebration this year than last of Advent and Christmas. 

Pick one of these proposals, and give it a serious try. Or try something else, such as a full regular celebration of Advent and Christmas Season using the calendar and readings we already have, celebrating Advent for a full four weeks beginning November 30, 2014, and then a full Christmas Season (12 days) beginning December 24 after sunset-- finding some way to keep the energy of Christmas going well after Christmas Eve and its focus well beyond the babe in the manger.

We have a powerful message to proclaim, celebrate and contemplate as fully as we can at this time of the year. Resolve to do what it takes to make that happen where you are.

And know you have the full support of the worship office at your General Board of Discipleship and our counterparts in many other denominations as you do!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The UMC Version of the RCL: How It Differs from the "Standard" RCL, and Why

The UMC version? You mean The United Methodist Church does not follow the Revised
Cover of 20th Anniversary Annotated
Edition of The Revised Common Lectionary
Produced by The Consultation on Common Texts
Common Lectionary exactly?

That's right.

Of course most other denominations adapt the lectionary a bit for their own use as well.  It was made to be adaptable!

But United Methodists may have adapted the RCL the most.

And that is in part because we were its first official adopters when we approved the 1992 Book of Worship at General Conference during the spring of that year.

3 Major Variances, and Why We Vary

Two of our three areas of variance are about timing.

You may have noticed that the Psalter in our hymnal and some of the Psalm recommendations in our Book of Worship lectionary for each Sunday do not exactly match the Psalms or the verses recommended in the "full version" of the RCL presented on such sites as the Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary site, or Textweek. This is because General Conference had just approved The United Methodist Hymnal in 1988, published beginning in 1989. The version of the Psalter in that hymnal was based on the readings of The Common Lectionary, the 1983 predecessor to The Revised Common Lectionary. No one thought it wise to alter the still relatively new hymnal by re-doing the entire Psalter for something like a 1989 UMH version 2.0. So, instead, our version of the Psalter remains largely based on the Common Lectionary version, though we made the RCL reading an option when the entire Psalm in the RCL is different than what appears in the Common Lectionary and our hymnal.

The Late Draft Factor
You may also have noticed a few occasions when the verses selected, and sometimes even a whole pericope, are different than what appears in the "standard" version. That is because what we actually approved in the Book of Worship was a late but not final draft of the RCL.

Why did we approve a draft of a resource that would appear in full in 1992 you may ask?

That has to do with the timing of preparing legislation for General Conference. All legislation intended to come before General Conference must be in its final form during the late summer (typically by August) the year prior to the General Conference. This is so the legislation can be properly printed, translated and distributed to the delegates to General Conference by the end of that year so they have ample time to consider the thousands of pages of legislation that will be before them come April. This meant the Book of Worship had to be in a form, ready for press, a full eight months before General Conference. And that meant, from a publication standpoint, it actually had to be assembled at least a year ahead of time.

We wanted to be sure to include the RCL in our new Book of Worship, and not have to wait another four years to adopt it separately from the initial publication. So that meant that what was brought for approval to General Conference was a 1991 draft of the RCL.

Just One Track
Finally, you will notice that during the Season after Pentecost, the "standard" lectionary sites provide two sets of readings for each Sunday, while we provide just one.

The RCL includes both a semi-continuous and a complementary track for these Sundays. In the semi-continuous track, readings are selected from the Old Testament, Epistles and Gospels to allow for semi-continuous and unrelated readings in each throughout this season. This allows each, and particularly the Old Testament, to be heard and explored  in its own integrity.

The Common Lectionary (1983) had provided only a semi-continuous track. One of the major pieces of feedback The Consultation on Common Texts got from some denominations (notably Lutherans and Anglicans) was the need also to include the more traditional "typological" approach to Old Testament, where the Old Testament lesson would be chosen to foreshadow or reflect or otherwise help illumine the Gospel reading. A significant part of the work in creating the Revised Common Lectionary went into developing this complementary track as an option for those churches who indicated they needed it.

United Methodists, however, chose to include only the semi-continuous track. Part of this was for theological reasons. The developers of the Book of Worship generally preferred the option of letting the OT, Epistle and Gospel each speak on their own terms during this season of the  year. Part of it was also practical. To include the complementary track would have required many more pages in the lectionary section alone, pages which would end up being subtracted from those which could otherwise be available for other kinds of resources. The developers proposed, and General Conference approved, just the semi-continuous track for the Season after Pentecost.

So, there you have it, The United Methodist Version of the Revised Common Lectionary: Part Common Lectionary Psalter, part late-draft, and all semi-continuous for the Season after Pentecost.

And, we did it first!

Hooray for The RCL/UMC Version!

By Taylor Burton-Edwards
Director of Worship Resources, GBOD

Chair, The Consultation on Common Texts

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Whatever Happened to Kingdomtide?

By Taylor Burton-Edwards

Chances are if you are in the US, were born after 1960, and are not a United Methodist you may never have run across this designation.

In fact, chances are if you are a United Methodist who has heard of Kingdomtide and may still occasionally see the designation in United Methodist  program calendars and some other resources, you may not really know what it is— or, rather,  was-- even if you are one of our ordained clergy!


Kingdomtide was created in the late 1930s by the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America, predecessor of the National Council of Churches. It was one of a number of efforts sponsored by the Federal Council intended to foster greater unity among Protestant Christian denominations in the US. World Communion Sunday is another example.

At that point in history, most US Protestant denominations were generating their own lectionaries, each a sort of combination of historical lectionaries from their own traditions and denomination-specific programmatic days. These lectionaries were of course in agreement about dates like Easter, Christmas, and the beginning of Advent, but the readings and themes for the Sundays were literally all over the map. This was especially the case for the Sundays between Trinity (if they even celebrated Trinity) and the First Sunday of Advent.

So the Council’s thinking behind creating and promoting Kingdomtide was to establish a common topic, if not actually a common lectionary, for at least some of the Sundays after Pentecost by encouraging all Protestant Churches in the US to focus their denominational lectionaries and worship and preaching resources on the common theme of the Kingdom of God.

The initial proposal came from the Presbyterians. It was approved by the Council and published in the Council’s book on the church year released in 1937. That proposal designated all Sundays between Trinity and Advent 1 as Kingdomtide. The 1940 edition reflected a revision of the proposal in light of the practice of the newly created Methodist Church (1939).  Now Kingdomtide would be promoted only from the first Sunday in September through the end of the liturgical year. (This was before Protestants adopted Christ the King as the last Sunday of the year).


Kingdomtide did generate significant attention and resourcing during its first two decades, though it did not catch on evenly everywhere. Methodists and Presbyterians continued to be the primary promoters into the 1960s through their own denominational lectionaries and programming.

With Vatican II and the strength it infused into Protestant ecumenical efforts, US Protestants began abandoning exclusive denominational lectionaries and calendars and seeking to develop a common lectionary and a common Christian calendar all could use and recognize. The Consultation on Common Texts (CCT), beginning in earnest in the early 1970s, became the primary channel for this work. Gathering scholars and worship officers from many Protestant and Catholic denominations in the US and Canada, CCT developed and released the Common Lectionary in 1983 for trial use and feedback. Based on two full cycles of use and ongoing feedback through the third cycle, CCT released the Revised Common Lectionary and a common Christian calendar in 1992. As of now, 22 years after its release, most major mainline Protestant denominations in the US and Canada, and a constantly increasing number worldwide, either endorse, require, or officially commend (as does The UMC) the Revised Common Lectionary and its calendar for use by their churches.

The creation of Kingdomtide thus turned out to be a small but important way station on the road by which US Protestants moved from denominationally distinct lectionaries and calendars to a common lectionary and calendar. It answered a valuable purpose in trying to coordinate worship emphases across denominations for several decades. That purpose has now been far more fully realized through the RCL and its calendar.  The initial need for Kingdomtide no longer exists.

United Methodists  are the only Christian denomination in the US to have retained Kingdomtide in any form after the release of the Common and Revised Common Lectionaries and their calendars. And we have retained it in title only, no longer providing any sort of denominational resourcing to underwrite its use, as, in fact, none is any longer needed. The RCL gospel readings include the significant portions of the teaching of Jesus on the nature and work of the Kingdom of God both during the Season after Pentecost and throughout the year. The raw material for a focus on the Kingdom of God is thus already present, already widely used by Christians across North America and worldwide, and no longer limited to one season of the year.

Whatever happened to Kingdomtide? Its initial purposes have been accomplished in ways its creators could not have envisioned, and we are all the richer for it. Insisting on continuing to keep in now may be a bit akin to insisting we use the King James Bible in worship. Like the King James Bible, Kingdomtide played a valuable purpose in creating a powerful common focus among Christians of many Protestant traditions in the US and even worldwide for a time through US global outreach. We can be grateful for that. But also like the KJV, we can recognize that further developments mean we no longer have a particular need to designate these Sundays after Pentecost as Kingdomtide.

Kingdomtide’s time is fulfilled. A common lectionary and a globally shared common calendar have been in hand for several decades now. Let us rejoice in this good news, content to say thanks for what and where Kingdomtide has brought us—and move on!