un-missional2015

How To Never Let a Holiday Go Un-Missional Again

It’s “Ordinary Time” according to the traditional Christian liturgical calendar, but in our neighbourhoods it’s a new year! We start school in a new grade, sign up and get involved in new programs and activities, and get involved in sports teams, music lessons, and clubs. We transition out of summer and increasingly find ourselves caught up in all the busyness of more opportunities than we possibly can attend to.
So, how do Christ followers bear witness to the Kingdom in the midst of the often frenetic rhythms of the ‘new year’? What does it mean for us to, according to Micah 5:7, “take [our] place among [our neighbours, such that we] will be like dew sent by the Lord or like rain falling on the grass, which no one can hold back and no one can restrain”?

DoBe the Dew

We have had a lot of dew this fall. It glistens in the early morning sun on every surface. On the coloured leaves and flowers it creates a shimmer of beauty and gleams with refracting colours making one pause in awe. Dew refreshes. Dew nourishes.
In Scripture, dew is a sign of God’s blessing. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains that the people of God “shall be great blessings to those among whom they live, as the dew and the showers are to the grass, to make it grow without the help of man, or the sons of men. Their doctrine, example, and prayers, shall make them as dew, to soften and moisten others, and make them fruitful.”
I wonder, then, how we might be among our neighbours like dew, making our neighbourhoods beautiful, stirring up pauses and moments of awe, softening, moistening, making them fruitful.
[Tweet “How might we be among our neighbours like dew?”]

The Community Calendar

Perhaps we might begin by discovering: by coming alongside and participating in the “new year” rhythms of our neighbourhoods. This means being present and active amongst our neighbours in such a way that there is also something shimmery about the way we live among them which, by the power of the Spirit, causes others to pause and ponder the way dew makes things sparkle!
Being like dew requires shaping our calendars–not around church-sponsored programs and activities in “the building,” but around the life of the neighbourhood: the community calendar. In September, therefore, our households are involved in and serve with their neighbours at sports teams’ registration nights, “welcome back” socials, community harvest fairs, Oktoberfests, and so on.

Thanksgiving

In Canada, the first big celebration of the fall is Thanksgiving, which happens in the second weekend of October. Historically, the churched have primarily gathered with the churched and our feasts have been rather exclusive family events. Not anymore. We celebrate with our neighbours! For the last few years, we have had wonderful Thanksgiving feasts with numerous neighbourhood households.
Last year, we set up a Thanksgiving board painted with a huge pumpkin in the hallway. Neighbours of all ages wrote on sticky notes things for which they were thankful, and the board was soon covered in pink, green, yellow, and blue sticky notes. We held hands and shared what we were thankful for before we enjoyed an incredible potluck feast complete with turkey, ham, and numerous side dishes.
We also created a Thanksgiving trivia quiz, which gave us the opportunity to have some fun as we discovered outrageous facts about turkeys, pumpkins, and other seasonal traditions. It also gave us the opportunity to explain the Christian practise of gratitude. One year, we told the story of the ten lepers and shared how only one of whom returned to thank Jesus.
Every year, we take the opportunity to tell our neighbours how much we appreciate them and how, for us, our neighbourhood has taught us about God’s Kingdom for which we are so grateful! We invite guests to bring donations to the food bank and are always amazed at how much is given. The box is quickly filled to overflowing. And one of our neighbours, who volunteers there every week, is delighted to bring our contributions. Being among like dew at Thanksgiving ‘softens’ us all with the Spirit of gratitude.

Halloween

The next event on the North American neighbourhood calendar is Halloween. Of course, for decades Christians were instructed to ignore and avoid this festivity entirely. Churches set up alternative events, insisting that their congregants leave their neighbourhoods on the very night all the neighbours were out and about! Thankfully, there is a growing understanding that participating in trick-or-treating and hanging out with our neighbours on All Hallows Eve does not mean we are in favour of evil, witches, demons, the “principalities and powers,” and so on.
Instead, it is an opportunity for us to hang out with our neighbours and to be faithfully present in fun and creative ways amongst them. For the last few years, for example, our cul-de-sac has set up a campfire and warm refreshments like hot apple cider and hot chocolate (yes, including spiked options), welcoming all to hang out. Consequently, instead of being locked up by ourselves in our separate homes waiting for costumed visitors, we’re all visiting together for several hours on the 31st of October.
[Tweet “Halloween’s an opportunity to hang out with neighbours & be faithfully present amongst them”] We have our treats with us, and the kids and families who are trick-or-treating join us for a few minutes or even linger around the fire for a while. Some return later to chill some more! One evening, this led to one of the most meaningful spiritual conversations I have ever had with a particular neighbour, which began by him remarking as we sat next to each other in the warmth and glow of the fire, “You’re not like any other religious person I have ever known!”
We have also had a neighbourhood potluck during this time of year and explored “All Saints’ Day” and its connection to Halloween. These are not add-ons, church programs, or even church-sponsored events. They are simply ways that God provides for us to be together as neighbours such that dew is falling on the weekly, seasonal rhythms of life in the neighbourhood.

Remembrance Day/Veteran’s Day

In November, Remembrance Day in Canada and Veteran’s Day in the US are additional opportunities to come alongside our neighbours, this time as we remember. We have found that acknowledging our losses and giving one another a place and time to pause, mourn, lament, and grieve can be incredibly significant. Along with our neighbours, we are so often caught up in the haste and pressures of a consumer lifestyle that we rarely pause to remember and reflect on the bigger picture, the realities of life and death, and what life’s really all about.

Advent/Christmas

By the end of the month, Americans are enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday and the Christian calendar is closing Ordinary Time with Christ the King Sunday and Advent, the four weeks of preparation for Christmas. It is here that the Christian and the neighbourhood calendar can come together seamlessly. We can prepare together as neighbours for the 25th even if we have a wide variety of perspectives on what that holiday is.
[Tweet “We can prepare for Dec. 25th together with neighbours despite a variety of perspectives”] Many of our neighbourhood missional communities facilitate “Reason for the Season” gatherings, which consist of a weekly potluck supper and conversations around Advent-Christmas themes. We have frequently used the traditional gifts of Christmas (hope, peace, joy and love) for instance. We have discussed favourite Christmas movies. We have shared favourite Christmas stories—personal, contemporary, and traditional. We have learned about the circumstances behind the writing of some famous Christmas carols and, indeed, tried to sing or play them too!
We have reviewed the Christmas traditions of our different cultures and heritages. And on the last gathering before Christmas day, we dwell in the Biblical story of God becoming flesh and moving into the neighbourhood. One year, this was entirely new and good news for one eleven-year-old in our midst. Another time an intriguing conversation ensued about believing in angels and virgin births.
The amazing thing is that no one seems to be offended or feel manipulated or coerced when we’re all side by side around the table. We’re just sharing the reason for the season together as friends and neighbours, and the Spirit is present like dew that no one can hold back, and no one can restrain.
It all reminds me of a passage from 1 Thessalonians that says, “we were like children among you. Or we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.”
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Dr. Karen Wilk

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