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A big no to themes for Sundays

23 September 2016

TIME for a liturgical rant: my beef this week is with themed Sundays. There are many, and they are no doubt a godsend to those ministers who have abandoned the calendar, along with the liturgy, and need an endless supply of new “re­­sources” to keep worship going week by week.

So we have Sea Sunday, Educa­tion Sunday, Racial Justice Sunday, Homeless Sunday, Back to Church Sunday. I can see the point of ex­­ploit­­ing some of these, if they fit your particular context; but, for many, they are more of an oppor­tunity for treating worship as a kind of magazine. There are colour feat­ures (readings, sermons), ad­­verts (hymns), editorial (informal minis­terial chat), and endless, endless mean­ingful inter­cessions.

I am even a bit iffy about the well-established themed Sundays: Moth­ering Sunday (nothing wrong with Refreshment Sunday and a bunch of flowers given out at the end), and Remembrance Sunday (fine for an ecumenical event at the war mem­orial, but not to dominate the day).

Even worse than themed Sun­days are new seasons, such as the Crea­tion Season (thank you, Patri­arch Demetrios and Pope Francis). This is surely based on a misunder­stand­­ing: Ord­inary Time, with its suggest­­ive liturgical colour, is all about living in and with the cre­ated world. Any preacher sensitive to scrip­ture can interpret what this means in a time of environmental crisis.

Although I am not keen on new seasons, the exception I might make is for the Kingdom Season (All Saints’ to Advent, as it is unhelp­fully labelled by Common Worship), because it at least it gives an op­­portunity to wear the under-used red vestments, and to ensure that the themes of overcrowded Advent have a bit of space.

Themed Sundays have agendas. That is what they are for. They are a chance to put ourselves on the side of the nice and the good, to think well of ourselves by what has be­­come known as virtue-signalling. The Christian year, however, is not for signalling our own virtues, or the lack of them. It is for attending to the redemptive work of God, revealed in scripture and through the experience of the Church.

The two great cycles of the Chris­tian year — Advent to Epiphany and Lent to Pentecost — are Christolo­gical in focus. They show how time is re­­deemed by pointing to­­wards heaven and the life of the world to come. Between and after those great cycles, though, is the graced reality of the present time: Ordinary Time, where we actually live now. It is OK in God’s sight to live in the now, with much that is unresolved, un­­redeemed, and unsettled. We do not need themed Sundays or extra seasons, just guidance and hope for the challenges of today.


The Revd Angela Tilby is Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford

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