Lent and Advent celebrations were totally absent in the first 30 years of my 75-year Christian Reformed experience. Now they abound. Why now and not then?
Your experience matches ours. Growing up, we never heard of church seasons like Lent and Advent either, and they certainly were not mentioned in worship! We first became aware of them when in 1989 we joined our current congregation, where the Children’s Worship program had recently been introduced. In Children’s Worship, children learn about the church seasons and the colors that go with them. The church calendar and its rhythms were gradually incorporated into congregational worship as well. Lent, Advent, and other church seasons that have long been part of many other denominations are now deeply embedded in many Christian Reformed churches.
We asked Scott Hoezee, director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary, about this question, and he described a similar experience. He noted that Children’s Worship influenced many Christian Reformed churches, as did the establishment of the seasonally organized magazine Reformed Worship (1986) and the gray Psalter Hymnal (1987). These coincided with a larger ecumenical movement in the 1980s in which Christian Reformed churches joined with other congregations from across the theological spectrum in recognizing the church calendar.
One reason church seasons had not been historically recognized in the CRC was that it was considered too Roman Catholic for the iconoclastic Reformers, who resisted stoles, colors, banners, and other pageantry. The Reformers viewed every Sunday as a little celebration of Easter, and these other things were seen as distractions.
There is more to this history, of course. But using the same liturgical cues in Children’s Worship and congregational worship builds a continuum of comfort, understanding and wonder in children. Recognizing the church seasons has helped our children—and us—to have a deeper appreciation for the rhythm of the church year, and it has shaped our understanding of how God worked in the biblical story and continues to work today.
About the Authors
Laura Keeley is a regional catalyzer for Faith Formation Ministries in the CRCNA and director of childrens ministries at 14th St. CRC in Holland, Mich.
Robert J. Keeley is Professor of Education Emeritus at Calvin University and a music leader at 14th St CRC in Holland, MI.