Unglued church

Let’s begin, again

Rituals encourage us to dig deep

By Rev. Sarah Robbins


unknown-1I am a creature of habit. I love ritual and routine and the opportunity to experience something again and again. I feel like it helps me to dig deep and truly envelop myself in what someone has written, or created or cooked. It is one of the ways that you can tell what I value and what’s important.

Maybe you are like me. Maybe cycles, patterns and habits are helpful to you and bring you joy this Advent season. Maybe you find comfort in doing the same things in the same way at this time of year. Who doesn’t love returning to and reconsidering the stories of Mary, of angels, or the visions and promises found in Isaiah? Who doesn’t love holding a candle in a dark sanctuary on Christmas Eve?

The fact that part of our Reformed tradition includes the reading of the lectionary, with the same scriptures at the same time of the year, year after year should speak volumes as to what we value and what we understand God to be asking of us. We believe that there is enormous value in reading and rereading God’s word to us in scripture, because we trust that the Holy Spirit will join us in that reading, illumine new things to us each time and deepen our relationship with Christ in so doing.

It is curious to me, then, that when it comes to the important questions that individual congregations and committees are supposed to ask themselves on a cyclical basis, we tend to believe that process is boring, unhelpful or too routine.

In our lives outside the church walls, we know this to be the time of year when we celebrate or mourn all that this past year has brought and we are introspective in looking at what next year could hold. We examine relationships, finances, goals and the like.

When it comes to our lives inside the church walls, we err on the side of thinking that self examination and “why” questions are counterproductive to maintaining what we have and what we do as a congregation or a committee.

Advent teaches us that nothing could be farther from the truth. Asking questions about preparation and readiness to meet Christ in the most unexpected places is something we do each year. We should be applying the same sacred habit to our work as the Church.

Let us begin, again. Let us begin again at the start of this new liturgical year by asking ourselves the questions we neglect but could yield surprising results. Let us ask questions about why we do what we do with our time and our finances. Let us ask the purpose behind each action and each meeting to see if it truly elicits the kind of world-changing love and justice to which we are called.

Recently, I had the opportunity to co-lead a retreat for a Committee on Ministry of another presbytery. I was impressed that they take time to gather together to look at the year ahead and consider how they can best serve. They were ready to ask the “why” questions because they know the church and it’s committees are and should be adaptable in responding to the worlds needs. They were willing to ask questions that might not have answers they were hoping for, or prompt discussions that they knew could lead them to another way of being and serving.

Might we all be ready to be surprised by our answers? We know that how we spend our time is evidence of what we value. If the answers to any of the “why are we doing this” questions sound at all like “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” then it’s well past time to cut that activity or committee meeting loose. The church certainly doesn’t have time to lose in the coming year.

Let us embrace the opportunity to answer the question why, to articulate our motivation and explore new ways of doing what we’re always supposed to be up to–loving and serving Christ through others. Let us begin, again.

img_8450Rev. Sarah Robbins is an at-large teaching elder in Pittsburgh Presbytery. She has served as pastor to two churches and currently serves on the Presbytery’s COM as well as in leadership of the Unglued Church Project. She is married to a another teaching elder and together they have one child and two basset hounds.