Diversity Celebratory Days in the Local Church Calendar

Usually, there are two types of celebratory days in your church calendar: church-specific days and liturgical celebratory days. Church-specific days celebrate milestones and important events in the history of the local church such as the church anniversary, or a building dedication anniversary, or the AGM. Liturgical celebratory days are those important days for Christianity such as Easter, Advent, and the Day of Pentecost.

There is a third category of important dates in church calendar: civil celebratory days. Some of them like Mother’s and Father’s Day naturally make their way into the calendar. National days such as Canada Day and Remembrance Day also are observed as part of the church calendar. Nonetheless, there is another set of civil days that remains absent in yearly calendars: days and months that celebrate and recognize the cultural heritage and social struggle of minorities and marginal groups. A few examples for these days are: National Indigenous Peoples’ Day (June 21st), Black History Month (February), or Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage month (May), among others.  The trepidation to make some of these days an important part of a church calendar can have multiple causes. In essence, all of use carry an ounce of concern that if we recognize a people group or a minority group, then we are going to alienate some members of the majority culture or members of another minority group that would want the same recognition. The potential for backlash could deter someone from avoiding the matter altogether.

My personal conviction is that those events that are important to the people groups that are influential in our sphere of influence, in and out of the church, should be an important part of our church calendar. The justification for the addition of civil celebration should lie in our understanding of ecclesiology and church liturgy, and not in some hollow response to the demands of today’s society. In other words, recognizing days and months that celebrate diversity should be an expression of corporate worship to God. I will briefly explain how social concern is part of the liturgy, and then provide practical example of how churches can start incorporating some of the occasions previously mentioned.

Celebration of Social Transformation: The third Layer of Church Liturgy

Whether we acknowledge it or not, our church calendar is reflects important aspects of our conception of divine liturgy. We incorporate special days that allow us to celebrate and remember together the grace and power of the triune God. We do not celebrate Easter or the Nativity emptily. We celebrate these special occasions because they are centered around events that hold spiritual meaning for us and celebrating them enhances our worship of God and brings us together as God’s people. The church gathers to worship God and that act of worship is expressed in specific ways during seasons in the liturgical calendar that we choose to observe.

However, church liturgy is communal as much as it is doxological. We gather to worship but we do so by being together. Gathering together is a communal act in which our worship of God come together to exalt Him and bind us in unity. What happens in our liturgy is not that each individual worships on their own while being physically located in the same place. Rather, the worship of one becomes the worship of all, and that forms a holy space of worship, devotion and love for our God (See Heb 12:22). However, our identity as a Christian community then has significant impact into how we conceptualize human relationships and allegiances. It is in this space of community sanctification that we can locate the spiritual significance of observing Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, and national patriotic days as it brings a spiritual lens to our lives as children, parents, spouses, and citizens, and tangibly brings the notion that God guides our lives in upholding our family relationships and civil duties.

Given the centrality of God’s work in our familial and civil relationships, we must ponder the connection between the recognition of marginalized communities and public worship gatherings. The commandment to “Love the foreigner like one of your own” (Lev 19: 33) is part of a series of ethical guidelines for Israel to emulate God’s holiness in their everyday life and relationships. Amos 5:24 reveals that God is as zealous for justice in the land as He is for worship. Given the connection between worship and social transformation, observing special days for marginalized people groups should be part of the special occasions we observe as a local church in a year.

Initial Thoughts about Inclusion of Diversity Days in a Local Church Calendar

A starting point would be to have at least two of these occasions in a church calendar. Choosing which one(s) could be based on the level of national and local significance to each church. In Canada, for example, National Indigenous Peoples Days (and/or Truth and Reconciliation Day) bears primacy as recognizing their place in Canadian society is a priority after the troubling past of the Residential school systems. Thus, a special mention of these dates in our church calendar assumes a posture of empathy and humility. These occasions are great to have an indigenous church member or pastor to bring greetings, share a testimony, or pray in an indigenous language.

The second (or third, fourth, etc..) special occasion could be chosen upon significance to the local church. If you minister in a city with a large Chinese-descent population, observing the Lunar New Year could be a great way to celebrate with that community. If there has been a great influx of Afro-descendant people groups in your church membership, setting aside a weekend in February to observe Black History Month will be very well received. The tone of your mention should be honouring, respectful, and celebratory as the people group you recognize is an important part of your church family and/or city.

In conclusion, a concern for people groups in our liturgy aligns with God’s character and His desire for His people to actively love and honour our neighbors from minority groups. The observance of some of the civil dates could make a great impact in communicating that everyone is welcome and has a place in the local church family.

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