On the first Sunday of this month, one of the worshippers greeted me and our lead pastor at the conclusion of the service by saying, “Can you believe it’s already August?!” Then he added, “Next week it will be Christmas!”
I have to agree. Time seems to be whizzing by at breakneck speed. I wasn’t quite ready to hear the word “Christmas,” but the gentleman is right. Even though we are currently sweltering in summer heat, in a flash we will be enjoying the family gatherings and special events of the holiday season.
Church leaders often find ourselves living ahead on a page of the calendar.
At the New Year, we are planning and preparing for Lent and Easter. In the spring, we are already immersed in the details of summer’s Vacation Bible Camp and youth service projects. In the “lazy” days of August, we get ready for fall programs, and when fall arrives we start thinking about Christmas. We know we have to stay at least one step ahead to help our community celebrate, learn, grow and worship in meaningful ways.
Here at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, the choir director is on vacation in August, but he already knows rehearsals for Vivaldi’s Gloria will begin on Oct. 9. (You are welcome to join the choir, by the way, or to attend the Christmas Concert on Dec. 15, at 7 p.m.)
The preschool is, for a brief period, not in session, but the teachers are getting their new temporary classrooms ready. The old education buildings are only just being dismantled, and even in the midst of demolition, we are gearing toward a grand opening of the new building one year from now. The pastors are mindful of the worship services coming up this Sunday and are also contemplating plans for the last Sunday of the calendar year.
No doubt similar dynamics are present beyond the church in many other aspects of our community projects, activities and rhythms.
Lots of events that add value to our life together require foresight, solid planning and good communication. No sooner does one season end than another begins.
The good news is that we always have something to work toward and be excited about. The risk is that we get swept along in a way that makes us feel breathless and a little bit unmoored. One strategy for learning to enjoy the forward motion of time is to remember we are not alone. Another is to appreciate and attend to the current moment.
Our worthy endeavors bring us companionship in the form of other people of good will.
Think, for example of the Biblical character Jonathan being addressed by his armor carrier with the words, “I am with you. As your mind is, so is mine” (1 Samuel 14:7). Or, recall Ruth declaring to grief-stricken Naomi, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge” (Ruth 1:16).
Even more reliable is the presence of God, who keeps promising, starting from Genesis, “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go” (Genesis 28:15) and encouraging, through the prophets who attempted to guide their nation, “Do not fear, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). That same promise is vocalized by Jesus in the Gospel narratives as he says to the disciples, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). Knowing we are loved and accompanied can help us remain at peace both when the pace of life seems to be moving too fast and when it appears to have slowed to a crawl.
We can be at peace when we remember to observe the world as it is right now. Flowers are blooming. Birds are eating. Children are playing with abandon and then coming back to the safety of their homes. The sunrise brings a new beginning and the sunset closes another day.
“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength,” the Lord God attempts to remind us through the prophet Isaiah (30:15).
It may be that Christmas is coming as soon as next week. It is also true that this very moment is full of life and love.
April Herron is the associate pastor at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church.