Faith Works 5-21-16b
Ordinary Time Is Anything But
In liturgically oriented Christian churches, the season of Easter ends with Pentecost, just last Sunday.
Which means in those traditions that Monday was the beginning of "Ordinary Time."
Ordinary Time is best known to worshipers as the unbearably long stretch from May to the end of November when the green cloths on the pulpit, lectern, and communion table are on view week after week.
Advent is four weeks, Lent seven or so, all in purple (or royal blue, ask your altar guild); white and gold come out a few weeks for Christmas and Easter, and you see red "paraments" (as they're called altogether as worship area décor, sometimes including special banners) at Pentecost for a week and on some other saint's days and for ordinations.
The Red doesn't get much wear, while the Green tends to fade fastest of the whole four color set of cloths.
The green paraments, longer days, and meandering course through the lectionary means that "Ordinary Time" can seem pretty ordinary, in the ordinary sense of the word. It's just church, as usual. Right?
It's also the stretch of time when youth and counselors are sent to camp, Bible schools and conferences are commissioned or put on in Fellowship Hall, school ends in the latter days of spring and then begins again as fall starts to jostle past summer.
Vacations for worship leaders and preachers mean that different faces show up in unusual places in the service, new voices and completely different approaches to the sermon or mediations or even at the table for communion.
In Ordinary Time, a number of extraordinary things happen: Memorial Day, the longest day of the year with the summer solstice, Fourth of July and all the events around that week, Labor Day, All Hallows Eve (which you may know by another name). Some of these nudge into the worship space, while other parsons keep them at the door.
Regardless, there's harvest time in the autumn – planting may or may not take place entirely within Ordinary Time, but it always overlaps with the beginning of it to some degree. Whether your congregation has farmers or not, the movement of the field equipment and the gathering in of the crops catches the eye and mind even as the days shorten up again.
Most congregations at harvest time do some sort of special stewardship emphasis, in education or a full-on campaign, talking about the gifts we've been given and the gratefulness that leads us to give something back, to pay forward on our blessings to a generation still rising, or yet to come.
United Methodists got so weary of "Ordinary Time" that they tried decades ago to break it in half, and call for a "Kingdomtide" in the latter half of the season between the liturgical seasons, calling for late summer and early fall to be a time for churches to focus on social ministries, care for the poor and those in need. It tied back to an older model of Community Chest (now United Way) when there was a fall "black out" period for fundraising to any group other than the shared appeal in the area.
Kingdomtide, like so many well-meant ideas, never really caught on, but you run into hints and traces of it. There are other special Sundays in various faith traditions (Higher Education Sunday, Rally Day, Week of the Ministry) that tended to dot this season, many of which are faded along with the green cloths on the pulpit and lectern.
Ordinary Time. It's the time in our life when we work to live as Christians without the immediate inspiration of a baby's birth, wise men on the road, or the journey to the cross, and beyond. Advent and Lent, along with their counterparts Christmas and Easter, are key productions of the worship dramas in our repertory, but ordinary time is when we tend to the everyday business of love and forgiveness, maintenance and mutual upbuilding.
The ordinary parts of life are often the first to be neglected when things aren't going well for us, and that's no less true in our corporate life. Any church can pull of a Christmas pageant when it has to, but keeping up with the week by week gathering in fullness and fellowship is the real test of our faithfulness.
Welcome to Ordinary Time. I pray that it is extraordinary for you and your church!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your ordinary adventures in faithfulness at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.