Worship: once a year (or as needed)

Please excuse a moment of somewhat-silly ecclesiastic conjecture. Regular readers know I am considering working with a congregation that will meet for worship once a month. I know what you’re thinking: Once a month! Why so much? Geez. Slow down! Don’t you have anything else to do?

Well, I do know of some churches that meet once or twice a year. Why?

  • It’s a associated with a legal membership meeting or other requirement of an otherwise dormant church. (I know of a Universalist church in Canada that meets four times a year for this reason.)
  • It’s a religious observance associated with a family reunion. (I know of and have preached to a dormant Universalist church like this; the church has a cemetery, which I suspect is the compelling reason for this annual service.)
  • It’s an extended ministry — perhaps to a small expat or linguistic community — and is dependent on overstretched clergy support.

This last case seems to be the case of some non-English-speaking Lutherans in the United Kingdom. (Don’t ask what got me reading about these.)  Consider the Icelandic Lutherans in Hull, who only worship in Advent and early June. Or the Latvian Lutherans in Swansea, seen twice a year. Or the Icelanders in Edinburgh who only meet (once) in Advent.  Likewise the Norwegian Lutherans in Cardiff and Bristol, who also get a tree-trimming party as a part of the package.

There are two other once-a-year worship services I can think of: the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship communion service at General Assembly and the Sunday morning ecumenical Christian service at the U.S. Esperanto Landa Kongreso.

These two in particular make me think of how a once-yearly service might be helpful, say for Unitarian Universalist Christians and Esperanto-speaking Christians (and others of course): to start a religious presence, rather than wind one down. One, of course, can lead to more and little is better than none. But there’s something to be said for a yearly service here, and one a couple of towns over, and so forth until a network is created.  And unlike a more frequent service, a yearly (or twice- or thrice-) service can also be the basis of a regional invitation. A weekend or even longer: a conference rather than a single Sunday morning.

Now, if once a year, when? The Advent dates above suggest a pre-Christmas — so as not to conflict with more regular congregation — observance, but All Souls or Rally Sunday (first Sunday in September) have their appeals. So also the last Sunday in May, to take advantange of the Memorial Day weekend, especially if the intent is to restart a church with a graveyard. Week of Christian Unity (in January) or World Communion Sunday (in October) might be better for the Esperantists, especially since December is already in play for the language’s founder’s December 15 birthday.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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