Last night saw the first of an Advent discipleship group we are holding this year, an open invitation to the congregations of Sunderland Minster and the neighbouring parish of St Nicholas’. On a wet and windy night, we were fourteen, and an even mix from both congregations. The format is very simple, and based on the Prayers at the Advent Wreath, from Common Worship: Times and Seasons. I produced a workbook for participants, JOURNEY TOGETHER THROUGH ADVENT—see following posts for the content, though not the formatting, which includes various line drawings and other illustrations. Advent doesn’t begin until Sunday, but we wanted a series of four weekday evenings, and with Christmas Day falling on a Tuesday this year, we had a take a head-start. A fifth session, looking back at Christmas, will be held early in the new year.
We welcomed people with tea and coffee and star-shaped gingerbread Lebkuchen—engaging the senses of smell and taste in the experience.
We will begin each time singing Maggi Dawn’s achingly beautiful Advent carol Into the darkness of this world [you can link to a version, here]. It was unfamiliar to most of the group but will become known over the weeks.
I bought large pillar candles for their visual impact: three dark purple, one pink, and one white [see footnote]. We placed them in a line—purple, purple, white, pink, purple—but may place them in a cardinal compass around the white candle. And here I have gone with the tradition of having the white Christ-light candle lit each week and lighting the other candles from it; rather than the tradition of saving the Christ-light until Christmas Day.
Each week, there will be an additional visual prompt.
The format is to gather, sing, light candle(s); a question to get us talking; and a Bible passage to read. We did this all together as one group, with a volunteer reader. This took about 30 minutes. Then we broke into three smaller groups to discuss the questions, for about half-an-hour; and ended with saying the closing prayer together. You can have a good conversation in just half-an-hour, and it felt important to keep the total time to an hour, leaving people wanting more rather than wishing they were headed home already.
Introduction to the workbook:
Advent is the start of a new church year. It is a season of expectancy and of preparing ourselves to receive afresh the wonderful but utterly disruptive gift of Jesus, God-with-us. The purpose of this booklet is to be a resource for groups of people who want to journey through Advent together, wherever they might choose to meet up. Like those good friends Piglet and Winnie-the-Pooh, we do not need to be especially courageous or wise but find that adventures are better shared.
This resource takes as its structure the Prayers at the Advent Wreath, from Common Worship: Times and Seasons. These prayers are used to open and close each of five conversations, four leading up to Christmas and a fifth to be had at some point during the Christmas season. Each session follows the same pattern, including a conversation starter, a Bible passage to read and reflect on, and some questions to discuss. Depending on the nature of the group, these questions might simply be the springboard for further questions of your own. Each session also includes the visual prompt of the Advent candles, and suggestions for other simple visual aids.
Footnote: Purple is the traditional colour of Advent. The candles represent:
Week 1 (purple) the patriarchs and matriarchs of the faith;
Week 2 (purple) the prophets;
Week 3 (pink) John the Baptist;
Week 4 (purple) the Virgin Mary;
Christmas (white) the Christ.
The pink candle, a lighter, brighter hue, goes with John the Baptist and the cry in the wilderness to rejoice; it does not go with week 4, Mary. For one thing, Mary has always traditionally been associated with blue; for another, pink was not associated with girls until the second half of the twentieth century.