If you got a new 55-inch LED smart TV for Christmas, you shoved the old 32-incher out of the way, right?
It should be the same with other things in life that no longer serve a useful purpose, a Raleigh church told its members Sunday morning. With a new year on its way, the congregation at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship had a chance to say a formal goodbye to whatever they wanted to let go of: grudges, griefs, and all the garbage that had accumulated in their homes and hearts over the past 12 months.
“ ‘Stuff’ encumbers us,” the Rev. John Saxon, lead minister of the church, told the congregation. He was speaking of the closets and cabinets full of material goods of the past 25 years that he and his wife are trying to clear out of their home as they get ready to move to smaller place. Sorting through it all, he said – and keeping only what still brings happiness – is not just a way to de-clutter, “but also a way of rediscovering and reclaiming joy in our lives.”
On the Christian calendar, Christmas is officially celebrated from Dec. 24 until Jan. 6 — from Christmas Eve until Epiphany. New Year’s falls in between, and if marked at all, it’s usually noted as a holiday, when the church office is closed. It’s traditionally a period of down time after the busy Advent season. At the Raleigh Fellowship, attendance Sunday was a little more than 100 people, about half the usual number for a Sunday service.
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But each New Year, Saxon said, the Raleigh Fellowship has a service to mark the passing of the old, and the arrival of the new. The theme of this year’s service was: ’Tis the Season to Clean Up for Your Spirit & Soul.
Unitarian Universalists describe theirs as a welcoming, inclusive, liberal religious community that empowers people to serve the world.
Sunday’s service was led by the church’s director of music, Yuri Yamamoto, who grew up in Japan where New Year’s is the biggest holiday. She said her family usually celebrated by attending services at both a Buddhist temple and a Shinto shrine, often in the same day.
This service incorporated elements of Japanese New Year’s celebrations, Yamamoto said. Members of the church came forward during the service to take down the garlands and white lights of Christmas and replace them with New Year’s arrangements of pine and bamboo.
Dozens lined up during the service to place pebbles on an altar to signify letting go the weight of the past, or to blow on a bit of paper before dropping it onto a flame as a symbolic release or cleansing of impurities. Children from the congregation emulated the Japanese tradition of tolling bells 108 times during the cleansing by tapping inverted tube-cake pans with mallets.
Wendy Gates Corbett, a lay leader in the fellowship, told a story – the church doesn’t call it a sermon or a homily – about the process of winnowing down her email list as a way of restoring order and calm in her professional life.
Yamamoto told a story of trying to get rid of boxes of things in her own home, which she said will be rewarding in the end but is creating chaos in the meantime, as she sorts through every container. It started, she said, with an effort this fall to cull materials she had saved from a previous career as a scientist, a job to which she no longer sees herself returning.
Realizing this and moving on, she said, has been liberating.
“The project has become a process of deciding who I am and who I want to be.”