Sandwiched between Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday is the first Sunday of Advent – as you may know, the real reason for the season.
Episcopal, Catholic and some Presbyterian churches all across the Triangle marked the occasion with Sunday services, some even lighting the first candle on Advent wreathes. Among them was Duke Memorial United Methodist Church, where adults and children gathered before Sunday’s service for an Advent workshop.
In the church hall, Sunday school regulars from ages 2 to 65 did craft projects to help foster a spirit of giving, from making holiday cards for homebound church members to painting paper wreaths for the elderly residents of J.J. Henderson Housing Center, a nearby affordable housing high-rise.
“What we’re helping to do is prepare for entering fully into the Advent season,” said Melissa Florer-Bixler, who oversees Duke Memorial’s children’s ministry.
Duke University divinity professor Amy Laura Hall said that Advent is about anticipating the birth of Jesus, appreciating Mary’s embrace of her role and explaining how this baby’s arrival changed the world.
“It takes those four Sundays of Advent to get into that space of anticipating how our worlds will be turned upside down,” Hall said.
Bringing worship home
Sunday’s workshop at Duke Memorial was aimed at helping families take that Advent discussion back to their homes. For most of Christian church history, Florer-Bixler said, faith formation happened in the home, while worship occurred on Sundays in church. Nowadays that has flipped. So Sunday’s workshop was centered on helping families foster those spiritual discussion in the home.
“We want to equip people to bring faith back into the home,” Florer-Bixler said.
Among those who appreciated the help was Casey Stanton, a Duke Divinity School student and pastoral intern. As she walked into the church hall Sunday, Stanton said, she commented to her husband: “Look! Church, helping you have a better Advent.”
Stanton appreciated the break from what can be the season’s overwhelming consumerism, which is difficult on a graduate student’s family budget. She and her husband, Philipe, 2-year-old Micaela and 4-month-old Theo, were seated at a table making an Advent jar. They decorated a glass jar and filled it with slips of paper with activities for the family to do during Advent, such as read a Bible verse, watch a favorite Christmas movie or read about another country’s holiday traditions.
“It makes it tangible without having to do something expensive,” Stanton said.
Young, old join in
From her station at the wreath-painting table, Barbara Gillmer of Chapel Hill, a church member and Sunday school teacher, surveyed the activity around the hall where parents and grandparents were working alongside children of all ages.
“You have the experience and wisdom of the older ones and the energy and enthusiasm of the younger ones,” Gillmer said. “Everybody seems to be having fun in a non-materialistic way.”
That is key, said Ann Smith, the church’s visitation minister. “It’s important to teach children to give instead of just to get. We want to teach people to be compassionate and to be kind to others.”
Across the room, Sarah and Brian McGiverin were helping their daughter Hannah, who is “7 1/2 years old, almost 8,” put together an Advent wreath using magnolia leaves and evergreen fronds. Taking a break, Sarah McGiverin said, “It’s a nice way to get started with the season.”