Review: The Christian Year

April 18th, 2011

With The Christian Year, author and teacher Robin Knowles Wallace reminds worship planners of the powerful discipleship tool contained in traditional cycles of worship. Observing it is, to her, a way of keeping God’s time, because it moves us through the cycle of God’s promises as seen in the drama of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection.

Wallace first presents the Christian year in what she calls “broad strokes.” This no-frills summary is packed with information about the history and traditions of the Christian year, along with commentary about how the various seasons and holy days find expression in contemporary church life. She also includes practical advice for planning within the Christian year, including suggestions for finding common themes across seasons and cautions about the difficulties of planning worship in the context of secular calendars.

Wallace sees the Christian year as extending beyond worship, however. It is also a cycle of missio Dei, which forms people for service in the world. Neither worship nor work is sufficient to form Christian disciples; the two must go hand in hand. The worshiping life of congregations sends people out to participate in the mission of God in the world, proclaiming love and serving neighbors through seasons of incarnation, death and resurrection, and ordinary time.

Once she has laid out the foundations for the Christian year, the author moves on to more specific times of worship. The next section of the book deals with the two earliest and most important cycles of the Christian year (Easter/Pascha and Incarnation/Christmas. She presents an overview of missio Dei for the season along with practical helps for planning every aspect of worship from welcome to benediction.

Of particular help to worship planners are the final two chapters of the book. She gives special attention to ordinary time, the stretches of time between the most holy days. She urges worship planners to give the same kind of careful planning to this season as they do to the others. In the final chapter, she offers several miscellaneous ideas for creative worship across all the seasons.

While The Christian Year includes many of the worship planning helps found in other resources, what sets this book apart is the author’s commitment to and passion for her subject. She does not present her work as a tool to make planning easier on pastors and worship leaders. Rather, she insists that the Christian year is itself an important piece of making disciples, one that requires creativity, discipline, and foresight from church leaders. Those who put their energies toward faithfulness to this ancient rhythm will give order to their congregations’ lives and shape to their discipleship journeys.

Wallace’s book is direct and passionate, but is clearly best suited for more traditional styles of worship. Although her prayers, benedictions, and responses could be used in so-called contemporary settings, her musical selections and planning advice do not lend themselves to less formal modes of worship. Still, her emphasis on the traditional is in the end a strength: she is clear about her identity and her understanding of worship, which gives unity and focus to the book.

Robin Wallace Knowles is professor of worship and music at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She has written many previous worship helps, including Worshiping in the Small Membership Church and Just in Time: Palm Sunday and Holy Week Services.

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