When do you celebrate Epiphany?
This year at St M’s we celebrated on the “correct” day, i.e. 6th January, - even though this was a Saturday.
We had a festal Eucharist, complete with smoke, procession (albeit a short one) guest preacher, - and a final indulgence in mince-pies and sherry afterwards. It would all have been great, had the congregation been just a little closer to our usual Sunday figures, instead of numbering rather less than half.
(Repeat after me "It's not all about numbers, It's not all about numbers...")
The congregation was nothing like so small that it was embarrassing, - just small enough to raise a few questions for me.
St M’s, let me remind you, is a church that considers itself to be catholic in tradition and practice. We keep the saints. We have an almost daily Eucharist (though the assumption seems to be largely that this is offered by priest on behalf of community, with no obligation on said community to actually attend and make Eucharist themselves).
“Decently and in order” would probably be the phrase that is closest to the collective heart of the place (though of course there are an almost infinite number of interpretations of this).
However, if ever a church seemed a candidate for non-negotiable adherence to the liturgical calendar, it must be us, surely?
People didn’t come. Not even with the lure of decent refreshments afterwards (no weak coffee in green cups - it must have been a feast!) , and a very popular preacher.
Worse, there was a fair bit of grumbling on the following day from those who wanted to know why they were being deprived of a lovely festival by the clergy’s unreasonable insistence on keeping the feast on the right day, rather than transferring it regardless.
And I don’t know what I feel…
Ascension and Corpus Christi, after all, are never transferred, and, as my s-i-l once memorably exclaimed “Ash Wednesday is on a Wednesday this year” - but the lectionary does make provision to shift Epiphany, in the same way as it does All Saints.
A bit of me (right but repulsive?) feels like drawing myself up to my full 5`4” and pointing out in a holier- than- thou sort of way that 6th January is the Feast of the Epiphany and that a full celebration of that feast did indeed take place in our church on that date, thank you very much.
But perhaps that’s just shooting myself in the foot.
Another, probably less obnoxious part of me suspects that there’s little point in clinging to the liturgical high ground if in so doing you alienate your congregation. Since there's but the slimmest of chances that either date in any way matches the actual historic arrival of wise men from the east (assuming those wise men arrived historically at all), why disgruntle people for a point of dubious principle?
It’s quite ironic that I, who spend so much time explaining to members of the congregation that church doesn’t have to be on Sunday morning to “count” am now anxiously defending the place of Sunday. I suppose it’s really a question of knowing your constituency, and clearly ours, veering as it does towards the elderly, isn’t going to turn out on a January evening, no matter who is preaching.
So I’ve not really come to any useful conclusion as I wonder how to do it when such decisions are mostly up to me…but the church in recent times has done herself no good by insisting on carrying on regardless of the needs and desires of those she exists to serve, so perhaps I do know really. It’s a pity, though…
I’ll never keep track of the right day to take down the decorations, if I’m celebrating Epiphany the following Sunday.
Does it matter?