I replaced my stole this week, and going to the blue hurts. A lot.
In my faith tradition (Christian – The United Methodist Church), ordained clergy can wear stoles, which are liturgical fabrics that drape over our shoulders. They have different colors based on the time of year, you can read more here. Clergy in mainline traditions that observe these liturgical seasons often mark their time based on what color their stoles and worship paraments are.
So going from one color to the next is another marker of how much we’ve been struggling this COVID-19 season of church and society.
COVID-19: from purple to white
COVID-19 began, for my church, on the first Sunday of Lent, which is purple. We had a new banner for the sanctuary, everything was dressed up, and then the foreboding news came to a crest: We had an outbreak at an assisted living center a few days before, and so the last service we had in-person was the first Sunday of Lent, March 1. A few days later, we closed the church building and continued our worship services, missions, and ministries online.
Purple. They said it would be only a few weeks, we could handle that. Abstaining from seeing each other during Lent: that preached pretty easily in a traditional season of self-denial.
Then as we crept closer and closer to Easter, the white linens that symbolize the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the mourning set in: we would not be able to have Easter in person. The holiest of holy days, held a screen-width apart.
White became the season of mourning. We can mourn, and we can do this. The season of Lent was 50 days, so clearly if the Resurrection took 3 days and the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost took place after 50 days, then clearly we would emerge with togetherness again at the end of the white-draped season.
The long haul: white to green
The longest season of the liturgical year is the season after Pentecost, which is green. My stole is green for most of 25 weeks, almost half the year. I switch them out to get variety, but for most of the COVID-19 shaped season of the church, I’ve been using the green.
Green became routine. Comfortable. A color of new life, energy, vibrance, peace. It sustained our worship services, but as the numbers kept ticking up (17 weeks after Pentecost, 20 weeks, 24 weeks) the sense of “We are going to have to celebrate Christmas at home, aren’t we?” became more clear.
I held onto the green as long as I could. I waited until the very last minute to switch out my stole. Because I could not imagine putting on what was next.
In the Blue and the New
At last, we got to the end (actually, the beginning): the season of Advent begins the liturgical year, and it is either blue or purple, depending on your faith tradition. My church recognizes it as blue, but our colors in the sanctuary are an enlivening mix of blue and purple.
But I can’t wear the green anymore. So taking the stole off my robe in the clergy closet became a cause for a breath prayer: “God with us, be with us / in the blue and the new.” Carrying it downstairs to my office to swap it out for the blue stole, it felt heavier and heavier. And laying it down aside the blue, a beautiful blue stole made by a former colleague, it was emotional.
The blue meant something new. A new liturgical year. A new way of doing traditional services and celebrations. Something that we had been doing for years in my local church, and continuing that tradition in a new way was a fun challenge to dream and act on in the prior months of planning. I love that part of ministry.
But the weight of the blue meant it was really here. This very, very heavy season on clergy was here, and it was going to be in a new vessel. God-with-us was coming into the world, was already here, and we had to prepare a place for them. And we can do it, together.
The blue, to me this year, means new. A chance to revision traditions into new vessels. A weight of the expectation of innovation in a season that has more traditions than any other. The blue is a weight I didn’t want to bear online.
But standing behind the blue-draped pulpit, the weight of the blue on my shoulders, when the camera red light came on to record a video for this First Sunday of Advent, the familiar overwhelmed the fears, and I surrendered my ego and personal mourning to the call to share the Gospel that never disappoints and always finds a new container to be brought into the world.
May that container be my church and your church this season of Blue.
Welcome to Advent. God is with us anew, always in new vessels, always in new ways, and maybe this COVID-shaped season is exactly what we can use to remember that.
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