Over the next six months or so I will be doing a series of book reviews in hopes that they provide good overviews for those of you whom may be interested. Here is the first book.
The New Handbook of the Christian Year has found important status on my bookshelf for it correctly offers a historical perspective of the Christian calendar and practical ways to celebrate these days. The four authors (Hickman, Saliers, Stookey, and White) explore the church calendar much like an encyclopedia, detailing the Christian year as it pertains to events and origins. The book continues the discussion by asking the reader to consider using the historical calendar despite the ups and downs of its popularity. Part I concludes with practical information on praxis, theory to doing. Maybe more beneficial for those traditions who loosely hold to the calendar is part II, which offers a gathered liturgy for each event found in the calendar. Here the reader is given pastoral and theological reasoning for the events. The detailed service is typed up, giving exact order and direction for the clergy and congregation. The concluding summery is most helpful, offering advice on the often-overlooked aspects of a service.
One thing I personally appreciated from this book was the authors’ honesty on how the traditions transpired and became a ritual for the Western Christian Church. The authors seemed to be dedicated in bringing forth truth for the readers on sensitive subjects such as redeemed Roman pagan holidays, popular symbols, and lesser holidays the Church has embraced (Mothers Day, Thanksgiving, etc.). By doing this, the authors allowed the readers to come up with their own conclusion on whether church practices should be seen as redemptive, needing further discussion, or simply changed. As the same time, the authors do not suggest that one should vary from the proposed Church calendar.
I do wish that there had been some dialogue from the authors on the challenges of following such a ridged liturgy as seen in part II. To be clear, what I mean by ridged does not mean that it is not helpful, useful, or untrue. What I am saying is that for many churches liturgies that are prepared in advance, with no room for movement, often seem dry, and worse, impenetrable by the Holy Spirit. Knowing this is not true, it would have been helpful if the authors would have addressed this issue in Part I of this book. By doing so, Evangelical traditions might be less callused when reading through the book, and more willing to practice the liturgies offered.
Practically speaking, this book has offered me with practical, theologically thought through orders of service for many days throughout the Christian year I personally have not experienced or proctored. The New Handbook of the Christian Year offers order of services that reach beyond my evangelical traditions, and give me guidelines for important rituals which may need to be celebrated. I was particularly grateful for the order of service and explanations for Holy Thursday Evening, Tenbrae, and Trinity Sunday. I am considering offering these “fringe” worship experiences for my students here at Central Christian College, and now, seeing how this book would be extremely beneficial, have a renewed confidence celebrating these important events found in the Christian year.
Hickman, Hoylt L., Don E. Saliers, Laurence Hull Stookey, James F. White. The New Hanbook of the Christian Year. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992.