Over the centuries, the church developed a year-long pattern of celebrating touchstone moments in our faith. Many churches follow this liturgical calendar in their Sunday worship.
The church calendar is a yearly cycle that starts in late November or early December and follows the life of Jesus, celebrating his resurrection in spring, and remembering the lives of saints for the remainder of the year. Three major holy days circle the season of Christ’s Incarnation and three occur during the Resurrection season, while Ordinary Time marks the other six months with regular Feast Days.
The church year begins with Advent, celebrated during the four Sundays leading up to December 25. During Advent, the church spends time reflecting on the birth of Jesus and his promised return. We acknowledge that we live in a world full of pain and confusion and that we are waiting for him to make all things new. It is a time of anticipation waiting for Christ’s return and the fulfillment of his kingdom.
Also known as the Incarnation, Christmas celebrates when God became a vulnerable baby, marking a seismic shift in the cosmos. God. Became. A human being. Pause and reflect on that glorious truth. As the hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem” goes: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. For Christ is born of Mary . . .” But, unlike our cultural celebration, Christmas Day is only the start of the Christmas celebration on the church calendar. The celebration continues through the new year and, for the western church, up to January 6.
The season of Epiphany begins on January 6, the Day of Epiphany, at the end of the traditional twelve days of Christmas. Epiphany means “manifestation” and refers to Jesus being made known to Gentiles—first privately to the three Magi who traveled to find him after his birth, then publicly through his baptism and first miracle. The season “has a narrative arc beginning with the Magi and ending with the Transfiguration. The overall emphasis is the manifestation (showing forth) of the glory of Jesus Christ,” says Rev. Fleming Rutledge, Episcopal priest and author. Our Bible readings progress through the childhood of Jesus into his early days of ministry.
Forty days before Easter, the church inaugurates the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday, a holy day on which believers are encouraged to fast and pray. Lent is traditionally a time of self-denial and repentance, with churches swathed in dark colors. Special church services are held where ashes are smudged on the hands or foreheads of attendees. The traditional phrase pastors speak over congregations is, “From dust you came, to dust you will return,” though some offer an urgent “Believe the gospel!”
The pinnacle of the church year celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the one who defeated death and brings hope to all who call him Lord. He is risen! we tell one another. He is risen, indeed! we respond.
The Easter season lasts fifty days, as we follow Jesus's post-resurrection life to his Ascension forty days later and end with the feast of Pentecost.
Pentecost celebrates the new body of Christ, his church sent and empowered to share his love with the world, and falls fifty days after Easter. On this day, we celebrate him sending his Holy Spirit to indwell, fill, and empower his disciples. Churches focus on texts that highlight the Spirit and decorate their sanctuaries in red and white, symbolizing “the tongues like flames of fire” through which the Spirit descended upon the disciples (Acts 2:1–4).
The first half of the church year focuses on Christ while the rest of the year broadens its scope to the entire family of God. Ordinary Time focuses on the lives of biblical characters, telling us that our daily, ordinary lives matter to God and should matter to us as well.
Each day of the year is a feast day dedicated to the memory of a particular saint whose life offers us inspiration. Feast days tend to memorialize martyrs on the day of their death, which early Christians considered to be graduation from life to life. The feasts of Patrick and Valentine remain cultural touchstones even today.
For those who worship in non-liturgical churches, consider some benefits you could gain from observing the church calendar. You don’t have to become fully liturgical, but you may end up adding a few elements common to other denominations to your habit of worship. So, why should you bother?
The church calendar helps us to see the world through the life of Jesus our King. We live in an era where political messiahs come and go. One way to de-emphasize the politics of people is to proclaim the politics of heaven.
We need to walk through Jesus’s whole life and emphasize different events so that God’s people can know the whole story. Easter is not complete without an Ascension Sunday. Celebrating the church calendar helps us understand the total Christ and his total life.
The church calendar gives parents, grandparents, and teachers beautiful ways to catechize, or teach, children about Jesus. It offers a structured way for kids to learn about the life of Christ, the hope of his second coming, and the rhythms of expecting what comes next in the Christian life.
The church calendar helps us grow in our understanding of significant doctrines. Regularly remembering God’s work through Christ and other Christians will encourage us in our own faith.
Our neighbors and friends will see us giving something up for Lent or regularly attending church and they will ask, “Why?” Each feast day or new season gives us an opportunity to talk about Jesus and why he matters so much to us. And sharing those regular observances reminds us that we are part of something larger than ourselves. We love and follow a God bigger than the troubles of this world. That’s good news for us—and our neighbors.
From Chicago to New York to New Orleans, and in dozens more cities across the country, Irish Americans and those happy to pretend they are flock to parade routes to enjoy the annual exception to the church’s Lenten fast—St. Paddy’s Day.
Patrick himself would likely be somewhat mystified at the legend that has sprung up around his memory. He wasn’t even Irish. Born in Britain around 387, he was sixteen when he was stolen and enslaved by Irish marauders. While working for his master herding sheep, Patrick was drawn back to the faith of his family—his father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest—and became a devoted follower of God. He wrote in his Confession, “More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved . . .”
Patrick credited God with coming to him in a dream to point him to a ship that would enable his return home. Though the coast was two hundred miles away, he traveled to the port and found a ship ready to take him. When they arrived in Britain only three days later, they embarked on a twenty-eight-day journey by land. They grew hungry as their food ran out, and the sailors turned on Patrick: “What about this, Christian? You tell us that your God is great and all-powerful—why can’t you pray for us, since we’re in a bad state with hunger?” Patrick answered by proclaiming God’s ability to provide, and a herd of pigs walked across their path.
Back in Britain, Patrick was reunited with his family and began his studies anew. Sometime later (records are sketchy—we don’t know how much later), he dreamed that a man brought him letters from Ireland, in which the people he had left “called out as it were with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.’” From then on, he determined to return to Ireland to share the gospel of Christ with them.
His parents and friends, however, opposed his plan to return to Ireland. “Why does he put himself in danger among hostile people who do not know God?” they wondered. Patrick understood that they feared for him and wondered himself how qualified he could be. “I was just an unlearned country person,” he admitted.
But his call from God proved greater than family pressure, insecurity, and lack of training.
When the time was right, he returned to Ireland where he spent the rest of his life. He wrote, “I testify in truth and in great joy of heart before God and his holy angels that I never had any other reason for returning to that nation from which I had earlier escaped, except the gospel and God’s promises.”
The feeding of the sailors during Patrick’s return to England is the only miracle-turned-legend based on his own words. We learn this story straight from his pen. So where did the idea originate that Patrick used shamrocks, the common three-leaf clover, to illustrate the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to local pagans? We don’t know who started that rumor, but we do know that Patrick was profoundly shaped by his trinitarian faith. In his Confession, he wrote:
There is no other God, nor will there ever be, nor was there ever, except God the Father . . . And his son, Jesus Christ . . . Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ, in whom we believe and whom we await to come back to us in the near future, is Lord and God . . . He has generously poured on us the Holy Spirit, the gift and promise of immortality . . . This is the one we acknowledge and adore—one God in a Trinity of the sacred name.
And those snakes? Ireland has never had snakes—yet another reason we love the Emerald Isle—but they were sacred to the local Druids. The closest explanation for the legend we can get is to see it as an allegory: When Patrick brought faith in Christ, he drove out the Druids and their pagan influence.
For decades, Patrick taught the pagan peoples of Ireland about the one true God. In the two documents still in existence written by his hand, we discover a humble man who remained grateful for God’s grace in his life. He was resilient, standing firm amid suffering, adversity, false accusations, betrayals, and more. Strengthened by his robust trust in God, Patrick the pastor loved his flock loyally. Writing his Confession late in life, he addressed a wide audience:
You all know, and God knows, how I have lived among you since my youth, in true faith and in sincerity of heart. Towards the pagan people too among whom I live, I have lived in good faith, and will continue to do so . . . I have cast myself into the hands of almighty God, who is the ruler of all places.
Patrick died March 17, 461. Saints of the church are historically celebrated on the anniversary of their death, rather than their birth, an acknowledgment that death was the “birthday” of their eternal life. Patrick graduated from life to life.
*All quotes are taken from Saint Patrick’s Confession.
While in seminary, I remember a young woman telling our theology professor why she felt confused about the existence of the Black church and how she didn’t understand why every church in America wasn’t diverse if we’re all supposed to believe in unity. As the only Black woman in the room, I waited to see if anyone would answer her. When no one did, not only did I feel misunderstood, but I also felt frustrated that I was the only one able to provide her with an answer.
Like the woman in my class, many people outside the Black community often misunderstand it. Some hear the term “Black church” and only think of a building filled with Black people. They raise questions about why we even need a Black church or wonder why Black churches aren’t considered problematic. We’re all supposed to be one, right?
Due to our history of racism, longstanding segregation, and cultural differences, there are many misconceptions surrounding the Black church, which ultimately cause further division among Black and white Christians.
It is possible and necessary for us to be unified, but we have to start by understanding each other.
For those outside the Black church, seeking a proper understanding of the full scope of Christian history and listening to Black voices is a great place to start.
The Black church was born out of racism and segregation. Its existence solidified in Philadelphia during the 1700s when Black Christians Absalom Jones and Richard Allen were prevented from worshipping with other members of a predominantly white congregation. In response, Allen formed the first fully independent Black denomination called the African Methodist Episcopal (or AME) Church.
Freestanding Black churches were built as segregation in the United States continued, and many historically Black churches are still in operation. When we use the term “Black Church” today, we can apply it broadly to not only the historically Black denominations like the AME, CME, and COGIC churches, but to any Christian denomination that reflects the traditions and history of the African American experience.
As much as the Black church is rooted in history, it’s also deeply cultural. As Black church communities came together, they became places of refuge. Places of simultaneous freedom and privacy. The church made a way for Black people to raise money, fight for equality together, support Black businesses, and put children through school. The Black church helped Black people not only survive through life, but experience life.
Black Christians maintained a sub-culture that was partially expressed in their church experience. This is what makes the Black church so unique and beautiful—it’s filled with its own traditions, stories, music, and preaching styles that you won’t find anywhere else.
The Black church, therefore, is not merely a religious institution, but its own entity. A culture all on its own with historical roots. It is a lesson in how racism has long-lasting consequences and serves as a reflection of life in the Black community over the course of hundreds of years.
Author and historian Tiffany Gill says the Black church is one of the strongest apologetics for the power and faithfulness of the true gospel. It has survived against all odds and remained a beacon of hope for millions of people. But, the forced segregation of Black people within the Christian faith has cut us off from important Black voices. And because of this history, the voices, teachings, and leadership of white theologians have been the preferred voices of authority within our faith.
But if Christianity consists of all nations, tribes, and tongues, then white voices cannot be the standard or sole perspective for Christianity.
Who better to turn to for a theology of survival, lament, or joy in the midst of sorrow than the Black preacher? What better example of faithful endurance than those who were oppressed for centuries? How much more should we appreciate the Black church and its example of how to remain steadfast in your Christ-given identity despite the constant tearing down of your physical identity?
Black church history is a part of Christian history. We all share the same faith and, therefore, should know and learn from the full story of how the church has experienced Christian living throughout the centuries. My hope is that one day, Black Christians will not have to carry the burden of informing others why there’s a Black church by themselves.
So in the pursuit of highlighting, listening to, and learning from the Black church and Black voices, start by recommending Black pastors, preachers, and theologians when friends or congregations ask for resources on any topic—not just race relations. Be intentional about reading books written by Black authors. Pray that God would make the pursuit of racial reconciliation evident not just in our lifestyles, but in who we listen to. Ask for grace as you check for prejudices when you naturally trust white voices over Black ones.
In your own personal study, listen to teaching from Black voices on RightNow Media, like . . .
The consequences of racism and segregation don’t have to define us—we can learn how to simultaneously appreciate what the Black church has done and collectively mourn the reason for its existence. And we can trust that understanding each other can come once we take the uncomfortable step of not choosing what is comfortable.
Before RightNow Media was an international organization with hundreds of employees, it was a father-son team filming documentaries in remote locations about the work of Christian missionaries. While much has changed over the past few decades, our motivation has stayed the same: we exist to work with the global church to inspire people to love others before self and Christ above all.
RightNow Media began as Priority One International. In 1977, our founder and his son began filming documentaries of Christian missionaries around the world, bringing them back to the U.S. to share with local churches. Over time, the ministry transitioned to producing small group video curriculum. As the demand for small group curriculum and church resources grew, Priority One began a new chapter as BluefishTV.
In 2009, our ministry became RightNow Media. And two years later, the Beta version of the RightNow Media online streaming platform was launched to serve church leaders and equip congregations.
Today, RightNow Media serves the global Christian church with a mission to provide high-quality, Bible-based video content for the purpose of discipling people on their faith journey. To show you how this is happening at RightNow Media, we want to tell you about three important parts of our ministry: our content, our platform, and our team.
The RightNow Media online video streaming library serves more than 30,000 organizations—churches, schools, and businesses—with more than 3,900 video series in our library. Here are key ways we've grown since the early days of RightNow Media:
We are working to grow and diversify our content to serve as many people as possible. Some of our recent releases include The Book of Job with Francis Chan, The Cost of Control with Sharon Hodde Miller, The Book of Nehemiah with Eric Mason, and a new season of our original kids’ show, The Creators. Explore the RightNow Media Library to see more video content from trusted Christian pastors and leaders.
At RightNow Media, we exist first and foremost to serve church leaders and disciple congregations. As technology and trends progress, we want our offerings to stay relevant so we can reach as many people as possible. Over the past several years, we have significantly increased our investment in our app, adding new features like:
We’re always working to improve our platform, so be on the lookout for new features! You can learn more about our current platform features here.
The RightNow Media team is a diverse and dedicated group of people who share one core belief: the mission of the church matters.
Our passion to serve the church extends across the globe. In 2018, we began investing significant resources to reach and serve churches around the world. Today, RightNow Media has partners working on the ground in Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, the United Kingdom, India, South Korea, and Brazil.
In addition to localized versions of RightNow Media’s current content library, these international teams produce their own RightNow Media Originals. Churches in nearly 100 countries are now using RightNow Media, and we pray that number continues to grow so more people can hear the truth of the gospel.
In the U.S., we’re focused on making RightNow Media more accessible through our partnerships with local African American, Spanish-speaking, and Chinese churches. We’ve learned so much from collaborating with new speakers, partnering with church associations, and listening to stories from the pastors in these communities.
RightNow Media as we know it today is truly a worldwide team effort. We’ve seen God guide us throughout every step of RightNow Media’s journey, and the current state of our ministry can only be attributed to God’s power, guidance, and goodness.