St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral offered parishioners a new way to explore Advent last year—specifically through service to others. St. Paul’s families who signed up for the at-home practice were given a basket with daily scripture and meditation cards, one for each day of Advent. The families were also matched with a family at St. Alban’s, many of them refugee families. The cards asked the Cathedral family to meditate on an idea and, if they wanted to, add something to the basket for their match family. The cards asked everything from “How do you experience the Holy Spirit?” to “What does your family need to meet physical needs?” In turn, additions to the basket ranged from a prayer or drawing to a gift card or blanket.
“We hoped that this practice would give people the opportunity to live more fully into the season of quiet waiting, and deepen their connection with the Holy Spirit, their families and their community – all on their own schedule and at times that worked for them,” said Robin Taylor, who created the offering and is director of children, youth, and families at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Susan Hulbert decided to participate in the Advent basket practice as a way to bring her grown family together. Being in different cities, this ended up meaning that texts flew back and forth (between San Diego, Los Angeles, Merced, and San Luis Obispo) to answer each day’s questions.
“It gave our family an opportunity to interact during Advent, reflecting on God, on Jesus, on waiting, on thanksgiving, on traditions,” she said. Pulling from all of the texts, they then wrote a summary to the family with “the collected reflections from our family, prayers we wrote or found, sayings or readings we thought were appropriate.”
Similarly, Molly Hilton-Green said that the Advent basket project deepened her family’s connection with each other and as part of the larger community.
“Through the process of allowing my children to thoughtfully choose well-intended gifts for a family they will never meet, they learned how to broaden their social awareness,” she said. “I feel that as a mother, learning with my family to love and have compassion for strangers was such a tremendous gift for us all.”
Danny Love chose to participate because it focused on refugee families living here in San Diego.
“My connection to the Holy Spirit was made deeper, and more real to me through my participation in this project,” he said. “I was able to make an actual, physical difference to a family experiencing hardship. It made the teachings of Jesus to take in the stranger and serve the poor come alive for me.”
The success of this experiment got us thinking about what other opportunities we as a church have to meet seekers where they are on their faith journeys. After all, the complexity of modern lives has shifted the nature of our Christian experience. Gone are the days when Sunday is set aside for an exclusive mix of church and family time. We now live in a time where all kinds of activities are scheduled on Sundays – sports events, drama productions, book clubs, birthday parties, work responsibilities – to name a few. What does it mean to be a practicing Christian in the modern world, where the extracurricular parts of our lives are at odds with our traditional way of doing church?
In response to this tension, the Cathedral is offering parishioners new ways to connect with each other and their faith. For instance, this Lent, the Cathedral is hosting a 6-week community-wide book study with many opportunities to engage, including small group meetings at neighbor’s homes; a Sunday interfaith book study, in partnership with Ohr Shalom and the Islamic Center of San Diego; and on the newly launched Faith to Go Instagram account, which is meant to offer a space to continue to conversation online. While not meant to replace the Sunday church experience, it is meant to be an additional option, as well as a reimagining of that experience.