Like most Episcopal Churches, Grace Church follows a liturgical calendar beginning with the first Sunday of Advent. Church events and services follow this calendar, which takes us from Advent, through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter, followed by the months-long season of Pentecost which is often referred to as “ordinary time.”
Advent is the beginning of the church year. There are four Sundays in Advent, so it begins about a month before Christmas. This is a “fixed” season; four Sundays before December 25, whatever day of the week that falls on. The Advent color is blue, symbolizing royalty — a coming King. The color blue reflects the expectant, hope-filled themes of Advent. Events during Advent include Grace’s participation in the Nelson County Christmas Parade, our annual Christmas Pageant (based on Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever), and the Greening of the Church in preparation for Christmas Eve.
The Christmas Eve Service traditionally takes place just before midnight and is a glorious celebration of the birth of Christ in a packed church. There is also service on Christmas morning, and a celebratory Lessons and Carols service on the Sunday following. The liturgical color for Christmas is white.
Epiphany commemorates the showing of Jesus to the Gentiles, specifically the Magi, the Wise Men of the Nativity story, who were the first to know of His divinity. The season proclaims Jesus as Savior of the whole world. The first Sunday after Epiphany Sunday marks the baptism of Jesus and the liturgical color is white. For the rest of the Sundays in Epiphany season, we use green—the universal color of nature, signifying regeneration, hope, and immortality. On the Thursday closest to January 6th (the Day of Epiphany), the weekly Thankful Thursday Meal celebrates the beginning of Epiphany and is marked by a symbolic burning of the greens outside immediately following the meal. On the last Tuesday of Epiphany, there is traditionally a pancake supper to provide a joyful Mardi Gras celebration before the beginning of Lent the following day.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. There is a service on this day during which ashes from the previous year’s palm leaves on Palm Sunday are imposed upon the foreheads of those attendees who wish them. Ash Wednesday is 46 days before Easter Day. The color for Ash Wednesday and the rest of Lent is purple for penitence. Grace participates with other local Episcopal churches in weekly services with shared choirs on Wednesdays. This penitential season culminates during Holy Week with a Palm Sunday Service (liturgical color is red) beginning with a palm-waving celebratory procession from outside to inside the church and ending quite solemnly as the congregation is reminded of the events during the last week of Jesus’ life. Grace Church typically transforms the Thankful Thursday meal into a Seder Supper. After the meal, the Altar is stripped of all its colorful hangings. Friday brings Tenebrae which starts the final three days of Jesus’ life, and also a Stations of the Cross which focuses on Jesus’ walk on the day of his crucifixion.
Easter Day is the highest day of the Christian year. The date for Easter is the Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox on March 21. It can be no earlier than March 22 or later than April 25. During the Easter Sunday service, parishioners cover a wooden cross with flowers, ring bells, and sing “Alleluia” with gusto. Immediately after the service is a rambunctious egg hunt followed by a bountiful Easter meal.
Fifty days after Easter we celebrate Pentecost, commemorating the gift of the Holy Spirit to the whole world. The color for this day is red, signifying the Holy Spirit. Many parishioners wear red on this day to celebrate the Spirit within us. At some point in May, Grace is blessed to provide scholarships for post-secondary education to several students from Nelson County. We present them at the annual awards ceremony at Nelson County High School.
The Sunday following Pentecost is Trinity Sunday (liturgical color is white) celebrates the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the three Persons of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. What follows is the long season of the Sundays after the Pentecost otherwise known as “Ordinary Time” (green is the liturgical color). Early on in this season we may schedule the Grace Church Retreat usually at Montebello in which some aspect of visioning and strategic planning occurs. We also celebrate with fun themes for our Thankful Thursday meals (Annual Barbeque Cook-off, for instance). Early October brings the Blessing of the Animals, celebrated with appreciation by the “best friends” of Grace Church! The All Hallows Eve celebration is moved to the nearest Thankful Thursday because we love our Thankful Thursday meal themes. All Saints Day is Grace’s namesake day and is celebrated the following Sunday. In November Grace holds its Annual Meeting to provide everyone with reports about the year’s activities and events. At this meeting in 2019 we also did focus groups related to the search for a new priest and our plans for the future. In 2020, the meeting was virtual as all of our church services and events have been since the spread of COVID 19 forced closings and restrictions on gatherings.