Reinventing Traditions

This year as I looked out over our congregation’s New Church Day celebration, I marvelled at how my church has adapted this celebration for our unique situation. Ten years ago I may have protested against changing the traditions that I held close to my heart. It’s not just the traditions that have changed, it’s my perspective. Let me describe the tradition that I held so dear.

As is probably traditional throughout the New Church, my first adult New Church celebration was during my first year of high school. I was invited to join the adult New Church banquet at Westville New Church. It was a formal affair; Evening event; Paid admission; Decorated tables; Assigned seating; Formal dress; Three course meal; Three papers presented by members of the congregation; The singing of “Our Glorious Church” and “Friends Across the Sea”; and The presentation of copies of Conjugial Love to all Standard 6 young people (high school freshmen) attending for the first time.

Throughout my life I have loved attending the New Church banquets which more or less followed the same formula.

But since then things have changed.

The New Church Buccleuch celebrates New Church Day in the middle of winter. Not many people like to go out at night in winter. We also outgrew our church hall and could no longer host the event indoors. The choices were to hire a venue or use the garden (yard) during the day. In the interests of keeping costs down and allowing everyone in the congregation the opportunity to attend we chose to use the garden (yard). A sunny winter’s day in the garden (yard) can be spectacular on the Highveld.

Let me describe this year’s New Church Day celebration.

Our New Church Day celebration took place on Sunday 19th June. The worship service was a pageant presented by the Sunday School children with explanations provided by Pastor Mark.

On a side note: This year we came to the realisation that although the stories of Revelation are well known and loved by long standing New Church people most Christians haven’t read Revelation and don’t know the stories. The pageant provides an entry point for our new folk to learn about Revelation and the imagery found there.

After the pageant, the children were presented with gifts from the church. Immediately following the service everyone dispersed to perform different duties. The men and young adults set up tables and chairs on the grass in front of the hall. The ladies did food prep in the kitchen and decorated the tables. The children were entertained under the oak tree with New Church Day projects, or they kicked the soccer ball on the former grassed tennis court. New Church Day pageant costumes were packed away. Before long all the elements were ready and we all found a place, at random, around the tables.

Pastor Mark welcomed us all to the celebration. The theme he had chosen was “fellowship”. He talked on the meaning of fellowship and how it might appear in our lives. Then he challenged us to put it into action – immediately. We switched seats and had the opportunity to connect with members of the congregation that we might not have known well, or in some cases, not yet met. After the main course, lamb-on-the-spit donated by one of our congregants, we switched seats again and had the opportunity to be in fellowship with a new set of people.

It was lovely sitting outside in the winter sun. To my surprise I got sunburnt – in winter. All the food was prepared and donated by members of the congregation. Everyone was invited to attend and by having a potluck lunch we were able to invite the newcomers at church that day to join our celebration.

Looking out over the garden I could clearly see that traditions had morphed into something that works for us.

  • A formal evening banquet that became an informal luncheon.
  • Assigned seating had become unassigned seating.
  • A set three course meal had become three course potluck meal (with plenty left over to donate to others)
  • Three formal papers presented by members of the congregation had become a presentation that appealed to both newcomers and longstanding NC members.
  • No songs known only to New Church people were sung, and thus we did not exclude the newer church attendees.

And best of all, the whole family celebrated New Church Day; parents, children, grandparents, babes-in-arm. As did anyone who attended church that day, including newcomers / first time attendees.

At the end of the day, everyone lent a hand and in half an hour the dishes were done, the kitchen was clean, tables and chairs packed away, and we all did it together –another way that we build community and tradition.

On reflection, I can see that my perspective on New Church Day celebrations has changed. I love our New Church Buccleuch New Church Day celebration. It is an event that the whole family can attend. All members of the congregation can attend regardless of their financial situation as there is no cost involved. It provides a wonderful outreach opportunity as newcomers are immediately welcomed and included in the festivities. There are many ways for our congregants to serve each other: with everyone working together the event is set up and tidied up in record time. In working together we build relationships, connections and traditions. I see the beauty in these changes. I value them. I acknowledge the power of including everyone. I celebrate the changes.

(For more photographs of the day view our photo album of the day on The New Church Buccleuch Facebook page.)

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About Heather Allais

Heather lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. She works as an Administrator in a school. Heather received her honours degree in Fine Arts and a higher diploma in Education from the University of the Witwatersrand. After teaching for 12 years, 10 of which were at Kainon School at the New Church Westville, she studied for and received her Masters in Religious Studies at the Theological School of the Bryn Athyn College. Heather worked for General Church Outreach for 4 years before returning to South Africa. Heather is an active member of The New Church Buccleuch serving on the church board holding the Outreach portfolio, leading Children’s Church, singing in the church band, serving as greeter, sound engineer and usher. Heather also serves as the Administrator of the South African Corporation of the General Church. Heather is a keen tribal belly dancer and quilter, and has recently joined the Johannesburg Symphony Choir. Quality time is set aside for her family.

4 thoughts on “Reinventing Traditions

  1. So fun to see and hear about this, Heather. In the 6yrs we lived in SA I never actually saw the church– I saw family instead whenever we travelled to Joburg (can’t complain but it’s so neat to see the pictures). I think the tradition of the formal NC Day banquet for high school and adults may be a SA tradition. In the places I’m aware of in the U.S., NCDay is a family celebration and I admit I found it very difficult in Durban that there was an expectation of separating families– quite contrary to the way I function– but I could tell it was exciting and special for the SAfricans. The new Buccleuch approach sounds much more my style.

  2. Heather – what a delightful, detailed description of your New Church Day celebration! And yes, looking at changing traditions is so, well, broadening. Such a good reminder that our traditions are simply efforts to reflect and affirm what we have gleaned from the Lord’s Word, not actual representative actions as were prescribed for the Israelitish church of the Old Testament. And as such, they can evolve and be refreshed as new insights and circumstances come along. As long as the essentials are there (the Lord, His Word), then the traditions will ‘feed’ the people of the church in the way that they are intended. I am imagining the angels taking great delight in this new expression of love and celebration coming from Buccleuch!

  3. What a heart-warming description of the expansionary nature of the New Church Buccleuch – I miss you guys! It was wonderful to drop in and see all the changes on my recent trip to South Africa. I also had the opportunity to join the Westville congregation for their formal New Church Day evening banquet – it hasn’t changed since you were in high school Heather – and loved the elegant expression of their traditional offering. Not having grown up in the New Church, I take pleasure in experiencing this kind of formality too. For me, the blend of old and new is essential for integrating newcomers and revitalizing existing customs. Together we forge new horizons.

  4. What a beautiful celebration, Heather! (-And I’m particularly happy for you to have needed to make changes to your traditions, because you’d outgrown your hall!! What a good problem to have.) Thank you for sharing your insights into this special day. It’s neat to hear what other congregations do (hey, perhaps we could get others to write about their own congregations’ festivities, too!), for the ideas it inspires and the fellowship you described.

    Thank you! 🙂

    (*As an aside, I was shocked and saddened to learn that some New Church societies (non-General Church ones, as far as I know) have no knowledge of, familiarity with or traditions surrounding New Church Day. 🙁 It’s such a unique aspect of the New Church… I hope that, one day, everyone will be familiar with the great red dragon! 😉 )

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