Some people use the transition from one year to the next as a time to reflect on their lives and resolve to improve or correct their habits in the next year. I gave up on this long ago. It’s not that I think I can’t be improved upon – far from it – but I learned that it doesn’t work for me to call them “New Year’s Resolutions.” The phrase just seems to activate some self-critical, moralizing part of my brain that just waits for me to “fail” at my resolutions. And with that kind of lookout, it’s not long before I’ve bombed yet another year.

At the same time, I believe deeply in the value of regular self-examination and returning to the values and relationships that make my life whole. That process has deep roots in the Christian tradition, such as in the prayer that begins most worship services. We pray for God’s presence in our service, but we also pray to be freed from the sin that would prevent us from welcoming God. Sharing God’s grace in the face of our need is a vital practice for me. In Ignatian spirituality and other traditions of spiritual direction, the individual examination of conscience is a foundational practice.

Self-examination and redirection is part of our habit in the gathered church as well. As Presbyterians, we call this ritual the Annual Meeting, and this year’s edition is coming up on January 23. We have a history of dispensing with this meeting in just a few minutes, but I’m hoping to give it a little more prominence this year. The business of the meeting will be spread throughout our worship service. That is, the worship service will be the meeting itself. So we’ll officially be called to order around 10:30, not 11:30, but the plan will be to adjourn at about 11:35 as usual. The prayers and other worship acts will reflect the content of the Annual Reports (which will be available on January 16 as usual), and we’ll pause at least a couple of times during the service to call for discussion and votes. This will make for a busy but focused worship service, as any good meeting should be.

On a theological level, this is how every meeting should be. After all, can we really separate worship from the “business” of the church? We already open our meetings with prayer and recite a benediction at the end. The congregational meeting takes place in the sanctuary, and the timing always has to do with worship; I’m not convinced that happens solely for logistical reasons. Just as serving our neighbors is intrinsically connected to praising God, so is the institutional work of the church.

As if theological faithfulness weren’t a good enough reason to do things, this approach to the annual meeting excites me for practical reasons as well. Written reports can tend to look backwards at what we’ve done, which leads to what I think of as “driving through the rear-view mirror.” By bringing the reports off the page and into a worship service, I hope we can step from the past year into the future. We’ll have time to reflect on who and where we are, which is also an opportunity to dream about what we’re called to be and do in the coming year.

I can only assume that by now you’re as excited about this as I am, right? Well, here’s your chance to start reflecting right now. Where you have seen God acting in our church’s life, especially in the past year? What challenges do you see us facing? Where might you feel called (as an individual, and for us as the church) in the near future? We’ll bring our reflections together on January 23, when our annual meeting turns into a worship service!

In Christ’s peace,

Nathan

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