An Advent Calendar of Hope, Justice and Joy: For the Church, Theological Education and the World

Advent calendars were always a challenge me. As a kid (OK, even now) I never seemed to get them before December 1 (the initial set back) and by the time I got one, all the good ones were gone. I longed for the ones that had those cool images of toys, but I always ended up with one that had scripture references behind the doors. My Scottish sensibilities often had me buying elaborate ones on the sale rack in mid-January. The problem has always been finding them at the end of November.

Somewhere there is a box.

Filled with them.

How did we even get these calendars? A brief scan of the internet tells the story of how a simple chalk line was placed next to the door for every day leading up to December 24th. Later these were augmented by the advent clock and advent candles. By the early 1900s the printed versions began to circulate in newspapers and bookstores. And those delicious advent calendars with chocolate began in 1958.

What all these ways of marking Advent do for us--other than just marking how many days you have left to finish Christmas shopping--is hold our anticipation. In Advent, this season before Christmas, we build toward something, searching on the page of the calendar to find what we're looking, waiting and hoping for.

The seminary students and recent graduates we work with bring joy, justice and hope. At McCormick Seminary alone students and recent graduates are serving and leading efforts to reconnect faith and service. Violet Richter is creating a Mental Health Justice network among seminary students; Stephanie Quintana is doing the same on issues of Immigration. Leah Gipson, an art therapist and an activist (http://www.leahgipson.com/) uses art to bring attention and healing to sexual violence, especially as it relates to faith communities. Chris Flowers has launched the National Service Chaplaincy program; Quantisha Mason is building a national network to connect students with each other and the causes they care about; Greg Grier established Freedom First International. Lakisha Hamilton, a native of Hyde Park, serves as a tireless advocate for educational reform and safety in the community where she and now her children live through Youth at the Crossroads, an organization she founded.

This is the story of Advent, of students and recent graduates creating and challenging, innovating and implementing, with examples spanning the diversity of seminary and divinity schools across the country. The Advent Calendar of Hope, Justice, and Joy will share the stories of other students and recent graduates who share the similar passion, commitment, creativity and courage to engage, serve and lead the world.

Several years ago Trinity Church at Wall Street in New York City created an advent calendar that each day highlighted an institution serving in one of the dozens of Episcopalian intentional communities across the country (http://episcopalservicecorps.org/). This inspired us to create our own calendar, highlighting individuals and institutions who are bringing light, justice and hope to the church in both traditional ways and through new expression of ministry.

One of the great joys of Thanksgiving weekend is late nights and early mornings spent with college students and recent grads home for the holiday. Our conversations over meals and at the mall focused on faith and service--again and again, I heard the questions:

Where can I find community? Where can I explore faith rather than have it prescribed to me? How can I learn about the neighborhood, the city where I just moved? How can I change the world? Does it have to be this lonely?

The individuals and their stories highlighted in this year's advent calendar represent a whole new cohort of faith leaders who are serving and leading outside the traditional walls of a church. They represent a growing movement to bring renewal to communities and the people that live in them. The faces and the stories of the individuals and institutions in this year's advent calendar are the ones who will lead us and who already are. My advent hope is that we stand behind them and walk with them as they repair the breach and rebuild the beloved community that so many are longing to help create.