The Rev. Tom Fanning is starting a new tradition at St. John’s Episcopal as a way of connecting his congregation at what he calls a critical time in the church year.
St. John’s sends out Joseph and the pregnant Mary in the form of clay and glazed statues to travel from home to home in the parish starting this week, the beginning of Advent, the four weeks leading to Christmas.
He’s focusing the attention of church members on the real meaning of the season — the pause, the quiet waiting, the anticipation of the coming of a miracle, a savior.
St. John’s calls it Posada, after a Christmas festival originating in Latin America that reenacts Joseph and Mary’s search for lodging before the birth of Jesus.
Fanning said he borrowed the tradition from another church he attended. The difference, he said, is that St. John’s “has a wonderful artist (Mary Bet Evans) who volunteered to make the statues” the minute she heard about the idea.
I try to remind us that we need to slow down and try to refrain from celebrating Christmas too early.
Father Tom Fanning, St. John’s Episcopal in Pascagoula
“One of the things that I try to do during the first part of Advent is to remind us that we need to slow down and try to refrain from celebrating Christmas too early,” Fanning said to the congregation Sunday.
The St. John’s Posada began its journey on Sunday with Kelly Smith and her young daughter, Gabby.
Gabby gets it. She said, the Posada is “passed around so Mary can have her baby Jesus. It’s really special.”
But passing the Posada is not just a solemn exchange. There’s a script for the families to use as one visits the home of the next on the list, bringing the statues. They knock, they ask if there’s a room for the night and they are welcomed into the home of their fellow parishioners, who usually have food and drinks.
If they follow the whole script, they hold a mini service that includes readings, lighting a candle and singing.
Parishioner David Minkler said he enjoys welcoming “the travelers” into his house.
“I love it when they play the part and say, ‘I’ve been traveling.’ It makes you realize how tough it was on Mary and Joseph.”
Then Mary and Joseph spend the night and travel the next day with the new family.
“It’s like a moving or walking meditation,” Fanning said, as well as an excuse for parishioners to get to know each other better.
“Some have seen each other’ houses for years and never entered,” Fanning said.
“And it brings us together as a community, as we anticipate the coming of Christ.”