On December 4, 2012, at 7 p.m., St. Philip’s will offer its nineteenth Advent Festival of Lights service. Although this service is traditionally held the first Thursday in Advent, this year it has been moved to the first Tuesday of Advent. It features women’s voices: written, spoken, and performed. Renewed energy for organizing this service came out of the Vestry and church leadership’s strategic planning process. One of the Parish’s four strategic directions is “reaching out and welcoming.” The Rev. Canon Timothy Dombek, who is facilitating the strategic planning process, recalled that a few years ago, while he had been in Tucson leading a workshop at another parish and staying with the Revs. Susan Anderson-Smith and Anne Sawyer, they had brought him to the Festival of Lights. He characterized it as a good way to reach out to the public. So a small working group was convened to plan a service for this year.
This year’s service is entitled “Women: The Love, Power, and Spirit of Transformation.” The service will feature readings, prayers, instrumental music, and congregational singing. Following the service, there will be a lighting of candles and a journey through the new outdoor labyrinth. After some time for personal reflection, a potluck dessert and coffee will take place in the Murphey Gallery. A freewill offering will benefit Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse. Emerge! provides domestic abuse crisis intervention and housing, prevention and education, and support and advocacy services to women and children. Emerge! is the largest domestic abuse shelter and provider of domestic abuse prevention and abuse programs in Southern Arizona (www.emergecenter.org).
The Festival of Lights was first conceived during the 1980s. Several women of the parish participating in a cell group felt the need to shine a light on the women’s spirituality that previously was primarily behind the scenes. Women had taught Sunday School, organized parish dinners, served on the Altar Guild, and generally been the silent, unseen “worker bees.” Although women were first ordained as priests in 1976, ordinary church women’s voices were not heard in worship roles until then. Clare Yarborough, when she was a graduate student at the University of Arizona and a parishioner at St. Philip’s, participated in oragnizing the service as a prelude to Episcopal Church Women’s Quiet Day “because I thought the women deserved a ‘loud night’!”
Since then, women at St. Philip’s have gathered to find readings that express women’s thoughts and feelings about the spiritual aspects of Advent. After the readings are chosen and a theme is identified, music is added to the service. All the readings are written and read by women, the music is performed by women, and women serve as acolytes and ushers.
Over the years the chosen readings have been written by women of every age and from around the world and include Pam Holdgate from New Zealand, Claire Amos from London, Ann Woke (age 9) from Nigeria, and Malika Oufkir from Morocco, as well as Maya Angelou and other well-known American women writers and theologians.
Each year the offering is given to a cause that supports women and children. Over the years money has gone to Anglican Women’s Empowerment, Episcopal Relief and Development, Planned Parenthood of Tucson, the Ahliyyah School for Girls in Jordan, and Imago Dei Middle School.
Happily in these days of thoughtful, inclusive feminism, many men have come to hear women’s voices and participate in this service. Coming as it does at the beginning of Advent, it marks a time for quiet reflection on the season before too many other Christmas preparations take over. For many St. Philippians, the Festival of Lights comes as the quiet anticipation before the storm of Christmas busyness.
(adapted from an article by Mary Baker)