Happy New Year!

From Rev. Jeremy Simons, Cathedral Chaplain
December 31, 2019

Bryn Athyn has not usually made much of New Year celebrations in recent times. There are private parties but few community events. That wasn’t always the case. In the past there were community balls, dinners, church services at midnight and/or dawn, and even those who counted the New Year at June 19th. New Church Life reports the celebration a hundred years ago in Glenview this way:

“Church News 1920 – Glenview New Church Day is gradually assuming its rightful position as the most important anniversary in the New Church calendar. Beginning with the humble banquets of the early days of the Academy, its observance has advanced step by step until in the societies of the General Church of the New Jerusalem it is being realized that the birth of the New Church in the spiritual world on June 19, 1770, can only be worthily celebrated by worship and glorification of the Lord in a sphere of festivity and gratitude for the salvation of mankind. Dr. J.B.S. King, speaking on ‘New Church Day as a time for Preparation and Consecration,’ said the 19th of June was really the beginning of the ecclesiastical year, or the New Year’s Day of the New Church. The event celebrated is the greatest of any event ever celebrated.”

June 19th never caught on as a New Year’s celebration, nor the practice of counting the date from June 19, 1770. Still the idea comes up repeatedly in New Church Life. New Year’s Day celebrations on the usual day, however, are often described there, such as this sunrise gathering:

“Church News 1914 – Bryn Athyn – New Year’s coming was greeted bright and early by almost the entire population of Bryn Athyn at a sunrise service and breakfast in the Auditorium. At the moment of sunrise a trumpet was sounded, and Professor Odhner then conducted a brief service, and gave an address as to the historical and spiritual significance of the New Year celebration. After a very sociable and satisfying breakfast, three speeches were made by the young men of the theological class in retrospect of the past year in Bryn Athyn, in the church at large, and in the outside world. The inevitable dancing followed, concluding a very useful time; there is no doubt that the early morning service is preferable to the watch night service which we used to hold, for it is better to be devoting our energies to trying to wake up, than to trying to keep from going to sleep, and at least we start the New Year right with early rising.”

There are numerous accounts of morning events on New Year’s Day in Bryn Athyn, but more often the descriptions are about New Year’s Eve:

“Church News 1905 – Bryn Athyn – On New Year’s Eve the young people danced until ten o’clock. Refreshments were distributed, and an hour was passed in pleasant conversation. A service was then conducted by Bishop Pendleton. The Bishop said that we were inclined at such times as this to review our past work. In this analysis we should not dwell upon externals but should discover whether the Lord was in our work. His presence assured real progress and finally salvation. Mr. Synnestvedt spoke of conjugial love as requisite to spiritual advancement. Mr. Doering gave us an interesting account of the formation of the calendar. At twelve o’clock all knelt and repeated the Lord’s prayer. So was the New Year begun.”

Happy New Year!


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