This coming Sunday at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we mark Epiphany, and the beginning of 2018, with our Epiphany Stars Service. Epiphany Stars are, (as in the illustration above), stars with words on them, such as “Wholeness” or “Faithfulness” or “Hospitality.” Congregational members are invited to prayerfully pick a star as they are distributed to them.
Before choosing their stars, those who had chosen stars last year are invited to share stories of how that word had been important to them during the past 12 months. It sounds a little crazy that any one word could define a year, particularly one chosen in advance, but many of the stories people share speak of how that word had been a part of their year, time and time again.
Kristin Stoble, who is pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Youngstown, Ohio (another congregation that celebrates an annual Epiphany Star service) shares the following story of how her initial skepticism was turned to positive reflection.
“My first word was “"Restraint"”. I wanted to throw it back. What was that supposed to mean? "Restraint" made me think about being held back or being bound. These words were supposed to be a gift, but this did not feel like one to me. And yet, over time the word continued to work on my heart and mind. I started practicing "Restraint" at church coffee hours and forgoing doughnuts. I used "Restraint" to stop myself from getting second helpings at potlucks. "Restraint" gave me permission to look at how unhealthy I had become and do something about it. When I began to see "Restraint" as a gift instead of a curse, it freed me to change my eating habits without apology, to leave work earlier to exercise and to focus not just on my spiritual health but my physical health.
In my year of "Restraint" I lost 90 pounds and, for the first time I could remember, achieved a healthy weight. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions because – let’s be honest - they always seem to fail. Instead, these star words have become my practice for the New Year. Instead of making a resolution that I’ll feel guilty about a week later, I take a star word as a gift and keep my eyes open. The stars have allowed me to see God in unexpected ways and places. They’ve been challenging, life-giving and transformative.
One woman in my congregation received "Joy"last year. Her middle name is "Joy". She admits, though, that she had lost her "Joy", forgotten how to live with "Joy" The star word reminded her throughout the year about the gift of "Joy"in all circumstances of life; a "Joy"that comes from the simple affirmation that we belong to God. Another member received “Courage.” She was in the midst of cancer treatments when this word was given to her. She took that paper star with her to every doctor appointment. She kept the word by her side as she entered hospice care and as she passed from this life to the next.”
Similar stories will be told this coming Sunday at Mount Hebron, and in other churches that follow this practice. There is no magic to the process. It's just about seeking to following God's direction. After all, isn't that what the story of the Wise Men is all about? They followed a star and it led them to a place of new understanding and blessing.
For some music... the worship song “Open the eyes of my Heart,” performed here by Michael W Smith. May 2018 be a year that leads you to many blessings in your life and the life of your family and community.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.