It’s Derby week here in Louisville.  We’re approaching the end of a two-week festival complete with parties, concerts, parades, and invitation-only galas.  The county schools participate in the drama by canceling school on the Friday before Derby Saturday.  Patients cancel appointments.  Roads close.  Attendance at church dips.  A variety of races dot the schedule – a hot air balloon race, running marathons, steamboat races.  And, oh yeah, the actual horse race on Saturday evening.

The Kentucky Derby festivities are…how shall we say it…holy and sacred to many around the city.  The festivities have been consecrated and sanctified by years of pageantry and tradition.

The Kentucky Derby festival is undoubtedly part of the Local Liturgical Calendar (LLC).

Each city has such a calendar.  It includes the events and traditions that give rhythm to the city’s happenings.   The calendar provides an ordering for expectation and planning.  It’s as if the city’s collective mood rises and falls in anticipation and completion of each event.

In addition to the Derby, Louisville’s LLC also includes (among other events): University of Louisville football and basketball in fall and winter, the Kentucky State Fair in August, high school graduations, the St. James Art Fair, days at the Waterfront, and evenings at the Bats games.

While I lived in St. Louis I learned that their LLC centered on the museums, the Arch, and the professional baseball, football, and hockey teams.  In Durham, NC the LLC involved Duke and UNC basketball along with the famous Durham’s Farmer’s Market.  From Charlotte to Greensboro the calendar revolved around professional football, NASCAR, the banking industry events, and concerts.

I was reminded of the hallowed Louisville and Derby events recently when I scheduled a confirmation class retreat.  Without intention I scheduled the overnight retreat on the same day as Thunder over Louisville.  Having been away from the city for a few years my internal attunement to the local calendar was amiss.  Fortunately, those better in sync with the local calendar called to gently remind me that some families would likely have a conflict.  (I should say, they never suggested I cancel or change the retreat (and we didn’t).  They genuinely cared that the children, their families, and I be open to all the happenings and how persons might be affected.)

But herein lies a problem…

Part of the Local Liturgical Calendar problem is churchly and pastoral.  On one bulletin board in my office there is a county school schedule, a minor league baseball schedule, and this coming fall’s UofL football schedule.  To what extent do we, as church leaders, plan around such events?  How do we incorporate the local calendar into the church calendar?  Which calendar takes precedence?

The other dynamic of the Local Liturgical Calendar is personal.  We might ask ourselves, What schedule gives rhythm and meaning to my life?  Do church events earn the same ink or space on my calendar as other local, family, or professional appointments?  After which calendar do I pattern my life?  Does the Church’s liturgical year – that calendar of scripture readings, feast days, and color changes in the sanctuary – matter to me?

Part of the beauty of the church calendar lies in it’s structure and rhythm.  Starting in December it traces the story of God’s activity from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost.  Tuning ourselves in to the sacred story provides order in the midst of our frenzied culture.  If it’s chaos we fear, it’s order that the calendar provides. When we participate in the church’s liturgical year we relive for ourselves the sacred story, making it matter here and now.

Is this crazy?  Is it even remotely possible to pattern our lives around a calendar that may seem archaic, distant, or superfluous?  Admittedly, we’ll never “get ahead” in a business sense by attending a bible study instead of a networking seminar.  But it is even a little possible…to make room, to raise the priority level, to create space..for the church’s calendar?

This is not a post to harangue everything Derby.  I ran the mini-marathon.  I watched the fireworks.  I enjoy the Waterfront Chow wagon.  I love the balloon glow.  And, on Saturday, I’ll gather with friends and family to eat, watch the races, and pull the name of a horse out of a hat, hoping that beautiful creature might win the race and earn me a prize.

But then, on Sunday, I’ll go to church…