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Pastors create Advent calendar to share hope with world

Dec. 9, 2005

A UMNS Feature
By Sandra Brands*

Each year, as the Rev. Tom Mousin and the Rev. Merry Watters of the United Methodist Church’s Troy Annual Conference release the yearly Advent calendar they create, they wait, appropriately enough for the season, to see how far their gift to others will travel.

“While we have distributed it to churches in Troy Conference, there are also many friends and colleagues beyond the United Methodist Church who look forward to using it each year,” says Mousin, an elder in the conference now on honorable location.

For nearly two decades, the pastors have been producing the calendar, which counts down each day of December. They view it as a gift to whomever can use it.

“I know some folks who make copies and send them out instead of Christmas cards,” Mousin says. “One reason we have reproduced (the calendar) in black and white is that many people like to color in each day as they move through the month.

“I still recall getting a letter from a woman who wrote that she and her husband read each devotion at the breakfast table every morning,” he says. “What was remarkable about this was that while she had a vibrant spiritual life and was an active member of her church, her husband never participated in that dimension of her life. She commented that the Advent calendar was the first experience they had in their married life of a shared devotional time.

“It’s just fun for the two of us to give this gift, and really give it in secret because we don’t know where it goes,” says Watters, pastor at First United Methodist Church in Saranac Lake, N.Y. “I have a friend, Presbyterian, in Florida who uses it as a placemat for their Advent dinner; another friend in England who distributes it to her congregation. One woman told us she put it up in front of her exercise bike, and as she exercised, she reflected on the devotions.”

Watters began creating an Advent calendar in 1987 as a gift for her first congregation at Essex Center, Vt.

“I did it on a typewriter,” she says. “I sketched a couple of things, used clip arts, but essentially it was similar to what we do today.”

She sent copies of the calendar to her colleagues, including Mousin. “He called me and said it was a great idea and asked if he could do some art for it.”

In 1988, the pair produced their first calendar together. “Looking back at it, the first one looks pretty ancient,” Watters says. “We streamlined it so there’s a lot less writing. We’ve made it a lot more accessible.”

Mousin began writing a poem for the calendar in 1991. Watters says Mousin’s poem sets the tone for the calendar, and the meditations and suggestions for activities are inspired by his art and poems.

The two usually work on the calendar separately, though they do discuss ideas for the calendar.

“Often, I look at the lectionary texts for the season as a starting place for writing a poem,” Mousin says. “Other times, events of the year pull me in a particular direction.
This year, for example, the poem was influenced by the reality of seeing so many lives uprooted — whether by tsunami, hurricanes, earthquake or warfare — and the pain and uncertainty that resulted from those events. The poem and overall design thus emerged with thoughts about the meaning of ?home.’”

In recent years, Mousin says he writes the poem so that it can be used as an Advent hymn. “This year’s poem is written in common meter and can be sung to any tune with that metrical setting. Two possibilities from The United Methodist Hymnal are ?Morning Song’ (#198) and ?Land of Rest’ (#269),” he says.

Once Watters receives the poem, she begins seeking material for the devotions. In addition to the lectionary, she also uses A Guide to Prayer by Bishop Rueben Job, which offers suggestions for more reading.

This year, she sought passages that reflected the poem’s yearning and hope. “Hope is a hallmark of this year’s poem,” she says. “At this cold time of year, we may feel despair and hopelessness, but there is hope. We are watching for the star. We are watching for God’s presence in our life.”

The readings are shorter this year, Watters says, so that families with children would be able to use it together.

“To some degree, the meaning of Advent over the last 15 years has been shaped by the process of creating the calendar,” Mousin says. “In my life, if a primary theme for Lent is repentance, then a primary theme for Advent has become renewal.”

“It’s been a privilege for us to do it,” Watters says. “People ask for it each year and it starts the season off for us in a good way.”

The Advent calendar can be downloaded as a pdf document.

*Brands is director of communications for the United Methodist Church’s Troy Annual Conference.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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