The Book of Common Prayer identifies the Epiphany, January 6, and the Sundays following through the Sunday before Ash Wednesday as “Epiphany Season” (BCP pg. 31). Other denominations have different calendar traditions that distinguish the Epiphany Season or Epiphanytide. In the Roman Rite, the time after the Epiphany through the Baptism of the Lord on the Sunday after the Epiphany is blended into the Christmas Season. What follows the Christmas Season isn’t considered the Season of Epiphany, but simply “Ordinary Time.” The ELCA Lutheran Church and the Methodist Church are consistent with Episcopal practice. In the Church of England there is an optional Epiphany Season (appearing with the authorization of Common Worship, an alternative to the 1662 BCP). In Common Worship the Epiphany Season begins with the Eve of the Epiphany (January 5 or “Twelfth Night”) and ends with the Feast of the Presentation on February 2 (aka “Candelmas”).
Before the adoption of the Book of Common Prayer 1979 (after 44 years still called the “New Prayer Book”), the Episcopal Church calendar identified Epiphany Season as the period between the Epiphany, January 6, and the Sunday three weeks before Ash Wednesday. That Sunday bore the title Septuagesima Sunday, as it was within 70 days of Easter. Although not listed as such on the calendar, Septuagesima and the two Sundays following, Sexagesima (60 days) and Quinquagesima (50 days), were commonly considered “Shrovetide.” Intended to inaugurate a period of preparation for the spiritual disciplines of Lent, Shrovetide also marked the beginning of Carnival Season—and you thought you could only celebrate on Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday).
Whether you call this Epiphany Season, Ordinary Time, Gesimatide, Shrovetide, or Carnival Season, it is a season for making known the Light of Christ, his way of love and the hope that is ours through him. Making known the Light of Christ is part of the church’s mission. In this season, let us celebrate and give thanks for this mission, and may we be renewed in our ministries so that Christ’s light may continue to grow in and around our communities even as the length of sunlight grows across the land.
Perhaps this is why the Season of Epiphany is also unofficially called “Annual Meeting Season.” Many, if not all, of our parishes and congregations schedule a Sunday in this season to hold their Annual Meeting. Annual Meetings are an occasion to elect leadership for congregations, to discuss ministry goals, to review stewardship and adopt budgets, and to plan for the ministries in the coming year. As important, I hope that this “Annual Meeting Season” will be a time for all of us to give thanks for the Light of Christ and for the wonderful and new ways our congregations have revealed and shared that light in their communities. Let this be a season to give thanks also for those people who have been that light of Christ in and for our congregations through their ministry of service: on vestries; parish councils; mission committees; altar guilds; Sunday school teachers; property committees; treasurers; clerks; secretaries; snow plowers; woodcutters; wood stove lighters; readers; prayers; worship leaders; zoom technicians; singers; musicians; acolytes; coffee makers; food preparers; welcomers; greeters; positive and hopeful parishioners, the list goes on.