We all know the real New Year isn’t happening now. You know what I mean, this is just when December turns into January and we buy a new calendar with the next number on it.
No, I don’t mean Spring. I know that’s when our Iranian friends celebrate Nowruz. It’s also why all our Easter stuff has all lambs and chickens and stuff all over it. It is the season of new birth and all that. But no, I don’t mean that either.
No, I mean the new calendar that has obviously superseded both of those. That is the secular school calendar. Everybody knows that the start of the new year isn’t now, it is September. If we have children in school, they move up a year. All the church stuff you wound down over the summer kicks off again in earnest. Having dabbled in the dark arts of the recruitment industry, I also know that September is one of the busier times of the year as people seriously consider fresh starts (though, recruitment being what it is, playing on this time of the year was a bit of a staple too). But these days, September is the real start of the year for most people.
And I don’t have a lot of say about that other than this rather banal point. It shows just how far we are secularising. Not just that we have essentially sacked off former calendars centred around the church, but we have unwittingly adopted a calendar centred around our secular government’s view of how life ought to be organised. Sure, it still has the same names of the month and all of them still appear, but life is still largely centred around things apart from the calendar established by, and ultimately for, the church.
Unlike many of my Christian pals, I don’t necessarily think ever act of secularism is of the Devil and something to be fought tooth and nail. I, like many Nonconformists, long for the day that we – who were arguing for it long before any secular humanists – can see our state church disestablished and some proper distance put between the government and religious institutions. We would gladly be rid of bishops from the House of Lords (though, some of us like me would also happily sack the rest of the Lords too!)
Our secular friends principally want the separation of church and state to protect government from religious interference. Frankly, as a dissenter, I kind of want it on a secondary level for that reason too. Church of England bishops have rarely been friends to dissenting Baptists. But given what little sway the Lords Spiritual have these days – what little sway the state church has on any level – and what even smaller influence any other religious group (including dissenters like me, as well as Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and others) it hardly seems like a pressing concern. But we also see the danger running the other way. We would like government to leave us alone to practise our religion without interference. As long as there is state linkage, there is the risk that government may meddle in matters pertaining to the church. No civic position is worth that.
But am I particularly bothered about us adopting a secular calendar (which we effectively have done)? Not really. As a dissenter, the state church calendar means very little to us. So that we organise our year around a secular September start instead causes us no hardship at all. So long as we have 7 days in the week, it doesn’t really make a lot of difference to us.
But my point isn’t to say that is good, bad or otherwise. It’s not a big deal of itself. But it does serve as a reminder that September has become the real start of the year, and other dates have more significance, because the church and its calendar hold increasingly little for most people. It is a reminder to us of the gospel need of our nation. Not that they look to other significant dates in the year for different reasons to us, but that the church is meaningless to them because Christ is meaingless to them.
And that, dear friends, should drive us on in the New Year, whenever we really think it begins.