The War on Whitsunday

pentecostToday is Pentecost, one of the three chief festivals in the Western Christian church year. It would be hard to imagine a complete lack of coverage of Christmas or Easter but Pentecost, the least commercial or secularized of the three days, doesn't receive much media coverage at all. I don't have any statistics to back this up but I think that media coverage is particularly sparse during those years, like 2008, that the High Holy Day of Mothers coincides with Pentecost. Perhaps because Pentecost isn't celebrated in the home as much as Christmas and Easter, reporters have trouble writing about the day which marks the birthday of the Christian Church. Of the media outlets that even mentioned Pentecost, also called Whitsunday, most simply published personal essays from religious adherents. The Times (U.K.) ran an interesting and thorough essay from the Right Rev. Dr Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe. It's probably one of the few times a piece was headlined, "The celestial fire that brings us new life and inspiration."

The Columbia Missourian actually had a detailed explanation of the origins of Pentecost:

Although Pentecost is largely regarded as a Christian holiday, it has Jewish roots.

It was during the Jewish festival of Shavuot, which is associated with the spring harvest and marks the day Moses received the Torah from God on Mount Sinai -- that the Holy Spirit came down to spread the good news about Jesus Christ.

According the second chapter of Acts in the Bible, as Jesus' apostles celebrated Shavuot, the Holy Spirit appeared, marking the beginning of the Christian church's mission.

The piece even mentioned the symbols, traditions and celebrations of Pentecost. The hymns it says are most popular are not ones I'm familiar with:

"Breathe on me breath of God," "There's a spirit in the air," "Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me" and "O Breath of Life, come sweeping through us" are among the most popular.

I love Pentecost hymns but don't recognize those, even after a YouTube perusal. (Today we sang one of my favorites, which we also sang at my wedding: "To God the Holy Spirit, Let Us Pray.") I would quibble about what makes the cited hymns so popular but I won't. I'm too excited that a reporter would think to include hymns in a story about popular liturgical celebrations.

Hank Arends, a retired religion reporter, writes a weekly column for Oregon's Statesman-Journal. For this week, he wrote about the lack of attention paid to Pentecost:

The Rev. Don Shaw of John Knox Presbyterian Church in Keizer once did an informal survey among those who were not active church attendees.

His request: "Identify the three major Christian holidays." Most easily named Christmas and Easter, with blank looks and answers like Thanksgiving and Lent for the third.

"Not one of those I questioned came up with Pentecost," Shaw said. He pointed out that the church holy day falls on the seventh Sunday after Easter and "marks the birth of the church.

"So why is Pentecost unknown in our culture, while Christmas and Easter are widely acknowledged? I believe the answer lies in the very nature of Pentecost."

The pastor said while Christmas and Easter remember the one time events of a birth and resurrection, Pentecost recalls the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon the early church and is "ongoing and continuous."

Holly Andres, a staff writer for the LA Daily News, used Pentecost as a hook to talk about a local congregation with an interesting approach:

Furious winds and flames overhead are not what the parishioners at St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Rite Catholic Church would ever want to experience at their Chatsworth building near the brush-fire prone Santa Susana Mountains.

Except for this Sunday, when it might be thrilling for them to personally experience what Jesus' Apostles did on Pentecost, which the parish will celebrate Sunday.

Pentecost, which comes 50 days after Easter, is the day Christians believe the Holy Spirit descended and brought spiritual gifts to the Apostles and then, ever since, to anyone who affirms to be a Christian.

"There was a sound like a rushing, mighty wind. There were tongues of flames over their heads. Then the Apostles were speaking in tongues," said the Very Rev. Anthony F. Rasch from St. Mary. "Our Lord said he would send the Spirit to remind them (of his teachings) and lead them to all truth."

The small congregation worships God in an historic cemetery chapel and uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. I love the way the reporter used the hook of a major church festival to discuss this liturgical congregation.

The three pieces I highlighted here were fine and good. Pentecost is difficult to cover since it has no secular or commercial angle. It is also not celebrated by Christians themselves as much as Christmas or Easter. But perhaps reporters -- other than those in the Catholic press -- can do a bit better on this in the future.

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