Happy New Year!

Or are you already tired of new year-related stuff? Perhaps it's time to enjoy winter, begin thinking of spring. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in just a few weeks. But first, a few extra New Year thoughts.

Religion is filled with promises of "newness." Our culture's New Year's celebrations just formalize, ritualize, secularize the idea of a fresh start, a new beginning. Religions of all kind have always had ways to celebrate the renewal of life, faith, even the land itself.

In my religion, Christianity, "newness" is a regular concept. St. Paul tells us that through our relationship with Christ, we are "a new creation, the old has passed, the new has come," and we are invited to "put on a new self" just as we would put on a new set of clothes. The great Jewish prophet, Ezekiel, reminds us that through God we can have a new heart, a new spirit. And Jesus, taking a line from ancient wine packaging, reminds us that you don't put new wine into an old wine-skin.

Taken together, it is all an affirmation of newness.

I suppose we could dismiss New Year's resolutions as gimmicky, or arbitrary. New Year's Day, after all, is only another day, another turning of the calendar, no different than switching from Feb. 28 to March 1. Still, gimmicks have their place. New Year's, like Lent, gives us a good excuse to put off the old and try on the new, to make promises, to give up something, or to start something better. I gave up smoking one Lent just because a friend came out of church on Ash Wednesday and declared, "I've quit smoking," and before I could think about it I said, "I will too." Several years later we are both still smoke-free. All because of the arbitrary or gimmicky fresh start provided by a Lenten resolution.

The New Year offers us the same chance at newness. Old behaviors, old habits, old hang-ups, can be changed, replaced, improved upon. Why not, if they're not working!?! Why not give a fresh approach, a new habit, or better idea a chance?

But first the old has to pass, doesn't have a chance if the old is still hanging around, guiding you, setting your agenda. You can't try a new golf swing while continuing the old. You can't quit smoking, cursing or pigging out while smoking, cursing or pigging out. The first step to newness is to accept that the old isn't working. Sometimes you just need new.

Since this is a religion column, let me add that faith, religion, worship is a great place to find direction and encouragement for your new steps in the new year.

David Johnson Rowe is co-pastor of the Greenfield Hill Congregational Church in Fairfield. He can be contacted at DavidRoweGHCC@aol.com.

GREENFIELD HILL CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH

1045 Old Academy Road, Fairfield

203-259-5596 / http://web.me.com/greenfieldhillchurch/Site/GHCC_Welcome.html

PASTORS: Rev. David Johnson Rowe and Rev. Alida Ward

HISTORY: Greenfield Hill residents assembled in a tiny building in 1725 for their first worship as the "Northwest Parish," which had recently been permitted to separate from the First Church of Fairfield. There were 13 men. One year later, 15 women were added, and by the end of 1726, there were 70 members. Timothy Dwight was the church's fourth and most famous minister. After his 12-year pastorate, Rev. Dwight became president of Yale College in New Haven.

PROGRAMS: Annual Dogwood Festival since 1936, Greenfield Hill Church Nursery School, Memorial Garden, weekly youth ministry and fellowship programs, Bible study, Book Chat, community service that includes Operation Hope meals.