A New Year for the New Church? Not so fast!

christmas1889detail.jpgAccording to a New Church calendar system used during the late 19th century, the new year will not take place until next June 19th. And the year will be 238!

In a 1977 issue of New Church Life, the question was asked, “I wonder if anyone in the New Church has ever thought of a distinctive New Church calendar? As the Old Church starts theirs with the first coming of the Lord into the world, why not a calendar commencing anew with the second coming?” (January 1977, 38). In fact, such a system was in use during the late 19th (and even early 20th) century among New Church people connected with the Academy movement. As explained in a 1918 issue of New Church Life, “June the Nineteenth, 1770, is regarded by some as the head of the year, and they even wish to begin a new calendar dating from that time” (August 1918, 515).

The New Church system of dating (usually written as 1890=120, i.e. Gregorian year=New Church year) was never used on a daily basis by Academy and General Church members. However, before the turn of the century it was common to see the system used, not only in publications, but in greeting cards and invitations. See, for example, this Christmas card from 1889 and this wedding invitation from 1890. As late as 1910 it appeared on a June 19th card.

New Church Life used the system on its masthead beginning with the January 1886 issue, and continued to use it through the December 1899 issue. The system was quietly dropped before the appearance of the next issue, the first of the new century according to the Gregorian calendar (the January 1900 issue).

Most New Church people today have never heard of the New Church calendar system. However, researchers frequently encounter the system when looking at early New Church source material, and the way the system works has caused some confusion. In a letter to the editor of New Church Life in 1977 (April, 201), it was pointed out that when subtracting the lower number (on the New Church calendar) from the higher number (on the Gregorian calendar), one sometimes ends up with the year 1769 instead of 1770. “I find it a bit curious that the date 1769 was singled out. One might conceivably make a better case for 1757 (the Last Judgment) or 1770 (New Church Day).” Several answers to this puzzle were proposed, but the situation becomes clear after a careful examination of the early sources. When subtracting the lower number from the higher, 1770 results in dates before June 19th (i.e. the “head of the year” when the year changes), and 1769 results in dates after June 19th. For example, the May 1894 issue of New Church Life is dated “May, 1894=124.” The June issue of the same publication, in recognition of the fact that the month of June spans two New Church calendar years, is dated “June, 1894=124-125.” And the July issue is dated “July, 1894=125.” The key to using the system correctly is to advance the number of the year by one after each June 19th.

Photos: John and Gertrude Pitcairn Archives, Bryn Athyn, PA

January 3, 2007 | Posted by: Ed Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact