A Church Anniversary is a time for thanking God for the past and looking to the future.
Many churches hold their anniversary near the time when the first building was opened or renewed, or sometimes when the first 'Society' met in the area.
Always we remember that 'church' in the New Testament means the 'people of God' so its a time for celebrating the life and witness of all who have gone before us and those who serve today. Many churches also make the anniversary their 'Property Sunday' with special gifts for the maintenance of the building or its renewal and give away part to the Connexional Property Fund.
The day can also be a time to thank God for creation. Bricks and mortar are part of God's making, stones are composed of once living creatures - including our ancestors.
PROPERTY/CHURCH ANNIVERSARY SUNDAY
MATERIALS FOR WORSHIP
Suggested outline of service
[Based upon the outline for an All-Age Worship service]
- Welcome & time of praise/adoration/confession
- Encountering God
- Encounters with God are not always where and when you would expect
- Reading - Genesis 28:10-19 (Jacob's ladder - 'surely the Lord is in this place')
- Building to remind us
- Jacob builds an altar as a testimony of his encounter with God
- Our chapels/churches are physical testimonies or monuments to our forebears' encounters with God - they are physical reminders of our collective faith history
- Keeping the memory alive
- Important to remember and re-tell the story of our faith as a means to keeping it alive - our church building is part of that process
- Reading - 1 Peter 2: 4-10 (Living stones)
- Holy Space - People as Living Stones
- What makes a particular space holy? It is that place/time which belongs to God, where God is encountered
- Therefore, as people encounter God in many different places (not just churches), need to regard all these places as holy
- In Old Testament, people built physical places to 'house' God's spirit (Ark of the Covenant); in New Testament, the believers - as Living Stones - house God's spirit (the Holy Spirit)
- The believers become the physical testimonies of God's praise - is that Holy Spirit, is that testimony as evident to those around us as our physical church buildings?
[New Revised Standard Version]
Genesis 28: 10-19 - Jacob's ladder - 'Surely the Lord is in this place'
1 Peter 2: 4-10 - Living Stones
1 Kings 8: 1-21 - The dedication of the temple built by Solomon
Matthew 6: 19-21 - Treasures in heaven (priorities)
Matthew 7: 24-27 - Wise & foolish builders (need to build on foundation of faith, not just outward show)
1 Corinthians 3: 10-17 - Foundations laid by Christ
Ps 15 (HP837) Who may abide in your tent?
Ps 24 (HP843) The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it
Ps 46 (HP850) God is in the midst of the city
Ps 48 Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God
Ps 84 (HP860) How lovely is your dwelling place
Ps 87 On the holy mount stands the city he founded
Ps 111 (HP873) I will give thanksÉ in the company of the upright, in the congregation
Ps 122 (HP878) I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord'
Ps 127 (HP880) Unless the Lord builds the house
Ps 137 How can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?
Ps 139 (HP883) Where can I go from your spirit?
Ps 150 (HP888) Praise God in his sanctuary
Suggested hymns and songs
Hymns & Psalms
10 Let all the world
16 Praise to the Lord
66 Great is thy faithfulness
451 Nearer my God to thee
485 Blessed city, heavenly Salem
489 From all that dwell below the skies
515 The churches one foundation
530 Jesus stand among us
531 Lo, God is here, let us adore!
653 God is here! As we his people
658 That mighty resurrected word
659 This stone to thee in faith we lay
774 Lord thy church on earth is seeking
804 The Church of Christ in every age
808 Behold the temple of the Lord!
Songs of Fellowship (combined)
28 As we are gathered, Jesus is here
40 Be still for the presence of the Lord
111 For I'm building a people of power
145 Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise
188 Holy Spirit we welcome you
201 How lovely is thy dwelling place
264 I will build my church
268 I will enter his gates
303 Jesus stand among us
310 Jesus we enthrone you
362 Lord the light of your love
388 May the fragrance of Jesus
483 Restore O Lord
566 We are being built into a temple
640 You shall go out with joy
831 It is good to give thanks to the Lord
892 Lord for the years
921 Men of faith rise up and sing
1067 To be in your presence
Give each person a stone - the stone represents Jacob's pillow which he then turns into an altar when he realises he has encountered God. Explain that cairns are used in a number of cultures - e.g. Celtic or Buddhist - as a marker to the way, or as a way of blessing on others. Ask people to think of times and places where they have encountered God. In their own time, encourage them to come forward and build a cairn as a reminder/ monument of those encounters.
Seeing the church with fresh eyes
Get the congregation to have a really good look at their church building. Encourage them to get up and turn around - look up, look down! Ask them to say what they see; what have they never noticed before? What do they know about the building and its decorations (e.g. did a member of the congregation make the lectern? Are there banners - where did they come from? Is there a stained glass window - what is the story behind that?). Ask those who have been members of the congregation for a long time if the church has changed over the years - how? This can be a good way for older members of the congregation to share their knowledge and memories, passing on the history of faith in that building; a means of honouring the affection that many people feel for the building.
Standing on holy ground
This builds on the previous action and is perhaps more appropriate if there are children in the congregation, and if there is adequate room to move. Take the children (and others) on a tour around the church to have a good look. Ask them what they can see. You could ask them to remove their shoes, as in the Old Testament, as they are standing on holy ground.
To develop theme of encountering God in unexpected places and how we remember things, get the congregation to discuss the following questions with each other:
- Think of a time when you have encountered God
- Where was this?
- Did it surprise you to encounter God there?
- Do you have a way/an action, a special place or an item/thing that helps remind you of this encounter?
Strong buildings [activity with children/young people - links in with Matthew 7:24-27]
Think about what makes a building strong - strong foundation, good building materials etc. Perhaps use building blocks or Lego to build strong and weak buildings as examples. Talk about how we as living stones used to build the kingdom of God on earth need to be strong and work together in unity (but not uniformity) as well, and how we need to depend on God as our firm foundation. (If you have a builder, architect or engineer in your congregation get them involved in the discussionÉ they may even help you build something).
Discussion/activity for children & young people (perhaps in advance of the service or during Junior Church)
Look at how we use our building for worship. Ask the children & young people to '(re)design' the church - what do they want to see in it? Get them to think about the history of faith - how can this be shown (the stories of the bible and people in the church)? In what ways would they remind themselves or give a testimony to their experiences of God? How would they express their faith? What would they do to worship if they had the chance? Perhaps it might not be in the church building itself. (See resources below re: CABE where young people were asked what they wanted to do with the open spaces in their communities). Ask the young people to present their ideas and thoughts to the rest of the congregation.
Visiting other places of worship (outside of the Sunday service)
Why not arrange to visit other buildings of faith. See how other Christian places of worship look and are used (e.g. a Roman Catholic church, a Greek or Russian Orthodox church, an evangelical congregation meeting in a school hall or community centre - how do they use their space? What makes it special and meaningful to them? How does it make you feel?). Also see if you can visit non-Christian places of worship such as a Muslim mosque, Sikh gurdwara, Hindu temple or Jewish synagogue. It will be important to prepare those visiting ahead of their visit, especially making them sensitive to cultural and religious issues and expectations of behaviour, e.g. women to keep their heads covered, or the need to remove shoes in places of worship etc.
Prayer of adoration
Voice 1: Why should I be amazed that you, Lord, could surprise me?
You, who know when I sit and when I stand;
you who know my every thought;
you who know each hair on my head
Surely the Lord was in that place - in this place - and I didn't realise it
How awesome is my God.
Why did I think I could pre-empt you?
Why did I think that I couldn't or wouldn't meet you?
Or if I did meet you, it wouldn't be there or at that time
Surely the Lord was in that time - in this time - and I didn't realise it!
How awesome is my God.
For my Lord breaks free from the boundaries I try and put around Her;
My Lord tramples down my prejudices, and knocks over my foolish assumptions.
My Lord surprises me with Her presence, amazes me with Her love, shocks me with Her challenges.
Surely the Lord - my Lord - is in all places and in all times, and now I realise it.
How awesome is my God.
So, in this place and in all places, may my heart worship and adore you.
In this time and at all times, may my heart worship and adore you.
In this space and in all spaces, may my heart worship and adore you.
Come, Lord, surprise me again and again with your presence and your love.
How awesome is my God.
Prayer of dedication
When Jacob encountered you at Bethel, he built an altar as a testament to that meeting:
May our worship today reflect your encounters with us in our own lives.
The people of Israel carried a tent to house the Ark of the Covenant and your holy spirit:
May our faith travel with us beyond these walls and into every aspect of our lives.
Our forebears in faith built this chapel as a sign of their devotion and service to you:
May our vision for today and the future honour those who have paved our way to you.
Today, Lord, you call us to be Living Stones:
May our worship, our faith, our devotions and our vision overflow with your love, mercy, justice and Holy Spirit, so that we may be living proof of your life in us and our life in you.
Some further ideas for talks/sermons
Develop the theme of encountering God in unexpected places - where are our holy places? Mountain tops, coastline, a toddler's bathtimeÉ Jacob was an unlikely (& undeserving?) person to meet with God (a chancer who'd stolen his brother's birthright and was on the run) and where he slept was at the side of a road. It is sometimes the spaces or people that we do not necessarily expect or think deserve God's notice which become holy spaces. Ask ourselves - have we been surprised by God's presence? We, therefore, need to open ourselves to the possibility of meeting God in unexpected places (like the kitchen?), open ourselves up to God's presence at all times.
Develop the theme of what our individual chapels/churches say about the worshipping community there - its history, its present, its future? What does it say of people's experience of God? Are there fresh ways of looking at it or using it to further enable people (current members or new people) to experience God, for it to become holy space?
Some buildings or places take on 'meaning' by their association with an event or people. This can be good (cathedrals with the sense of hundreds of years of prayer) or bad (Auschwitz). The 'meaning' can also change - for example, Tuol Sleng, a secondary school in Phnom Peng, Cambodia which during Pol Pot's regime in the 1970's became a centre for interrogation and torture (known as S-21). Hundreds of people were tortured and sentenced to death there; young teenagers were used as guards and taught to be evil (reminiscent of Lord of the Flies). Does the church building hold a positive association of a living and dynamic faith, or is the association more akin to a museum or mausoleum to a past religion?
Explore ideas of what makes a place or time or space holy? Surely, it is God's presence. But, if holy space is wherever God is, and we believe God is everywhereÉ does that mean places where evil has happened (e.g. Auschwitz, Tavistock Square on 7th July 2005, Beslan school, the places of massacre in Rwanda) are also holy? No. These places & times happened despite God. Yet, even in these places, perhaps it was the people who became the holy spaces by acts of courage, compassion, mercy and love. [Links in with theme of Living Stones].
Look 'outside' of the church, and explore the church's place and role within its community. Link to the resources below from organisations such as English Heritage or National Trust who are doing a lot about the role of heritage and the historical built environment in the regeneration, growth and sustainability of communities. Is your church a part of that process? How can it get even more involved? Maybe opening up the premises for community use. The experience of many churches which open to the public to look around is people appreciate having the space and quiet to think - it is 'another place' where they can rest, and perhaps encounter God without even realising that is what is happening - even though they may never appear at the Sunday service. Does the church building (and its members) enable that to happen? Is it warm and welcoming or does it appear inhospitable? We do not always need to know or see the impact; we just need to sow the seeds.
Some further resources
'Child's Play' in Imagining God by Trevor Dennis (SPCK, 1997) - a short story of the danger of getting too serious about the building and losing sight of the need to be childlike with God.
Repitching the Tent (3rd Edition) by Richard Giles (SCM Canterbury Press) - book about re-ordering the interior of the church for worship.
English Heritage published a strategic report Inspired! Securing a future for historic places of worship (product code 5122 - visit http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/inspired This report includes a section which looks at how places of worship can have a role in community regeneration and sustainability. In terms of working with local authorities, it may also help to look at English Heritage's Local Strategic Partnerships and the Historic Environment leaflet (product code 51066). For further information and copies of these reports, visit their website or phone the EH Customer Services Dept on 0870 333 1181, email firstname.lastname@example.org
For churches in Wales, Scotland and Ireland, visit the relevant heritage bodies for your nation (e.g. Scottish Heritage, CADW in Wales - they are likely to have similar reports/strategic plans).
In 2006, the National Trust launched its 'History Matters' scheme, stating "History Matters: It defines, educates and inspires us. We should value our heritage, nurture it and pass it on". Visit the National Trust website,www.nationaltrust.org.uk for more information.
The theme of 'public space' and its uses is increasing in interest and importance in local and national political agendas. As noticeable aspects of the built environment, chapels and churches can have a significant impact on public space. It is important, therefore, to be part of the debate! CABE Space (www.cabespace.org.uk tel: 020 7960 2400) has published a guide for those involved in the regeneration and design of public space. The guide, What would you do with this space?,focuses on involving young people in the design and care of urban spaces.
BBC2 have run Restoration programmes where people get to vote which building to save - look on the BBC website for related information (www.bbc.co.uk)
You are not alone!
Quite apart from other Christian churches and other faiths, there are over 6000 Methodist communities in Great Britain.
Most are small - half our churches have fewer than 30 members.
Many small chapels have no toilets or kitchen and so cannot be used for the community. The Vision 2002 scheme has helped many small churches upgrade their premises.