Blest Be the Dear Uniting Love: Honoring your church family
The history of your church is the story of its people. Heritage celebrations can be a ministry to the members of your church family.
An important ministry of history is that of inclusion. When we study history, we realize that everyone has a story to tell.
One way to "preach" that message is to include the whole church family in heritage celebrations. Children, youth, adults, families, singles, new and long-time members: their memories are all part of your history, and their involvement will enrich your celebrations.
As you advertise heritage events, be careful to use inclusive language. For example, single people can easily feel excluded when an announcement for a church dinner only refers to "families."
Make a special point of reaching out to new members or persons who have not yet joined the church. Although they have few memories of the church, their participation should be valued as a sign of your church's vitality and growth.
Finally, involve children and young people wherever possible. Your church's heritage is their legacy; help them claim it as their own treasure. Ask the children's choir to sing at your anniversary worship service; invite the youth to interview their elders or create a time capsule.
When young people value their heritage and feel that they are part of their church's life, the future of the church is secure.
Honor Special People
Just as it is important to include everyone in heritage celebrations, it is also appropriate to applaud those women and men who have been especially important to the life of your church.
Celebrate special people with a "Hall of Fame" or a "Memory Walk."
Invite people to write letters about the ways others in the church have touched their lives. Copies should be given to the subjects (or their families if they are deceased). If writer and subject agree, the letters may also be placed in the church archives.
Long-time members can be acknowledged during a worship service with a special certificate or pin. Children can present each person with a flower and homemade card.
Remember those former pastors of your church by placing a gravemarker on their graves. (Available from Cokesbury)
What better time than All Saints' Day to celebrate the past and present saints of your church? During worship, have a time of remembrance when names are spoken aloud and flowers placed on the altar in memory of special persons.
Reach Out to Others
What about those members who cannot easily participate in any special events?
Persons who are homebound or in nursing homes will certainly appreciate a
...video greeting from the church ...card or poster designed by the children ...copy of your new published history ...bouquet of flowers ...cassette tape of choir performances ...photo album or scrapbook highlighting the years of their active membership
Most of all, of course, they will cherish visits from the church family:
A quiet conversation sharing memories A lively sing-along of favorite hymns A chance to cuddle members of the cradle roll
Sunday school classes and the youth group can "adopt" one or more people and visit them regularly. They can send cards on birthdays and holidays, and pray regularly for their friends. Work with the pastoral staff to identify appropriate persons for such a ministry.
Some of these less active members will be wonderful subjects for an oral history project. By valuing their memories, you will minister to them even as they share their recollections with you.
Then there are former members, those who have moved away. How can they participate in your heritage celebrations? A homecoming can bring them back for a visit. So can reunions of the choir, the youth group, or a particular Sunday school class or fellowship group.
Gathering names and addresses can be very time-consuming, but certainly the results are worth the effort!
Finally, your heritage celebrations can be a way to reach out to the community.
Advertise your special events: concerts, picnics, tours, worship services. Put notices in the local newspapers, flyers on community bulletin boards, and a sign on the church lawn.
At each event, make sure that visitors are warmly welcomed and made to feel comfortable. Perhaps you can prepare a special "welcome" packet for visitors that includes a brief historical sketch of the church as well as information about Sunday morning activities and fellowship groups. These can be distributed at heritage events as well as on Sunday mornings.
Encourage every member to invite a friend to church or Sunday school. This is a very appropriate heritage project; what better way to celebrate the history of your church than by bringing more people into its fellowship?!