Christian celebrations of anniversaries (baptism, ordination, marriage, or congregational) are occasions for thanksgiving for past blessings that God has given, increasing awareness of what God is doing in the present, and hopeful expectation for what God will do in the future.
There are many ways congregational anniversaries can be celebrated: historical programs, forums, musical concerts, and dinners. This essay focuses specifically on how a congregation can mark its anniversary liturgically within the context of a worship service.
It is most appropriate to celebrate an anniversary within a service of Holy Communion.
Because congregations are first and foremost assemblies of God’s people around Word and Sacrament, marking your anniversary within a eucharistic celebration is most appropriate. The Sunday service of Holy Communion is ideal. Propers (scripture readings and prayers) are provided for "The Dedication or Anniversary of a Church" on page 62 of Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
A hymn, choral work, dance, or piece of functional liturgical art could be commissioned.
With at least one year’s preparation, a hymn, a choral piece, a work of dance, or piece of functional liturgical art (such as communion vessels, vestments, or processional cross) can be commissioned. The commissioned works may be used for the first time during the anniversary liturgy. Commissioning liturgical items rather than purchasing them from a catalog allows the congregation to have beautiful, handcrafted, one-of-a-kind items made to suit its needs.
Commissioned liturgical items may be dedicated during the liturgy.
Use Dedication of Worship Furnishings from Occasional Services (pages 176-77).
Invite the synodical bishop to participate in the liturgy.
For a significant anniversary (25th, 50th, 100th), consider inviting the synodical bishop to participate. As chief pastor of the synod, it is appropriate for the bishop to preach, preside, pronounce the blessing, or simply give greetings.
Invite clergy, deaconesses, diaconal ministers, musicians, and associates in ministry who have served the congregation in the past, or former members who have become church leaders to take part in the liturgy.
They might serve as lectors, preachers, guest musicians, or in other appropriate ways. They may also be invited to attend the liturgy without any special leadership role. Although it is always appropriate to have a guest leader, one of the present pastors of the congregation should either preach or preside at the service.
Founding or long-time members may be invited to serve in the liturgy.
They may serve as lectors, assisting ministers, eucharistic ministers, or in other appropriate roles.
Consider using the rite of Affirmation of the Vocation of Christians in the World (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 84) within the liturgy.
This rite may be slightly modified for use with the entire congregation. It is ideal for use on such occasions, because it calls the congregation to celebrate its anniversary by rededicating itself to its primary mission-serving Christ in the world. It will also remind the congregation that the "church" being celebrated in the anniversary observance is primarily God’s people in mission, rather than the church building that houses them. Set within Holy Communion, the Affirmation of the Vocation of Christians in the World follows the offering and the offertory.
When celebrating an anniversary within a service of Holy Communion, the lectionary texts appointed for the Sunday and the liturgical color of the season should be used. An additional prayer of the day may be used immediately following the appointed prayer for the day.
A prayer such as the following might be suitable:
Gracious God, you have called this congregation into being as an assembly of believers among whom the gospel of Christ is faithfully preached and the sacraments of grace are administered. Bless us as we celebrate our _______ anniversary. Look with favor upon our membership and our mission, and keep us ever faithful to the One who has called us to discipleship, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
The prayer for founders and previous leaders of a congregation (ELW, page 75) may be used.
Use special intercessions for the continued ministry of the congregation within the prayers of the church. Suitable prayers might be:
Eternal God, we give thanks to you for the members and the ministry of this congregation: for those who had the vision to found this congregation, those who sustain its present ministry, and those who will carry its mission forward into the future.
Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
Bless us, O God, as we journey forward in faith. Help us to preserve the best of our past and be open to what the future holds. Sustain us in our baptismal calling. Keep us ever mindful that we are the body of Christ, sent forth to live and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in and for the world.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
A special prayer may used after communion. A suitable prayer might be:
Almighty God, we give you thanks that you have fed us with this heavenly food. In your grace and by your Spirit, help us to be what we celebrate, the body of Christ in the world. Renewed in this sacramental meal, send us out to do the work you have given us to do: to witness for Christ, and to love and serve you with clarity of purpose and singleness of heart. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
A special benediction or charge to the people may be used.
Go forth in peace and with the courage of faith.
Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind,
and love your neighbor as yourself.
Whatever you do in word or deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God through him.
The God of hope fill you with joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Spirit.
Almighty God, bless you, Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit.
The following are suggested hymns for anniversary celebrations:
|From Evangelical Lutheran Worship|
|503-505 A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
652 Built on a Rock
654 The Church’s One Foundation
665 Rise, Shine, You People
543 Go, My Children with My Blessing
576 We Are All One in Mission
760 O Christ the Same
|839 Now Thank We All Our God|
865 Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven
873 Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart!
866 We Are Marching in the Light
671 Shine Jesus, Shine
496 One Bread, One Body
532 Here in This Place
|From This Far By Faith|
|197 We’ve Come This Far by Faith
209 We’ve Come a Long Way, Lord
|270 Have You Thanked the Lord?|
283 Great Is Thy Faithfulness
It may be appropriate to search congregational archives to locate service folders from building dedications or other pivotal events in the life of the congregation and use some of the hymns that were sung then.