How can the church celebrate anniversaries so that they are not only memorable and enjoyable for that community but also about God? How do we include children so that it is not just adults who are celebrating?
When our church wanted to celebrate its 750th anniversary with an All Age Service and birthday lunch, these were the questions we were asking. We decided to focus on: "Yesterday's church" "Today's church" and "Tomorrow's church".
We chose to do two mini dramas showing the church in two different situations: a time of difficulty and a time of rejoicing. We wanted to show that in each time God and prayer were important to the people and so each scene finished with the villagers coming to kneel in the nave to pray.
We began with the time of difficulty.
As luck would have it (though it is unlikely they thought this at the time!) our church had been visited by the Puritan William Dowsing on his travels around East Anglia in 1644. William had kept a journal and we wrote a short drama based on his entries.
The leader introduced the drama with the words:
"In the 750 years since this church was built it has been through many different times. Times of rejoicing, and times of sadness. Times of neglect and destruction, and times of building up and renewal. Easy times and difficult times. We are going back to one of the difficult times... Turn back the clock..."
The drama showed the coming of the Puritans and the smashing of the statues and pictures (off stage with a china plate!) After they left the Rector called on the villagers to sweep up, and then they all knelt in the aisle to pray.
"Grant, O lord, that in thy wounds we may find our safety, in thy stripes our cure, in thy pain our peace, in thy cross our victory, in thy resurrection our triumph: and a crown of righteousness in the glories of thy eternal kingdom."
The second drama was the founding of the church.
We knew virtually nothing about it so we invented an abbess who asked the villagers to share her vision of building a church by giving whatever they could towards the expense of the building.
The villagers brought in their gifts, including a live chicken that belonged to one of the children.
The Abbess thanked them: "It will be a church that will last for a hundred, or even five hundred years, so that the generations to come will remember us and give thanks.
"Good people, I ask you to pray."
(The people knelt to pray in the nave)
Pray for the building of our church, that it will glorify God. Pray for yourselves that you will lead lives of purity and holiness.
But pray also for the generations to come who will worship here in our church when we ourselves are dust.
"O God, through the grace of your Holy Spirit, you pour your best gift of love into the hearts of your faithful people, grant unto us health, both of mind and body, that we may love you with our whole strength, and that today we may do those things which please you to your entire satisfaction, through Christ our Lord. Amen."
Today's church included a short talk about Jesus, his life, death and resurrection and how he is at the centre of our church in all times.
We followed this with our affirmation of faith: one person carried our large wooden cross out of the church, followed by the entire congregation (about 100 people) who then made a ring around the church. We passed around symbols with the words:
"We believe in God, the creator" (globe);
"We believe in Jesus, our saviour" (cross);
"We believe in the Holy Spirit, the encourager (dove)."
We also used this time to welcome two children who had been recently baptised.
We finished the service with a prayer for the people who would live and worship here after we ourselves had gone.
Our final hymn was: "One more step along the way I go". We followed the service with a special lunch in the churchyard complete with cake.
A member of the congregation had made a banner for us which was hung in the north transept. One side was the Ark with rainbow and dove and on the other side the Annunciation.
We included this prayer in our service:
"Lord our new banner reminds us of your promises to us:
The rainbow symbol of your promise to Noah; The angel promising the birth of Jesus, the Son of God; and the dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, that has been promised to us in every time and every place..."
All our church children, including those who came to the pre-school service, had written (or been helped to write) thank you prayers about the church. These ranged from "Thank you for the painting at church" to "Thank you for all the people in the past who built this church". The prayers were read out in the service, either by the children themselves or by adults.
The village Brownies were very keen to be involved in our celebrations.
We suggested that they should plant a crocus clock with the hands pointing to 10 minutes to 8 (7.50).
Although our anniversary is now a few years ago the clock is still there every spring, as a reminder.
How did it go?
In the planning stages it seemed at times as if it would be a very bitty service as we tried to cram a lot in. In the event the dramas and the ring around the church were sufficient to focus the congregation.
The dramas were much enjoyed, but it was the ring around the church that really touched a chord with people and made them feel a part of the church and its history. It was particularly good to see adults passing the symbols to children and children passing the symbols to adults.