By Pastor Mark Combs
I am sitting here by the ocean in North Carolina, on the Day of Pentecost, and I have been thinking. Dangerous stuff, I know. Becky always has a look of trepidation on her face when I start with, “I’ve been thinking. . . .” I don’t know if I was inspired by my own anniversary, or if I was inspired by the events of this year at St. John’s, but in any case, I have been thinking about anniversaries.
One of the things I have noticed that is always said to people on their anniversary, after the congratulations, is the wish for many more anniversaries to come. It is the same wish at the first anniversary, the 25th anniversary, the 50th anniversary and all of the others that I didn’t name. It is the same way for any anniversary that we celebrate for good things. It is the same way for anniversaries of congregations, as well.
So here we are, the congregation called St. John’s Lutheran Church. We are part way through our year long celebration of 175 years of ministry in Zanesville, Ohio. We have already received a great number of well wishes for our success at being God’s church in this place for so long. With those well wishes, there has also been the same wish for many more anniversaries to come.
While all of these well wishes are great, how many of us think that they have the long term possibility of being true? How many of us look around on Sunday mornings, only to have that sinking feeling that it is all for naught? We all know the truth of the diminishing numbers of people in worship, but it can be even more disheartening when you start asking about workers for ministry. We seem to be having many conversations around the church that start with, “Who is going to take over doing ________ when ________ retires?” So I suppose there are two questions to us that must be dealt with. First is to ask if we are willing to accept this trend as it is, and second is that if not, then what are we going to do about it.
This is the point where a church anniversary can get tricky. It can get tricky because we do go to look back at our history and look at how our congregation began in the first place. Just like in almost all congregations of this age, ours was started by a group of people who knew they needed to have a Lutheran congregation where they lived, and were willing to work for it. In the history of countless congregations, there are stories of people who were so dedicated to the mission of establishing a congregation, that they would mortgage their own property to raise funds.
The challenge to us is to ask if we have that same commitment to our Lutheran congregation. Do we have that same dedication to making sure our Lutheran witness is alive and going for another 175 years and beyond? If we do, then we have to let it show. This kind of dedication has to be seen both in our words and in our actions. It also has to make a difference in our lives and in the world.
If we want the anniversary wish of many more to be true, then we are being called to approach our church life differently. We are being called to make our faith a priority in our words and in our actions. Think about our faith practices statement and ask yourself if you are living those practices in your life. I hope that all of us are living those faith practices, because God’s grace is so amazing! So, until next time,
I hope there are many more anniversaries.