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STEP ONE: Decide what and when to celebrate

An Anniversary:

Many churches plan a heritage event for their 75th, 100th, 150th, or 200th anniversary. This is a logical time to commemorate the church’s history and ministry, to remind the church of its past and challenge it to look to the future.

What is a church’s anniversary? It is generally the founding date, but it is sometimes difficult to decide just when a church was established. Was your church founded when the first class meeting was held or when the Methodist Society was formed? Is it the date of incorporation or when the church was included on a circuit? The choice is up to you! Just be sure that you can justify your decision with historical facts.

Verify the founding date at the very beginning of the planning process; more than one church has assumed one founding date, only to learn well into the planning that the date is wrong, sometimes by as much as a year or two!

How do you verify the date? Check your own church records carefully. If they are incomplete or inaccurate, do some research in the annual conference archives. Conference journals or newspapers may have the information you need. (See the Resource Directory to learn how to contact your conference archives.)

Special Occasions:

There are times in the life of a congregation when a heritage celebration is especially appropriate:

  • the dedication of a new sanctuary or education building
  • the merger of two congregations
  • the arrival of a new pastor
  • the retirement of a pastor or church staff member

There are also times when an event in the annual conference or the entire denomination can be a starting point for your own celebration:

  • the sesquicentennial of your annual conference
  • an anniversary associated with a major historical figure in United Methodism
  • the anniversary of a significant Methodist-related ministry (Goodwill Industries, for example)
  • the election of a bishop from your annual conference

Third, it is appropriate for your church to celebrate its heritage as part of a community. You may wish to plan an event in recognition of:

  • The centennial of your town, county, or state
  • The founding of a new college in your town
  • A significant anniversary in another church in your community
  • An important anniversary in local, regional, or national history
Annual Observances:

Anniversaries, building dedications, and retirements are usually once-in-a-lifetime occasions, but don’t limit your heritage events to those times alone. Consider how history can be a part of other days that are observed each year on the church and community calendar.

There is a special day for history in The United Methodist Church. It is Heritage Sunday, celebrated on Aldersgate Day (May 24) or the Sunday preceeding that date. The General Commission on Archives and History selects a theme for each year, and develops resources based on that theme. For further information, contact the General Commission.

Your church already observes other special Sundays in the year. Some, like Reformation Sunday and All Saints’ Day are observed by churches in all denominations. Others are specific to The United Methodist Church. An understanding of their historical dimension can add a great deal to the congregation’s appreciation of these special Sundays.

History can provide helpful background: for example, promotion of Christian Education Sunday can include discussion of Methodism’s historic commitment to education from the Sunday school to the university.

History can show how special offerings have made a difference: on Golden Cross Sunday, for instance, you can tell the congregation what their gifts have meant to the community over a period of years.

History can connect “modern” concerns to our past: Peace with Justice Sunday has a contemporary name, but United Methodists have always been committed to social reform. Tell the congregation about the church’s historic involvement with justice issues like antislavery, temperance, child welfare.

Supporting special Sundays is one way that history can be a ministry of your church. Remember that in order to educate and inspire the congregation, you may need to devote some time to research and study. Work with your annual conference archives, the General Commission, and the public library.

There are other annual observances outside the church calendar that have specific connections to history. These include Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (January), Black History Month (February), and Women’s History Month (March). Your state or county may have additional observances that could be tied to history in your church.

Your public library should have information about resources that can help you plan a program reflecting these emphases. In addition, you may wish to contact the appropriate general agencies of The United Methodist Church.

Finally, think about those times and days on your local church calender when heritage can be highlighted. Perhaps the most obvious example is an annual Homecoming, when past and present members of the church family come together to renew their ties.

Other annual events in the church year are holidays, new member classes, confirmation classes, and, of course, Sunday worship. Once the church realizes that history is part of its overall ministry, you will see many ways to study and celebrate our heritage every year.

Special Sundays approved by the General Conference of The United Methodist Church:

Heritage Sunday: “provides an opportunity for reflection on heritage, celebration of where the Church has been, how it understands itself as it shapes us today, and the meaning of Christian conferencing.” Observed on Aldersgate Day (May 24th) or the Sunday preceding that date. (2016 Book of Discipline, 264.1)

Human Relations Day: “calls the Church to recognize the right of all God’s children in realizing their potential as human beings in relationship with each other.” Observed on the Sunday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. (2016 Book of Discipline, 263.1)

UMCOR Sunday: “calls the Church to share the goodness of life with those who hurt.” Observed on the fourth Sunday of Lent. (2016 Book of Discipline, 263.2)

Native American Ministries Sunday: “reminds the Church of the gifts and contributions made by Native Americans to our society.” Observed on the third Sunday of Easter (2016 Book of Discipline, 263.6)

Golden Cross Sunday: supports “the health and welfare ministries of the annual conference.” Observed on a date set by the annual conference. (2016 Book of Discipline, 265.2)

Peace with Justice Sunday: “witnesses to God’s demand for a faithful, just, disarmed, and secure world.” Observed on the first Sunday following Pentecost. (2016 Book of Discipline, 263.5)

Christian Education Sunday: “calls the Church as the people of God to be open to growth and learning as disciples of Jesus Christ.” Observed on a date set by the annual conference. (2016 Book of Discipline, 265.1)

Rural Life Sunday: calls the Church “to celebrate the rural heritage of The United Methodist Church and to recognize the ongoing crisis occurring in rural areas of the nation and world today, and to affirm the interdependenceof rural and urban communities.” Observed on a date set by the annual conference. (2016 Book of Discipline, 265.3)

World Communion Sunday: “calls the Church to be the catholic inclusive Church.” Observed on the first Sunday of October. (2016 Book of Discipline, 263.3)

Laity Sunday: “calls the Church to celebrate the ministry of all lay Christians.” Preferably observed on the third Sunday in October. (2016 Book of Discipline, 264.2)

United Methodist Student Day: “calls the Church to support students as they prepare for life in uniting faith with knowledge.” Observed on the last Sunday in November. (2016 Book of Discipline, 263.4)

Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday: “is viewed as a time to come together around the issues of life and Thanksgiving.” Preferably observed on the second Sunday in November (2016 Book of Discipline, 264.3)

Men’s Ministry Sunday: “is to celebrate the men’s ministry within and beyond the local church.” Observed on a date set by the local congregation. (2016 Book of Discipline, 264.4)

Disability Awareness Sunday: “calls the Church to celebrate the gifts and graces of persons with disabilities and calls the Church and society to full inclusion of persons with disabilities in the community.” Observed on a date set by the annual conference. (2016 Book of Discipline, 265.4)

Women’s Ministry Sunday: “to celebrate a variety of women’s ministries, women’s history and the contribution of women within and beyond the local church.”  Observed on a date set by the local congregation. (2016 Book of Discipline, 264.5)

Volunteers in Mission Awareness Sunday: “calls the church to celebrate those who have served in short-term missions and the work of UMVIM throughout the world.”  Observed on a date set by the annual conference. (2016 Book of Discipline, 265.5)

Church pastors regularly receive information about these special days. United Methodist Communications provide resource materials.