New Life From Old Stories: Anniversary Celebrations That Make a Difference
A church anniversary celebration is an opportunity to make meaningful and creative connections with the congregation's history. It's a time to learn more about the people who founded and led the church, and about the events that have shaped its unique personality. Even more, it is a chance to learn more about the larger Christian and Congregational traditions.
The Congregational Library provides Church Anniversary Workshops (once every two years) at a site in New England. This is a day with keynote speakers and hands-on instruction in everything from archiving to oral histories and social media.
We also offer a variety of resources on our website and, for those signed up for our email alerts, information about conference calls and webinars on anniversary planning.
Some Time-Tested Suggestions
- Begin well in advance. Three or four years ahead of the event is not too soon!
- Create a core committee of creative and hardworking people, with a good representation across the age spectrum. History buffs are welcome, but so are good ideas of all kinds.
- Plan a celebration that goes beyond your church doors. An anniversary is an opportunity to re-introduce yourselves to your town or neighborhood, to build connections with other churches and community organizations, and to include them in the story you tell about yourselves. Tie a person or event in your church history to a community project like fixing up the local cemetery or improving the neighborhood playground. The resources available at https://www.historysmiths.com and similar organizations will be useful here.
- Involve the entire congregation in an oral history project.
- Use the resources at the Congregational Library to learn the bigger story behind your local one. Members have access to a full set of PowerPoint videos on Congregational Christian history. The online catalog also contains a wealth of information, much of it in digital form or available for borrowing by Library members.
- Think creatively about events that are fun and inspirational. These might include:
- Writing a pageant or drama about your church's founding
- Putting together a scrapbook
- Commissioning a hymn or special music
- Creating a timeline (church, community, and national events)
- Organizing a book club around historical themes (see the following link for some suggestions)
- Making a commemorative quilt
- Designating a special gift to an organization that your church played a role in establishing
Writing a Church History That People Will Read
Our pamphlet, Writing a Church History That People Will Read [pdf], provides tips on research, organizing information, and editing, and suggests resources for publishing your final product.
Our collection will be helpful in pulling together your story. If you are close enough to Boston to come in for a visit, Library staff are always happy to assist with research. We have many town and county histories and a very large collection of local church histories for you to consult. Our sermon collection may well include one or two from a past minister. For those outside the Boston area, there are many digital resources on our website, including denominational yearbooks which will show, for example, how an individual congregation's attendance has changed over the years, names of clergy, and obituaries. Our obituary database provides search information on some 29,000 ministers and missionaries.
Organizing and maintaining good church records
An anniversary year is the time to get your church archive in order. The Library can help with tips and guidelines for creating and maintaining old records. Our members have access to a PowerPoint video on records management, and we also provide a written a guide for churches, Managing Church Records. Our archivists are always ready and willing to help with your records management questions.
Churches with very old records (up to 1800 in most cases) are eligible for our Hidden Histories program. We provide free digitizing and secure, climate-controlled space in our archives. Please contact our digital archivist for more information.