I’m all about innovation. I love trying new things. I love experimentation. But I’d like to make a case that there are some things we shouldn’t change in our yearly church calendars. These, I would call anchor events, or traditions.
An anchor event is an event or service in your church that doesn’t change. You keep coming back to it year by year. The specifics might be a little different, but it has worked well and you continue to come back.
Let me give an example. Two weeks ago we had our yearly service called The Feast of Hymns. It’s led by our Minister of Music, Dr. Logan, on the service right before Thanksgiving.
Here are a few key features of this service:
- There are quite a few hymns. Hence the “feast” name.
- No guitars or worship teams. It’s mainly organ led.
- There are some responsive readings.
- A choral element or two.
- There is a short sermon (15 minutes).
- We pass out blank thank you cards, and encourage the congregation to take a few moments write out a note to someone they’re thankful for or would like to encourage. And we, as a church, will then mail it to anywhere in the world.
- There is an “offering” element in which people bring up their notes, tithes and offerings, or canned foods and place them in baskets in the front of the church. The food is then passed out later that week to families in the community.
- And a few more hymns.
Those are the basics. If you’re really curious, I can send you a copy of our program for the day to see all the details.
But here’s the bottom line: the church loves this service. It’s one of the favorite church services we do all year. The question is why? Is it because people get free postage? Is it because the sermon is really short on that day? The free cards are certainly interesting and fun, but it goes beyond that, of course.
The reason why anchor events are important in church life is because they help create shared experiences that fuel a collective memory. Think about it this way: did your family have any traditions growing up?
Growing up as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian in a hispanic family, there is one tradition we always shared on Friday nights when we had our sundown family worship. At the end of our family worships, my parents would lead us in reciting the 10 Commandments and a few other Scriptures as well. Whether you think that’s wonderful or quirky is besides the point. It was something we did together. It was our thing. For the longest time I assumed all families did this.
I confess we don’t do this in my current family. My wife didn’t grow up doing that. I have nothing against it, it just doesn’t happen. But when I come back to visit my family, and we’re together on a Friday night, it’s always back. We do it. Together. Once again, I’m the youngest of four siblings. It’s a shared experience that we know forward and backwards, and which we always smile and chuckle through as we’re reciting it. It’s something I value.
Note the words of Donna Rockwell as she muses on family traditions:
As that little girl at those gathering, I closely observed my aunts and uncles, my grandparents, and my own parents, feeling, albeit unconsciously, a profound connection to relatives who came before me and the link to their ancestors: my mother’s mother, my father’s father and those who came before him…understanding that I do not live in a vacuum, I become part of something larger than myself.
Traditions in church life can be the same way, can’t they? These traditions or anchor events help to place and anchor us within history and within our church family. It’s one of our things, and we value it. It’s something we can look forward to together.
What are some other examples of traditions or anchor events?
- Communion or Lord’s Supper. In my faith tradition, these are usually shared once a quarter.
- Christmas program
- Perhaps your church does an Easter program
By the way, I believe these can be great events in which to invite your friends. Even non-religious people in America are open to going to church on Easter or for a Christmas program. And because you know what to expect, you’re in a great position to know whether your friends would be open to this kind of program or service.
Here’s what I suggest: If your church currently doesn’t have many anchor events and traditions, I suggest creating some. In the same way that families can start new traditions, churches can do the same. Start with ones that people would expect, like a simple Christmas program. You can sing some Christmas hymns, tell the Christmas story as found in Luke 2, and share in prayer together. Your church doesn’t need many. But having at least a few anchor events in your church will create a sense of community and shared history that helps churches to bond and draw closer together.
So what about you? What are some examples of anchor events or traditions that your church values? To leave a comment scroll below or click here.