A church-wide celebration of an important milestone can be an unforgettable time in a congregation's history. The most creative efforts move beyond simple nostalgia for the past and employ history as a tool for establishing identity and moving confidently into the future. Here are some tips and ideas gleaned:
Two other ideas deserve special mention: write a history of your church and organize your records.
The Congregational Library has published a pamphlet, Writing a History of Your Local Church, to help you get started.
Our collection also includes many examples of local church histories, from simple booklets to lengthy bound volumes, and we will send out samples, if requested. One of the best reference books for a project like this is James P. Wind, Places of Worship: Exploring Their History (Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 1990). The Congregational Library's website also offers lists of sources and a thumbnail historical sketch. The library also keeps a good quantity of town histories and vital records, and in some cases, church records themselves. We also have all old denominational yearbooks, which often provide biographical information on clergy, church membership figures, and so forth. Your local historical society will also be helpful in providing sources.
Do an oral history project. Enlist and train younger church members to interview older ones, perhaps even in a "memory booth" at a church supper. Have the interviews transcribed and preserved on acid-free paper.
An anniversary year can bring much-needed attention to preserving the past. The Congregational Library can provide local church historians with tips and guidelines for creating and maintaining a good archive of written materials. It is important to think through what you should keep and what you can safely discard; not all of this, however, has to be written text. Our archivist has written a guide for churches, which is also accessible though our resources section under For Local Church Historians.
Create a photo archive of pictures donated by long-time members. Have a history night to display the pictures or show them in a photographic slide or PowerPoint format.
An anniversary year can open up important questions of Congregational or Christian identity. What do our "roots" mean? We can't bring back the past, and we don't need to be prisoner to it — but can it also provide a foundation for thinking about who we are and where we're going? It's often surprising to see just how much the core principles of a tradition, like the Congregational or Christian, continue to influence the way we do things, even when we don't recognize them at work. Why not use this time to start a new conversation around these questions?