Why do we Celebrate Church Anniversaries?

Yesterday a number of us went to support Chipping Chapel’s 179th anniversary weekend. David Lawson gave a great message on Hebrews 12, the chapel’s musicians led a time of worship and Krista B. beautifully sang two songs. On the journey there, I wondered why we bother marking church anniversaries. Another nearby chapel is celebrating the anniversary of its Sunday school, even though that ministry no longer functions. Anglican churches can often date their foundation to the times of Saxon and Norman, yet do not generally mark such occasions. Perhaps we nonconformists, being younger, still eagerly anticipate each approaching birthday and the party it brings; Anglican churches, like older people in general, see fit to ignore birthdays.

Why then do we have chapel anniversaries? I have come up with a list of five reasons:

1)      It’s a wonder these chapels have survived at all. A married couple who came close to divorce but healed their relationship may celebrate their wedding anniversaries with more vigour than a couple that sailed through a blissful matrimonial life. Likewise, nonconformist churches have always battled against a tough climate; they had to be self-financing, often by the very poorest sections of the community. In the early years, they were bitterly persecuted; in later years, aggressive secularism and material worldliness blinded their local neighbourhoods to spiritual things. Chapels that are still going must surely rejoice that against them, the gates of hell have not prevailed.

2)      A chapel anniversary is a picture of its individual members’ spiritual journeys. Many Anglican Christians, like their churches, cannot remember the day and time at which they came to faith in Christ. Conversions and born-again experiences were downplayed by the established denomination. Nonconformists, on the other hand, emphasised the need for a distinct and definitive decision for accepting Christ; many, like myself, can remember the day and the hour.  

3)      Anniversaries honour the founders. Except the Lord build the house, they that labour do so in vain. All those years ago, God gave men and women a vision to build a church. Though it cost them dearly in terms of money and time, they did it. Some may have seen that this work would outlive them, reaching out to generations not yet born. Surely, our chapels were founded by sons of Jabez crying out to God “Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast!” While saints of old now worship in glory, their spiritual great-grandchildren worship at their earthly tabernacle.

4)      It’s a great evangelistic outreach. When we celebrated out bicentenary last year, we were joined by the mayor, local landowners, parish and district councillors and all manner of local folk who would not normally darken our doors. If celebrating a church’s birthday affords sinners an opportunity to hear of Christ and Him crucified, let’s celebrate!

5)      Finally, it’s good to catch up with people and enjoy time and food together. Last night, I saw folk from Capernwray, Crown Lane and Knowle Green. It’s always good to spend time with God’s precious people, even they that meet at other places. This we call fellowship, and it is to be encouraged among the churches of God.

So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.

Nehemiah 4:6