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Anniversaries aren’t like they used to be

By Frank Paine

Celebrating anniversaries can be important in the life of a church or parish. They enable us to give thanks for those who established the faith on our church site, often at great sacrifice.

Anniversaries are also a time for looking back – not with nostalgia and a longing for the good old days but rejoicing in what has been achieved over the years. Present day members can look forward to where faith is taking them.

Len Horwood wrote a hymn about this. The first line is: “Here in your house where once our forebears worshipped.” The first half of the third verse reads:

“Though our beliefs may vary from our parents’,

Grant us a faith that vies with theirs in power.

That we may witness to our generation

And match the gospel to the present hour.”

Today we tend to emphasize a 50th or 100th anniversary, with former members invited to swell the ranks. The celebrations include a number of social events.

In the past Methodists celebrated their anniversaries annually. Three services on the Sunday was the pattern. In the morning a visiting preacher graced the pulpit. The choir, sometimes augmented, would render an anthem, often an extended one, referred to as ‘old warhorses’! Who remembers the anthems of Caleb Simper? In “This is the day which the Lord has made”, the men of the choir sang the opening page with great gusto.

One thing that Methodist congregations could do was to sing Jackson’s ‘Te Deum’. This ancient hymn of the Church was an anniversary favourite with its intriguing final words: “let us never, never be confounded.” In the evening the local minister would lead worship; again with contributions by the choir.

Sunday school anniversaries cannot be left out of the story. There was a build-up of learning hymns and in anticipation of the day, girls would have a new dress; perhaps the boys a white shirt. Many churches built platforms that rose in tiers, and we always longed to sit on the top row. During the week there would be a concert plus three services on Sunday, and we sang our hearts out.

The number of churches that don’t plan a major anniversary in plenty of time has always bothered us at the Archive. Some years ago, we returned to the Archive about the end of January, to find a request for information about a church which was celebrating its 100th anniversary in a few weeks time. The minimum time for planning we feel, would be six months but 12 is best.

In the 1920’s the General Secretary published in the Methodist Times historical dates month-by-month. It lists dates of stone laying and opening of churches. We take this opportunity to remind churches of a number of anniversaries occurring in 2006. Perhaps there may be not be any visible sign of some of these events today but they are part of our heritage.

150th anniversary: 1 Oct, new chapel opened in New Plymouth in place of the stone chapel. This chapel was being built by a Congregational Minister but he was unable to finish it. The Wesleyans purchased it for ?80.

100th anniversaries:

16 Jan, Island Bay church, stone laying.

21 Feb, Hastings YM hall opened.

4 March, North-East Valley (Dunedin) church opened.

13 April, Hawera new church opened.

29 April, Waimataitai church opened.

12 May, St Kilda church opened.

27 May, Western Spit church opened.

22 July Reefton church opened.

2 Sept, Balclutha church opened.

13 Sept, Whangarei new church opened.

16 Sept, Kaitoke church opened.

11 Nov, Mahakipawa church opened.

12 Dec, Rotorua church opened.