Construction of an Anniversary Church Service

I don't often do blog posts about my job. To be honest, I like to separate my job and my hobbies as much as possible. But today I think it's fair to discuss one of my big projects of the year.

This year is my church's 50th anniversary, and I was in charge of putting the anniversary service together. I've done lots of Christmas and Easter services over the years, but an anniversary service was a new journey for me.

The first thing I did was get the choir pieces together. I knew I needed an adult choir and a choir of kids from the school and Sunday School. I found these pieces last summer in my music planning: everyone would sing "Built on the Rock," the choir would sing a favorite called "Still, My Soul, Be Still," and the kids would sing a mission song that was pretty long, but they would pick up on it during school.

Oh - did I mention that our anniversary was scheduled for January 25? I knew it would be difficult for the adult choir to learn new stuff immediately after Christmas, but I picked familiar stuff so they would get the hang of it quickly.

The first wrench thrown into my plan was that the date of the service was changed. In November of last year I was told that the new date was in June, so that weather wouldn't play a factor in people attending. I was okay with that, but I immediately expressed my concern: the schoolchildren would be out of school for three weeks, and it would be hard to get them together to sing a song.

Knowing this, I changed the song they sang to one they'd just learned for the big Reformation service called "Song of Hope." This would require little review, and the kids really enjoyed the song.

That was planned out months ahead of time. About two months before June 14, I attended another church's 50th anniversary service. I took notes on how the service was set up, what hymns were sung, and who did what. I was surprised that this church - with a school attached - didn't have any children sing for the anniversary. I was determined to get my children ready to sing.

That following Tuesday I sat down with my computer and three resources: the bulletin from that church's service, another bulletin from a different church's 40th anniversary service (which had been that fall), and the WELS online resources for church anniversaries. I was going to pound this thing out with the help of these items. I knew I didn't want to copy any service verbatim, but I was willing to "steal" some ideas.

Since this was my first anniversary service planning, I just sat there for a long time with nothing on the page. I had no idea where to start! I was pigeonholing myself from the very start. Eventually, I went with something I preferred: we would start the service with one of my favorite hymns: "Thy Strong Word."

From there, things started rolling. The WELS website had some good suggestions for opening a service, but the dialogue was very long and rambled. I refined what they said and cut out some parts. I used three lessons from Scripture - 2 Kings 23: 1-3, Revelation 3: 7-13, John 17: 1, 13-26 - that I felt reflected a church's anniversary properly, and instead of the pastor reading them, I would ask three laypeople from the congregation: a church elder, a graduate of our school (who just so happens to be attending Martin Luther College in the pastor track), and the president of the congregation.

I knew I wanted a lot of singing (since church anniversaries attract a lot of church people) so in between every bit of reading I inserted a hymn or choral song. I knew that I, as the organist for the service, would have to plan out what I'd do based on the hymns I was choosing at that very moment. Some ideas were already forming in my head. For example, when the congregation sang "In Christ Alone," I wanted to use the version I sang in MLC's College Choir - the arrangement by David Angerman because I loved the accompaniment so much.

I also wanted to use "Father, God of Grace" somewhere, and looking at the words of the hymn, decided it would be perfect in place of the Creed (we would only use the first three stanzas). I also had some extra stanzas that fit with the tune of "God's Word is Our Great Heritage," and as an MLS alumna I knew that would have to close out the service. Turns out, those extra stanzas (in my research I can't find the original author) fit perfectly with our guest pastor's sermon! The arrangement for the hymn was the same arrangement I used for my graduation service from MLS in 2003...and it's the only arrangement I ever use when I play that hymn.

I sent the first draft of the service to my pastor, and he approved it after a few questions about logistics and who would be asked to do the Scripture lessons. The church administrator put it all in bulletin form, and the three of us spent quite a long time proofreading and editing it to perfection.

I started teaching the school and Sunday School kids the two songs once May rolled around and also scheduled four "children's choir" rehearsals that would carry the kids over from the end of school to the date of the anniversary. They would overlap with the adult choir rehearsals so that everyone could practice "Built on the Rock" together. At this point, I was more concerned about the amount of adults I would have than the amount of children! But even if the kids missed the rehearsals, I knew they would all know the songs and be able to come on that Sunday ready to sing.

Little did I realize that anniversary services are more meant for the older generations than for young families. I had four children show up to sing for the service, but bless their little hearts, they did a very fine job with the singing.

Meanwhile, my adult choir was adding members throughout our rehearsals. I had a few former members come back, as well as the guest pastor and his wife. He had also directed the choir way back when he was at the church! The choir director before me also came in and sang with us. With that help, the adult choir really shone in both their pieces. I got a lot of positive feedback about "Still, My Soul, Be Still."

The final piece of the puzzle was mine alone. I had to put together the organ and piano music for the service. I started this the last week of school and spent hours putting it together. Most of my preservice music ended up being in a minor key since I had a lot of music on "Thy Strong Word" and "Built on the Rock," so I inserted versions of "In Christ Alone" in between. One of those versions was mostly in the key of E Major, which you musicians know has one too many sharps. (That one took me a while, and on the day I made a number of mistakes. I may never play it again.)

The piece I chose for right before the service is from an organ book that I bought without realizing that every piece in it is EXTREMELY HARD. I don't think I've used it in my years out of MLC. However, I decided to do the crazy version of "Built on the Rock" as a challenge to myself.

Because of the challenge, my first piece after the service was a great version of "Father, God of Grace" from the 5 Preludes of Praise series. It also wasn't hard. What was hard was knowing how much postservice to plan. At the other church's anniversary service, the organist must have had to play for an extra half an hour because the dismissal took so long! So I planned for 20 minutes of planned postlude, and then would break out one of my go-to wedding books, the First Organ Book. In there I have a lot of easy-but-loud music that I usually use for weddings, but figured it would work here, too.

The piece that took the longest to learn in the postlude was a version of "O God Our Help in Ages Past" that I didn't think would be that hard - but it was!

My final selection was my offertory, which was a surprise pick. I asked my friend (an amazing organist) if she had any pieces based on hymns I'd chosen. She had a nice piano book with lots of Getty/Townend pieces, and it just so happened to be composed by the same guy that did my adult choir piece. Sure enough, when I looked closer I found "Still, My Soul, Be Still" as one of the pieces in the book! It was a beast to learn, but worth it.

All in all, the service went very well. It came together nicely, and I think the people understood the message of Christ being with us yesterday, today, and into the future.

You can view the service here


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