As the old saying goes, “What’s the best way to eat an elephant?” The answer: “One bite at a time.”
This sentiment very adequately describes the task of planning and facilitating our church’s centennial anniversary celebration. The amount of work to be done seemed, initially, overwhelming to say the least. And the significance of the occasion only added to the stress. After all, a church only turns 100 once, and many don’t even make it that long. So the project began with our church archives and grew into invitations and membership records and event schedules and guest speaker invitations and press releases and cake-baking and… and… and…
In short, a lot of people put a lot of work into making this occasion special. And I think they succeeded wonderfully.
As I reflect on the June 12th program, the morning worship service, and the afternoon reception, several highlights stand out in my mind:
At the morning worship service, Rev. Paul Gibson, the Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of the Great Rivers Region, spoke of being re-born and recounted that classic old hymn, “I Surrender All.” “But honestly,” as Rev. Gibson remarked, “is that true? Are we really willing to surrender all?” Indeed, this challenging call to God’s service served as the pivotal theme for the day: If we are indeed God’s church and seek to serve God’s kingdom, we must be willing to surrender all our preferences, tastes, and preconceived notions to God so that we may be re-born into a new creation; so that we may be made into what God needs us to be in the current era.
Wood River Mayor Frank Akers, at the 2:00 Centennial Program, talked about the changing world in which we live. Wood River, indeed, is not the community it once was. Factories have closed and jobs have become harder to find. Poverty has increased significantly in our community. And rather than feel discouraged by these changes, the mayor encouraged us to see the current state of Wood River as an essential mission opportunity. In short, never before has the city needed the church as they do now. Never before has our mission been so essential.
As I looked at the photos and artifacts of the last century, I saw evidence of a once thriving congregation. But I also saw a spirit of resilience and an opportunity for a new creation. When those first 15 families met in 1916 and decided to officially begin the First Baptist Church of Wood River, they surely could have never conceived what their initial efforts would yield a century later. And I believe the same remains true today. Our church’s future has not been written, but the foundation is laid. Through acts of compassion and service, we will continue to serve the needs of Wood River.
The Centennial Celebration was a very fun day of celebration and memory-sharing. But it’s also a reminder that our history is very much “in-progress”. That is, if we are willing to take a chance and see what surprising and unexpected new adventures await us around the next corner.