At. St. George's we've recently celebrated a very special anniversary. October 26th marked exactly 200 years since the service to consecrate the church. I arrived here 5 1/2 years ago and so knew from the start that this was looming, although it's come around much more quickly than I thought it would! We've spent quite a long time planning how we would celebrate, because we wanted to get it just right!
Throughout the year, we had a series of different events, some just for fun, some enhanced versions of things we do anyway, some extra special. Leading up to the big day, we invited back each of our 4 most recent vicars to preach at our 11am service. We loved having them, and I think they enjoyed coming back too. It must be strange going back to somewhere you used to be so much a part of, but now have left behind - seeing many familiar things, some just the same, but lots new too.
We planned a big celebration for the weekend itself. On the Saturday we had an Open Day. Ken Rogers, the journalist, author and historian, who is a great friend to us at St. George's, kindly came along, spent the day with us, and did a talk. Bob Harrington, our wonderful retired Reader and leader of our History Group, did his 'hats' sketch, where simply by changing his hat he becomes James Cragg, Thomas Rickman and Robert Buddicomb! Anyone was welcome to come, but we especially invited back anyone who was baptised or married here, or who had ever been in the choir or Sunday School. Michael Bennett played the organ and Mark Loudon took the photos and we had a great celebration! People shared their memories and brought along their photos. The long-service award went to Reg, baptised here in 1923! It was a really great day.
On the Sunday we had a service in the morning just for our current congregation. We played pass the parcel, made a new communion table cloth using our painted handprints, and prayed and worshipped together as we do week by week. We enjoyed a lovely cake. It was a lovely time of being together. There was then a few hours of frantic activity and preparation before the Big Event!
At 3pm we had our main celebration service. Church was absolutely packed, with close to 200 adults, plus under 4s at the back. The 4-11s were next door in the Beacon School enjoying a puppet show! The service was wonderful, with great music, a fantastic sermon from Pete, the Dean of Liverpool, and lots of special guests and friends. We watched a video made by Ashley, the curate, who'd filmed people from church, the school and the community, describing St. George's in one word. It makes me cry every time I watch it! I love how often the words 'home', 'family' and 'community' come up. We also read out some of the memories we'd collected from people filling in memory cards over the previous weeks. Afterwards we all went over to the school for lots more cake.
Apart from my ordinations & licensings, this was my very favourite church service ever! It was so joyful, full of fun and life and celebration. It was also one of the most exhausting things I've ever done!
Planning for this occasion over so many years, and then enjoying each of the events as they happened, and especially experiencing the weekend itself, really made me reflect on how important it is to celebrate big life events together as a community. St. George's 200th anniversary really mattered. It mattered to those of us who are currently part of the church, of course. But more than that, it mattered to anyone who ever had been part of it, and who still thought of it fondly. It mattered to anyone who lived in the community and saw it as 'their' church. It mattered to anyone who had ever attended a special service there, whether one of joy or sorrow. It mattered to people of faith and to people of none.
I think, and I hope, that we did St. George's proud as we celebrated. It's exciting to think of what events and occasions might be celebrated there in the future. We looked around at our little ones and wondered whether any of them will be there when the 250th anniversary comes around in 2064.
It's incredible to stand in this stunning church and think about all that's happened here over the years. How many couples married, how many people baptised, how many loved ones bid farewell, how many people finding faith, how many relationships restored, how many prayers prayed, how many sicknesses healed, how many dreams dreamed.
I think this was one of those moments when it was ok to feel a bit proud! :)