The new year has begun – not the calendar year or even the liturgical year but the year around which many of our lives revolve – the start of school for kids, collegians and graduates and the end of summer for all of us. It is time for most of us to get up to full speed after relaxing vacations, maybe even start a new job or settle into a new house or city. For many of us September seems like the start of a new year.
How do we celebrate these milestones in our churches and why should we bother? Primarily I think because people need to be valued. They need to know they are as important as the leaders who stand up front each week. They need to be assured that who they are and what they do matters.
Celebrating milestones in our churches communicates that people are valued. - Christine Sine Click To Tweet As well as that, it is often a time of change and insecurity. People need to know that their church congregation stands with them through the changes.
Here are some suggestions for how to show mark the new season and show appreciation to your congregation.
- Make time in your service for thanksgivings. One of the things I love about our own church – St Andrews Episcopal church in Seattle is that we are very good at celebrating milestones in people’s lives. Every week after the passing of the peace we have a time for thanksgivings. Anyone can come up to the front of the church and share what they are grateful for – birthdays, anniversaries, births, friends visiting, children going off to college all get a mention. Sometimes we have twenty people lined up ready to share. Sound a little scary? Not really. People give their names and a short one or two sentence description of what they are celebrating. It rarely takes more than ten minutes. It is a wonderful way for us to all feel part of a family rather than a formal congregation. For many of us it is the best way to stay in touch with what is going on in the lives of our fellow church goers. It brings a lot of joy to all of us.
You may not feel you can do this every week but how about once a month.? How could you incorporate thanksgiving into your service on a regular basis?
- Pray for teachers as they begin the school year. Many teachers feel undervalued. Their jobs are challenging and often poorly paid. Have them stand. Give them a moment to share their greatest hope and greatest anxiety as they begin the year. Pray for them. It boosts their self esteem, and shows your appreciation and affirmation in a special way.
- Pray for students. Going back to class can be traumatic even for mature students. There are new and unknown obstacles ahead. Acknowledging this new start can provide a supportive foundation that they remember throughout the year. It says “We’re with you. We support you. You can count on us”. Get students to stand, ask them to name one thing they are looking forward to in the new year and pray for them. You might even like to give a small gift, a tangible way for them to remember your support.
- Pray for those who have started new jobs or moved. Starting a new job can be a challenging experience too, especially if a person has had to move or if they have been out of work for a while. Letting them know you support and care for them is very important.
- Help provide for those at the margins. All our churches have members who find it hard to make ends meet. Buying back-to-school supplies and clothes can overwhelm their budgets. You don’t need to publicize who these families are but it is easy to find out what supplies kids need and ask your congregation to contribute. Supporting those at the margins of our churches is an important way to share the love of Christ and show we truly are part of the family of God.
- Look beyond your congregation. According to UNESCO, 263 million children and youth don’t go to school. Most are girls, many live in poverty and areas of conflict. This is a great time to raise awareness of this and respond by contributing to the education of at least one of these underprivileged children. We do not realize the privilege of education but as we reach out to those for whom it is little more than a dream our gratitude grows and our appreciation of what God has given us increases.
Acknowledging milestones in the lives of our congregations is important. It tells people they matter. I am making September my appreciation month. I hope to tell at least one person each day why they matter to me. Will you join me?
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