When you’re 10 – first time you hit double figures, I’ll grant you – you’re still a child – grown up from babyhood but not an adult – and you haven’t even hit the fun years of being a teenager. A 10th birthday party is still games and fast food. A 10th wedding anniversary is not a matter of years passing as such but about choice and faithfulness and commitment – a good reason to celebrate (at any time). A 10th congregational anniversary is pretty novel in the ELCE – Ascension is the only new congregation established in around 40 years – but it is certainly non-news in a country where most of the local churches can measure their history in three figures!
Congregations are planted with the hope that they ‘take root’ and grow – more and more people attend, families grow, history is known and tales are told of ‘that Christmas play’ or ‘when Pastor forgot his vestments’ or the hosting of synodical conference or the time everyone was crying at the funeral. Ascension today has very few folk who are still here when the first service took place on RAF Feltwell in October 1998 or when the congregation was formed and became a member of the ELCE (September 2003). One might say that Ascension hasn’t grown up in the town as grown out into the world! With today’s communication technology, Ascension also understands the ‘cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 12:1,2) on an additional level with regular contact with and support of former members – the Ascension diaspora! Here at different times, we nevertheless bond – differing pasts still interacting with those who are here now.
Time is interesting. The atomic clocks tell us that the seconds occur consistently yet our perception of them can be very different; as can our descriptions. ‘It’s so long!’ ‘That was quick!’ ‘Wow, time flew by!’ (Really?) ‘Time sure drags on!’ (Does it?) Children generally think that Christmas takes forever to come around; while adults are just getting over one when they’ve got to get ready for the next one! The wordsmith can write a phrase about millennia or a book about a day. I wonder how time and words are linked.
10 years is really an arbitrary marker. Socially we hold importance to years with zeros in them. Birthdays and anniversaries are moments to pause and look back – and look forward – and hopefully celebrate. For a congregation the one thing an anniversary isn’t is that it is a celebration of our achievements and whatever the words, they shouldn’t really be about ourselves. Despite all the work done for the establishment of the mission, the early years of the congregation, and all the work done by people to this day, a congregation is not a human creation or achievement. No, hidden while visible in and with words, water, bread and wine, the Holy Spirit has called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified people into the church, the Body of Christ. Our celebration is a thanksgiving for what God has done for us! That is what our 10th anniversary is all about (or maybe we could say 15th anniversary if we counted differently). God who created time and stepped into it to rescue us 2,000 years ago comes to us here and now to give us life with him and serve us so we can be a blessing in the world. That’s what happens for God’s people and at Ascension today, we say ‘thanks God’ and look forward to tomorrow. — GS