Cultural Resources



Sunday, June 8, 2008

Juan Floyd-Thomas, Guest Cultural Resource Commentator
Associate Professor of History, Texas Christian University, Forth Worth, TX

I. Introduction

The celebration of a Pastorís Anniversary is a matchless moment within the black church tradition because of the unique role that pastors play within our churches, as well as the larger African American community. A pastorís anniversary is a wonderfully appropriate time to show him or her, as well as the pastorís family, some extra appreciation and unconditional love. Furthermore, depending on whether the anniversary denotes a particular milestone (for instance, a pastoral tenure that has lasted 10, 25, or even 30 years at the same church), a pastorís anniversary also can serve as an excellent opportunity to build unity around the church's ministerial vision, and congregational mission. Invoking the lesson found in Proverbs 29:18a, ďWhere there is no vision, the people perish,Ē the pastorís anniversary ought to be used as a moment in the life of the church to build a stronger sense of unity under the leadership and authority of the pastor in ways that will generate excitement, as well as help launch the church forward into the next year with renewed vitality and passion for making a positive impact in the life of its members, and the larger African American community.

For any number of reasons, a church might decide that it wants to merge the festivities surrounding the annual remembrance of the pastorís hire or appointment date along with recognition of the pastorís birthday or celebration of the pastorís wedding anniversary to his/her spouse but, in all fairness, the occasion is more meaningful and better appreciated when it is designated as a very prominent and special day on the churchís calendar. Churches should operate in a mode wherein a reasonable amount of time, effort, and money ought to be expended in order to provide a respectful tribute once a year to the man or woman of God who, as the pastor of a congregation, has the awesome task of going to the people on behalf of God and also going to God on behalf of the people. Therefore, the pastorís anniversary should be seen as a time for the church to come together and affirm its past, present, and promised future.

II. ďPoundingĒ and Love Offerings

A few years ago, when I was in the company of a number of senior pastors here in Texas, they began to share stories about their early days in ministry. As they continued trading stories about hitting the preaching circuit in rural communities and small towns throughout the South, the word ďpoundingĒ kept creeping into the conversation followed by alternating amounts of laughing and lamenting. Since I was not a preacher but was blessed with an inordinate level of curiosity, I was compelled to ask the ministers the obvious question: ďWhat is pounding?Ē After the roar of their collective laughter subsided, the eldest pastor amongst them explained that the traditional practice of ďpoundingĒ was typically the way that churches in impoverished areas would pay revivalists, or even oneís own pastor, by presenting the preacher with a ďpoundĒ of their best offerings. This would often be food (a pound of chicken or steak, a pound of fresh produce, baked goods, etc.), but could even include other items such as clothing, fashion accessories, cologne and other goods considered valuable.

ďPoundingĒ was a way that hard-working, yet poor, black folk could give their very best. More importantly, it has been indicated by some African American Christians that pounding actually reflects a biblical mandate of priestly tithing, as it is clearly indicated in Hebrews 7:5 which states: ďAnd indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is from their brethren.Ē This expression of priestly tithing also takes shape in the form of particular church members inviting pastors to share in Sunday dinner with their families which is seen as a means of honoring the pastor, and also having the blessing of extending hospitality towards the pastor. I know folks who, as children, were frustrated by the frequency of such invitations. As one woman succinctly put it, ďWhen I was growing up, I never knew that chickens had anything but necks and backs,Ē because their pastor always got the biggest and best portions every time they sat down at the table. Although this sort of consideration is waning in certain circles of African Americans, the principle of extending special or preferential treatment upon the pastor has long been a black church tradition.

Another expression of this sort of pastoral appreciation has more recently come in the form of the ďlove offering.Ē What really is a love offering? Typically when churches have special days, such as pastorís anniversaries, or occasions when guest revivalists or guest speakers including missionaries come to a church, it is customary to give them a monetary token of appreciation gathered from the congregation in an act that is separate from tithes and general offerings. This type of offering is not to be confused with a form of income, a salary, or a church expense drawn from general offerings or the building fund. Rather, it is a voluntary demonstration by the assembled church membership to show in some financial manner how much the congregation appreciates the work of the particular minister in question in ways above and beyond their standard wages. In the case of missionaries and evangelists, the love offering can sometimes be seen as an expense offering, since these preachers often spend all they receive on the road in order to live, travel, and sustain themselves and their ministries over long periods of time. In any case, the love offering is a ďgiftĒ for a pastor or preacher who has richly blessed the congregation by delivering the Word of God.

In this instance, no one is giving undue honor or recognition to the servant of God, but merely acknowledging their exemplary and excellent service to God and Godís people. Therefore, under this premise, the pastor or preacher must conduct their priestly duties in a manner worthy of such lofty and grand distinction without money being the driving force behind their good performance, but simply a by-product of it. We should promote in our churches the idea of "love" offerings that genuinely reflect some token of generous and appreciative donation, instead of a begrudging "expense" closer in nature to paying a bill or debt. Church folks-from the pulpit to the pew to the parking-lot need to see, think, feel, and practice this different way of viewing the love offering as another facet of worship.

III. Pastorís Anniversary Ceremony Considerations

When trying to organize the festive events surrounding the Pastorís Anniversary celebration, there are numerous factors that ought to be considered. First and foremost, the planning of the events should be done by a committee that represents the churchís leadership (clergy and laity), and a cross-section of the membership who are designated well in advance of the actual event to work with the churchís staff in order to make this a meaningful event for everyone. Once the anniversary committee is in place, special thought should be give to the following matters (in no particular order):
  1. Should the anniversary be devoted to one special day of worship service and special activities, or a series of events spread throughout the month (or even an entire year, depending of the significance of the anniversary)?
  2. What colors, themes, or scriptural passages are most favored or preferred by the pastor? Although this might seem minor, it actually makes it clear that a great deal of thought and planning went into the event and it will be appreciated by the pastor and his or her family.
  3. Should a revival be scheduled in conjunction with the anniversary ceremony? If so, what guest preachers would the pastor want invited as revivalists for this special occasion? If in doubt, it is always better to ask for the pastorís input on this matter rather than make a wrong decision.
  4. What sort of monetary or material gift will be given by the congregation to commemorate the pastorís anniversary? It must be noted that as long as the gift demonstrates thoughtful and meaningful consideration of the pastorís work and worth to the church it will be sufficient. More importantly, the various officers and leaders of church ministries should be expected to make special presentations of gifts during the anniversary service on behalf of their respective groups and departments. As such, the pastorís anniversary committee needs to provide guidance and instruction as to how much money is desired from each group or department, and/or provide gift options, that groups and departments can obtain to make the occasion successful.
  5. If the pastor is married, should the pastor and spouse be celebrated in tandem or honored in separate events? For instance, should there be a special worship service devoted to the pastorís anniversary while there is a musical event, drama performance, or prayer breakfast for the spouse?
  6. If there is a banquet dinner, when and where will it be held? Will it be at the church or at another location (hotel ballroom, country club, community center, restaurant, banquet hall, etc.)? Will the sale of tickets to the banquet be considered a fundraising event to generate money for the pastorís gift /love offering, or to contribute to a particular endeavor/group to which the pastor is committed?
  7. If a souvenir booklet will be part of the celebration, what will be the layout and design of the souvenir booklet? If ads are being sold to underwrite its publication, where will those monies go? Will there also be audio or video recordings available to commemorate the event?
Even though this is not an exhaustive list of issues that must be faced in order to prepare a pastorís anniversary ceremony, these are some initial ideas or issues which can serve as a foundation for moving forward with such celebratory plans. If in doubt, or desperate need of help in making such arrangements, enlist the services of reliable, diligent, and sensible church members or, if necessary, contact a professional event planner. However, above all else, it is crucial that the church never lose focus on the main thing concerning celebrating the pastorís anniversary: it is not about the popularity of or seeking preference from the pastor, rather it is the proclamation that God has given the congregation a ďgood shepherdĒ to watch over and lead them. Keeping that sentiment in the forefront will inspire church folks to make the entire process of planning and preparing for the pastorís anniversary celebration a joyous occasion.

IV. Songs for this Moment on the Calendar

A recent song (Here Am I Send, Me) written by ďDelirious?Ē expresses sentiments appropriate to the occasion. It is followed by songs are that are staples for Pastorís Anniversary services in the African American church. A wide range of songs for this occasion can be found in the Pastorís Anniversary music and worship resources unit.

Here I Am , Send Me

Show me a vision like Isaiah saw,
Where the angel touched his lips and he sinned no more.
Let me hear your voice saying ďWho shall I send?Ē
Iíll say send me Lord, Iíll follow you to the end.

Show me a vision like Ezekiel saw,
An army of light from a valley of bones.
Breathe life into these lungs of mine,
So I can scream and shout of your love divine.

Search light, burns bright, floods my eyes,
Invade me, serenade me, Iím giving back my life.

Here I am send me, Here I am send me,
Thereís nothing in my hands,
But here I am send me.

Iím in Jacobs dream seeing heavens gate,
Let me climb all night on my ladder of faith.

Wrestle with the angel till my body is weak,
dislocate my bones for itís you that I seek.

Show me the light Apostle Paul saw,
When he fell to the dust and he could see no more,
Open my eyes, open my eyes,
Open my eyes, open my eyes.

Iím frightened what youíll find,
When you open up my heart, Iím walking in the light,
Cosí itís light that changes the atmosphere,
So touch these lips that criticize,
And put a song in my mouth that opens our eyes.1

Lead Me, Guide Me
Lead me guide me along the way
For if you lead me I cannot stray
Lord let me walk, each day with Thee.
Lead me, oh Lord, lead me.

I am weak and I need they strength and powír
to help me over my weakest hour
Help me though the darkness
Thy face to see, Lead me, oh Lord, lead me

3rd verse
I am lost if you take your hand from me,
I am blind without Thy light to see,
Lord just always let me Thy servant be.
Lead me, Lead me oh Lord, lead me2

Iíll Go
Iíll Go. Iíll Go.
Iíll Go. Iíll Go.
If the Lord
wants somebody
here am I, send me,
Iíll go.

May be lame, but, Iíll go.
May be lame, but, Iíll go.
If the Lord,
wants somebody
here am I, send me,
Iíll go.

May be blind, but, Iíll go.
May be blind, but Iíll go
If the Lord
wants somebody
here am I, send me,
Iíll go.

May be weak, but, Iíll go.
May be weak, but Iíll go.
I said if the Lord,
Wants somebody,
here am I, send me,
Iíll go. 3

  1. Delirious? ďHere I Am, Send Me.Ē The Mission Bell. New York and London: The EMI Group, 2005.
  2. Akers, Doris. ďLead Me, Guide Me.Ē African American Heritage Hymnal. Chicago IL: GIA Publications, 2001. #474
  3. "Iíll Go." Traditional


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