Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Faith Works 7-26-08
Jeff Gill

Celebrations Are What Churches (Should) Do Best

Last Saturday, you may have toasted the 160th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, a major step forward in the organization of women for voting and civil rights in the country.

The date was also the 55th birthday of Howard Schultz, the head of Starbucks, was born in Brooklyn. He lives on the other side of the country now, in Seattle, and still has 15,000 stores selling really strong coffee.

You didn’t celebrate either of those? No? Well, you may not have been at my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration, either. It was out of town about six hours, so you’re excused.

My sister and I had a fascinating time gleaning our folks’ wishes, their invite lists, and facts along with photos . . . not that we didn’t believe them (although we weren’t there at the time, either of us), but so one of my sister’s friends could help make a very attractive display board for guests to ooh and ahh over.

Our two brothers made it with some work finagling, the three of us with spouses had them and the grandkids available for family photo arranging, and there were four states worth of family and friends present.

Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio if you’re really that curious.

Ron & Rose were married in her childhood church by the pastor who had baptized her, Rev. Myrtle Parke Storm. Trust me when I say I’ve been and do go to quite a few Fiftieth Anniversary events, and you don’t often see a woman minister in the wedding photos. In fact, I’m certain that my own folks’ was the first.

They tell me it was a hot day after a rainy morning in 1958, which our day in 2008 echoed; they tell me there was no air conditioning in the church and even the basement for the reception was beastly hot, which we chose not to emulate.

On the tables for the guests were “Rose & Ron Bingo” sheets and also a Golden Anniversary word search (Mom loves word searches). My cousin Kris (Mom’s cousin, actually) won the Bingo with a lifeline from my Aunt Pat (Dad’s sister), a nice touch of both sides of the family working together. Kris was the flower girl 50 years back, and everyone assured her that she obviously is 2 in the pictures (koff).

The Bingo game had squares with questions you needed to answer – “Where did Ron graduate college?” (Iowa State) – and a Free Square in the middle courtesy of the Rock City garden gnome.

Y’know, “See Rock City!” Haven’t you seen those barns? Right, only painted on old saw blades. Anyhow, you can “See Seven States” from Rock City atop Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, where they visted on their honeymoon and where garden gnomes were introduced to the United States. For class, they saw Monticello on the way back home to Illinois, where their first date was a Bears game at Wrigley Field (you read that right), on their way to Iowa City and grad school for my dad, and a return to teaching for Mom.

Aside from sheer self-indulgence, I share all this because I think home-brew events at simple venues like church basements or “fellowship halls” are a major memory maker. Large catering halls have their place, and event planners can be useful, but when every wedding and birthday and anniversary epoch is celebrated according to a script written by non-family members, in a space that looks like downmarket Vegas, with food from the consumer-industrial complex, you lose something.

You lose those events around the event, while the sandwiches are made and the punch mixed and the ribbons taped up. You miss something when the standard sheaf of photos goes into a video montage with pre-recorded music that you heard at the last event you attended.

And you miss noticing that a relative you barely knew you had is more than happy to pitch in and move tables back to the storage room and pile chairs, and even scrub frosting out of the carpet under the kids’ table. When you do that along with them, you even have a fighting chance of remembering their name at the next family event.

Remembering is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Thanks Mom & Dad, for helping us make a marvelous set of memories for a whole bunch of people, some of whom we’re even related to.

Did we get any pictures of all that?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he compulsively checks for lens caps, which apparently digital cameras don’t have. Tell him about a memory making event at

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