by John Bender
Stop. Look. Listen. That's what Prairie
Street Mennonite Church did in celebrating 125 years as a prelude
to crossing the threshold to a faithful future. Our 125th Anniversary
Committee started work in November 1995, and the rest, as the
saying goes, is history. The committee, Dorsa J. Mishler (chair),
Mary Mishler, Russell Krabill, and John Bender (secretary), worked
for a year in planning the celebration, held throughout November
Here's how we went about planning, taking account of audience,
message and media:
We identified our main audiences as current participants,
former participants, and the three congregations planted by Prairie
Street. We also identified secondary audiences. What message,
or underlying theme or idea, did we want to communicate? In the
minutes we noted, "Whatever the message angle, it should
look forward, accentuating our strengths and purpose. The reason
for celebrating the past means we want the best of our past and
present to be incarnated in the future."
We selected as overall theme, I will build my church (Matthew
16: 18), and related themes for Music Sunday, Homecoming Weekend,
Mission Sunday, and Challenge Sunday. We were richly rewarded
as congregational and guest resource persons shaped the messages
of praise, reflection, outreach, and prayer.
The anniversary message was also conveyed through a historical
quilt and a book, both telling the church's story from 1871-1996.
Supplementing these activities and projects were meals, displays,
children's stories, and a walk through the church.
The media we used to publicize our plans included five-minute
Moments in History each month of 1996 leading up to the celebration,
fund raising for expenses, news in local and church publications,
a photo wall that featured all current members as well as historical
photos, an invitational brochure sent to 584 households of former
members since 1950, a feature story in The Elkhart Truth,
outside banner, church newsletter updates, and other publicity.
The anniversary committee met 21 times for two hours each during
the year. "Animated" more than any other word describes
the committee. We felt the church's support financially, in volunteer
tasks, loan of historical materials, and most of all in becoming
engaged with the theme. The first Sunday of our fund raising
event we exceeded our goal by $1.25. We had asked for contributions
in multiples from $1.25 to $125.
The anniversary gave us a prime opportunity to look to and highlight
our head, Jesus, the one who builds the church. In that light
we reviewed our beginning and growth, the development of organizations
and institutions that were given birth among us, and our contribution
to our community and to the church worldwide. We spent almost
as much time looking forward as looking back. Our worship services
at the start of 1997 are building on the richly satisfying and
challenging celebration experience to further discover the message
God has for us.
Because the history of our church reaches so far afield, the
committee sent copies of our history book to all Mennonite Church
and General Conference Mennonite Church college and seminary
libraries, as well as to GCMC and Mennonite Brethren archives
in Canada and the United States. We also gave complimentary copies
of the history book to the three churches that were started by
Prairie Street. (Copies available at the church for $10 or $12
The committee assembled a resource file of the extensive reference
material we collected and wrote for the history book. Only a
fraction could be used in the book. A copy of this file will
be available in binder form in our church library and another
in the Mennonite Archives. The 150th anniversary committee will
know what to do with it!
Minnie Graber provided the lead into our 126th year with the
prayer of blessing at the final meeting. Concluding, she prayed,
"Dear Father, lead us in the days ahead. Help us to give
priority to the important. Guide us in the problems that arise.
Preserve the unity of the Prairie Street Church. We want to love
you more and love our brothers and sisters fervently, for love
is the greatest. Keep us diligent in the care and teaching of
our precious children. May our youth mature in their training.
Give them visions of service in your kingdom. You have given
us the mandate to go into all the world and tell the good news.
Help us to trust and obey in carrying out your commands. Bless
and prosper all who are engaged in kingdom business. Yours, O
Lord, is the kingdom, the power and the glory."
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, April, 1997