If this is your first All Saint’s Day at a new appointment, you may be dealing with a variety of issues. My favorite is when the a congregation is so attached to a long serving pastor that they do not see how their church can survive without them. If this is you, you’ve spent the last four months listening to them lament the pastor of the past and the myriad of ways in which you will not be able to manage the church into the future. All Saint’s Day can be a time to expand your congregations understanding of their history and see the previous pastor as part of that history, not all of it.
Learning the history of your congregation is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Go through any archives you have, use the local library for historical newspaper articles, and your Conference archives. Often the nearest United Methodist seminary will have archives on the regional churches. Find out about the pastors of the past. Preach your sermon starting with the story of the first pastor, find the pastors during important times of national history (Pearl Harbor, the Great Depression, the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, moon landing) and how that pastor guided the church during those times, leading up to honoring an important event led by the previous pastor.
The goal is to show the congregation that they are part of a vast and diverse history, and that many pastors have led the church. While the previous pastor may be the one they know, the pastors that came before paved the way for him/her, and he/she paved the way for you, and you are paving the way for the pastors to come.
Decorate the altar area with church history. Photographs, baptismal and membership record books, Sunday School meeting minutes and the like. Read special passages, such as the day the mortgage was paid off, missionaries were sent out, special celebrations were held. The ice cream social in 1928 raised $6.35 for new hymnals. The trustees spent three meetings debating a hat rack in 1956. These bites connect us, show us that the generations past were not all that different from us.
As you read the names of those who have passed related to your congregation, consider reading the names of pastors who have passed away and the year they died. Conclude your sermon or service with a vision of people of the future looking back honoring the work that your congregation is doing today. What are they doing that will be celebrated in the future just like you are celebrating the people of the past.