What does one say on the occasion of a church anniversary? What does the pastor say? What does the church say about herself?
I suppose there could be many different answers to those questions, answers that range from lists of accomplishments to catalogues of hardships; from storied past to predicted future.
But perhaps we should ask a slightly different question: “What is the church given to say?” Is she called to speak of herself, to aggrandize her features, to accent her beauty? Or is she called to speak of Christ, of His gospel, of His grace, of His salvation, and in that to find herself as having been beautifully adorned not of her own doing, but by none other than the One who sanctified her, “ . . . having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:26–27)
For 140 years it has pleased the Lord to make St. Peter’s such a place where the faithful may gather for worship, where the harassed worrier may find peace, and where the humble sinner hears with their own ears that they, too, are forgiven in Christ. 140 years is little more than the blink of an eye when compared with the whole of church history, but when we consider the message that St. Peter’s has been given, we learn that we measure St. Peter’s impact not by earthly moments, but by eternity. St. Peter’s faithfully receives the sinner and points them not to herself, but to her Lord; she breathes out a word of gospel that goes far beyond the confines of her walls; she has sent from her midst faithful believers whose daily vocations have ranged from the lowly seminary professor to the glorious and most-holy occupation of the mother who raises her children in the faith.
And in those measurements St. Peter’s has found her legacy; a legacy echoed in tales of buildings and bonds and peoples and programs, but never having its source in those things. Her legacy is found to be something quite different: something that been given and received, something that has been proclaimed, something that for 140 years has brought her members in for refreshment and renewal and has sent them back into the world as ambassadors of a Heavenly Kingdom. Her legacy is found in body and blood and bread and wine, in the spoken and heard and written word, and in the waters of baptism.
Her legacy, friends, is the gospel of Jesus Christ…and on the occasion of her anniversary, what else could we hope to say other than that?
Rev. Troy Neujahr, November 2023