200 Years in Tennessee
First Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, Tennessee, is celebrating its bicentennial anniversary this year. This is a spotlight on the festivities the church is holding to celebrate and honor its past.
When Martha Farrar of Fayetteville, Tennessee, was first asked to chair the bicentennial celebration committee at her church, she was reluctant to commit to more volunteer responsibilities. As a sixth-generation member of First Presbyterian Church of Fayetteville, however, she decided that the opportunity to honor the congregation’s past was also a way to honor her family. “I thought my mother and grandmother would be so pleased,” she said. Yet the activities that Mrs. Farrar and her fellow committee members organized have done more than salute lineage. Through commemorations spread out over a year, the FPC congregation has celebrated the generations and gifts of its community: embracing and strengthening the true meaning of church family.
Welcoming has characterized the FPC congregation throughout its history. In the 1830s a church elder gave the land for the church and adjacent city cemetery, which was for all the community (not just church members) and even, in earlier days, slaves; it stands over a busy town square. Today the church opens its doors for community concerts, recreation, and lunches for children living in local public housing.
Likewise, in planning the bicentennial celebrations, the committee limited themselves not to their own roster of programs, but welcomed anyone with an idea and a passion to pursue it into the brainstorming. For example, a church history—divided into sections including congregational life, youth, men, women, leadership, music, and place—was written by a group of individuals who each concentrated on a particular area. One woman, who helped with the music section, felt so engrossed in the project that she expanded it into a broader project, a memoir of sorts that tells old stories of the church and its members in connection with worship music. A professional photographer who grew up in the church filmed and recorded all of the bicentennial events during the year. These recordings and images were later compiled into a slide show, set to music.
Connecting the church’s history with that of the broader outside world has also served to strengthen a sense of connection and responsibility to its mission in the world. By creating a timeline of notable church, community, state, and national events, the youth of the congregation have highlighted the many ways in which both the church and world have changed, but also the steadfast role of the church in sharing the love of God within all contexts. Indeed, the church’s mission statement is to “Reveal God’s grace to all generations now and forevermore”, and by connecting these generations, they are strengthened to continue that mission. The timeline is displayed in the church corridor for all to appreciate.
Mrs. Farrar’s first bit of advice to other congregations considering anniversary celebrations is to “start early enough. Don’t wait!” She also strongly recommends having everyone involved—honoring the many gifts and passions of the congregation strengthens its sense of community. “We normally don’t talk about history a lot,” said Mrs. Farrar, “You know, you want to look back at your heritage, but at the end we have to look forward, and we have to build on what those people before us have done, so it’s just our obligation and duty to continue that history, and to make people aware of the gospel, and what it means to be part of a Christian congregation.”
In addition to the activities mentioned, First Presbyterian Church of Fayetteville is also celebrating its bicentennial with the following:
- Sermon by Dr. Carole Bucy, Tennessee historian
- Sermon by Rev. J. Todd Jenkins, honoring service men and women
- Dedicating a cemetery marker
- Community open house
- Congregational luncheon, where photograph slide show is presented
- Continuing tradition: final celebrations taking place in September, the church’s “birthday” and when several previous commemorations and dedications have taken place
Looking for more resources on celebrating your church's anniversary? Visit the Presbyterian Historical Society website here.