The theme for this year’s Heritage Sunday as set by the General Commission on Archives and History is “The Church’s Heritage in Mission: Remembering the 200th Anniversary of the Death of Thomas Coke.” Thomas Coke was an English clergyman and first Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America who is still referred to as the “Father of Methodist Missions.” This and many more resources about the history of the church and a guide for planning a celebration are available at http://www.gcah.org/resources/heritage-sunday-2014 .
Why do we celebrate our heritage? Published in the General Commission on Archives & History website:
We celebrate because it is important to remember who we are. We want to know about our family history so that we can better understand ourselves. Without that knowledge, we are rootless and feel a longing for identity and connection. In the same way, learning about our church’s history helps us understand what it means to be a member of the United Methodist family.
We celebrate so that we can honor those who went before us. We remember those women and men because they were leaders whose lives and work had a profound impact in the church and in the world. We also honor those whose circle of influence may have been small – a Sunday school class, a city neighborhood – but whose impact was no less profound.
We celebrate because there is much to learn from history. Most issues facing the church are not new; the spiritual children of John Wesley have responded to the needs of a hurting world for more than two centuries. History is full of good ideas, brave attempts, and dismal failures. Our ancestors’ words and deeds are a great storehouse of wisdom and folly for our guidance.
We celebrate because history is a ministry of the church. History shows us how God’s people have struggled, failed, triumphed, and endured. It records God’s work in human lives and in human events. Even as we celebrate people, events, and places, we witness to the church about her high calling in Jesus Christ. We do not celebrate uncritically! Real people make real mistakes, even in the church! An honest celebration recognizes that the past was not perfect, and honors women and men who relied on God’s grace to rise above their own weakness.
We celebrate because we want to tell others about our heritage. We want to tell how God in Jesus Christ has been and continues to be at work in the world and in the lives of the people called United Methodist.
“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord.”
– Exodus 12:14a (NRSV)
The Conference Commission on Archives and History will be contacting all local church historians and active clergy with information about the date and the theme for this year. The Conference Commission is hoping that each church will take at least five minutes during a Sunday worship service to highlight something from the theme or something from their church history. It can even be as easy as one of the Wesley hymns. May 18, 2014, is the official date set by action of the General Conference and noted in The Book of Discipline as being Aldersgate Day or the Sunday preceding that day. However, churches are free to observe it on another day.
Celebrating our history is important and it’s an excellent way to highlight the connectional-ministry of the local church within The United Methodist Church for Sunday visitors and long-time members.