In the Hebrew tradition, families reconnect with their ancient ancestors and remember their collective history as recorded in the Book of Exodus when they participate in a ritual feast that marks the beginning of Passover at the Passoverseder meal. The best-known quote from the Haggadah (the book read during the Passover seder meal) is, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” This scripted question is usually asked by the youngest person at the table, and is meant to express the child’s confusion at the difference between typical elements of an everyday or holiday meal and the unusual features of the Passover meal.
In response to the child’s scripted inquiry, the family participates in various ritual acts around the meal table including the recitation of blessings, the washing of hands, the stylized consumption of symbolic foods, the saying of grace, the singing of songs of praise, and the benediction. At a pivotal point in the meal, the young child poses four questions, which highlight the differences between thatmeal and all the others they have consumed. An integral part of the Passover seder meal is the group’s collective reflection upon the history of the Jewish people as detailed in the Exodus narrative.
What the Hebrew people may know, and, I suggest, many who worship in our African American churches understand, is that it is critically important to set aside time to remember and reconnect with our collective history. In many African American churches, that special time of remembrance and reconnection is the celebration of the annual church anniversary.
Our 100th Church Anniversary is, indeed, special. This day in the life of Magnolia is ‘different from all other’ Sundays for those of the African American church tradition. At its best, the annual church anniversary is special because, borrowing from Aristotle’s Rhetoric, meaningful and persuasive elements of the annual church anniversary stir participants’ convictions about 1) their personal and their church’s shared values and collective character (ethos), 2) their emotional connection to the place, the experiences, and the people of the church (pathos), and 3) their central argument or missional purpose as a church (logos).
As a result of their sheer existence, African American churches such Magnolia Missionary Baptist Church have robust histories. Magnolia belongs to an Association of Churches that played critical roles in the collective struggle of and against slavery, challenges of Reconstruction, triumphs of the Civil Rights movement, and the celebration of the election of this country’s first African American President.
Learn more about the rich history of ‘Sweet’ Magnolia. See Photos.