Rallying around Rally Day

 

PC(USA) congregations note increased attendance, enthusiasm on first Sunday of their program year

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

At Highland Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a jazz band will play both during Sunday worship and at the Rally Day celebration following worship. (Photo by Laurie Juarez)

LOUISVILLE — Sunday is big celebration day for many Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations around the country.

Christian educators, pastors, and volunteers have been diligently preparing for another church program year, which for many churches traditionally kicks off on the Sunday after Labor Day. Often referred to as “Rally Day,” Sunday marks the chance to celebrate what is also the beginning of Christian education programming for the year.

Presbyterian Mission Agency’s associate coordinator for Christian Formation Stephanie Fritz has seen Rally Day expand over the years in PC(USA) congregations that recognize that faith formation happens over a lifetime and in many contexts of church life together.

Many congregations still commission their faith formation leaders and teachers for the year, which often include blessing rituals to mark the beginning of the Sunday school year. Some host mission and ministry fairs to introduce their ministries for the year. Others offer outreach activities and intergenerational service opportunities.

National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., celebrated its Rally Day on Sept. 1, the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, with what’s called Neighbor Day. The church held one intergenerational service followed by a celebration outside complete with a food truck and bounce house.

According to the church’s interim associate pastor for care ministries, Dr. Joyce Emery, the church had given out shopping bags for members to bring back full of food for two local partners.

“The weather was perfect, sunny with cloud cover, which is great for D.C.,” she said. “And we filled a nice-sized truck with 4,000 pounds of food.”

For many PC(USA) congregations, Rally Day signals the beginning of the Christian education program year. Some churches celebrate with outdoor events and intergenerational games. (Photo by Laurie Juarez)

Highland Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is also hosting an outdoor event following its intergenerational worship service on Sunday.

While the focus on food and games for kids, youth and adults is primarily targeted at church members, a local jazz band that will play during worship will continue playing outside following worship.

“The idea is not to just make this a church event, but a community event,” said Highland’s mission and family ministries pastor, the Rev. Dr. Noe Juarez.

Church members are pitching a community tent outside, and leaders are encouraging members to invite people — with the hope of making the church more visible to people driving by in the suburban community. The event is increasingly important in the life of the church.

In fact, according to the church’s director of children’s ministries and Christian education, Laurie Juarez, September worship services at Highland are now the best attended all year. December was formerly the most heavily-attended month.

“After everyone sort of taking the summer off, relaxing and not attending much, people are ready to get back into a routine,” she said. “We want to make sure the church is part of their weekly routine.”

The children and youth coming to Highland from four different school districts began their school year at different times. Practice for sports and other extracurricular activities are underway, and clubs and groups are being organized.

“We want the parents, children, students and leaders to start the year knowing about our programs so that we can be viable in their lives and in the schools and partner organizations we work with,” said Noe Juarez.

Central Presbyterian Church in Denver provides an intergenerational activity during Rally Day, such as filling flood recovery buckets for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. (Photo by Stephanie Fritz)

No matter how, or what day, the kickoff to the new church season is marked, Fritz says Presbyterians are reminded again this Sunday that Christian education is one of the denomination’s core values. In her most recent ministry context at Central Presbyterian Church in Denver she helped lead an all-church ministry fair kickoff on Rally Day. Often, the event would include an intergenerational ministry activity. In recent years that activity was one of service: filling Presbyterian Disaster Assistance flood recovery buckets. The reason? The kickoff to the church year sometimes coincided with a major hurricane.

“Rally Day is a way to remind ourselves of the importance of both Christian education and formation in the life of a faith community,” Fritz said, “and to seek out ways to nurture our faith and remember our baptismal promise to nurture and pass on the faith to next generation.”


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