Willow Street Christian Church prepares for anniversary celebration highlighting praise, generations of family together

Willow Street Christian Church Pastor Minnie Smith recalls growing up in the church where she serves as pastor and how each anniversary celebration is a “homecoming of sorts” with a strong sense of family leading into the church's 145th anniversary celebration on Saturday, March 10.

Smith said last year's celebration honored three families with five or six generations of loved ones in the church family — this year, a longtime member prepares to embark on a new journey amid the celebration.

Smith said the church has grown over the years under a lineage of strong leaders. The theme of this year's celebration is “Lest We Forget,” inspired by Chapter 4, verses 1-7 in the Book of Joshua. The celebration will feature events like a liturgical dancing performance from a 15-member dance troupe during the 10:50 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. service. Michael Miller will present writings and poetry during the afternoon service, and a meal will be served between services. Smith said special events are planned each year to reflect on memories and look ahead as the church grows.

“This is something that we do every year, and in our particular congregation, it's a big deal,” she said. “We just go all out, there's a lot of excitement — and our church anniversary is right up there with Easter and Christmas — it's the life of our congregation.”

The guest preacher for the afternoon service will be Rev. Angela Robinson Williams, who also grew up in Willow Street Christian Church. The Hannibal native is a full-time student at the Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and has been called to serve as pastor at First Christian Church in Montgomery City. Smith said Williams is one of many church family members who have been a part of the family for several generations.

Williams grew up in the church when Smith served as Youth Pastor, and Smith said “it gives me joy” that she remembered the teachings she learned from “Miss Minnie.”

“I'm glad to see that energy coming forth,” she said.

The church once known as Second Christian Church witnessed growth in many ways over the years — under leaders including Rev. David Meeker, who provided strong administration and organizational skills; Rev. Ann Fason emphasized Bible study as a strong spiritual leader, and Rev. Joe Smedley highlighted the importance of the anniversary celebrations.

“Each one of them brought their own gift in a unique way that helped the congregation to grow, to develop and do the type of ministry we do today,” she said.

Smith said she holds her lifelong church connection close to her heart. Since becoming solo pastor in 2009, she has focused her efforts and messages on children and youth, including leading the church's after-school Caring Hands Tutoring Program.

“It's really a special bond for me,” she said. “What's unique about my journey is that seldom do you get to pastor a church that you grew up in.”

Smith said it was a special opportunity for her and fellow church members to share goodwill wishes with Williams for her journey ahead. She looks forward to celebrating with all the guests who plan to join the celebration.

All are welcome to attend the celebration at Willow Street Christian Church, at 404 Willow St. in Hannibal. For more information, contact Smith at 573-221-4344.

trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com