Today is my daughter’s birthday and many people have asked me what we have planned for the day. Lucy’s preference since her childhood years has been to invite a small circle of family and friends to our home for a BBQ, usually later in the summer when more people are available. July 2nd is a date many, many people have other plans. As a result the actual date of Lucy’s birthday is somewhat subdued, relaxed. We give her a card, a gift and we go out for supper, she usually brings along a friend. Lucy picks the restaurant.
There is a religious connection to this issue of birthdays and I came across it early in my Ministry. In rural and smaller churches there is a tradition of singing Happy Birthday to parishioners who are celebrating their birthday during the upcoming week. Many churches turn it into a mini-fundraiser, a model of the church has a coin slot that the birthday girl/boy inserts monies into as a display of gratitude to God for the blessings of life. Musicians are usually not keen on this and many Ministers like me worry it can distract the overall theme of the Sunday morning service.
In larger and more urban churches singing Happy Birthday is seldom practiced. The concern is the length of time it would take to ask the church (for reasons I can never discern it takes a long time to get people to speak up and share their birthday news) members to tell us of their birthdays. However, on birthdays with 0’s at the end, usually 60 or 80 or 90, there are exceptions made and the familiar song is sung. But it raises the question why birthdays have become the moment when we single persons out for praise and attention. What about the other 364 days of the year? Sure there are moments when the person performs a task well, is honoured for her/his actions or happens to look particularly fetching that day, but we all know these moments are few and far between.
I once worked in a church where the tradition was for all staff to buy each other Christmas presents. My approach to team building within staff ranks is to use every authentic opportunity that arises to celebrate someone I work with, for something s/he has done. I also like to take staff out for lunch, buy them coffee, occasionally purchase clothing items from a used clothing store. There is no occasion attached, it just seems fitting and right to do. But in that particular church the other staff did not do this, just me. So when Christmas came I did not buy any of them gifts and they all bought me something lovely and added a thoughtful card. One year a staff member saw me in the New Year and berated me for not buying him anything. I sat there and wondered why this single occasion was so important for affirmation but the other 364 days were not. I am still puzzled by this.
My relationship with my daughter and my wife are such that I think of them all the time and wherever possible I purchase things they love and tell them what wonderful things they have done. I confess I am not one to end every conversation with “I love you” but I feel I demonstrate that love every day in some authentic and fitting way, the items I offer them are what they love, not what I would want to receive. Surely in the world of church, in God’s house, we can all resolve to do a better job at that kind of affirmation. It is not necessary to sing Happy Birthday to let the other know we care.