„Oh man, it’s coming up too quickly!” you mumble under your breath as you close the door behind the last base leadership meeting. A colleague almost by chance just found out the base’s 20th anniversary is coming up in only about five months. Your shoulders sagged. “How on earth shall we go about this?” you think and an eerie feeling of “too late” creeps into your kidneys. You (of that at least you are sure) - will be held responsible if anything is not what people expect. Fog fills your brain, your stomach signals early signs of nausea.
Now, for love-feasts you have a paradigm – or so you think, but this one? You wished someone would send you on an urgent outreach, say, to Outer Mongolia, because you have never overseen an event both big for staff present and past, for alumni and then - well, yes - also outsiders. And not only outsiders of the casual sort. That you could handle, but vaguely you think that perhaps a pastor would be good to have as well.
Dear leader, be encouraged: you are not the first one in that sort of thing and you are already on the right track! Your first step further might be to get an intuitive feel of the dimension of the envisioned feast. Is it only for you as a base to choose the dimension or does it intensely involve how other people outside might feel? Let’s say you decide a 20th anniversary of the base is something that shouldn’t be celebrated with a base love-feast only. Then a good step is to envision the people that relate to the pioneering phase of the house, then those who were around in the in-between years who worked on base or partnered with it in a significant way. May I suggest by now you sit in a place with a piece of paper or a new file open and jot down whoever comes to mind to be perhaps important in any way? Do a broad brainstorming that at this stage of the planning doesn’t leave out any person that could important.
Now, with this list you could go to your fellow directors and ask them for their input and their lists of guests. It may be wise to tag this list with a deadline fairly close in time, because you don’t seem to have much time for preparation - if you want to have the choice of a bigger event! Consider that people in different regions of the world are filling up their agendas rapidly, perhaps more quickly than in your part of the globe. If you want to honor certain individuals who made your base what it is now, you must ask them well in advance! And for that you need a date.
The date might depend on certain factors you also need to clarify before you can give it to important guests. Of course here you want to think about the location or locations: for your anniversary perhaps it is suitable to have something going on at the base, but maybe also elsewhere, say, a restaurant. By doing your guest-list you quickly realized how many people would have to be hosted and catered to and the base doesn’t offer a place for that dimension of a celebration. Envision e.g. that you might want to have worship in your program, so this does involve leaders and equipment for it. Picture what locations for the party might be within your reach (or do research) and by faith consider each one prayerfully. By now you probably have realized that this planning is serious work and needs prayer (how can the others join in?) and that you are unlikely to do a good job by yourself alone. So: how about calling into life a prep-committee by now which involves the right people from your leadership team as well as others with abilities to handle the questions, decisions and performances to be made? Some people have gifts and abilities that shine especially during such a challenge!
Decide about your final guest-list only when you have a firm handle on what location you want and how many people it can hold and cater for maximum. Even better, if you can do it: decide on the dimension/ the framework of your event when you have it for sure!
As a good leader you can certainly delegate a lot of stuff. Here is, however, what you and the other leaders probably don’t want to hand over to others:
For instance, the decision of who would be the guests of honor. ‘Honor to whom honor is due!” – probably as a word of wisdom helps in doing this. Ask the question – next to relishing the thought of having your preferred buddies there to have fun with – “is there someone to whom a certain honor is due?” Likely candidates for this could be past ministry leaders of your base, the founders, outsiders with a clear rank (“the mayor”) and individuals who made a certain contribution. Make sure you get in touch with them right away once the date of the occasion is clear when time is short! In case someone important would not be able to make it then, feel free to shuffle the date around.
You don’t have to do the celebration at the same time as the anniversary date! Anyway you are likely to choose a weekend if you want people able to make it. The bigger the occasion and the more people involved the freer you are. You can mention in the invitation (by mail? By printed card?) that you ask them to come on August 26 when the date that is celebrated was on March 9 already. If you do, maybe explain it to them in a sentence.
For the next question, a little tricky one, contemplate what influence the base has or has had on the location you are at. Whom did you touch so far or partner with? Whom with official ranking did you work with? Whom would you like to establish more of a relationship with in the future? Who are important supporters of the base or the ministries (get input from other leaders)? Here you might have NGO’s, pastors and church clergy, not of your own denomination alone, in the equation. Also town officials or deciders in certain fields of administration. There might have been YWAM national as well as some international staff or leaders in the picture.
May I suggest you make another list for yourself (perhaps others among your staff) with names and notes about their ranks and functions and when and in what way they relate(d) to the base. The purpose of this is to set you at ease about dealing with them and properly appreciate them when they are present at the feast in high dosage. Make sure you have first name, surname and title (it’s common to mention a Dr. or professor, because it’s considered part of that person’s name) to give it when necessary – don’t address the mayor with his first name only at the festivity, even though you play chess with him every other Friday!
In Egypt, Reinhard and I were attached to the German embassy with the work for the Seafarers he did in Alexandria that allowed us to stay in the country. So, once a year the ambassador invited the heads of any German organization, church or company to a formal reception into the embassy garden in Cairo. He had to usually welcome around 1000 guests. Once when we filed into that banquet hall to shake hands with the ambassador and the military commander and their wives, we were absolutely flabbergasted! Seeing us the first time, he greeted us with our names and asked about how the Seafarer’s home was doing! It almost took me off my feet! Later I realized that behind the ambassador a man in a tuxedo discreetly whispered something into his ear before each new guest approached. Apparently he had done some homework: I suppose it must have been a list with the names and whereabouts plus a picture of the guest. The tuxedo-man quickly screened the newcomers and picked the correct names and background. Now, this all seems fairly ridiculous if you celebrate your 3rd year on the ground only, parading around a single candle with 5 staff and a strawberry-flavored ice-cream! If, however, time-spans and the amount of staff and people and influence have grown over the years, you may want to create something similar that helps you to honor certain people - also according to “worldly” expectations, where rank and title plays some role…
Now, talking about this aspect and while you’re at it: consider also other ways in which people can or should be honored at such an occasion. If your feast has been decided to be wider than just the YWAMers on base, do include also the ways of the “world” to express appreciation - and try to be relevant. Once Al Akimoff, head of Slavic ministries, exclaimed, after being honored, something like: “Now I have been in YWAM for decades, working my heart out, and I receive: a pen!” During the celebration you would want to ask each person to stand or wave while their names, titles and/or merits are given. Be sure as the leader you are prepared to say something appreciative about their characters and the contribution they made to the base.
You could honor certain guests through a token or gift. In this case ladies could be given flowers, the gentlemen some appropriate gift. Make sure – if you do this – that you don’t miss out on anybody who might be entitled to such honor! Keep all presents in about the same value. A local handicraft or something else the location is known for might be a good present for international guests, but not only them.
Of course, if you have creative people on base you could encourage them to come up with something even more tailor-made as a present or, also possible, as a performance. A skit picking on some mannerisms of a former leader can have the audience in stitches! The more flavored and “daring” contributions you have the better. As a leader, only make sure that the content and quality befits the occasion. If you have a large crowd of guests and many are not very close to the base in relationship, perhaps an 18-stanza-poem presented by some DTSers who insert all their outreach experiences into it is lovely – but sends the town clerk into extensive snoring because he hasn’t understood our live-style in YWAM.
By the time you are ready to send out invitations you as leaders also do well if you can give a hint as to the dress-code. That is, in case you have decided to celebrate the anniversary in the city hall in the presence of the governor, the mayor, 4 pastors and 9 CEOs, with a warm meal served by a caterer and lavish flower-bouquets on the tables, maybe it’s a good idea to warn some saints not to show up in their coolest but torn outreach-jeans and sleeveless tops. Rather you may ask for a certain dress-code (http://www.appleberrypress.com/wedding_story_How-To-Let-Your-Guests-Know-The-Dress-Code-By-Invitation), so people don’t worry about what to expect. By doing this you are showing love to your guests because they do wonder how to honor you, the hosts, appropriately. Someone in shorts and T-shirt, suddenly finding themselves among a convention in long elegant evening-dress, elaborate hair-dos and tuxedo will perhaps not feel very comfortable… and vice-versa!
Also, the budget for the event should be the leader’s decision. Meaning, also the privilege of having faith for it! While in YWAM we are called to display hospitality, faith and generosity, the way in which YOUR leadership team will fill these values with life will be quite different from how other locations do and that’s perfectly fine. Think about whether you want this anniversary to be a vague remembrance of some sort and only that when daily life has set in again. Or whether you want to strengthen your relationships with the guests as well as maybe theirs among each other. We saw this when we did annual friendship days for our “Hammerle-ministry”. Some of the guests were of our own age and long-standing supporters. They very much enjoyed, obviously, to bring up-to-date their relationship also with each other during our little convention time. Try to think of how to work such “free time” into the program, if you can and offer a comfortable environment for such conversations.
A danger can be the attempt to try and limit the number of guests to shrink the cost! If you do, keep in mind that there are people who will realize others have been invited while they were not and feel perhaps excluded in a painful way. One way to circumvent this can be to ask guests to take responsibility themselves for housing already with the invitation. In this case do some homework and research housing in your town for different wallets. Mention a link to different hotels or inns already in your invitation. In this way they can look it up and decide on the overall cost it will mean on their side: transportation and housing for x people coming. It is then also the guests’ responsibility to secure a place to stay overnight, not your’s.
As leaders, you are responsible for what is visible about the ministry and the base toward the public. Do you want to invite someone from the press to cover the event? This can be an opportunity to communicate to the town! Who then is going to give to that person the details they may ask for, though? Journalists love to utilize something that saves them time and work. So, if you go that way, perhaps it’s wise to prepare some text and pictures of the leader(s), the ministry and the base to email it to the newspaper. In this way you have a good chance that much of what YOU WANT to read about your base in this medium will actually be there! I saw this often in communication with newspapers, they wanted the above items for public readings I did from the books I wrote.
In the Bible spiritual leaders are particularly called to display hospitality. For a celebration, this means you can’t delegate the welcoming of guests, especially of those of honor. That means, definitely, that you have to be there when they appear! If you can’t be present when the guest first arrives, make sure the staff receiving them will excuse you and hint at when it will be possible for you to welcome them. Perhaps, in case there is a phone connection to the place or person, you could call them briefly when they arrive: same impact. So, make sure at the time the guests arrive you are free from other duties, smell appropriately, are as relaxed as possible and stable enough to chat with each one on arrival. As a team of leaders, share in this responsibility and make sure you always do the first step. Decline the temptation to answer your phone constantly – you communicate to your guests that something else is more important than their effort to come - or that you want to be arrogant or aloof! You can plan beforehand and refuse to still organize and keep five balls in the air while you give hand-shakes. Rather, why not actively focus on how you welcome and serve your guest! With some of them you may want to even be the person serving them a coffee or bring a snack along. You may have to explain this and the procedure you choose to your staff and family (smaller children) and instruct them, also to not bother you with some minor issue during this phase. Do not underestimate this rapport with your guests!
Just recently Reinhard and I were part of a YWAM-conference in Thailand, knowing nobody there and feeling a bit out of place among 400 attendants. It made such a huge impression on us when Steve Goode, a YWAM legend in Asia, stepped up to each of us individually to welcome us, ask a few questions and show his appreciation…Do you think we’re open to do something with them – you bet!
You want to also make your guests feel welcome and secure about the information they need to know for steering through the event. Is perhaps a printed-out program helpful for your event? Will it be just a white copy of the bare information in Arial 12 p? Or did you want to have something printed on parchment-like carton? In that case you have to include making it into your plans for an earlier stage.
Be sure you can see to it that special needs are taken care of (e.g. a quiet place to rest for those flying in from long distance, perhaps with a jet-lag or the need for bottled water; re-arranging the room distribution if it doesn’t fit the needs exactly, etc.). Now, here staff working in hospitality can of course come alongside, but it is powerful if a guest feels you are concerned about them or his or her needs, respectively!
So by now, aren’t you relieved that no anniversary for anything is coming up soon? Well, are you sure? Perhaps you want to better check this out and then revel in the fact that till a next one coming up there is plenty of time! Plenty of time perhaps to go through the important points and not miss anything! Oh, and before I forget: some of these items might be helpful also for setting up bigger conferences of our own…©Birgit Hämmerle