Weird Liturgies: The Happy Birthday Song


Like all churches, my church has a liturgy.  We have a set worship structure with consistent worship practices that form and shape us every Sunday morning.  We read Scripture three times.  We sing 4-5 songs, guaranteeing a proper mix between ancient hymns and newer choruses.  We pass offering plates and listen to a sermon.  We pray about 4 times.

And we sing “Happy Birthday.”

We don’t sing it every Sunday out of the year.  But every week where someone in our congregation celebrated a birthday, we sing it.  We also note the anniversaries but nobody has yet penned a “Happy Anniversary” song so we don’t sing about that.

I usually pepper the announcements of birthdays and anniveraries with a cycle of corny jokes that I have borrowed or penned throughout my years.

“Happy Birthday Tom!  We are glad you were born!”

“Larry was born and actually lived to tell the tale!”

“Lisa turned another year younger this week!”

“Ann managed to stay married to Bob another year and that is quite the accomplishment!”

“Happy 46th anniversary Yvette and Wendell!  But watch out.  I hear year 47 is the really tough one!

“86 year old Harriet turned 29 again this year!”

“The Thompsons anniversary is on Wednesday, so if they manage to stay married until then, Happy Anniversary!”

A few people laugh, most (my wife included) roll their eyes.  I personally think they are hilarious.

Some people in our church are flattered we remembered their birthdays.  More are glad that we noted their anniversaries. Others are embarrassed.  They try to hide from me and I am always overjoyed when someone snitches on them.  To be fair, I don’t go around mentioning my birthday either.  .  .and someone always tattles on me.

Still, we don’t make the announcement and sing the song to flatter the children and embarrass the old.

We announce the anniversaries because marriage is a sacrament.  God uses marriage and the married couples to provide grace to the entire congregation.  Also, I have found that the grace marriage gives increases exponentially the longer people stay in it.

So we announce the anniversaries and make the jokes because  behind all of this is a recognition that God has given us a gift through the married couple.

Then we sing, “Happy Birthday.”  We sing it because we are one body and each of us is a part of it.  We sing it because we really are glad that the people in our church were born and are still around.

But we also sing “Happy Birthday” because we know that in our older congregation we might not get to sing it next year.  At least one or two will not be around in 365 days and while they are here, we celebrate their presence among us.

We also sing it because even in a day of great technological sophistication, still-births and miscarriages happen.  They are every bit as tragic and heartbreaking as they always have been.  So we sing Happy Birthday because we know that every live birth is a miracle and it is worth celebrating even 86 years after it happened.

So Happy Birthday to you whenever your birthday may be.  I hope you live another year.  I hope you have a congregation that loves you and loves life enough to completely embarrass you.  I hope you love your wife enough to tattle on her birthday to your pastor.  I hope the church choir hits the 3 part harmony perfectly right at the, “Happy Birthday, God Bless You” and I hope your mock surprise and red face are signs of the coming Kingdom!

Happy Birthday to You!

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