What do you buy someone or something for their 175th birthday? It’s a tough one, isn’t it? I mean especially when that someone already has their own gym, bowling alley, racquetball court, commercial kitchen, organ, bell tower, etc. Talk about having it all!
Well, we’re talking about a church here, of course, not a person. Still, it’s our church, it’s our entity, it’s an institution we love and cherish and value, and so no ordinary gift will do. It needs to be special.
Well, I’m not the best gift giver in the world. I’ve had a few duds of my own over the years. But if I’ve learned anything about gifts, it is that the best gifts are gifts of oneself—one’s time, energy, thoughtfulness. Even if the gift is a simple item, it needs to be one that shows that thought, intent, and effort went into its procurement.
Maybe that could be a starting place for us as we think of what we might offer this beloved church that turns 175 this year. At the end of the day, the best gift we could offer our church is an investment of ourselves into the mission that brought FBC into being in the first place—a commitment of our time, talents, and resources—intentionally, thoughtfully, freely offered. In short the best gift we could give this grand foundation of a church, is our investment in its future. Others “paid it forward” so that we might be here today. We can do the same for future generations.
One image that might be helpful to us here is one that I learned from the noted church historian, Dr. Martin Marty. Dr. Marty once said that it is of utmost importance how we handle our heritage. He said one way was to dismiss it. We can say this is a new day that requires new ideas, so the sooner we get rid of the old and make way for the new, the better. Such a vision, says Marty, is almost always nearsighted. “What is” was created to meet the needs of people far more like us than not. Thus a strategy of dismissal almost always ends in regret.
On the other side of the spectrum is nostalgia, that deification of what was and the ways we used to do them that fails to take into that change is necessary. Splitting the horns of this dilemma, Marty suggests a third model: Restoration. Now while we are familiar with that term from home repair, its true definition, says Marty, is much more obvious and Biblical. Restoration, means literally to “Re-Store.” Think of the church as a store. Over time the shelves of the store become depleted, as people come in and use what they need. That’s OK, of course, because that’s the purpose of the store, in some sense. But for the store to remain vibrant, it must be restocked, re-stored, with that which the customer really needs, in packaging that makes it accessible and even attractive. That will mean, says Marty, that some products will come and go while other “staples” will never go out of style. For us such staples would include—grace, acceptance, missions, forgiveness, spiritual development, etc. Even these, however, will need to be repackaged and remarketed from time to time.
Like all metaphors, this one has its limits. Indeed the only way this one works is if we understand that one of the products that church offers, maybe the main one, is the opportunity to serve, to give back, to give our lives away. But still, this idea of Restoration has potential for most all churches, especially those 175 years old.
So as we think of the future we seek to shape for this grand foundation of a church, how might we “re-store” its shelves? What is essential and needs merely to be adapted? What new elements and approaches might we stock on the shelves? What part do each of us play in that? What does this “re-storing” ask of us? How might we be a part of what God is doing now and “pay it forward,” too? If we think of it in these terms, it makes all the sense in the world that one of the first ways we will celebrate our anniversary is to spend a morning beginning to think about such questions.
Vision Day is Sunday, March 23. On this day, we will gather in the Fellowship Hall at for breakfast to be followed by sharing conversation around the tables. We will be discussing that which we love and adore about our church, that which brought us to FBC in the first place. We will be defining our essentials. And in the process, we also begin to think about new offerings and approaches that might help us capitalize on these strengths. I trust that you will make every effort to be present. You can call the church office or make your reservation online.
Until then, Grace, David
This article was written by Rev. Dr. David Breckenridge
and originally published in the March edition of Together