At age 85, my dad has lost some of his memories. Fortunately, he is pretty good at living in the present. He remembers his family and caregivers when we are with him. He remembers his name, and where he lives. But he has forgotten some things about WHO he is: his hobbies and experiences, his likes and dislikes, and some of his good manners. Sometimes he acts like someone we don’t know.
It took me awhile to figure out how to relate to this new person my dad is, but then I realized God was calling us, his children, to be his memory. So now, when we visit him, we tell him stories about himself: his many hiking and skiing trips, his travels around the world, his love of jazz and his successful career. He loves hearing these stories, and I love telling them. To see him brighten up and say “Really? I did that?” has taught me how meaningful our stories are, and how important it is to retell them to connect with our deepest identities.
Sometimes under stress, our churches forget who they are. We get so enmeshed in the practical problems of paying the heat bills and running the annual chicken dinner, we might forget why we started this ministry in the first place and what it once meant to us. Churches that forget what their true mission is are like this sign in my town (pictured above). For years, I have looked at that unintelligible sign and wondered what it was trying to tell me! It has forgotten its own message.
As you reflect about the future of your congregation, make time with others for
remembering things and telling stories together. Remember who you have been in mission, in your community, in relationship with each other, and what your theological anchors have been. What are the patterns that have repeated themselves in your church’s history, good and not so good? What assets have held you together as a congregation? The memories may be bittersweet,
funny or stress-inducing. But every story is a victory story, because God has brought the Church through every stage of history, and we are still here!
Faithful remembering is not just a nostalgic look backward at how things used to be. It is also a way of honoring who you are now, and asking how you want your future to be consistent with your past. As the world around you changes, what precious characteristics of Christ’s Church will you cling to?