Who is your church’s historian?
I don’t mean the person who accidentally wrote a thesis on the Council of Nicea on their holidays. I mean the person who remembers the first minister, who knows why the stained glass window has a dodo on it, who can tell you the stories behind all those dedication plaques, who knows why everyone got so upset when you unilaterally threw that old lectern in a skip.
Now, this probably isn’t a formal role – after all, we’re normally too busy trying to find cleaners and worship leaders and guitarists – but I’m willing to be that person’s there. They’ll be the one who starts telling tales of the church in a corner of the coffee morning, a little old lady who doesn’t hold a formal role in the fellowship, but who knows all the stories. And sadly, when she passes on, the stories will pass with her.
(Of course, there’s an opportunity for an intergenerational relationship building project here, if you’re interested…)
There’s an importance to this, as knowing the history and the story of a place helps to anchor our current identities, while also rooting the story of our congregations in that of their local area. Too often we travel to a commuter church and we don’t appreciate how that church relates to the houses and shops and factories we drive past on our way, nor do we know exactly how the church got there in the first place. It’s not always clear how a church even got its name.
There’s also humility in all this. We’re often told to think about our story, our journey, to the exclusion of how we fit into the stories of others. you know, we’re not always yhe hero. Sometimes we’re the supporting cast. Sometimes we’re an extra. Sometimes, just sometimes, we’re the villain.
There’s a moment in the Book of Amos when God turns to the Israelites and points out that he’s also been at work in Ethiopia and Crete and Syria and no-one seemed to appreciate that as they weren’t listening to the stories of those around them, weren’t paying attention to how God was moving in the world rather than among a specific church council meeting. And that’s a humbling lesson we could do well to learn.
So listen to that little old lady who knows all the stories. Write them down, put them on your website, pass them on to the next generation. God may be saying something through them.