Nancy and I have been appointed as Co-pastors of a congregation in Jeffersonville, Indiana. We will move at the end of August and so we have begun the sorting, deciding, packing and disposing of all manner of things we have accumulated in ten years. Some of it is ours and some belongs to our children…

It is a very interesting look into our life.  So many are things that one or more of us were sure we needed (or the kids thought they could not live without). They now are in a box as we try to recall what it is or why we had to have it in the first place.

As a follower of Antiques Roadshow I daydream that I find some sort of valuable artifact in these boxes of the detritus of our life. Instead I mostly find things that were useful but are no longer, or things to which one of us has some sort of emotional attachment but no present usefulness (and if I were really honest no future purpose either).

It is often hard to discard these things. I, for example, found myself reluctant to throw out files I had not accessed or used since the 1980’s. I contemplated keeping handouts from workshops I gave over 15 years ago and have not offered since. There was that nagging “But what if…”

Institutions do the same things. We hang onto ideas and programs and events long past their useful life.   I was in a parish that had kept props, set pieces, scripts and costumes  from a Christmas pageant they had stopped doing because it required more time and energy than the people of the parish could devote . These pieces of the past had been stored, and they had gotten wet and were musty. There was no prospect of instituting the gala production again but it took seven years to be able to get rid of these smelly, moldy things.  It seems proof that we are reluctant to let go of the past in order to face the future unencumbered.

It takes nerve to let go of the past in order to have a new future.   I believe it is right to claim and keep the memories, and retain the knowledge of what it was we valued in the past,  in order to make certain what we value and find life-giving is part of what we create in the future. But we cannot be so weighted down with the objects, requirements and details of the past that we cannot contemplate or create a different future.

God does not call us to the same-old, same-old. Our Easter faith is not about being a museum to the past or about resuscitation of our history, but about new life into the future.

So our recycle bins and trash can are full each week and we are taking load of things to find new homes and a new useful life with others as we prepare for our new life – in a new setting – in a land which God has showed us.


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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3 Responses to Sorting

  1. John Sims says:

    I love the comparison between the clutter that encrusts our lives and the clutter that sometimes encrusts our institutions! I think the comparison can be extended to the things we are thinking of acquiring as well: we need to ask ourselves ‘is this something I have a real need for?’ ‘Is this something that will have a lasting place in my life and will be worth the resources in time/wealth/energy it consumes?’ Do I want this because it will be meaningful/helpful to me and my life, or do I want it because ‘everyone else’ has one?’ A few thoughtful questions on the front end can help people and institutions as well.

  2. don says:

    Great point! I have often found that many small churches want to add lots of activities or functions so they can appear to be like the “big, successful” mega churches rather than focusing on what they have gifts for and are good at. Some people like shopping at Wallmart but a significant number prefer smaller more personable boutiques. We need to sort through who we are and what we really need to do the work we are called to do.

  3. John Sims says:

    Had to laugh: after the exchange above, I saw the following today by one of the religion/theology bloggers for whom I have the most respect, Tobias Haller:

    Seems that lots of people are thinking about the same sorts of issues!

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