Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Storing Up Treasures (and Trash)

Tomorrow morning, a group of people from the church we serve (the established "mother" church, that is -- some of you know we're pastoring this congregation as well as planting a new church) will be meeting at the warehouse where we have five tons -- yes, 10,000 pounds -- of things in storage.

The congregation sold its building about two years ago. It was a mammoth facility on the National Register of Historic Places: 44 rooms, a sanctuary with balconies on three sides and seating for 800, a full-sized gymnasium, and an office complex... all this in the center of the city, right next to City Hall, with a much coveted parking lot to boot. The problem was, like so many urban churches, the congregation had dwindled, over several decades, until there were only 25 or 30 people left. Yes, that's right: more rooms than people.

So they made the agonizing decision to sell their facility and re-envision themselves. For churches, and probably for most groups, identity and physical space are so intimately interconnected... This has forced the congregation to reimagine itself, to consider its identity apart from the facility that was its home for generations. We continue to work through the grief even as we anticipate a new future. Through all of this, we're discovering the incredible power of nostalgia to paralyze, and also the freedom and the opportunities that emerge when the albatross around the neck can be discarded. Now we're free to make decisions about the future based on visions for ministry rather than the never-ending maintenance needs of an enormous, historic facility. Oh, it's so tempting to see the scarcity, but there's also abundance in this -- like life, it's a complicated mix of both.

So tomorrow we'll visit the warehouse to make some deferred decisions. What to keep? What to discard? As they tell the story, they describe how, when they were preparing to sell the building two years ago, they filled the gymasium, literally, with furniture and filing cabinets and artwork, pews and dishes and boxes and boxes of records, much of which they sold or gave away to other churches and interested individuals. Some things they sold to an appraiser. Physically and emotionally, it was an overwhelming process. What was left, they loaded into moving vans and transported to a warehouse, where it's been stored all this time in four big vaults, in case we might need it someday. It's a bit fuzzy what's actually in there, and by all accounts, they've survived for two years without needing any of it, so tomorrow we'll open those vaults and decide what -- if anything -- we might want for our future ministry.

No criticisms here. Isn't letting go always a process? How many of us have closets and attics and basements and garages and storage units bulging with the "things" we've accumulated, much of which we're storing for the day when it might be useful? I'll confess when Sara and I moved here in July, we loaded our moving van with way too many things. Much of it still lies in unopened boxes that we'll someday need to sort through. How tempting it is to hold onto things, and how powerful is the force of nostalgia! Even more, how easy it is to be held captive to our things, most of which we know, in our heart of hearts, that we do not need.

Didn't Jesus caution us about this when he said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal"? And then these words, that represent a scandalous truth: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Five tons sounds like a lot. I'm curious to see what's in there, and a bit anxious about how it will go tomorrow as we gather with competing ideas about what's really important. But those words keep coming back to me: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." I have a feeling God has a spiritual message for us in here somewhere -- perhaps a message about the spiritual consequences of holding on and the freedom of letting go. I hope we're open to receive it.

And who knows? Maybe when it's all said and done, it will be time to tackle some of those unopened boxes in our basement...


Andrew Conard said...

Allen - Wow, what a task. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the task at hand - physical, spiritual and emotional. I think that there is a balance between holding on to things just to do keep them and keeping things that really have value. I hope that things go well - it will be interesting to dig through 5 tons.

scituatedrev said...

5 tons! That sounds like a lot to me too! I can't say I envy the task, but I love your post. The insights into the fact that we are all hanging on to lots of stuff, and that it is very likely that much of it is weighing us down is right on. I remember reading Justo Gonzalez insight into the call of the Peter and the other fishermen. In order to follow Jesus, they had to leave their boats and all the fishing equipment behind. It's not that boats and fishing gear are bad. It was simply that they couldn't be dragging that stuff from town to town behind them if they were to fulfill the ministry to which Jesus was calling them.

Good luck!