I love telling stories and I dare to say, we all love telling or listening to stories.
Lately my story telling has changed. Over the last 21 years I have been part of a heritage church that was struggling, or at least that was the story perpetuated amongst the membership.
“We used to have and we used to do and we used to, used to, used to.” Our stories were told in the past tense despite real evidence that we were living in God’s Grace in the present. And it wasn’t that the “we used to” comments were wrong in any way. There was a big shift, with a change of pastors every 6 years, in all areas of our church life; from declining membership, attendance and in church group activities to trying out new forms of worship. Everything was different and at times uncomfortable, at least for long time members of the church. We plowed on trying to keep the garden watered and fertilized. Frustrating work as it seemed to provide little yield.
We had done this to ourselves. Our Lutheran National Church had been giving us all the right tools, mainly, look outside your walls. Away from your building and into the neighbourhood. Why are you at that location, preaching the gospel of the Lord and where and how are you needed right there? Listen to the people around you, open your mind and doors to where and what God is calling you to do in the neighbourhood of your church. Don’t pretend to know the answer. Look, listen, learn, decern.
At the time, it felt easier to speak in the past rather than the present or dare to dream up a bright future.
Yet we did. Somehow enough people rallied behind the stories of now and dared to start dreaming. Suddenly we had a refugee group sponsoring and aiding new arrivals to successfully integrate into the Canadian society. One person thought to find a group to start dinner church to see if that would fill a void in people’s hunger for food and spirit. A drum circle took to the street in front of the church. We were beginning to imagine a different present and ultimately a new future.
It did not take a whole church to stop talking “we used to”. It only took one person to start imagining God’s grace and to start telling that story. One leader said: “Yesterday, we had our first dinner church. Three people came. We broke bread together, we talked, we listened to a devotion and had a lively discussion. We are going to have dinner church once a month now. You are welcome to join us.”
And this is the point when my story telling changed.
Slowly but surely, the focus went from our seemingly ailing Sunday Service to excitement and renewal. Today I love listening to “used to” without feeling down. They are wonderful stories of God’s work right at the Lakeshore and they are important stories from our past. However, my own stories are told in the present and in the future as I have now learned to be grateful for the firm roots planted in the past that provide all the depth and strengths for new shoots to grow.