Last year, after years of internal deliberation, Boston’s Old South Congregational Church finally decided to sell one of its hymnals. This was no ordinary hymnal. It was printed in 1640—one of the first books produced in North America. When Sotheby’s auctioned the hymnal a few weeks ago it brought a sum of $14.2 million, a new record for a printed book. But that astronomical sum did not free the church from controversy.
On one side were the church historians and those members of the congregation who felt they had to preserve the church’s history and legacy. On the other side were Pastor Nancy Taylor, the majority of the leadership, and those who felt that faithful stewardship demanded that the resources of the church not be preserved but repurposed to continue ministry.
I watched this story unfold for over a year, and was sympathetic to both sides until I heard the church historian say that the church had two of these exceptional books and if one was sold, “You would never be able to hold one in each hand ever again.” Of course, he had to admit that holding them was not really practical—they are much too fragile for that.
One thoughtful woman in the church said, “I have two young sons, and looking forward I want my sons to learn that it’s not about objects. We can take those objects from the past and turn them into fuel for tomorrow.”
What an applicable lesson for us all. As one year ends and another begins, a profound choice is put before every person: Will we hold on to the past – preserving, protecting, and perpetuating it – even when doing so becomes much more work than it is worth? Or will we use the past, its gore and its glory, as fuel for the future?
I am certain that a church older than the Constitution, old enough to have baptized the infant Benjamin Franklin, and solid enough to withstand everything three centuries has thrown at it, will indeed weather this current situation.
I just hope that the resources from the past will get put to today’s use, and not be locked away in a vault or collect interest in some obscene-sized endowment. I hope the same for all of us. Let’s not make life a museum built to what used to be, but a mission to bring about what can be.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.