“Phew!”, sighed the Pastor after the final service of the Christmas season which, in my church, is the New Year’s Eve service. After that, the schedule begins to return to normal…and I have a moment to write a blog post.
My aim with this blog is to reflect on ministry by learning from the history of the Church. That’s harder than it may appear, which I guess is why it doesn’t seem to be done too much. Over the last month or so, a flurry of activity has taught me a few things about trying to join history and ministry.
1) Reflection is a luxury. It takes time to stand back and to reflect on what we do. And if you have no time, there is no reflection. This is why we often don’t learn from history. It takes time from our busy lives to learn what has been done before and then to try to connect it to what we are doing today. Since we don’t have the time, or at least don’t take the time, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past, instead of learning from it.
Lack of time is a fact of life, and always has been. So we see that Church history tends to repeat as well, as it tends to be only those who had the luxury of peace and time who have been able to reflect. That is why, of the reformers, John Calvin is the one who wrote the most thorough explanation of the theology of the Protestant Reformation. He had the relative peace and security of his position in Geneva, while Martin Luther, being the pioneer of the Reformation, was mostly on the run from the Church authorities. And the Anabaptists wrote very little in the way of reflection since they were hunted by both the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformers.
2) The things we always do are living history. Every church has its holiday traditions that have always been done. The way we decorate; when we decorate; what the worship is like… We just think this is the way to do it. In reality these traditions are history alive today. Every tradition is rooted in the past. So often we just do it, not realizing why. And sometimes those traditions become unmoored from our present and we have no idea why we do them today. It’s a little like the woman who always cut the ends of her roast before putting it in the roaster because her grandmother always did, not realizing that her grandmother did it because she did not have a pan big enough to fit a whole roast!
3) We bend history to suit our purposes. I love learning about why we do the things we do, especially with holidays like Christmas. Why do we have Christmas trees? Why is Santa like he is? Why do we have Advent Wreaths, Nativities, and other decorations? While all of these have their history, such practices demonstrate how we change history to suit our purposes. A great example is the Nativity display, which anachronistically includes the Magi, even though the Gospel of Matthew says they came later, and came to a house, not the manger.
Though a luxury, it is important for us to reflect on what has been done before. That way we can move things forward, instead of just repeating the same mistakes over and over. At least, that is why I study the history of the Church.