Recently Melba and I visited the site where my great, great, great, great grandfather lived in Shelbyville, Kentucky beginning in 1783. It was known as Whitaker's Station, and it was a few miles south of Squire Boone's Station on Clear Creek. My grandfather, Aquilla, called it Red Orchard because of the apples he grew there. It was a place visited by Aquilla's father, John, an ordained Baptist minister who started the first church in Kentucky. I can walk on my ancestors' home today because the owner of the property donated it to Shelby County. About 130 acres of the original 934 acre farm is still intact, and constitutes Red Orchard Park. As I walked on this land, I remembered the facts and stories about all of my ancestors who migrated from Wales to Maryland, and then to Pennsylvania, and on to Kentucky, and finally to Mississippi between 1677 and 1804.
I have learned most of what I know about my family history over the last ten years. When I was growing up, I was ignorant of this history, at least, the part prior to the Civil War. I do not want my children and grandchildren to be as ignorant as I have been.
Learning your history changes you. You begin to see your life as part of a larger story. Not only do I now see my own life as part of a family story in America, but also I now study more American history in order to better understand what was happening during the times when my ancestors lived.
Reflecting on on my own experience of learning about my family history has made me also think about the importance of a congregation's history. I think all members ought to have some knowledge of the story of the founding and developing of their congregation.
Even more important than knowing about the past is creating the future. "History" is not just that which is past; it is the on-going story of our lives. Every one of us is a part of history, and each of us can help make the history which our descendants will learn about later. I like the T-shirt logo which says, "Make Dust or Eat Dust."
If you were able to write the next chapter in your congregation's history, what would it be? Would there be anything worth telling about? Would this be a time of bold change and new ministry which transformed the congregation forever? Perhaps our planning for the future would be more daring if we considered how we are in a position to make history by the risks we take and the decisions we make.
I think Christianity nurtures in us an historical consciousness. The Biblical narrative and Christian doctrine both teach us to look at the world as an on-going story in which God is acting, but also in which God calls us to be a part of God's creative work. We can think about the cosmic and ultimate purposes which God is fulfilling, and we can also think about the personal and local purposes which God is fulfilling in our own lives and in our own congregations at this time and place. Realizing that God is really calling us today where we are to make history is exciting, and it should inspire all of us in fulfilling our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.