What do we need to keep?


Recently Lynda and myself have been sorting through the archives. We have found so much stuff! Old photographs, school reports, diaries etc. And it’s been a real dilemma knowing what to keep. We haven’t room to keep everything. But we want to keep some memory of the past. I am sure when we go through what’s left we will wonder why we kept some things and threw away others.

Churches, I believe, face a similar kind of issue. There are some churches which cling very rigidly to the past, where any change is seen as a threat and a challenge. There are others which simply get rid of any tradition and try to reinvent themselves from scratch. I’ve always tried to get a balance between the two extremes, but I suspect there is never a completely right and wrong answer to the question of what to keep and what to let go of, along the way.

On a practical level, I never cease to be amazed at just how much stuff a church can accumulate in a very short space of time. If we ever have to clear St Barnabas, then I think we will be surprised just how many things we have gathered over the past 13 years. Again, knowing what to keep and what to let go will involve some difficult decisions.

Are there any Biblical principles to help us? In the Old Testament the people of Israel were given detailed instructions about the furnishings they should make for the tabernacle which they carried about with them before they entered the promised land. When the temple was built, equally detailed instructions were given about how this was to be equipped, as a reminder that God had chosen to make his dwelling right there among His people.

The problem with the Israelites was that too often these furnishings became an end in themselves. So, for example, they carried the ark into battle as if it were just another national god (1 Samuel 4). The bronze snake Moses made for the Israelites’ healing became an idol worshipped in its own right (2 Kings 18:4). Why was this? Because they neglected the most precious thing of all they were supposed to carry around with them – the word of the Lord. By the time of King Josiah the book of the Law had been completely forgotten, and was only discovered when workmen were busy renovating the temple (2 Kings 22).

In New Testament times the church did not have any physical buildings. But the first believers, aware of the history of Israel, were conscious the one thing they needed to do was to pass on the word of the Lord faithfully from one generation to the next. So the apostle Paul was careful to pass on the essentials of the gospel as he had himself received it to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 15:3). His concern for his “son” in the faith, Timothy, was that he would guard the deposit of the teaching entrusted to him and pass it on to reliable witnesses (2 Timothy 1:14, 2:2).

No doubt as churches became established, the question of physical buildings and their furnishings became a live topic. But it seems to me that as we go forward, it is so important we remember the priority of passing on the word of God. Churches as institutions are very good at investing resources to preserve the fabric of their buildings. But they are only of importance in as far as they tell the story of the faith passed on from one generation to the next. And if there is no passing on of the faith, the church simply becomes a museum and a tourist attraction.

We need to remember this particularly at this time when nationally the Church of England is under pressure to alter the faith delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 3), as issues of human sexuality are being debated at the highest level. I love the history and the sense of mystery found in our churches, but the reason why our churches have lasted from generation to generation is that they have heeded the teaching passed on by Jesus to Paul to Timothy to reliable witnesses and ultimately to us.

I still haven’t solved the issue of what to keep and not to keep. That remains a tough one to answer. I rather like the picture of me aged 5, though!

3 Responses to What do we need to keep?

  1. Jing Li Sidey says:

    Yes the balace is the key. What to keep and what to through away make our life continue and church life go stronger. We are all grateful under your leadship Tim…I do like the photo of you when you were 5 and thank you.

  2. Rolf Terry says:

    Dear Rev. Tim, I must admit that although having walked past your church many times I have never entered the door. Just recently I was asked to try and find details of a person who lived in Devonport. Leaving out most of the details, it seems that St. Michael’s was the place of family Christenings and at least one funeral service. This has led me to your website and the “Vicars blog, what do we need to keep”. I know that keeping “stuff” leads to problems of space, conscience and obligation to others. My suggestion would be, to keep things that seem really important and personal (to you and the parish) and perhaps deposit other things with the West Devon Records Office, I am sure that they could offer you advise. This would allow people access to past records and also encourage visitors to your church.
    Regards Rolf

    • timrev says:

      Dear Rolf,

      Thank you so much for getting in touch and I appreciate your thoughtful comments. I hope very much that one day you will be able to come inside, and see what we have managed to keep. Although this is now the third church on the site, we still have two stained glass windows, our first world war memorial, three plaques from the first church bombed in 1941, and plenty more besides. We like to think that our church tells the story of a living faith carried from one generation to the next, and I am so glad that St Michael’s has been part of your family story as well. We are open for our service every Sunday at 10.30am (an hour earlier on Remembrance Sunday) and for evening prayer on Wednesdays at 4pm, and I look forward to meeting you. Every blessing, Rev Tim.

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