“The heritage room reminds us that each generation is but one chapter, and the Christian story will continue to be written when our time is finished.”
Lately when I have a moment, I rummage through the stacks of historical photos, newspaper clippings, and other records left to us by Pauline Cox. She was the church historian for many years until her death almost year ago. She had taken it on from her husband, Carson, whose devotion was nearly lifelong. As a result of their commitment, we have been left with a record not only of Memorial United Methodist, but, to some extent, of the city.
Soon you will have the opportunity to enjoy these treasures. Gail Harrison, an active member of the church and at one time an archivist for the Davidson County Historical Museum, has taken on the task of cataloging and preparing many of these historical materials for display. The church trustees are renovating the old library for what will become a heritage room, which will also serve as a bright and welcoming gathering place. We hope to complete the project, or at least complete enough so that it is open and presentable, by our homecoming on Sunday May 20.
A couple of pastoral thoughts have been running through my mind as volunteers work on this project. The first is that the heritage room will serve to remind us that the church did not begin when you or I walked through the doors. While we follow a God who leads us into the future, our God has a past. And so does his church. We have what we have because our ancestors remained steadfast in good times and when life was difficult. They passed on a gorgeous stone building, but, even more importantly, they passed on their faith. The heritage room gives us an opportunity to learn their stories.
Secondly, if we present it well, the heritage room will rightsize us. By this I mean that, being human, we tend to overstate our importance and that of the times in which we live. The heritage room reminds us that each generation is but one chapter, and the Christian story will continue to be written when our time is finished.
Memorial United Methodist is the result of a merger, with one of our two parent churches having been established in 1855. This means our church has lived through the Civil War, the Great Depression, and two world wars, with soldiers coming home broken or in body bags. Yet, the church remained and God was praised because the faithful understood, in the words of Martin Luther, what was “never failing.”
We are a church bound by the Christian creeds and of the Wesleyan tradition. We offer God’s grace to the world, with hearts “strangely warmed,” and lives nurtured in the holy scriptures and the sacraments. We are not defined by our wants. If we pay close attention, our history points this out. While it is vital that we remain relevant to our time, God forbid that our traditions bow to fads and felt needs. Learning our history means understanding what must not be fiddled with.
And finally, while our heritage room will hold the past, it will point to the future. We have in our collection photographs of Main Street Methodist and Community Methodist churches, our parent congregations. The buildings look formidable and so do the collections of the people that stand in front of them. When you lean in and look closely at the men and women in the old black and white photos, our forebears in the faith, you see determination. True, everyone looks austere; they must have been taught not to smile in front of the camera. Yet, we see a resolve to build a future. It is there in the way they hold themselves and hold their children.
Today when churches speak of mergers, the underlying concern is survival—that, perhaps, by joining together they can stave off a slow death. In contrast, Memorial was born of a merging of strengths. Two congregations willingly left behind buildings, properties, and their distinctive histories because they believed they could serve God more effectively together. It was a project born not of fear, but of greater prospects. Few congregations today would be willing to make such a sacrifice.
I sometimes think our fathers and mothers in the faith believed in possibilities more than we do. Do we still believe that God works wonders? Has time worn our faith frail? While the heritage room teaches us about the past, it will inspire our future. May we take of hold of the promises that our founders once held for themselves and future generations.