Three years later (to the day!) I found myself taking out the pews of a church we’re part of now. The pews are almost 73 years old—as old as the building itself, which had been built in 1940. Disassembling each piece, we could clearly see that the hardwood floors are in sore need of repair. They are worn and slope to the south, where the current wall was built on a foundation that previously held a burned down building. Since rebuilding, the pews had not been moved, so the floors had never been refinished. They are stripped of wood stain in rows where countless feet had shuffled into worship.
The stained glass windows, curved and fragile, glowed in the light of an early summer’s late afternoon. The day was cool, thankfully. As we worked, I was mindful of the crests embedded in the panes: the signs of the apostles. The inset designs are a silent testament to a great cloud of witnesses that have assembled here over the years.
Tom started going to this church in 1961, when it was dubbed “Grace” as the merger of two smaller churches took effect. He ran point for the deconstruction crew—4 other guys besides him. I asked him if certain people in the church would be sad to see the pews all gone. By “people” I meant him.
He responded simply, “It’s time.”
As we were working, I spoke with another new friend: Dale. We got to talking about the mission work my family did in Spain and he asked, “So…do you ever miss it?”
It had been awhile since anyone had asked me that so it caught me off-guard a little. Off the top of my head, I said, “Parts of it, yes; parts of it, no.” I went on to talk about how I missed the experimental part of what we did in Europe. We didn’t have the luxury of just “hanging a shingle” to open up shop, so to speak. We had to be creative about our approach to church, because most people we met in Europe would have no interest whatsoever in church-as-usual. “I guess I miss the creativity the most,” I said.
The next day I saw some pictures of some friends from our days in Spain. I read about a trip our mission President will host in the fall that will expose people to the churches we had a hand in starting. I imagined myself being part of that tour and wondered what it would be like. And I reflected on a couple of major transitions by two men who have proven to play a big part in my life. They are moving on, changing roles. Meanwhile, another dear friend is moving from Madrid--yet another change to emotionally process. I realize through all this that I will miss “the way it has been.” I’m usually one to welcome change, but I guess I realize I haven’t fully grieved the letting go part.
Yesterday, a song came on that we sang at one of our staff conferences years ago. And it brought me right back to the highs and lows of our life in Europe. Instantly, I saw faces and recalled conversations. I remembered hurts I had inflicted and others I had borne. I remembered lives changed. I remembered seeing the light of Christ burst forth in the eyes of friends who had been brought from death to life. I remembered laughter and tear-filled worship.
And suddenly the tears came again. Yesterday, I realized afresh just how much we have left behind.
As we finished taking out the pews, I took pictures. The church, rich with history, is empty—yet strangely full. It is good to mourn things lost. Heritage is precious and irreplaceable. We are shaped by our history—let us treasure it.
I know I should add something about looking to the future, but for now I just feel like honoring the past. Can that be enough for me right now? When the time comes, I know God will turn my sights to the horizon out front, but for now I just need to remember. God, please let that be enough. For now. For now.
Saints past and present, pray for me in the hour of need.