A great cloud of witnesses

I was recently responsible for writing up a snippet about the “history and legacy” of my parish (you St. John’s-ers out there: keep an eye out on Sunday, and consider this your super-special sneak preview). As I shuffled through our parish’s history (conveniently uploaded to the website), I was delighted to learn (or re-learn), among other things:

  • There are dozens of stained glass windows throughout the church building, some of which are over a century old and most of which have interesting stories about people who were connected to the church.
  • The first bishop of Indiana began his tenure here, and we have a window to memorialize it.
  • My church was the site of the first piano and later the first pipe organ in town.
  • Our first regular sexton (in the 1800s) was African-American.
  • Notes include phrases like “delinquent pew renters.”
  • One of the longest-serving rectors of my church also completed a short curacy at the Episcopal church I occasionally attend in my hometown.

In completing this project, I was truly struck by the great cloud of witnesses surrounding us—what a legacy we do have! This applies not just to this parish, but to all churches and denominations. Looking at my church’s history is a way to localize and personalize a larger truth: that we stand on the shoulders of giants, some of whom go unremembered and uncelebrated.

I had a similar feeling/experience a few weeks ago while doing thesis work by exploring the Episcopal Church archives (which are really, really cool—and yes, I am fully aware how nerd-tastic that statement is). As I gleefully sifted through recorded Acts of Convention and ENS articles from before I was born (and thus loooong before I was even conscious of TEC), I felt a surge of wonder and delight. There on my screen were the stories of those who came before me, who did good work

These giants on whose shoulders we stand are hiding everywhere—in archives as well as our calendars (feast days; Holy Women, Holy Men) and church structures (windows and artifacts), and the pages of the Bible.

We who are concerned with the future of the church would, I think, do well to acquaint ourselves with its past. In knowing where we’ve come from, we might have a better idea of where we’re going, of the next step in the beautiful and magnificent story we’re weaving together.

_____

What do you know about your church’s history? Whose shoulders do you stand on? Do you think archives are totally badass, too?

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