Church real estate was once a relatively booming market. In our suburban location we would routinely receive correspondence from a realtor who called herself the “church lady”, a realtor whose business it was to help us sell our ‘small’ building and upgrade to a larger one. As I survey the landscape with churches closing all around us, I realize that the church lady no longer comes calling.
The pieces of church buildings that can be repurposed have been salvaged, with stained glass windows still being the prized possession. The beautiful wooden pews, however, have found little market. The market is so glutted in our area that pews can’t even be given away. After several years of trying alternately to store or sell a dozen or so from our church, I was heartbroken to see the old wooden benches cut into pieces in placed in the dumpster. It was a tragic omen of a quickly changing world.
Choosing what to keep, repurpose or simply to lose as one transitions to a new way of life is an important and perhaps ongoing process. As I transition out of church life and leadership, I have only just begun this process. Books, robes, the trappings of professional ministry sit in piles around me. While I will likely keep a relic or two, I have little use or desire for the vast majority of artifacts that fill my clergy office. As I was announcing my departure last fall, a colleague asked for one of my stoles. In the moment I was taken aback, but I realize that such an audience might be a gift as I begin the divestment lest I fill yet another dumpster with unwanted mementos.
At the same time, I find myself somewhat surprised by what appears in the keep pile. Last night I feel asleep musing about how to repurpose one piece and awoke with the same puzzle in my mind. This is an artifact that for me initially appeared contrived but over time has become life-giving. This linguistic artifact is the gift of the liturgical calendar.
Having grown up in evangelical Sunday Schools and an unchurched family, I grew up with no introduction to the cycle of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. I knew nothing of Lent and Easter or of the great season of Pentecost. As a young adult I was introduced to words like Maundy Thursday and Ascension Sunday and found them to be at best a beautiful Medieval relic and at worst an archaic albatross. But as the seasons come and go over time and space, marked by a pattern of stories and colors and changes in the earth itself, I have found increasing meaning and purpose in this ritual. Even as I step away from the institution, I wonder about the possibilities for sharing this rubric with an increasingly unchurched world.
To be sure the liturgical calendar is contrived. There is no reason to believe that the historical Jesus was born within days of the winter solstice, this was an intentional pairing of the Christian story with a more ancient tradition which together bear witness to the particular darkness of the earth in the Northern Hemisphere’s deep winter. Because the institution of Christianity came of age in this particular place in the earth’s orbit, our celebration of new life similarly coincides with more ancient traditions (Eostre) and too the rebirthing of the earth. These connections speak to the historical realities and it is life-giving to see these holidays interpreted by friends in Australia and New Zealand who interpret Easter in the earth’s autumn and Christmas at the summer solstice. Yet as I read these interpretations from another vantage, the value of the cyclical calendar simply expands and I feel a passion that is familiar.
The liturgical calendar in concert with the seasons of the earth have fostered for me a deeper understanding of the earth and my place within it. I know that the sacred moves through the calendar but is not contained in it and should the calendar disapparate like the church lady, the sacred will continue to find new paths for communication. Yet I feel some tug to use this tool, the liturgical calendar, at least one more time, perhaps as a rubric for a day reader, to allow this unsung relic one more chance to share rhythm.
And so it is that I see one possible role for this former-minister-to-be, reclamation. Accepting the arduous task of repurposing the relics, I have an ever-deepening appreciation for the Quaker intention of simplicity. Lest we become weighed down in our efforts to salvage the refuse, reducing our reliance on religious paraphernalia might be the path of wisdom.