Today is an occasion of mixed emotions for many of us. It is a time of heady celebration, to mark so significant a milestone for this congregation, this city, and the Presbyterian Church in this province. It is a time of warmth and gratitude, as we reconnect with family members and old friends who have come from a distance to be here. But, especially for long-time members of St. Paul’s and maybe some of our sisters and brothers from Presbytery and Synod, it is also bittersweet as we say goodbye to this building – so beautiful, so intrinsic to this city and, more importantly, to our lives.
And, in saying goodbye to the building, we are also saying goodbye, in a manner of speaking, to a way of being church, because the letting go of this building is just one step in a longer journey of letting go of the way church used to be in an earlier generation.
To help us process so hard a journey – from a grand old building to temporary rented space; from a thriving congregation to a marginal group wondering if we can carry on – I asked our people to write down their memories from the past and their imaginings for the future. I won’t relate everything they shared but let me offer a few examples and observations.
First of all, REMEMBERING.
Many people wrote of the building itself: the windows, the organ, the steeple, the bells, the portraits, the furnishings …. Others wrote of people: ministers and musicians and SS teachers and friends …. Almost all wrote of experiences: weddings and funerals and baptisms – all those milestone moments that leave indelible markings on our lives; and other very individual experiences of a life lived out within the shelter of these walls. Many wrote of the impact of the congregation out into the community through our mission to send kids to camp…. It was amazing how many people wrote about bats! Overall, people spoke of the way their life in this congregation and in this building had become so intrinsic to who they are now that it is hard to think of themselves in any other way.
When people turned to IMAGINING, they found it harder. Harder because it is hard to let go of what is familiar and meaningful; and hard to conjure up what has not been actually seen yet.
There was a tendency to imagine traces in the future of what was familiar in the past, quite understandably I think. There were general references to carrying on, staying strong, sticking together, caring for one another, finding a new home more modest and suitable for now, keeping our mission to the kids going and maintaining the mission spirit that brought the Nisbet party here in the first place…. To be honest, there was some skepticism about whether there was a future to imagine; yet that was balanced by a resolute determination to face the future with faith, knowing that this is God’s work not ours; and that, whether we recognize it or not, the Spirit is planting in our imaginations pictures of what God is already preparing for us in the next stage of our life together.
Perhaps three key themes emerged out of this exercise and are the raw material to form our imaginations and build our future: vibrant worship; deep caring for one another; and courageous outreach into our community – all of that being part of a wellspring of spiritual renewal that is our true hope of carrying on.
Well, letting go and moving forward does not happen all at once or at the same pace for everybody. But remembering and imagining helps; being here today helps – as hard as it is for some of you, I know; sharing our stories and our feelings with one another helps; focussing on now and our day to day faithfulness in the little things that count helps; prayer most certainly helps…. Thank you – especially to the St. Paul’s folk – for your courage in coming here today and allowing God’s Spirit to help you in the process of saying goodbye to what was and hello to what is coming.
Fittingly, I think, I will let our namesake, St. Paul, have the final word, as he wrote in his letter to the Philippians:
“One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
THE REV. TED HICKS
JUNE 18, 2016
150TH ANNIVERSARY SERVICE
IN ‘OLD’ ST. PAUL’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH