A friend called last week to ask me to think back to the beginning of a community service organization I helped to launch almost 20 years ago. Despite some time in reflection, there was very little I could add to what she already knew. As I get older, I have problems even remembering what I had for breakfast that day.
This prompted me to think about the things that we do remember such as births, weddings, the first day on a new job, and personal losses. Those things stick in our minds; however, as individuals and congregations, we would do well to be more intentional about both remembering and recording significant events that are both decisive and informative. We can learn from them and have a better understanding about what is really important to us.
I had the opportunity a couple of years ago to do a video interview with a member of our congregation who is a World War II veteran. Bill was a medical corpsman in the U. S. Navy during the D-Day invasion of Europe in 1944. Two days after the invasion, his landing craft was off the coast of France when it exploded, breaking the ship in half and sinking it. Many of the crew died. Bill and another crewmate spent several days on a life raft before being picked up, days when his parents back home did not know if he were dead or alive. The two men were finally rescued and returned to England.
As Bill reflected on that experience, tears came to his eyes as he shared not only the experience but his testimony that God had spared him for a purpose and that had influenced the rest of his life. Every decision he made subsequently was affected by that survival experience. Although not everyone has had such a dramatic event in their lives, we all have experienced life-changing events. We need to not only share these with others but record these as faith stories. They make us who we are.
Congregations should do the same type of reflection. Through appreciative inquiry and similar processes, we can reflect on the events that have shaped our congregational identity and life. Many of these are positive—commitments of faith, mission ministries, and capital campaigns. Other may be negative—the loss of a significant leader, a church split, or a natural disaster. Whether the experience, we can learn from it and identify the values and beliefs that have sustained the congregation over time. In so doing, we are better equipped to face the future.
If the events of our lives are not recorded and reported, did they really happen? Of course they did, but by reflecting on them, we can have clarity about the things that are really important to us.