The photo memory below popped up in my Facebook feed this week. It’s a picture of all the unlabeled and no longer needed keys that lived in the Rector’s desk at the Church of the Epiphany, Manhattan. During an epic office cleaning in 2015, I finally pulled them all out and threw them away. One friend suggested melting them down into a golden calf — the idol of lost and unknown keys.
I bet I am not the only Rector to have had a desk full of keys of unknown origin. Churches accumulate stuff. Locks are rekeyed. Knowledge is lost during changes in clergy and lay leaders; and we fear throwing away something that might be useful someday to someone.
A similar thing happened with the photos of the Rectors of the parish: they were all labeled until the rector from the 1950s and 60s, because everyone knew who he was when they put the photos up. By 2000, almost no one knew who he was. Nor did they know who the (unlabeled) rector from the 1970s and 1980s was; and the photo of the rector from the 1990s wasn’t even on the wall because they were so angry with him when he left!
What does your congregation hold on to? What do you label — and what do you not label?
Recent church history can be an incredibly rich blessing to those who discover it. Label what you save. Let it tell the story of what life and ministry was like, and help those who discover them to glimpse the past.
But we need not save everything. Keep the precious and holy relics that will tell stories. Purge the rest. Let our history inspire and illuminate — not weigh us down.