If you haven't seen it yet, head over to The Pietist Schoolman and read Chris Gehrz's "History as Stewardship of the Past." It is a powerful post about how churches might think about history. Gehrz calls on churches to preserve the past, interpret the past, and to make the past inviting.
Gehrz's post got me thinking. In Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past I challenged Christian readers to make sure they are using history correctly when they engage the public sphere. But I say little in the book about how a church might remember its sacred past. In other words, when a church thinks about its history it usually includes a messy mix of the past, theology, providentialism, and spiritual nostalgia. I am not sure I would call this history, but it is something that is worthwhile and useful in the setting of a congregation.
Here are Gehrz's thoughts on preservation:
First, recognizing that all of Creation, after the Fall, is subject to decay, we stewards of the past must work to preserve it. Not time itself — that would be the most futile erosion prevention project imaginable. But we can preserve what the passage of time leaves behind.
First, churches can invest time, energy, expertise, and money in preserving photos, films, documents, and other physical artifacts. Salem not only has an archives, but under the leadership of Kevin McGrew, a Bethel History alum who directs the libraries at the College of St. Scholastica, it has been digitizing some of its resources through the Minnesota Digital Library project.
But better yet — since it’s impossible to preserve all artifacts, or to know which will actually be most helpful in the future — we can preserve the past by sustaining our memories of it. The very act of putting up temporal milestones like anniversaries helps remind us to remember. But it needs to be an ongoing commitment of any community.