By John Vest
During this week we are reminded of the many things for which we are thankful. When it comes to the church, even though I am passionate about moving us forward into God’s future for us, I am also deeply grateful for the gifts we have inherited from our predecessors in faith. Whatever it is that we may contribute to the emergence of God’s kingdom in the world today, it will rest on the foundations of the past. Even when we can recognize cracks in those foundations, we wouldn’t be where we are today without the faithful work of our spiritual mothers and fathers.
I once heard Richard Mouw describe mainline churches as repositories of historic tradition that are necessary elements in the dialectic work of reimagining what church can be. Phyllis Tickle has famously described historic transitions in church and culture as “rummage sales” in which we sort out what it is from the past that we need to hold on to and what we can jettison. These tasks are critical for us as we imagine what is “next” in God’s vision for us.
It seems to me that if mainline Protestantism has a particular charism in the far-reaching revolutions taking place in Christianity today, it will involve the discerning work of recognizing the gifts of our inherited tradition and how it is that God is calling us to adapt these resources and develop new ones as we seek to faithfully respond to the rapidly changing contexts of ministry in today’s world. Some have called those who attempt such work “loyal radicals,” a label I wish more of us would embrace.
Last week my congregation, Fourth Presbyterian Church, dedicated a major building expansion. The Gratz Center is a thoroughly contemporary building that reflects the bold architectural styles of Chicago. The building committee and architects knew that there was no way we could build something new to match our iconic gothic sanctuary and original structures from a hundred years ago. Our new church campus therefore reflects two critical postures: our embrace of the past and our commitment to the present and the future.
When it comes to ministry in my local context, I hope that our congregation can live up to this exegetical interpretation of the buildings we inhabit. My hope is the same for the PC(USA) as a whole. I pray that we might find a way to gratefully embrace where we’ve been yet boldly follow Christ into God’s future.
John Vest is the Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. He blogs at johnvest.com<http://johnvest.com> and is working on a DMin at McCormick Theological Seminary. He dreams of one day achieving the mystical union of church and BBQ.