Deep in a patch of forest up in northern Maine, near to where my father once kept a small hunting camp, stands the remnant of an old stone fence. When last I saw it a number of years ago it was covered in moss and leaves and was pretty much dilapidated; but it still stretched for quite a number of yards along the edge of a cedar swamp situated at least a mile or more from anywhere. My father had found the fence years before while hunting in those woods; he’d come across it while walking southeastward through a black growth knoll on what might have once been some sort of tote road; a pathway that in fact led to an opening in the fence where at one time there might even have been a gate.
Spending time over the years at that camp and in those woods, that old fence always served as something of a landmark for us to find our way from here to there and back again. We knew, for instance, that just beyond the fence uphill to the east there was a hardwood ridge, and if you went south you’d go have to go through some thick growth to where the St. John and Logan brooks come together. It was a place where early in the morning we’d head off in different directions in our quest for deer, and where we’d meet at the end of the day to head back to camp.
It was also, for me at least, an endless source of fascination: I always wondered what this stone wall was doing out there in the middle of nowhere; had there at one time been a home nearby? Or perhaps had we walked to what once was the edge of somebody’s farmland; maybe the fence was there to keep the farmer’s cows from wandering into the cedar swamp! In my imagination the possibilities were endless, and for years I speculated on whatever happened to that place now enveloped by forest; and for that matter, what might have happened to the people who’d once lived there and had built the fence to begin with!
A few years ago I actually had occasion to see a map of that very area that had been drawn up well over a hundred years ago; and come to find out, the old tote road that led to the stone fence had at that time been a main “highway” that ran between the villages of Sherman Mills and Silver Ridge! The main road is now several miles to the north and east; and an area where once there were acres of fields and farmland is now nothing but dense forest. What happened, I still don’t know – the road moved and the people moved with it, I guess – but eventually all that remained was this old stone fence and the nearly forgotten memory of a time and a people long gone.
Nonetheless it always seemed to me a marvel – and something of a parable (!) – that even all those years later, that which remained still served a purpose – a small legacy to be sure, and perhaps one unintentional – but one nonetheless important at least for that small group of hunters who used to travel through those woods.
As evidenced by some of the recent postings to this blog, right now in our congregation we are in the midst of our annual stewardship campaign, during which we’re reflecting on the many ways that God has blessed us “to be a blessing” while looking to support the work of the church in the coming year. Needless to say, a deep concern for stewardship is an essential piece of our life together as a family of faith; and over the years as a pastor of several congregations of differing sizes, shapes and attitudes I dare say I’ve seen a wide array of approaches in addressing that concern! However, in that time I’ve also discovered that no matter what that approach happens to be in any given congregation, in the end a basic stewardship campaign tends to have two components that are usually at work at the same time.
First, there’s the immediate concerns for the church’s work, the “nuts and bolts” that are required to keep that church and its ministries up and running: amongst a great many things, it’s heat and lights in the church sanctuary, curriculum for the Sunday School, and yes (in the interest of full disclosure!) even the cost of having a pastor. This is all about the necessary effort of trying to meet a budget that will hopefully encompass and support everything a church has envisioned itself to be in the year ahead; which these days is a challenge for just about every congregation out there, regardless of size or tradition, and yet which most of those same churches embrace joyfully, boldly and with all faith.
And this is largely because of the second component of your basic stewardship effort, and that’s the fervent desire on the part of the church – our calling, if you will – to provide a legacy of faith and spiritual formation for the next generations of our congregation; for the children who currently populate the front pew during the Children’s Ministry on Sunday mornings, but who will someday be moved to bring their own kids to learn about God and Jesus and what it means to truly love another.
This is our understanding, as recipients of all the many blessings that God bestows, we not only have the opportunity but also the responsibility to be the blessing for others, most especially those who will follow in our faithful footsteps months, years and even generations from right now. What’s that adage about how “we plant trees for those who are born later?” Well, likewise as disciples our focus is not merely about the things that we have to do here and now for the work of the church – though that is certainly of utmost importance – but it’s also of purposefully laying the groundwork for a legacy of faith that will continue long after you and I have passed from this part of the journey of life and living.
This is certainly a double challenge for us as good stewards of the church, especially given these days of economic and cultural uncertainties that all too often seem to wreak havoc on the traditions to which we hold dear as the church. And yet, I can’t help but marvel at how even now, God is working with all that we have together as a family of faith (and even more so, with all that we do !) to create that lasting legacy for the future.
Alas, right now we can only imagine the shape and form of that legacy, but rest assured that by God’s grace what we’re building by faith and commitment will remain!
c. 2014 Rev. Michael W. Lowry