A recent article in the Concord Monitor about the opening of a 50-year old time capsule brought forth for me a fond memory of another time capsule, this one unearthed back in 1989 as the church in Maine I was serving at the time was approaching its 200th anniversary year.
This particular time capsule was a tin box with a soldered lid that had been placed in the cornerstone of their newly rebuilt church well over a hundred years before. It had also been subsequently “misplaced” as both the church and the town grew up around it over the years, and was actually thought to be lost forever; that is, until a colorful and rather grizzled “treasure hunter” came to us and made it his mission to make sure that which once was lost would soon be found!
And found it he did; and when finally a few months later we came together as a congregation to open that box it was a major media event: all three of the local television news outlets sent their camera crews, the church historian and I were interviewed on the evening news, and at least one local reporter treated the question of “what’s in the box” pretty much on the same level as another media mystery of that era, the contents of Al Capone’s vault! In the end our time capsule turned out to be filled with everything you might expect: coins and mementos from the church’s life in the late 1800’s; old and moldy newspapers from the same era, along with things like a playbill from a music concert held down the street at the local “opera house;” and perhaps most interesting of all, a molten fragment of a church bell fashioned by none other than metalsmith and infamous American patriot Paul Revere, but which had been destroyed in the same fire that brought down their first house of worship.
It was, as I remember, very exciting and a whole lot of fun to be a part of cracking open that little receptacle of history; and yet I also recall feeling a little let down after the big reveal. Looking back, I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting to be inside of that small tin box, but I do know that I wanted to have some kind if glimpse of what life must have been like for that particular group of church people way back in 1883. For instance, what had the pastor preached on that Sunday before this historic marker was set in place? Were his words that day powerful and inspiring, or did his earnest attempt to interpret the Word of God simply fall flat on a “dozin’” congregation? Was there a well-loved hymn sung that day, and how was their singing? What were they praying for, and did they feel as though God had answered?
Ultimately, what I really wanted to know were things like how many children were sitting there with their parents, how they were dressed and how wiggly and unwilling they became to stay still and quiet perched on those hard, straight backed pews; or about what kind of mission outreach they were doing in those days as a congregation (in those days this was a “temperance” church in a river town filled with saloons, so you do the math!), and whether the membership might have been chafing just a bit at the thought of having to raise even more money to complete construction of this new granite church. And wouldn’t any of us have been curious to know what other topics of conversation were being raised amongst the parishioners on Sunday afternoon after the service was done?
Even all these years later, at least one inquiring mind wants to know!
I suppose I wonder about such things because while they are rarely included in church records, even today such matters represent part and parcel of our daily life as the people of God gathered as the church; and moreover, it’s our history. “How very good and pleasant it is,” sang the Psalmist, “when kindred hearts live together in unity!” (133:1) And so it has been, and continues to be, for us; indeed, the choice of a hymn (be it one familiar or one heretofore unknown!) or the subject of a pastor’s sermon on any given Sunday morning might not be the most memorable detail of a church’s story, but the joy with which those people sang that hymn, what they received from God’s Word (because of, or maybe in spite of the pastor’s homiletics!) and how the Holy Spirit moved in and through their lives that day certainly is. Because it’s there in such moments of worship and praise that “the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.” (133:3)
This past Sunday at East Church was our annual celebration of “Children’s Sunday,” which marks the end of another year of Sunday School and is traditionally a fairly “kid-friendly” service of worship complete with silly (but nonetheless praise filled!) songs, riotous laughter and balloons… lots of balloons! Also, as per tradition, we presented gift bibles to two third grade girls who genuinely seemed pleased to receive them; and we did so with the wish and prayer that not only would these Bibles be for these children a source of spiritual knowledge, support and inspiration as they grew up, but also that as the years went by the Bibles would also serve as a reminder, wherever and however they happened to be in life, that they were a part of a church family who always loved them and would be praying for them back in Concord, New Hampshire.
I like to think that this promise is more than mere lip service; that years from now, long after this worship service was done, the bulletins thrown away and the details of a children’s message faded into memory, there will remain these strong, loving adults whose deep Christian faith was first nurtured amongst a group of wonderfully caring church people whose love of God in Jesus Christ was palpable in everything that they were, and who inspired them all those years later to bring that same level of love, joy and faith to their own children.
Because ultimately, that’s the history that really matters.
c. 2015 Rev. Michael W. Lowry