Professor Yolanda Pierce – who was the Curator of Religious Artifacts for the National Museum of African American Culture and History and now serves as the Dean of the Howard University Divinity School – once said that the difference between treasures and trash is that treasures have a story attached. Thanks be to God, people through the years saved Nat Turner’s Bible and the shards of glass from the stained glass windows of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham after terrorists bombed it. And now we can see them here.
Lots of us save things we don’t really need. People of a certain generation blame this on The Depression. Others of us are just lazy. There are piles on our desks and we are slow to clear the piles.
I have enough historical information to open a museum dedicated to my parents and grandparents. How many of the same pictures of my grandfather do I need to save? I have 20 copies of the exact same pose. Why? I have all my parents love letters when he was based at Fort Huachuca and she was home living with her parents. Hundreds of letters about pretty much nothing. But I’m never getting rid of them.
What do we save and why?
Churches save the minutes of meetings and the bulletins of special worship services. We save the random gifts that parishioners give us when they don’t want to get rid of them from jars of expired jellies left for the food pantry to Precious Moments figurines they think will look nice in the church parlor. A parishioner once gave me a box of vintage troll dolls (some of you might remember these little creatures with the fun hair) to put in the church nursery. She didn’t have the heart to give them to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that when a congregation spends more time pondering what to save – whether we are talking about the old lamps in the church library or the annual Chili Dinner – than pondering what God might be doing next, that church needs to reassess its priorities.
COVID has helped with this issue somewhat. When we are concerned about an international pandemic and the health of our neighbors, we don’t have as much time to wrestle with whether or not to save the old pew cushions even though they were replaced with new ones in 2008.
Are you a saver? Is your church a congregation of savers? And does saving old things hold us back or remind us of a holy story? Do we save trash that weigh us down or do we save treasures that remind us of life-changing moments?
Image of shards of glass found by Joan Trumpauer Mulholland outside what remained of the 16th Street Baptist Church on September 18, 1963, the day of the funeral for three of the little girls killed in a bombing perpetrated by four klansmen. This, my friends, is part of the story of our nation even though some want to silence this history.