At the back of our church was a small, rather drab, bookcase. It was used to store songbooks, and Bibles. But we had bought a larger new one, and we were going to redecorate, so we wondered about chucking it out.
The brakes went on.
Because fixed to the top of the bookcase was a small plaque, saying it had been given in memory of one of the founder members of the church, who had died distressingly young, by his widow. Whose family still came.
And as far as I know, the bookcase is still there.
1. Don’t just ask about the facts, ask about the story behind. Not just, ‘Shall we get rid of the bookcase?, but ‘What’s the story of how we got the bookcase?’ ‘What’s the story behind why Fred always does the reading at the Christmas Eve service?’ ‘What’s the story behind our policy on remarrying divorced people?’ Because there will be one. Get to know the history.
2. Give the story behind what you want to move forwards, and that must at root be the gospel story, however much local flavour you give it. The gospel was the only story powerful enough to help that grieving family let go of the bookcase, and serve the rest of the church in a healthy way.
3. And never, ever, ever accept a gift with a plaque on it. Pulpits, windows, lecterns, pews, clocks – they become impossible to get rid of because of their emotional freight. I’ve sometimes muttered that if I were ever involved in a major building project, I’d want a big plaque on the wall, saying “This building was opened in 2013, in the confident expectation that it will be demolished in twenty years’ time to be replaced by something better.”
OK, that third point might be a touch overstated.