Do you know where God is calling you to go? Okay, let us get a bit more general. Do you know where you are going? More basic? Do you know where you are coming from? How about considering from a larger perspective? Can you answer these questions about your local church congregation? If not, read on and think about where these thoughts might lead.
Like many others, I have a bit of curiosity about where I come from. What is my family origin? What is my family history? How did we get to northeast Kansas? You know the drill. I have been using online tools the last few years to see what I can piece together. I didn’t know my grandparents, and now my parents are both gone, so there are a lot of questions that will most likely remain unanswered. I believe my task is to document what I can to preserve that history for future generations. And even with some of the limitations, I keep finding names and references to homes that make me ask questions about whether they are in my extended family tree.
At this point, you might ask what this rambling has to do with Lay Servant Ministries. This is my explanation. If you are familiar with LSM, you will know that there are multiple categories of study that are required for certification as a Certified Lay Servant, Certified Lay Speaker or Certified Lay Minister. One of these categories is UM Heritage. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines heritage as “something transmitted or acquired from a predecessor.” We have lots of predecessors of whom to keep track.
I have found considerable amounts of information on my personal family tree. My ‘church family tree’ is a bit more challenging. That heritage covers a wider territory. I am not sure if it is appropriate or not, but we often use heritage and history interchangeably. Do you know your church history? The ultimate ‘church history’ is commonly found in many places in our society. Of course, that ultimate history is called the Holy Bible. It has names, lineages, stories and other writings for the family of God. But like my own family history, there are huge gaps if my church history leaps from Revelation to John Wesley and then to today.
In "The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline," "it is strongly recommended that charge conference elect a church historian." It is the responsibility of the historian to keep track of records regarding that charge. This can be a challenge but can also be a joy as you discover the history of ministry in your local community.
Lay Servants come in all shapes, sizes and interests. (Remember, we are not all called to fill a pulpit.) If your interest falls to a curiosity of history, maybe you have found your niche in the world of Lay Servant Ministries. (Even if your charge has a designated historian, they will probably be thrilled for assistance in finding and keeping these records.) Jump in!
I have recently participated in Local Church Historian School presented by the General Commission on Archives and History. This has been eye-opening for me but gave lots of great information. Topics include job descriptions, items to collect/archive, how to preserve, where to preserve…you get the picture. (I believe it may be next fall, but this school will happen again if you are interested.) Don’t wait for a class, start collecting your history now.
Your history of course will contain names and dates but remember to include the stories as well. Here is one of my stories:
“My local church remembers the organist (when I was very young) who was a retired schoolteacher. Each Sunday, she sat on the front pew with ‘red pencil’ in hand and a copy of the sermon. On Sunday afternoon before the pastor returned to seminary, she went through her critique with him. The way it gets told in our congregation is that she was teaching ‘English as a Second Language’ to the young seminarian raised in the hills of Arkansas."
These are the types of stories that can be treasured.
Now is the time. Whether you want to be a "Certified" or not, if you have an interest in collecting and preserving the history of your church, you are a Lay Servant. This can be your ministry. Share it freely. And if you want a more formal description of UMC Heritage, watch for when LSM courses are offered. History does not need to be dull. You might find lots of connections in this larger "family tree." I hope to find you (or your congregation) on my tree. Remember, knowing where you have been and where you are now is a great way to measure where your ministry is going—and if you are making progress getting there.