A Sort of Homecoming
It was strange visiting familiar places over the past ten days: White Rock, Victoria, Kelowna – all significant locations in my personal journey. It was a quick trip down memory lane as we visited former homes and old haunts and long time friends and family members. My memories were triggered at every bend in the road and I experienced a keen nostalgia as we travelled past familiar landmarks. It was a sort of homecoming.
And yet these once familiar places have changed. The trees near our old condo are no longer saplings, they are giants that reach beyond the roof tops. The fields that once bordered some of the roads are now littered with more strip malls (will it never end?). Even relationships with friends and family have become morphed through time and distance.
Change brings disillusionment to nostalgia.
One of the reasons for my trip was a Pastor and Spouse retreat on Vancouver Island. The topic was “Transition” and the speaker shared some helpful thoughts regarding the process of change – from orientation to disorientation to reorientation. It is a journey that we have come to know well. During the session, he stated that we don’t often deal well with change, as individuals and as church communities, because we don’t know how to let go of the pain and disappointments and sorrows of the past. This is very true. These negative memories can hinder healthy transitions.
But it is not just the painful stuff that we need to let go. We also need, I believe, to let go of the good and the beautiful. It is this ‘longing for the good old days’, this sentimental nostalgia, that may hold us back even more than our past pains.
Celebrating the past is good but hanging on to it can be a hindrance.
During the retreat, Christine and I had lunch with a pastor who had just returned from several speaking engagements in Wales. He commented that the spiritual life of the churches in Wales seemed low but people got excited as they talked about the days of revival that happened over one hundred years ago. They longed for God to do that again. And they expected it to look the same as it did in 1904.
Paul, a character in the 2011 film ‘Midnight in Paris’, comments that, ’Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one is living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.’
I sense the truth of these words.
We are in our 115th year of life and witness as a church community at FBC Nelson. This a long history filled with stories and memories of good times and difficult times. Through them all, God has been faithful. We are now about to enter a new chapter as we welcome Kristin on staff to develop our school-age care and summer outreach with children and families. We also have new people beginning to take on leadership roles with event planning, worship and kids ministry, and we anticipate further growth and change during this time of transition. But, in order to move from disorientation to reorientation, we must be careful not to foster nostalgic expectations regarding ministry success.
Don’t expect 100 children to magically appear in some kind of Sunday School revival. Don’t expect our membership rolls to explode with new converts eager to join in traditional Bible studies and gender groupings. Don’t look for freshly pressed shirts and long skirts and whole families sitting together in the pew every single Sunday. Let go of these nostalgic longings in order to make room for all that God has in store for us. Something new is coming.
White Rock and Victoria and Kelowna will always remain important to me. But this recent trip helped to show me that they are not where I belong. As we crossed the Kootenay River on the Taghum bridge, my girls began to get excited. A few minutes later we passed the ‘Welcome to Nelson’ sign and their excitement turned to loud cheers – we were home.
“Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:5