It all started with a very modest second floor renovation project. Both the grand-child and niece who had been living there the last while had moved out. The carpet and paint were 30 years worn. Time to call the flooring and painting people. They would not appreciate the clutter – full bookshelves, full filling cabinets, full closets (left by the previous occupants). Time to start serious down-sizing. Besides, at our age we do need to give some consideration to the travails of the next generation cleaning up after us.
We have done quite well in getting rid of old books – lots of old books. Whole bookshelves full of old books. When a pastor and a scholar live together books accumulate without end. We were even able to dispense with the upstairs bookcases. We had emptied them. But now there were the filing cabinets – packed full of papers - really special, really important papers. A life’s work of scholarship. Filling cabinets so full and so heavy the flooring and painting people might get hernias in their efforts at moving things around.
Old papers – and old sermons – are very hard to dispose of. They carry memories. They represent a life’s work. There might even be a few good ideas and thoughts in them. Do they still have any value at all? Yet we sincerely doubt that anyone in the next generation will want to read them. Out went all of Lydia’s many papers – those she wrote and those she had collected from other scholars. All of them. Three huge recyclable bags so full it was a challenge to carry them downstairs.
Some consolation for Lydia was that she had been able to include some of her best published articles in her recent book (The Challenge is in the Naming: A Theological Journey, published by CMU Press, 2018). Still, it is not easy to throw away stuff that reflects a life-time of work.
I am torn. Lydia faced her downsizing challenge with great courage. Now it is my turn. What do I now do with over 50 years worth of old sermons? Should they suffer the same fate? I smile at a memory. In 2007 I was given a partial sabbatical leave to try to write a book. The congregation – and I - kind of assumed I would seek out what I thought were some of my best sermons and publish them in book form. After reading through a bunch of them I knew they wouldn’t make book material. That got me going on the book that did get published (Dancing Through Thistles in Bare Feet; A Pastoral Journey, published by Herald Press, 2008). We had become friends with a German Lutheran Bishop who spent some sabbatical time in Toronto during which he and his wife attended our church to get a sense of how an Anabaptist Mennonite Church worshipped. At dinner at our place he chuckled as he responded to reading my book. “I’m so glad you made the decision not to print a book of sermons. Those kind of books almost never work.”
So, what’s the point of keeping all those old sermons? They can of course be recycled. But what kind of recycling is best for them? I do need to confess that I did include several of these old sermons in my recently published book The Pastor-Congregation Duet, published by Friesen Press. Maybe that German Lutheran Bishop would not be happy with me.
Aging does face us seniors with a series of losses – though also with some significant gains. As a pastor I constantly heard stories of the losses people experienced as they aged. Bodies and minds do tend to slow down, energy evaporates, mobility is reduced. Many friends and colleagues are gone. Housing is downsized. Even the church community feels more fragile. Older seniors can’t always make it to church on a Sunday morning, especially when they have health issues. They may then feel that they will be forgotten. They are no longer looked to for advice. Perhaps a spouse has died.
And yet, as a pastor, I also heard so many stories of seniors embracing their aging, dealing with their losses, creating new communities and friends, preparing well for death. And now my wife and I are in that space.
Our upstairs is now ready for the flooring and painting people. We are tired but content. And we ponder the next stage of our ageing.