In the midst of spring fever, as we unclutter crowded closets, toss out items from a packed attic, and sort through a congested garage, we are liberated from the confines of our mess. We create more room in each nook and cranny of the house, feeling as if we have performed an exorcism. We cast aside all that is burdensome or restricting. We fill numerous trash bags and discard everything that is unnecessary. We leave no stone unturned and do not keep anything that we have not used for years.
We need a chance to castoff, clearing out not only our houses, but also our minds, by throwing away items that were once a blessing, but that are now a burden. Despite the fact that we have not used something for years, it does not always make it easy, though, to discard. We find this even in the church, as we say, "We have done it that way for years." The dogma of routine can damage as much as it can set free. However, in the fervor of cleaning out, we can actually throw out the old when it is the vehicle for the new. One way the church has always changed, finding new life in its midst, is through reclaiming.
We should not always throw out the old for the sake of the new; rather, we can keep part of what is old in order to create something new through reclaiming. I was reminded of the practice of reclaiming by revisiting the origins of several old traditions, as defined by Richard Foster in Streams of Living Water. Whereas, we do not want to preserve the old because "we have always done it that way;" we do want to reclaim why we began to do it, which may birth something new altogether.
I grew up sitting in Sunday school classes surrounded by ancient biblical maps and dusty chalk boards, but I never knew that in the eighteenth century "Sunday School" began as a way to provide education to children who lived in poverty, using the only day that was available for those lessons. The church taught reading, writing, and Christian faith, meeting a particular need and championing education. With the introduction of public education, Sunday school became about religious instruction solely.
Reaching even further back in the pages of history, we discover the order of widows back in 1 Timothy 5, where a widow was "well attested for her good works," having "brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saint's feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to doing good in every way." We discover empowered pastoral ministry, honoring service to others. In the years to come, these tasks of the widow would be limited to prayer and fasting unfortunately, but there is a great deal to reclaim for women and men, despite age or status, noting the profound tasks of authentic ministry.
Turning the pages back one more time, we also see the origins of deacon ministry, which we reclaim in the book of Acts, as the first deacons are chosen to "wait on tables." They are responsible for making sure that everyone who needs a distribution of bread receives it. Looking back at the beginning, we see much that we can reclaim, not only for the work of deacons, but also for the work of the church. It is old and dusty, but it is also offers something new if we reclaim it.
In looking into the pages of yesterday, we might reclaim baptism as a declaration of ordination, as every person is a minister in the name of Jesus Christ. We might reclaim communion as a means of grace, where the table calls us to live with reverence, making our everyday lives a means of grace as well. We might reclaim table fellowship, building the church into a fellowship of believers, as a place of hospitality and intergenerational community. We can look at the beginning, reclaiming yesterday, which may hasten changes for tomorrow.
Clinging to the past for the sake of avoiding change is wearisome, for the routine and the rhythms of the church are to cultivate the conversion of our lives over the course of a lifetime. In facing such change, the reticence to try something new might be alleviated, in part, by recognizing that it is actually something old. We can cling to the practice of reclaiming, perusing the pages of yesterday, while ever changing along the way.