Over the past two years Dr David Davies – a Member at Broxbourne – has been working with our three churches on writing our histories. Broxbourne’s was published Pentecost 2016, Cheshunt’s in early 2017 and Hertford’s will be published on Easter Sunday this year. Collectively we have 818 years of faithful church life recorded… and there is unrecorded or informal life that lead to official formation of fellowships to add to this tally of years. All our churches have had ups and downs, challenges and successes, but the fact that we are still here shows that our churches have always adapted to the times to stay both relevant to the changing world and faithful to our unchanging God as the years have gone by. Hertford has in its archives (and reproduced in the book) an impressive array of photographs and portraits of ministers, the earliest of which is from 1705. The original minute book from 1673 is now in the County archives. Looking at these there is an amazing sense of heritage, awe even, as today we can pick up, handle, read, and see what our forebears were doing hundreds of years ago.
They would not have begun to image the world we now live in… mind you, how many of us did even when we were children? One of the singers of my more youthful days was Bob Dylan with his ‘The times they are a-changing’. Change they did and change they do. No sooner do we get settled with one change than another is hot on its heels: there is no let-up.
So handling our heritage and creating tomorrow’s heritage are both awesome things, and the latter requires us to have our feet in the world, up with the ways the world is changing, while our hearts are tuned into God’s heart giving us a firm foundation whatever happens around us.
Our greatest heritage is one that, perhaps, through our familiarity with it, loses its awesomeness, and that is the heritage of the life of Jesus and the change he brought into the world. We read and hear the story many times in our lives. We think we know what it means. But I still find that even after theologically trained reading and delving in the story for 42 years, I have only begun to discover what that story means. That’s awesome! Or at least, it is to me. New truths still come out of familiar texts and things make more sense than they did!
Snatches of that awesomeness cutting through the familiarity have been found by those on pilgrimage with me to the Holy Land, but not in the places that have been smothered with layers of change so much as in the unchanging scenery of the Sea of Galilee, or the ancient roads walked by the ancestors of our faith. Sometimes things change so they are unrecognisable, yet this shows the progression of change, and bonds the present to the past.
This is not so we can uncover and live in the past, but use the heritage of our past to guide us into the future. The way Jesus walked through his life guides us in the way we should walk through our lives. Knowing our heritage we can, and should, ask of any situation ‘What would Jesus do?’, but that is only a starter question: the challenging one is ‘What would Jesus have us do?’ Knowing our heritage, and seeing how our forebears lived out the faith in their day is a good spur to us to live lives which write the history that will be read by generations yet to be born: the history of how we walk the way of Jesus today.