This past weekend I had the privilege of preaching at the New Hope Presbyterian Church annual homecoming service. New Hope Presbyterian sits along Highway 86 between Hillsborough and Chapel Hill. The congregation is 259 years old.
The church, like many colonial churches, owns and manages hundreds of acres. Over the years the acreage has evolved. Along with a camp and a wooded park-like area, the church manages a very large, very old cemetery at the bottom of the hill along the highway. Grave after grave tells a story of family, faith, and trust in God.
In one section of the cemetery there is a succession of graves marked simply “unknown.” In my first look these markers made me sad. Who were these people? Why were their lives and stories unknown?
As I stood there and thought and meditated a little longer, though, I saw the markers in another light. Even though they were unknown people and souls, they were there alongside those who were well known, who were pillars of the community, whose families had tilled and shaped the very soil upon which the church stands. The church was caring for them, even though they were unknowns, in the only way they could be cared for. In this new light I saw that the markers, though they made me sad, said something important about the faith and perseverance of the church itself.
A church is called to be a steward of many things. At White Memorial, we believe we are called to be stewards of multiple levels of abundance. We enjoy an abundance of resources, talents, insights, know-how and abilities in our church. All of this abundance contributes to our stewardship of the future.
Back at the cemetery, I saw for one of the few times in my life that parts of the past could be unknown. While I was in worship, I was reminded that the future is always unknown. Acts of stewardship are acts of faith as the stewards trust God to provide in the days to come. Stewardship is always a future-oriented project.
Every now and then someone will send me an article from a “churchy” publication. Most of these articles predict impending doom for the church in North America. Most of these publications draw straight lines between denominational struggles and decline and the diminishing of the centrality of church life in the lives of many Americans. These articles always get my attention.
But then I am reminded that the future is yet to be written. I am reminded that the future is a big unknown. I am reminded that ours is God’s church, and the church endures because God wills it so. It is like that old line from the gospel tradition: “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”
In the coming days we begin to build that future again as our fall ministry efforts get underway. We begin so many wonderful studies, opportunities to serve and chances to grow in faith together. Won’t you join us? In this way we might be known to each other, and in this knowledge contribute to a future worthy of our faith.