Congratulations – if you’re reading this you’re a legacy beneficiary!
I realized my own legacy recipient status reading CT Conference Minster Kent Siladi’s story of the closing of First Congregational Church of Stamford, CT – the church of his baptism, confirmation, and ordination – and its intention to be reborn as a new church in a different location. I thought of the church that nurtured my growing up and into ministry – Trinity Church, Shelburne Falls, MA. I also remembered First Congregational Church of Waverly, Belmont, MA, which merged with Senuri Korean Church just five years after hosting my ordination, then closed ten years later.
While its essential meaning is a gift of money or property through a will, the term legacy embraces all the many gifts received from predecessors. We are all legacy beneficiaries of the faith communities that nurtured us. Some, such as Trinity, continue. Others, like the Stamford and Waverly Church are no more. Yet their impact continues, present in new forms of church that emerged from them, and embodied in the lives, discipleship, and ministries of the people they helped to form.
For churches considering closure legacy is a primary issue. They must ask themselves, “What – among all that remains – can we pass on that may bless others beyond our existence?”
Legacy thinking is challenging. To think in terms of legacy we have to acknowledge our time is limited and that we have something to pass on by which others may be blessed. We must also accept that something about our passing may be part of what makes others flourish… with our without us.
For church people, it also means a shift in thinking: Acknowledging we have been the spiritual heirs – yes, legacy beneficiaries – of others, having been shaped and blessed by what was passed on to us. The awareness that all we have and are church we are holding in trust not only for those here now but for those who will come after us. A trust – not to be hoarded or saved only for a rainy day – but used to introduce others to Jesus by proclaiming and embodying the good news of God’s love for all.
So, what if legacy thinking guided all our church decisions? I don’t mean making plans for an eventual end to a church’s ministry. (Though, given that all churches have a beginning and end, this isn’t necessarily a bad idea!) But what if we conducted church life aware of what we’ve received and knowing what we hold in trust should bless others in a future we won’t know? What if we made decisions not primarily to perpetuate our church – arguably, a perversion of our legacy responsibility – but purposefully and boldly, with risk and experimentation, because we know our primary call is to have impact God intends. No matter whether or not church in the forms we know it continues.
One of the things I appreciate about the Together, As One Tri-Conference union effort is that it’s a manifestation of legacy thinking. This isn’t because we’re focused on our end but because we’re being guided by our discerned purpose – a difference-making mission to more powerfully support congregations in the many ways they bless the world – today and into a future only God knows for sure.
Again, congratulations to us all on being legacy beneficiaries. May the Spirit of the Living Christ guide us in acting now like the spiritual ancestors that we will be one day!
Many Voices, One Mission is a regular series highlighting the ministries of the
CT, MA, and RI Conference of the United Church of Christ.
The Rev. Dr. Jonathan New is Associate Conference Minister for Stewardship and Financial Development for the Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ.