“I remember when we did it this way”

19-keith-nethery-columnBy Rev. Canon Keith Nethery

I swore I wouldn’t do it! With great enthusiasm I proclaimed that I would never say, “Well I remember when we did it this way.”

It drove me crazy when people of the generation (or two) ahead of me would make reference to the good old days and how much better it was. As someone who was about to make a significant imprint in a world that was sorely in need of change and new experiences, I boldly went where I thought everyone should go. I couldn’t wait to get out of the little burg that I inhabited to find the bright lights and the big city. Now I’d like to be back in the little burg remembering when.

I guess I’ve seen a change or two in the world. Show a ten-year-old one of those old black phones that are mostly used as doorstops these days, and they won’t believe that you could possibly use that to talk to your friends. Try to explain what a party line was and they will roll their eyes and the discussion is over.

Perhaps an old codger like me needs to be taken to task by those who take me back to those days when I wanted to change the world.

I’m grudgingly coming to admit that it is true; that we do change as we get older. I suppose I’m a bit of a strange dichotomy because in some ways I couldn’t wait for the new and improved and in other ways every pair of shoes I’ve ever had has worn heels from having them implanted firmly in the ground. I thought that my new electric lawn mower, no cord involved, that I bought this year, was the best thing ever; but it took me 15 years to warm up to plastic bank cards. For the record, I still think we were better off when you had to have cash in your pocket to buy something.

I find myself in this constant conversation about new versus old, traditional versus progressive around church these days as well. I’ve graduated to power point screens instead of books; a variety of styles rather than just traditional hymns; I’m committed to someday getting rid of pews in favour of chairs that allow you to configure worship space anyway you wish. Not everyone agrees with me.

Perhaps the answer is that we need people from all perspectives. Perhaps an old codger like me needs to be taken to task by those who take me back to those days when I wanted to change the world. And maybe, just maybe, I should have listened to the wise advice of the tedious 59-year-olds who had much to tell a younger me.

It seems that every day my Facebook feed is full of articles advising me on the latest can’t miss way to grow your church. Never is there a clergy gathering when new ideas, new methods aren’t put forward. Change is good, sometimes we should change to go forward, sometimes we should change and go back to what we used to do.

The longer I draw breath on God’s earth, the more convinced I am that nobody ever has the one and only right idea. We need to engage each other, across generations, cultures, worship styles… and see what we come up with.

This old guy has taken to asking young people about their tattoos. I begin by saying I would never get one, but I am intrigued by the one(s) that you have. Why did you get it? What’s the story behind it? I’m fascinated by what I learn, but I’m entrenched in my no-ink zone. Maybe, just maybe a part of the secret to what works in church is to create conversations, tell stories, listen to others and then see what we can do together.

I used to be one of those people who, with the passion of youth, thought I had all the right tools to go forward. Now I’m more concerned if I’m asking the right questions to start a fruitful conversation.

Rev. Canon Keith Nethery is Rector at Holy Trinity St. Stephen’s Memorial, London.

(Featured photo: Alex Harvey, Unsplash)