My wife Heidi is a member of Old South Church, a United Church of Christ congregation in Boston. If you don’t know Old South, you should check them out. They do amazing things in the city of Boston, including helping the city to heal after the Boston Marathon bombing happened, almost literally, right on their doorstep. Their ministry since 1669 has included everything from hosting planning meetings for the Boston Tea Party to being one of the first churches anywhere to reach out to people with AIDS in the very early days of the epidemic. I’m not sure I know of another congregation that has been so on the cutting edge of ministry so consistently for so long.
Last spring Old South had an important congregational decision to make. The congregation was the owner of two copies of the first book ever published in the British colonies, the Bay Psalm Book. Published in 1640, only eleven still exist, and only five are complete copies. Old South’s copies have been safely ensconced in the Boston Public Library across the street for some time now, but have remained dear to the hearts of the church. They are a beloved part of their history.
Which is why when the proposal came before the church to sell one copy, it was not an easy decision to make. Was selling one of these books tantamount to selling off their heritage? Were they making a short sighted decision that they would later regret? Were they being good stewards of what they had been given?
In this first week of Advent the church traditionally talks about hope. We talk about the hope that Christ brought to us when he was born in Bethlehem, and we talk about the hope which is to come. And, if we are really looking closely, we even talk about how we see evidence of that hope all around us. But what we sometimes forget is that as important as it is to look for hope, participating in that hope in bold ways is even more important.
Old South voted to sell their Bay Psalm Book. And last week, two days before Thanksgiving, it was auctioned off in New York City for $14.2 million dollars. $13.1 million of those dollars will come directly back to the church, which will use that money to continue to fund their ministries to the city of Boston and to the world. Because they sold the Bay Psalm Book, people will be fed and sheltered, a church that welcomes all will be strengthened, and a witness to the world of Christ’s hope will shine a little brighter.
That’s not to say that this was a decision that cost the church nothing. It is hard to let go of something that you cherish so greatly as this congregation cherished this part of their heritage. But in the end, they took seriously Christ’s call to us to “sell all you own and follow me”. And even as they let go…because they let go…they found hope. And that hope will be shared with others for years to come.
Question: Are you holding on to something in your life so tightly that you don’t have a free hand left to grasp hope?
Prayer: Holy God, you can use anything to create hope. Show us the places and things in our lives that we can use to create hope for others. And then, give us the will to use those things in new ways that we may find Christ’s hope for us, and for the world. Amen.