Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What is Past IS Prologue

Along with this post I’ve included a picture of a statue, which is located outside of the National Archives Building in Washington D.C. The statue is carved from a single block of limestone, and at the base are the words, “What is past is prologue” a paraphrase taken from William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest. This statue and its quotation is often referred to as people begin a speech or to make a point. There are many versions of the story, but the one I’m most familiar with involves one that has been attributed to former North Carolina Senator Jessie Helms.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any proof to back up the attribution, but even this very day I heard a talk radio personality here in Atlanta refer to it. The Helms version of the story involves a tourist visiting the National Archives and upon viewing the statue she reads the quotation, “What is past is prologue,” and asks a cab driver about the meaning of the quotation.

The cab driver responds, “It means….it means you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

What is past is prologue. You "haven't" seen “anything” yet. Take your pick of the two as you will, but I like them both. Both convey my thoughts today as I’m finishing up a series of four posts that I began here. As I begin to share my postings with a few church friends of mine I might make them angry, I might find they share many of my same feelings, I might be opening a door I might regret, but one thing I know as an educator…..if in my journey to sort through my own beliefs, I cause just one person to confront their own beliefs, to express their own thoughts to others, or to chart their own course….then I have achieved something.

In my classroom I often begin a lesson with students by telling them a story from my past, or from our country’s past, and asking questions in order to dust off the flywheels of their brains and shake sleepyheads awake. Not that I’m trying to teach in this instance because I feel woefully ill equipped regarding religious matters, but in order to bring you along with me as I sort out my thoughts, I’ll press on.

I learned an important lesson at the age of 15 under the guiding hands of my mother and my pastor, Rev. Larry Stewart. Beginning around the age of 12 I simply dreaded the final part of our worship service every Sunday. The congregation would begin singing the hymn of invitation. Rev. Stewart would give his heartfelt invitation to proceed to the alter, admit to being a sinner, ask for forgiveness, and of course to join the church through profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and by rite of baptism.

The knot would begin to form in the pit of my stomach and would then rise to my throat where it would lodge. No matter what I tried I couldn’t make it go up or down. It felt like my throat was closing in on me. Close to tears I would try to think of anything else other than walking down that aisle. I thought about what we would eat for lunch, a school assignment, multiplication facts…….anything that would get my mind off that hymn of invitation and Rev. Stewart up their waiting for me. I’d say a silent prayer of thanks as the song would end, the invitation would close, and I was safe for another week.

The reasons for my hesitancy were varied…..I didn’t want to be the center of attention, I was afraid I’d cry, I was afraid my mother would cry, and so on. I knew this was THE major event in my life, and I wanted to get it right. This was more important than choosing a vocation, a college, a spouse, or making a decision to have children. For some reason I thought I should be experiencing something more than just a decision to go up during an invitation. I thought I should see angels, I thought God would actually speak aloud to me, and I was simply waiting……..God would provide, God would show me something, God would make it happen when HE was ready. God would handle it.

I didn’t realize He was already handling it.

Finally, my mother took things into her own hands and on the sly told the pastor that she was pretty sure I had been ready for sometime, but I needed some motivation. It was the custom in our church to go forward following the service to greet any new members and shake the pastor’s hand. The next Sunday following mother’s private conversation with the pastor, I went up with her to go through the line in order to shake hands. Rev. Stewart was a big bear of a man….tall, imposing, massive hands that could get your attention by pounding on the pulpit as he gave his sermons, yet so very meek and gentle as well. As the person in front of me moved on Pastor Stewart grabbed me, and put his arm around me in a very strong side hug. With his other hand he rapped his knuckles on top of head and said, “Little lady, what are YOU waiting for…..lightning to strike? I looked up and met his eyes as he said, “I expect to see you up here soon, ok?”

I took that very important walk up the aisle the very next Sunday morning, and that lump in my throat has never, NEVER returned.

Sometimes God moves through other people. Sometimes God’s plan isn’t what we want or expect. God plan moves ahead when you do something, when others do something, or when a group moves together in one accord. There has to be an act on your part, or as I’ve told my fourth graders as we wrestle over identifying the verb in a sentence……”It’s the doin’. What is the somebody doin’?” Sometimes YOU and your actions are the special secret ingredients in order to move God’s plan along.

Sometimes a church like my own finds itself undergoing an interim period…a time without a pastor. From my experiences and research regarding the matter an interim period is not an easy passage, but they are to be expected. We even see in the Bible that ministry is a transitional thing. Mose leadership did not continue forever even during a time period when it seemed people lived for hundreds of years. There wasn’t just one Judge in Hebrew history, but many. Jesus had no permanent place to lay his head, and the Apostle Paul was never in one church very long.

One thing that has lain heavy on my heart is the notion that if a church is in a period of “inbetween”, they should also be in a period of “sit and wait.” While I agree that I am part of the impatient world demanding my fast food, fast, life, and fast information I understand that God has His own time. I know in my heart God has already chosen a minister to enter our front door….We do have to be patient in that situation….

……BUT does this mean we do nothing but wait patiently?

I say no, and here are the reasons why….

Flipping through some of the historical archives in my church I found a church bulletin dated Sunday, August 1, 1948. Underlined in the middle of the cover page the following is typed: If you love God with heart and soul, you cannot fail to reach the goal.

Underneath the pastor’s name I saw these words as well: The church where everybody is counted for something.

…..where everybody is counted for something. How true!

Ephesians 4: 11-13 and Acts 2: 17-18 are just two passages that can be used to explain every believer is a minister. A very wonderful interim minister stated in my very presence this past Sunday, “If you are Christian, you are a minister.” The next comment made really hit home with me…” In fact, members of the Body of Christ actually have more day to day opportunities to profess our faith than a vocational preacher (paraphrased).”

Wow, with this realization how can we sit and do nothing and say nothing wandering aimlessly about merely waiting?

An interim period should not be a period of “sit and wait”. It should not be a period of “we can’t”. It should never be a period of “we won’t.” It certainly cannot be a period of of purposely having no purpose or direction. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment supercede any of those notions.

It should be a time of work, a time of review, a time of communication, and a time of redirection and change as necessary. An interim period is not the end of something. It is the beginning.

What is past is prologue. One definition of prologue is an introductory scene….the beginning. A time period where “the tone” or vision is set. An interim period should be a time where the body of the church works together to create a great beginning for the new pastor that has already been chosen and will be revealed in His time.

Think for a minute about how you would like to be received by people you are expected to shepherd, and they meet you with the following comments: Well, it’s about time you were here. Give us some directions. Show us the way. We were waiting on you. Who wants to be overwhelmed with a greeting like that?

Getting back to my own personal salvation story….What if my mother and my pastor had suspected my conviction, but had not acted leaving me alone in my inaction?

What if a group of believers had not acted in 1946 to come together and form a church out of nothing? What if after building their church they had given up after a tragic fire in October, 1949 that destroyed that very building six days after it was dedicated?

What if during an interim period a group of believers merely waited with no direction?

God is in control. He is handling our situation…whatever it may be, but we must still act. We still have to do something.

That same church bulletin I referred to above was printed two years after the idea for a church had been born. Printed inside the front cover I found the following comment, “Our Sunday School attendance is good [113], but there are still many people in our community who are unchurched. Let’s keep visiting, and inviting everyone we see to come to church.” Just following that sentence is the quotation, “Units of prayer combined, like drops of water, make an ocean which defies resistence.”

I wonder what the topic of the sermon was that day in 1948 because someone made a few notes in pencil inside the front cover. At the top are three words….organize, planned, directed. Underneath that is another list…..7 duties….All people in all of (two words I can’t make out)….1. Reach all people 2. Hold all people 3. Teach all people 4. Train all people 5. Enlist all people 6. Use all people and 7.…..7. is left off.

Perhaps it is up to us today to fill in 7.

It seems like we could learn a little something from the past to act as our guide.

The past is our beginning....our prologue.

Related Posts:
From Attitude Drift to Attitude Shift
13 Reasons Why Members Leave and Visitors Run


jquiltmaker said...

I enjoyed reading about your experience of "going forward". If I had to pick anything to fill in your #7 on your list, it would be love all people.

elementary historyteacher said...

Yes, I agree. Love should be on that list of seven things somewhere. It was really interesting holding that small little piece of history that most people throw away without even thinking of it. No telling how long it had sat in the folder where I found it.....and back then who knew it would hold little messages for ME...

Your comments through my little journey have meant alot. Hopefully I can get on to regular postings now and not be quite so serious. :)

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