What Legacy Will You Leave?
Last week I had one of those unique opportunities afforded a Conference Minister from time to time. Reverend Carolyn Fure-Slocum, one of our own authorized ministers and College Chaplain at Carleton College, asked me to speak at an event marking the 100th anniversary of the chapel at Carleton in Northfield. It was part of a larger celebration honoring the 150th anniversary of the college.
Carleton College was founded in 1866 by the Congregationalists, one of four streams of church that eventually became the United Church of Christ. This much I knew, but when I started doing some more extensive research in preparation for my evening at Carleton, I was inspired by what I learned.
The founding of Carleton was a visionary, risky, and thoroughly faithful enterprise of the Church. The Congregationalists in Minnesota back then were at the vulnerable place of their own very tender beginning. A book titled “Congregational Work of Minnesota, 1832-1920” described it this way: “The territory of Minnesota had been organized only in 1849. Its population at that time was about 4000. When the decision was reached in 1860 to found a Congregational college, the population [of MN] had risen to 172,023. There were, in the MN of 1860, 47 Congregational churches, ten of them less than a year old, and the average membership of all of them 28. There were only 30 ministers and about 12 church buildings. Not more than three of the congregations were self-supporting.”
Just think of that! Just 47 small churches with a tenuous grip on their own future made the bold commitment to found a college. And that college still flourishes today, nurturing the intellectual and spiritual development of students, reflecting those foundational impulses of the Congregationalists all those years ago to blend a zeal for learning with a deep respect for the sacred.
This narrative of our church ancestors’ forethought and vision causes me to think about the concept of legacy. What legacy are we in the Church of today leaving for those who come after us?
It seems a worthy exercise for us to consider this question. Each of the four predecessor churches of the United Church of Christ left its own imprint on the United Church of Christ of today and on our world. Educational institutions, health & human service organizations, bold missions, & a daring witness for justice in critical moments of history are all part of the enduring legacy they left us. What will our legacy be?
The legacy we leave depends on the vision and character of our ministries today. So take some time to consider questions like these with leadership in your ministry setting:
- What enduring impact does your ministry have on the lives of others? How is that impact evident?
- What are you so passionate about doing in your community that the ripples of that work are felt far beyond the doors of your building?
- How are you planning today for the legacy you wish to leave in the future? Does the vision you have for your congregation’s ministry somehow extend beyond the confines of your current reality? Are you willing to take a risk for the sake of something bold?
- If your church were to ever make the very difficult decision to close, how could your plan for the distribution of your remaining assets leave a legacy that would far out-live your building and your church?
- What do you want your ministry’s legacy to be? What can you do to ensure that legacy?
The context of Church is very different today than it was when our ancestor Congregationalists stepped up so faithfully to found Carleton College. Yet I hope we remain today a people of bold vision and faithful forethought, eager to leave behind a legacy that endures.
With gratitude for all you do,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister