Going Back

There is a house in my hometown that has always had an owner named Davis. My grandparents were the first occupants of the house. They moved into it as newlyweds in the mid-1920’s. It was then at the edge of town. They both lived there for the rest of their lives. During that time they made very few changes to the house. When my grandmother died in 1985, my brother bought the house from my dad. My brother has lived there ever since. Because of this long association with this one house, I have very vivid memories of all of its nooks and crannies.

Inside the back door of the house (one of those back doors where your choice is to go up about eight steps to the kitchen or down eight steps to the basement) there was built into the wall something like looked very much like the accompanying picture. (The original no longer exists since my brother removed it soon after he moved in.) Do you know what it is? It is an icebox. Now, you may have grown up calling your refrigerator the “icebox” but these doors and the insulted compartments behind them are not connected to electricity. They are literally “ice boxes.” When my grandparents bought their brand new house, this was quite an innovation. On a regular schedule, ice would be delivered to their house and placed in this convenience to keep food cold. By the time I first remember this house, there was no longer a use for these compartments except for storage. There was a humming refrigerator in the kitchen and a huge deep freeze in the basement, both powered by electricity.

There were companies that delivered ice to homes in every town and city in the first decades of the 20th century. At first there were horse drawn wagons and then trucks that would make deliveries. When refrigeration became widespread, many of these companies went out of business. They believed that their mission was to deliver ice. When huge blocks of ice were no longer needed, the companies lost their mission and closed down. But, a few ice delivery companies realized that their mission was not to deliver ice. It was to keep food cold. Their wise managers moved them into the refrigeration business. This is the essence of resilience, to know your core mission and to adjust to changing times in order to meet it.

Churches often confuse their core mission. They think their purpose is to have worship in the sanctuary at 10 a.m.; or to host a huge Vacation Bible School every summer; or to continue a mission to people who are different from most of the members of the congregation in a way that may now seem more toxic than it once did. But none of those are the purpose of the church. We are not in the worship at a certain time in a certain way or VBS the second week of June or give them mittens whether they need them or not business. We are in the gospel delivery business.
You will hear lots of talk in your congregation in the weeks ahead about going “back.” If we think only of going back to what we were, we will have wasted all of the suffering of the last few months and ignored the revelations about the way inequity around race is not only the original sin of this country, but its continuing besetting sin. We are not going back. We are going forward. Forward into a world where those with whom we share the gospel may never enter our buildings. Forward to a time when sharing the gospel with children will be accomplished in myriad ways. Forward to a time when we look for partnerships with people who need material assistance so that we listen to them before we decide what we should do. Our business is not to be the church as we have known it. It is to share the gospel so that we are bringing hope in the name of Jesus.
Rev. Susan (Sue) Krummel
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago