Blog Post by the Rev. Dr. Craig Howard
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy Transitional Leader
In the midst of reading several books a month, I’ve been reading the same book for over a year! I’m simply taking my time reading The Fifties, by David Halberstam. I’m somewhere on page 800 or so. It is such a good read!
I began reading the book because many experts believe the 1950s was the golden age of the church. The decline we are experiencing today did not begin until in 1965. Halberstam provides the cultural context that became the seedbed for the denominational expansion of the Presbyterian church. The 1950s was an expansive time for our country, fueled by soldiers who came home from the war in 1945. These soldiers had a global vision of what was possible and what they wanted out of life. They were not constrained by their depression era parents, and instead saw possibility and opportunity in the new wealth and world leadership of the nation.
However, this period of prosperity was limited. Gil Rendle calls this time in our country an aberration: “a confluence of conditions that prompted growth and strength that later could not be sustained, not only by the church but by a myriad of other organizations and institutions.”
When the church of today tries to be the church of yesterday, Rendle calls that practice “Nostalgia.” Nostalgia means looking backward instead of looking forward. It means trying to become what we were, instead of determining what we can be. Rendle write, “(The church) is still dependent on our memories of size and strength, and still constrained by the polity, policies and practices once effective in a large institution.” He goes on to say, “Nostalgia carries the temptation to work harder at what we already know how to do in order to recapture a time and strength that no longer exists. Nostalgia does not ask us how to be different for the future.”
The call for leadership today is a call to reach toward an undefined future, while resisting the temptation to create an obsolete past. The presbytery, along with each pastor and session must address the question of direction and purpose. In what ways are we seeking to recreate and replicate the church of 1950? Or, how are we re-imagining ways that make us the church for now, and the future? I look forward to having these conversations as we walk together into the unknown future.
Rev. Craig M. Howard