I’m happy I was able to join my son on a field trip to 1892, to spend the day at a one-room schoolhouse. It was delightful, but it reminded me of a trip I took when I lived in the UK to a similar historical preservation experience.
At the Beamish open-air museum, we saw tiny houses that miners once inhabited, old fashioned stores with candies and products one would never see in stores today. So much has changed. But nothing prepared me for the shock of visiting the preserved Methodist church from that time.
The church preserved in the museum was just like many and perhaps most churches I’d visited in the present day.
Many people, including a very large number of Christians, approach the Christian faith as though it is a museum curiosity, something interesting and even vitally important to be preserved from the past. For some, it is the whole enterprise that is like this – like an open air museum, one should preserve not just the doctrines but the forms, the church styles and architecture, and the cultural values in which they once flourished and made sense. For others, the faith is more like an object from the past that can be removed from its original setting, and placed in an ultra-modern glass case in a high-tech museum.
For a progressive Christian, Christianity is a living thing. As a result, it may compare to its earlier modes of existence in the way an adult human compares with his or her infancy and childhood. There may, in fact, be none of the same cells whatsoever, and the continuity may be hard to define and yet unmistakable. You may not recognize him/her/it from “baby pictures”. That’s normal for living things.
Make no mistake. Museums are great at preserving artifacts of the past. But I wouldn’t want to live there, in most cases (if you’ll excuse the pun). Different venues are usually more appropriate as habitats for the living. Where is your faith most at home? Is it something that you find you need to preserve, with or without the assistance of a taxidermist, or is it something you can allow to roam freely?