“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” —Shannon Alder
Legacy. It’s something we tend to think about more as we get to a certain age, or when our careers reach a certain point. We reflect on what we want our legacy to be, what we want to leave behind us when we depart from a place or depart from this world. We contemplate what kind of lasting imprint we hope we will have left, a gift or an accomplishment or some blessed memory that endures long after we have gone.
In the Minnesota Conference UCC, we now have “legacy pastors.” These are pastors serving a congregation that has reached a stage in its life cycle where questions about legacy are foremost in mind. A legacy pastor helps a congregation discern whether it is time to faithfully conclude their ministry or attempt a re-birth of ministry. If the congregation determines it is indeed time to conclude its ministry, the legacy pastor guides them in making concrete decisions about the legacy they will leave behind in their communities, in the wider church, and beyond. It is precious and tender work.
In truth, discerning the kind of legacy we want to leave is a life-long, prayerful endeavor. That is true for us as individual disciples and as communities of Christ. Our legacy is not something we create in a single moment of time, but something we shape with each unfolding season, with each impactful decision we make along the journey.
It is a healthy exercise for all of us – individuals, congregations, and Conference – to periodically examine the legacy we are building. Congregational leadership can take time to ask itself questions like these as part of a regular practice of discernment:
- How do others in our community view us, and how do we want to be seen and understood by others? What stories do others tell about us? What are the stories we long for them to tell about us?
- What unique gifts and contributions of our church would be missing in the communities we are a part of if we no longer existed? How does our church and our ministry matter to others?
- What decisions are we making now that will have long-term implications for the life of our church, and what are those implications?
- How are we making a meaningful difference in the life of our members and in our community? What meaningful difference do our hearts long to make?
- How are we stewarding our gifts (of all kinds) to fulfill Christ’s commission to love God with our whole heart and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves?
- What is the legacy we are building? What about our ministry is leaving an enduring imprint on our members, our community, and the wider world?
- How might God be calling us in this moment to faithfully and courageously be the Church in ways that will powerfully shape our legacy?
I’m reminded of the chorus of a hymn I love (lyrics by Steve Green):
“O may all who come behind us find us faithful.
May the fire of our devotion light their way.
May the footprints that we leave, lead them to believe,
And the lives we live inspire them…”
What legacy is your congregation crafting? My prayer is that all who come behind us will indeed find that we have been faithful.
With you on the journey,
Rev. Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister