Your church might need a rummage sale

In order for our church spaces to be functional, we need to tackle the junk we've swept under the rug.

In Oshawa, Ontario, in 1978, an unremarkable mall called Five Points was built. I used to go there sometimes as a teen. Over time, business dried up as big box stores started cropping up on the outskirts of town. Eventually, Five Points was torn down and replaced, in 2017, with Dymon Self Storage – a sprawling complex as big as the original mall. The irony hits me every Sunday night as I drive by on my way to frisbee: apparently 40 years was the tipping point.

We shopped for four decades and now our houses are full.

Now the only thing we need is somewhere to keep all the junk.

To keep our living spaces clear, we depend on basements, garages, sheds and storage units to hold our extra stuff.

And then what?

Does it get used or just sit there?

Do we keep a running inventory?

If it’s not a priority for us anymore, will anyone else want it?

“The Great Junk Transfer is coming,” declared a recent Globe article (May 21). “Sorting, storing and disposing of old family belongings will be a labour-intensive challenge in the next decade as baby boomers age.” It reminds me of the title of Plum Johnson’s Canadian memoir: They Left Us Everything. Is the author grateful? Surprised? Overwhelmed? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Or just look up that Globe article, where hundreds of people have posted, in the comments section, their own stories about sorting through a loved one’s possessions after death. It’s a real mixed bag.

“Four levels of clutter that took two years to clean out,” one person says. “My brother and I joked that if the house ever caught on fire, it would have burned for years.”

Another post is wistful: “Unfortunately my mother’s clever trick of hiding her jewelry in vitamin bottles resulted in the loss of a 1-carat, diamond solitaire ring which had been inherited from an ancestor in Europe. I’m positive it lies buried in the town’s garbage dump.”

Stuff management is, of course, big business. You can pay people to help sort your stuff, auction it off, remove it, recycle it, digitize it, or – as I mentioned – store it in temperature-controlled units.

A Netflix reality show called The Home Edit, in the same vein as Marie Kondo but more practical (and marketable: Home Edit storage containers are available at Walmart!), has exploded in popularity. A team of “home editors” take messy areas and throw out, categorize and contain mountains of other people’s stuff. I have mixed feelings about the show, but I admit it’s cathartic to watch. There’s something beautiful about the final scenes, where one small space – a closet or a room – is once again functional. I tackled my linen closet as a result!

The Home Edit show recommends sorting by colour. (The Home Edit Instagram).

Behind the scenes

Why does any of this matter? You can’t tell from looking at me whether my garage is tidy or not. Our storage areas are typically private, their level of cleanliness inconsequential.

But there’s a tipping point, triggered by sheer accumulation or a major event (a move or death). It’s happening in our homes and it’s happening in our churches, too.

Here’s the parallel. To keep our sanctuaries tidy, we depend on closets and portables to hold our extra stuff: those 10 bathrobes for little shepherds, perhaps, but also – metaphorically speaking – abuse of power, sexism, unaddressed conflict, uncomfortable history, sins of hypocrisy.

And then what?

Does it get addressed or just sit there?

If it’s not a priority for the people who worship in that church, what does that say about our integrity as whole-hearted followers of Christ?

Scandals and abuse – even organized criminal activity run by a denomination, as Russell Moore revealed in Christianity Today – kept hidden for years is now coming to light (“This Is the Southern Baptist Apocalypse”). Brave testimonies from individuals deeply wounded by the church are the first crack in the facade, and then, it seems, like with Bruxy Cavey at the Meeting House – who now faces 38 counts of sexual assault – all the garbage comes spilling out.

What impact is this having on a watching world? On the next generation of Christians? What will survive the Church Junk Transfer, and how messy is the process going to get?

Over the next decade, as the builder generation ages, the work of evaluating our inheritance of faith is the biggest challenge Christians today face. Keep in mind that, like Aunt Edna’s doilies, what you value might not be what your kids value. Equally important: don’t throw the ring out with the vitamin bottles. There are good and beautiful parts of our faith in every denomination, too. It’s a real mixed bag.

The act of questioning one’s personal faith in the face of realizing some of these institutional flaws in our church is commonly called deconstruction. It’s a vital spiritual practice, and more important than ever at this moment in North American church history. We can no longer ignore the systemic abuse in our places of worship. Not to mention rampant consumerism. Egocentricity. The sins of generations swept under ecclesiastical rugs call for a once-every-500-years church rummage sale, in the words of Phyllis Tickle. We need to do it now, while we still can. The next generations don’t deserve this much mess. What can we do right now to make our church spaces functional again?

This article was first published in our July 11, 2022 issue with the title: “Forget VBS. Hold a rummage sale instead.” If you like that title better, you might also enjoy reading CC in print!


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