Costly Reformation

In April the staff and faculty of Waterloo Lutheran Seminary packed up our entire building in preparation for the move to Heidelberg House, a former Laurier residence that is serving as our interim home for the next 14 months while the seminary undergoes renewal and modernization. Absolutely everything had to be sorted and packed in order to totally vacate the building: classrooms; faculty and administrative offices; lounges; the chapel; sacristy and vestry — even the custodial and furnace rooms. Everything had to go!

Part of this process was easy and straightforward. Are we going to use this particular object in our renewed facility? Does this item hold some historical significance? Are these records that we are obliged to preserve?

But other parts of the process were much more laborious as we sorted through 54 years of accumulated records, reports, files, and historic materials to determine what had to be packed and moved; what needed to be forwarded to the archives; and what could be recycled or discarded. It was both a formidable and, at times, even an emotional process.

Along the way, there were some surprising discoveries: the brass nameplate from the original chapel in Willison Hall at Waterloo College; another for the current bell tower; a serviette, dated 1984, on which a young Doug Reble nominated a similarly young Michael Pryse to serve as the student representative to the Faculty Senate; student lists including the names of folks long forgotten;  archival materials related to the original design and fundraising efforts for the construction of the seminary building and much, much more. Case upon case of materials, reflecting documents and materials of historic significance, were forwarded to the seminary archives. Even more was moved to our temporary facilities or put in storage.

But this process of sorting also involved countless decisions about what to relinquish. There was much that simply had to be discarded as no longer useful, helpful, or significant, even if it had once been so. I recall a report, concerning a matter long past, whose margins were filled with the comments of a much-beloved professor; a threadbare academic gown labelled with the name of another; and countless working documents relating to people and events long gone. Once our move was completed, I walked through the empty seminary and the very walls seemed to echo with the people and memories that had filled this beloved place. As I did so, I lamented the letting go and the saying goodbye.

The renewed facility, to which we hope to return in 14 months, will better serve this institution for many years, as we seek to equip our students for lives of ministry and service in congregations and in the wider community. But it would seem that reform and renewal does not come without a cost. Regardless of the allure of the familiar, we cannot hold onto all that was and still embrace the possibilities of the future into which God is calling us all.

Seeking to be faithful to this time and place, wherever that may be, will always involve more than just holding onto our past. It will also involve choosing what to surrender, and an entering into the not-yet-known, if we are to participate into whatever new thing God in doing our midst.