Underneath York Minister Cathedral is a wealth of information, an historical museum with information that spans almost two millennia. For me that alone was worth the price of admission to the cathedral – the magnificent architecture and artwork were a bonus.
This is a site with a rich history – the cathedral having been constructed on the remains of an earlier church with Roman ruins underneath that. (You can see some of them in the undercroft.) Through the artefacts you can also get a sense of the growth of the church. Not just the growing building (which was a wooden structure in the seventh century) but also the expansion of the Christian community in the area.
Looking at this exhibit got me to thinking: Why don’t more churches have museums, not just for the public but for the congregation?
I have attended Cedarview Alliance Church for the past 15 years. I have a good grasp of the history of the church, partly because I have lived in Ottawa for a large chunk of my life and know the community, partly because I knew people who attended Cedarview’s predecessor church in the 1970s before a move to the suburbs (around 1980 I think) and partly because I’m an information junkie and have picked up tidbits here and there over the years.
However I still don’t know all there is to know about the history of Cedarview and its people. I imagine there are many in the congregation in a similar situation – and many more who didn’t know about the downtown location or the founding of the church in the 1920s. I wonder if people want to know more? I do think they should.
The same could be said for the church my family started attending in 1972, McPhail Memorial Baptist. I know it was started in 1888 with the building being constructed in 1893. It was named after the Rev. Daniel McPhail, a 19th century evangelist. I’ve never seen a church archive, and have no idea where the old records would be found. At least the advent of the internet has meant that there is some information on the church website.
When we vacation in Ocean Park, Maine, we attend The Temple, which is only open in the summer season. I have noted that they regularly have displays on the history of the church and the community that congregants can browse through after the service.
Any church should be a forward-looking institution, not be buried in the past. However, I think it is good to have some knowledge of where we came from – it helps to better understand who we are today and where we are going tomorrow.
Which brings us back to the museum in the undercroft at York Minster. Tracing the history of the Church in York, from Roman times to the present, gave me a real sense of the devotion and commitment of Christians through more than a millennium of worship in that location. In North America no church has that sort of history; the oldest only goes back 400 years or so. But every church has some sort of history, even if it was just started last week, it came from somewhere. It would be nice if that was documented for everyone to see.