Something Like a 500 Year Rummage Sale

“Phyllis Tickle, in her book, The Great Emergence, quoting Anglican Bishop Mark Dyer, suggests that about every 500 years the church has undergone a significant change. She refers to these periods of change as “rummage sales” and states that we are in the midst of such a period today. Tickle identifies former 500 year rummage sales as The Great Reformation (Oct. 31, 1517), The Great Schism (1054—Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic), the leadership and influence of Gregory the Great (540–590—following the fall of Rome and start of the Dark Ages), and the Crucifixion of Christ, which led to the birth of the Church at Pentecost.

I, (Dan), despise rummage sales, but it seems to be my fate in ministry to have served congregations that used them for fundraisers. Here’s my view on how they work. People bring their junk, their cast-offs, the stuff they want to get rid of (rummage) to the church and clutter it up. A committee spends an inordinate amount of time sorting through it all and arranging the rummage for others to peruse. Then, on the day of the sale, folks come with an eagerness to riffle through other people’s junk, finding prizes they simply cannot live without and paying pennies on the dollar to haul it away.

But there always is more rummage left over at the end of the sale—as if it multiplies all day long. This means that the committee, already worn out from their week’s long work of sorting, now will haul off the remaining refuse to a thrift store, or the dump, so that the church can be free of clutter. By the sale day’s end, it always seems to me we would have been better off to just each kick in a hundred dollars and fund whatever project, event, or trip we were endeavoring to support.

But, I must admit, all I am seeing is the hard work and mess of the sale. From a balcony view it may be that rummage sales accomplish more than one first thinks. Over the course of a day, a week, or longer, rummage—that which is old and worn out—is removed, making room for the new. This then creates space to rediscover what remains in a new and vibrant manner. This, we think, is Tickle’s analogy of the rummage sale when it comes to the church. It’s Jesus’ new wine in new wineskins message. There comes a time when a shift needs to be made and change embraced. It seems like we are living in one of these times.

According to Tickle, rummage sales create upheaval and change with three consistent results or corollary events that follow: a) a new and more vital form of faith emerges; b) the organized expression of faith until that time is reconstituted into a purer and less ossified expression of its former self; and c) faith spreads (when the overly established form is broken up).

Consider the Reformation as an example: a) the Protestant branch of Christianity emerged with vitality; b) the Roman Catholic Church experienced its own counter-reformation; and c) the gospel spread because of both occurrences.

Reflection Questions: As you consider the changes in your ministry and congregational life today, how does this metaphor of a 500-year rummage sale resonate with your thinking? Where might we see evidence of the three results of a rummage sale type of change in the greater church today?”

The above post is an excerpt from the book The Changing Church: Finding Your Way to God’s New Thing (pp 10-11). This book was written by Daniel M. Cash and William H. Griffith (Judson Press, 2019) and is available through Judson Press and

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