Lydia & the Ladies Library Association

A few weeks ago I drove to our diocesan office for a meeting. As I turned onto the main street of Kalamazoo, my eye was immediately caught by the signs attached to the light poles. On each one was a picture of an old-fashioned brick building with a horse and carriage in front of it. Under the picture were the words “Ladies Library Association, est. 1852.”

I confess that when I saw these signs, my first thought was “This organization looks really outdated. Why are they paying for this publicity?”

I had a few minutes before my meeting, so I went to their website. I got my answer quickly: they’re having a capital campaign. I still had time, so I clicked on the History link in their sidebar. And that’s when I discovered there was more to this story.

In the days when colleges only admitted men, the Ladies Library Association was known as “college for women.” They founded the first library in Kalamazoo. They were the first women’s organization in the nation to gain the right to finance and own property.

Against all odds, the Kalamazoo Ladies Library Association imagined and worked for a future where women and men had equal rights. They were willing to dare, to dream and to risk to bring that future into being.

In Acts 16, we meet Lydia, a Gentile who worships the God of Israel. She shows up for prayers on the sabbath day, and hears Paul. She is so moved by Paul’s testimony about Jesus that she decides to be baptized, and her household with her. She is fully welcomed into the church, and she fully welcomes the church: she urges Paul and his companions to come stay with her while they are in town. Not long after, Paul and Silas are arrested for preaching Christianity. They are stripped, beaten with rods in public square, and locked in jail. As soon as they are released, they return to Lydia’s house. She must have quickly realized that being Christian comes with a cost.

The first Christians stuck with the mission they had received from Jesus: to welcome everyone who wanted to live in God’s way, and to teach them the ways of God. They didn’t let anything get in the way of that mission. Being arrested and beaten by the authorities? A minor setback, quickly overcome. Seeing that being Christian can get you thrown in prison? Yup, that comes with the territory.

Against all odds, the first Christians imagined and worked for a future where all knew the saving love of Jesus Christ. They were willing to dare, to dream and to risk to bring that future into being.

At some point in their past, the Ladies Library Association of Kalamazoo made a choice. They decided that preserving their heritage was just as important – or maybe more important – than their original mission. Why do I think so? Their logo includes a horse and carriage, not a woman reading a book. Their capital campaign is to restore their historic building. Once, they focused on creating a new future; now they appear satisfied to preserve a noble past.

On the wall of the Scottish Parliament are these words: “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.” That’s how Lydia and Paul and the apostles lived. As a result, you and I know about God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Once upon a time, that’s how the Ladies Library Association of Kalamazoo lived, and as a result, a better nation was born.

What would you do if you worked as if you lived in the early days of a better nation?

What would we do if we worked as if we lived in the early days of a better church?