Whenever I give out-of-state guests a tour of our area, I point out certain landmarks that dominate the Seattle skyline. They include the obvious ones: the Space Needle, both stadiums, the Columbia Tower and the Smith Tower. But I also delight in identifying noteworthy edifices that used to be something other than they now are.
For example, that large brick building with the gigantic Starbucks logo on top, which used to be the Sears and Roebuck department store. The hospital-looking building on Beacon Hill that was in fact the old Marine hospital before becoming Amazon’s corporate headquarters. That imposing condominium complex crowning Queen Anne Hill that was actually Queen Anne High School.
When I drive our visitors around Mercer Island, I can do the same. The old North Mercer Junior High School gymnasium became home to Youth Theatre. The turn-of-the-century reformatory for boys is now headquarters of the Mercer Island Parks Department, and the Shevet Achim synagogue on Island Crest Way was once a Southern Baptist church. I’m intrigued by places that have been repurposed on purpose. Such facilities preserve past memories while facilitating fresh possibilities.
As a lifelong student of the Scriptures, I have made note of faith heroes who moved from one vocational identity to another. In the process, they built lives of significance on the foundation stones of earlier experiences. In the words of a first century rabbi, “…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead…”
Moses left his father-in-law’s flock of sheep to shepherd God’s people. Amos bid farewell to his occupation as an orchardist to don a prophet’s robe. St. Luke left his physician’s scalpel behind to pick up a biographer’s pen. Peter sold his fishing equipment in order to become an evangelist.
I once read that the average person changes careers five times in their life. Depending on the person, that statistic can point to one’s inability to make it in a given profession or to use skills gained earlier in life to focus on a more significant and meaningful job.
Although I have been a parish pastor for most of my career, my new position as chaplain at Covenant Shores allows me to focus on areas of strength developed earlier. Perhaps you, too, can attest to the satisfaction that comes with repurposing. Like old buildings, people can celebrate their past identity all the while embracing a new potential.