History. Everyone has history that corresponds to the number of birthdays recorded. What good does it do to look back at our history, really?

I recently heard the Rev. Dr. Trinette McCray of the American Baptist Church speak at a Wisconsin Council of Churches gathering. This dynamic African American woman told us that she practices Sankofa.

Sankofa is an African word (Twi language of Ghana) and concept that means, “It is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot.”

Her point was that we need to go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward.

Sankofa is illustrated as a mythic bird that flies forward while looking backward with an egg symbolizing the future in its mouth. Note the bird’s feet face forward.

I wonder what this idea of Sankofa means to African Americans and their need to go back in history and reclaim what is usable from their past before slavery, back to Africa, and how important it is to them as they move forward.

I’m guessing that’s why adopted children need to go back and discover their birth parents, learn about their past and bring forward what they have learned as they shape their future.

I believe that it is important for our nation to look back on its history and remember why it was founded, let go of the notion of discovery and repent for its historic treatment of Native Americans.

And of course, I am thinking about churches. It is important for churches to know their history, their congregation’s history, immigrant history, reformation history, biblical history and decide what it is that we need from our past to bring forward, reclaim and remember.

We need to decide what it is our “usable past” and what is essential for us to bring forward as we participate in mission and move forward toward God’s future.

I think there are two key ideas here:

• Identify the usable past and reclaim it and be renewed by it.

• Let go of that part of the past that is holding us back from where God wants them to go next.

As churches, what are the essential parts of our past that we’ve forgotten or have gotten dusty from little use that we need to bring forward to be faithful in the future?

What are some things that we continue to do that have little or nothing to do with the mission God has given us and actually distract from that mission? Can we let it go and free up time, energy and resources for the future?

What about your own history? Looking back at who you are and where you came from. Is there a bit of your past that you’ve disregarded but is really an asset that you could reclaim to compel you forward in life? What baggage from your past are you still carrying with you that is holding you back from being the person God intended you to be? Practice Sankofa.

The Rev. Laurie Skow-Anderson is bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Northwest Synod of Wisconsin.