As I mentioned in last month’s letter, in which I shared some personal reflections on the Christmas story in relation to our set of values, this month I am reproducing the sermon that I have given in each church as the “official” launch of our parish values. I hope we can devise a way to ensure that the conversations I suggest at the end can happen.
With my best wishes for the New Year
One of the fun things to do with youngsters (when trying to get them to think about their place in the world) is to give them a picture of the outline of a shield and ask them to draw four pictures of things that are important to them, and to write three words underneath those pictures that sum up what they are like. This way they get the chance to talk not only about what they do but also about who they are.
Recently we’ve undertaken a similar exercise across the parish. In July members of all three congregations were asked to offer their reflections on three questions:
- what drew you to this church
- what continues to draw you to this church
- what has shaped this church
The answers to these questions provided the first of those four pictures on our shield.
The other three pictures were drawn by members of the Church Council at our Away Day in September. We met with the express purpose of discerning the three words for the bottom of that shield; three words that sum us up; three words that define who we are and what we are becoming; three words that would become our Parish Values.
Before we could work out what those words are, we needed to draw the three other images on the body of the shield. To do this, we spent time considering three other ways of working out what is important to us. We talked together about positive and not-so-positive reactions to shopping in the town centre and thus explored the found in the High Street that we would we wish to find in church. The third section on our shield was filled by trying to imagine ourselves as people who live in Caversham & Mapledurham but without a strong and lively connection with any of our churches: what do they think about us; feel about us; and want from us. The final segment was all about stories from the bible. Everyone brought a bible passage that was important to them and, in small groups, we talked about the values that were common to the stories we were sharing.
By the end of the morning we had completed these four different explorations into the things that are important to us: what the church congregations think; what we can learn from outside the church; what other people think of us; and what the bible is saying to us. In each of those sections whenever we came upon a word that we felt was significant or important we wrote it down on a Post It note and put it on the wall. By lunch time there were over 200 post it’s stuck around the room.
After lunch we set about the task of discerning the three words to go on our shield: three words that describe who we are and what we are becoming. At first this was quite easy as there were lots of duplication and overlap, and those words were grouped together. But the range of words was, as you can imagine, huge. So after a while, each person selected three or four words which spoke of the values of our parish. After about an hour—sometimes in discussion, sometimes in silence & prayer, sometimes really listening to one another— the three words emerged: INCLUSIVE, GENEROUS, LIFE-GIVING.
Once we had agreed upon these words we sat quietly together: looking at them, letting them sink in, trying them on for size. And then we ended the day with a Eucharist at which I spoke to our Council members of the importance of our values. I said that these are not just words that we want to see influence our churches, but that, if they are to have real credibility, they are words that will be increasingly seen in the lives of those of us who make up these churches, Furthermore I said that those in leadership need to be at forefront of making these values more visible more often as we lead by example.
So our day came to an end, and the process of discerning our Parish Values also ended. I think it has been a very positive event in the developing life of our churches and of our new parish. We have a set of words that says who we are and what’s important to us as churches; and yet they are also a set of words that challenge us and call us back to who we are and what’s important to us. After all we may be inclusive, generous and life-giving; but we are never going to be entirely and perfectly inclusive, generous and life-giving: each and every activity and event that we are involved with can become more inclusive, generous and life-giving.
To that end I want to encourage each group, committee, organisation, conversation, working party and team across the parish and within each church to consider the question (not just now, but once a year) and to resolve to do at least one thing differently in order to become even more inclusive, generous and life-giving.
If you have any thoughts or questions about these Parish Values, please do ask me. I would be very happy to do another in the occasional series of leaflets about the developing face of our parish. A couple of specific questions have already come to me which I would like to address now: what do these words mean; and what’s the biblical basis for them.
So what is the biblical basis of these words? As I said earlier, the bible passages from which these words emerged came from each participant. I only know the three bible passages that were talked about in the group I was in for that session. Whilst I am confident that these Values words arose from within a broad discussion where the bible was absolutely front and centre, I can’t answer the question with any certainty. I could, however, quite easily find bible stories that justify the words that we have chosen, but I don’t think that was the point of the question. But if anyone wants me to do, please do let me know.
And finally, what do we mean by these words? The clergy team have discussed whether we should provide an answer to this question – dictionary definitions, if you like – the “right” understanding of what we mean by inclusive, generous and life-giving. We concluded that that is not the right way forward. I suspect many of us share a common understanding of what is at the heart of each of those words; so it is at the edges where any discussion about meaning would have to take place.
So let’s discuss it. Let’s travel to the edge of meaning and see what we find there. Let’s get the Mothers’ Union to say what they think they mean and put it alongside the meaning of Bell Ringers and Brownies, then compare it to the meaning given to it by Servers and the Sidesmen, then find out what Clergy, Kids and Coffee Drinkers think they mean.
In other words, let’s talk to one another about these words. Let’s find out from one another what they mean to us and what they might mean for us. Let’s see how they have formed us and fashioned us, and how they can shape us and transform us … so that we may be and may become ever more
inclusive, generous and life-giving