The future imagined
For those who love acronyms here’s an ecclesiastical one: MAP, short for Mission Action Plan, intended as a ‘map’ of the field of mission through which a parish community will chart the course of its enterprises and visions for the time to come. We revised ours in July and this is what it looks like.
First, a couple of benchmarks. We use two: The Diocesan Capital 20 | 20 Vision whose guiding values for the whole diocese are Confident | Creative | Compassionate and the Church of England’s long established Five Marks of Mission:
To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
To respond to human need by loving service
To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
In addition we look around and try to understand afresh the changes facing St Giles in the public realm and the challenge of encouraging new leadership among us.
So, how do we measure up? This is how I see it.
We have reasons to be confident because of the quality of our worship; the faithfulness of our congregation; our tradition of, and desire for, hospitality; the pastoral bonds that have grown between us; and the growth of our presence within the local and wider community.
We are not without creativity in liturgy and music, through promoting and supporting artistic and pastoral activity; by providing a home for affiliated ministries; and by developing expressions of our historic place.
We would like to become more actively compassionate because our long tradition prompts reflection on the provision of care; our more recent tradition has provided space for others to provide care and support; and because the time has come to engage in a more deliberate programme of compassionate action.
Proclaiming Good News and teaching
We proclaim good news and offer teaching and nurture, but only within the existing framework of ministry and liturgy.
Responding to human need
Informally we respond to human need by loving service but formally less so.
Transforming an unjust society
Transforming unjust structures and safeguarding the integrity of creation have not been a particular feature of the ministry and mission of St Giles.
Being part of the renewal of the public realm
Many of the local public realm works will be completed during 2019 - Crossrail, the Denmark Street redevelopment and re-landscaping of the West Street Project.
Armed, then, with these blueprints, and honest about our strengths and weaknesses when set against them, how shall we imagine the future for us?
To begin with, we shall retain the missionary intention we have used these past two years:
A church of blessing, encouragement and praise
because it still seems to ring true for us. People do find all kinds of blessings here, and with it encouragement in their lives, and some of them even also join with us in praise. The last is first, really, because if the day comes and we have stopped praising God, then we shall have renounced our shared vocation.
On this foundation I am keen for us to enter a period of exploration to see how we can extend further the reach of our practical compassion and ‘respond to human need by loving service.’ We shall explore the possibilities of adapting the crypt for use as a winter night shelter and providing a new building to host kindergarten or similar work on the vacant piece of ground beside the vestry house. In addition, the Vestry House itself needs a long-overdue and significant interior conservation programme. The needs of our parish neighbourhood are huge and show little signs of diminishing. We can do more here. So let us look hard and creatively and see what is possible.
But buildings are only ever a part of the whole. A new website will appear shortly and through it, and through other uses of social media, the Reaching Out programme, already begun, will be extended and become permanent. We want to draw more people to Sunday worship for the first time and to invest in imaginative expressions of the historic significance of St Giles. With this in mind we plan to commission a history of the parish to be written.
We shall commit ourselves to building a new generation of St Giles people. We shall work not only to draw more people for the first time, but to retain their allegiance and nurture their sense of belonging alongside, and with, those of us who are already sustained in this way. Indeed, this is surely a task for everyone of us. More opportunities for voluntary involvement will be developed and the scope of our appeal to the wider resident and business community widened.
This is beginning to sound like a political manifesto, so I must stop. Our calling as a church is not so very different from that addressed to every other church, though the field of our life of mission is, to put it mildly, distinctive. Here, mission is but a word for the work of God and compassion for the work of Christ and encouragement for the work of the Spirit. To know that we work not only for, but also in, God: perhaps that is the key.
A correspondent wrote recently (my thanks to him): ‘We could think of prayer as like stepping into a boat. Or we could think of it as plunging into the river ourselves, and being carried along and swimming in a current that is already moving. I believe that it is very important to realise that.’ Is such prayer not synonymous with mission? Never to stop stepping in. Is that not the secret of those who would follow the way of Christ?