By Alan Hayes
Published: October 2007
Most of our churches introduce themselves to the world with short identity statements. They typically publish them on their diocesan web pages, on their own websites, on their stationery, in their Sunday bulletins, or on their external signage, or on some combination of these.
The idea of such statements is probably an inspiration from secular organizational theory, but on the whole it makes sense for churches to pick it up.
Recently I compiled the statements found on the parish pages of our diocesan website, www.niagara.anglican.ca. The statements are all distinctly Christian, but they are all different. Together they give a nice sense of how diversely God calls us, and of the number of ways we have to respond to the gospel.
The statements readily divide into six categories: broadly descriptive statements, specific practical statements, vision statements, mission statements, theological statements, and exclamations. There are many overlaps, of course, but I'm not going to get too complicated here.
Descriptive statements tell people what they'll find if they come to your church.
St. Luke's, Hamilton, says, "As an Anglo-Catholic parish of 125 years Saint Luke's mainly uses the Book of Common Prayer and the complementary hymnals in our 'traditional' services and if you find that interesting please read the rest."
In Grimsby, St. Philip-by-the-Lake says that it "has ministered to the east end of Grimsby for over fifty years. It is essentially a family church, with many young families, and an informal style of worship." Here's another: "The historical church of St. John's has been in the Stewarttown community since 1834. It is a small and welcoming church in the midst of much urban development at the west side of Georgetown."
Such statements are informative and pretty unthreatening. Visitors aren't made to feel that they have to buy into an ethos before they drop in. The idea is: this is probably what you'll find if you come; come see for yourself.
Practical statements assume that most people will have a general sense of what Anglican churches are for, so they just give information that might be useful to someone considering a visit. St. Columba, St. Catharines, says, "The Church is contemporary in style. There are no stairs as all Church facilities are on ground level." Believe me, if you're an older person, or physically challenged, the question of stairs can be pretty important.
. Paul's, Westdale, says, "Our 10:30 Sunday service is a BAS Eucharist with modern music. It is child friendly...," and then talks about nursery care and other worship services. For many prospective visitors, this is the information they'll want right up front.
Vision statements tell people what your church is aiming to become. The emphasis is on the future, not the present or the past.
St. Paul's, Fort Erie, says that it wants "to become an evangelized and evangelizing parish which lives in the baptismal dimension in communion with Christ and all people in order to establish the reign of God." St. John's, Thorold, says, "God is calling us to be a nurturing, Spirit-filled community actively celebrating our love of Jesus Christ through worship, fellowship and outreach."
What's appealing about these is that the churches have a vision of where God is calling them but the modesty to recognize that they haven't yet become all that God intends. It implicitly cautions visitors that if they come, they shouldn't judge the place according to standards of perfection. They should see the community as a work in progress, and, indeed, they can join in what God is doing to help it along....
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