The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

September 24, 2008

Healthy Church

We Anglicans on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands have been invovled in a process of reviewing the ministries in each of our parishes. As a result parishes have been given various designations. Those parishes designated as "healthy" have been asked to make a list of those things they do that they believe make them a "healthy" parish.

I am not entirely comfortable with the idea of calling some parishes "healthy" possibly implying that others are somehow not "healthy." But in compliance with the request, we sat down and thought about what it is that makes us tick at the parish of St. Philip. We came up with seven points.




We do not have specific programs or activities to which we attribute our designation as a “healthy” parish. Rather, we attribute our “healthy” status to the following principles by which we attempt to operate our life together as a community.

1. If we have any strategy it is prayer.

All that we are and all that we do as a community begins and is sustained by our life of prayer. Our staff begins each day in prayer. Our meetings begin with prayer. Our parish is sustained by a prayer chain and our services centre on prayer and provide opportunity for prayer ministry.

In prayer we express our desire to let go of our plans, agendas and strategies and to surrender to God. We seek to live in faith, trusting that God guides, sustains and provides for our life as a church. Prayer helps us live with one another in a spirit of gentleness, openness, welcome, and acceptance. In prayer we seek to create a spacious place for God to be encountered and for God’s work to be carried out by God’s people.

Prayer keeps us aware that our life in Christ is characterized by an overflowing abundance rather than scarcity. We believe that we are only able to be fully the community God desires us to be when we are able to live from this place of abundance rather than from the familiar place of our clamoring needs, wants and desires. We seek to trust that God always provides for the life of God’s community without our having to strain or fret about the needs of our life together. We want to begin all that we do and return always to the biblical mandate to “make every effort to enter that rest,” that is the presence of God in Christ. (Hebrews 43:11) We believe our church should never be just one more burden added to a long list of life’s obligations, but should be a place in which the refreshing breeze of God’s liberating Holy Spirit is encountered and trusted.

2. We are clear about our vision as a church.

We believe St. Philip’s parish exists to encourage, nurture and support all people in living fully and deeply in relationship to God through Jesus Christ by the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. This is our vision and our goal. All our activities are assessed on this basis alone. Will a particular activity be likely to deepen a person’s awareness of God’s presence and action in their lives and to open themselves more deeply to God?

We trust God’s Spirit to be at work uniquely and particularly in each person’s life in whatever way is best for that person. We attempt to support and encourage the work and ministry God is doing in everyone’s life.

We do not know how a person’s relationship to God in Christ will be manifest in their lives. We seek to honour each person’s desire to follow God and trust that this desire is the only thing God requires of any of us. We do not judge anyone’s relationship to God or criticize the way any person is living out their relationship with God in their daily lives. We believe church needs to be the one place in the world where there is nothing anyone must do to measure up or to fit in. Jesus calls us to become like “children.” (Matthew 18:3) We seek to be a community of those who know we cannot measure up and therefore are wholly dependent upon the grace and mercy of Christ.

3. We believe worship is our first function as a Christian community.

Worship is the church’s unique function. Our worship is relaxed, open, and attempts to utilize the gifts of our community.

As part of our worship life we place considerable emphasis upon the role of music. Leadership in music is freely offered by members of our parish in the fashion that expresses their personal style and talents. This means that our music is always varied and at different times certain styles will appeal to some more than others. We seek to embrace this expression of the varied gifts of our community.

We also view preaching as an important dimension of our worship. We believe the ministry of preaching is a primary vehicle for transmitting the mission and vision of our community and for nurturing our members in living their lives in Christ.

We welcome all ages in our worship. We recognize that at times this will mean that small children may wander or create some noise. We provide a table at the back of the church for small children to view as their own space in the church. We view the presence of children as an important part of our offering of worship to God. We attempt to accommodate the special needs of all people in our community with signing, hearing sets, and wheel chair access.

Our worship is the first place people will experience the openness of our community. We attempt to provide worship that is welcoming without being chummy. We hope that our worship allows people to enter into an experience of God at their own pace and in their own particular way.

4. We aim to treat all members of our community as mature, thinking, responsive individuals and trust God’s Spirit to be at work in their lives.

This means we try not to pressure or manipulate people in any way. We try to avoid using guilt, shame, or any kind of violence as motivators for activity, support, or giving in the parish. We believe that it is “for freedom Christ has set us free.”
In relation to finances this means that we make our parish financial situation as clear as we can on a regular basis. We encourage people to view their entire lives as a gift from God and to ask themselves what it means for them to respond in gratitude for God’s generosity. We trust that God will provide the resources necessary to do the ministry to which God is calling us. We make a sincere attempt to always cut our coat to fit the cloth that is provided.

In relation to attendance at worship or in any activity in the church we believe that whoever comes are the right people and whenever they come is the right time for them. We want people to freely choose to participate in our life together.

We trust that God is at work in peoples’ hearts. Our only job as a community is to be open to the guidance of God’s Spirit and to encourage each other to be open to God’s Spirit. We honour the willingness of each person to follow where they believe God is leading.

We attempt to model faithfulness, generosity and gentleness in our dealings with one another. We believe that the most vital sign of God’s presence and action among us will be the fruit of God’s Spirit in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22,23) The presence of such fruit is the true sign and the foundational method of health in a church.

5. We affirm the gifts and ministries of all people in our community.

The ministry of St. Philip’s parish is the ministry of all those who worship in our community. The things we do are the things the people of this community feel moved by God to do. These ministries may take place in and through the visible manifestation of church we call “St. Philip.” But equally the ministry of God’s people may occur in the less obviously “churchy” ways in which the people of our community live and minister in their particular work place and homes throughout the week. We do not distinguish between church work as ministry and those ministries that take place out in the world. We support and validate all people as ministers of Christ in whatever way God is calling them to minister.

At times this may make our community a little messier than might appear desirable. Certain things that might seem necessary may not get done or may not get done as quickly or efficiently as seems ideal. We are committed to allowing the mess that is necessary for human freedom to flourish and for God’s Spirit to be completely free to work in God’s way. We believe that the creativity and freedom of God’s Spirit will not always look as neat and organized as we might hope.

6. We encourage people to develop human bonds of connection and fellowship in the way that seems most natural for them.

Some members of our community develop relationships in and through home groups, others by being involved in bible study at church or other settings, special worship services, or ministry opportunities. For some people Sunday morning worship is enough connection and we accept and honour that choice in a person’s life.

These natural bonds of human affection are the primary means of delivering “pastoral” care in our parish. We trust that the members of our community care for one another. We believe that the best pastoral care is provided by a community of mutual love, support and encouragement. Over and over we are encouraged by the ability of our members to minister to one another. “Pastoral” care is not primarily a “professional” undertaking, but a natural outgrowth of community life and fellowship.

We understand that human community inevitably involves some degree of pain and at times disagreement. We are committed to living with the pain of human community and to embracing the reality that there will be a diversity of opinion among us often on even important subjects. We do not want anyone to feel that everyone must agree on absolutely everything in order to remain a part of our community. We know and respect the fact that everyone’s life experience is different and that God has worked and is working in each of our lives in unique ways.

We value the diversity of human community that we believe is a true sign of God’s presence among us. We desire to be an inclusive community and believe that Christ came into the world in order to abolish those artificial barriers that separate human beings from one another. In the Bible we see from beginning to end a vision of God’s all- embracing love for all people. This vision is most fully realized in the person of Jesus Christ whose goal was that there should be “one flock”

7. We believe in the transforming power of deep listening.

This means first listening deeply to God’s Spirit. It means secondly, listening attentively to the realities and circumstances of our own lives and of our particular context. Third, it means being open and responsive to one another.

True listening requires a willingness to be changed. We attempt to avoid approaching one another with any requirement that the other must change in order to fit our expectations of what they must be. We believe that change comes naturally as we open to one another and as we honour God’s presence in each person’s life. We are loved into change rather than being forced to change in order to be loved.

We do not have a cookie-cutter vision of what the church must look like. Every community is unique and special in its own way, just as each person is unique and special in his or her own way. We believe we will only fulfill God’s vision for our community as we attempt to discern what God is doing among us and cooperate with God’s work.

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