Thursday, 19 October 2017

Trying to find the right question

Over the next few months, in our ecumenical church congregation in Hodge Hill we're going to be doing a concerted bit of listening. Our plan is for every household in our congregation to be visited by a couple of people (we have a new 'Pastoral Care and Community-Building team' in training, in addition to our full-time clergy, to do these visits), and we're going to be trying to listen as carefully as we can to our sister and brother Christians here.

We're going through a time of significant change here: the demographics of our area is continuing to change at some pace; we're seeing lots of new and exciting growth in friendships between neighbours, and groups and activities growing and thriving in our neighbourhoods; as a church, we're committed to 'going deeper' in uniting two historically quite different congregations; and we're facing acute challenges around the sustainability of our finances and building which, we know, are challenges that our wider denominational structures are feeling even more sharply than we are locally.

In all of this, the potential for anxiety is high. It would be all too easy to get immersed in structural and strategic questions, driven by concerns for money and/or numbers, and either dig our heels in in fear, or lose sight of the point of it all in our focus on the 'mechanics'. Alternatively, it would be quite possible to have lovely conversations about our hopes and dreams, without naming our fears, or grappling with the very real challenges which, if not already on top of us, are at best just around the corner.

Our listening process is an attempt, then, to re-focus on the point of it all, the heart of our Christian faith - and to create space to individually and collectively articulate that afresh. It's also an opportunity to rediscover those spaces of joy - and to re-centre ourselves to live out of those, rather than be driven by all kinds of anxiety. It's a chance to begin to think creatively about other possible paths (other than the road well travelled), into the future that God is beckoning us towards. And it's an invitation to faithful Christians here to bring their hearts, their gifts, and their time, to that journey - not to fill the pre-defined 'boxes' that always need filling, but to re-shape the 'boxes' in the image of the people God has made, and is still making and re-making, in this very particular place and time.

That's the plan, at least. I have little faith in authoritarian 'leadership from the front' ("let me tell you: this is the vision, this is where we're going, this is what we're going to do"), but equally I'm less convinced that the process of finding direction through consensus decision-making is as fruitful, let alone as straightforward, as it's sometimes imagined. My hope is that as we go around listening to people, we're not just in the business of persuading people, but neither are we simply 'hearing what they think'. My hope is that our listening process will create spaces for genuinely hearing into expression "a new thing" - beyond what any of us currently think, believe or imagine.

Part of the art of this listening will be to find the right questions to open up those spaces to imagine a new thing. These are the questions that we're currently working with. They may not turn out to be the right questions. But they're where we're starting, at least...

  • Thinking about your faith...
    • what's at the heart of Christian faith, for you?
    • what gives you most joy, in your faith?
  • Thinking about church here in Hodge Hill...
    • tell us a story of a time when the church here in Hodge Hill has been at its very best...
    • tell us a story of a time when you've glimpsed the kingdom of God here in Hodge Hill, beyond the church's doors...
    • what are your dreams for the future of church in Hodge Hill?
    • what are your fears?
    • what would best help us grow together in the love of God and as followers of Jesus, deepening our faith together and living it out more fully?
  • Thinking about resourcing...
    • if we get to a point where we can't afford to maintain a church building any more, what might we do instead?
    • if we get to a point where we can't afford to pay for stipendiary ministry any more, what might we do instead?
    • what might we do differently, even before we get to one of those crisis points?
  • What are you prepared to give your passion and skills, your time and energy to, to help us move forward together?

(I'll let you know how we get on...!)