Welcome to our parish Season of Reflection. If you have been at any of our services during September you will probably have heard about this, but this letter offers me an opportunity to remind you about what we are doing and why, and to invite you to play your part in it, over the next few months and at the Parish Weekend at Home, which this year will be on 13-15 November.
There is a big focus in the Church of England today on what’s called Mission Action Planning (known as MAP, of course!). Many of us in the parish have experience of this sort of thing – project plans, SMART objectives, target owners, and deadlines – and it has its place in our church life too, to help us get things done, whether the “thing” in question is a building project or setting up a new group or organizing the Christmas Fair. But how do we decide what are the things we need to do as a parish, as the people of God here in our particular corner of Surrey? The answer to that question must involve trying to find out what God wants us to do. All our decisions, everything we do, as individuals and as the church, need to be shaped by our faith, our experience and our understanding of who God is in our lives, of what Jesus is calling us to be and to do.
The PCC has been talking for some time now about who we are in the parish, looking at statistics and age profiles and discussing what we are good at – and what we are not so good at. It’s likely that our new Bishop, Andrew, will be asking all the parishes in the diocese to undertake their own MAP exercise quite soon, and we would like to be able to respond to that request, so that we can play our part in diocesan life and, more importantly, to give ourselves a structure for developing, deepening and widening our shared life and seeing how God is at work here.
And of course, any action plan we make needs to be rooted in our faith, that understanding of who God is for us, and who we are called to be, that I referred to before. At the moment we don’t have any words that articulate a distinctive and shared vision. If you ever google a parish on the internet you will almost certainly find that it will have a few words on its home page that declare its vision, or mission. Amongst our neighbours, St Stephen’s, Shottermill, has “Honouring God, following the example of Jesus, and sharing his love in our community”, whilst St Mary’s Chiddingfold has “ to know Christ better and to make Christ better known”. Holy Trinity Guildford has a statement of intent prefaced by the words: “Faithful, Engaging, Hospitable, Inclusive…” and my previous church has “One in worship, open in faith and outward in community”. Each of these reflects important things about the identity of the parishes , forged is an process of prayer and discernment, and I know from experience that the right words can act as a touchstone for planning and decision making .
What should be in our vision statement? The plan is that our season of reflection, using the words of Psalm 139 in worship, study and meditation, and encouraging each other to share aloud (a daunting prospect, I know) what our faith means to us, will culminate at the Parish Weekend at Home in workshops, activities and worship, and that during or after the weekend we will be able to share and agree our own vision statement.
A recurrent question in my preaching and teaching throughout my four years as rector has been “What does it mean to be the people of God in Haslemere?” With the PCC and Ministry Team I invite you now to play your part in giving an answer to that question that will shape our planning and our life together for the next five years. Of course we can’t know what will happen in that time here and in the wider world – who could have predicted this year’s political upheavals and international pressures? – but if we base our lives on the rock of Jesus’ love for us and calling to us we will be able to face it with confidence. Because…..
….if I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
With my love and prayers,