Friday, May 20, 2016

Creating and Living Our Values at St. Mary's, by the Rev. Peter J. Van Hook, Priest-in-Charge

On the inside back cover of our weekly order of worship is the list of principles by which we intend to as a Christian community. Although the word “value” as a noun is a relatively recent addition to English parlance, it has become a common term in organizational management, where it is usually defined as something like “guiding principles.” 
When I use the term I mean something far deeper. For me, a value is a statement about being over, against, doing, or having. A value answers the question, Who or what are you? Are you honest, kind, faithful, loving, Christ-like, hard-working, truthful—these things express who you are rather than what you do.
When I work with church groups I suggest that the values they express can be used to measure and justify decision making. That is, as a faith community we will do this or the other—or not—because of who we believe we are as expressed in our values. As an example, at St. Mary's Church we state that we value ROOTS, expressed as a faith community steeped in the Anglican tradition, and committed to the historic creeds and the centrality of Scripture, all of it interpreted in the context of local life and needs.
Recently, two of them have arisen in conversations fairly frequently: Hospitality and Sanctuary. 
Hospitality is expressed as being a welcoming community, no matter who you are, where you came from, or where you are in your spiritual journey. 
Sanctuary we have defined as being a safe place, for those in recovery, those who are hurting or lonely, and those who just need a place to encounter God. 
These principles do have much in common, but they can also be in tension with one another. Let me give you an example . . . .
As fellowship time was winding down on Sunday, May 15, a gentleman came into the front lobby and asked if there was any food available for him. (I was not a participant in the conversation that followed, but I did overhear much of it.) Apparently, he was quite convinced that this little church would have something like substantial food supplies available, especially for people like himself. When offered a sampling of the goodies offered at fellowship, he threw them on the floor and demanded “real” food.
Up to this point the conversation had been fairly reserved, the exception being his escalating demand for food. When it became clear that we could not meet his he was asked to leave.
So, I ask you: were we being hospitable and were we providing sanctuary for this individual?
There is an argument that can be made that we might have gone further out of our way to address his demands. However, his behavior was becoming increasingly belligerent, and it was becoming clear, at least to me, as it was to those engaging the gentleman, that we were not going to be able to respond to him in the way that he expected or wanted. The judgment made by those engaging with him was that any kind of real relationship, human to human, was not going to be possible. Sadly, but realistically, he needed to leave. (If he had appeared sick, confused, or too addled to be safe on his own, we would have made some phone calls.)
What this event illustrates is the “bottom line” in our efforts to be hospitable and to provide sanctuary: Are you willing to be in a human relationship with me, or are you going to place demands or conditions on our relationship with which I cannot live?
In talking with the people with whom I regularly work, I have stated repeatedly that “no one in this church will get into trouble for having called 911.” Why? Because personal safety trumps hospitality. “If you hear or suspect or know of any situation regarding child or elder abuse, call 911 first. Then, call me.” The child’s safety is paramount. “The support groups that meet here have permission to use our facilities. Their members do not have permission to use us.”

We will be working this year to clarify and change, if need be, our values, those statements that guide our decision making. Your participation is essential. What are the values you would like to see St. Mary's Church express?
The authors of the blog texts welcome comments, reactions, and critiques.

1 comment:

  1. As a social worker, I am accustomed to serving as THE BRIDGE between a person and the resources they may need. Consider that St. Mary's may also not provide the actual physical things a person requests or needs, but the church can be THE BRIDGE which connects that individual with appropriate community resources.