That vision thing . . .

One of the most vital things every contemporary liberal religious community must do is take the time to figure out what on earth it is about. Living in a secular age it is clear that a church cannot survive anymore just by bumbling along. For starters we may note that many of the social functions our churches used to undertake have been supplanted in some way by other secular bodies. Also many people now look for moral and spiritual support and replenishment in self-help books or in other, more generalised spiritual, practices. So why come to a liberal church? Well, we have to make this explicit in ways that, in former days, were unnecessary.
One common option is to follow the passive approach and simply try to offer what it is we think the general population wants regardless of its underlying content or value. This often comes under the rubric of ‘being relevant’ in order to get ‘bums on seats.’

But religion at its best – especially the kind of liberal and radical Christian tradition to which I belong – is not, in the first instance, concerned about being obviously ‘relevant’ and drawing huge numbers but instead about being truthful to the religious and spiritual vision that lies at its heart. It is a painful truth that this vision is not, at times, popular and so holding to it results in being small and, to some extent, marginalised. But surely a ‘bum on a seat’ is only worth having if that same ‘bum’ is intimately attached to a person with a heart, mind and hand who supports the core religious and spiritual vision of the local community?

Every church is having to face up to this need and, although it can sound horribly PC, all of them recognise the need to articulate ‘vision statements’ which help us explain better what it is we are doing and to show more clearly what it is we stand for and to what a person is being asked to commit themselves. My old philosophy tutor and friend Victor Nuovo attends Middlebury Congregational Church in Vermont and he has helped his own church write such a vision statement. It is worth considering because it so clearly echoes the covenant my own church affirms (In the love of truth and in the spirit of Jesus the members of this church unite for the worship of God and the service of humankind) and explicitly unfolds it into the realm of the practical. It is a vision statement I certainly share with them and I hope it may anyone who reads this to think along similar lines. As we enter the season of Advent and Christmas – a time of love and gift-giving – should we not be making it clear what is the gift liberal Christians we are freely offering the world? The following statement and vision is, I think, a beautiful gift and I commend it to you.


We are a community that seeks to live by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth that we love God with our whole heart and mind and that we love our neighbour as ourselves. In this spirit, we affirm universal and unconditional equality and acceptance of all. We affirm but one orthodoxy: a love of truth that is a sincere desire to understand how the world is and our place in it. With our whole heart, we desire to promote, among ourselves and in the world, compassion, justice, and peace, for such is the Kingdom of God.


Our Mission is to live as Jesus taught, loving God and loving our neighbours as ourselves.


Therefore, looking to the future with hope, our church community will be defined by all of these characteristics:

The life of Jesus of Nazareth will be the standard for all that we do individually and collectively.
We will reflect continuing growth in our understanding of our place in the world and our responsibility in it.

Children and Youth will be central to the life of our church and will be unconditionally accepted in it.

Our search for truth and a sustaining faith in God will be evident.

Communal worship in many forms will be vital to church life as will our support and encouragement for each other in our individual spiritual journeys.

Education in the ways of Jesus of Nazareth will be an essential and exciting part of our programs for children, youth, and adults.

We will be active and responsible stewards of Earth.

We will be practicing radical hospitality and welcoming all with unconditional equality and acceptance.

We will be caring with compassion for our church family and neighbours near and far.

We will be working for justice and peace among all people.

We will be committing our time, our treasure and our talents to fulfil this vision for our church.