Cityside - some values we hold
I thought that it might be useful on this, our membership renewal day, to remind us all of some of the things that make Cityside Cityside. Over the years, people have visited us, and have gone away saying things like 'that church is weird, they sit on cushions,' or 'they collect their offering in socks', or 'that's the church where they light candles all the time' or some such. But the Cityside ethos has never been about cushions or socks or candles. Those are surface things. I hope that what and who we try to be goes deeper than that. I'm just going to run through a list of things that I consider core to our values here. Some of you might be hearing this for the first time. Others have heard it before but may appreciate the refresher. Others have heard it all a million times and you can feel free to look out the window and daydream for the next quarter of an hour.
The first key word is permission. And with that word goes other words, like responsibility, maturity, and trust. The 'authority' in Cityside does not rest with me, or with a group of leaders. We are all Cityside. So every Citysider has permission to fulfil their interests and gifts within Cityside without needing to ask if it's okay, or to have their idea vetted and checked and approved by me or a particular group of leaders - unless it affects us all in some way - in which case the idea is brought to the whole community for consideration. In practice, that means that anyone can start a small group, make a notice, contribute to our services, start a new service, use the building, hold a social event, or begin a ministry in the wider community.
At Cityside we have no 'officially sanctioned' ministries or programmes. Things happen because some people want to make them happen. And if nobody does them, they don't happen. For many years we had no children's ministry and we lost families because of this. But we simply didn't have the volunteer force to cater for children in the way some people needed. It was wonderful when first Erin, and then Julia, and then Sarah James, and now Kirsten and her team, stepped into the breach and began making something happen for our kids. But it only happened because some people saw a need and were prepared to meet that need. Same with the coffee project - Adee and Ali had a great idea, and they bought the machine, and they assembled the volunteers, and now Cityside is a fair trade church with barista coffee, with profits going to a women's clinic in Cambodia. Small groups have come and gone over the years as different people have stepped up to make them happen. I don't organise them. I don't always know how many there are and I don't know what goes on in them. I don't need to know.
We've often talked about the Cityside 'umbrella', which is the idea that anybody who wants to initiate an event or an activity can do so, and if they want, Cityside will put its umbrella of support over their initiative. The umbrella might consist of the building space being available...currently Tealight Acoustics, which isn't a Cityside event, operates under our umbrella to the extent that we have a relationship with them and they call our building home. The umbrella might involve financial support, if there are Citysiders who want to give to your idea. It might be prayer, mentoring, accountability. It might be participation, if you want helpers. It might be simply taking an interest.
You might not like or agree with everything that happens under the Cityside umbrella, and you probably wouldn't be able to be involved with it all even if you wanted to. But part of our commitment to each other is to say that where a Citysider or a group of Citysiders is pursuing an idea with integrity and sincerity, it is their right to do it, and our commitment to offer supportive freedom.
There are only two qualifiers that I can see to this principle - one is that we have limited physical space, so that any activity involving the building has to take into account the other users of the building - and we have a booking system that tries to facilitate this. And the other is that in all we do we seek to be relational. We think about the impact of our words and activity on other people and the community in general, and we check out where we think there might be an issue of concern. And, if a problem arises, we are able to talk honestly, listen well, express feelings, we choose not to blame or scapegoat, we are self aware and take responsibility for our own 'stuff', and in everything we seek to talk and act in love for one another.
So, that's permission. The second word - and I promise they don't all begin with 'p', is participation. It's related to permission, but relates specifically to how we worship together. Our worship consists of the voices and perspectives of all of us who make up Cityside. Not everyone is an 'up the front' kind of person, and nobody has to do anything they don't feel comfortable doing. But the more contributions we have from the community, the more our worship will reflect who we are. Our services are not things that I 'put on' for us. My commitment is to making them happen, facilitating people's involvement, and making my own contribution to the words and ritual. But our services are us sharing our stories, facilitating each other's connection with God in music and actions and words and spaces that reflect something of our unique way of being in the world.
There are no barriers to participation in our services. I have been startled recently to have conversations with a few people that have assumed that in order to get up here and lead a part of our worship, there must be some kind of moral qualification - a kind of standard to be met, or a checking process to make sure that the people who stand up and speak are modelling a particular kind of life. That simply isn't so. And that goes for people who lead small groups, or do any other thing in our community life. We are all on the journey together - sharing our weaknesses and our struggle and our doubts and our disbelief as well as our strengths and our joys. We worship from where we are, and we invite others into that. So let me say it quite clearly. There is nothing that you can do or be that would prevent you from having a voice in our worship and community life. If I can think of one exception, it would be the repeated, deliberate disregard for the needs and feelings of others, by saying or doing things that undermined, excluded or disparaged others. And even then, we would be seeking to restore and forgive, not to ban.
The third word is openness. We aim to be open to diversity and difference, open to change, open to a whole range of ways of worshipping God and knowing God. We do not require conformity of thought or expression, of politics, of lifestyle, of theology, or of experience. We recognise that there are different stages of faith, and that we are in different places on that continuum. Some of us love and read the Bible regularly. Some of us haven't opened it in years. Some of us pray in words and see God do wonderful things in response, some of us are disillusioned with prayer, or have discovered that we pray best without words. Some of us name Jesus as personal saviour, Lord, redeemer. Others name him teacher, friend. Others name him as cosmic wisdom. Others struggle to know what to do with him at all. Some of us are happy with the current government. Others would do anything to get rid of them. So when we come together, we don't expect that we will always agree.
We might want to share what inspires us, and encourage and influence others towards something we care about, or we may feel strongly that we want to affirm something and want others to affirm it too. We might have a cause that we feel passionate about that we want to enlist others toward.
But we do that by telling our story and speaking from our own perspective, rather than by laying down absolutes that we expect others to sign up to. We don't assume that we have the answer that everyone else needs to hear. In our worship and in our community life, we invite, rather than explain, we listen before we speak. And in our relationships we try above all to stay open to one another, and open to the fact that we might be the one that needs to change.
In our worship together, we attempt to be open to a wide range of different ways of approaching God...accepting a level of mess, open-endedness. Our worship isn't about getting us all to nod our heads in agreement to a doctrine or opinion. It's about engaging the heart in connecting with God. And remembering that the heart is bigger than the mind, and bigger than our emotions - it includes both. So we seek ways to touch and open each others' hearts, through symbol, ritual, silence and the senses, movement, words and listening. You are invited to do something experimental, something new. Or something familiar. From your heart to ours.
And we also stay open to the idea that as a community, we are on a journey and Cityside now is not the same as the Cityside that existed even five years ago.
The next word is engagement. Cityside is not a holy ghetto, we are not 'world denying.' Our Christian life takes place mostly beyond this gathering and this building. It happens in our work, in our play, in our socialising, our community service and in our arts and cultural engagement. As Christians who have a glimpse of the holistic vision of God, we seek and affirm life wherever we find it, not just in the church, and we will partner with anyone who seems to be going in roughly the same direction. That may mean that our 'ministry' - our way of serving and being in the world - is for most of us through community groups or workplaces or activites that are not explicitly Christian. Our gifts don't need to be channelled through the church to become ministry.
We are all called to serve God in the world. Part of our role as a community is to help one another to discern and live out our calling in the world, and to support each other in that. This means that we try to avoid sucking people's energy back into endless church volunteering and attendance...trying really hard to keep expectations of church involvement low and voluntary - even while we recognise that this is in tension with our value of participation, and the fact that for some things to happen that most of us want - such as our children's programme, we need volunteers to keep them happening.
And finally, the last word is not a word - it's a phrase from Isaiah - acquainted with grief. For a long time, the core scripture passage for Cityside was the the Message version of the bit in the gospels where Jesus says 'come to me, all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'. Many of those who find their way to Cityside are those who have known crisis and pain - either faith crisis, or depression, or other mental illness, or bereavement, or people who simply find living in this world to be pretty difficult. That's not everyone's story, but it's probably more of us than you might expect. And so along with that, a core value of Cityside's is to offer empathy and space for those who are struggling.
Part of that is accepting that when things fall apart, people doubt - and don't need to be told what to believe. People in crisis can behave in ways that are unhelpful and antisocial from time to time. They can be angry and need permission for anger. And they don't need anybody else's time-line imposed on them for when they should 'get over it' or 'move on.' What we can offer is understanding of different stages of faith, including the stage where everything is dark and difficult and all previous convictions have gone out the window. We can offer the opportunity for people to say what it's like for them, without trying to fix it. We can leave space - no forced involvement...people can hang at the edges for as long as they need, be as anonymous as they like, and be involved in their own time. And we can celebrate with them if and when life starts to regain shape and joy again.
So, permission, participation, openness, engagement, and acquainted with grief. I hope that you recognise Cityside when I talk about us in these terms. There's much that I've left out, things that I hope to talk about at some later point. In the end, if we forget everything else, let's remember Jesus' words before he died: 'Behold, I give you a new commandment. Love one another, as I have loved you.'