During the last two years, the Transition Team and the congregation have worked together to understand the identity of First Parish, or “who we are.” This year we will be asking “who do we want to be?” Addressing these questions is necessary to re-center ourselves after a difficult last ministry, to adapt to a tumultuous national environment, and to conduct a search for a new settled minister.
Values are a major dimension of any congregation’s identity. Our values are about how we as a congregation live and try to live, what we stand for, and why as individuals we choose to be part of First Parish. Understanding and communicating our values accurately is essential to achieve a good match with ministerial candidates, and even to welcome potential new members. To initiate the ministerial search, we are required to answer questions like: “Describe and provide examples of how your Congregation lives its values.”
The Transition Team led a series of workshops in early 2020 in which members of the congregation discussed their own views of First Parish values. We had planned to present a summary of the workshop discussions to a larger forum to get the perspectives of people who could not attend the small-group discussions. Covid-19 interrupted that plan, so we are asking for your opinions by email.
Below is a draft description of First Parish values, written by the Transition Team. It attempts to synthesize themes that we observed in the values workshops and the spirituality survey, as well as in earlier documents such as the Shared Ministry Review, the Vision 2020, and previous surveys and discernments. You will not be surprised to hear that all of these sources show that we are a collection of individuals with differing – often strongly differing – beliefs, preferences, and opinions. This makes it challenging to create a meaningful statement of our core values as a collectivity. You’ll notice that the first two values are internally focused, while the second two relate to the greater world.
So, we ask you to review the statement below to see how it fits with your own perceptions of who we are as a congregation. Does it describe First Parish as you see it? Would you agree to have First Parish being described in this way? What seems inaccurate? What is missing? What changes would you suggest?
Please let us know your thoughts with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a word or an essay, or even just a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, but be sure you’re included.
We consider spirituality important in our individual lives and central to our life as a congregation. We have diverse spiritual and religious beliefs and perspectives: we try to celebrate and learn from that diversity. We rely on the Sunday morning service to nourish our spirituality through prayer and meditation, music and ceremony, and messages that teach and inspire. We seek spiritual growth in small groups that learn, meditate, and discuss. We strive to foster spiritual and ethical development in our children and youth.
Sharing a welcoming, loving community
Our Sunday service is a community experience. We value being together and we find joy in welcoming others. While we do not have the demographic diversity we would like, we value diversity greatly and gently suggest that with our rainbow chairs. We love our youth, honor our elders, and appreciate the efforts of our young families. We show up for one another, especially during those vulnerable times when help is needed with food or flowers. cards or warm words. We rally quickly during crisis to set up phone chains and make sure no member is going unheard or unnoticed.
Serving our neighbor
As individuals, in groups, and as a congregation we strive to love our neighbor in tangible ways. Long-standing and ad hoc groups offer meals for people experiencing homelessness, Christmas gifts where there might be none, music and cheer in nursing homes and prison, and food and clothing drives in community emergencies. We support and encourage individual congregants working for causes of their own choosing, be it an orphanage in Africa or a campaign against racism. As a congregation, we make grants to enhance nearby organizations’ ability to serve vulnerable populations. Most recently, our actions have shown renewed passion and advocacy for social justice.
Cherishing the Living Earth
We are a community in and of nature, surrounded by trees, fields, ponds, and hiking trails. We value the pastoral beauty of our location and draw upon it to feed our spiritual lives. Many of our favorite hymns use the symbolism of nature. Our Sunday sermons draw upon it. Cherishing the living earth includes but goes beyond our green action programs. It is the breath we take to feed our souls; it gives us the strength to nourish our spirituality, to be a loving welcoming community, and to serve our neighbor.
Please send your thoughts about this potential statement of First Parish values by Monday, Sept. 21, to email@example.com.