Intentional Parish Dialogue: Toward Discernment and Parish Profile Development


Several parishes in our diocese are in the midst of discernment processes and intentional interim situations that involve the development of a parish profile. These notes are based on one such on-going discussion. Specific resources were used to facilitate dialogue. As your parish considers its future – whether in a discernment process or not – the following points are offered to stimulate general thinking about where we are as Christian communities today. The parish involved shall remain anonymous for now.

Resources upon which these three dialogue sessions were based include the following:

William Bridges: Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change

Harvey Cox: The Future of Faith

Phyllis Tickle: Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters

Diana Butler Bass: Christianity for the Rest of Us

Robin Myers: The Underground Church

Sessions were structured as follows:

November 12: Being the”Underground Church”: What do do strengthen as we move forward?

November 19: The Great Emergence: Some Insights from Phyllis Tickle

November 26: Living With Vision and Embodying Our Faith: Values and Intentions for Parish Life and Ministry

Specific focus questions for each evening included:

November 12: – What does change look like and how do we sort out the process of change? -What strikes you as important and worth looking at in Robin Meyers’ “Beyond Belief: The Manifesto of the Underground Church”?

November 19: -What does ‘emergence’ mean generally and in Christianity in particular? -What does it mean to be ‘biblical’? -Why is Anglicanism well positioned in general and in emergent Christian culture? ie. What is it about Anglicanism that makes it a vital and viable expression of living out the Christian faith? -What are Phyllis Tickle’s ‘signposts’ in the development of emergent Christianity?

November 26: -What basic intentions and values might we articulate in terms of living out Christian faith at _______ as we work toward a parish profile? How can we apply Diana Butler Bass’s “Ten Signposts of Renewal” framework to our faith community life at ________?


November 12

1. One of the major underlying values at _______ is the building up of Christian community. There is some tension here between the emphasis on Jesus Christ as “Teacher” and as “Savior”. “Savior” has traditionally indicated individual salvation with an emphasis on the promise of the afterlife. “Teacher” emphasizes community where people can have diverse views about Jesus as “Savior” and still be in community where those differences are celebrated. “Community” does not mean we all subscribe to the same “beliefs” about the nature of God and our relationship to God through Jesus Christ. Community at its best avoids “labeling” others and essentially values people over beliefs.

We live in an age when beliefs about Jesus and what He accomplished by his life, death, resurrection and ascension differ. The Church is shifting away from a legalistic view of ‘blood atonement’ to a broader situation where, as a community practicing certain ways of life, we live into the mission of God in Jesus. This shift denotes a more ‘operational’ faith based on who we are and how we live that out rather than on what we believe in terms of propositional truths about the Divine and our relationship to the Divine. This point of view has implications for ‘marketing’ our community of Christian faith that we need to explore.

2.“Beliefs” can be ‘easy and cheap’; that is, entities that require little commitment to living out the Gospel in the midst of a needy world. Beliefs can unnecessarily separate people into “us” and “them”; those on the “inside” and those on the “outside”. How do we reconcile this reality with being a ‘creedal church’? We accept that, as Diana Butler Bass reminds us, the creeds are wonderful expressions wherein lie our hope as Christians. They do not express literal statements about God and ourselves. As _____ reminded us, the creeds are like precious jewels we bring out to honor and admire from time to time. At their best, they remind us of what we trust and believe into.

3. “Trust” is a key value word in all this. ‘Trust’ is more of an action verb describing our relationship to God. ‘Trust” implies a recognition of our own vulnerability as we ‘let go and let God’. As individuals and as a community, we get to ‘trust’ through experience with others. We trust in one another – even to the extent that we strive to “look for the good that’s not there yet”. Building a community where trust is a key value to be practiced, we look to ways to model Christian community where we serve each other; it is important that we find occasions to build social relationships as the basis of spiritual relationships. Things like Maundy Thursday supper and Shrove Tuesday are not mere religious / historical observation; they are a means of strengthening our “belonging” to one another. Thus the crucial role of Children’s, Youth, and Family ministries as a means of planning and carrying on events that strengthen bonds on several levels.

4. Our parish values a position that as Christian community, following Jesus is just as important as worshipping Christ. The church often loses sight off Jesus and creates an opposition between ‘following Jesus’ and ‘being the institutional church’. We always need to work on closing this gap. Implications for developing our church budget: Outreach and greater community presence and contribution should match operational spending. In terms of the world around us, we need to ‘tend the garden we’ve been given…not murder Creation.’

5. The sum of the above is that we must truly live in hope, joy and unconditional love. We must never use fear as a weapon for instrument to win people. We must welcome all with a ‘come as you are’ attitude.

November 19

The implications of ‘Emergence’ theory as applied to Christian Faith and Practice and where we Find Ourselves at _______:

‘Emergence Theory’ is based on the reality of growing complexity in every area of human endeavor that needs to be recognized and understood. As Christians, part of the ‘Emergence” is a movement away from institutionalism to community. Part of emergent post-modern culture is an innate distrust of human institutions to address and solve problems effectively – given the growing number of variables, both within our control and beyond our control – that govern human situations. Rigid hierarchies in government, economics, religions and social institutions are undergoing a ‘leveling’ as all members of a group seek a voice in determining directions and futures.

As Phyllis Tickle points out, our model for a leveled hierarchy (the replacement of all authority being placed in bishops, for example), is the Trinity itself. As Christian communities, we embrace the mystery and manifestation of the Trinity in our personal and communal lives. The ‘perichorisis’ or dance of inter-relationship between the members of the Trinity is our model of community. The Trinity is a complex mystery through which we seek to understand God; it reflects the complexity of our human relationships as members of the Body of Christ. True community redistributes authority so that it is shared and often provisional – not absolute. Community invites all into the “human conversation”. So effective Christian community is based on a recognition of the work of the Holy Spirit working among us through caring, loving and giving.

What does this approach to “authority” in Christian community suggest about the authority of the Scriptures?

A. Rather than being a ‘one-way’ authority, we approach the scriptures in a relational way: they speak to us in relation to ourselves as individuals, as a Christian community, and as a way God communicates with us.

B. We approach the Scriptures with respect, expressing willingness in accepting an invitation to find wisdom in ancient texts – in the stories of God’s relationship with people in other times and places.

C. We are invited to struggle with the text and the multiplicity of meanings it opens up in the light of our human experiences and our interaction with the Divine. We seek and find contemporary meaning in the communal story where more ancient communities speak into our own community’s hopes and needs. We see in the Scriptures the story of all of us – a living story where we are all invited to be interpreters.

D. We open doors through the proclamation and study of the Scriptures to attest to the power and truth of story in the lens of the context in which it was written.

Anglicanism and Emergence: The call to the “Ancient Future”

Anglicanism is suited to play a significant role in contemporary social, cultural and spiritual emergence because it is rooted in an unbroken historical line of Christian expression; Anglicanism is “ancient” and at the same time flexible enough to embrace “futures” of various kinds. Anglicanism has evidenced, in spite of its conservative nature, a willingness to break out of old structures.

Anglican-based emergent Christian movements such as “Fresh Expressions UK” with its “Fresh Expressions Canada” branch and Anglimergent give us freedom to explore things like “messy church” diverse worship styles, and different models of community involvement.

Anglicans are suited to emergent culture because we have found ways to ‘marry’ faith and science as mutually enhancing and valid ways of exploring human reality. Anglicans have a capacity for embracing paradox and holding ‘truths’ in tension with one another. We are “loving the questions” rather than rushing to pat answers that in the long run may not only be inadequate, but harmful to Christian life and witness. Anglicans are willing to participate in dialogical ‘both/and’ thinking.

Here, then,  is the basis for a whole set of values we can reflect in our community life at ________ and articulate in a parish profile.

November 26

Intentions and Values – Insights from Harvey Cox

Diana Butler Bass shared some insights about “trust” as a key value of effective Christian community. Harvey Cox helps us explore faith as a way of life rather than a set of beliefs or doctrines.

1. Faith is action; it is ‘living the Way’. In the Christian life, actions are more important than articulating ideas.

2. We care challenged to experience the Divine rather than live on the level of abstract description. Our role as salt and light in the greater community, then, is to reach out to people around us so that they too can experience the Divine. Here is the central role of pastoral care in our community of faith. Pastoral care should be rooted in this kind of vision and then implemented in an organized way. Our call to people is “Come walk with us – an invitation to live”. We communicate that we have something of great value to offer: good news that invites us all into “doing more than we can ask or imagine”.

3. As a community, we should be affirming faith as opposed to confessions beliefs that may divide us. Affirming faith is therefore a basis of deeper unity into our “common” life. Involved in that deeper unity is hospitality – toward one another and to people whose paths we cross, and who God may be sending to us. At our Eucharist, we practice an “open table” where all are welcome. Belief, then, comes through faith and not through assent to a set of ideas about God. As “believers” we are ‘followers of the Way’ as early Christians were known.

4. The sum of life in a faith community such as _______ is that faith itself is a dynamic life-orientation: something with different implications for all of us as we work together in community. In living out faith, we reflect hope for the coming Reign of God which is now among us, but whose fullness is yet to come.


NOTE: During the third session in our series, we developed a ‘thought web’ around Diana that we have along our journey together Butler Bass’s “Ten Signpost of Renewal”. The contents are presented here linearly rather than in the form of a ‘web’. The centre of the web is “Intentions and Values”. The spokes are each of Butler Bass’s ‘signposts’; the intentions and values suggested for ______ follow each of those headings. HOSPITALITY: WELCOMING STRANGERS (and ourselves!)

radical and inclusive; a key congregational value; offering space for community groups; greeters on Sunday play a key role; follow-up visit procedures for new people who request a visit or from website inquiries;follow up on having ‘new comers lunches’ periodically; support children, youth and family ministries events that build the community through participation in them and through inviting others to participate; strengthening our own friendships through being in each others’ homes and doing activities with others in the parish


encourage an approach to truth that values active and intentional questioning; speak into the chaos of contemporary daily life in a way that doesn’t look for easy answers, but focuses on wisdom; engaging in spiritual practices that are springboards to wisdom; finding opportunities to probe deeper with those with similar questions; refuse to be bound by unhelpful labels such as ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ in the context of our relationship with God; maintain a ‘high view’ of Scripture that values its speaking the Word of God to us in rich and various ways that go beyond a low literalism


act as agents to promote God’s universal peace (shalom); processes that extend healing to one another and to those beyond our community that involve building relationship and which are based on prayer; consciously enact God’s transformative Grace, extending it to the world; taking prayer seriously


learn to listen to and for God in silence in various large and small group settings; have opportunities for intentional spiritual practices including ‘communal silence’; be open to a heightened awareness of God’s presence among us


Living out of the reality that experiencing community and transformation produces one’s story; valuing and encouraging being ‘surprised by joy’ in ‘living the questions that we have along our journey together


engaging people beyond surface differences; promoting intentional unity in practical ways; overcoming and living with our differences effectively; reflecting diversity in a purposeful way


engaging best practices in serving people; looking for needs in the world and engaging in appropriate advocacy and healing work; service to others based on relationships; expressing a life of servanthood


worship that holds forth God’s dream for the world; worship where we experience God’s mystery; worship that embodies transcendence


building up a community that is biblically literate, not biblically literal; building on affirmations of faith and trust; engaging in Bible study and theological exploration together


beauty is an important aspect of worship; the beauty of our Christian story; reflects the beauty of possibility: “more than we can ask or imagine”; the artistic impulse is an important part of living out faith

Psalm 133:1: How good and pleasant it is when God’s people dwell together in unity! (NIV)

Again, it is hoped that this kind of dialogue / discussion can aid parishes in moving forward by articulating their goals, hopes, imaginings and ministry intentions.

Rev. Steve Bailey is deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam and a blogmaster for NW Anglican Blog. He has conducted parish consultations and coordinated the development of “A Toolkit for Parishes Facing Downsizing or Significant Change” for the Ecclesiastical Province of B.C. and Yukon (2009). 

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