All Souls is on a journey of change. Yet change involves loss and grief, even for good changes. Change involves endings so that new beginnings can emerge.
Over the past 12 months, over a hundred surveys have been submitted, dozens of focus groups run, monthly prayer meetings held, our history presented, a special lunch and open-table discussion in May, as well as meetings of committees, Parish Council, and staff to discuss our future vision and directions. For some, this has been an exhaustive/ing process, while others still lack awareness. Currently, we are at the point of drafting our strategic document and making specific goals for 2022 and beyond. More opportunities for your feedback will be available before our launch event in February.
Yet change for established churches is complex and messy. Sustainable development requires the people affected by change to be involved in the new beginnings. It is a process of learning and growth, where the congregation adopts a posture of listening to God and discerning where the Spirit might be at work. It is about disciples of Jesus working with the Spirit and each other to proclaim the story of Jesus afresh and build his kingdom for every generation. Change must not be forced or manipulated, but arise from inner strength and integrity.
Are we ready for change? Different people are at different points on this journey of transition (e.g. shock, denial, awareness, acceptance, experimentation). Regardless of where you’re at, it is important that we work together, express our feelings and listen to each other, and remain focused on our primary task of sharing the gospel afresh to every generation in a changing world.
About 50 years ago, the then rector of All Souls’ Langham Place in London, John Stott, wrote an article called ‘The Conservative Radical’. He highlighted that Anglo-Saxons often ‘polarise’ things, especially the debate between conserving the past and agitating for change. His point is that ‘every Christian should have a foot in both camps.’
Stott wrote that ‘Every Christian should be conservative, because the Church is called by God to conserve his revelation, to guard the deposit (cf. 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14).’ But Christians must not focus on conserving our preferred style of expression, including style of church services. A ‘radical’ on the other hand, asks difficult questions and tries to change and reform convention and tradition.
Stott argues that Jesus had a foot in both camps. He did not come to abolish the law and prophets, but to fulfil them (Matt. 5:17-8; Jn. 10:35). But Jesus was also radical in his criticism of the Jewish establishment, sweeping away centuries of inherited tradition to renew and restore God’s people. Thus, Jesus was conservative towards Scripture but radical in how to express the faith.
Another Christian author, Jaroslav Pelikan, wrote that ‘Tradition is the living faith of the dead; while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.’ It is imperative for us, today at All Souls, to pass on the living faith of the Scriptures – being conservative in how we treasure the good news – yet willing to be radical and in how we express this living faith. Let’s work together to be both traditional and radical for Christ and his kingdom!
All Souls Sandringham