What story does your congregation tell about itself? Often asking folk to identify highlights and high points in the life of the congregation gives insight into what really matters, and can give impetus to new vision. Appreciative Inquiry harnesses this truth as a tool for exploring community in an asset based way. It’s quite old now, but there is a report of a piece of work carried out by Sheena Orr in the east end of Glasgow which gives a flavour of AI, and points to resources to find out more, should you be curious.
Anyway, that was a wee (though hopefully helpful) aside. The congregation I am part of, Cranhill Parish Church tells the story of being a wee community of faith with a big heart. By working in partnership with Cranhill Development Trust, based in our church building, we are able to support and facilitate a huge range of work with asylum seekers and refugees and those seeking to integrate and learn English, with older people around health and well-being and with folk who may be a long way from the labour market and need support to navigate the benefits system and look for appropriate work or training. This work is carried out by a fantastic team of staff and volunteers and Go For It has supported the integration work with a main grant over the past 3 years.
We recognise signs of God’s kingdom in folk flourishing. But sometimes the wee congregation can feel a bit overwhelmed by the numbers of people involved and the scale of Cranhill Development Trust’s reach.
We ask ourselves, ’What is our unique role in the mix?’ And this is where the gospel story of the mustard seed has been really important.
You know the story:
‘What shall we say the Kingdom of God is like’ asked Jesus. ’What parable shall we use to explain it? It is like this. A man takes a mustard seed, the smallest seed in the world, and plants it in the ground. After a while it grows up and becomes the biggest of all plants. It puts out such large branches that the birds come and make their nests in its shade.’ Mark 4:30-32
Small seed, big plant; or as Tricia McConalogue of Bridging the Gap in the Gorbals puts it, ‘Small steps, big achievements.’ And in addition, we have pictured ourselves providing shelter and space for all sorts of ‘birds’ to nest in the branches.
Thanks to the generosity of the family of one of the senior members of the congregation, who died in April 2017, we have been able to commission and install a triptych of stained glass windows which replaces the very small burning bush emblem we used to have. The new window, by Dorte Pape and Marc Peters of Stained Glass Supplies, incorporates the story of the mustard seed. Now Sunday by Sunday, and at all other times of the week as well, the image of the hospitable tree tells the story and invites folk in. As people of faith and prayer, as people of new beginnings and forgiven sin, we are able to complement the work of Cranhill Development Trust, giving testimony to God’s love and to the vision of God’s new community of hope (the kingdom of God).
And we are encouraged to be faithful in small things, planting seeds which will grow deep roots and grow tall; providing shelter for the birds and bearing much fruit.
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