Statements that convene and represent a church or any other type of communal entity are important. They are integral in giving identity and direction to who we are and what we do. From the inside or from the outside, though, we can sometimes read more into them or get less out of them than perhaps we should because of built-in expectations. As Congregationalists, and as Christians, there's a couple things we think are important to remember about our values as you consider them to keep them in a meaningful, useful perspective:
As a group of individuals, we will inevitably hold these core values in different ways, and as an organization, we welcome and encourage that. We all recognize what you will read below as meaningfully representative of our shared identity and purpose together in God, but many of us will prioritize different parts more highly than others, many of us may even have different ideas of what exactly they mean, and many of us may even understand that our group connects with some of these things while we don't fully buy into all of them on our own individually. We value that fact. Our diversity at its best helps our creativity, our accountability, the breadth of our encounter with God, and the dynamism of who we are and how we organize ourselves.
As imperfect people making up an imperfect church, we acknowledge some of these values can be really well embodied and some of these values are currently more aspirational than actualized. We do our best to be our best with God's grace and help, but we're never really all the way there. Some of our values do a good job of describing who we are, and some of our values do a good job of describing who we're working to be. Some of our values may even do a good job of showing how we're still trying to work out all our values. We trust God to keep us striving and developing in a good direction, though, and are excited for how we (the people joined together now and those who will find their way to community with the people now) can help each other get there.
"We are working, worshiping and caring as one in the family of Christ."
You probably already saw our church mission statement on the home page. This helps us remember the character of the community we are endeavoring to form together as a church. Here's a few things to notice about this statement:
Working: There are lots of things that make up being a church. Sunday services are often the main thing people associate with church, but all the things we do all week are integral to our identity too. From deepening our personal relationships, to serving the community, to developing partnerships, to commiserating through tough times and taking joy in good times - we need all of it to truly be a church. Relatedly, we know it can be easy to think of being a part of a church to be about visiting, or attending, or listening, or supporting the leaders. We strive to be individuals who are fully vested in contributing to the success of our organization, and to be an organization that prioritizes creating outlets for the perspectives and contributions of all of our individuals.
Worshiping: We acknowledge our rootedness in God is essential and primary. We need to be steered in all we do by God's heart, vision, and mission for ourselves and all of the world we live in. We need to have God's love and spirit as our ultimate resource that enables who we are, who we become, what we decide to do, and how we do it. Convening in many ways to be thankful, to be accountable, to give honor, and to be inspired is how we abide in God the way we need to.
Caring: Earnest, empathetic, engaged relationships are especially important to us. There are lots of type of work, worship, and mission that a church will do, but we believe we do all of those things best when they have those types of relationships at their heart. There is a risk in having church become task oriented, achievement focused, and rote in our traditions - trying to emphasize caring relationships in all we do helps protect against that.
As One in The Family of Christ: When God moved to draw humanity closer after the diaspora following the fall and the flood, God could have used a kingdom, or an army, or a hero, but instead formed a simple, unlikely, flawed family starting with Abram and Sarai. Jesus and the early church also emphasized how the ultimate reconciliation enabled by Christ brought together brothers and sisters who could all call God "Father" as Jesus did. When this family operated at its best, it could be even more than the sum of its parts: fully one as the body of Christ - with purpose for and connection between every type of person. We love those metaphors for God's people, and it resonates a lot with what our church community is like - with many of us having been raised in the church and/or being together for decades, some of us being actual legal and blood relatives, and all of us doing our best to include each other like family. We know there's messy and difficult parts of being a family, too, and sometimes being a new person fitting into an established family can seem intimidating. Ultimately though, we do our best to be a family that embraces the messiness and trusts the bonds God forms to carry us through tough times, and to be the type of family that people feel instantly welcomed by and see a home for themselves in no matter what the initial relational or time-length connection.
"We covenant with the Lord and with one another, and do bind ourselves in the Presence of God, to walk together in all his ways, according as He is pleased to reveal Himself unto us in His blessed word of truth."
This is the covenant statement that is part of our church constitution. Congregational churches take constitutions seriously as a way of giving orderliness to the organizational life of a church, and we take covenants seriously as a way of giving sacredness to the cooperational life of a church.
We remember our church is not an agreement between people in front of God, but a deep, purposeful bond and partnership between each other and God together. With God amongst us and a part of who we are, we expect our connection to be dynamic, long lasting, and active in the world. We commit to being guided by God rather than relying on our own vision, and we trust that God will be continually speaking and revealing the ways our covenant will thrive and manifest, and that we will share in encountering and discerning this important, trustworthy, powerful communication.
The church tradition GC3 associates itself with is Congregationalism. This means we're not exactly non-denominational or independent - we do align ourselves with a certain history and a sort of ethos, but it does not play the role in our church, and therefore our core values, that a denominational structure does for some churches (eg. Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Catholic, etc.) You can read more about Congregationalism as a whole on its page under the "About Us" menu above, but here's a few key ideas that are important for what we say and don't say about our core values for our church:
Each local church is sufficient unto itself as an embodiment of God's people and does not need to be steered by an overarching institution or structure for its order or doctrine.
This value imparts on our church significant amounts of both freedom and responsibility. We are able to make decisions about how we live together as people of faith without meeting obligations from any outside group, but it's also important we step up to proactively make those decisions together and embody them with our actions rather than relying on the direction or action of others. We especially trust in God's intimate presence and faithfulness in our community to enable this.
Every person of faith is free to pursue personal understanding of and connection with God after their own conscience.
We strive to give individuals in our church the same autonomy for their own faith as our church feels it should have from other outside institutions. This means we do not have extensive doctrinal measuring sticks for belonging in our community. Our commitments to each other and to God to humbly and earnestly pursue to God together is what holds us together as a community. We celebrate that sharing our unique encounters with God help all of us to deeper and richer faiths, just as our unique gifts and talents help all of us to a deeper and richer community life. This also means we don't draw a lot of lines in the sand to pick fights over, but we do commit to diving into even difficult explorations of our differences when it helps us healthily stretch ourselves.
Every person of faith should commit to meaningful connection with other people of faith in a local covenanted church community of some kind, and every church of whatever kind should commit to participation in God's universal church through partnership with other local churches of whatever kind.
We know that independence can sometimes risk isolation. Just because we don't expect everyone's faith to be exactly alike doesn't mean we don't think it's important for people to live out their faith together. It's not always simple, but we strive to accomplish an interdependence that fosters connection without demanding conformity. It starts with our relationships together in GC3, and we hope to take that same spirit to organizational relationships in the community because while every local church is sufficient as an embodiment of God's people, it does not encapsulate the entirety of God's people. Our local church family hopes to be a loving, contributing member of God's universal church family.
As you can probably gather from the Congregational values that are important to our local church as GC3, one of our core values would not be to operate from a strongly specific, deterministic statement of faith or set of doctrines. However, we have to admit that to even hold that value, there are a few ideas about God that are naturally tied to that position about doctrine. On the other hand, there are a few doctrinal ideas that we really do hold as a Christian church, even amidst our happily diverse range of belief that are worth acknowledging rather than leaving open. Here's some of those key points:
We uphold the Trinity as God's identity, and the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth (recognized as the Christ) as the means of ultimate reconciliation with God and experiencing new, eternal life.
While we celebrate and seek a range of individual faiths just as we celebrate and seek a range of personalities and perspectives, we are distinctly and comfortably a Christian church family. The Trinitarian nature of God (most classically understood to be comprised of the unified bond of Father, Son, and Spirit) and incarnational deity of Jesus to mediate our connection with God are the most foundational distinguishing doctrines of Christian faith from other deist faiths, especially in the Abrahamic traditions. These are deterministic in our identity as a family bound together and given purpose by God. There are many details about the finer points of these doctrines, and other beliefs within the tradition of Christianity, that we believe it is valuable to have room to work out together, but we don't stray from this foundation.
We believe that God's nature and character is beyond full human comprehension, but also that God seeks as full of connection with humanity as possible, and that we, in our shared humanity and diverse identities, are gifts to each other from God as part of what enables that connection.
It can be tempting for our own sense of certainty, or to try to avoid potential questions and criticisms, to assert that we have control of a full and final understanding of God. We believe it is presumptuous to make such a claim as flawed, finite beings about the Creator and Sustainer of all of reality. We also believe and have experienced that God is deeply relational, and reaches out and reveals Godself to us, and so while we can't control or grasp the entirety of God, that doesn't mean we cannot know anything about God or have no shared life with God. In fact, if we're all willing to acknowledge our own limitations, and appreciate the perspectives and experiences of other people and parts of God's creation, we expect to find that our understanding of and connection with God and each other will be broader and deeper - and that God intended for things to be that way all along.
We believe that God's love and grace are foundational in God's identity, give proper meaning to the other characteristics of God we encounter, and enable our messy but beautiful connections with God, each other, and all of reality that give life wholeness.
Even though we're limited and flawed, God connects with us and empowers us to be a part of developing wholeness in ourselves and all of reality. Even when we cause significant harm and division between ourselves and God, each other, or the rest of creation, God values us and offers a way of reconciliation and restoration. All the ways we interact with God, and God interacts with us can ultimately be understood through those ideas. When we accept that about God, we don't have to be disingenuous about our own failings, nor hopelessly despair over them. When we accept that about ourselves and others, we can let go of insecurity and judgement, we can be open-handed, open-hearted and open-minded with who we are, and we can appreciate those people and experiences outside ourselves that stretch us. Through all of this, God enables a shared life of wholeness, beauty, and impact that anyone is welcome to join in.