On Communion Sundays our tradition for many years in worship has been to read together our FEBC Mission Statement. Lately I have occasionally substituted a different reading, one I call “The ABCs of FEBC.” Let me explain my purpose in doing this . . . .
I wrote the ABCs of FEBC as an attempt to express in “un-church-y” language (yep, I just made up that word) what I believe makes our church family distinctive and valuable as a community of caring followers of Jesus Christ. In this I deliberately avoid words that one hears mostly in church or in Christian venues (words like salvation, sin, grace, resurrection, holiness, discipleship,etc.), not because these words are unimportant to me and to us, but because they are difficult to understand, especially for people who have no experience of a church or of Christian jargon. Also, they are largely misunderstood or so variously understood as to be unclear and confusing, even for Christians.
So, I asked myself, what are we trying to do and be here? How do I say it in words most people understand with little or no explanation? Since I visualize “church” as a verb more than a noun, I focus on verbs—what we do (as in, we advance, bear, create, discover, embrace, focus, etc.) as opposed to what we stand for.
All of us, young and old, know “the ABCs,” so I chose to organize these statements as an alphabetic acrostic—that is, each line begins with the successive letter of the English alphabet from A to Z. This is a very ancient poetic form and even appears in the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament). Several poems of the Bible (Psalms 9-10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145; Proverbs 31: 10-31; Lamentations 1, 2, 3, 4) are alphabetic acrostics (following the order of ancient Hebrew letters), though this feature is lost in most English translations (one exception is the Knox translation).
Why this A to Z format? It is easy to follow, it may allow for easier memorization (very important in the ancient world when few people could read), and it suggests a completeness, “from A to Z” we might say.
My ABCs of FEBC are certainly not complete or exhaustive. In fact, below is my 13th revision as I think of new variations! I'm sure you could create a good one yourself that is very different from mine! (Why not try it?)
Although I hope it is mostly self-explanatory, in the version below I add a few words explaining what I had in mind as I wrote.
The ABCs of FEBC
We the members and friends of FEBC strive and aspire to . . .
Advance conversation and understanding—We talk with each other, not at each other. Our goal is not to win an argument but to understand how we are thinking. Not much else can happen without this.
Bear Jesus in our words and deeds—Jesus is our role model for living. Both what we say and what we do are crucially important. We reflect Jesus's life in how we live.
Create caring connections in all directions—Human society is a network, a web of interlocking relationships. How we connect (or disconnect) with each other determines the quality of our lives and our shared society. Our world today requires a willingness to connect meaningfully and kindly with people different from ourselves—hence the phrase, “in all directions.”
Discover and Develop God's creativity among us—God creates and so do humans. Perhaps this is part of the image of God intended in Genesis 1. FEBC is a community that values creativity in serving God and others.
Embrace differences—Too often church is about conformity—everyone being the same. Too often in churches what is different is also labeled bad, evil, or wrong, simply because it is non-conforming. Jesus clearly embraced different kinds and styles of people. That is what we do too.
Focus faith forward—Three powerful words here—focus, faith, forward. (Yes, faith is a church-y word—sorry!) Here I aim to emphasize hope over regret, forgiveness over hardheartedness, tomorrow over yesterday.
Give good generously—Another three powerful words: give, good, generously. Self-explanatory.
Humble our heads and our hearts—Almost every Sunday we sing “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord.... Head and heart means all of our being—thoughts and feelings.
Inspire courageous imitation of Christ—To live in imitation of Jesus is not an easy choice. We all need inspiration and encouragement to do and say what is right. We are here to help each other in this.
Judge no one—In the Bible, to judge means to condemn, to cross off, to eliminate. That is not our job.
Kindle kindness and compassion—This IS our job! Kindle is a fire word and the Holy Spirit is associated with fire and God's abiding presence that is kind and compassionate.
Listen first and Look within—Back to “advancing conversation and understanding,” listening is a crucial and sometimes difficult act of love. To look within applies to oneself and to others; it is our effort to understand the deeper impulses, motivations, desires, and fears that drive our attitudes, convictions, behaviors, and actions.
Make amends quickly—Repairing relationships quickly is crucial for a church to thrive and live its mission. This is another way of emphasizing forgiveness and reconciliation (church-y words).
Nurture youth and maturity—FEBC is all ages, which is a great strength and virtue. Our American society adores youth and scorns maturity. But here we adore all ages and promote that in our life together.
Open ourselves honestly to the Holy Spirit—God only enters by invitation. Honest and open with God is how we want to be.
Practice prayer—Yes, prayer is a church-y word, but inescapable. There is no word like it. I like the link of prayer with practice, which implies discipline, determination, persistence, patience, and skill-building. We take prayer very seriously here.
Quest and question for quality—Q is an uncommon letter in English, but I like all three of these Q words: quest, question, quality. Together they imply a journey, always looking ahead, expecting surprises, working for the best outcomes, never quite arriving . . . . sounds like church to me.
Respect what we do not understand—Another way of saying none of us knows it all; each of us can be easily mistaken. We give each other the benefit of the doubt and the gift of respect.
Sing God's praises—Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing . . . amazing grace! We love to sing to God!
Teach tenacity and tenderness—Teaching and learning are at the center of all we do. We focus on the Bible, but really we are building character. Tenacity and tenderness are not words often seen side by side but I think they capture qualities of character that are necessary for people of faith.
Undertake challenges with optimism—We strive to be positive and to see opportunity at every turn.
Verbalize gratitude and hope—Thank you! and Yes! . . . Out loud.
Worship God only—For a church this should go without saying, but this is the entire point and must be said . . . and said . . . and said . . . .
eXamine our motivations honestly—I'm stretching here for an “X” word but self-examination cannot be overemphasized. Honest self-examination can help us be our best selves with each other.
Yearn to learn more—Learning is lifelong and the desire to learn keeps us humble and fun to be around.
Zealously pursue only what is good.--A summary of everything above.
See you on Sunday!