This picture, which appears on the cover of the book Building a Relational Culture: finding fellowship in the Church of England offers a number of ways to imagine the importance of relationships.
Hands of different skin tones hold one another, bound by questing roots looking for nourishment. The hands support and protect a rich soil, out of which something green and new grows. There is support and solidarity as well as strength and mutuality. As long as the hands remain woven together, the green shoot will grow and flourish.
In a blog post on the Relational Church UK site, Paul Davies offers some markers for a relational church that works like the hands in the picture.
The virtue of communal discernment: We make important decisions through praying, listening, reflecting together, and seeking a common mind with the many and not the few.
The virtue of the open question: We enter the space with one another in community where we give and receive the freedom to share, create, and enrich, causing each of us to flourish together. In the spirit of the open question, we give ourselves to the depth of another and allow it to change us to create a future together like a diamond that has many facets. It is unlike the black and white of the closed question which limits and suffocates our life and participation together.
The virtue of speaking and listening with: We make the intentional movement from listening and speaking to each other to speaking and listening together in the space that is between us. We are seeking the love of Christ to bind us together with the Holy Spirit in this space between us. The only true meaning is what we create together in the listening and speaking with and not to.
The virtue of outcomes not being predetermined before a conclusion: When we make decisions with each other it is important that no one predetermines the outcome and forces it on others at the conclusion.
The virtue of mutuality: Is where giving and receiving to each other is a two-way street in a relationship that binds us together in Communion with God and with each other. The Spirit of mutuality is the deep sharing of mutual worth and accountability in our activity and in our presence with each other.
The virtue of relational orientation: Our relational orientation is the centre of our intention and attention and not a means to an end. Our relational orientation will often mean we move more slowly, and things will take longer to agree and make happen and often with self-sacrifice.
The virtues of transparent trust: Is something that we see, hear, touch between us and is not simply within us. It is not something that is assumed or hidden, rather it is something that is palpable between us. The great sign of transparent trust is the confidence we have in ourselves as we move towards a “secure relationship.” Transparent trust anchors us to our deepest self which is ours together.
Some things to do; ideas to ponder:
- What do you think about when you look at the picture?
- What other images of relationship or relationality can you think of, or perhaps design or draw?
- Which of the virtues do you value most? What might the ‘vices’ of church be (Paul’s article goes on to suggest some ideas)
- How does your church or Christian group measure up to the virtues? Which do you think the Church generally might struggle to achieve?
- Activities like singing together or praying together can foster a strong sense of community and friendship. What other kinds of activities in the life of your church particularly bring people together?
- How can Christians intentionally ‘weave’ those on the margins or excluded people fully into the life of the Church? What about people with disabilities? Children? Older people?
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