Below is part of my address to this year’s AGM:
I have been struggling in the last couple of weeks to know what to say this morning. It would be misleading to stand here and pretend all is well with the church and the world. It is clearly not. Recent terrorist attacks and the terrible Grenfell Tower fire have created a sombre mood. It is tempting for us to naively think that we shouldn’t get caught up in this mood. We are Christians. We have a message of hope and good news to proclaim. Yes, of course we do, but we can’t ignore the reality that our times are challenging – even for the church. Numbers of regular worshippers, across most traditional denominations, are decreasing. That means that there are fewer people to do all the jobs that need doing. It impacts our finances. Meanwhile, the business of ‘keeping the show on the road’ gets more and more complicated as we have to abide by more and more bureaucracy and more and more compliance matters. These now impact our agendas and business to a very large degree. We have to learn how to be church in the midst of also being a charity and managing our business in a professional and appropriate manner.
So I have sought some inspiration today from my sock drawer. Not long after Christmas I got fed up with my sock drawer being a mess. In seeking help I came across the wonders of the Japanese art of de-cluttering. The guru of de-cluttering is a Japanese lady, Marie Kondo. The ‘Konmarie’ method of de-cluttering is simple. Take your sock drawer. The sock drawer is a good place to start de-cluttering because socks are socks. Not many people get too emotional about socks. Empty all your socks out onto your bed – including all the odd socks that have somehow lost their partner in the wash. Get them altogether. Choose each pair in turn, if you have a pair, and ask a simple question: Do these socks spark joy? If they do, don’t roll them into a ball, fold them carefully and lovingly, and put them in the drawer. If they don’t spark joy, throw them out, or donate them or recycle them. But don’t put them to one side and think they might come in handy one day. If they don’t spark joy now – get rid of them along with all those odd socks. Marie Kondo suggests you do this for all of your possessions – clothes, books, papers, photographs (they are really difficult), even furniture. Do they spark joy? If not, out they go.
I did my sock drawer. I didn’t stop there – the charity shop did benefit from a couple of bags of clothes. Nicola and I tried to be ruthless with books but that was hard. Shredding page after page of paperwork though was time consuming, noisy, but suddenly I rediscovered the carpet in my study. The de-cluttering was in many ways liberating. It was interesting to ponder what sparks joy. My Noah’s ark clerical shirt sparks joy – so it stays.
As a denomination, faced with a decreasing membership, maintaining increasingly ageing buildings, expenditure going up and income coming down, it might suggest that God is urging us to do some de-cluttering. If that is true for the URC in general, then I suspect the same is true for our own life as local congregation of the United Reformed Church. It has certainly become true for me. Last year I was approached about becoming convenor of the URC’s Accreditation sub-Committee which maintains the roll of ministers and oversees special category ministry projects. As convenor I would be a member of the Assembly ministries committee. As a member of the committee already I was keen to take on the challenge. But I couldn’t take that on without de-cluttering, without giving other things up. So I am no longer an ecumenical Borough Dean, no longer a member of the Synod Area pastoral committee and in April I gave up being secretary of our Synod Ministries Committee. If I was going to do the new roll properly I had to be realistic.
May be we have to be realistic too. What sparks joy for us? I am resistant to start listing things because I think we will do well to reflect on the question in our meetings together over the next few months. However, we have to recognise that in 2017 it is not enough to keep only what sparks joy and get rid of everything else. The Charity Commission would not look kindly upon us if we got rid of sound financial management. There are certain things we have to do because they are necessary, not because they spark joy. A fire risk assessment is never going to spark joy for me, but valuing the safety of all those who come onto our premises, so they do feel safe and at home here actually is something that are passionate about, so it does have an element of sparking joy about it.
Our mission is to continuing living the love of God, through worship and the service and care we give to God’s people and God’s world; by our commitment to be inclusive and to work for peace and reconciliation; by being faithful consistent Christians and by responding to the community around us.
So there remains only two things to say.
Firstly, thank you for the support and encouragement you continue to give me in my ministry here.
Secondly, being minister of Purley United Reformed Church continues to spark joy for me. Thank you.
With love and prayers
Russell J Furley-Smith