Those of you who are familiar with our building will have seen the gold lettering painted on the wall at the front of the sanctuary, declaring "PEACE ON EARTH GOODWILL TO MEN", but you may not know the story behind it.
Stoneygate Baptist Church has a long history of association with pacifism and conscientious objection. It is understood that the church was founded by members of another local Baptist church who opposed the Boer War, and members of the church retained a commitment to nonviolence throughout the two world wars, although in a wonderful show of love in spite of disagreement, the church continued to support those who did choose to fight, with records showing that aid parcels were sent to the frontline.
The writing was painted in 1924, the same year the city war memorial was put up, and it seems to have been intended as a declaration of the church's ongoing commitment to peace. It is a powerful statement, which we are proud of and stand by, but it has started to cause some problems.
Ninety six years ago, it would have been quite natural to speak of 'goodwill to men', as men was still used a generic term to refer to all people, but language shifts over time, and at first reading it now seems old fashioned and unnecessarily gendered. Children in particular have been confused as to why it is only men we wish goodwill for.
We believe that the heart of the message was always for everyone, and so we have recently commissioned local signwriter Al Scott to amend the lettering so that it now declares "PEACE ON EARTH GOODWILL TO ALL".
In some ways it is a small change, but in other ways it feels significant. We hope that it makes the message of our predecessors speak clearly for a new generation, and renews our commitment to peace. We also see it is a sign of our commitment to inclusion, recognising the importance of language in making sure people feel fully embraced.
Because when we say goodwill to all, we really do mean all. In case you missed it, just before lockdown we agreed a new statement on inclusion: Here at Stoneygate Baptist Church, we seek to welcome all people. That means that whatever your background, beliefs, sexuality, gender identity, ethnicity, health or ability, you will be included as one of the family. Anyone who professes Christian faith may be baptised, anyone who wants to commit to the church may seek membership, and anyone who is so called and gifted may lead or serve. We are not perfect and we don’t have all the answers, so we know we will make mistakes and we won’t always agree with one another, but we are committed to listening and learning and loving. If that sounds like the sort of community you would like to be a part of, we would love for you to join us.
You may not be able to join us in person yet, but you can join us online, so we invite you to come back to the blog on Sunday morning to worship with us. It would be a pleasure to have you among us, and whoever you are, we wish you goodwill.