So, there I was, sitting in the minister’s office at the Meeting House, surveying my surroundings, soaking up what I could of the place, in an effort to know it better. I had happened upon the poster a couple of times, but this time I stopped, to actually read its message! It had no bold title and I wasn’t sure exactly what I had stumbled on – a statement of values? – a vision for the future? – a mission perhaps? What was its origin I wondered, its history? I wonder how many of you have heard it before; how many had a part in its creation; this statement that Liz has shared with us in our reading.
When the August Newsletter arrived I was so grateful for Sue Bauer’s unsolicited page one representation of what I know now is the UUMH of Chatham Vision Statement alongside the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Seven Principles which we covenant to affirm and promote as a member organization and the more recent addition to our Wayside Pulpit of what we “In this House” believe. Thanks to Beth Avery for the wonderful photograph! Every week as a part of our worship service we share in our Affirmation, too; another way we express what we are all about here. It is an audacious foursome which I copied and pasted and printed so as to view it side by side as I thought about what I wanted to say this morning!
In asking around a bit I learned that the vision statement was adopted in the late 1990’s through a series of opportunities for folks to weigh in about what was valuable to them; to likely answer the question, “What do we want the congregation to look like in five or ten years as a result of its efforts in ministry, programming and outreach in service to our highest aspirational values?” – “What are our dreams? – or some similarly worded inquiry. A vision is about what a congregation wants to make of itself. It takes the things you value and puts them into phraseology that encourages and inspires the creators and those who would follow them, enabling them to move from the status quo to a new reality.
I can only guess that the seeds of some of these goals had already been planted when the Meeting House was formed and had in some ways taken root and were being nurtured into existence by the time you entered into this process. It says you are striving, which implies a vigorous effort. It talks about the broad application of our UU principles; nurturance and safety; freedom and celebration associated with mind and body and systems of belief we all adhere to as individuals and collectively. It beseeches us to be welcoming and to be in real relationship with one another. It asks us to always make a way for learning and growth to be possible.
My observation is that you have endeavored well in these areas and whether you did so intentionally or not, you have fulfilled much of this dream since its inception. It has been twenty years, give or take, and I wonder, too, if any of this might want an updating that would position us in a forward-looking direction beyond what we had set our sights on accomplishing those many years ago. Something to think about.
That said, what I really wanted to introduce was the idea of mission today. In my study I have determined that we are most of the way there! A mission is based on values and vision, which we have set before us in many ways. All these things are interrelated and representative of our commitment to one another. They can be paradoxical as they address opposites ends of the spectrum of our existence. But we agree together on them all; ground them in our history as a congregation, while taking note of what we value today – the times in which we live – the future we anticipate. We are growing and changing all the time and so our various statements are dynamic also, reflecting our evolution.
Just like vision has its questions, so too does mission, asking, “Why must this congregation exist in the world?” “Why must this congregation exist in the world?” Mission gets, rather succinctly, at the core of who we are and what we value, making a social contract of sorts about how our life together will be more meaningful. It is an action statement about what we want to do in the world and with whom. It informs the work of the church, making clear to members and to the larger community exactly who we are and what we stand for. The mission describes the way a congregation lives out its life.
I come by this topic honestly, having heard from some of you a measure of uncertainty regarding the mission of the UU Meeting House. And if some of you are expressing it, then I can be sure that more of you may be experiencing it! You know what you value; have this vision for what you hope to be, and maybe are mostly; you are grounded in the things you most certainly affirm; maintain a connection to the larger whole of this faith AND still there is this hesitation with regard to mission.
I have said several times since I began with you that I have found this place to be one of great care for itself as a community of faith. This is so valuable, especially now, but it can also be somewhat of a trap because people have community in a lot of different ways these days, be it with family or coworkers or groups we volunteer with around causes that are important to us. This idea of caring community needs a little more meat on its bones or fruit on its vine if you are more inclined in order to evoke the kind of attention and dedication we seek; in order to guide our leadership in decision making which is yet another function of mission. We want to inspire, infuse energy, provide clarity to ourselves and to newcomers. Some writers about this topic advise that a statement about mission should be only one sentence or nine words; an idea that is lost on me because I have rarely constructed a sentence with only nine words! But for a mission it is probably right! And it should be understandable for a twelve-year-old; easily remembered. All of this sounds like a tall order, but I know it can be done. I have seen it happen!
Ursula LeGuin writes that, “Love doesn’t just sit there like a stone, it has to be made, like brick; re-made all the time, made new.” The vision and mission of the UU Meeting House of Chatham are like this love she speaks of; like the love that is the Spirit of this place. It is not static like the stone. It is something we have made together in this place; this particular brand of loving carried out within and beyond our walls. We recreate it every time we engage with one another in our worship services and our small groups; with an individual member of friend; when we take on a task that needs to be done, when we stand justice. We are re-making it in these times as we find new ways to love in response to our circumstances. So it is with our dreams and how we want to share the message that is ours alone, which must exist in the world. We have a place in history after all, you and I, and an active role in our meaning-making to bring to fruition what was begun in 1986 with those first meetings of “interested persons.”
In a book of guided journaling that I use entitled Rituals for Living, there was a quote just a week or so ago: “If you are guided by your purpose, life won’t feel like a missed opportunity.” Does this resonate with any of you? Does it feel like we may be missing out on an opportunity; that there is something to be aiming for that seems maybe amorphous; that we can’t quite wrap ourselves around even though we know with all our hearts how important it is.
It was almost a year and a half ago when I recognized this urge in me toward parish ministry. At first I ignored it, but it was a deeper kind of purposefulness that wouldn’t let me go. I began to look on the UUA Transitions website for half-time positions; I put together a ministerial record in case I wanted to share it with anyone; I met with folks in the Transitions office and updated my personal website so it was more widely applicable. When I created my yearly plan late last December, I named the things I felt purpose about; what I was dreaming of and the ways I would make it come alive, month by month. I decorated my home altar to reflect this time of movement toward purpose. If I hadn’t pursued all those steps, I would have felt like I was missing out on an opportunity; that life would somehow be incomplete. I am sure you have had similar experiences in your own lives or in other organizations that you have been a part of. We are all, in some part, the stories we tell about ourselves and our Meeting House is no different. There is power in naming these things, setting them before us as a beacon.
We here in Chatham would do well to “hone in” on this idea of purpose and mission. A mission statement says to the world, “This is what we are all about at UUMH!” Like the elevator speech that Unitarian Universalists are often encouraged to develop so that you could, in the amount of time you are on an elevator, explain your faith tradition to a stranger to it, it is a way to express the core ideas of our communities values and vision.
When the Board of Trustees needs to make a major decision, they deserve to have a guidepost – something to bounce the question off. A mission serves this purpose. How does a particular choice; its various options; how does it measure up against the mission? Does it align with why we say we must exist? Committees, too, are faced with the same dilemma as they navigate the week to week operations of the different aspects of church life. Mission gives us something to point to. We know why we are doing a certain activity because we can see that it serves the larger purpose.
A mission driven faith community moves forward with confidence in who it is and what its next steps are. It knows where it is headed – the prize it has its eye on. I invite you to take these four documents and place them side by side – especially the affirmation and the vision because these are of your own creation, but all of them. Read them over slowly. What are the common themes; the key words that pop up for you? Write these down as you notice them. I invite you to do this more than once with some time in between for things to settle out. Maybe you will share what you find in your small groups or committees and see where commonality exists. Perhaps we will make a time to come together and unveil these truths about our life together. This is an invitation into discovery; into bearing witness to who we are for ourselves and our world. This is an invitation into a mission driven future.
So may it be and Amen.