Let us set aside the consumer's mindset. The question isn't "what do I want the congregation to provide to me?" Though there are definite benefits of congregational life, that's not the main question in thinking about mission.
Nor are we asking for a strictly service orientation. The question isn't "what can I give to the congregation?" Though the gifts of your time, talents, and treasures are necessary for the life of the congregation, that's also not the main question in thinking about mission. Ask neither what your congregation can do for you, nor what you can do for your congregation.
Instead, think about the ways you'd like to grow, learn, deepen, and develop that congregational life might, conceivably, help with. This will involve some service to you from the congregation, and it will involve some contribution from you to the congregation, but not in a way that the receiving and the giving can be easily or neatly separated. It will also involve you doing your own work: much of it on your own, while guided by your congregational connection.
When we ask how you'd like to grow, learn, deepen, and develop, we aren't implying that you aren't good enough already. You're plenty good enough. You are, in fact, perfect -- exactly the way you are. So now what? What are you going to do next with your wonderful, perfect self? What's next for you in your ongoing growth?
Let us really listen to our own hearts and see if we can articulate what sort of direction our perfect beings are urging us to move in now. Who would you like to be more like, that your congregation might help with?
I got back a lot of answers to this question from my congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville. I think the tallest order of all would be the person who said their aim was to “remain just as I am now.” I resonate with this poignant yearning. There is a part of my heart that would like to stop time, make everything permanent. The heart knows that desire. But alas. There are a lot of things a faith community can help you with, but stopping time is not one of them. We could choose a mission that was focused on maintenance of physical and mental health -- we could orient our programming toward exercise and diet classes, and programs to help us keep our minds sharp. Such programs would help us remain healthier for longer -- but no matter how hard we work at it, individually and collectively, we won't remain exactly as we are.
A good mission statement will, in about three phrases, capture the yearnings that are most alive in us. Here’s one pretty good mission that one Unitarian Universalist congregation came up with:
“Healing spiritual disconnection by helping each otherThat’s short enough to remember. It has an even shorter way to remember it:
Listen to our deepest selves,
Open to life’s gifts, and
Serve needs greater than our own.”
Listen, open, serve.
If you can remember "listen, open, serve," then with just a little practice, you can remember the rest:
Listen – to our deepest selves
Open – to life’s gifts
Serve – needs greater than our own.
Then you only need to remember the lead-in: Healing spiritual disconnection by helping each other . . . listen, open, and serve.
This mission statement meets the criteria:
- It is brief and memorable;
- It identifies the work each member is there to do; it says how the members of that congregation want to be changed.
I don’t know what we’ll end up with at UUFG. The consensus result might turn out to be one that a few of our members just don’t feel called to. And that's OK. Even if there were folks (and I don't know that there will be) who aren't interested in the congregation's mission -- even if there were folks (and I don't know that there are) who don't want to be intentional about the changes that are coming anyway, those folks will always be welcome. We will always love them.
The world also needs – cries out for, really -- those who do choose to accept a mission of embodying a spiritually deepening liberal religion.
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This is part 6 of 6 of "Mission: Impossible"
Previous: Part 5: "Perfection and Intentionality"
Beginning: Part 1: "Theology and a TV Spy Show"