2012-06-07

Need Clarity? Name the Change.

Sometimes a congregation could use more clarity about why it gathers, maintains a building, pays a staff. Not that there aren't already have some good words about what the congregation is all about. It's very rare for a congregation to have to start from scratch on this. Most are off to a good start.

Unitarian Universalist congregations have the seven principles. Most also have some form of vision and mission statement. These say quite a lot about what the congregation exists for.

The seven principles – the principles for all Unitarian Universalists -- are a covenant to affirm and promote:
  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth;
  • The free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process in our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part.
What does any UU congregation exist for? It exists to affirm and promote those seven principles, that's what.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville, like many congregations, also has a vision statement. Here's the UUFG vision statement:
“We are a diverse religious community committed to lifelong spiritual growth and compassionate service to each other, our community, and the earth.”
What does UUFG exist for? It exists to be that kind of committed religious community.

In addition to a vision statement, UUFG has a current mission statement. It's too long, almost no one knows it, and I've never heard it referenced in decision-making. But UUFG does have one:
“Honor the inherent worth and dignity of all people of the world in which we live.
Respect and encourage the many different approaches to spiritual fulfillment.
Support each other in life's passages and struggles.
Work compassionately for peace, liberty and justice.
Celebrate our connection to the sacredness of life and protect life's sustaining systems.”
What does UUFG exist for? It exists to honor and respect worth and dignity and diversity; support each other; work for peace, liberty, and justice; celebrate and protect.

Here at UUFG, our Unitarian Universalist principles, our vision, and the current mission statement are all good. Affirming and promoting those principles, living by the vision and mission of this Fellowship – those are all wonderful. They tell us a great deal about what we're here for.

A great deal, but a little more clarity could help.

You may have noticed, the language is all rather general. How exactly shall we, for instance, affirm and promote the free and responsible search for truth and meaning? How exactly are we to work compassionately for peace, liberty, and justice. And how can we tell if we’re doing it?

If those are the things we’re here for, are we doing them? Are we doing what we say we’re here to do? If I had to answer that question, I'd have say, “Well, kinda.”

It’s not that UUFG needs to specify more details. I don’t think that would help. Details are subject to endless quibbling over and too easy to ignore in any case, too hard to remember. Details don’t capture the heart and fire the imagination.

What we've got is language that's general and abstract. Yet adding specific details isn't the way to go. So what would help?

Here's what I think would help. Each one of us asks herself/himself this question:

"How would I like to be changed?"

We can get some clarity on what we're here for if we can identify how the members would like to be changed. What kind of person would they like to become – that their congregation could help with? Our seven principles don't answer that. They don't say how the people living by that covenant will be, or would hope to be, transformed by adhering to the principles. The vision and the current mission statement of UUFG do not indicate how the members can expect to be affected by following that vision and mission.

The central question for each of us is this: On what path would I like to see myself? In what direction is that path headed?

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This is part 4 of 6 of "Mission: Impossible"
Next: Part 5: "Perfection and Intentionality"
Previous: Part 3: "Scylla of Banality; Charybdis of Incomprehensibility"
Beginning: Part 1: "Theology and a TV Spy Show"