Thursday, January 19, 2006

Becoming the People the World Needs

Last spring my Unitarian Universalist church brought in a facilitator and had an open meeting to develop a new mission statement. We already had a mission statement, but (though well intentioned) it was long and cumbersome, and no one ever referred to it. We hoped to produce something short and inspirational that would stick in people's minds and provide some focus for our diverse activities.

As a writer, I thought I bore a special responsibility to come up with something good, something that would take the meeting by storm and send us all home happy. I wanted a statement that would balance our inward-facing spiritual work with our outward-facing social justice work; not privileging one over the other, but casting them as necessary and complementary halves of a healthy church.

I failed completely. Nothing came to mind in the weeks leading up to the meeting, and during the meeting itself the best statement I could think of was so pedestrian that not even I remember it.

Our process had a bottom-up structure. After a few committee-of-the-whole exercises, we each were supposed to write a mission statement for the church on an index card. Then we met in twos, compared our statements, and wrote a consensus mission statement on a new index card to take to the next level, a round of four. And so on, until the proposals had filtered down to a handful. Then we appointed a committee to take that handful and finalize something for the whole church.

They did, and at the June congregational meeting that concludes our church year, we voted to adopt it as our new mission statement. It is shorter than the old one, and just as well intentioned. But, as you might expect from a committee-drafted statement, it lacks poetry. It doesn't scan quite right; my tongue trips whenever I try to say it. And I've already forgotten what it is. Since the new church year started in September, no one has used the mission statement to remind me what we're doing here.

Sometime during the summer, though, I had a spirit-of-the-staircase moment. From nowhere, the statement I should have proposed to the meeting popped into my head -- four months late. (I picture some kind of mystical clearing house, where my request for a church mission statement got mislaid, or drifted to the bottom of somebody's In box. After a departmental reorganization, the new Angel of Inspiration pulled it out of the stack and said, "What's this?")

Anyway, here it is: Becoming the people the World needs.

That, in my opinion, is what a UU church should be about. It's short. It's memorable. It respects both the inner work of healing and growth and the outer work of bring justice to the World.

And it's yours, if you want it. If your church is looking for a mission statement, this one is a bit second-hand, but it's still its box and has never been used. I offer it free to a good home.


Jaume said...

Perhaps it is necessary to add a purpose for that need. Are we the people the world needs... to be definitely obliterated? To become a really silly place? To be "mostly irrelevant", as described in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? Or to be a more just, peaceful, and happy place for, if not everybody, at least most living beings on it? It's amazing how easily we UUs take our own aspirations for granted!

chutney said...

Wow. I am in in awe. Very nie.

Robin Edgar said...

You and other like-minded UUs are cordially invited to observe the Day the World needs on March 29th. . .

Will Shetterly said...


And I say respectfully to Jaume, UUs love to add definitions. That's why we rarely produce anything that sounds like art or faith.