awareness of who we are as Unitarian Universalists and what our faith calls us to create in the world, then our mission and its defining statement will crystallize that call so we don't forget it during hectic times. But if we hope a mission statement process will tell us who we are and what our role in the world is, if we hope it will give us our sense of purpose, we will only meet with frustration.
"Knowing who we are" and "having a purpose" can sound like so much psychobabble. Yet I think many of us have wondered what it is supposed to feel like and mean to "be" Unitarian Universalist. Some of us assert that being UU means we can be and feel anything we want so long as we don't conflict with the seven principles. To me, this feels like a solitary and impoverished approach to our faith. The mission statement of a congregation laden with this approach will likely be tepid and so will the congregation's impact on its members and on the surrounding community.
During this year's Learning Congregation programming called "Got Purpose?" participants claimed that being UU does not mean we can believe and do anything we want. They have expressed a hunger for some certainty about answers to the questions "Who are we as a people?" and "What is our purpose in this world?" As we approach our fifty-first year as a consolidated faith, these questions can no longer remain only rhetorical and inspire only musing. The time is ripe for answers that are shared, argued, and honed by you and by me until we approach some degree of certainty, until being "UU" means and feels like something we can know and trust.
Participants of "Got Purpose" and I have begun a search for certainty by reflecting on eight questions that might steer us toward the answers we need. Here are those questions:
- Grasping Religion's Purpose: What do I believe is the fundamental purpose of religion and am I willing to join with that purpose?
- Internalizing the UU Legacy: Which of the historic ways that Unitarian Universalism has fulfilled religion's purpose inspires and instructs me now?
- Honoring the Call: What is my current calling as a UU and am I answering it?
- Valuing UU as a Free Faith: As a free faith, what freedoms are most important to focus on and how do I do that as a UU?
- Valuing UU as a Liberal Religion: What makes my faith liberal and how have I demonstrated this religious liberalism?
- Defining the Transforming Message: How has my faith transformed me and how can it transform the world?
- Translating the UU Message: What currently makes sharing the UU message difficult throughout society and how can I overcome the difficulty?
- Embracing Accountability: How will I know if I am "being UU" the best I can?
If we meet face to face to explore questions like these, powerful and inspired answers will arise out of our congregations. Imagine, for a moment, how much richer discussions about a mission statement could be if we each entered the dialogue more certain of the purpose of religion, inspired by the legacy of our faith, knowledgeable and proud of the UU approach to challenges, and humbled by the spirit of call. Now that's a conversation I'd love to join.
I no longer believe the path to an inspiring mission statement relies on the process used. Instead, any number of mission development processes will work if a congregation is already knowledgeable and excited about being Unitarian Universalist. Our energy and attention can shift from the periodic frustrations of mission renewal to the engaging and life-affirming process of "becoming" UU. And when we can barely keep the lid on the energy that surges from clarity about our faith and its promise to the world, then it's time to renew our congregation's mission. Then...watch out!