After the Congregation elects the Board of Trustees in May each year the Board gathers over the summer on retreat to strategize and plan what are the ways we as a Congregation need to act in the upcoming year to help us work toward our vision and mission becoming a reality. The first thing we did as we do each year is first confirm that we feel our vision and mission is still valid for our Congregation. I encourage everyone to read it, they are on the order of service each week. Let us know what you think about it. These are the statements that guide our actions in the Congregation. With each action we take, we ask, is this is some way fulfilling the vision and mission of the Congregation.
And lets be honest, some of it is broad in its wording, so we have to discern in what areas we need to focus on and how to implement programs that meet those needs. After two years of discussions with Congregants we created a strategic plan. Last year we started the implementation of the plan with the hiring of Administrative Staff and to develop diverse programming. Our new programming has been diverse. We have embraced a pluralistic approach to our theology welcoming all those who are on religious and or spiritual journey.
This past year and ongoing thru December Adult Religious Education has been leading a World Religion Class. This year our Children’s Religious Education program curriculum will be focused on World Religion’s Holidays and our First Source Team (formerly known as the Spiritual Practices and Programs Team) will be leading classes based on sacred texts, some from world religions, some from personal sacred texts. I’ll talk more about the Sacred Texts in September. For those who are newer here, I want to be clear, Unitarian Universalism draws its wisdom from multiple sources. In the Unitarian Universalist Association Bylaws it lists six sources from which our living tradition draws.
It is my hope in our vision of plurality we could implement six teams each of which will focus on a source. And it is my further hope that each of those teams would provide ritual, education and service for the Congregation. We currently now have 3 of the six covered. Earth Based Sources, Humanist Sources, and the first source which is the “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder” So it is interesting to think about plurality within Unitarian Universalism. Our name itself speaks to this. Unitarian, which at its inception in the 16th through 18th century spoke to the Unity of God versus the trinity of God. But more recently I think speaks to the Unity of all things. Or how a Buddhist may say Being one with Everything. (monk and hot dog vendor joke) Universalism speaks to the inclusion of all things. No one is left out.
Oneness and everyone. In some ways it seems contradictory. We live in a world of many distinctions, so how can we be one? Just as a simple example, just look at the clothes we wear. Look at all the different colors we have on, Look at all the different styles of clothes we have just here, And lets admit, we all have different reactions to and often make certain assumptions about people based on what clothing they wear. Thinking of that, think about how much more unique each of us are when we speak of theological beliefs. So first I would say we should check our assumptions at the door and get to know people for who they authentically are and not judge them or label them based on what they wear or what they believe. Pluralism is necessary though to be able to differentiate all of the distinctions in life. To create an environment where people can explore what to wear or what they believe. However when doing that we cannot lose sight of the big picture, Ultimately they are all just clothes. We need to explore how all of the differences come together in a mosaic that is our experience in the world.
We need to examine them in all their depth, to know why one idea moves our fellow Congregant to tears and another idea moves another Congregant to change their life. It may not move you, but I would hope you would be curious as to how different ideas affect others. We come together to rise above the differences to say that even though I don’t agree with you I still love you. Even though someone believe in plaids and others believe in solids. Even though one may believe in transcendent God and you believe in no God or a natural God, we can still be friends and explore the big questions of life together. Even though I may want one color paint and you want another color paint, I will trust you with that decision.
And that is how the foundation of community is built, through coming together, through openness, through trust, through caring for each other, and being curious about each other, and not just retreating into our corners, but coming together to learn how to be human together. Coming together to learn how to be in relationship together, Coming together to learn how to love together. To be one with many, and to be many with the one. As we walk together to the future, I follow the maxim I heard in a Bruce Springsteen song that goes, “lets make our steps clear, so the other can see” because future is not always clear. But if we move forward with our authentic selves, we have no need to be defensive, and it allows us to be open to whatever life brings us.
When I was away this summer at a zen monastery, I wrote a Haiku that went.
The future's not clear
Yet I am peaceful within
Yet I am peaceful within
None of us knows what the future holds. But if we know who we are and where we are headed we have to just take those steps with faith that we can change not only ourselves, but the world.
This summer while I was gone the Supreme Court Ruled in favor Marriage Equality as the law in this country. So how many of us saw clearly 10 let alone 30 years years ago that we would have marriage equality as the law in our country. I would imagine very few saw that coming. But many many courageous people at risk to themselves and their livelihoods, kept working at, not knowing when or even if a positive outcome would prevail, but they persisted because they were being authentic to themselves and standing with their community. Our association kept working at it when other religions turned away and turned against people of differing sexual orientations.
Unitarian Universalism turned towards the ideal of full acceptance, because we were being authentic to ourselves as it was part of our religious value system that speaks to the inherent worth and dignity of all people. And although this was a victory there is more work to do. There are others in the world, even in our community that are still hurting and in need, and although we may not be clear on how, we are clear as to why we stand with those who are oppressed. We have been empowered with a tremendous responsibility. To be our authentic selves, to create an environment where love and freedom can be expressed, so that we may go forward to build the beloved community the world that we dream about.
As Nelson Mandela said,
I Have walked that long road to freedom
I have tried not to falter
I have made missteps along the way
But I have discovered the secret that
After climbing a great hill, one only finds
That there are many more hills to climb
I have taken a moment here to rest
To steal a view of the glorious vista
That surrounds me, to look back
On the distance I have come
But I can rest only for a moment
For with freedom comes
And I dare not linger, for my long walk
Is not yet ended
Now we ask you to climb down from your mountain top into the deep valleys of your pockets, wallets, or purses as our ushers come around with the collection plate, and we ask you to be as generous as you can be so we as a community can to continue to climb mountains and fulfill our vision of Supporting social action initiatives in the greater community. We do this by sharing 50% of all non pledge collections. This month we will share our offering with First Day Project which provides school supplies for students that could otherwise not afford them.
Once you have had the opportunity to donate, we invite you to come down and light a candle to mark a joy or sorrow in your personal life. Let this sacred time begin.
Part II (after the song If I Were Brave)
Let us be brave. What are you being brave about? What are you taking a chance on? Who are you connecting with that you might not normally connect with. Let us have the courage to live into the people we are capable of being, and let us have the courage to live into the Congregation we have the capability of being. Let us have the courage to actually achieve our vision. In my first reflection, I mentioned that the Board came together in a retreat in July and we crafted what is called our Annual Vision of Ministry for the Congregation. It is as follows.
“We, the 2015-2016 Board of Trustees of the UUCQC, will endeavor to support the Strategic Plan by fostering greater integration of members, visitors and program participants into deeper congregational life.”
There are goals that are attached, but first I just want to focus on this vision statement. First I want to focus on that we indicate members, visitors and program participants. This focus of fostering greater integration is not just about visitors, but also existing members. So I am curious, how many of you have just become members in the last year. How about 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 50 years. Ok, if you have been here 50 years you are exempted from having to do anything you don’t want to do. But everyone who has been here less than 50 years. I want you to look deeply at your relationship with the Congregation. What roles have you played. What roles could you play, what calls you to deeper relationship with the Congregation. How could you mentor newer members to ease their journey into Congregational life? You can help with that. As well, how can we make it easier to help newcomers to find their place and to feel a part of whole. That is what the Board is exploring this year.
Second I want to focus on the statement supporting the Strategic plan. This is something I take to bed with me almost every night I sleep with this thing. (well not exactly). My point is it is our roadmap. We may take diversions, or go on certain journeys before we go down other paths, but the strategic plan is our reference point. In it it talks not only about growth in numbers but growth in participation. Growth as a functioning community, growth in individual and collective wisdom, and growth in service to the larger community. We are always working on all of these, but primarily this year we want to focus on participation.
This last year we added numerous programming and that will continue, and we have had many new people walk through our doors this past year. The question is how do we make them feel a part of this Congregation as opposed to just attending a program at the Congregation. That is a ministry for all of us including the newer members. We want to make it easier for you, but you also have to want to make this Congregation yours. Ours is not an easy religion that tells you what to believe and what to do. You have to work at it. But by doing so, you become a part of and author of the religion itself.
So the board in addition to the Annual Vision of Ministry came up with 5 goals.
1)”Model and encourage increased collaboration among teams and committees to enhance the quality of and participation in programs and worship,” Just doing this will engage others in Congregational Life and will put each who participate in touch with other Congregants which will not only expand their personal connections but will let them experience other aspects of Congregational Life. So we might have other programs be included in leading worship. As well I have seen Green Sanctuary and Children and Youth religious education work with grounds to develop the playground and the gardens. This year Social Justice is committed to working with Children’s religious education as well on certain projects. We are better when we work collaboratively. We are better we come together as a community than if we only see ourselves through a narrow lens. We will find wholeness together rather than apart.
2)”Promote a culture in which each person feels more enriched and connected through their involvement in our congregation.” This to me is so important. Each of us are unique individuals with unique gifts. Find your core, the thing that you are moved to do or learn and do that and share it with others. Like the hymn we sang at he beginning, “brighten my pathway with radiance here, mingle my calling with all who will share.” By sharing, both you and others are enriched.
“3)Clearly communicate how essential and appreciated the gifts of money, time and talents of each individual are to the health of our congregation.” And it is appreciated. Thank you. It is why I sign every email I write with a grateful heart. Not only to tell the receiver I am grateful, but as a constant reminder for me to live my life in a state of gratitude. Nothing would happen here without you. And so much more can happen here with the full commitment of everyone here and as well all those who has not found their way here yet. We are and could be a significant influence on the life of our larger community. We can promote an ethos of religious and spiritual growth and acceptance, and work towards making the Quad Cities a more just community. We also can be a significant influence on each other. Helping each others in all the chances and changes of life, and as well on our religious journeys. But it all starts with you. You are the people that make it happen.
4)”Enhance the visibility and accessibility of our programming to reach a more diverse population.” Not only is this explicitly a part of our vision and mission, this is a part of who we are. Like a symphony or choir, the more, diverse we are, harmonizing together the richer we are as a community. As Schopenhauer said, “Every person takes the limits of their own field of vision for the limits of the world." Let us expand our vision, and not limit ourselves based only on our own personal experiences.
You will hear more about the Annual Vision of Ministry in the next newsletter and throughout the year from the Board. I ask you to be open to be engaged. I promise you it will enhance your life. For those who are engaged, I encourage you to connect with some of our newer members and let them know how this community has affected you. We may not always agree, but we can always be. Just be with each other on our journey. Let us have the courage to be, let us have the courage to look deep into ourselves and find what is at our core and let us have the courage to connect with others and share it. Let us see our ministry clear. May it be so.