Who Are We and Where Are We Going?
As we begin our fall season and kick off another year in our congregational life, I’m moved by our theme of the month of September, “vision,” to reflect on our congregation’s direction and identity. Institutional identity is often framed using mission and vision statements. While we do have a mission statement, I realized we don’t have a vision statement.
When we were finishing our “Building Up, Reaching Out,” building expansion project eleven years ago, we realized it was time for a strategic plan to actualize its potential. We developed a very nice one (you can read it here http://members.albanyuu.org/wp/pdf/strategicplan.pdf ) but nowhere is the vision identified from which the plan was built. Usually the mission identifies the core values and purposes of an organization. Its vision expresses the specific way it wants to bring that mission to life. The strategic plan lays out how to get there through goals and objectives. Our strategic plan assumes an unstated vision that I would like to attempt to name here using my years of experience and ministry at Albany UU as my guide.
First, let’s remember the congregation’s mission. The vision needs to be consistent with its purposes and values. Our mission states:
We welcome everyone. Our Unitarian Universalist community seeks truth and deeper meaning, pursues justice through inspired action, and cultivates compassion and love for all connected by the web of life.
Welcoming everyone, seeking truth, pursuing justice and cultivating compassion are the key purposes that spring from our Unitarian Universalist values. We see ourselves as connected into the web of life of which we are a part. Love is the glue that holds everything together. We are a this-worldly religious tradition that feels the test of right and wrong should be measured here – not as part of some other worldly plan.
If you take our mission and deconstruct our strategic plan and what we strive to accomplish year after year, here is a place to start for crafting a statement of our vision:
Sustain and grow a vital and nurturing Unitarian Universalist congregation in the City of Albany through religious services, faith development, social witness, service and advocacy, and community building.
Welcoming everyone, seeking truth, pursuing justice, and cultivating compassion happens throughout each of these components of the vision. They all happen on Sunday morning, in our religious education and family ministry program, during our Social Responsibilities work, our Caring Network, at UU Weekend and even at the Annual Dinner.
After eleven years, we need a vision this time to help us update our strategic plan and set new goals and objectives. Our social witness and advocacy is needed now more than ever to defend democracy at a time when the forces of fascism strengthen around the globe. Whether oppression of marginalized communities, threats from climate change and international instability, increasing social needs and crises that our government chooses to neglect, our vision can help us choose relevant, responsible and appropriate ways to make a positive difference that energizes and motivates us.
In a time of great social change, we need faith formation work to develop the meaning and purpose of our individual lives in the context of the world’s needs through our congregation’s values and purposes. Leah Purcell has been bringing us the message from her DRE peers that the old vision of Sunday school is dead and needs to be replaced with a new model the Liberal Religious Education Directors Association (LREDA) members are furiously trying to develop. Adults need faith formation too to help defend our spirits from an American capitalistic soul crushing economic system that doesn’t appreciate our humanity and sees us as disposable means of production – to be eliminated if possible through automation.
Computers, the Internet, and social networking can operate to physically separate us while at the same time more deeply connecting us through social media platforms like Facebook. I know more about thousands of people than I could possibly have known twenty years ago. Yet people are realizing they need face to face community more than ever. We need person to person communication that is more meaningful than clicking “like.” That is especially true when people want to find meaning, affirmation, inspiration and uplift together in worship. The information age is changing what people need from worship.
The times are changing rapidly. Our vision and strategic plan needs our attention to keep up and stay relevant as we return together again after our summer adventures. Be sure to email pictures in and bring your water for our Homecoming Service September 9th!