We celebrated Sueʼs birthday over lobster at her beach house in Maine, and I was reminded of the insightful truth in Isaiah 11:16, ʻ…and a child shall lead them.ʼ I was thinking of all the ways parenting for these 47 years has ʻled me.ʼ
During Sueʼs first few years we had no religious affiliation; I had left the Congregational Church of my childhood and early adult years, somewhat reluctantly, but I realized I simply could not give my assent, explicit or implicit, to the creedal statements about Jesus—as Godʼs ʻonly Son.ʼ
I knew about the Unitarians, having visited a couple of churches, and I felt ʻat homeʼ in them, but felt no urge to become involved, at least not until my four-year old daughter asked one day, “Dad, what am I?” She explained that her friend Marie had announced that she was Catholic. Without missing a beat I replied, “Youʼre a Unitarian.”
Thatʼs when I got involved in the Wellesley Hills church where we were living and I was teaching, and before I knew it Sue was attending Sunday School and I was asked to be the advisor to the high school youth group.
I still hesitate to associate myself with creedal statements. Twenty six years ago, however, I introduced what quickly became our affirmation: ʻlove is the spirit of this church,ʼ etc. Itʼs not so much a statement of belief as it is an aspiration, stating what we aspire to be.
Recently our Board of Trustees asked Mary Money to do some work on the creation of a mission statement – Mary has done an excellent piece of work, enlisting the help of a large group of folks of all ages and backgrounds. She says, “The goal of the mission statement is to define our religious community for ourselves as well as our neighbors and the population to which we belong.”
She says that the ʻpurpose of such a statementʼis to offer ʻa succinct statement for future directions and priorities, to foster connections, encourage membership and participationʼ in the congregation.
Our Mission Statement task force offers a three-word summary: inspire, connect and act.
They say, “We inspire and support individual spiritual growth; we connect through worship, music, learning and caring ministries and we act in the service of peace and social justice.”
The group reminds us of the Seven Principles of our faith, which affirm: the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity and compassion in human relations; acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth; a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process in our congregations; the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all; and respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are apart.
Neither our so-called Seven Principles, nor our Mission Statement, is intended to be a creedal statement as a prerequisite for membership in our congregation.
It is, however, a sincere and carefully crafted summary of who we are, why weʼre here and where we hope to go in the days and years ahead.
Mary and her group are planning ways to both inform and involve all of us in the final version of the Mission Statement – they want it ʻto represent the entire community, ʼincluding those who are supportive friends of the congregation but who do not choose to become official members.
Emerson said, “If I know your party I anticipate your argument.”
Sometimes in our enthusiasm we imply a kind of ʻparty line, ʼsuggesting that everyone should be in total agreement about current social issues and causes. That makes me nervous. It makes me want to say, “Wait a minute! Listen to what those who donʼt agree are saying.”
On the other hand, itʼs important that we stand for something – that weʼre inclusive of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons; that we are a diverse congregation, welcoming all ages, races and faith traditions; that we affirm individual spiritual growth through our religious education and odyssey programs, our music program and our social justice efforts.
Weʼve come a long way since 1949 when that small band of religious pilgrims gathered in living rooms with a mission in mind – a band that outgrew the living room meetings, and the Westport Womenʼs Club space, and the Saugatuck School, and because of their vision and their commitment we have our exceptional facility on Lyons Plains Road.
The work that Mary Money and her Mission Statement task force has been doing is a powerful and timely reminder to me of why I became a Unitarian Universalist.
It is being presented to us as we begin a new church year, helping us to focus on the essential meaning of our service of rededication on Homecoming Sunday. What does it mean to ʻdedicate and to re-dedicateʼ ourselves to this religious community?
I want to express appreciation to Mary and Company and encourage you to pay attention to what they will be presenting for your consideration.
Finally, I want to say that Iʼm eagerly and energetically looking forward to this new year. Iʼve had a restful summer, inspired by our General Assembly in Minneapolis in late June, and a week at Chautauqua in July and time in Maine, lobster, waves and all!
I hope you are well and Iʼm looking forward to seeing you soon.