This past Sunday, I delivered the annual stewardship sermon to kick off our pledge campaign. The sermon was entitled: Creating the Future that We Want. I have in the past posted sermons here but I decided to do something different. I am going to expand on some of the points that I made in the sermon into a series of posts discussing what we need to do in order to create our future as Unitarian Universalist congregations. I begin with having a clear mission statement.
The mission statement of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa is succinct and clear. We are an open and nurturing community of Unitarian Universalists made visible by our actions for a better world. I mention our mission statement every opportunity that I get, not because I think people have forgotten it but because I believe that we must always have our mission before us. All of our actions need to be consistent with our mission and embody it. Every person needs to be able to either recognize the mission statement from the activities or be able to quote it. Every person, from the most veteran member to the person who walks through our doors for the first time, should be able to tell another person what the mission statement is.
“Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of the Little Prince, is quoted as saying “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” It is the same with a community that seeks to make a difference in the world; we must be looking outward together in the same direction. This does not mean that we all see the same things in the horizon nor does it mean that we understand everything at the same time or in the same manner. It certainly does not mean that we will always agree with one another. It does means that our intention for what is best for the community is headed in the same direction. One way of ensuring our intention is to remind ourselves daily of what we have stated our mission to be here in this time and place. The intention of this congregation could change, but for now, in this time and place, our mission is to be an open and nurturing community. Everything that we do from greeting people at the door to our sermon topics, from the artwork we display on our walls to the religious education we teach our children, from the leaders we elect to the landscaping outside need to be reflecting this mission statement. Together, we gaze our eyes in the same outward direction.” [From the sermon Creating the Future We Want by Rev. Fred L Hammond, given February 21, 2010 (c)]
So many congregations have mission statements that are too long, too convoluted, too verbose for any one to really take the congregation seriously. They read like they were trying not to offend anyone and in the end become unable to offer direction to the congregation. Mission statements are not about stroking anyone’s egos or intellect. They are about purpose. The best mission statements are succinct and many of these are under twenty-five words. The best mission statements are easily memorable.
The guide then to any action that is proposed by the congregation is the question: How does this fit the mission statement? How does this action that we are proposing advance our mission statement or purpose? Here are some mission statements from corporations. Some are good, some are very revealing.
Citigroups mission statement reads: “Our goal for Citigroup is to be the most respected global financial services company. Like any other public company, we’re obligated to deliver profits and growth to our shareholders. Of equal importance is to deliver those profits and generate growth responsibly. “ I think this a very telling mission statement. It states clearly that the shareholders and not the investors come first. It explains why Citigroup could agree to bad decisions that resulted in their investors defaulting and eventually their bankruptcy. Profit for their shareholders was their primary aim and ultimately their downfall. Yes, I am revealing a personal bias here.
Compare this with HEW Federal Credit Union’s mission statement: “Exceed our members’ expectations in our commitment to their financial success.” Enough said.
Darden Restaurants, which include Olive Garden and Red Lobster, is “to nourish and delight everyone we serve.” This is a mission statement that every employee can participate in.
These mission statements point to who is the primary focus of the mission statement. To whom does the congregation belong? Is it the board of directors? Is it the matriarchs or patriarchs of the congregation? Is it the shareholders or the investors–metaphorically speaking? Is it everyone in the congregation?
A good mission statement for a congregation should empower every member to participate in the fulfilling of that mission. The most senior to the youngest person should be able to participate in the mission statement being acheived. If this is not true, if there are areas in the congregation where the mission cannot be fulfilled then this is the area that the congregation has work to do. The mission statement can point out where the growing edges within the congregation lie.
Alice Blair Wesley in her 2000-01 Minns Lectures entitled Our Covenant, summarizes the classes she took with James Luther Adams thus: “Strong, effective, lively liberal churches, sometimes capable of altering positively the direction of their whole society, will be those liberal churches whose lay members can say clearly, individually and collectively, what are their own most important loyalties, as church members.”
A mission statement should be able to point towards those loyalities. Everyone should be able to articulate this clearly and with conviction. Where our loyalities lie will also indicate where our energy is going to be for the growth or status quo of the congregation. Having a clear mission statement is a step towards being able to grow a congregation. Blessings,