The Story of our Proposed New First Unitarian Mission Statement:
Where it Comes From, What Informs It, What it Will Offer
Where it Comes From
A Mission Statement is a living document, meant to be reconsidered and updated on a recurring basis, to make sure it remains relevant and meaningful as our times and our community evolve. Having called a new senior minister meant it was a propitious time to reconsider our goals and purposes, dreams and ambitions.
Our congregation had been doing preliminary work on a Mission Statement for more than three years with conversations and self-reflection in many forms. The biggest effort to involve as many members as possible in this work was conducted in fall 2019 and was called Imagine the Future. 121 members participated directly in facilitated conversations that gave us the chance to do congregational self-evaluation. The results were recorded, tabulated, and preserved and have been an important foundation for our Mission Statement project. Additionally, we have input from the Thandeka workshops on Love Beyond Belief, a stewardship program with Mark Ewert from the UUA, and a staffing assessment we commissioned from Rev. David Pyle of the UUA. Reverend Pyle’s assessment included a strong recommendation that First U understand itself as a Large Church and that we do some internal restructuring to reflect who we actually are today.
With all that input from the past few years, despite closing our buildings for the pandemic, we were able to continue our work. We sought to clarify our purpose by writing a new Mission Statement that will guide and inform our leadership as we embark on a new, intentional era as a Large Church. Our Mission Statement Task Force began meeting in early November 2020 and proposed the first draft of a new Mission Statement to the Prudential Committee in January 2021. After considerable discussion in both the January and February meetings, the statement underwent editing and economizing. At its March meeting the PruCom unanimously endorsed it in its current form. Altogether the Task Force held ten meetings via Zoom, with members exchanging dozens of emails.
What Informs It
The Task Force and various other groups went through an exercise trying to define First U in five current as well as aspirational words. In addition, in looking at the Imagine the Future results, the Task Force could see a call from the congregation for diversity. Diversity of membership, diversity of social action programs, diversity in music, diversity in programming for all ages, partnerships, community involvement, and increased visibility. We imagined new people coming into our lovely and historic buildings and knowing who we are by looking around and reading available materials.
Eventually the Task Force focused on our church as a place of love, which wants to actively spread that love beyond our walls. Thus we settled easily into a tagline: Transforming Love Into Action.
- Thinking about “action,” we decided to describe ourselves by using plain action verbs: we welcome, we rejoice, we confront, and we rise.
- We combine the spiritual (grounded in faith, cultivate courage, find renewal) with social justice (struggling for justice, forge a future, uproot institutionalized white supremacy.)
- We acknowledge what is unique to First U – complex historic roots, creations of artists.
- We articulate what we mean by diversity in: religious backgrounds, races, cultures, ages, abilities, economic circumstances, sexual and gender identities.
- We specifically hold up two areas of grave concern: individual and institutional racism, and the challenge of climate change.
The need for concision caused us to strike some of the more poetic language in our earlier drafts and to compress meaning into the fewest possible words. One compressed passage that invites unpacking can even serve as a teaching tool. When we say “find renewal in the struggle for justice” we are referring to the way in which public activism in a justice cause can be spiritually invigorating. Theology doesn’t just move from the pulpit and the church school classroom into the streets; it also moves from the streets into the vibrant life of a socially aware congregation.
What It Will Offer
As for the statement’s applications, we offer the church and its leadership some flexibility. There are three sections: the first two sentences by themselves constitute a basic statement. It is short and easily read in unison, and may lend itself to memorization. It is followed by four clarifying sentences. They set out in more detail who we are and what we value. And the third section is a tagline.
In formal documents with thorough descriptions of who we are, the whole mission statement is most appropriate. When available space is limited, the first two sentences will suffice. Marketing materials such as t-shirts, hats, banners, pencils, etc, can easily fit the tagline to express the essence of our mission. We also presented the mission statement in two visual formats: one is a straightforward series of sentences. The other takes the first two sentences and “cascades” them into poetic presentation, making the phrases stand out perhaps more than in the original form. Poetry can have that effect, by artful visual placement of words and phrases.
A Mission Statement is aspirational, inspiring, and invigorating. It clarifies purpose and determines direction. It is fundamental, specific, and unique to the organization. It focuses energy and attention. It provides a template for decision making. It drives the work of the organization. It is concise and succinct. The Task Force believes we have met those standards and we are grateful that the Prudential Committee formally endorsed the statement on March 10, 2021.
First Unitarian Church of Providence, Rhode Island, Mission Statement Task Force: Beth Armstrong, Chair; Elizabeth Allsworth; Joe Fisler; Peter Laarman; Sine Pounder