March 18, 2012
Rev. David W. Chandler
In Junior High School I had the same Social Studies teacher two years in a row. I cannot for the life of me recall his name, but I can see him plain as day, and I remember his daughter attended Wheaton College. He was very proud of her.
I can still hear him plain as day, too – fifty years later. He must have intoned these words two hundred times: “All progress is change; not all change is progress.”
The old TV show began with these words, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” My teacher’s mission was quite clear: The “not accept” option on change does not actually exist. Change happens regardless. We must locate the “progress.”
Where might our church find progress in the midst of change? “We Stand Together” is the theme of this year’s Pledge Drive. Whatever we stand for, we must do it together. Whatever we want to accomplish, we must do it together. Whatever we commit, we must all commit together – every link in the chain is crucial to the whole.
Having stood, we must then move. Movement is essential for every organism and every organization. Life is dynamic. There is no standing pat – unless dead, of course.
Having decided, I hope, not to be dead, “mission” is how we decide where to move. Following on Paul Glynn’s comments last week, and anticipating your thoughts next week, here are some suggestions for thinking about our church and its mission.
Start with Caring – as in, “caring for each other.” It is a central value of church – indeed it may seem to be the essential value of any church. It seems so obvious and it is upheld so often, you might think caring mission is standard operating procedure. I assure you, it is not. Some churches indeed do not hold this value as most important, and many churches who say they do are more talking the talk than walking the walk.
That usually happens because the critical discerning questions are never asked, or never answered. Why are we a caring community? What is our shared belief about the need and the possibility? Who is receiving caring, and who is giving it? How much of caring is a way we are; how much is what we do? How is it a living and visible value?
Here is a second component of mission – “Equipping.” This term may not be immediately familiar, but it covers everything we say and do with an ultimate purpose of helping us improve our lives. It is our learning how to be Unitarian Universalists, and how to carry that into the world. It is our learning to be better people and doing it outside Sunday morning. It is both profound insight and connection – to each other, to the future and the past, to the cosmos and the community. It is equally quotidian and practical – what are those Seven Principles? What is a Welcoming Congregation? How about a Green Sanctuary? How important is shaping who we will be after walking out the front door from Coffee Hour? What are the most important tools we need – what is our religious equipment for ordinary living, and also for the everyday extraordinary?
From any perspective mission is, like those Seven Principles, a circular concept. It cannot be represented as a list. Each element is intimately tied in with the others, and each both affects and reflects the others. Each element is necessary to the whole.
To complete our circle – at least for today – I suggest “Justice-making.” If Caring tends to prompt the phrase, “for each other,” it is Justice-making that is reflexively followed by, “in the world.” The essential question is, “What difference does it make – not for us, but for other people?” How important is making the world a better place? What is our vision of “better,” and what part of the world are we transforming? We must plan carefully and persist to change any large part of the world. We must focus correctly and act rightly to be responsible stewards of some small part. In either case, good intentions are not enough, and any lack of clarity invites a fatal drain of energy.
However we frame our mission, we must live in genuine welcome. Too much Justice-making, for instance, demands other people live the way we see fit. Too much Equipping constricts the conscience. Too much Caring fixates on who is already here, meeting newcomers with “how we do it” rather than an invitation to mutual growth.
Caring, Equipping, Justice-making – these are vital components of mission. Each incorporates the reality of change and the possibility of progress. How should the balance be struck among them? Most important, whatever the balance struck today, remember it will be something different tomorrow – or the next day at the latest. Mission is like life itself – a journey unpredictable at heart and variable in expression. Who will be the same in a month or two, let alone a year or two? None of us will be. Nor will our world be the same. Our mission is not impossible, but it must be flexible and evolving, changing form and emphasis even as circumstances change over time.
Stand Together? We can. Lean forward? We should. Move? We must.
Amen. Blessed Be. Shalom.