Friday, February 28, 2014

The Meaningful and Missional Life

by the Rev. Susan M. Smith

As I write, I’m preparing to fly to Tulsa for the second Life on Fire conference about “missional” ministry and sharing in the work of Rev. Ron Robinson at The Welcome Table. Last month, the North Texas UU Congregations had Rev. Nathan Hollister challenge that cluster to envision creating “missional” outreach such as his own ministry Mutual Aid - Carrboro (Unitarian Universalist), NC. What is “missional?” A group of people fully awake and making a real life and death difference in the world.

Recently, I had an opportunity to sit down with Revs. Daniel Kanter and Aaron White of First Unitarian Church of Dallas and hear some big “missional” dreams which could be supported by any cluster or congregation. What if some UU with a large and largely empty home invited a few people into covenantal community with her, and they all embarked on a life of ministry? What if those folks declared that in the six blocks surrounding that house, no child will be without a place to get a snack and help with homework after school, no elderly person or person living alone will go unnoticed, no trash will blow in the street, no neighbor will lack help to meet the emergencies of life and neighbors would have a place to gather in conversation and celebration? Now, what if a cluster of congregations could start one, six or a dozen such projects? Or what if your congregation itself was that place?

We often use the book More Than Numbers: The Way That Churches Grow by Loren B. Mead in our regional leadership experiences and presidents’ convocation. To be “missional” as that term is used today is part of what Rev. Mead calls incarnational growth – how are our congregation’s values are making a difference in the world.  What our neighbors can tell about us by reading the messages we post and observing our actions and interactions.

Many Unitarian Universalists are yearning for a life of more meaning and impact. They want to advance our values and make a difference. They want to live more deeply in our faith with others who are trying to understand and advance the religious legacy that we are carrying forward. The words we church folks use for this now are “discipleship” and “neo-monasticism.” When we talk about “elderhood” in our modern movement these are the callings and gifts that we mean to honor and support.

But here’s the tricky part, the “higher” you go in the pursuit of religious calling, the lower you get in the eyes of the world. It’s the paradox of servant ministry. Ministry is plumbing some days. It is picking up trash over and over again. It is dealing with people who are hard to love and turning once more the other cheek.  It is one more opening the building and turning on the heat and lights. The difference between ministry and drudgery some days is what you believe you are doing and why. Do not waste a minute grousing about what was or what is. This is the time for action and what we as individuals living in interdependent covenantal community can become. You (Yes! You!) are the light of the world.