Tuesday, January 19, 2016

To Begin Anew … To What End?

The Reverend Kenneth Gordon Hurto, Southern Region Lead Executive

Well, we’re a few weeks into a new year. How go your resolutions? 

It is good to consider newness, to ask the question, "If I were to start this _____ (new resolve), how would I go about it?" But the more important question is, "Why would I do this?"

In our work with congregations, we often ask:

 If you were to start a new Unitarian Universalist congregation in this community, why would you? 

If you are already in an existing congregation, it is almost impossible to imagine it not being there. But too often we forget someone had to start things. We lose the initial passion, fidelity and vibrancy that gave birth to that new resolve.

Begin with Why! This is the first question of life and of ministry!

If Unitarian Universalist ministry is an answer to a problem in the human condition? If so, just what is that problem? There are lots of religious answers out there. What is uniquely Unitarian Universalist — in this day? What is our Why? I’ll be candid: it’s no longer to prove God’s one-ness nor the short-comings of the Trinity, central though that is in our name. Nor is it our purpose to assert salvation for all in a next life! 

In this day, our answer must relate to the post-modern world. Perhaps we could rename ourselves “the love and justice” church — that fits better.

Another way to get at Why? is to follow a classic planning strategy: Begin with the end in mind. That is, if our ministry were to succeed wonderfully well, how would we be different? How would those around us be different? And how might our society, even our world be different? If our answer is clear, then we can figure out how to get there.

I insist, every church Mission statement should be brief and read like this: 

Our ministry exists in order to _____ (accomplish a purpose) for _____ (whom)
 in _____ (where) so that _____ (the difference we hope to make).

For instance: 

Our congregation commits 
to becoming a beloved community 
for our children and adults, as free-thinkers and generous people, 
in our town — so that we bring 
more hope, more joy, more love and more justice in the world.

These are first questions of the religious life, of the faith community:

  • Why are we here?
  • To what end, ideal, or ultimate value are we called to serve?

In this new year, most of us will be distracted from our resolve by the sheer inertia of “the way things are.” We need our faith community, in the words of Howard Thurman, to “Keep fresh before me the moments of my high resolve.” Without the community to support and sustain us, well, life’s distractions will win. Say, when is the Super Bowl this year? (Oops, see what I mean!)

January is a time of church shopping. Checking to see if church today might offer seekers something they’ve not found on their own, many will come through our doors for help with their struggles. Will we take them in?

Ministry is hard. It is complex. It is filled with contradictions (do I want security or freedom — see Dostoyevsky’s parable of the Grand Inquisitor for that one). We seek to be welcoming, but are anxious newcomers will change what is precious to us. We come with our own needs only to be called to serve others the moment we catch our breath!

At times ministry is overwhelming: What must we do to meet racial injustice head-on? What is our role around climate change? Ministry is also humbling: How can we be at ease when so much poverty yet abounds; what are we supposed to do?

It is time we re-define our purpose — not as an alternative to orthodoxy, although that need still exists — but as an alternative to greed, violence as a tool to deal with difference, and consumerism. We need to be and become a community that accepts people with love, guides them to the fullness of their humanity, without creedal dictate and then goes out to create justice everywhere.

I am fond of the hymn, Step by Step, #157 in Singing the Living Tradition:

Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won
Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none
And by union what we will can be accomplished still
Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.

As we honor Dr. King this month, let us, too, be a people of a modern faith that affirms we believe “that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” The longest march yet can be won, but not alone. Make this then your New Year resolve: To walk with others on this road. Blessings on you and your ministries!