Mission is Possible

Mission is Possible        October 25th, 2015

 

The Blue Jays baseball team did not win their last game.

It made for a sad, late Friday night.

As they lost their chance at the first World Series in 25 years.

Much of Canada shared in the sorrow.

Not just the long time Blue Jays fans but the recent converts.

With some bold changes in their player roster, the Blue Jays became a force to be reckoned with in the second half of the season.

Fans noticed, they started winning and the excitement grew.

The games themselves were filled with drama.

There were grand slams and crazy calls.

Home runs and shut outs.

Bat flips and rain delays.

Friends of ours who have never watched baseball started watching.

Even I went to a game with Marc and Silas.

The twitter hashtag for the Blue Jays for the last few weeks has been Come Together.

Come Together.

The mission for fans was clear – to support the home team.

To Come Together as baseballs fans, as Canadians, to support the Blue Jays in their quest to make the play-offs.

It was in the air at each game at the Rogers Centre – thousands and thousands of people wearing blue, cheering themselves hoarse.

People across the country were cheering them on from living rooms and pubs.

Coming Together in support of a collective goal.

That is what a community mission is all about.

Coming together, cheering for the home team, working towards a common goal.

For a few weeks for the Blue Jays fans there was hope.

And while fans were disappointed this Friday, they have only expressed appreciation for the team for coming so far in the play-offs.

In tweet after tweet on Saturday people thanked the players for a great season of exciting games.

And while the Blue Jays winning a world series is vastly unimportant in the grand scheme of the 4.6 billion years of life on the planet, for a little while it mattered to a lot of people.

We needed good news.

We needed hope.

We needed to belong to something greater than ourselves.

The Blue Jays delivered that with every swing of the bat.

This is what a sense of mission can do for people,

a common purpose offers meaning.

Now the mission of a Unitarian Universalist religious community in Mississauga is not going to raise the level of excitement to that of a Blue Jays playoff game.

But it can give people a sense of hope that will last longer than October.

Last year we began to consider our collective sense of purpose.

What will guide us into the next chapter?

The board created a Task Force to craft a mission statement, a statement which expresses clearly what we intend to do as a UU religious community.

In retreats and workshops we looked at what mattered to us,

what we valued about UCM.  We listened for where people’s passion were – what was spoken of most often, what people longed for.

In September the Task Force reviewed all the materials and crafted a mission that we felt reflected the strongest values of UCM.

We wanted a short statement with active language that reflected the core of this community.

The statement was brought to the board who endorsed it.

Yesterday, the board and committee chairs met to consider the proposed mission in a day long retreat.

Some of you may be wondering why we need a mission statement.

It’s just more words to stick on a wall and ignore.

But mission does matter.

A sense of purpose helps a congregation focus.

It helps the board decide where to direct our resources.

It helps frame our common conversation.

Mission helps with clarity.

Several years ago the insurance agency Clarica ran ads promoting the importance of clarity.

One commercial has a man sitting in his car on a Toronto street staring up ahead.  Just sitting and staring.  Finally he gets out of the car and stands and stares at the pole with parking signs.

Is it no parking or just no parking before 6pm?  Or is it 2 hour parking?

Is this the right week for parking on this side of the street?  

Or the wrong month?

Clarity helps us park the car without getting a ticket.

Mission helps congregations thrive.

It is easy enough to survive, drifting on doing the same old things in the same old ways.

But to thrive, to grow into our potential, we need to know what matters to us.

Why we come together.

And so the Mission Task Force came up with this:

We come together to Deepen our Spirits, Nuture our Community and Act for a Just and Sustainable world.

Based on feedback, some of the details will change to bring more clarity, but the core values are:

Deep spirituality.

Nurturing community.

Acting for a better world.

These are the activities that matter the most to UCM.

Deepen

Nurture

Act.

This is our DNA.

Yesterday the leadership of UCM reflected on the concepts of Deepening spiritually, nurturing communities and acting for a better world.

There was much rich conversation.  The task force is going to consider the exact wording in the weeks to come.

In January, at our congregational meeting, members will vote on whether to accept this mission statement.

Do we come together to deepen, nurture and act?

These were the desires heard over and over again last year.

I want to consider what each word means.

To deepen spiritually is to increase one’s awareness of belonging to the whole.

For some it may be a more inward journey of self-awareness –

of connecting to the wholeness of the self, your own spirit.

For others, to deepen spiritually is to look outward – towards the earth, to the cosmos, to God – experiencing that sense of being part of something so much greater.

UU Rev. Peter Morales says that spirituality is ultimately about connection – —“connection to myself, to others around me, to the earth and all of creation. Connection to myself feels like deep peace, awareness, calm, authenticity. Connection to others feels like compassion, community, acceptance, and enduring love.

Spirituality is not an idea; it is an experience.”

Deepening in spirit brings peace and calm. 

It is an experience which helps people refresh their sense of being.

Over the past year, I have heard people yearning to express their spirituality, to be able to go deeper into connection.

In response, UCM offers SpiritWalks – attentive walking.

Theme groups  - connecting in conversation.

Sourcefire – our neo-pagan circle which honours our earth connections.

All these are avenues for spiritual deepening.

So is this service.

If spirituality is when we experience the awareness of our connections to all that is beyond ourselves, nurturing community is another spiritual expression.  Nurturing community builds connections to others, by creating opportunities for relationships. 

As UUs we care about community, we know that we are better off together than alone.  So we do what is often the difficult work of being in covenant, in honest and caring relationship even in the midst of conflict.

We nurture with soup and sandwiches, with phone calls just to check in,

with coffeehouses and committee work.

We also reach out to the larger community through our lay chaplains offering rites of passage and through our Pathway volunteers, the affordable housing we helped build.

Finally, we act for a more equitable and healthy world. 

UUs have a long history of improving society through advocating freedom, inclusivity and justice.  From our religious ancestors who were burned at the stake for believing in the unity of God to our members who fought for marriage equality, we have been passionate advocates for a better world.

At UCM we sponsor refugee families wanting to come to Canada. We built a building with environmentally friendly features.  We affirm LGBTQ rights.  We support affordable housing in this expensive city.

If UU spirituality is about connection, and I think it is, then acting for a more equitable world is a necessary outcome of deepening one’s spirit. 

If you have a connection, if there are threads binding you to others, it is harder to turn away from injustice.  When you are aware and present in the moment, you are more likely to notice inequality, and it is easier to speak up.

 

In the everyday of our congregational life, these three aspects are intertwined.

Our naturalized landscape improves local ecological health while also renewing our spirits.

Our rental committee nurtures our community through financial contributions while also growing our connections with local groups.

At our best we will come together to transform ourselves and the world.

Deepen our Spirits.

Nurture Community.

Act for an equitable and sustainable world.

Our DNA.

We come together in a community formed by seven principles and six sources because we believe Unitarian Universalism offers a better way to be in the world.

If we adopt this mission, or a variation of it, and truly try to live it,

it will be a challenge.

These words aren’t just for a good looking banner.

A mission statement is designed to be lived.

Every committee decision is checked against the mission.

Every board directive is guided by the mission.

Mission impacts on all areas of our communal life.

If we hire a gardener, do they understand our spiritual connection to this property? 

Do our renters agree to our green policies such as no bottled water?

What more can we do as a collective to create healthy connections?

Church consultant Peter Steinke says that “Mission is the expression of the church's deep, abiding beliefs.

Mission provides the major standard against which all activities, services, and decisions are evaluated.

Mission is the preserver of congregational integrity…

Congregational leaders are … the guardians of the mission.”

Truly, we all become guardians of the mission, so that the mission may be our guide, no matter what unknown land we travel.

And our Unitarian heritage is to travel into the unknown forest.  We have taken western religion into new territory, over and over again.  We unified God, we brought God out of heaven and into the world, we experienced a loving God, we found science and spirituality to be compatible companions, we find wonder in the mysteries of the ever unfolding universe.

Now all these ideas are new to us, not so new to indigenous traditions and some eastern religions like Daoism.

But new to western cultures.

And when you wander in the forest, you need a compass.

The mission acts as a compass, helping us decide where to forge the path.

Mission keeps us clear on our core values, on our DNA,

on what really matters to us as Unitarian Universalists in Mississauga in the twenty first century.

&

A friend suggested that having a successful mission requires people to embrace a paradoxical way of thinking.

You must believe wholeheartedly in the mission.

You must believe that it has value and is worthy of your support.

And you must have a clear, brutal sense of reality.

You have to accept the futility of your mission.

So you have to sincerely believe the mission is possible while also seeing all the issues that make it impossible.

To think that it matters greatly and it matters not at all.

To be both a cheerleader and a doomsayer.

This can be an uncomfortable stance for North Americans.

We like our positivity with yellow smiley faces.

We prefer either/or not both/and.

But positivity alone tends to blind people to possible problems, and when problems inevitably surface, it can be easier to just give up.

Seeing the problems ahead of time, planning for the worst, actually helps us identify solutions so we are better able to handle the trouble.

Our mission sounds simple enough,

But If we pay attention to the mission and use it as part of decisions,

it is also a challenge.

It is hard to slow down and experience a sense of spiritual deepening  in a society that places no value on spirituality.

It is counter-cultural to nurture community in a society which celebrates individual consumerism.

It takes patient dedication to shift cultural norms of exclusion and prejudice.

We struggle with our congregational culture as well.

We have financial and human resource limitations.  Our buildings and property require a lot of care.

Volunteers are getting tired.   

It’s often easier to fall back on old ways of doing things then to find truly new alternatives.

There is only so much time!

So we need to believe this is a worthy mission to guide our communal life, and we also have to be aware of the obstacles – including ourselves - that will make it hard to follow.

Both/and.

I know this community is up to the challenge. 

You have already demonstrated your ability to live out a mission.

This Great Hall.

There was a choice, we could still be meeting in Founders Hall.

But as a group you choose for building, despite the cost, despite the endless decision making, despite all the problems that come with creation.

Going forward, our guiding mission focuses on who we are as a religious community.  On the values that shape Unitarian Universalism.

 

We believe that deepening our spirits makes us more resilient and more connected.

We believe nurturing community helps people grow together and do more.

We believe a world which welcomes people as they are, which celebrates diversity, is the world we want.

We believe a mission to Deepen, Nurture and Act is a better way to be.

And we know it will be struggle.

We are chalice lighters.

We take upon ourselves the task of carrying the light.

“To be truly radical these days is to make hope possible.”  (Raymond  Williams)

So let us make hope possible.

Let us live by a mission which helps us create the world we want.

A world of connection, of interdependence, of kindness.

All of us have gifts to bring to this work.

It is our time to raise the chalice and let its light blaze.

These words are from the Rev. Tom Owen-Towle:

“Many are the windows that will stay darkened unless we light them.

It is our watch now!

Come great hearts, come dreamers and singers and poets,

Come builders, come healers, come activists,

come those of the soil and those who command the might of machines.

Carry the sacred flame to make light the windows of the world.

It is we who must be keepers of the flame.

It is we who must carry the imperishable fire.

It is our watch now!”   

So Say We All.

 


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