Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Purposes, purposes: Which ones really matter?
I'll confess: I don't understand the polity of the Unitarian Universalist Association at the moment, at least in the midst of the Board of Trustees' rethink of the Association's governance model.
The board has adopted "ends" it crafted for the Association*; the Commission on Appraisal is proposing modified "Purposes" for the Association's bylaws; and the UUA administration has its own mission statement for the staff. Oh, yeah, and we still have the current Purposes of the UUA. It gets a bit confusing. At the end of the day, which one will be operative?
The current Bylaws include this statement of the Association's Purposes (Article II: C-2.2):
The Unitarian Universalist Association shall devote its resources to and exercise its corporate powers for religious, educational and humanitarian purposes. The primary purpose of the Association is to serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles.
Four primary purposes: two of them focused on serving existing congregations and organizing new ones, and two on strengthening UU institutions and implementing the UUA's Principles.
President Bill Sinkford has complained that the Purposes "simply do not ring with clarity." He has called the Purposes "our Association's mission statement, our calling," and has asked, "Shouldn't we all reflexively know our calling?" ("Let's rediscover our purpose," UU World, Spring 2007).
And so the UUA's leadership council — the senior staff of the UUA — developed a mission statement that "articulated the Purposes of the Association":
- Support the health and vitality of UU congregations as they do their ministry in the community.
- Open the doors of Unitarian Universalism to people who yearn for a liberal religious home.
- Be a respected public voice for liberal religious values.
Unlike the Purposes in the Bylaws, this mission statement doesn't mention organizing new congregations. It also focuses on two ways of strengthening UU institutions and implementing the UUA's Principles: by opening Unitarian Universalism to "people who yearn for a liberal religious home" — language that connotes a mission to transform our current practices when they have effectively closed the door — as well as to reach out actively to would-be UUs. It also describes implementing the UUA's values as being a "respected public voice for liberal religious values."
The Commission on Appraisal will be asking the General Assembly to replace the current Principles and Purposes with a new text, "Covenant," that offers this purpose for the Association:
This association of free yet interdependent congregations devotes its resources to and exercises its corporate powers for religious, educational, and humanitarian purposes. It supports the creation, vitality, and growth of congregations that aspire to live out the Unitarian Universalist Principles. Through public witness and advocacy, it advances the Principles in the world.
This new statement identifies three primary commitments to congregations: forming new congregations, helping existing congregations thrive, and helping them grow. Missing, however, is any commitment to strengthening UU institutions. Another loss, in my view, is that the commitment to "implement [the UUA's] principles" has been narrowed down into a commitment to public witness and advocacy. There are other ways of promoting UU values and ideas than social activism — publishing, for example.
Finally, we have the fruit of the board's several years of work developing the Association's "ends" — "a Carver branded term for the broad vision and strategic directions developed for a non-profit organization [by its board]," according to UUA trustee Linda Laskowski. The UUA's "global end," adopted in October 2008, is:
Grounded in our covenantal tradition, the UUA will inspire people to lead lives of humility and purpose, connection and service, thereby transforming themselves and the world.
And these are the strategic directions the board has drafted to guide the work of the president and staff:
Our ENDS are growing Unitarian Universalist congregations that. . .
Unlock the Power that Transforms Lives
- In our congregations, people deepen their spiritual lives. They:
- Develop a personal spiritual practice
- Participate in meaningful worship
- Learn and practice empowered leadership and generosity.
- Find their ministry in the world
- Our congregations are:
- Vibrant—joyful and excited about their ministries
- Intentionally multi-generational and multi-cultural.
- Networked with each other
- Congregations are:
- Active participants in ministerial preparation and development
- Shared ministries
- Agents of mission and extension
Invite people into congregations that live out covenant through:
- A strong, articulated sense of UU and community identity
- High expectations of their members
- Full participation in Associational life
- An open and inclusive outreach and welcome
- Embracing and struggling with issues of oppression and privilege
Move toward sustainability, wholeness and reconciliation through ministries, partnerships, and alliances.
- Our congregations answer the call to ministry and justice work:
- Grounded in the communities in which they live
- Nationally, internationally
- With interfaith partners and alliances
- The public engages in meaningful dialogue and takes action informed by our prophetic voice and public witness.
These are all at equal priority and are to be achieved within a justifiable cost.
It's probably unfair of me to include the board's strategic directions, since there's so much there to unpack, but they give us a glimpse of what the board really thinks congregations and the Association should be — and, more importantly, they flesh out the board's view of what the Association's purposes really are.
The General Assembly could vote against the Covenant proposed by the Commission on Appraisal and keep the current Principles and Purposes instead. But one or the other of those documents will include a formal statement of purpose. Meanwhile, though, the board and administration have each articulated the purposes of the Association — or have offered interpretations of the formal purposes expressed in the bylaws.
What do you see in these statements? Is anything missing? Do you prefer one to the others?
*Update 1.30.08: I misread Linda Laskowski's post as reporting that the board had adopted its global ends statement at its January 2009 meeting. But she really wrote that the board had adopted it last October. I've amended this post to reflect that.
Copyright © 2009 by Philocrites | Posted 28 January 2009 at 2:24 PM