One of the Board’s major initiatives this year was to create a Mission Task Force charged with engaging with the congregation to discover and articulate our church’s purpose. Prior to this work, the last mission statement had been officially adopted by the congregation in the late 1990’s.
- We, the members of Foothills Unitarian Church, unite in a religious community to provide a loving, accepting and stimulating atmosphere for spiritual and personal growth. By living our Unitarian Universalist principles we seek to be a force for healing and a light of reason and understanding, promoting justice and compassion among ourselves and in the larger community.
Finding the 1990’s formulation too long to remember or apply to tough problems, the Board of Trustees had adopted a much shorter statement as a working draft in 2014:
Foothills Unitarian Church furthers the reach of love in our own lives, in Northern Colorado, and beyond.
This statement was admirably clear and succinct, which made it easier for the Board to use as a guide in its work. But it had never gone through the important process of formal adoption by the congregation. Given that mission statements should have the full and official approval of the congregation, and are often revised or replaced every 5-7 years, it was clear that the time was ripe for a fresh look at this central and defining statement of the church’s identity.
The group consisted of Rev. Gretchen Haley and a mixture of new and seasoned Board members: veteran Trustees Karen Harder and Larry Watson; Erin Hottenstein (President Elect); Michelle Venus (Secretary Elect), and Rich Young (Past President).
We began our work with a substantial head start. First, we benefited from earlier efforts by a group including Tim Pearson, Keith Hupperts and Ken Kassenbrock, who had surveyed the congregation in 2013 about what gave Foothills such a special and valued place in our lives. This group’s work was paused when Rev. Marc Salkin announced his retirement in the fall of that year: ministerial transition often prompts exploration of a church’s identity, and it felt premature at that point to conclude a rewrite of our mission statement just as we entered transition. We also were able to apply insights gained the congregational survey conducted by Bob Green and the Ministerial Search Team during the search process, and from our own participation in the appreciative inquiry workshops and our conversations with congregants during our time on the Board.
From this healthy start, we conducted a series of forums in January of this year. We presented the very long 1990’s mission statement and the Board’s very short 2014 working draft, and asked the question: was the 2014 draft adequate, and if not, what important concepts were missing from it? Consensus seemed to be that it left out too much of what is important to us about who we are, and the task force gathered detailed input on what was missing.
Armed with all of this preparation, we began writing in February. Many drafts were considered and rejected because they failed to capture cherished qualities we’d heard so much about from the congregation, or left out important aspects of our identity that would help newcomers understand who we are. Others were so long that we knew that they’d never be remembered, much less usable for guidance in the work of the church as a good mission statement should be.
As we worked, it became apparent that it would be very challenging to say everything that needed to be said, so concisely that the statement remained memorable and useful. We knew that every word would have to carry a great deal of meaning. When Rev. Nancy Bowen held a leadership development workshop here in April, she drew a helpful distinction between what a church does, how the church does these things, and why the church does them; of these, she said, the “why” is the most central question. Invigorated by this framing, we returned to our writing process and arrived at a draft that we feel captures the essence of all the input we’ve gathered:
Foothills Unitarian Church awakens our spirits, heals our divisions and grows our faith, empowering us as partners in the unfolding meaning of life and equipping us to create more love and justice in our lives and in the world.
At 39 words, this is substantially shorter than the 1990’s mission, but also substantially longer than the 2014 draft. Working with it, we found that any further cutting removed important concepts we’d really worked hard to include; adding anything further pushed the statement across a threshold of unwieldiness. Present were key concepts like spiritual growth, community, intellectual stimulation, healing and sanctuary, and our commitment to social justice and service. With the Board’s unanimous endorsement, we felt that we had arrived at a candidate statement that was ready for the congregation’s consideration.
Throughout the month of May, we held meetings to acquaint the you with our proposed mission statement. Our purpose was to explain its nuances, help you grow comfortable with it, and collect feedback about whether you felt that this statement captures our church’s mission adequately. We were under no illusions that it would be perfect – indeed, our spiritual diversity virtually guarantees that, for any given phrase, one congregant’s experience will resonate with it while another will find it troubling. But we hoped that we would all find enough echo of our own reasons for attending Foothills that the candidate statement would be embraced and adopted at the Congregational Meeting.
What we’ve found at these meetings is that we are not quite ready to recommend that the congregation vote on whether to adopt this statement. As I write this in late May, it’s unclear whether further refinement is necessary, or if the congregation simply needs more time to sit with the language and recognize in it what it is that we all come together for. Or, most likely, a little of both.
It may seem disappointing to come up short so close to the end of all this important work. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time on the Board, it’s that it’s not a good idea to rush these things. The work of the Mission Task Force will continue into the coming church year. It’s important that we achieve an articulation of this church’s mission, so that the statement can welcome and inspire new members, so that it can remind existing members of what the church means to them, so that it can guide future Boards and committees through difficult decisions, and not least, so that this community can grow from the experience of contemplating its purpose with this much care and depth.