The Powerful Question

Oct 6, 2019

Watch the video recording of the sermon.

By Reverend Rebecca Bryan 

“The risk with Unitarian Universalism is that you skate. You skim from cause to cause and theology to theology, but never go deep. That may be interesting and even fun; however, what happens when life is so turbulent that only the deep waters will save you? What will you do when you have trouble with one another or when the pressures of the world pull you in too many directions?”

I was talking with a professor whom I greatly respect. He was telling me why he wasn’t a Unitarian Universalist, despite his alignment with our principles and shared belief in our commitment to religious plurality and justice.

This was not the first time I’ve had such a conversation with people who are drawn toward our faith and yet cannot commit. Though they use different examples, their messages are poignantly consistent, with certainly some differences.

The message that I hear over and over is that we Unitarian Universalists are too slippery. We skate. We try to be all things to all people. We respond to the issue of the day. We try to do it all.  We avoid conflict and, in so doing, dilute everything we say and preach. Guilty as charged.

We can’t do that and be sustained, much less fully alive and satisfied.  We can’t do it in our individual lives, and we can’t do it as a congregation. We need purpose.  That is to say, we need clarity of Mission and Vision. When know our Mission and Vision, we can go deep, while at the same time retaining and exercising our search for knowledge, trying new things in worship, and showing up for social justice causes we care about.

Consider addressing issues of social justice. We can’t do it all, and we must do something, if we are to feel whole, connected, and hopeful. Pontificating, ruminating, and debating have their places, but do not replace forming relationships, jumping in, and getting proximate to the issues, to use the term of Bryan Stevenson, author of the book Just Mercy and founder and Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama.

For spiritual practices and engagement in social justice and community to actually transform our lives, they must be grounded in authentic values and purpose. We must do these things because we are called to do them, not because everyone else is doing them and not because we think we should do them. It is not about doing it all. It’s about doing what’s right for us. As John Carver said, “A crude measure of the right thing beats a precise measure of the wrong thing.”[1]

When we are clear about our purpose, mission, and vision, we are on fire. Think of your own life. Think of when you knew the career or family goal or aspiration you were working toward.

Now think of times when you had achieved that mission or when it ended due to a career or health change. That is when we run the risk of being at the whim of what other people say or think we should do, as well a victim of our own self-doubt or criticism.

The same is true at church. When we are unclear of our mission, we run the risk of losing interest, focusing on the wrong things, or even subconsciously creating problems so that we have something to focus on.

Imagine what can happen as we come together and create agreement on shared values, mission, and vision.

As the quote on the cover of our Order of Service this morning says, “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” Thank you, Mahatma Gandhi.

Last June at the annual meeting we voted to engage with Laura Park of Unity Consulting in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to work with us on developing a revised mission and vision statement. Some of you may be wondering why we are doing this; I hope my discussion about the importance of having clear purpose has addressed that.

You may think “Didn’t we just do this when we went through the process of deciding what and who we wanted in our next minister?” Yes, you did go through this to discover what you wanted in a minister, and I’m here. Now is our time to decide what we are going to do together.

Others of you may know that you went through an incredibly extensive process in 2005 and that we already have mission and vision statements. You did go through this in 2005. The work was extensive, and those statements energized the church and helped bring us to where we are today. After nearly fifteen years it’s time to do it again.

Still others may think you don’t have time for this or that these processes never produce anything of real value. As to the question of your time, you do have the time, I promise. We’ll get to that in just a moment.

I also promise that this process is real and will produce something of great value. The Parish Board is committed to having the Mission and Vision statements we create guide our processes of budgeting and expanding programming, of what kind of staff we hire and where I put my time within these walls and beyond.

For example, most congregations our size have two ministers. Do we want that, or do we want to hire other professional staff with expertise in areas that we identify as important such as social justice, more music, or community partnerships? What are we going to do with our building next door? What is this congregation going to look like in five years? I hope that it is no longer “us” helping “them”, rather that the “us” and “them” have become a “we” and that we are this congregation. We are unapologetically spiritual, engaged, loving, and diverse.

We are poised and ready for this. You are amazing. The staff is engaged and eager to help you make this happen.

Here’s what’s going to happen. This is a congregation-wide process; we want everyone to be a part of. Newcomers who are not yet even members, new members, long-time members, and those of you whose families have been here for generations. We want to hear from you. We are going to listen.

There is a series of congregational conversations scheduled between October 27th and November 14th, that’s just under three weeks. You only need to participate in one conversation. Each gathering is two-and-a-half hours; we are offering them at different days of the weeks and times of the day. Childcare is available with advance registration. The sessions include various ways for you to share your thoughts, hopes, and dreams. All the groups will focus on one Powerful Question and be led by your fellow members who have attended trained to serve as facilitators. We are having a session for youth and one for staff. Otherwise the groups will be mixed in their makeup.

The Board will take the information gathered in these sessions and pull out recurrent themes. They then have a weekend-long retreat in late January led by our consultant. At the end of the retreat the Board will have agreed on three to five values of the congregation, as well as mission and vision statements. These will then be brought to the congregation in early spring for discussion and tweaking, and we will vote on them as a package at our Annual Meeting late May or early June. This process has been done by UU congregations around the country with stellar results.

The key is that everyone participates in one congregational discussion between October 27th and November 14th. That is where the congregational work will happen and the magic will occur. The data gathered there will inform the values and the mission and vision statements. There will be online and paper sign-ups. There is a QR code on the insert in your order of service which you can use to sign up directly through your phone, and members of our Core Team, the organizers of all of this, will be in the vestibule after the service to help you sign up. We will add additional sessions if all the sessions fill up and still more people want to participate. You do not have to be a member to participate. We want to listen to you all.

You might be asking, what is this Powerful Question?! We’re so glad you asked.

(Jason and Rev. Rebecca unveil the question and roll it down the pulpit and then Rev. Rebecca read it.)

“What are we called to create as an engaged and loving religious community: within, among, and beyond ourselves?”

Powerful, yes!?

This creation of the question itself is a testament to this process. The Board drew up this question working with Laura. I can tell you; every word has purpose.

What are we called to create as an engaged and loving religious community…?

A calling is an inherent sense, sometimes illogical, always toward the good. Discerning that call is deeply spiritual work.

Engaged is a step beyond connected, it’s about doing, committing, and being a part of.

Faith communities have a unique and critical role in our society. We are not a club or a family or a school. We hold a place that brings together values, spirituality, tradition, intergeneration, and community.

“What are we called to create as an engaged and loving religious community: within, among and beyond ourselves?”

How will each of as individuals be changed in five years because of what we do together? How will this congregation be transformed in five years? What about the community beyond these walls? How will that be transformed because of who we are and what we can create together?

“What are we called to create as an engaged and loving religious community: within, among and beyond ourselves?”

How do you answer that question? We want to know.

Go to one two-and-a-half-hour session. While there, be honest. We will listen to your stories, hopes, and dreams. Trust the process and trust each other. Trust the call that you will hear and that we hear, and trust the answer. Doing these things will affect the future of this congregation, and maybe, just maybe, it will transform your life as well.

Church has a way of doing that.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Park Laura, The Nested Bowl The Promise and Practice of Good Governance, Unity Church- Unitarian Publishing, St. Paul, MN. 2018, pg. 45.

Questions to ponder, discuss and hold…

When has having a clear sense of purpose helped you through a time in your life?


What do you need to share about your dreams and visions for this church?


How would you finish the following statement? The mission statement of my life is:

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