The Day Things Changed at CUC

There’s something that brings churchgoers to church. A congregation is not a collection of strangers who were on a ship that sank and now are stranded on an island together, making up their own governance because they're stuck there and there’s no one else. We came to church more or less on purpose. So why do we come? We don’t have to be there, but there we are. What are we here for?

On 2014 Jan 12, the Community Unitarian Church at White Plains answered that question. CUC said, "We’re here to nurture each other in our spiritual journeys. We’re here to foster compassion and understanding within and beyond our community. We’re here to engage in service to transform ourselves and our world." That's the mission that we adopted with a 95% vote in favor.

In the Catholic church, the cardinals elect the Pope, and the Pope then has authority over the cardinals. In the same way, a congregation elects its mission, and the mission then has authority over the congregation. Who owns the congregation? Its mission owns the congregation.

Our mission is our highest authority, as the Constitution is the highest law, though, in both cases, it’s up to a shifting body of humans to construct evolving interpretations of it. And that’s a good thing, because if we said the only authority was the membership, the membership’s called minister, the membership’s elected board, and the board’s hired staff, we’d still be left asking, "OK, but what GUIDES the membership, minister, board, and staff?"

Since congregants congregate by choice and aren’t Gilligan’s Island castaways, they need clarity on what they're here FOR.

Prior to Jan 12, I think, the members of CUC probably felt they had an informally agreed upon reason for being together. But did they actually agree? That wasn't clear. The members joined for different reasons, and stayed because it satisfied some need, though that need might or might not be one that very many others shared. It’s good to have stated what we’re here for.

There was previously some language that, for years, was printed on the back of the order of service at CUC and was referred to a the mission. The problem with that was twofold. One, I understand from the history of the congregation as I have read and heard it from long-time members, that the congregation never actually adopted it. It apparently went back to Rev. Clifford Vessey, who was CUC's minister in the 1950s and early 60s, but was never congregationally approved. It’s good to have a mission the congregation actually chose.

The more serious issue was this. No one at CUC -- as far as I could ascertain -- could say what that previous supposed "mission" was. No one I spoke with could even paraphrase it. No one. I’ve looked at those old Orders of Service, and I’ve read it, and I can’t paraphrase it either. That’s a problem.

It’s like saying, we have elected a king who is the highest authority among us, but we’ve all forgotten who it is. If no one knows who the king is, then there is no king. And in the case of kings, in my opinion that’s a good thing. I’m a believer in democracy. But in the case of a mission, a congregations really needs to be guided together by its mission. And if no one can even paraphrase what it is, then the mission is providing no guidance.

Having a mission changes things. It doesn't make everything drastically different right away, but over the next few years, it should.

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This is part 3 of 4 of "Who's In Charge Here?"
Next: Part 4: "The New Sheriff in Town"
Previous: Part 2: "Congregational Polity"
Beginning: Part 1: "Who's In Charge Here?"

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