For a moment, stretch back in memory to the first time you joined a meeting of this church. It may have been in this sanctuary or in our old sanctuary, in what is now the Learning Center. What was happening then? Were you comfortable, anxious, pleased, hesitant? Remember those moments.
Who were the first people you met? Along the way, between that first time and now, what are the most intimate, close friendships you have formed? Feel the warmth of this community, the people around you.
From back then to now, what have been the important events of your life that have happened within this community, the rites of passage, births, dedications, coming of age, weddings, separations, divorces, deaths? This religious community is privileged to encompass the connections between all of you and all the people who have passed through our doors. So, now, consider the influence of this community on you and your children. How are you different having come through these doors? What impact has being part of this community had on your children?
We come here to expand our hopes, deepen our vision and stretch forth our hands, knowing not what we might touch but yearning to link our lives with other lives. We come to give and to receive. We come here to let faith lure us, and then to take a leap, and grow wings. This is the role of DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church.
This week DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church turns 61. I have been here for two anniversaries. Last year we celebrated the 60th anniversary by talking to one another about how to help our planet; we learned more about the various ways some of us and others are working to preserve our planet and to live sustainably—in big ways and small—
and we acted on ways to help our planet by working on our property, by making re-useable bags from old t-shirts, by taking old crayons that might have been thrown away and put in landfills, and making them into large crayons that can be used again.
This year we are celebrating by reviewing what we have accomplished this past year, what we are planning to accomplish in the years to come, and what changes we will have to make in order to reach the future we imagine.
We developed a strategic plan in spring 2015, based on the congregation’s dreams for the future of this church; three key themes emerged from your dreams: Social Justice, Events, and Spiritual and Ethical Formation; we called the Strategic Plan--Dream 2020.
What I want to briefly share with you is the nuts and bolts of what it means to identify, embrace, and embark on a vision as a community. It may not have a big “wow” factor in the short-term, but the long-term results can be spectacular. The Board decided we needed a team to help us prioritize the details of our Strategic Plan and help us develop the tools needed to implement the plan. The Strategic Plan Implementation Team (SPIT) met for the first time in summer 2015 with a focus on tackling enhanced communication and interaction among our leaders and committees. Would those involved in SPIT please stand? Thank you for your work. From that, a high-energy, interactive discussion took place in October among church leadership, committee chairs, and staff, allowing SPIT to define the Plan's key goals and outline initial steps to success within those three areas of congregation-defined themes or focus areas—remember what they are (social justice, events, and spiritual and ethical formation). What the team identified as an overarching goal for our leadership, staff, and committees was to work toward improving satisfaction of all those participating in our church community, let me just say that again, to work toward improving satisfaction of all those participating in our church community. Wow! Can you imagine that? With that in mind, SPIT has helped to create and strengthen the underlying organizational structure for future leader/committee/staff collaboration as an important first step. This church year, the Board trustees helped their committees consider, assess, evaluate their maturity, in other words assessing how we work within our groups and with each other, to better assess and be in a position to be responsive to, how our programs serve you, our members. This has not been a "one-and-done" process. Assessing our committees, their goals, their relevance to members' needs and leadership's objectives will be ongoing, in order to achieve and sustain successes. And we are already seeing the results of greater collaboration this year as the congregation was invited to learn, discuss, and select a social justice project that engages young and old in planned activities. In addition, committees are working to identify more events that will bring new people into our church, and we are offering more opportunities for spiritual and ethical formation. SPIT will continue to support and aid our leadership in achieving DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church goals. But keep in mind the three areas we are working as a congregation, which have been defined by the congregation: Social Justice, Events, and Spiritual and Ethical Formation.
Through the focus of these three themes, your church leaders will strive to achieve the overarching goal of the Strategic Plan--to improve satisfaction of all those participating in our church community—they will do this by:
Embracing the changes needed to inspire interest, interaction, and participation by all of our members and friends.
And by helping committees and the congregation understand the various components of the Strategic Plan and who is responsible for what.
And by attending relevant events to help learn more about the Total Church Experience, your total church experince. As it so happens, the Chicago Area Unitarian Universalist Council will meet May 21st here at DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church to present a panel discussion on the Total Church Experience. All of you are invited to attend. We are working on a definition of the Total Church Experience that will help church leadership better understand if, when, and how our programming meets the needs of our members and friends, wherever they are in their life and spiritual journeys.
And as we, this congregation, follow this plan that we have envisioned, we are going to have to define what success looks like.
All right, I have spelled out what is going on right now in your church. Embracing the change needed to achieve these goals will mean that there will be changes in our culture as a congregation, as a Board, as staff, as committees, as well as all the groups in this church, a change in the way we do things. One of the changes is that the leadership and staff in this church will need to check in with you regularly. Your lay-leaders and staff are most interested in what is working well to meet your needs, to provide the church experience that you want here at DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church. Your leaders and staff are interested in your Total Church Experience. So if you are asked to work with a team of people to assess the Sunday morning service experience, I hope you will agree to do so. If you are asked to fill out a survey about our events, I hope you will do so. If you are asked to participate in a project that will help us achieve one of the goals of our strategic plan, I hope you will do so. I know this process can sometimes feel like being pecked to death by chickens, but together we will achieve our strategic plan.
We need to celebrate our achievements so far. After the service, go outside and walk our property. Celebrate our new labyrinth, play equipment for the kids, and trail around our backlot decorated with cairns.
And let’s celebrate that about 20% of our congregation, maybe more, is working on, learning about, reading about, or attending programs on our social justice initiative, Racial Equity.
And we had a very successful Art Show this weekend;
And we have had increasing numbers of people coming to our folk music coffee houses;
And we have thriving spiritual direction groups and more leaders for the groups are being trained so we can offer even more spiritual direction groups. And new people are joining us here; we are averaging 15 new visitor information sheets a month; we are averaging 74 returning visitors a month; and since August of 2015, 13 new members have joined us. So many things to celebrate.
But you must know we have to challenges to face as well. While we had 18 new families pledging this year; and we have lost 7 families. While we have brought in more money in this annual budget drive than last year, we are still short 33 thousand dollars. And the only place we can cut is our staff budget; we will have to cut staff and reduce staff salaries and benefits. And these staff cuts will have an impact on our social justice, events, and spiritual and ethical formation initiatives. I don’t tell you all this to make you feel bad or guilty; I tell you this so that you can make informed decisions as a community. Everyone one of you has the power and responsibility to do something to aid in this situation; what that looks like for each of you is up to you. But I know we will pull together to face this situation; I have faith in you.
Even as we have challenges to face, there is much to be proud of as a congregation. You have accomplished a lot toward building a foundation for your strategic plan. And you have begun accomplishing some of the goals you set for yourself last year. I joined this congregation, at least in part, because I saw in you that you wanted something more than you had. You want to grow in numbers; you want to offer more programming; you want to provide high quality worship and lifespan religious education. And you are willing to risk making mistakes, to attempt new ways of doing things, and to keep working toward your goals. You decided to be an intentionally pluralistic community, offering various opportunities for ethical and spiritual formation. So, it’s no surprise we have the Jewish Heritage group, the earth-centered DUUCKIES, the Jesus Seminar Book Club, the Humanist group, and a Buddhist Sanga all co-existing and thriving here. We now have Wednesday contemplative (con tem plau tive) services twice a month. And DuPage Unitarian Universalist church has committees that are willing to redefine what they need to do in order to achieve the goals of the strategic plan—one example is the Visitor Relations Committee, which has been learning more from Unitarian Universalist churches around the country about how to make people feel welcomed when they walk through our doors and making some real changes in how we greet new people. And one of your Board members, Tom Chockley, spear-headed a mentor program to help new members find their way into being part of this congregation, paring established members with newer members.
This is not a static congregation. We are on the move. And your leadership is listening to you as we move forward. I make it a priority to listen to members who want to give me feedback and so does your Board and your Committee on Ministries (COM). We want and need your feedback; we want and need your participation; we want and need your willingness to adapt and change with us.
What I want to end with is an excerpt from Michael Durall’s The Almost Church: Redefining Unitarian Universalism for a New Era. Durall has a vision for what Unitarian Universalism will be in the future if it is to thrive. Some of what he says, you will notice, we already do here. And while you might not agree with all that he has to say, what he has to say will inspire and challenge you, will lead to further conversations that we all need to have, and will call us to be prepared to adapt to further changes as we work toward our many goals as a thriving church community. He writes:
“The people who come to (Unitarian Universalist churches in the future) will be of all ages. These places will be noisy and boisterous, full of excitement and energy.
Worship will be highly participatory. People will stand close together, sing loudly, [dance] and perhaps have their arms about one another’s shoulders. The music—jazz, blues, rock and roll—will be live, performed by first-rate musicians. The lighting will be colorful and dramatic.
Worship services will last two or three hours, [I thought I would see some of you fall out of your chairs when I said that] like services at Gospel churches today. After the service, people will stay and share a meal together, prepared by a high quality caterer. Potlucks will be a relic of the past…
These churches will not display a ‘theology of entertainment.” Young Unitarian Universalists have rejected the excesses of a consumer mentality, and their theology now includes a strong moral code of right and wrong, taken from religious and secular sources…their religious values will be strong and unwavering…
Services will be held Sunday mornings, in the afternoon, and in the evening. The church will also host mid-week services that start as late as 10 PM. Smaller groups will also meet for worship in apartments and houses, reviving the ‘house church’ model of worship…
These churches will follow the advice of church-growth writer William Easum… They will not have a Board of Trustees to determine policy; the highly paid staff will provide overall leadership. Young people in their twenties will be encouraged to create imaginative ministries on their own. The emphasis is on empowerment, not governance, just the opposite of Unitarian Universalist Churches today…
These new congregations will send shock waves through the communities in which they minister because they will focus their efforts on a single cause—the least fortunate among us. Their model will be the Salvation Army, but without the requirement that recipients adopt a particular theology. These churches…will provide showers, clothing and food to those who are in need…
The people in these congregations will break the current cycle of those whose dominant image is being served [in other words coming to church to get something or get some need met], rather, [their focus will be] to serve [‘the other’]—[in other words, the people beyond these walls who need our help].
These new churches will draw newcomers because people will want to be associated with them. The ministers of these congregations realized long ago that the mission of the church could be stated simply: to change people’s lives in some fundamental way. They will also realize that the vision of Unitarian Universalist churches in the early years of the twenty-first century is not to promote autonomy of the individual and to seek truth. Their vision is a deeper spirituality through service…”
Durall ends with: “I hope people of all ages will be allies in this transition. Together, we can do far, far more than any of us have imagined.”
My friends, how does this vision speak to your heart? To your imagination? To your dreams?