Community, Caring, Integrity, Welcoming, Ministry. These are Emerson UU Church’s Core Values as recently discerned by an open process led by the Transition Team. Here is the story of how they came about…
Beginning in April, we put out word that there would be an important church event coming up in early May, one that would be open to all, and that participants would have a choice of one of two dates, a Wednesday evening or a Saturday morning. I worked with the Transition Team to design a process that would, we hoped, lead to the creation of a set of up to five Core Values that would succinctly describe the value system that Emerson, as a liberal religious UU congregation, currently upholds and uplifts in its daily life.
To do so, small groups, each led by a facilitator from the Transition Team or myself, were given a prompt to think of a story about an everyday act that someone in the congregation did that they admired or that touched them in some way. Participants were encouraged to be as creative or imaginative as they wished in their storytelling. From these, the small groups discussed the values inherent in the stories they shared and heard. They distilled these values into a set of five then returned to the large group which then distilled all the small groups’ sets of values into a set of values reflective of the whole.
The Wednesday evening’s set of values were ministry, caring, belonging, courage, and welcoming. The Saturday morning’s set of values were inclusivity, connectedness, lovingkindness, integrity, and justice. These values were easily matched in pairs by the Saturday group: ministry with justice, caring with lovingkindness, belonging with connectedness, courage with integrity, and welcoming with inclusivity. From there, the Saturday group requested that rather than taking on the final stage of the project themselves, the Transition Team and staff would more appropriately do so, as they had been present for the discussions held on both Wednesday Saturday.
And so, the Transition Team, Katy Carpman, who is the Director of Religious Education, and I, your Interim Minister, met together and had a long, in-depth discussion of Emerson and its values. Important questions were asked, such as: How much are these values the current, lived reality of Emerson? How much do these values speak to who Emerson is today? How much are these values aspirational? How much do these values speak to who Emerson would like to become, but is not yet? Are these individual values reflective of individual actions or are they group values reflective of the congregation as a whole?
The Transition Team/Staff group struggled the most with the belonging/connectedness pair and in the end decided that the original word that came out of most of the small groups (before they began the two large group discussions) was the most fitting, and that was “Community”. Of caring and lovingkindness, the themes of helpfulness, compassion, empathy, and love came through most strongly and so “Caring” was chosen. Of courage and integrity, the underlying theme of courageous truth-telling felt a bit more aspirational while integrity felt more present, so “Integrity” was chosen. Of welcoming and inclusivity, the discussion focused on ways in which Emerson was very welcoming and ways in which Emerson is not yet as inclusive as it would like to be. They thought that by choosing “Welcoming” it would reflect both the current reality of congregational life as well as make room for the ways in which the congregation would like to grow. Of ministry and justice, it was thought that justice would fit well within the broader theme of ministry, and so “Ministry” was chosen.
Community, Caring, Integrity, Welcoming, and Ministry. These Core Values reflect who Emerson is now as well as who Emerson would like to become. These Core Values express both truth and aspiration, the everyday mundane and the holy dream. These core values are Emerson’s sacred story; your sacred story. You will see them reflected in board and staff and committee and team meetings, in worship, and in the daily life of the congregation. We will live with them and play with them and explore them all next year. In other words, we will “try them on” and see how they fit and if they continue to feel true. If not, they can always be revised or adapted until they feel “just right”. And, yes, Emerson’s purpose statement, “Our beloved community of faith, reason, and affection welcomes all to grow in mind and spirit as we build a better world” remains intact. A church’s core values are meant to inform and complement its mission/purpose.
I close with a note of gratitude for the work of the Transition Team and all of you. Thank you for bringing your time and your energy, your thoughtfulness and your full hearts, as you engaged and continue to engage with this process. The more and better able Emerson is to reflect and discern who it is, what it does well, where it needs to grow, and who it would like to become, the better able you will be to find and call the right settled minister for you.