In 2015, the Mission and Social Justice Team articulated a vision of encouraging our congregation to build a missional life. We created a brochure and mission fair to help congregants identify opportunities and provide contact names and more information about the organizations we support. We said at the time, "Supporting mission is more than just 'throwing money at an issue,' although that is important. We want to provide opportunities for small groups to put 'boots on the ground.' …Participating in God's mission (missio Dei) through mission and social justice activities is an expectation for all church members. We desire to quickly and easily help newcomers to University UMC participate in mission. Mission is a form of spiritual formation in small groups and social justice is tied to mission/service."
By January 2017, the Mission & Social Justice Team still wanted to grow congregational participation in volunteer, feet on the ground, service. While, as a Team, we will continue to do all we can to support individuals in their service to the organizations and activities to which they feel called, we wanted to focus UUMC’s efforts in order to meet the goal of encouraging fellowship and building community through service and social justice. Therefore, we set the following goal: Choose 3-4 organizations/projects to invest in more heavily in a top-down, institutional way in order to encourage UUMC congregants to come together around these organizations and their work.
We reviewed all of the mission and social justice projects in which our congregation has been involved and used the following criteria to evaluate fit:
- Does the project/organization present an opportunity for long-term engagement for a significant number of congregants (i.e. more than 1-2 people)?
- Are there short-term ways that individuals can become involved in the long-term projects?
- Will it build community within the congregation?
- Is there a potential for the relationship to be mutually transformative? What would need to be in place to realize that potential? I.e. money, time, education, trips, etc.
- Will it increase our presence in the local community to address those needs identified by the community? (This should also be an avenue for reaching potential new members—why doesn’t the congregation more closely reflect the demographics of U City, for example?)
- Can the church reasonably sustain the project/involvement with the organization for many years?
- Is this accessible to all ages, nations, and races? Will it help us live into our mission, vision, and values of growing as an intergenerational, multicultural congregation?
- Does this project follow best practices for mission, service, and justice? For example, does this avoid creating dependency? Does it reject colonialist, hierarchical assumptions? Does it focus on needs or gifts? We read and discussed Toxic Charity to learn more about some of these pitfalls.
- Does this project have a champion, someone who will enthusiastically lead and share about the project?
Through discussion, the Team decided to focus on the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Safe Housing for the Elderly and Disabled (SHED), Health Protection and Education Services (HPES), and the Open Door food pantry. Each of these organizations have a history of engagement with the church and with the U City and/or greater St. Louis community. Due to the locations and activities of SHED, HPES, and Open Door, the Team agreed they provided the most immediate and sustainable options for increased investment of the church’s resources, both material and human. UMCOR allows UUMC members to connect with emergency and disaster relief efforts both domestically and internationally, which has long been an interest for our church. In the future, we will be looking to add an additional, international organization or opportunity but the Team is still evaluating possible fits, while paying particular attention to the principles of sustainable engagement and “do no harm.” We will also continue to support a few other once per year activities, such as ASP trips and
In order to orient UUMC to this new approach, various Team members and people who work with these organizations have been highlighting their activities over the last couple of months. This will continue in May as we highlight the work of SHED and in June when we will discuss HPES. Stay tuned for further announcements about all of these and how to get involved!
Last but not least, the Team has decided to initiate a new year-long theme to unite service activities and learning across age groups in the congregation. We will introduce a new theme each August, which will then run through the academic year. Around the theme we will have a sermon series, youth and adult Sunday school classes, and all-age service days, for example. The overarching goal is to, every three years, cycle through themes that are local, national, and international. In future years, around March or April, we will ask the congregation for other theme ideas. Future themes might be centered around topics such as restorative justice, food security and climate change, gender equity, or access to education around the world. The theme for 2017-18 will be “A Healthier St. Louis” and will include a focus on the many ways in which we can work towards building a St. Louis community that is healthier and more just for all its residents.
Also, be sure to check out the Team’s bulletin board in the Fellowship Hall for more updates and information.