50 Years?

Gini Courter said that we need a 50 year vision.

Some of my friends think that 50 years is an impossible planning horizon.  One even called it "oppressive" in that it imagines one generation imposing its will on the future. 

I have no idea how seriously Courter meant 50 years.  Maybe it was the equivalent of the Biblical 40 years -- meaning a long time.

I also don't know what she meant as a "vision".  All these re-organization words -- mission, vision, strategy, objective, plan etc. -- are vague and often interchangeable.  People can project what they want, or don't want, into the words as a method of argument.  People describe "visions" as words on paper signifying nothing or as Stalinist masterplans enforced by bureaucratic terror, and everything in between.

But everybody I know thinks that there is something missing in Unitarian Universalism as it is a practiced, some passionate purpose that is beyond shared belief, greater than religious community, and not fully expressed in our public ministry.  

I think that it is remarkable that a UUA moderator, in her last report, would so freely admit that even people at that level know that there is something missing.  It was a confession that they are bouncing around from tactic to strategy and back again with goal no greater than growing.  And while the absolute numbers are holding, there are no new plants.

So what's missing?  Call it vision, call it shared theology, call it mission, UU-ness, call it the X-Factor.  

More than it, we need to think about it, and in ways that penetrate the thick clouds of derp that cloud our view. 


  1. Clyde Grubbs10:31 AM


    The idea of 50 year vision was an area of considerable discussion and work by the BoT and administration. Scenarios like you mentioned wee considered as factors: social stratification, resource depletion, climate change and mass movements that created social democracy. We also looked at spiritual but not institutional, and anti authoritarian but seeking community currents in emerging generations. Conclusions were that new ways of educating lay and ordained leaders, new visions of institutions, and the possibility of new media creating virtual governace and affinity formation.

    Both the BoT and administration see getting out of 25 and its phony "heritage" as part of long range planning for beyond this generation vision. The new location allows us to over time relocate staff because the Farnsworth building can be leased as we decentralize.

    Opening ourselves to new ways to create community, new ways to concieve congregations, ways we can privilege younger generations without tokenism.

    Gini wasn't fooling about a 50 year vision, and she does believe that the General Assembly must become less passive, more participatory. The BoT has concluded that vision must not be top down, but shared. The Governance Reforms are experimental, seeing what works, but all aimed at a more shared, longer range vision, one that shapes programs and leadership formation (and reformation.)

  2. Clyde, thanks for the Board's viewpoint. I am reassured that you have thought about it all and have the situation well in hand.

  3. Clyde Grubbs3:07 PM

    Having looked at scenarios and possibilities isn't the same as having the situation well at hand, the vision must be held by the whole association.

    I am not sure I understand the idea of visioning as generationally oppressive. It isn't policy, or an institution, it can be updated, or revised or rejected with new insights. It has motivational power and allows for the investment of resources. We don't invest well in five year or seven year spurts.

  4. What I liked about what Gini said was that she named several of the issues that those of us that have been around for a long time have seen: a lack of clarity about the appropriate role of the UUA (I have heard a lot of good men propose outlandish ideas as to what they planned to do in their administration from ending nuclear war to ending racism. Is that really what our churches need the UUA President to focus on? I needed the UUA to help me help my local church. If they had helped us a lot more with the mechanics of church, we wouldn't have had to invent them one by one and would have had a lot more time for mission. Instead of one guy spending a lot of time talking about Global Warming or Gay Marriage, you could take the load off local groups inventing how to build a building, evaluate a ministry, finding cheap loans, etc. and let the hundreds of local congregations worrying about the mundane speak out on Global Warming and Gay Marriage. The one professional in most congregations is likely to be a person with an interest in and training for theological leadership in churches and communities. So why not take the load off the amateurs and the theological professionals in congregations by developing sets of "best practices" in the areas in which we don't have particular expertise? Or now that the internet is around, culling some of those "best practices" and disseminating them?

    An example: for the last half century there have been a great many problematic clergy who have been sexually predatory, or engaged in other misconduct which has harmed individuals and destroyed the institutional health of countless congregations. There is no, clear, institutional response to this situation. Most such behavior has gone unaddressed and there is no standard response nor is the MFC nor district staff well trained in response. When such a minister leaves, there is no protocol for aiding the congregation in healing. Interim training does not address this issue. It is a justice issue. It is a growth issue. It is a long standing issue. But there is no coherent philosophy nor practical process for dealing with the situation.

    We say R.E. is important. Where is a sixteen year curricula that will help adults aid children in their spiritual development and practice?

    What does the UUA do that is not episodic, but is planned out and tested through time?

    Is there anything that is not personality driven?

    I am not sure that the UUA needs to provide a grand theological vision so much as a unified organization that facilitates the theological vision developed by others. I think your idea that that work should best be done by UU clergy and scholars may be correct.


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