The most joyful work I ever did as a lay leader of a UU congregation was to help surface a vision of who we aspired to be. Helping the congregation express our understanding of our identity and our aspirations for the future was powerful stuff. It was that work that led directly into my applying to seminary and beginning the formal tasks of preparing for ordained ministry.
Above and beyond, deep and below all the tasks, skills, and arts of ministry, is the minister’s role as the steward of the congregation’s Vision. Vision belongs to and must emerge from a congregation’s identity — both its sense of itself and its hopes for what it could become.
Once that identity has become clear — and even when it is not quite clear — it becomes my work to preach, teach, promote, and carry that Vision. I do not do these tasks alone. It is my particular task to make sure that the work we do, the life we share, the spirit in which we relate to one another and the larger community are embodied in alignment with the congregation’s Vision.
Every minister has his or her own vision of what a congregation can be and become. But it is the congregation’s Vision to which I am most accountable. It is the congregation’s Vision I carry out into community, attend to in allocating resources, and hold ever ahead of our work as the standard and aspiration. As a lay leader, I helped express the vision my congregation held. As a minister, I hold the congregation’s aspirations and identity as the guide and goal of our work together.
Who We Are and Who We Yet May Be
All our congregations have things of which to be proud. We are collaborative. We are interpersonally healthy. We work for justice. We are fiscally responsible. Whatever it is, there are parts of congregational identity that each of us can point to and say, “I’m happy about that.”
There are also hopes we have for who we, as a congregation, can become. “Yes, yes I am proud, and yet.” “Yes. AND I have these hopes for us.”
The formal process of Visioning engages both these aspects of identity. Formal Visioning asks congregant to identify strengths, pride, joy — all the reasons why folks come to church in the first place! And then Visioning moves on to aspiration, places the congregation can truly stretch into its dreams.
Informal Visioning does this work too. When congregants allow themselves to dream about what committees, groups, classes, and the congregation can do, they stretch more deeply, more fully into a shared sense of identity. That is, as hopes grow, identity deepens and strengthens. Together, as congregation and minister, we take our direction from that sense of identity.