Rev. Jim Parrish
Our Mission: As a diverse, accepting faith community, we promote justice and service while seeking personal and spiritual growth. (2014)
To accomplish our Mission we shall:
- Serve as a welcoming religious community for all who practice a liberal religious life in agreement with our Principles and Covenant.
- Open our hearts and doors for those in need; share laughter with those celebrating, and comfort those in sadness and grief.
- Strive to be a center of excellence for intellectual, emotional, personal, and spiritual learning, and promote growth and dialogue between ours and other sources of religious and spiritual life.
- Provide ourselves and the wider community with resources of venue, volunteers, programming, and leadership to make personal and societal changes towards love, happiness, equality, and justice.
Recently several members of UUFF, and one from our Web of Life affinity group, participated in a University of Arkansas class at the invitation of their professor. The class was nine or so students of sociology, many working towards a counseling degree, and the subject was the attitudes and coping mechanisms of folks who are of a “minority” religion in a region where mainline Christianity was dominant. Mike McMullin, Sarah Faitak, and I would represent our different ways of being Unitarian Universalist, and Ethan Whiting would speak to being “Pagan,” an earth centered religious belief system. The class was run by Professor Mindy Bradley, who is also UU, and we spent a couple of hours having a wonderful conversation about religion, beliefs, spirituality, and dealing with work, social, and community prejudices.
Before we started, I invited the class to introduce themselves to us and tell of their own religious beliefs and journeys. We want to hear who they were religiously, so we could be comfortable when we shared our stories. What we heard was enlightening, and to me missional to UUFF. I would say two thirds of the class were open in their religious journey, and very much Unitarian Universalist in attitude and practice. There was acknowledgement of interest in Earth Spirituality as well. When we visitors began sharing our own backgrounds and journeys to UU and Paganism, we were among folks who could be us. They understood that we were proud to be liberal religionists, that we live our UU Principles and beliefs in our lives while at home, work, and as activists in the community. I felt these students were committed to doing good in the world, and our Principles are compatible with them. And yes, I did give them a copy of our Principles and Sources as reference materials, along with a bookmark with our UUFF address on it. UU evangelism!
So here is the tie into our Mission and its Goals – Many students are our people who just need to know we exist. We need to help them get into the wider world with Unitarian Universalism as their underlying religious community. Some of them may stay in Fayetteville, but many will leave… to go to other cities and towns to join UU churches, or at least help others find us (“Say, you sound as if you are UU, you should check them out!”). If we are going to get the “Nones,” (the religiously unaffiliated who need community but do not want to have their religion dictated to them), as UU, we need to be visible and relevant to them. Many of these Nones on campus are of diverse cultural backgrounds who need to know they have a place and people who accept them.
At the very least… maybe we can be a place that can care for and feed them regularly? Student hunger is a thing. There are many students who are on the edge financially, and soup kitchens for them is not beyond thought, or better yet, a night of food, coffee, study and relaxation in a UU setting. Other churches are hosting community meals at this time.
Here is another thought, if we become visible to the students, we are visible to the faculty who need us as well. We need them to see us too.
UUFF and our Y’ALL group, Young Adults Leading and Learning, have attracted a number of fantastic students these past few years, and we enjoy their time with us – even though we struggle to know what to do for and with them! They have such energy, but have to spend it studying and transitioning their lives from school to the world, and yes, work. Which brings up another point… on top of this student thing, there are Young Adults who WORK in our community! And they need to know we exist and have our support as well… our understanding of how to be a caring religious community for their needs as well!
I think we should ask YA students and workers what they need from a religious community like us, ask ourselves how might we do it, and do it well… so I’m asking. We have this building near campus that needs updating, but it can serve right now to introduce students and working YAs to UU, let them feel like there is a religious community who has their back. Our Y’ALL folks have been doing this for a couple of years now, by gathering to share in entertainment, food, and discussion. How can we support them, how can we do this better?
One of our mission goals is to serve as a welcoming community for liberal religionists. This takes advertising, being found, and providing a proper, consistent and appropriate venue for spiritual learning in community. We have this huge population of students and faculty right next to us to explore and welcome, as well as the cities full of working YAs all around us. I know it has been a tough sell in the past, but I see us as Y’ALL doing it right! The lessons Young Adults can teach us will help with outreach to the rest of Fayetteville as well, to those working YAs who need to know who we are.
This isn’t the only outreach we should consider, but I’m writing this so we start thinking about our mission and where it might take us. The University and Young Adults of all kinds are a possibility of mission focus, and I’d love for us to think of other goals so we can prioritize, marshal our resources, and move our mission forward! UUFF has lots of potential, really a lot that hasn’t been tapped, and I think having missional goals that we can see and feel will draw this potential out.
Like music! More music! A great missional goal… excellence in worship and spiritual development! And Young Adults love music! But that is another article and more discussion, right? Your Board in on it… looking to the future, let’s think about how wonderful it could be, and help it become.
Rev. Jim Parrish