Social Mission Policy

Three Approaches for the Congregation to Act Together – To Act as One

According to Richard Gilbert, in his book, The Prophetic Imperative, “Social action is not the central function of the church. It is a vital function, but it must emerge out of a religious community that serves well the functions of worship, caring and education. Yet a church that ignores this function fails to understand its mandate to seek the Beloved Community. Social action is a necessary but not a sufficient dimension for a Unitarian Universalist church.”

In order to be effectively involved in social action, it is imperative that we become a “community of moral discourse.” As a denomination we have a long tradition of social action that grows out of our deep commitments to ethical, humane and enduring values, including those found in our Seven Principles. Preservation of this tradition, according to Gilbert, requires that we “take the normal variety of opinions on social issues and become intentional in transforming them from coffee hour chatter into moral discourse and social action.”

Petitions

The first step in each area of congregational action is a petition. To bring forward a petition, please include the following information on the petition:

(a) The name of the author of the petition.

(b) The signature endorsement of at least 10% of the members of the congregation.

(c) A description of the agency or agencies involved in the petition.

(d) The nature of the commitment that is being requested.

(e) The length of the commitment to the project or agency requested.

(f) The reasons for the commitment, such as the need for action, the way it fits with our principles, or the past history of the church.

(g) How the actions described in the petition will be reported to the congregation and how often.

Responsibilities of the Petitioner

The person bringing forth a social mission petition is responsible for reporting on the project to the congregation at the annual report and in the Bellnote quarterly (if applicable). The petitioner is also responsible for organizing events and seeing the project through.

Responsibilities of the Social Mission Task Force

The Social Mission Task Force is responsible for working with the petitioners and the board of trustees to see that projects are coordinated with the church’s calendar and reports are made to the congregation. Other responsibilities of the Social Mission Task Force are described below.

Involvement of Children and Youth

Children and youth are encouraged to participate in this social action process. They may author petitions with an adult co-signer; sign petitions, wherein their signatures will be counted equal to adults; and participate in discussions and votes. To participate in a vote, a child or youth must ask the moderator of the meeting for the right to vote, and a vote of the congregation will be taken, prior to any other vote, on the right of children and youth to vote. In addition, the Religious Education program is encouraged to use this social action process or adapt this process for classroom use.

Emergency Special Collections

Emergency special collections may be taken by an agreement of the Minister, Board President, and Social Mission Task Force Chair, or any subgroup of this group if all are not available. In the event that the Board President is not available or is the same person as the Social Mission Task Force Chair, the Vice President should be contacted if possible. Special Collections should be used sparingly, and are designed for emergency situations in the local community or disaster situations. An example of a past emergency special collection was a collection for the UUSC’s Hurricane Katrina disaster relief fund.

Areas for Congregational Action

Here are three areas for congregation action – acting as one – to translate our conversation into moral discourse and social action:

1. Approving special financial collections for community projects or agencies, such as the Brooklyn Food Pantry or Jackson Interfaith Shelter.

Guidelines for Best Practice: 

(a) Once a year the Social Mission Task Force (SMTF) asks for petitions from members and friends of the congregation for local community, state, national or international projects needing financial support. The SMTF packages the petitions together and shares them in writing with the congregation.

(b) The congregation, in a formal, congregational meeting, selects no more than four projects that will be presented on a quarterly basis through the year, with a request for a special offering. At least 51% of a quorum attending the meeting must give approval, although a consensus of the group is preferred.

(c) Written information about each project will be presented to the congregation in advance of the Sunday at which the offering for that project will be taken. The Sunday for the special collection will be chosen by the Worship Committee.

(d) The funds collected will be transmitted to each project with a supporting letter from the President of the Board and the Minister, including a request to the project to share as it is able how the funds are used.

2. Approving special social action or social service projects or programs that the congregation would support and members would be involved with. The programs may be programs of other agencies, such as the recycling center or Interfaith Peacekeepers; programs that the church will sponsor, such as a school-community partnership program; or programs that the church would lead, such as a voter registration drive or programs similar to the JXN Community Forums.

Guidelines for Best Practice:

(a) At any time, a group of members and friends of the congregation may submit a petition to the Board for congregational support for shared sponsorship of a special social action or social service project or program that:

· is operated by others

· is to be led and operated by a group or individual members of the congregation, or

· the congregation as a whole would be expected to support.

(b) The Board, SMTF or other committee, shares the request in writing with the congregation.

(c) The Board, SMTF, or other committee arranges for at least one congregation awareness and dialogue session in advance of a formal congregational meeting of the congregation to act on the request for support.

(d) At least 75% of a quorum attending the meeting must give approval, although a consensus of the group is preferred.

(e) Such congregational support will be expressed as encouraging members and friends to participate in the project or program, providing financial support, making available the resources of the congregation (space, newsletter, etc.), making regular reports to the congregation on the work of the project or program, and endorsements from the pulpit and in the press.

3. Approve public statements on particular social issues, such as supporting gay marriage, or approve actions which would be taken by the congregation and its members regarding a specific social issue, such as a public boycott, or creation of a “violence-free zone”.

Guidelines for Best Practice:

(a) At any time, a group of members and friends of the congregation, including the SMTF, may submit a request to the Board for a congregational public statement on a particular social issue. The request, to be considered, must have the signature support of at least 10% of the members of the congregation.

(b) The Board, through the SMTF or other committee, shares the request in writing with the congregation.

(c) The Board, SMTF, or other committee arranges for a study group of members and friends to spend at least one working session reviewing the issue and preparing a recommended public statement or a recommended course or plan of action, and at least one congregation awareness and dialogue session in advance of a formal congregational meeting of the congregation to act on the request for the public statement or action.

(d) At least 90% of a quorum attending the meeting must give approval, although a consensus of the group is preferred.

(e) All approved public statements and approved congregational public actions may be circulated to the appropriate organizations and to the media.

Revoking of Congregational Commitment to Action

The congregational commitment to action can be revoked under two circumstances. First, if no action has been taken on the commitment for the period of one year or in the period described by the petition, the Social Mission Task Force can revoke the commitment. Second, the congregation may revoke the commitment to action by congregational vote at any time. This action may be taken when circumstances dictate, such as a supported agency taking a stand that is in contradiction to Unitarian Universalist principles.

Adopted 2005, Revised 2006, 2007.