Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Origins of the phrase "Nurturing spiritual growth and working for social justice"

edited by Lavon Page using information provided by Edith Sylla, Marty Lamb, and Jane Smith

The phrase “Nurturing spiritual growth and working for social justice” has been widely used on church publications for many years. Some recall this slogan having been added to the church bulletin and website during the tenure of Rev. Carol Ripley-Moffitt as Interim Pastor (2000-2002). But others remember the phrase itself having originated while Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte was pastor, perhaps around 1990. This article provides an overview to the context out of which this phrase may have arisen. Most of this information was researched by Edith Sylla, church historian.

Marty Lamb (Nov. 2013) recalls that “Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte did apparently suggest to the Deacons the phrase 'working for social justice and nurturing spiritual growth.'  Geraldine Bryan (on the Deacons at the time) spoke up to say she'd approve its use IF the words were put in the proper order 'nurturing spiritual growth and working for social justice.' The Deacons did approve of the current statement, so that was the authoritative group in the church who gave approval for its use.”

We don’t have a date for this discussion, but given the statement of goals adopted at the congregational meeting June 17,1990, it may have been about this time.  Peggy Hoffmann refers to similar language in her review of church history during the 1980's in The “Energetic 80’s:  A decade in the life of a small Southern church” which includes the statement of goals (p. 21). And the phrase "Working for Social Justice" appears as a header on p. 20 of that document.

As a precursor to the fall retreat held in October 2012, Edith Sylla as church historian drafted an informal overview of church history related to this matter. Edith's findings (Oct. 2012) appear below, slightly edited by Lavon Page for purposes of online readability.

From the CUCC Archives re Long Range Planning in 1990

drafted by Edith Sylla, CUCC Historian, October 2012

In 1990, Peggy Hoffmann ended her update of CUCC history (“The Energetic Eighties: A decade in the life of a small southern church”) with the following section:

MOVING INTO THE 1990’S (excerpt from Peggy Hoffman's "Energetic 80s")

As CUCC enters the 1990’s we have set ourselves a new statement of goals, voted in a congregational meeting June 17,1990.

Goal Statement of Community United Church of Christ

As a worshipping community we recognize the God-given unity of our prayerful journey toward a deeper faith in God, our work for justice in the world and at home, and our quest to be a more loving community.

Therefore, as we move toward the twenty-first century, we commit ourselves to the challenge of affirming this unity in all that we do. Given this vision, we have set ourselves these priorities to address in the next three to five years.

  • Always to be conscious of the unity of our commitments to foster faith development in our congregation; engage in ministries of peace, justice, and mercy for the earth and the human family; and, create a more caring congregation.
  • To expand our ministry to and with children and youth in our congregation and in the community.
  • To make the best use of space and resources available to us and to assess and address our physical and financial needs in light of expected continued growth.

Here are some items from the files that explain the background of this goal statement:

Church Council September 18, 1989. Minutes
The planning process for 1990 is being discussed. The Deacons recommend a subcommittee from the Council to coordinate the effort.... Susie Sapp made a motion that a subcommittee, appointed by the Church Council, be formed to discuss long-range plans for the Church – to be accomplished by November and a recommendation to the congregation by January with implementation in winter/spring of 1990.

Church Council October 16, 1989. Minutes
Judy Smallwood reported that those who agreed to be on the long-range planning committee are John Bush, John Niblock, Pam Troutman, Bill Lamb, Judy Smallwood, Cally Rogers-Witte and Dave Barber. Cally feels that they should meet as soon as possible.

First Annual Congregational meeting January 7, 1990. Minutes
Dave Barber reported on Long Range Planning Committee by handing out a graph showing our worship attendance and budgets for the last 12 years, and explaining some of the interesting information depicted.

Church Council January 16, 1990. Minutes
Long Range Planning: Bill Lamb passed out a list of Priority issues as voted by the Congregation, prepared by John Niblock. It boils down to 4 themes. A narrative summary is being drafted to include these. Boards and committees in February will be asked to consider this re-written material on what they feel the church should stand for. This will also be asked of the Friendship Circles. The Committee will then develop the 5-year plan by May or June.

Pastor’s Report: Cally feels the challenge of the 90’s is to balance spiritual development and justice.... Cally will offer 4 sessions in February on UCC polity, with the 4th session reviewing Long Range Plan. ... Cally mentioned that our agenda needs to include a report from the Long Range Planning Committee.

Church Council February 19, 1990. Minutes
The Board of Deacons held a retreat on Sunday, February 18th to discuss Long-Range Planning.

Long Range Planning: Bill Lamb reported that the committee will be asking Boards and Committees for a 3-5 year plan. Meeting is planned with Friendship Circles Coordinators on Sunday.

Email from Cally
To: Long Range Planning Committee
From: Cally Rogers-Witte, April 24, 1990
Review of process up ‘till now:

  • Deacons’ evaluation of pastors last year led them to ask for more comprehensive, long range planning by the whole church, especially as they face spring ’90 decision about whether to continue to have two part-time pastors or not.
  • Fall of 1989 – Council appointed Long Range Planning Committee which began meeting in November.
  • LRP led the Jan. 7 Congregational meeting which included a time for being in touch with mission statements of our church and the denomination, then remembering highlights of the history of our local church and its involvement in mission, and surfacing dreams for the future of our church.
  • Out of that congregational discussion, LRP wrote a draft mission statement and priorities and then asked the various Boards and Committees to suggest what dreams/plans/hopes/future programs they might suggest for their own work and for the whole congregation.
  • All of the above was then shared with members and friends of the congregation at gatherings of the various Friendship Circles which gave feedback and added other ideas....
  • After all the meetings of Friendship Circles, the LRP committee reviewed all the suggestions and rewrote the mission statement and priorities for presentation to the Council for possible presentation to the Congregation, and they also listed the various ideas that should be routed to each Board of the Committee for possible further consideration, noting the ideas that seemed to be rather widely affirmed or mentioned a number of times.

LRP suggests that Council should be familiar with all this material and then should consider appointing three separate task forces to address each priority. LRP suggests that these task forces each be responsible to one (or more?) of the Boards, but have within the membership of each task force persons representing the different Boards and Committees affected by the priority....

There should be a way to be sure the work of all three task forces is coordinated....

In the same packet as the April 24  memo from Cally there is a version of the mission statement (probably by Cally) that includes elaborations of the three priorities. For the first, Cally explains:

(This includes our work for global justice, human rights, economic justice, peace, environmental stewardship, and to end hunger and homelessness. It also emphasizes our desire to always see the interrelatedness of all this work as well as the connections between spiritual growth and social ministry, and the effects on our own community’s life.... the commitment in the 1990’s is to a new articulation of these interrelationships and connections – so that, for example, we ask the prayer chains to pray for people in places of war or famine, and we remember to articulate scriptural and theological bases for our social actions, and we invite more and more people to participate in peace vigils and worship services as well as Bible Studies and Silent Saturdays ... keep the unity and connections always in the forefront!!)

In the same packet there are also elaborations of the second and third priorities and several pages of feedback from the Friendship circles.

On May 9, 1990 there was a long range planning retreat for the Council and LRP. There are hand-written minutes from this meeting.

Special Called Congregational meeting June 17, 1990
To consider the following business:

  1. Affirmation of the Goal Statement ... and the priorities it suggests.
  2. Report from Church Council and Long Range Planning Committee on appointment of task forces to work on each of the three priorities...

Minutes (selections)
The meeting was called to order by Bill Lamb, serving as Moderator...

John Niblock made a motion to approve the first priority of Goal Statement for the Church. Discussion:  Isabella Cannon spoke to the issue of unity in the goal statement to the effect that we should have an awareness of diversity and acceptance of different points of view. Dave added that the Goal Statement is not a statement of  “who we are” but where we want to be in the next few years. John Little added that he doesn’t think unity means conformity. Motion carried.
John Niblock made a motion to approve the second priority and mentioned different task forces and who will chair them.... each task force will have representatives from all committees.... Motion carried.

Church Council June 25, 1990. Minutes
Pastor’s Report. Dave reported that the congregation also approved the Long-Range Planning proposal. Only one task force (Unity) is without a chair.

Church Council September 24, 1990. Minutes
Long Range Planning: Bill Lamb reported on Space and Resources Task Force. Potential action items are purchasing nice stacking chairs for the rear of the sanctuary to receive overflow, installing sound system in sanctuary, enlarging church building by enclosing courtyard between Vaughan Wing and Library, and erecting a more sound-proof divider in large church school room (between kitchen and secretary’s office).

Church Council October 22, 1990.
Task Force on Unity: Quentin Lindsay handed in a written report. Four recommendations were presented: 1) Council could appoint an ad-hoc committee to encourage and support efforts by which all of us strive to achieve unity of spirituality and social concern. 2) Consider a congregational retreat. 3) Classes and discussion groups have “open houses” to which newcomers would be invited. 4) Consider a class “in-between” middle school youth and forum for youth groups.

It was moved and seconded that the report be accepted; motion carried. It was recommended that a copy of this report be included in the Newsletter with a cover letter standing that the “Council accepts this report and commends it to the attention of all individuals and committee members, requesting volunteers for an ad-hoc committee. Council welcomes feedback.” [This appeared in the November 1990 Newsletter. Copy of the report will be appended to this summary.]

Church Council, November 19, 1990. Minutes
Task Force on Children and Youth: John Niblock presented recommendations: 1) Internal: Resource guide for teachers; Year-end guide book; College-age youth group to be established. 2) External: Community Outreach theme adopted every month to be integrated into all youth activities. Cally suggested we ask Wider Outreach to take on the External recommendation. Geraldine made a motion that these recommendations and those of the Task Force on Space be put in the Newsletter for the congregation to consider. Motion carried. Jim Smith made a motion that a subcommittee of Council (3 moderators, treasurer, and secretary) should oversee implementation of Task Force recommendations. Motion carried.

These excerpts from the files are only a small fraction of what was going on at the time.