Last fall, our board went on two retreats funded by a generous grant from the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation. Our intent was to do one retreat in September. At that retreat, we would come up with a plan to recruit new board members in 2018.
Our conversation that day made it clear that we felt unclear about some things. We knew the mission statement, but we couldn't describe our mission in action. The questions in the room that day were: "What do we do? How do we do it? Why do we do it?"
Good boards have conversations like this at least once a year.
Good boards also know that a mission statement is not a sacred text. A good mission statement evolves to meet the needs of the present and anticipate the needs of the future. After all, the nature of a mission is action toward some end. What should stay the same is the spirit of the mission and the beliefs and values that shape it.
At that September retreat, the board agreed that it was time to ask whether our mission statement--written long ago--is the right mission for right now.
The retreat facilitator pointed out that Voices for Earth Justice has no vision statement. That is: We aren't painting a picture of the world we want to help bring about.
We ended the September retreat with an agreement to hold a second retreat in December. At that retreat, we did two things:
While the board contemplated those things between September and December, I took time to ask a lot of questions of our two founders, Patty Gillis and Sister Janet Stankowski. I wanted to understand why they started Voices for Earth Justice, what they set out to do, and how they did it over the last 15 years.
All of this work last fall came together in a draft of a new mission and vision statement for Voices for Earth Justice. While the board is working toward adopting a final version of that mission and vision, I want to give you a glimpse into what is coming.
Four words capture the essence of the new mission and vision that are emerging from our conversations last fall: Faith, community, practical, impact.
Here's a little more about each one:
Faith. Voices for Earth Justice started as a faith-based ministry to communities and people of faith. When Patty and Sister Janet started the organization in 2002, they felt that communities of faith needed voices to speak up for the stewardship of Earth and its inhabitants. In the Bible, God's first command to human beings is to care for and keep the Earth and all therein. People who believe in the divine origins of all Creation have a God-given obligation to care for it. Voices for Earth Justice has always existed to remind people of faith of this obligation and to help them meet it.
Community. When the retreat facilitator asked our board members to remember a time when Voices for Earth Justice was at its best, every one of them painted a picture of community. There was the intense cooperation and volunteer work it took to build Hope House & Gardens. There were cookouts, potlucks and shared meals. There were celebration, prayer, and worship gatherings. We all agreed that Voices for Earth Justice is at its best when it is bringing people together. Indeed, the essence of our mission is to bring people into relationship with Earth and each other. That's community.
Practical. The most common question that came up during our board retreats and conversations was this one: "What do we do at Voices for Earth Justice? What do we want to help other people do?" We agreed that most people believe that caring for the Earth is a good thing to do, but that most people don't know how. Or, even if they know how, they don't know how to fit it into their busy, complicated, paycheck-to-paycheck, stressful lives. If people feel like they can't practice Earth care, they won't practice Earth care. So to help more people practice Earth care, how do we make Earth care accessible, personal, practical, and simple enough for everyone to do it?
Impact. This is where the rubber meets the road. How will the world be different because Voices for Earth Justice exists? What changes do we want to help bring about, directly or indirectly? Impact is a lot bigger than just our little nonprofit organization. It's the ripples from the pebble in the pond. So what ripples do we want to make and in which pond? Way back in 2002, Patty and Sister Janet came to believe that communities of faith have great influence on how people live their lives. They believed that if we influence communities of faith, we can influence the people who belong to those communities. Changing the way communities and people of faith think about and practice Earth care could have a profound impact on the world.
Our board will soon begin going over the draft. I'd like for you to have a chance to look at it, too, and give us your thoughts before the board votes to adopt it.
Look for that mission and vision draft sometime in mid-February.
Meanwhile, please keep us in your prayers.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, executive director
Voices for Earth Justice