Results of First Survey of Interests are Ready!

We were happy to receive 144 responses to our first survey of congregational interest in various possible areas of work. Thanks to everyone who filled out the survey!

The raw data / full report can be found here.

In summary, here are the 10 areas that received the largest degree of support from the congregation, in order of support:

Area of work:                                                             Percentage of people who named it as one of four priorities:

Hunger / Food Justice                                                            36.1%

Quality Education for All (K-12)                                          35.4%

Healthy Chicago Neighborhoods                                     29.9%

Health Care Justice                                                                  28.5%

Jobs                                                                                                  26.4%

Drugs / Substance Abuse                                                      25.0%

Environment / Care of Creation                                        24.3%

Gun Violence                                                                              22.2%

Mentoring                                                                                    21.5%

Quality Preschool Education for All                               19.4%


Of course, some of these areas of work overlap, and the Process Planning Team is still working on how best to clarify, define, or group the areas before presenting the next step to the congregation.

For now, the Process Planning Team encourages the whole congregation to read a book that has been challenging, enlightening and motivating to us as we have thought about this work:

Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like If We Cared About Results, by Robert Lupton.

Copies are available at church for $10, and several copies are available at the Hinsdale library and the Clarendon Hills library.  Please, everyone, read it!  It may well change the way you think about this Before We Get to Mars project!  But we also want to say…

…to be honest, this book might shake you up a bit, as it did all of us.  It questions the way churches (and other wonderful organizations) have often gone about their charity work.  But we believe the challenge is worth the education the book gives about how we can do things differently and more effectively in the future.  One of our members offers this brief encouragement:

The book “Charity Detox” contains some thought-provoking examples and challenges us on our traditional way of assisting others.  If you start reading the book and you find it “challenging,” please read it to the end.  After reading “Charity Detox,” I was at first a little saddened to think about how I currently interact with charities and how I try to help others (i.e., if I help at a food pantry, am I an enabler?).  However, after reflecting on the book and talking about the book with others and Rev. Mike, I was able to step back and see that that there are different ways to help others.  As the saying goes, “Give a person a fish, and you feed him/her for a day; show him/her how to catch fish, and you feed him/her for a lifetime.”

The second round of the priority setting survey will be coming soon, so keep looking for more information.

But first, read the book!  Thanks!

Before We Get To Mars Meetings (June 25, July 23)

Dear Fellow Members and Friends of Union Church,

Bottom line for those who read no further: Please fill out this survey about the Before We Get to Mars project – one for each individual.  Thanks!

A couple of months ago, Union Church set in motion a process that could lead us to make a real difference in the world.  Through the exciting and innovative “Before We Get to Mars” project, we could find a new, challenging, and effective way to join God in “making the world more like Jesus wants it to be.”  Eventually, we hope everyone in the congregation will have a role in this, so at this super early stage in the process, here is what we want everyone to know:

What is the “Before We Get to Mars” project?

We envision a 10-15 year, all-church project focused on those in need, in which the whole congregation can be involved.  By harnessing the fantastic and diverse resources of the people of our congregation, agreeing on one area of focus, and acting with courage, commitment and patience, we think we can accomplish something astounding for God and other people.

What’s Mars got to do with this?

NASA currently estimates that the U.S. will put a human on Mars by the middle of the 2030s. Well, you have probably heard a statement like, “We can put a man on the moon, but we still have hungry children here on earth.” We are all for big goals and exciting exploration, but that statement makes a good point. It would be good to focus on a big, exciting goal that would directly benefit people in need. That seems to be a Jesus-like thing to do.  So, by all means, let’s go to Mars, but let’s also fix something here – before we get to Mars!

What will this big project be?

That’s up to the congregation.  The Executive Council has appointed a Process Planning Team (that’s us), and our job is to help the congregation come to a good decision that garners very broad support.  With the enclosed survey, we are beginning that process.  Once the general areas of greatest interest are known, then we will work with the congregation to develop project ideas.  Those project ideas will be presented to the whole congregation for discussion, evaluation and prioritization, and finally one great project will be selected by congregational vote.  (The congregation will also have the option of deciding not to undertake any project at this time.)

What will be the criteria for this project?

This is proving to be a critical question for us!  We are still learning and discussing, but generally we think good strong ideas will share these characteristics:

  • Proper scale – Is the project big enough to be worthwhile, challenging and exciting, but also small enough to be doable over several years?
  • Multifaceted – Are there many different ways for people of all ages in the congregation (and beyond) to contribute to the project?
  • Good fit – Does the project take advantage of the strengths of our congregation and our resources and is it something that really matters to us personally?
  • Attractiveness to our community – We think it is okay to acknowledge that we have some self-interest here (not selfishness, but self-interest). Does the project benefit our church?  Does the project make people say, “Wow, that’s pretty cool.  I’d like to be part of a congregation that is doing [this or that great thing]”?
  • Measurable outcomes – While we know this work will ultimately be about changed lives, not numbers, is the impact of our work somehow measurable?
  • Transformative (rather than enabling) – Will this project create lasting change in ways traditional charity does not?

Again, we are still thinking through what will make for a great project, and will be in further conversation with the congregation about that.

What will happen to all the great things we already do?

Executive Council and our regular Ministries will have to work this out over time, but as a planning team, we don’t envision any great change to current mission commitments.  The goal is to add to what we are doing, with focus and persistence.  We may find ways that current efforts aid the Before We Get to Mars project, but as far as we are concerned they don’t have to. 

What has the planning team learned so far?

We’re glad you asked!  We have learned, as Pastor Mike says about many things, “It’s complicated.”  We have been thinking through the types of efforts that really make a difference.  What truly changes things for those in need?  Allows them not just to survive, but to thrive as God desires?  We are continuing to think through this issues, and will be saying more about this in the coming weeks.

When will we have a chance to talk about all this as a congregation?

We are going to have an event on Sunday, June 25, following the 10:00 service, to talk about the criteria of a good Before We Get to Mars project, and answer any questions people may have.  Also, on Sunday, July 23, we are going to host a panel discussion about related questions.  Look for more details to come, but please plan on being present for what we think will be some really interesting and important discussions!

Okay, that was a lot of information – what are the take-aways?

  1. The congregation (not us) will make the decision about the Before We Get to Mars project in a few months.
  2. Everyone, please fill out this survey about the Before We Get to Mars project – one for each individual. Thanks!
  3. Come to the events on Sunday, June 25, and Sunday, July 23.
  4. Pray for the congregation to make a good decision!

Thanks and God bless you!

The Before We Get to Mars Process Planning Team,

Sharon Cooper, Michele Crowe, Grant Glowiak, Dave Johnson, Melissa Mann, Jackie Poetter, Joel Pundmann, Vera Shively, Ross Sweeney, Katie Szafarczyk, Nadine Woodle, and ex officio Ed Spacapan, Marilyn Johnson, and Mike Solberg

Survey link: