The Social Justice Council (SJC) provides leadership, vision, and organizational support for committees, task forces and other groups that implement the social justice mission of Mount Vernon Unitarian Church.
Social Context and Religious Rationale
Unitarian Universalists believe in the inherent worth of every human being and the responsibility of applying that principle in every day community activities. The social context of our times demands enhanced UU community involvement in activities such as the empowerment of the poor, the marginalized and minorities, advocacy of select civil rights issues, and promotion of an environmentally safe agenda for growth. MVUC has been at the forefront of such social action in the past.
Structure and Membership:
SJC is a standing committee, composed of the Social Justice Coordinator, the chairs of Task Forces (organized around specific social action issues), and chairs of other committees and groups working to implement the mission statement, UUSJ trustee, liaisons to inter-faith groups, and a YRUU representative. SJC is an enabler and supporter of RE social justice activities.
SJC Coordinator is elected by the congregation at the annual meeting, for a period of two years. Coordinator cannot serve as committee or task force chair.
Task Forces are organized to bring social change in increments. They address achievable goals for the duration of one year and are renewed if there is further need for action. Each Task Force has a goal, an annual plan of action, a minimum of five members, and congregational support. Task Force (TF) chairs are selected by their specific groups, for a period of one year, and (re-) authorized by the congregation at the annual meeting.
Committees are organized around a long-term mission, have charters, an annual plan of work, and report annually to the Board of Trustees (BOT) through Program Council (PC). Committee chairs are elected by their members and approved by BOT.
Groups that are neither committees, nor task forces operate on an as-needed basis, based on project, volunteer, and resource availability. They have self-selected leadership and work directly with SJ Coordinator to assess feasibility of purpose and plan of work. They may become task forces or committees if their work endures and they meet the structural standards outlined by SJC (see Appendix I).
Task forces, committees and other groups adopt individual annual plans of activity by August 1st. Individual plans are incorporated into a Social Justice annual plan of work, publicized in Windmill, the Fall and Spring brochures of activities, and by other available means.
Task forces, committees and other groups present SJC Coordinator with annual reports of activity, due on February 15. The structure of the annual report follows the guidelines provided by PC. Individual reports are consolidated into the SJC annual report, for the April annual congregational meeting.
Liaison representatives attend meetings and events in their area of responsibility and present regular updates to SJC on activities of interest.
The Social Justice Council meets on the first Monday of the month. All meetings are open to the public, per MVUC bylaws.
In the May 2008-April 2009 church cycle, SJC has the following positions: SJ Coordinator, Green Sanctuary TF, Civil Liberties TF, Rt. 1 TF, Reproductive Rights TF, Partner Church committee, Repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell group, Blood Drive, Speaker Series, UUSJ Trustee, UUSC Representative, Liaison to Interfaith groups, YRUU Representative, Welcoming Congregation (vacant), Committee on Racial Diversity (vacant), REC Liaison (vacant), Publicity (Lynne Kennedy), Secretary and communications (vacant).
The Minister, the Director of Religious Education, PC Convener and BOT chair are non-voting members.
Activities, Duties and Responsibilities
- Social Justice Council:
SJ Coordinator convenes the Council to discuss and update all members on the status of work to date in order to coordinate future activities. The SJ Coordinator
- represents SJC in PC, BOT, and the wider community,
- identifies opportunities and mobilizes for collective action,
- seeks agenda items from members and moderates meetings,
- keeps SJC appraised on church developments, particularly issues discussed in PC meetings,
- works with and/or trains new groups to start up new activities and insure the feasibility of their projects,
- works with committee and task force chairs to ensure that they execute their annual plans,
- consolidates individual task force and committee annual reports into SJC annual report due in March,
- ensures that committees/task forces comply with church policies,
- convenes executive sessions as needed,
- keeps UUSJ, UUA and JPD informed on MVUC events and
- Task Forces:
Task Forces are groups with specific goals, usually goals that can be fulfilled within one year. They are modeled on Dick Gilbert’s Strategic Planning Process; the model is outlined in Appendix I.
Task Forces execute their annual plans of work, publicize their activities in Windmill, SJ bulletin board, and other available publicity channels. They update the SJ Coordinator and SJC members on the progress of their activities, recruit members for Task Force work, propose new and continued activities and represent MVUC in the larger community.
Any MVUC member/group can propose and seek authorization for a Task Force, at any time during the year. MVUC members who intend to set up a new Task Force should contact SJC Coordinator for help in designing an appropriate and achievable plan of work.
The plan of any Task Force work has three components:
- an achievable goal, i.e. a goal that can be fulfilled within one year
- a strategy to achieve the goal, i.e. planned activities
- support from the congregation, i.e. volunteers who implement the plan of action
Every year, TF chairs stand before the congregation, present their achievements and seek reauthorization – or not, depending on activity. TF activities are included in the SJC Annual Report to the congregation.
Committees are groups with long-term goals, activity-range and plans. They are chartered by BOT or by the congregation, as the case applies.
The Partner Church Committee (PCC) is a standing committee, and was authorized by the congregation in the early 1990s. This committee is responsible for a partner church in Romania and one in India. PCC charter is approved by BOT.
Two additional standing committees have been chartered in the past but they are currently not functioning: Welcoming Congregation, and Committee of Racial Diversity. SJC will work to identify members who could re-energize these two standing committees.
Social Justice task forces and committees identify further activities in the social action area of their interest, or change course when necessary.
- Other groups:
Groups that are neither task forces, nor committees have specific goals and either disband or change focus when the initial goals are fulfilled. The Blood Drive, Repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and the Speaker Series fall in this category. These groups work in the framework of the SJC charter.
The blood drive has been in operation since late 1980s, is an interfaith activity, and is hosted annually by MVUC in December.
The Repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ group (DADT) was initially established as a task force with the specific goal to seek congregational support for an Action of Immediate Witness at the UUA General Assembly in 2007. When the goal was achieved, the task force disbanded. The group continues its
lobbying mission until DADT is repealed.
The Speaker Series was established in 2007, invites elected representatives, high-level officials from the U.S. and abroad to educate the congregation about pressing matters of our times. The series will continue based on availability of resources and volunteers to organize it.
Authority Delegated or Retained
SJC adopts an annual plan for “Sharing the Plate,” by which every Sunday’s offering is shared with a charity chosen by the congregation. SJC fundraisers not specified in current fundraising policy require BOT approval. SJC retains authority to decide how to spend additional revenue from new fundraisers.
Additional (cash) fund-raisers may be necessary, in emergency situations that cannot be foreseen and therefore are not included in the annual plan for special collections. SJC will seek approval from BOT in such cases. Cash fund-raisers are discouraged, and not acceptable unless a transparent and accountable collection process is secured.
SJC charter is reviewed annually, and adjusted to reflect programmatic or structural changes that may be necessary. Feedback for such changes can come from SJC members, social justice groups within the church, Program Council or BOT. Program Council reviews the charter annually, and BOT approves it. Annual assessments on the effectiveness of SJC are made usually in the month of May, after April annual congregational meeting when new officers are approved. Assessments measure achievements based on annual plan of work, congregational participation, and further need for particular work.
Prepared by: Georgeta Pourchot, February 2009, Updated June 2013 Date approved by BOT: April 2009
Reviewed by the Program Council: June 2013 Revision Approved by BOT: March 2015
Strategic Planning Process to Design a Task Force (From A Prophetic Imperative, by Rev. Richard Gilbert)
Step One: Definition of the Social Problem to be Addressed
This is a one-sentence statement of a specific problem that indicates who or what is doing what to whom and where. It should be a problem about which there is high interest in the group, the possibility of meaningful action, and a sense of appropriateness.
Step Two: Statement of Societal Assumptions
Societal assumptions describe briefly the social context in which the problem is found. This would include stating why it is a problem, who suffers from it, how they are affected, and the economic, political, and social factors involved.
Step Three: Statement of Religious Assumptions
The religious assumptions are the value base out of which a group operates. These would be affirmations, theological and ethical in nature, that describe the motivation of the group in attacking a particular problem. Statements about ultimate concerns, human nature, and life meaning would be included. They should state why the problem represents injustice and why achievement of the goal is a step toward justice.
Step Four: Statement of the Action Goal
Here is a declaration of the ultimate aim of the group with respect to the social problem selected. It should be:
Specific, as to time, place, and people.
Measurable, so that the group may chart its progress or lack thereof. Achievable, something that is reasonably within the group’s capacity. Consonant with the religious values of the group.
Step Five: Selection of a Strategy or Strategies
This involves examination of the alternative plans that might be chosen to achieve the goal. One or more strategies might be selected from many possibilities. A strategy is an overall plan by which a group guides itself, a “how” of social responsibility that states who does what.
Step Six: Development and implementation of Tactics
Tactics are the specific actions that constitute a strategy. They indicate assignments of action to particular people, the details of what they are to do, and a time line for reporting on and completing the tasks. The development of tactics should result in an overall time line that establishes an end to the project. The time line will form the core of the agenda for further meetings.
Step Seven: Evaluation of the Project
Evaluation should be a part of every meeting, checking on all the above points to be sure the group still supports the items chosen. Evaluation should be done in the following areas: (1) What changes have been made that lead to problem solution? (2) How is the group functioning in terms of morale, efficiency, and meaning of the task? (3) What has been learned about social change and about personal growth in social responsibility?