This is a short move physically. It is a huge move symbolically, culturally, and organizationally. There are lots of good, practical reasons to move. Our staff will be in one building, not two. We will be on three floors, not spread out on twelve. Our operating costs will be much lower. The new space will be far more flexible. The technology will be a lot better. The list of practical reasons is long.
However, what excites me is not the list of practical advantages. What excites me is what this move can mean for all of us—including the vast number of UUs who will never walk into headquarters. This move is about teamwork and collaboration. This move is about looking forward with confidence and seizing this historic opportunity for our faith.
As with any move, there are also losses. Our Beacon Hill buildings, especially 25 Beacon, are full of cherished memories. In the coming months we will have the opportunity to honor these memories and to say good-bye. We are committed to taking what is precious in our past with us. Our new facility will include a museum-quality heritage display area that tells our story using modern media.
We must revere and remember the past. However, we must not be trapped by it. Ours has always been a faith that, in the words of the hymn, “trusts the dawning future.” In the nineteenth century, when a rigid outdated orthodoxy strangled the human spirit, our founders embraced new interpretations of scripture. We welcomed wisdom from other religious traditions. When others were threatened by the science of evolution and geology, we welcomed advances in human learning. Some religious traditions cling to the past. Our faith sees new possibilities unfolding. This is at the core of who we are.
One of the world’s leading experts in organizational change once commented, “When organizations fail, it is never their problems that kill them. It’s their past success.” That is, they keep doing what once made them successful but no longer works. Clinging to the past can be fatal to an organization. It can also be devastating to an individual.
The past can be either a springboard or a prison. I know this is true for each one of us at a personal level. I can let my past trap me, or I can learn from it and build upon it. The same is true for every congregation. Our most thriving congregations are those that build upon their past and seize new opportunities in a changing world.
In order for our faith to thrive in our rapidly changing culture, we have to work together as never before. Just in the last few years we have seen what collaboration can do. Think of the partnerships that made Justice GA such a powerful success. Think of our work for marriage equality. Look at the collaboration that has led to the UU College of Social Justice.
The truth is that our current headquarters buildings were designed for another era. Our new facility will allow for much easier collaboration. We need a new headquarters for a new era.
No faith has the opportunity that we have to minister to a world that is leaving traditional religion behind. Let us seize this opportunity. Let us trust the dawning future.
This article appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of UU World (pages 5).