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What's Your Legacy?

What's Your Legacy?

Juanita Helphrey.

By Rev. David Schoen

This post originally appeared on Vital Signs & Statistics, a United Church of Christ blog.

A legacy, rather than being something we leave behind when we die, is something we create while we are living. All of us are building our legacy each day we live. What is your legacy?

Consider the life and legacy of Juanita Helphrey, a faithful and fearless advocate for justice who took strong stands for the rights of Native Americans and for all marginalized groups. On the UCC national staff, Juanita led the UCC movement against the use of Native Americans as sports mascots and team logos. Those of us who worked with her in Cleveland remember how on every baseball opening day, Juanita could be found actively protesting the name Indians and the Chief Wahoo Logo. She was arrested in 1997 for burning an image of the mascot during the World Series.

It is notable in the same month that our colleague, friend and fierce justice advocate died, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, in a statement Monday, Jan. 29, citing the need for “diversity and inclusion,” indicated that use of the Chief Wahoo logo is “no longer appropriate” and will be eliminated from the Cleveland field uniform and signage. In a press release the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC President and General Minister noted that this decision came three weeks after Juanita’s death, saying … “it was she who kept this matter always before us here in Cleveland. Taking a moment to celebrate this decision is important – but we should also realize there is more work to be done here.

Throughout her life, Juanita worked for justice for Native Americans and others that now lives on after her. We often think of a legacy as an amount of money or property left by someone to another person or organization in a will. Certainly, that is one definition of legacy, but legacy is also defined as “something that someone has achieved that continues to exist after they stop working or die." In her blog “Living Your Legacy: How Will you touch Others’ Lives?” Tina Stone writes, “Knowing the legacy I want to leave behind helps me stay focused on what I’m doing in the present so that my goals are in line with that legacy. It offers a concrete sense of purpose in choosing what I am giving my energy to.” What is the legacy that you are giving your energy to?

Just like individuals, congregations and denominations also develop their legacy through pursuing their vision, purpose, mission, and life-giving core. In the 1980’s, David Cooperrider developed a new approach to working with organizations — both large and small corporations as well as non-profit corporations, churches and church organizations. Using “Appreciative Inquiry” people are invited to explore with reverence the valuable characteristics of their organization — what David called the “life-giving core."

In his book Memories, Hopes and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational ChangeMark Branson helps congregations uncover and articulate their life-giving core through questions and conversations.

  • What do you think is the healthiest, most life-giving aspect of our church?
  • When we are at our best, how do we express God’s love and mercy and justice to others?
  • What is the single most important value that makes our church unique?
  • In all of the ways we connect with the local community, the nation and the world, when do you believe the church was most faithful and effective?

Articulating life-giving core experiences helps your congregation clarify and focus on the legacy that your congregation is creating. Congregations can engage in Appreciative Inquiry life-giving core conversations for mission planning, during times of pastoral transition and for church renewal. Congregations that are coming to the end of their active ministry can use Appreciative Inquiry to make a decision on how to share their legacy for future life-giving work (See Living Legacy. Chapter Three – Legacy Inherited, Legacy Futured.)

The UCC Still Speaking Initiative and now the Three Great Loves Initiative express the life-giving and profound legacy of how together we in the United Church of Christ are impacting and transforming the world in common purpose, vision, and mission. How congregations, conferences and our national ministries live out the Three Great Loves –  love of neighbors, love of children, love of creation defines and creates our living legacy, today.

Whether your congregation has been in ministry three hundred, thirty or three years, the vital question for every congregation to continually ask is “What is our legacy?”

What’s your legacy? What is your congregation’s legacy?