Loss, Uncertainty and Purpose Drive Innovation

The sun sets through the smoke in Washington state.
Photo courtesy of Alex Candalla, Executive Director of Wesley Des Moines a Wesley Community, Washington.

A Message from UMA President and CEO, Mary Kemper

The past seven months have been a season of tremendous loss and uncertainty. The duration of an historic pandemic, raging fires, painful social injustice, and continuous loops of destructive hurricanes is testing the most faithful and hopeful among us. For UMA ministries, challenges abound around operations, fundraising, education, staffing, screening, and an ever-murky future.

And yet, UMA members remain committed to their mission. Hope, beauty and optimism endure among our ministries, many of which were founded in times of crisis and need.

“Where there is tremendous clarity is our mission,” said UMA Vice Chair Kitwana McTyer, CEO of Florida United Methodist Children’s Home. “What we do can’t stop. It has to continue.”

That commitment is also driving innovation.

At a time when everything we know to be normal has been upended, UMA members are creating and reshaping the way they serve their clients and staff. Outdoor worship and dining, parades, LOV pods, and virtual choirs… you name it. You and your communities are finding ways to inspire, serve and celebrate. I find it incredibly exciting and motivating.

We also know it is essential for the future.

Times of uncertainty require strategic foresight, according to Harvard Business Review (July-August, J. Peter Scoblic). “What’s necessary, in short, is not just imagination, but the institutionalization of imagination.”

Looking for ways to practice innovation?

We can look to food and sports for examples.

Food has served has a history as a creative outlet where ingenuity has emerged from scarcity, loss, and a mistake. Most people know the story of the ice cream cone. Think about it. The waffle cone emerged from a shortage of resources – in this case bowls – and a collaboration of vendors working side by side at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Listen to Don Phillips, CEO of Bashor, share the story of the famous chicken wing during their virtual Running with Spoons event or consider the Chicago Methodist Senior Services new Frontline Foods partnership. Food and necessity are an unending source of inspiring creativity. In fact, our Annual Sponsor Unidine was founded in 2001 on fresh ideas and service excellence.

Invention can also come from the obvious- rethinking the ways that you have always done things. This summer, I found myself in awe when I discovered the Mayochup Saucy Sauce on the store shelf. This obvious concoction, combining mayonnaise and ketchup on the ketchup-lovers’ plates since childhood, and now together in one bottle!

And talk about rethinking the way things have always been done, let’s talk sports. Consider Bryson DeChambeau, the 27-year old American golfer who won his first U.S. Open this month. He flipped the game of golf, bulking up 40 pounds through intense workouts, nutritional changes, and a mindset to playing without fear to become a dominant new force in professional golf. In six U.S. Opens at the famed Winged Foot course in New York, DeChambeau is only the third among 894 competitors to finish under par. He did it in a completely new way.

For those of you who know me well, you know that a sports analogy is a stretch for me. But that’s just it. We need to stretch ourselves. This is the time to believe the unbelievable, try fresh approaches and explore new possibilities.

Many UMA members have roots of resilience 150 years deep. Yes, this has been a year when we have experienced remarkable loss. Still, each of us and our organizations are striving to reimagine, connect and find beauty and joy in unexpected places.

Looking for ideas? Look to your UMA peers who are striving every day to find new ways to serve and join us at the Innovations Summit to hear fresh ideas, partnerships and approaches for the future.