Reflection on Moving, Wisdom, Humility, and Reaching Out

Last week I took a quick trip to Boston to attend Terasa Cooley’s good-bye party and to meet, in person, with several colleagues who normally are only in my zoom room on my computer screen.  The weather was beautiful – cold, clear and crisp – which prompted me to spend time doing what I love best to do in Boston, walk around the city.

One morning I walked up to our old UUA headquarters at 25 Beacon Street to see what was going on.  “25” and the other two buildings that the UUA sold on Mt. Vernon Street and the former Eliot-Pickett Houses, were covered with giant “tents” out front, with a back hoe digging dirt and many construction workers scurrying around.  I took a peek inside 25 and saw that the main staircase has been torn down and much of the ground floor, as I remembered it, had been cleared away.  As I walked across town to our new headquarters at 24 Farnsworth Street, I remembered with fondness walking up those stairs to see the MFC in 2000 and imagined all the lives that were touched and changed in the place the UUA used to call home.

24_Farnsworth

It has been less than two years since the UUA headquarters have moved.  The area has changed a lot and the many cranes and construction workers in our new neighborhood predict more change is on the way.  I love the modern feel of our new headquarters and the opportunities they provide for easier collaboration, more productive meetings and new ways to connect today while remembering our yesterdays.

“24” and 25 provide a metaphor for the work we must do as ministers in the future; a future that has virtual cranes digging up many of the practices and foundations of our past, while building up new expressions of community and spiritual practice all around us.   Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that my walk through the streets of Boston and UUA office history prompted my ponderings about the future of our work and our faith.  The weekend before my trip I was at the third intensive of our Beyond the Call – Entrepreneurial Ministry program learning new ways to finance and market innovation; and the importance, practices and “how tos” of cultivating and nurturing the eco-systems to sustain innovators and the organizations they lead.

We’ll be sharing the highlights of our third intensive in a webinar sometime in March.  Our guest speakers inspired and challenged us in many ways but one phrase stuck with me, especially while I was walking around the streets of Boston.  Greg Jones, the former Dean of the Duke Divinity School who worked closely with Greg Dees the “father” of social entrepreneurship, talked about “traditioned innovation” (https://www.faithandleadership.com/content/traditioned-innovation) as a practice for those of us in religious leadership.  The cranes of sociological, cultural and religious change are all around us digging up the old and building the new.  We stand, hopefully, with one foot in tradition and one foot in innovation dancing back and forth as fast as we can.

In these days of change, challenge and opportunity I pray we each have the wisdom and humility to continue to learn how/when to stand in each stream knowing that our spirits and our people need both waters to thrive.  And, most importantly, we reach out to each other so we don’t need to swim in these choppy waters alone.

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DonRev. Don Southworth is the founding Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association. He lived in the corporate world before ministry where he spent ten years in parish life before joining the UUMA in 2009.  He’s a bit on the old side of life but fights through his crumedgeony ways as much as he can looking for pockets of innovation and radical change that provide the main hope for religion in the 21st century.

This Here Is Some Radical Polity

The subject of the email was:  “If we set a date, it will happen”.

 

It was sent to a small group of Canadian Young Adults who’d been talking in pockets and clusters for a while about how to “do Church differently”. This was back in 2012, when I was peripherally aware that the Top People of Unitarian Universalism had started holding big meetings talking about this stuff.

 

We knew we were not Top People of Unitarian Universalism. We were a small group that cared, meeting to hang out for a weekend in a Church basement and talk. No pre-planned agenda, no facilitators, no real plan beyond the basics of food and sleeping space. Funding would be accomplished by “do what you can”. So would cooking and dishes.

 

Friday night, we planned the weekend—we planned any topics or activities or worships that we wanted to make sure happened, and drew up a chore list.  Then, we got on with the stuff.

 

We sang a lot, and joked a lot, and prayed together and sometimes cried. We talked about a lot of things, including the question of what types of sustainable religious communities might thrive in the future. At some point that weekend, something clicked and we realized we were a sustainable religious community ourselves. We met all the criteria—deep connection, meaningful worship, fiscal responsibility (we covered our costs and had lots left over to donate to organizations we were connected with).  Some of us continued meeting by Skype for a couple of years.  There were other smaller retreats, and another larger one again last year.  This community has been a deep and profound part of my spiritual life and my formation as a UU. Connections I created there have nurtured my work and my life in profound ways, and have fed the work of UUism in Canada.

 

As a movement, we talk about thinking big. We also need to think small. We need mini-ministries. We need to encourage and equip people to create communities and experiences where they are and with what they have. We need to make sure our people understand that you don’t need to have a seminary degree or a big budget to make things that are real. The Gathering (as it became called) was sustainable but not self sufficient. It drew on connections created over decades in congregational and regional programming, and on donated church space. It also gave back to those groups in the leadership, connections, and enthusiasm it generated. Also, money. It turned out to be a reasonably effective fund raiser.

 

More than that, it interconnected us. People who were disillusioned with some aspect of their home church got a second wind. People with no home community for their UU identity had a place to explore and worship and grow. People from different groups collaborated and shared ideas. We built trust and connection and foundation. We got out of our silos.

 

This here, I found myself thinking as one group came in from a snowball fight while another sat in deep discussion and a third practiced a song for worship… is some radical polity. This here… this is something we need.

 

Communion Song
Click to hear The Communion Song, one of the many creative, spirit-filling happenings of The Gathering
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Liz jamesLiz James is a seminarian at Meadville Lombard Theological School, in training to be a Lay Leader Extraordinaire.  She believes that Unitarian Universalism in the future will need a diverse and talented group of us—lay, ordained, and other professionals—passionately serving a variety of calls.  Liz is an animated speaker, a Facebook overlord, and an expert in thinking outside the box. Way outside the box. Sometimes she forgets where she put the box.  Some of Liz’s writing can be found at www.freerangeseminarian.com.

Meaning Makers

“The closest UU congregation is far away and I don’t have a car”

“There’s no UU group at my college”

“I work the brunch shift Sunday mornings but I still need spiritual community”

“I miss the peer connection of youth group.”

“I was raised UU, now I want to go deeper into my faith.”

 

Have you ever heard an 18-24 year old Unitarian Universalist say anything like that?  I know that I have heard, read and seen statements like these time and time again in my role as Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate at the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Our emerging adults are hungry for connection and faith formation even as they face many obstacles to staying in or finding new UU community.  There are many ways to address this un-met need, from shifting our larger culture toward true multigenerational engagement to helping individual bridgers navigate the transition out of youth culture.

 

One brand new way our office is trying to help is with a program called Meaning Makers. Meaning Makers is a yearlong spiritual development program for emerging adults that combines in-person retreats, virtual small group ministry and mentorship.  The first class of Meaning Makers will meet June 6th-9th at UBarU Ranch in Texas.  From there they’ll meet monthly online to discuss the themes in the young adult meditation manual Becoming and also meet individually with a UU mentor, closing the year off with another retreat in June 2017.  They’ll explore what integrity looks like for them as they move into adulthood; who they are and how they can live their UU faith in the world.  

 

The application to join the program is due February 29th so spread the word!  I am so excited to see how this experiment works and what these emerging adults will bring to the experience. Thanks to the generosity of UUA donors, support from the Southern Region of the UUA and the fundraising work of UBarU this program should be accessible to a wide variety of folks including those with limited financial resources.  I cannot wait to be surprised by what questions and resources bubble up as we embark on this journey together.

 

Meaning Makers

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GonzalezMilliken_AnnieRev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken is a lifelong UU from the midwest and serves our faith as Young Adult and Campus Ministry Associate for the Unitarian Universalist Association. She currently lives in Boston with her partner Lucas, their baby daughter Moira and two housemates.  A firm believer in both traditional and new ministries, she is a member of First Parish Dorchester, founded in 1630, and The Sanctuary Boston, created a few years ago.

MultiSite Ministries: Economies of Scale

The Rev. Peter Morales, president of the UUA said, “Growth and sharing our faith is a moral obligation.” Beginning with the 2013-2014 church year, the UU Church of Canandaigua NY and First Unitarian Church of Rochester NY began a Partnership of staff and resource sharing to expand and strengthen Unitarian Universalism in north central New York. This Partnership was initially established for five years and will be evaluated for continuation beyond that date.

 

The UU Church of Canandaigua began its life in 1993 as an independent congregation and is proud of its history of supporting itself through the years. It has been able to offer a part time ministerial position, serving the UUCC as well as other congregations in the area.   Like many other small congregations, it struggles to pay for the staff, programs, and building which would increase its attractiveness and visibility.

 

The ministries and programming at First Unitarian Church of Rochester are welcoming and very attractive to people hungering for liberal religion, and have led to continuing growth in membership. This growth has created unique challenges for the congregation and ministries. Growth requires additional staff to maintain excellent programming. Yet, economic challenges make it harder for the congregation to afford the level of staffing needed to support dynamic and dependable programming.

 

Since the beginning of the Partnership,  UUCC and the First Unitarian Rochester have created ministerial and staff sharing arrangements that foster economic efficiencies, allowing the UUCC to remain an independent entity, yet part of a larger faith community, and allowing First Unitarian to develop creative and economical means to staff for growth.

 

Partnerships between churches are thriving in a variety of ways in many denominations, including our own Unitarian Universalism.  The Partnership between First Unitarian and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Canandaigua is outlined in their joint Vision Statement which reads in part:

 

  1. We believe our congregations are called to share our message of liberal religion to the Rochester and Finger Lakes region. We believe that staff and resource sharing will enable us to fulfill this mission.
  2. We believe that staff and resource sharing is good stewardship. It allows us to take advantage of economies of scale and use our members’ financial contributions more effectively.
  3. We believe that staff and resource sharing will increase our congregations’ ability to attract and retain high quality ministry. By combining resources, our congregations can offer positions that are closer to full-time than either would be able to offer alone.
  4. We believe that staff and resource sharing can be done in a way that preserves each congregation’s unique identity. We believe that shared programming, organizational strategy and staff can be creatively adapted to each congregation’s particular character, history and circumstances.

 

The partnership between First Unitarian Rochester and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Canandaigua is yet another model for collaboration and sharing within our faith tradition –  a model that is already inspiring other congregations in New York state and beyond to help share and strengthen Unitarian Universalism.

 

 

MSM video KAnderson 016

Click on the picture above to be taken to the 1 1/2  minute video by Rev. Erik Martínez Resly

 

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joansmallRev. Joan Van Becelaere is the Central East Regional Lead and lives in “partnership” in Columbus Ohio with her spouse, Jerry, and three cats – all named after different Hebrew Bible prophets.

Faith Forward

Spiritual Practice class photoNewcomers to First Unitarian Church of Dallas arrive at our doors seeking a path. The Unitarian Universalist tendency to tell people they can believe whatever they want and get involved in whatever they want is both overwhelming and insufficient. Visitors from other religious traditions as well as the unchurched want to know how to become part of the congregation, both as members and as leaders. This led us to examine the state of our existing adult membership and ask these questions:

  • Can our adult membership explain what it means to be a church member?
  • Do they have a deep understanding of our church and its role in the community?
  • Are they involved, connected, and excited about church leadership and service?

We learned that we had work to do on how we integrate new people into our church community, and how we develop and deepen the connection of our existing members.

To address this need, we developed the Inquirers Series, 8 rotating sessions about our church and Unitarian Universalist history and practices. Designed for visitors and newcomers looking for a general introduction, these sessions are also appealing to current members who just want to learn more about our church.

Inquirers participants also build connections with each other. They learn that they are not alone in their questions, and many are moved with the realization of all that Unitarian Universalism embodies. It is the first small group a visitor encounters, and serves as a bridge to deeper small-group involvement later. Sharon Thompson, our Director of Membership & Hospitality, says: “I have seen the time between first visit and joining decrease, and our new members are more firmly grounded in the faith, in their convictions and in their support. Prior to Inquirers, we would have 30+ individuals that had indicated they wanted to join, remaining on the list of declared members for over a year without completing the process and joining. Now the membership process is generally complete in 30-60 days.”

Growth in numbers isn’t everything, however, and “signing the book” is not the end of the membership process. We’ve seen these new members connect more quickly and easily at church, becoming engaged within our walls and in the wider community. They understand what it means to be a member of a community. And many find their first service opportunity as a greeter, offering a friendly face for other newcomers.

Yet we found that once people completed the 8 sessions, they wanted more. “What’s next?” they asked. Our answer is “Faith Forward: From Visitor to Leader.” Faith Forward is a comprehensive program for member integration, faith development, and leadership development which helps congregants strengthen their Unitarian Universalist identity, deepen commitment to the church, encourages spiritual growth, and develops church leaders. It is not adult religious education, nor is it a curriculum. It is a path of modular sessions designed for faith development and connection-building and is facilitated by lay leaders with staff support.

One facilitator, church member Rev. Lyssa Jenkens, says: “Faith Forward provides a very intentional and well-developed process of faith development for any member or friend. It fills a yawning gap in UU adult religious education where we often provide a beautiful buffet of classes and activities with little or no guidance regarding what constitutes a healthy meal as opposed to one that is tasty but has rather limited spiritual-nutritional value.”

In addition to the Inquirers Series, we now offer:

  • Inquirers Series (8 weeks)
  • Roots (1 class)
  • Beyond Inquirers (5 weeks)
  • Spiritual Practice (13 weeks)
  • UU History 101 (5 weeks)
  • UU Theology 101 (5 weeks)
  • UU Elevator Speech (3 weeks)

More sessions will be developed around UU history and theology, leadership, polity, and evangelism (sharing the good news of our faith!).

Do these issues around adult faith development and connection sound familiar? At the same time that our members were looking for more, other congregations began contacting us about sharing our membership process, so we decided to pilot the program with a few of them during the 2015-2016 church year. We look forward to learning how Faith Forward works in other Unitarian Universalist congregations, and adapting it for wider use in the coming years.

If you’d like to receive updates about Faith Forward—to find out what we learn from the pilot, gather tips on faith development and hospitality, and stay updated on how to get program materials for your congregation—visit this site, where you can share your interest and contact information.

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headshot cropped largeRev. Beth Dana is the Minister of Congregational Life at First Unitarian Church of Dallas, TX, where she works with a great team of ministers, staff and lay leaders on this exciting new path for adult faith development and membership. She is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist, originally from Albany, NY. After bouncing from coast to coast, she landed in the middle! She has crossed the thresholds of many UU congregations over the years, learning lots about welcome and hospitality in the process.

Becoming a Multi-Everything Faith

multi ballWhen I was asked to do a presentation for my start-up at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu in 2011, I immediately thought of a growth strategy that didn’t just involve numbers and finances (the typical holy grail for most congregations), but a deeper and more sustainable spiritual growth that may eventually lead to growth in membership and financial generosity. I called it my “multi-everything” strategy. Here are my top three:

 

  1. Multicultural Growth. When I was pre-candidating, I heard the typical desire to attract more people of color into our predominantly white congregations. Most “technical fixes” have been tried and I told them calling a minister of color will not magically solve their problems! I talked about a shift in culture by becoming more welcoming to all cultures. Not just to those who have a different skin tone, but to younger families, to those serving in the military, to those who may be houseless. Shifting congregational culture is about learning to speak languages and crossing borders until we experience holy discomfort.  

 

True confession time. Yesterday, I went to a megachurch (over 9,500 worshippers) that was diverse in every sense of the word. To be honest, I was turning green with envy that their play, their singers, AND the folks sitting next to me represented every color under the rainbow. While we may differ theologically, I found myself nodding when one of the associate pastors said that “Here in this place, we practice radical acceptance because we are family and we are a community.” Their pastor had an especially profound experience he shared openly during the sermon about being in recovery and it’s OK to be who you are and belong to the church. Not once did he mention multiculturalism. It just was. This is when I realized we Unitarian Universalists need to stop chasing after multiculturalism as if it were an idol. What we ought to focus on instead like this megachurch is a common mission that we can all connect with and relationships that are genuine instead of a superficial window-dressing to make ourselves feel good as liberals. Stop talking about people of color and forget the curriculum. Just be and think about why you’re there to begin with.

 

  1. Multifaith Growth. What the shooting in San Bernardino taught us and what Islamophobic statements by certain political candidates have shown is our country’s fear of what we perceive as the “other.” Some still think America is a “Christian nation” and the only place we can find people of other faiths is by hopping on a plane. How about walking next door? Religious pluralism exists in our own backyard. As a community organizer (interfaith organizer to be exact for the UU Legislative Ministry of California), I’ve come to realize that if we are to build Beloved Community, we need to use the materials we can find on our own turf. Neighboring faiths is not just a curriculum our children go through as part of their religious exploration, but it’s a way of life our adults need to learn as well. In Hawaii, we won marriage equality in large part due to the efforts of Unitarian Universalists reaching out the progressive Christians, who reached out to Buddhists who reached out to the Jewish community. We are in this together, and our values bind us together to create a larger ripple in the community we live in.

 

  1. Multisite Growth. The concept of satellites, mergers, and covenantal communities that extend beyond the walls of brick-and-mortar congregations are at least a couple of decades old now. They’re no longer part of the “emerging church” movement, but an emerged reality we all have to contend with in the ever-shifting landscape of American religious life. Yet, when we UUs talk about establishing another site, our reason more often than not has to do with either a split from congregants we don’t get along with or we don’t want to be bothered driving 45 minutes to church on Sundays. We love being with like-minded people and the kind of community we want to build seems more insular rather than inclusive.

 

A more compelling reason for me is because there is a hurting world out there and someone has to save our environment and heal the lovelessness and injustices that we all face. The more we focus on simply conducting insular worship “serve-us-es,” the less we are able to live out our “services” to our community. It’s really not about our needs and what’s in it for me, but what’s in it for the common good. Becoming multisite (in the broadest sense of the word) allows the church to fulfill its call to transform lives.

 

I think this three-prong multi-layered approach is still a pretty darn good recipe to spread our Unitarian Universalist faith. I call it the architecture of “multidependence.” Tune in to a future blog to find out what this structure looks like.

 

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JonipherThe Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kūpono Kwong proudly serves as a Congregational Life Staff for the Pacific Western Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Part of his key area of ministry (though by no means is he an expert) is to be a coach (or more like a cheerleader with pom-poms on) for innovative, experimental ministries. He is an entrepreneur by heart and an out-and-proud Unitarian Universalist Evangelist.

Gingerbread and Engaging Space

Boston Towers Gingerbread Boston Society of Architechture Imagine No traffic Boston Small

On my way to work in Boston I walk past the Boston Society of Architecture.  Its storefront is attractive, but hasn’t been overtly noticeable to me until this holiday season.  I do see people through their big windows meeting or gathering on their ground floor during mornings or evenings. They make this room available for free for use by the public. And people seem to take them up on their offer. And in the process learn a bit about the Boston Society of Architecture.

 

One night on my way home, I noticed a line forming down the block to get in to an event there. The event was the 4th Annual Gingerbread House Design Competition.

 

Every year the Boston Society of Architecture develops a theme, a competition, a reception, opportunity for positive press, and new traffic through their public space on the ground floor. Do you see where I’m going with this?… What if your congregation opened up your public space during the holiday season–

 

Oh, what?  You don’t have a space made available to the public to drop in?  Let’s start there. What if your congregation had a public space where people could drop in for quiet sanctuary from the bustling world?  You know, like other traditions do. Especially in these violent times, people crave a designated holy place to go and light a candle and just “be” in a space where other people of faith gather. I just ask that you consider this. If this makes you nervous, I encourage you to engage your local Catholic church and ask them how they do it.

 

Back to gingerbread competitions. The connection to architecture and gingerbread is playful and relevant. What could that be for your UU community? And maybe it’s not for winter holidays. Perhaps a celebration featuring Peeps sculptures in spring is your thing.

  • Playful, idea-connecting, values-promoting competition
  • Reception for the public
  • Press releases that weave in the mission of your UU community
  • Intentional community engagement

Bottom line, reimagine space you have access to and how it can be in proactive, relevant engagement with your wider community while promoting your values and mission.  Be playful, playful is so attractive! If you need a thought partner for this kind of adventure, count me in!

 

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Tandi red shinglesRev. Tandi Rogers is the Innovative & Network Specialist for the UUA. Exploring the streets of Boston during the winter holiday season has been an unexpected joy.

 

 

 

When Superman Goes Home: Pastoral Care in A World of Limits

superman-1016318At Lake Country Unitarian Universalist Church our pastoral care team, the Caring Circle, was and is an amazing group of people. They get a call and they spring into action. Food. Transportation. Lawn care. Love. Support. When I first met them I wondered where they hid the Superman suits.

 

Our challenge was never doing too little- it was that we weren’t sure of our limits.

 

We wanted to help. We wanted to be equitable. We wanted to be generous, and accessible, and useful and kind.

 

And in order to be all of these things we had to set boundaries. These are our guidelines for pastoral care. They are not set in stone, but they are at least firmly imprinted on hardening clay. We realize that exceptions can happen.

 

Parish based pastoral care is there for an emergency. We can’t replace paid care givers. We aren’t there to be doctors or nurses or therapists, even though some of us are licensed in daily life. We can’t repair years of neglect, fix lifelong patterns of behavior, or provide long-term solutions.

 

But we can be there to let someone breath. To have a day or a week or a month to figure out “What do I do now?”

 

We can make sure that life goes on while you try to figure out how to keep life going on.

 

Requests for help must come from the person; they can speak privately to any member of the Caring Circle or to me. If someone says they no longer want help, we stop helping. No triangulation. No drama.

 

We simply help, or not, based on request. We say yes whenever possible. We are clear about what we can’t do, and we try to do the rest.

 

(For legal reasons we will not assume the risk of lifting more than 20 pounds, engaging in any action which requires skin to skin contact (and could be sexualized), or transporting an unaccompanied minor.)

 

These are our Caring Circle Guidelines.

 

Another excellent resource for Creating and Sustaining Lay Pastoral Care Teams comes out of our New England region.

 

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amyRev. Amy Shaw is the senior minister at Lake Country Unitarian Universalist Church in Hartland, WI. Amy is also a mixed media artist, runs with scissors, and spends her spare time lurking about with her co-conspirator Brian and her feline minions Nike the Great and the Dippy Cat. Amy tried to be sophisticated once, but a raccoon ate her opera glasses.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Lost, But I’m Making Record Time

I heard the quote in the title of this blog as a young pilot many years ago. A World War II pilot radioed that report in –he had no idea StewDev Blogwhere he was, but he was making great progress somewhere. As a stewardship consultant working with our congregations, I sometimes feel as though that quote is with us. Numbers can seem dry, but they can tell important stories about our our communities. It’s hard to know where you are going if you don’t know where you are.

 

There are statistics that I believe leaders should know if they are to understand their congregations. 18 data points and 1 more to ignore. I know what you are thinking “18! Is he nuts? Who has all that data and what would we do with it, anyway?” Bear with me – this is a conversation worth having.

 

The first 10 of these data points almost every congregation has readily accessible. Not enough leaders and members consult them sometimes, but they are easy to generate. The next 7 take a little effort to generate, but the returns can be impressive for congregations of just about every size.

 

In the interest of brevity, this blog will only list the 19 – you can read the expanded version on the Stewardship for Us blog that provides key aspects on each data point, for those interested in knowing more and seeing how these work to make a whole picture. The only data point discussed here is one to be ignored.

 

  1. Membership
  2. Sunday attendance, RE Attendance (Adult and children’s RE).
  3. Percentage of budget provided by pledges.
  4. “Average cost per household” to run your church.
  5. Percentage of members pledging, if your bylaws do not ask that of all members.
  6. Mean (average) and Median (1/2 of pledges are larger, ½ are less) pledge.
  7. Number of households that have a pledge/contribution waiver.
  8. Percentage of households/members that are not pledging, only making a Contribution of Record (COR); mean and median COR.
  9. Percentage of pledging friends; mean and median of these commitments
  10. Pledges that have not increased or have decreased over the past 2 years
  11. Number of pledging units self-declared as Fair Share donors
  12. What is the Quartile distribution (see last month’s Stewardship for Us blog)
  13. How many are new pledgers (first 2 years)? Mean and median of new pledges?
  14. Families active in RE and their distribution among pledges and COR population?
  15. Where is your Board in Fair Share Giving and quartile distribution?
  16. Percentage increase/decrease in total pledges/mean/median on last 3-5 years?
  17. When was the last time you employed Visiting Stewards, with good training?
  18. NO-How much of a pledge goes to “UUA dues?” This pops up often, and its harmful. We do not pay “dues;” clubs and fraternities do that. We make contributions to resource the work the Regions and the UUA do in our name. Congregations sometimes ask that a pledge be at least at the level of their per member contribution to the UUA. This makes our contributions to the UUA into an outside burden. Being a member of this association is an integral part of being a UU – don’t treat it as something outside our community. Encouraging pledges at this low level also assures that whatever funds are contributed do not support the congregation locally in any way.

 

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BillBill Clontz, Stewardship Consultant with the Stewardship for Us Team. has been a stewardship consultant supporting the UUA for over five years. He brings over forty years in leadership development and coaching, organizational effectiveness, and strategic planning to this work. He has over 25 years of active participation in UU church leadership and stewardship and 15 years of business development and portfolio management as a corporate officer, including working with nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations. Bill has served in his own congregation in a wide range of positions and he is a regular presenter at UU Regional conferences and the UUA Annual General Assembly. His focus as a stewardship consultant over the last five years has been empowering congregations to have successful stewardship environments, leadership development, and the growth of our movement.

Partnership across the River

Augusta Bridge Reflections by Gene Bowker
Augusta Bridge Reflections by Gene Bowker

The sister Unitarian Universalist congregations of Augusta, Georgia and Aiken, South Carolina straddle either side of the Savannah River. But the fact that they are in different states hasn’t stopped the spirit of collaboration that has existed since they were formed within months of each other in the early 1950s. The Aiken Unitarian Fellowship was formed first in 1953, and after Unitarians in Augusta decided to start their own fellowship in July of 1954 they carpooled their children to Aiken (18 miles away) for Sunday School until 1956; in 1958 Aiken children began to travel to Augusta for Sunday School.

All the while there was joint participation in cluster and district events, and Liberal Religious Youth retreats; but in 1974 the Aiken Fellowship disbanded and the deed to its property was given to Augusta. The funds were used as collateral to obtain a building loan for the Augusta campus to expand.

In the early 2000s the Rev. Dan King, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta, supported UUs in Aiken in reestablishing their own congregation. The Augusta board facilitated financial arrangements until the Aiken congregation could handle them.

Several years later, the Aiken Unitarian Universalist Church decided to pursue the goal of becoming a minister-led congregation. As a lay leader of the Augusta congregation, I occasionally spoke at Sunday services in Aiken. I then had the honor of serving as a half-time minister of the Aiken church during my internship years. I was ordained by both congregations before being contracted by the Augusta congregation as its full-time Developmental Minister in 2013. My Minister’s Study is in the office block built with the funds donated by the Aiken Fellowship. The 60-plus years of collaboration between Aiken and Augusta has made me the minister I am today.

The Aiken congregation is in its second year without a minister; its leadership felt it needed to do something to further its mission and maintain its energy and credibility in the community. So last year the Aiken board proposed to the Augusta board that the two congregations (Augusta has 150 members, Aiken 60) explore ways to work together in partnership to our mutual benefit and to the benefit of the larger Augusta-Aiken area. Going forward, we have agreed to assist each other internally within our congregations, and to promote our shared values in our communities. Our liaison team met for the first time in July, and our boards had a joint potluck and consultation with our Southern Region Congregational Life Staff member, the Rev. Carlton Elliott-Smith, in September. He challenged us to ask what we can do together that we can’t do separately…and that has opened up lots of possibilities!

In addition to training Worship Associates for both churches, swapping occasional speakers (and me) for Sunday services, and both social justice committees staffing a joint stall at the Augusta Pride festival, we are stepping up collaboration in the coming year to include a joint women’s croning ceremony in December and a new Coffeehouse series, which will be organized by a joint committee and held at the Augusta campus. We also will be off to The Mountain Learning and Retreat Center for a joint congregational retreat in April 2016.

The attitude of respect and the potential for partnership we now share were summed up by a statement both boards composed at the end of their September gathering:

Increasing our level of cooperation, we commit to:

Communicate openly and often through our liaison team;

Identify what we can do together;

Charge the boards to turn those opportunities into action.

 

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gayeRev. Gaye Ortiz, a native of Augusta, Georgia, serves as Developmental Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta. She adores her five grandchildren and great-grandson Oliver, and she believes that the Atlanta Braves will one day again win the World Series.