We to the World

 What Do We Mean To The World

Blurb: What are the values of Unitarian Universalism and of this congregation that we want to see lived out in the world around us? How shall we see that they are?


This is our Stewardship season.  That is, it is time for us to think about what the congregation means to us, how much and whether we value it and so how much of our treasure—both time and money—will be invested in it.

We are a congregation of service both to one another and to those in the greater world.

        Part of the responsibility of membership in this congregation is helping to do the work of the congregation.   If you are not already on a committee or part of a the activity of the congregation, I would ask you to consider becoming active.

        And part of the responsibility of membership is providing what you can in the way of financial suppor tot eh congregation.

        Those who have very little ability to offer time or money can only think of giving small amounts, and anything anyone gives is accepted with deep appreciation.

Others may give in proportion to what they feel they receive.  How we determine the values of a thing is a very personal matter.  For example, some may say: I can get this same general product at twelve different places in town, I do not feel obligated to pay any particular amount for it since my sitting in this pew does not add to the costs of the product, so I will give some amount but it will be whatever I feel like giving in the moment.

And some people with a consumer orientation may decide that the value of what they receive from the congregation is a particular amount of money, so that is what they will give.  One might say; I value the Sunday sermons at about $50 apiece, or maybe $20—a dollar a minute—, or maybe less; and I value the music at $50 a week; or maybe I value the music at $50 a week and I deduct $20 a week because of the sermons; and maybe the value to my family of the religious education program is $100 per Sunday.  And so they total up the values and give that much.  A consumer oriented approach; I give money in proportion to the direct value that I personally receive.  

That is a kind of business transaction.  Congregations, of course, are not businesses; they may benefit by using certain business practices, but they are distinctly different from businesses.  If we were a business, then like a movie theater, we would charge an entry fee every time someone came into the sanctuary on Sunday morning.  That would feel rather unseemly to me, because we are not a business; we are a covenantal community.

However, there are costs to everything we do.  But there is also value to everything we do, value that transcends mere personal interest.  That is, there are things the congregation does that though they may not benefit me directly, do provide a broader value to the world.  I want to talk about that in a moment.

But first, it is important to me that I name some things that are uncomfortable.  There is a fine line between naming truth and scolding.  I am not here to scold; please do not hear this in that way.  I am here to name truths, to hold certain truths up into the light.  I am going to do that, and I am going to mix in some of my vision for our future finances, and then I am going to speak to our value beyond the straightforward personal transactional response to stewardship.

So, first uncomfortable fact: This congregation does not properly pay its staff.  I speak here as the supervisor of the staff and therefore as advocate for them.  The Unitarian Universalist Association provides guidelines for staff salaries and in some cases we do not meet those guidelines.  Part of the goal of the stewardship drive for both last year and this is to close the gap between what we do pay and what we ought to pay.  Our religious values of fairness and justice call upon us as a congregation to pay fair recompense for what we receive.  Next, some of our staff work more hours than they contracted for.  They do that because they must if the job they have been hired to do is to get done.  As their supervisor I tell them not to do that; they do it anyway.  But they ought not do that because we should not get those services for free.  Fairness and justice demand otherwise. 

In my mind a healthy congregation pays for its operating expenses out of its annual stewardship income.  If we did that, then all other income could be used for other purposes. 

So, fees for use of our facilities by outside renters could go either into capital funds for future needs or into paying down debt. 

One of my visions for the future is that all of the income from our fundraising efforts and the of the money from the collection plate on Sunday morning will go into mission work, work outside of our congregation; it will go to supporting the good works of the UU Urban Ministry which works in Boston; and to UU Mass Action which represents UU values within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and the to Unitarian Universalist Service Committee which works with partners world-wide to change lives; and to the UU United Nations Office which lobbies for our values to be incorporated into the work of the UN; and also to other worthy causes that put our values into action both locally and globally.  Part of what we ought to be about is changing the world in ways both large and small.  We have much to do within our walls, but part of our work should be outwardly focused.  So I was disappointed that so much of the special appeal holiday collection this December went into our operating expenses rather than to good works outside our walls because it moved us away from that goal of living our values in the world. 

Having said that I also want to say how pleased I was that people were so generous that we were able to reach the goal we had set last year.  But I wish we had met that goal last spring.

What would it take, by the way, to fund the operating budget from the stewardship drive?  I am not a mathematician, but I believe that with our current membership (and let me say here that I believe in growth; I believe that if we do the right things growth will happen) it would take an average commitment of $2,000 per person to fully fund not only what we already have budgeted, but what we ought to be paying for that we already receive and what we would like to do.  Some people cannot do that; some people will not do that; so some people would need to do better than that.  Then we could pay our staff for the hours they are actually contracted for, could pay for the work they actually do, and could pay in the future for a Student Minister or an Intern Minister.  

On another topic: There are congregations that wrap up their stewardship drive in two weeks.  There are. 

There are quite a few that finish in six weeks.  Six weeks and it is over, its done, and they move on. 

Ours takes about four and a half months.  February, March, April, May and even part of June.  That is absolutely exhausting for the people involved in the effort.  We waste a huge amount of time each year on the Stewardship drive.  It is enervating.  And it means that a small group of people find that instead of their presence here bringing them spiritual renewal or motivating them to put their faith into action in the world, they are spending their time chasing after donations and calling the same people over and over again.  So please: be kind; be loving; be good to them—get your commitments in.  Or, if you are not going to respond until May, say so.  Maybe you have good reason.  Fine.  But please lift a great burden from some wonderful co-parishioners. 

My main point today is that the Stewardship drive is not just about the transactional, consumer relationship between you and the congregation; it is not just about what the particular services of the congregation are worth to you personally.  That is a good place to begin, but in the long run the real question is, what is the value of this congregation in particular and Unitarian Universalism in general, in the greater world and what will I do and give to support that broader vision? 

Last week I spoke about our Religious Education program and how valuable it is even if you do not have a child in the program.  It is our program, and it has value to everyone here not just parents.  It is valuable because it supports our values in the world when our children carry those values in their hearts.

Our Unitarian Universalist tradition is also important.

What does it mean, not just to us, but to the world, that our Universalist tradition has always held that love both human and divine call upon us to build a world where we all accept one another, help one another, love one another, serve one another?

What does it mean not just to us but to the world that our Unitarian tradition has always upheld reason, freedom and tolerance not only in religion but in society as a whole?

Those are important values to cherish and to support.  And we ought to support them as principles for all of humanity.  We should encourage those values here in Belmont, and in Massachusetts, throughout the United States and in the world wide community of humanity that is coming into being.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in both 2009 and 2010 there were more than 8,000 victims of hate crimes in this nation, whether based on race, religion, sexual orientation, whatever.  In the year 2010, 316 of those attacks occurred in the state of Massachusetts with Belmont and Arlington each reporting one bias attack based on religion.  Does it matter to our nation, to our state, to our town that there are places where tolerance is taught?

The world needs what we stand for.  The world needs our religion.  We should not be out there proselytizing for our faith, though it would be good if we shared with people that we are part of a community of reverence and inclusion and nurture; but though I do not believe in the kind of proselytizing that says my religion is the only one with truth, I do believe that we should be out there proselytizing for our principles and values.  We ought to stand for these in the wider world.  We can do that if we support our faith; we can do that if you support this congregation.

We as a people founded in faith can bring hope, love and joy to the people of the world.