Monday, January 14, 2013

"We're all in this make a difference," by Rev. Kenn Hurto

This month, many congregations begin the annual stewardship process. Budgets for the next year are shaped, priorities are set, and -- typically -- institutional anxiety goes up. Many of us just have a hard time with the "Ask." Often, leaders frame this process as a money-focused event, which is far too limited. It's about re-commitment to our shared work. It is to affirm our ministry does have a claim on our lives. 

Here's (some of) what we know about effective stewardship: We know ...

  •  Commitment follows good ministry. And good ministry is a matter of clear purpose to effectively use our shared gifts to make a difference in our members' lives and in the world about us. 
  •  Stewardship is not about "What's in it for me?" It's about "What difference shall we make?"
  • Generous giving is a spiritual, heart-driven matter. Budgets matter are planning tools and statements of priorities and values. But no one gives to line-items. 
  • People give to people, not to pieces of paper. A pledge is not just filling out a card of intent, it is a conversation by which leaders remind members of how their gifts were used (well, one hopes) and how forth-coming gifts will both sustain prior commitments and move the ministry to some new level of effectiveness. 
  • There is a level of giving that arises out of loyalty and duty. But greater generosity comes out of excitement for how additional resources will make new things possible. We know people want to give to success and to aspiration. Again, it's: "Tell me, what difference will my gifts make?"
All stewardship efforts begin and end with the "Ask:" "What investment of time, talent, and treasure can we (meaning the whole congregation) count on from you in the next year?" The Ask is a conversation among ourselves. There are several ways to Ask
  • A one on one meeting, the historic "canvass-call." 
  • Small groups discussing the ministry, followed by each participant pledging at the end of that.
  • "Celebration Sundays," sort of a pep-rally service which includes members making pledges all at once.
  • (Far less effective) Sending letters or e-mails (as though pledge was agreeing to pay a bill), or leaving cards out on a table with exhortations to turn them in.
We know especially there are no gimmicks or magical tricks that "work." Any particular canvass approach can be effective. But we know also that all techniques lose effectiveness with time. That said, stewardship always comes back to this: A clear purpose to your ministry, passion for the possible, effective use of prior gifts, an engaged dialogue among our members about what really matters, and openly asking for fair share giving.
Lastly, what is a fair ask? We know capacity varies greatly, so it helps to offer guidelines. The most equitable is a progressive, percentage of income. Our UUA has an excellent giving guide to illustrate how: This is far better than asking simply for fixed dollars or an percentage increase over last year.
Our UUA has many resources to help you, including your Congregational Life Consultants serving the region (listed below). Just ask. All blessings in your ministries!
Kenn Hurto, Southern Region Congregational Life Consultant & Executive Lead

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

UUA Southern Region Welcomes New Congregational Life Consultants!

The Southern Region of the UUA is pleased to announce that it has added two new Congregational Life Consultants to its staff. We look forward to serving our congregations and spreading Unitarian Universalism in the South with them!
Natalie Briscoe received her Bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000 where her focus was on learning and perception across the lifespan. She received her Master's degree in counseling and human development from the University of North Texas in 2002. She has served as Director of Religious Education for two churches, one in North Texas and one in Seattle, Washington. She also served the Southern Region as a Healthy Congregations Consultant and as a Youth Ministry Consultant. This year Natalie received the Ruth Clark Award for service to Unitarian Universalism from the North Texas Association of UU Societies and the Norma Veridan Award foroutstanding contributions to Religious Education in the Southwest District. She is married to her best friend, Sean, and the couple welcomed their first son Ian to the family last June. Natalie has a passion for playing roller derby, rescuing pugs, and serving Unitarian Universalism.
Kathy McGowan describes herself: "I grew up in Springfield, Ohio and attended college in St. Louis and Boston. After graduating from Brandeis University, I moved to New York to pursue a career in the theatre and make a life with my husband, Vaughn. Vaughn and I have two children, Grace, now age 22 and Tucker, age 19. In addition to my work in the theatre and Unitarian Universalism, I have worked with "at risk" youth and in the child welfare system. I have been a UU for over twenty-five years. I am very proud of the work I have done with the cluster of congregations known as CRUUNY, Capital Region UUs of NY, living out the Cambridge Platform. I am thrilled to be starting this next chapter of my life, doing the work I love, and living in a new part of the country." Kathy brings a great deal of experience in working with congregations and district structures from her time in the St. Lawrence District. 


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"The Smart Church" by Connie Goodbread

The Smart Church:
What would happen if we were generous with and about Unitarian Universalism?

By Connie Goodbread

I am going into my eighth year as Field Staff for our Association.  One of the regular responsibilities of the job has been a monthly newsletter article.  When I first began the job and had more than one District newsletter, I thought it would be easier if I had a theme.  I had just finished compiling the Unitarian Universalist Healthy Congregations supplement, entitled The Smart Church.  I thought that I might stay with that concept and write questions that helped focus my attention and stimulate my thinking.  The question above was the first one I asked myself.  What would happen if we were generous with and about our faith? What would we need to change or do differently? How would my thinking and behavior change if I were truly generous with and about our faith?  It is the question that I have come back to over and over again in the past eight years.

I think living with a generous heart is its own reward.  I think that generosity leads to many things.  If we are a generous people we are also a grateful people.  If we are a generous people we are a trusting people.  Have we been generous, grateful and trusting?   Was the consolidation between the Universalists and the Unitarians based in generosity and trust?  For far too long we have asked “What do I get for my pledged money to my congregation?  What do we get for the money we send to our Association?”

Our Unitarian Universalist Association is us - you and I and our congregations at our largest presence in the world. It is our opportunity for greatest impact on and contribution to the world.  So the question is not what do I get for what I pay, but rather, is our Association doing the work of building the world we dream about?  Are we affecting the world in a positive way?  Are we doing what we are called to do?

As an Association we have developed powerful curricula, such as Our Whole Lives and Tapestry of Faith. The Standing on the Stand of Love campaign has had an impact on other denominations, law making, elections and human rights campaigns. We make significant contributions to trauma relief during disasters. We have initiated humanitarian outreach all over the world. We are at the forefront of immigration reform and civil rights.

It is as an Association of congregations that we have our biggest impact.  As individual human beings and congregations the work is exhausting and lonely.  It is a much richer experience with a greater impact on the world if we do the work in community, as an Association.

We are entering into a pilot program for funding our Association.  It is called Generously Investing For Tomorrow - GIFT for short - and it is a bold new approach.

GIFT recognizes that our presence beyond congregations is not a hierarchy but is the “connective tissue” that enables us to share information, resources, and inspiration, empowering us to reach the wider world. We are ready to build community, take responsibility for our Association, and strengthen our capacity for outreach. - Bill Clontz

Here is how the GIFT Program will work.  Instead of District and national requests, there will be a single request, to be shared by the District/Region and our national Association. The amounts pledged by each congregation may vary somewhat from the earlier formula (some more, some less, some the same) but the overall amount of Associational money is about the same - this is not an increase overall.

The goal is for all congregations to pledge 7% of the congregation’s certified expenditures, not a per member contribution.  GIFT will begin on July 1, 2013 and together over the next two years we will collaborate, learn, evaluate, and fine-tune the process.  We think that it provides a simpler, more covenantal way for congregations to support our Associational work.   We are hoping that if you have any questions you will contact us (my email address is above).  We also hope that you will stay in relationship and help us to develop the GIFT Program.  As we enter into the pilot program I continually come back to - What would happen if we were generous with and about Unitarian Universalism?