Setting a minimum pledge the wrong approach

Q. At our congregation we are working at establishing a minimum annual financial commitment policy for a voting member. I am wondering what other UU congregations have been doing in that regard?

A. Asking friends and members for just a minimum contribution is not a good idea, says Dr. Wayne Clark, the UUA’s Director of Congregational Stewardship Services. “Having a minimum financial commitment tends to lower the bar for congregants who might be able and willing to make larger commitments. It can lead them to expect that their congregation won’t ask much of them in any area. If you ask little of people, that’s usually what they will give. It’s often much less than what they would give if they’d been asked differently.”

Clark recommends giving people the UUA’s Suggested Fair Share Giving Guide as soon as they join or become involved on a regular basis. “That lets them create their own definition of a fair share gift by placing themselves on the guide,” he said. “Then it’s the congregant who defines fair share, not the minister or other leader.”

A broader definition of membership

The Rev. Dr. Terasa Cooley, the UUA’s director of Congregational Life, writes on her blog “Learn Out Loud” about changing perceptions of membership in our congregations. Using the example of a young adult friend who is very involved and considers herself UU, but has not “signed the book,” Cooley asks, “What do we have to learn from her story? Perhaps the future of Unitarian Universalism does not depend upon more people ‘signing the book.’ Perhaps it depends upon us adjusting our understanding of what connection and commitment are.”

Cooley also writes about encouraging congregations to focus outwardly rather than simply being satisfied with creating communities of like-minded people. “What if we move from the (perhaps arrogant) statement of being ‘like-minded’ to seeing ourselves as ‘like-hearted’—coming together to offer our gifts to the world?”

Congregationally focused articles, May to October 2011

InterConnections is not the only source of useful information for lay leaders. Check out uuworld.org for articles about UUA changes and congregational activities. Here are some recent ones:

  • Congregants at the UU Church of Berkeley, Calif., created a “Tree of Life” mosaic using broken jewelry, pottery, keys and other items that had meaning to them. The artwork was an exercise in community and creativity. (10.24.11)
  • First Unitarian Church of Rochester, N.Y., created a rap video for its fall homecoming weekend using the talents of members. The video not only captivated the congregation, but went viral, showing up in many other places online. (10.10.11)
  • The GA 2012 Planning Committee and others met in September and began to firm up plans for the “Justice GA” in Phoenix next June. (9.26.11)
  • An article on campus ministries describes how many campus-based UU communities are connecting with spiritual seekers. (9.19.11)
  • Some UU congregations are creating time banks to build community and save money. (5.23.11)
  • Congregations participating in the UUA’s Leap of Faith program learn from each other. (5.16.11)
  • First Unitarian Church of Providence, R.I., spreads its message using cable TV, and bus shelter and magazine ads. (5.9.11)

Children’s immigration curriculum coming

A children’s religious education curriculum on immigration justice will be available by February 1 from the UUA’s Ministries and Faith Development staff group. Gail Forsyth-Vail, Adult Programs director for the UUA, says the curriculum is tentatively titled With Justice for All. Information could be available as soon as mid-January on Forsyth-Vail’s blog, Cooking Together, Recipes for Immigration Justice Work.

The curriculum is a part of the resources the UUA is developing for the 2012 Justice General Assembly in Phoenix in June. The sessions, to be available online, will be suitable for Sunday morning RE as well as retreats and multigenerational gatherings. There will be four sessions for children in grades 1-3 and four related sessions for those in grades 4-6, all by Mandy Neff, director of religious education at First Parish of Cambridge, Mass. They will emphasize compassion and fairness and are grounded in the Buddhist practice of loving-kindness meditation.

The sessions will give children an opportunity to explore their own family traditions and stories of migration and dislocation, reflect on fair and unfair rules, and examine the concept of human rights. The program engages parents and families, culminating in a family event where children share what they have learned.

For more information email Forsyth-Vail.

New congregational website themes available

Anna Belle Leiserson, a professional web designer and a member of First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, Tenn., is making it easier for congregations to have attractive websites. She has created two versions of a website format and is making them available free to congregations. Both are WordPress themes. A theme is a template applied to a WordPress site to give it a particular look, feel, and structure. WordPress is the most popular web content management system used today.

Leiserson says she was inspired to create her website formats, which she calls UU 2011 and Faith 2012, after seeing many congregational websites that didn’t seem welcoming. “It’s so easy for me to picture a new person in town looking for a congregation, seeing one of these sites, and within about five seconds literally dismissing the possibility of visiting.”

She said the new themes allow each user to insert his or her own photos. She recommends UU 2011 for UU congregations and Faith 2012 for other congregations, including synagogues and mosques. She adds, “Most WordPress themes are for businesses, magazines, news, or personal blogging sites. No matter how attractive, they can be an enormous challenge to adapt to a congregation. More information can be found here and here.

Leiserson also has a blog in which she writes about congregational website design.

Annual congregational certification process open

The Unitarian Universalist Association is asking for a new piece of information from congregations this year as part of the annual Certification of Membership process. For the first time the UUA is requesting the number of non-member UUs in a congregation. Congregational leaders have until February 1 to complete this form online.

One other change is that the time period for which financial information is requested is different this year. Leaders are asked to submit the actual operating expenses of their congregation for the most recently ended fiscal year rather than the budgeted amount for the current fiscal year.

The certification process opened November 15. To complete the form log into the Data Services Login Page for Congregations. When you are logged in you can certify your congregation’s membership and statistical data. Do this by selecting “Begin Certification of Membership 2011.” You can also update the congregation’s mailing and meeting addresses, phone number, email, etc.

Although anyone at your congregation can be authorized to input the congregation’s membership number on the website, the number that is entered must be certified as accurate by a minister or officer of the congregation. Certification numbers are used by the UUA to determine the number of delegates each congregation may send to General Assembly.