About the Author
Don Skinner
Don Skinner is editor of InterConnections and a member of the Shawnee Mission UU Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

Brochures boost Small Group Ministry

The March/April issue of Covenant Group News, the online newsletter of the UU Small Group Ministry Network, describes a brochure the UU Fellowship of Vero Beach, Fla., created to explain that congregation’s small group ministry program to congregants and to others who enter the building.

Vero Beach member Pete Kersey notes: “We created our brochure when we realized that everything we wanted to pass on to the congregation about covenant groups/small group ministry was too much to swallow in a letter or flyer format. The brochure allowed us to include pictures, graphics, and text in a format that was a page-turner, easy to look at, and full of timely and relevant information, including what the movement was about, when we were recruiting members, and how to join. We have found it to be an effective piece.”

More information is here. The Small Group Ministry Network website invites other congregations to submit their brochures.

Small Group Ministry is a program of intentional lay-led small groups that deepen and expand the ministry of a congregation. The Unitarian Universalist Small Group Ministry Network is a grassroots organization of small group leaders and participants. It publicizes information from many sources and encourages networking to enhance the development of Small Group Ministry. Congregations with small group programs are encouraged to join.

June 30 deadline for retirement plan

For congregations and other UU organizations already participating in the UU Organizations Retirement Plan, June 30 is the deadline to submit the 2014 Employer Participation Agreement form to the UUA’s Office of Church Staff Finances.

Congregations and other eligible employers that have not been participating in the plan are not required to join by the June 30 deadline.

A new participation agreement is required of each participating employer because, after more than a year of work by the UUA Retirement Plan Committee, last year the UUA Board of Trustees approved a comprehensive revision of the plan, also referred to as “restatement” of the plan. Restatement means the plan was updated to include all of the changes that have been made to federal regulations affecting retirement plans since the last restatement of the UU plan, which occurred in 1999, and to reflect current best practices of defined contribution retirement plans.

The restated plan gives congregations and other participating employers greater flexibility in retirement benefits offered and encourages participants to contribute more toward retirement.

New options include allowing employers to match employee contributions rather than simply making a base employer contribution. Fair compensation guidelines remain the same. Another key change is that employees who are not eligible to receive employer contributions are able to elect to make their own voluntary pre-tax salary reduction contributions. See the Employee Contributions Form here.

In order to continue to be a participating employer with the plan, employers/congregations must pass a motion to adopt the restated plan, submit the 2014 Employer Participation Agreement, and receive confirmation from the UUA Retirement Plan Committee. This process must be completed by June 30. A sample adoption motion can be found here.

Failure to act may mean that organizations may not be able to continue to submit contributions on behalf of their employees to TIAA-CREF. Congregations that are not yet participating in the plan are invited to view detailed information online and direct specific inquiries to retirementplan@uua.org. Employees who are already enrolled participants in the plan do not need to re-enroll.

Participants in the plan as of last November received a packet of materials regarding the restatement as well, and are encouraged to engage their employers in conversation about the benefit and any changes the employer may be considering.

UU email lists, labs promote sharing

Whatever project you’re trying to undertake in your congregation, you’re probably not the first to try something like that. Rather than inventing the wheel, learn from other congregational leaders by connecting with them on some of the 300 email lists sponsored by the UUA, plus the many UU “laboratory” groups on Facebook. On both these venues leaders share ideas and encourage each other.

Among the UUA’s most popular email lists are ones for congregational administration, Church-Admin-UU; software, ChurchMgmtSoftware; communications, Newmedia-L; finance, UU-Money; religious education, Reach-L; general questions, UU-Leaders; and membership, Memb-L. There are also email lists specifically for small and large congregations. All of the lists can be found here.

Worried about getting overwhelmed by emails? You can choose to receive emails from these groups as a daily—or every few days—digest, rather than as individual emails.

There are around twenty UU labs on Facebook where participants discuss specific topics, including social media, growth, and worship practices. Among the most active ones are UU Growth Lab, UU Social Media Lab, UU Young Adult Growth Lab, and UU Media Collaborative. A list of these groups is here.

GA housing still available

Dormitory-style rooms remain available for people planning to attend the UUA’s General Assembly 2014, June 25-29 in Providence, R.I. Hotel rooms have been in short supply because the UUA had to withdraw from some hotel contracts because of labor issues.

Home hospitality is also available. Most of the money raised will be donated to local congregations.

Adult registration for the full week of GA is $335 until May 1, when it increases to $385. There are reduced rates for those attending less than full time.

Information on GA programming, registration, and housing can be found here.


Detroit-area choirs gather for music, community

Every other year since 2003, the choirs of many Unitarian Universalist congregations in the Detroit, Michigan, area have come together for a music festival. The latest was March 9 at First UU Church of Detroit.

At the first festival there were eight choirs; this year there were choristers from ten congregations, with a total of about 130 singers.

“This is just an amazing experience every time we do it,” said Al Acker, a longtime choir member with First UU. “The thing I like most is that my own choir on a good Sunday will have only twelve or thirteen members. To sing with a group of more than 100 is just such a wonderful experience. Also, we get to work with the music directors of other congregations. And once we’ve learned these songs we can sing them at other services throughout the year.”

It’s a lot of music to learn, he acknowledged. “That’s why we only do this every other year.” The choirs practice the numbers at home then gather Saturday for practices and lunch. They come back Sunday for the performance.

Acker said most of the 80 to 90 members of First Unitarian contributed to the concert by singing, providing and serving the lunch, helping with parking, or ushering. The concert is held in a different location every year.

In addition to First Unitarian, the congregations that participated are First UU Church of Ann Arbor, Birmingham Unitarian Church, Emerson Church UU, New Hope UU Congregation, Northwest UU Church, Paint Creek UU Congregation, Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church, UU Church of Farmington, and the UU Church of Olinda, at Ruthven, Ontario.

The original idea for the concert came from Todd Ballou, music director at the Detroit congregation and Anna Speck, the then-music director at Grosse Pointe. “It’s become one of the rare opportunities to get people together from all the area congregations,” said Ballou.

Special guests sometimes appear. This year Naomi Long Madgett, the poet laureate of Detroit, read some of her poems. UU songwriter Carolyn McDade led some of the songs several years ago. “Sometimes we can’t decide if this is a church service with tons of music or a choir concert with some speaking parts. This year it was more of a concert,” said Ballou.

Encourage first-time GAers with cash, support

The UU Congregation of Princeton, N.J., typically sends five to eight adults and several youth to General Assembly each year. Over the years most of them have tended to be “GA regulars,” folks who had attended several previous GAs.

Like many congregations, UUCP longed to interest new people in GA but hadn’t had much luck. This year the membership committee tried something new to do just that. Since cost is typically a major deterrent to attending GA, the committee raised $800 to pay much of the cost by soliciting donations at two Sunday brunches. It also promoted GA through the congregation’s website, newsletter, orders of service, and from the pulpit. It let it be known it wanted to send someone “new” with the money it had raised.

That person turned out to be Kevin Trayner, co-chair of the Religious Education Council at UUCP.  He and his wife, Lisa, began attending five years ago “for the kids” but quickly found their own places in the congregation. He was recruited as an RE teacher and both continue to teach, including OWL, the UUA’s sexuality education program.

“I think that the experience of attending GA will give me a better grounding in the overall UU experience,” said Traynor. “It will be valuable to me to connect with other UUs from different backgrounds, and to share that experience with others. Part of it, also, for me, is to educate myself so that when I talk to newcomers I can better speak to ‘who are we.’”

Several congregational leaders, including the Rev. Bill Neely, met with Trayner to fill him in on GA and help him register. He’ll attend GA sessions related to welcoming guests and integrating people into the life of the congregation.

“We plan to meet with him after GA to discuss what he learned that can help us with welcoming,” said Lisa Roche, co-chair of the membership committee. “We’re hoping that because he’s active in RE, this will also lead to closer ties between the RE council and the membership committee. And we want to work with him on welcoming in his role as RE co-chair.”

Roche offers the following tips toward encouraging GA attendance:

  • Start promoting GA in the fall.
  • Talk it up among other committees.
  • Raise a substantial amount of money.
  • Show videos of events at past GAs.

She said the committee hopes to try again in coming years to recruit others to attend GA.

Another option for help with GA costs is the Davidoff Fund for Lay Leadership. It offers grants to lay leaders whose congregations have not been represented at GA by non-clergy in the past three years or more. Two scholarships remain this year.

New curriculum supports ethical eating

Two Unitarian Universalists—Diane Bassett and Jennifer Greene—have created a food-education curriculum designed to support the UUA’s 2011 Statement of Conscience on ethical eating.

Titled, “Demonstrating Our Values Through Eating,” or DOVE, the curriculum has six sessions of one-and-a-half to two hours, which include discussions on food marketing, climate change, food-worker justice, nutrition, food insecurity, and other food-related topics.

Greene said the course can also be used for individual study. It is not just for vegetarians, she noted. “It will be useful for people no matter where they are on the continuum of current food choices.”

The first session is an orientation. The second is a viewing of the documentary Food Stamped, which must be purchased or obtained from a library. Several sessions involve cooking, so a kitchen is needed. The curriculum itself is free online.

A Planning/Publicity Kit includes a timeline for promoting the course and preparing for it. Greene can be reached at jrg123 at optonline.net.


UUSC begins Haitian garden project

This spring, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee is inviting congregations to help families in Haiti plant vegetable gardens. Congregations are being asked to raise money to buy the necessary tools and seeds to enable Haitian families to grow their own food.

The Rev. Katherine Jesch, former director of environmental ministry for the UU Ministry for Earth, says that $250 will allow one family to be trained and supplied with tools and seeds for a garden. The UUSC hopes to raise enough so that 100 families can plant gardens.

Jesch said that individuals, youth groups, congregations, and other groups are being encouraged to support this project. She noted, “Once Haitian families don’t have to buy all their food they are better able to cover other basic expenses, like school fees for their children. Food sustainability can be at the heart of thriving families and communities.”

Donations of amounts smaller than $250 will also accepted. Visit the UUSC website for more information.

Social justice events to engage youth

Youth who want to pursue social justice interests this summer have several offerings to choose from through the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice.

There will be a gathering of youth on June 25 in Providence, R.I., the first day of General Assembly, to get acquainted and learn about the issue of raising the minimum wage. The event is described as “a primer for all youth who care about social justice, even if they are unsure where to begin.”

In partnership with the UU Living Legacy Project, both youth and adults are invited on the Mississippi Civil Rights Journey, July 5–12, honoring the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer and exploring the continuing struggle to preserve voting rights. 
Application deadline is May 19. Cost is $1,280. Financial aid is available.

In July and August there will be three youth justice trainings in New Orleans, Boston, and Seattle. In partnership with local organizations, youth will learn about the realities of oppression and build skills needed to enact social change. The cost is $840, $1,860, and $1,100, respectively, plus transportation costs. Financial aid is available. Reservations are due by May 4, May 11, and June 1, respectively.