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

Environmental justice stories and resources from the UUA

Stories about the work that congregations are doing in the area of environmental justice and new resources that they can use in that work are now on UUA.org. Environmental justice is the newest category of congregational stories on the Congregational Life webpage at UUA.org.

The stories highlight the work of Green Sanctuary congregations. Robin Nelson, program manager for the Green Sanctuary program, which is administered through the Congregational Stewardship Office of the Unitarian Universalist Association, will be posting monthly environmental justice articles to the page. Send stories to Nelson at  greensanctuary@uua.org.

The Green Sanctuary program invites congregations to develop projects and activities that are focused on care for the earth. There are currently 214 congregations participating in the Green Sanctuary program, which began in 2002.

Here are other environmental justice resources from the UUA:

• All congregations received a copy of the film Renewal and a viewing guide in September. This documentary, composed of eight stories of various faith communities engaged in environmental work, could be included in a congregational film series, used to start an interfaith discussion or as part of a worship service, and to inspire interest in the Green Sanctuary program. If your congregation did not get a copy, email greensanctuary@uua.org.

• The 120-page Green Sanctuary manual is available online, as are reviews of green books and films.

• Information on the International Day of Climate Change, October 24, in which many UU congregations are participating, is also online.

Starting a children’s choir

Q. We’d like to start a children’s choir. Could you direct us to information?

A. InterConnections wrote about children’s choirs in March 2001, but the best resource will be the UU Musicians Network. Consider joining if you are not a member. Children’s choirs have been a topic of UUMN workshops, and many members would be happy to advise you on starting a choir. The website also includes a job description for a children’s choir director.

Help update Churchworks

Churchworks: A Well-Body Book for Congregations, published in 1999 by Skinner House and still a key resource for congregations, is being considered for updating.

Its author, the Rev. Anne Odin Heller, former district executive for the UUA’s Pacific Northwest District, is inviting congregational leaders to help her determine what changes to make. In addition to the questions below, she would welcome suggestions for activities or resources that could be included in the new edition.

Here are the questions for congregational leaders:

  • What topics, if any, do you feel are missing from the first edition of Churchworks?
  • What section(s) do you think are most in need of updating?
  • What do you find most useful about Churchworks?
  • What do you find least useful?
  • How do you and your congregation use Churchworks?
  • Is there anything else you would like to say?

Churchworks uses parts of the physical body as metaphors for various facets of congregational life. Chapters are focused on core documents, spirituality and worship, assessment tools, communications, vision, social justice and evangelism, ministry, conflict, organization, stewardship, etc.

Email responses by October 15 to Heller at aoheller@taosnet.com, or send them by ground mail to A.O. Heller, HCR 74, Box 21207, El Prado, NM 87529.

Donor helps children share with the world

Imagine giving kids $10,000 and telling them to go help heal the world and spread the word about Unitarian Universalism.

That’s what has been happening at the UU Church of Reading, Mass. (292 members). A year ago, an anonymous donor made a gift of $10,000 for the purpose of involving the kids and teens in social justice work and helping them experience the joy of sharing money and time. And thus, the Helping Hands Outreach Fund was born.

Each year, the children in the church’s Faith Development program select five area organizations that are aligned with UU values of social justice. During a “Principles in Action” Faith Development quarter, the older children and youth educate the younger ones about the work of these nonprofits. Then, led by the Senior High Youth Group, the kids vote for the one they most want to partner with for the year. The kids then present the selected organization with a check for $7,600 and enter into a close partnership with the group for the year. The other four groups receive a gift of $600 each.

For the first year of the program, the kids selected an organization that served individuals with developmental disabilities. “This has been very engaging for the whole congregation,” says Lorraine Dennis, past president of the congregation. “We don’t just give money, we work hand in hand, together. The clients played music at a Sunday service, we had a lunch workshop about the group, we collected clothing for their prom, our teens attended their dances, and people volunteered in other ways. Most importantly, we sponsored and staffed a training program for Special Olympics, with our church kids and the group’s youngest kids working together on various physical and sports skills. ”

For the second year of the program, which kicked off in September, the kids are partnering with an environmental action group that is working to preserve an area river.

The Rev. Tim Kutzmark, minister of the church, reports that they will be sponsoring hikes, canoe trips, a community garden, displays at the town soccer field, and educational forums for the surrounding communities on water and green issues. “And because we’re out in the community working,” he says, “people learn about UUism and the things we stand for!”

Welcome to the new InterConnections

Dear readers,

By now, most of you will have seen the brand new InterConnections monthly email newsletter, sent on September 15. We hope you enjoyed it; we have been grateful to hear your comments!

InterConnections is now a totally online publication. The last paper copy was the Spring 2009 issue. For financial reasons, the UUA has gone electronic with several publications, including InterConnections. One practical result is that without the costs of publishing on paper, InterConnections can now be sent to whoever finds it useful. If there are leaders or potential leaders in your congregation who you think should receive it, invite them to sign up.

We do recognize that the transition away from print will be difficult, even impossible, for some who do not have access to a computer or choose to live without one. We regret that. The Rev. James Hobart, longtime UU minister and now on the Affiliated Faculty at Meadville Lombard Theological School, spoke to us about these folks after receiving our September issue.

He wrote: “I reluctantly accept the decision that for financial reasons InterConnections will be limited to an electronic edition. However, I fail to see you acknowledge that this works a hardship on those who are not electronically connected. Now that may be mostly ‘old fogeys’ and there may not be very many of the older generation or anyone else who does not have email. However, it is a loss to them not to have paper communication. I seem to remember we UUs have some statement about ‘the worth and dignity of every person.’  To be denied communication affects a person’s sense of their worth and dignity. Perhaps financial realities trump that, but I think at least it should be acknowledged that we are marginalizing some of our constituency.”

Hobart’s comments lead us to invite congregations to consider whether some of their members who would find InterConnections useful might not be able to access it, and, if so, to consider making a paper copy of new articles each month for these folks.

The Rev. Josh Snyder, senior minister of First Unitarian Church of Wilmington, Del., spoke for others: “Let me say I prefer electronic communication like this! Our church just went to an electronic newsletter with a few still getting a paper version. Let me tell you, folks love it!  I do too. I can save this, print off a million copies if I want to, cut and paste it into a presentation using OneNote or PowerPoint, blog about it, or email it off to all my friends. That beats a piece of paper anytime.”

InterConnections strives to provide relentlessly useful information to congregational leaders to help them do their jobs better, drawing on the shared wisdom in our congregations. To quote from the very first issue of the newsletter in 1998: “InterConnections searches out the churches that have had extraordinary successes with an issue and tells you how they did it, then recommends other resources you can draw on in tackling the same issue. The issues it addresses range from the familiar to the surprising, from nuts and bolts of money to the magic of membership growth, to nourishing the spirit.”

InterConnections wants to hear from you when your congregation has a success story. Send story ideas, questions, and other comments to InterConnections Editor Don Skinner at interconnections @ uua.org or (800) 204-2523.

If you’d like to sign up for the free newsletter, you can do that here.

Welcome to the new InterConnections. I’m looking forward to working with you to make it the best it can be.

–Don Skinner

UUA halts sale of Spanish-language hymnal

Sales and distribution of the UUA’s new Spanish-language hymnal, Las Voces del Camino (Voices on the Journey), which was introduced at General Assembly in June, have been halted due to a number of serious errors.

The errors will be corrected and a new edition published, said new UUA President the Rev. Peter Morales. He also promised that there will be a review of the process that lead to publication of the flawed hymnal.

Anyone who has purchased the current edition will receive a replacement when a new edition is published.

For more details read “Sales of new UU Spanish hymnal halted” at uuworld.org.

Creating a multigenerational congregation

The following is an excerpt from an essay submitted by Henry Halff, a member of Community Unitarian Universalist Church of San Antonio, Tex., about how to create a multigenerational church. Halff includes a story about his own experience as a parent of a child in a religious education program:

In 1976 I dragged my son, Larry, then about to turn six, over to the First Unitarian Church of Arlington, Virginia, and enrolled him in RE. I was met at the door of the RE building by one Norma Veridan. [The late Rev. Veridan served five UU congregations as religious educator and was the first district religious educator in the Massachusetts Bay District.]

The first thing she asked me was this:

“What are you going to do?” “Do?” “Yes, ‘do.’ Teach? Work in the office? Children’s worship? What are you going to do?”

“I’m awfully busy, and I’d really like to go to church.” “Wouldn’t we all. If your child is here, you’re here. That’s the rule.”

All of us parents bowed to the rule. I started as a teacher, worked my way into the children’s worship program, then the RE Council, and finally board member and liaison to RE. By that time, Larry was in college.

The Veridan rule had the effect of building a strong, well-staffed RE program, but that was not its most important effect. Its most important effect was that of forging a community of parents. Because we were all in it together, we got together socially; we brought food to meetings; we put on extracurricular stuff like the Christmas Pageant; we developed strong personal ties to the church, or at least to RE. What Norma knew was that if you build a community of parents, the children will be taken care of. And, incidentally, you’ll have a multigenerational church.

If you want a multigenerational church, make your church worth joining to the generations of interest to you. Forge a community of parents, even if that means drafting them. Doing this will give you committed lifelong members and a strong children’s program. What could be more multigenerational than that?

New book offers inspiration for activists

The Rev Stephen Shick, senior minister at the Unitarian Church of Marlboro and Hudson in Marlboro, Mass., has written a book designed to, as he says, “inspire and sustain activists and others who are working for a better world.”

Be the Change: Poems, Prayers and Meditations for Peacemakers and Justice Seekers is published by the UUA’s Skinner House.

Shick is founding director of the Unitarian Universalist Peace Network and former director of U.S. programs for the UU Service Committee. He draws on his four decades of activist experience to offer motivation and encouragement to those just starting out in social justice work as well as reflections and insights for veteran justice-seekers. The book includes quotations from Jesus, Shakespeare, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Rachel Carson, Maya Angelou, and others.

He notes, “I offer this book to those people, to you, who look upon the carnage of war, the cruelty of poverty, and the destruction of our environment with open eyes and simply say, ‘We can and must do better.’ This book is for you, the ones who, despite fears and limitations, give hope and courage to all of us by the way you live. It is dedicated to you who have a pestering need to love more boldly and live more courageously so that others might live better lives.”

Be the Change is $12 from the UUA Bookstore, 800-215-9076.

How to deal with bad pledging behavior

Q. We are having a problem with members of the congregation who are in leadership positions and either do not pledge or decide to engage in punitive pledging. What’s the best way to respond to this?

A. Dr. Wayne Clark, the UUA’s director of Congregational Stewardship Services, says: “From time to time we hear about congregational lay leaders who either do not make a financial commitment of record, or make a relatively small donation. In these cases, we recommend that the congregational bylaws be modified to indicate that members of the governing body are expected to make an annual financial commitment to the operating budget. That way congregants will know ahead of time the financial expectations if they agree to be a member of the governing body.  We also encourage congregations to make available the suggested fair share giving guide so that the governing body members can use it as a reference point.”

In your particular situation, it’s probably best to focus on a bylaws change rather than trying to get the current governing body members to increase their current level of giving.

Membership pros create email list

A new Unitarian Universalist Association-sponsored email list has been created specifically for paid membership professionals in congregations, such as membership directors, coordinators, or similar personnel. This closed discussion group, called Memb-Pros, is just one of more than 300 email lists available through the UUA.

Sign up for the Memb-Pros email list.