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.”

Videos for newcomers

Q. We’re looking for a video about Unitarian Universalism that we can use in newcomer classes.

A. Many congregations use Voices of a Liberal Faith. View it here:

The Church of the Larger Fellowship also has a new service in which it will help congregations create a five-session “Welcome In” online class explaining Unitarian Universalism, how the congregation works, UU spirituality, the larger world of Unitarian Universalism, and the history of Unitarian Universalism and the congregation. Find out more and view a sample online class here.

A third option is the DVD Our American Roots, highlighting the history of Unitarian Universalism in North America. It is $75 from All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Okla.

Keep church history intact

Q. We are processing the papers of a longtime minister and we’re having a difference of opinion. One member thinks it would be prudent to black out a number of negative references this strong-minded minister made about other people in his correspondence. Others of us worry about losing part of our history if this happens. Could you give us advice?

A. InterConnections posed this question to members of the UU Historical Society’s Board of Trustees. Here are perspectives from three of them.

The Rev. Paul Sprecher of Hingham, Mass., recommends  separating out those papers with negative references and placing restrictions on them until some date in the future or until those referenced have died. An alternative would be to make copies of the originals and redact the copies, he says.

Kathleen Parker of Pittsburgh, Pa., says, “I would not recommend blacking out the negative references. We would forever lose whatever “truth” we might gain from those artifacts. I have found letters at the Andover Harvard Archives that reveal things that are not very flattering––but the fact that they are in the archives in uncensored form tells me that it was thought that these items should not be lost to history. Negative references to others may be a reflection of many things––and a good historian will take that into account.”

The Rev. Gordon Gibson of Knoxville, Tenn., suggests the possibility of interviewing key remaining witnesses or participants. “If a curmudgeonly minister’s papers––or his or her antagonist’s papers––vividly describe a church fight, is there anyone still alive whose testimony should be recorded? Of course, care should be taken not to reopen wide any congregational wounds that are nearly healed.”

The UU Historical Society sponsors the Dictionary of UU Biography, and offers an annual prize to a youth who writes about a historical subject. It also has information on creating congregational histories.

Denominational Affairs committees strengthen connections

Q. Our church does not presently have a Denominational Affairs committee, and I am interested in developing one. Could you tell me how we might make it as effective as possible?

A. InterConnections wrote about this topic here. Beyond that, contact your district staff for guidance about how to go about this. Also, consider signing up for the Unitarian Universalist Association-sponsored email list UU-LEADERS, where other congregational leaders will be happy to share their stories about successful Denominational Affairs (also known as Denominational Connections) committees.

Susanna Whitman, the UUA’s growth services program manager, recommends the following:  “If I were on such a committee I would find out what is new that the UUA is doing (read the news pages and the main page and UUWorld online, as well as InterConnections.) Keep an eye out for initiatives and programs that could be interesting or useful to your congregation. Check the Events page on and check out events and trainings through your district office. Make an effort to keep the congregation informed of key issues from the UUA and affiliated organizations, including the UU Service Committee, so that members know what the wider movement is doing.

Also, attend any national and district events that you can where you can meet people from other congregations and share ideas. Learn about how congregations support the UUA through the Annual Program Fund so that when people in your congregation ask why it’s important to support the UUA you will have answers. After General Assembly organize a Taking GA Home Sunday service to share some of what went on. And be sure to share all of this information with new members so they understand what they are a part of.

Filming others may require permission

Q. Our congregation has an excellent choir. Our meetinghouse is a popular place for community dinners and other public events. Recently, one of our fellowship members produced a movie to tell our story to newcomers. Questions are now being raised about copyright and privacy issues. If we sponsor a Christmas fair and we sing Christmas carols from the Unitarian Universalist hymn book, do we need legal permission? Can we film visitors as they walk past our holiday displays? The  movie includes crowd scenes with two or three hundred people present.

A. Peter Bowden, a children’s television producer who also runs UU Planet Ministry & Media, which offers growth consulting and video production services to congregations, has this to say:

I’m not a lawyer, so please conduct your own thorough research and consult experts. However, in my work with producing documentary-style content for broadcast TV we always get a release form with this simple guideline—if you can tell who it is, get a personal release.”

“When filming crowds at public performances and other large events we generally post signs at entrances to the event notifying those attending that we are filming,” he says. “By entering the event they are thereby giving consent. When we do this we take pictures of the signs to document they were posted.”

“In short,” he says, “signed releases for everything! For people, for corporate logos, for property, for pets.  In the spring of 2009 I made a video for our congregation’s capital campaign ( If you look at that video, which is primarily stills edited together, I only used recent footage with people I recognized and thought we’d have a chance of contacting. We went through the video and listed every person clearly recognizable. All of these people were contacted for permission. We went with simple verbal and email permission to be included and were explicit in stating the video would be posted online. I would have liked written releases but the verbal/email is better than many churches do.”

The dangers of not being thorough? “All it takes,” Bowden says, “is one person to discover they are in your video (or their former spouse and child are) and you’ve opened a can of worms. Maybe not a lawsuit, but you can quickly regret not doing the work to get permissions. If you have existing footage you want to use you’ll need to make your own judgment call.”

He adds that some public events, such as newsworthy gatherings, have different standards. “As for music, if it has a valid copyright you need to get permission to use it in a video. Just last week I saw a UU video on YouTube that had a notice posted under it stating that the audio for the video had been disabled due to potential copyright violation. In the YouTube environment people and organizations are getting very sloppy. I advise organizations not to fall into this trap.” Information on obtaining copyright permissions for some UU materials is here.

In addition to his work with congregations,  Bowden created and moderates the website, a Unitarian Universalist video network. Through this site he is collecting and sharing all of the best UU television and video content from across the web.

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.