How congregations can respond to hate crimes

From February’s InterConnections feature story, now online at UUA.org:

If you’re fortunate, you’ll never arrive at your meetinghouse to find your rainbow flag or marriage equality banner ripped, defaced with swastikas, burned, or simply stolen. But what if you do? How should you respond?

Late one Saturday afternoon in 2001, at First Parish of Sudbury, Mass., a passerby noticed that swastikas had been spray-painted onto rainbow flag symbols on two street-side church signs. He notified police, who contacted the congregation. That same day members of the congregation removed the swastikas, but the perpetrators returned and drew them again. This time they also stole a rainbow flag flying at the entrance to the meetinghouse.

The congregation spoke out immediately, notifying local and state officials, other clergy, and the school district. On Monday, two days after the defacement, the congregation held an emergency meeting. It concluded the swastikas and the flag theft were acts of hate and that it was a problem that belonged to the whole community, not just First Parish.

Go to full article.

Being open to other points of view

The Rev. Renee Ruchotzke has posted an article on the UUA blog Growing Vital Leaders, about the dangers of running congregations from within a bubble. A bubble happens, she notes, when leaders aren’t receptive to ideas from others or simply don’t take the time to look beyond their own congregation for solutions.

Ruchotzke says, “Congregational leaders often don’t think to look beyond their congregation’s walls for ideas or answers. They may believe that their own congregation is unique in its situation, but there is likely a congregation down the road (or in another district) that has similar challenges. Part of the goal of cluster-building and regionalization is to help congregations connect to one another and access the wisdom of the wider UU movement.”

The full article is here.

Election guidelines for congregations

As another election approaches, keep in mind that congregations may engage in elections in some ways, but not in others. In general, congregations may support issues, but not candidates. Issues can include, but are not limited to: civil rights, economic justice, and the environment. Congregations may not support individual candidates or political parties. To do so risks a congregation’s federal 501(c)3 tax-exempt status. It is also not inclusive, since congregations are generally not of one mind politically.

UUA.org has a recently updated website, 2012 Elections: Funding and Resources for Congregations, to guide congregations through the election season. Especially helpful is the UU Service Committee’s “Election Engagement Guide for Congregations” (PDF). Other resources on the website include “The Real Rules: UU Congregations and IRS Guidelines on Advocacy, Lobbying, and Elections,” plus ways to find local partners to work with, and video from a General Assembly 2012 workshop, “Values into Action, Unitarian Universalists Reclaiming Democracy.”

Tax liability possible for congregations

Take the time to brush up on the law in your city and state regarding annual reporting of tax-exempt status. One eastern city requires tax-exempt organizations to file each year for continuation of that status. Because the city did not enforce that requirement until 2007 (when a new assessor took office), one UU congregation received tax bills for two consecutive years before it recognized it had a requirement to file an annual statement.

The city sold the unpaid tax bills (with interest they total more than $200,000) to a collection agency and the congregation had to hire a lawyer to sort everything out. Many months later negotiations are continuing with the city. Because the tax leins went to collections, the issue is more complicated to resolve. The congregation does not know what its ultimate liability might be.

UU church offers music ministry internships

From June’s InterConnections feature story, now online at UUA.org:

Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, CO, has had a number of ministerial interns over the years. It’s also gone a step further, hiring three music ministry interns.

The first was in 2004, the second in 2009, and the third arrives in July. “With all of the conversation happening now about excellence in ministry, having music ministry interns is an interesting part of that discussion,” says Keith Arnold, Jefferson’s minister of music.

“It raises the question: Where do we find new religious professionals? Do we wait for them to show up, or do we recruit and train them?” He adds that many music schools don’t provide training on how to offer music in church settings.

Go to the full article.

Watch General Assembly events live

From a special pre-GA InterConnections story, now online at UUA.org:

Video from fourteen major events at General Assembly, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s annual gathering of congregations June 23–27 in Minneapolis, will be streamed as they occur. Congregations are encouraged to gather and view these events online as they actually occur or watch video of the events later.

Go to the full article.

Intergenerational service focuses on love

To the Editor:

My name is Gail Stratton, and I am with the 65-member Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Oxford, Mississippi.

This last Sunday, February 14, we had an intergenerational worship service that focused on love and the idea of reimagining valentines. Our message was about loving ourselves, loving our community, and loving the wider world. The younger children helped with the chalice lighting and taught it to the rest of the congregation.

Each person, large and small, got a valentine sticker when they came in the door. After one song and the chalice lighting, we asked everyone to find someone else with the same sticker, introduce themselves, and share something that they loved. This mixed the ages, and was a lively exchange. When we came back together,  we sang “Make New Friends.”

We shared what Universalism is, and read several short poems about the love of God from the poet Hafiz. We talked about the idea of Standing on the Side of Love. We said there will be times we will be challenged to understand situations, but while we are figuring it out, we choose to stand on the side of love. We talked about specific examples, like immigration reform and also the support UUCO had shown for my partner and me when we had gotten married last year.

We then as a group made valentines and posters for members who are ill or have moved. We also did face painting and decorated cookies. We concluded the day by taking pictures. The images are here. I think everyone left feeling “fed” and connected!

A new InterConnections article on intergenerational worship will be online at uua.org/interconnections March 1.

Redesign makes UUA website more usable

From February’s InterConnections feature story, now online at UUA.org:

Finding what you want on UUA.org just got easier. The website, which underwent a comprehensive redesign in early 2007, has been changed again, as the Unitarian Universalist Association’s web staff has developed a better understanding of how people use it.

The changes will occur in phases, and the first phase went live on February 1. The first phase involves two key pages: a new resources page for congregational leaders and active Unitarian Universalists, and a revamped home page, which focuses on the needs of visitors to Unitarian Universalism. More changes will come this summer.

Go to the full article.