Announcing the end of InterConnections

2014-08-15 10.40.03

Dear readers,

This is the last issue of InterConnections. The newsletter that began in 1998 as an effort by the Unitarian Universalist Association to present very practical information to congregational leaders is coming to an end as a result of the Association’s current financial shortfall. I am choosing to retire at the end of August.

As editor of InterConnections for its entire life—and the person who has written virtually all of it—it has truly been life-changing for me to do this work. It has been a joy to talk with many of you over the years about the successes in your congregations, and then share those stories with other leaders through InterConnections.

Don Skinner
Don Skinner

Please know that InterConnections is not going away completely. InterConnections will live on as a rich archive that you can access any time you wish. If you come home from a board meeting frustrated about an issue, or if one wakes you up in the middle of the night, you can search InterConnections to see how other congregations may have solved similar problems.

The InterConnections archive includes hundreds of articles about all aspects of congregational life, from full-on profiles of exemplary congregations, to articles on how to do Joys and Sorrows better, or how to be more welcoming on Sunday morning.

Please also remember that the UUA has more ways now for leaders to learn from each other than it did in 1998. Now there are email lists, Facebook laboratories, and webinars. I urge you to avail yourselves of all of these, in addition, of course, to contacting your district and regional UUA staff when questions arise.

InterConnections was the inspiration of former UU World editor Tom Stites, who wanted the newsletter to be “relentlessly useful” to leaders. As we wrote in the first issue, “InterConnections searches out the congregations 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.”

We hope we have held true to that mission and we wish you the very best.

Donald E. Skinner

‘Reclaiming Prophetic Witness’ is Common Read book

The Unitarian Universalist Association’s Common Read book for the upcoming church year is Reclaiming Prophetic Witness: Liberal Religion in the Public Square, by the Rev. Dr. Paul Rasor. The 105-page book was published in 2013 by Skinner House.

Rasor is director of the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom at Virginia Wesleyan College. He is a UU minister and the author of an earlier book, Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the Twenty-first Century.

A UU theologian, Rasor dispels the myth that conservative Christianity is the only valid religious voice in national debates on social policy. He calls on religious liberals to bring their religious convictions to bear on current issues.

A discussion guide will be available in October. Reclaiming Prophetic Witness was one of 14 books considered for the Common Read. The book is $15 from the UUA Bookstore, with discounts for purchases of multiple copies.

More information about the selection process is on the Call and Response blog of the UUA’s Faith Development Office. In the forward of the book Rasor writes that there has never been a more important time for UUs to speak about about issues including the environment, immigration, and gender.

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.

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.

GA rebate offered to presidents

Presidents of congregations can get a $100 rebate on General Assembly registration fees this year.

The Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees hopes the incentive will entice presidents to come to General Assembly 2014, which will be June 25-29 in Providence, R.I. There is one rebate per congregation. It can be claimed by presidents-elect and chairs of governing boards, as well as presidents.

Those coming to GA would pay the full registration fee, which is $335 if paid by April 30 and then submit a rebate claim.

UUA Moderator Jim Key said the board approved the rebate because it wants as many presidents as possible to come to GA to take part in discussions “about the future of our faith and our Association.” The board has been working on ways to transform GA so that it is more meaningful to congregational leaders, more economically accessible, and more useful as a way to discuss big questions about UUA governance and the UUA’s mission.

In addition to sending presidents or board chairs to GA, the board is also asking congregations to elect people who will commit to serving as GA delegates for two years so there can be continuity in decision-making. A longer article on the rebate is at uuworld.org. Key’s letter to congregations about the rebate is here.

 

College of Social Justice needs our hands

The Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice has a number of justice-oriented trips planned for the rest of 2014 and into next year to places including Haiti, Mexico, and India.

It is also offering Youth Justice Trainings in Boston, New Orleans, and Seattle, and it has twenty summer-long Global Justice Internships available for college-aged young adults. The internships are focused on issues that include justice for restaurant workers, immigration rights, and the right to water.

Internships are unpaid, but interns may apply for a cost-of-living stipend to cover basic living expenses and local transportation. Full information on all these programs is on the UU College of Social Justice website.

 

Restaurant workers subject of UUA Common Read

All Unitarian Universalists are invited to read the book Behind the Kitchen Door this winter and spring. The book, by Saru Jayaraman, is the 2013-14 UUA Common Read. Congregations are encouraged to use the book as part of adult education and book group discussions and also in worship, as a way of reflecting on congregants’ dining-out practices and the lives of those who create and serve restaurant meals.

The book describes how restaurant workers live on very low wages, and how poor working conditions, including discriminatory labor practices, exploitation, and unsanitary kitchens, affect the meals that are served to us. The author, who launched a national restaurant workers organization after 9/11, tells the stories of ten restaurant workers in cities across the United States as she explores the political, economic, and moral implications of eating out.

She explains that what is at stake is not only our own health, but the health and well-being of the second largest private sector workforce—10 million people, many of them immigrants and many of them people of color.

The author is cofounder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, an organization working to improve conditions for restaurant workers. The book is a resource for the new minimum wage campaign announced July 18 by the UU Service Committee and the UUA. The campaign has a goal of raising the minimum wage to $10. The book, published by Cornell University Press earlier this year, is available from the UUA Bookstore for $21.95, with discounts for multiple copies. The book includes a free discussion guide.