San Mateo’s Celebration Sunday Inspires Generosity

Guest Author: Rev. Vail Weller

“We are a religious community of open hearts and open minds working together to transform ourselves and the world.”  That’s the Mission Statement of our San Mateo congregation, who recently launched a wonderful experience in generosity.  It began as a worship service, which included handing out envelopes of cash to the adults, youth, and children, with the request that congregants use however much might be in their envelopes to “bless the world.”

Lead Minister, Vail Weller, explained, “Money can be used to bless the world, to help make life better for others.  Or it can be used to get more things for ourselves. . . I believe that money is meant to be shared to make life better for more people.”

The seed money for this was a $5,000 gift provided by a generous donor. Envelopes contained amounts ranging from $5 to $500, and the choice of how to spend it was left up to each individual. Parents were encouraged to help their children think about how they might want to make a difference in the world with their gift, perhaps making a family project of it. And everyone was encouraged to share their experiences on a blog set up for that purpose.

“Our congregation exists to help support personal and societal transformation,” said Reverend Vail.  “We’re all excited to see how far out the ripples of this generosity can reach.”

Read some of the stories of what individuals did with the money.

Give So That Giving Transforms Your Life

The Reverend Mary McKinnon Ganz, Minister of Community Building at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA (UUCA) is leaving that ministry to go to another congregation in Massachusetts. Here is her wonderful final sermon at UUCA.

Reverend Mary McKinnon Ganz

I post it here, not because it mentions my name, but for the reason that it speaks beautifully about the true faith it requires in our congregations to set aside our pessimism and bring our “wild hopes” of things being different. It speaks to the risk of truly living out our values and fully stepping into our engagement with the world. She makes the connections beautifully between believing in our congregations, investing in those hopes, and enacting them with stewardship. Rev. McKinnon Ganz truly preaches about stewardship with love. Enjoy:

Last Words: View from the Tightrope
by Rev. Mary McKinnon Ganz June 13, 2010


deeper is life than lose:higher than have
~ e.e. cummings

Only connect!
~ E.M. Forster

De-bunking Fundraising Myths – Part 2 (of 12)

We’ve all heard myths about fundraising.  These often lead us to do the exact opposite of what we should be doing to raise money.  We’ll be running a twelve part series de-bunking fundraising myths to take a close look at these false assumptions about giving.

This is the second in the series and we will run one each month (if you can’t wait to a year to read all of them you can purchase the book Beyond Fundraising: A Complete Guide to Congregational Stewardship and read them in Chapter 1: The Spiritual Roots of Stewardship).  Just because people say that it is true and have repeated it over time does not mean that it is the truth much like the existence of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

As always, we encourage you to leave comments.

Fundraising Myth #2

Myth: Because baby boomers (those born just after World War II) are generally self-centered, materialistic, and achievement-driven, they do not give much money to faith communities or other charities. Furthermore, they do not have the time to offer their call or spiritual vocation to their congregations.

Truth: Research conducted in 1994 by the Barna Research Group indicates that baby boomers were the most generous generation of the twentieth century. Barna states, “If we compare their giving to that of prior generations when those people were the same age, boomers emerge as more generous.” His research indicates that boomers might be willing to give more to faith communities if furnished with sufficient motivation to do so. It is the “show me what difference my contribution will make” mindset of many boomers that often frustrates older congregational leaders. In contrast, these older congregants come from a generation that sees giving as an obligation and an expectation. When older leaders fail to understand the motivation of boomers, they are unsuccessful at raising money from boomers and often unsuccessful at recruiting them for leadership roles.

De-bunking Fundraising Myths – Part 1 (of 12)

We’ve all heard myths about fundraising.  These often lead us to do the exact opposite of what we should be doing to raise money.  We’ll be running a twelve part series de-bunking fundraising myths to take a close look at these false assumptions about giving.

This is the first of the series and we will run one each month (if you can’t wait to a year to read all of them you can purchase the book Beyond Fundraising: A Complete Guide to Congregational Stewardship and read them in Chapter 1: The Spiritual Roots of Stewardship).  Just because people say that it is true and have repeated it over time does not mean that it is the truth much like the existence of unicorns.

As always, we encourage you to leave comments.

Myths About Giving #1

Myth: Those in low-income households don’t have money to contribute, so they offer their time instead.

Truth: The myth that people contribute money or time has been disproved. Recent research by Ian Evison, formerly of the Alban Institute, shows that, in general, financial contributions follow an investment of time. Those who give more time also give more money. In addition, anecdotal observations by fundraising consultants indicate that people with limited income often contribute a higher percentage of that income than those with larger incomes.

New Orleans Congregations Still Need Your Help

New Orleans is back in the news again. Unfortunately there’s the possibility of yet another disaster in the Gulf Coast region. While our attention is starting to focus on a potentially catastrophic off-shore oil spill, three Unitarian Universalist congregations continue to struggle with the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina.

The following short video is being shared because so many of you remain concerned about these three UU congregations. Take a look at what they have already accomplished. Make a commitment to help in their ongoing struggle.

From You I Receive – Sermon

This is a sermon delivered by Rev. Mark Ward to his congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville, on March 21, 2010.  We felt that many congregations would find it helpful especially since many are currently in the midst of their annual budget drives….

Rev. Mark Ward’s Stewardship Sermon

The story is told that the Japanese Zen master Nan-in once received a visit from a professor from a famous university. The professor said he heard much about the practice of Zen and was interested to know more about it. Nan-in nodded, and so the professor launched into his questions: what were its origins, who were its teachers, were there many schools, and so on, in rapid fire.

As the professor went on, Nan-in rose, walked over to his tea pot and gestured to ask if the visitor wanted tea. Amid his questions, the professor nodded, “Yes.” And so Nan-in took two tea cups and set them down on a tray, then brought over the tea pot.

As Nan-in served the tea, he poured the professor’s cup full and kept pouring. The professor watched the tea overflowing onto the tray and then finally called out, “It’s overfull. No more will go in.”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of opinions. How can I teach you Zen until you empty your cup?”

From you I receive, to you I give.

Together we share. And from this we live.

Each Sunday as they end their gathering time downstairs before going to their classes our children sing those words together. They help reinforce an ethic of reciprocity that is central to our understanding of how we live in community, both in this congregation and in the larger world. Reciprocity is the grease that makes community work. We give, knowing that we will receive, and we receive knowing that we will give.

What It Means to Give and Receive

As a UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant, I am always eager to learn and explore new ways to tap into the deep pools of generosity among my fellow Unitarian Universalists.  At our most recent consultants’ retreat, Mary Gleason introduced us to a powerful exercise that invited us to explore what it means to give and what it means to receive, and how that might relate to stewardship at our congregations.

I have since tried this exercise at several congregations, including my own, with great success.  The exercise is simple and I commend it to you.  Just ask people to take a few quiet moments to think about a time they gave something to someone that was really special – something that really hit home and was the “perfect” gift for that person at that moment.  The gift need not be physical – it could be the perfect word or a hug or a smile.  Ask people to remember what it felt like to give that gift, and to imagine what it must have felt like to be on the receiving end.  Then ask them to do the whole thing in reverse, thinking of a time when they were on the receiving end of the perfect gift.  After a few moments of quiet reflection, I like to ask people to share their stories in pairs and then in the whole group.

Reactions to this exercise have been varied, sometimes surprising, often inspiring.  Some folks have had a hard time remembering giving or receiving any special gifts – they’re just not used to thinking in these terms.  For these people, this exercise stirred up some deep memories and new ways of understanding how they relate to other people.

My most powerful experience with this exercise was with a UU middle school youth group.  Now, middle schoolers are not always easy to reach, and I approached this with some trepidation.  The results were amazing!  The kids shared moving stories of the most personal gifts – a hand-written card, a poem, a drawing, a touch, just the right stuffed animal – and were articulate about the impact of these gifts.  The exercise has worked equally well with people of all ages.   The sharing of giving and receiving stories lets people reach into the depths of their human connections, and after all isn’t that a big part of what we’re about in our UU congregations – and what stewardship is all about?  No matter how much time I allow for these sharing moments, it’s never enough.

As stewards of our congregations, we are called upon to be cheerful givers and grateful receivers.  May we tap into our spirits of generosity by lifting up what it means to do this work with grace and love.

Opening Our Hearts to Stewardship

Love heals, love reconciles,
love helps us move when we are stuck,
love helps us cast out all fear…

– Rev. Laurel Hallman

Photo by Gabe Caby

Stewardship is a holistic concept that encompasses and connects how we understand and appreciate:  what we have been given and inherited, what we have earned, how we track and account for those resources, what we decide to do with them (according to our values/beliefs), and how we ensure that they are skillfully used to those purposes. As such, it is integral to our spiritual, ethical, and philosophical lives.

As Unitarian Universalists, our programs and communications addressing stewardship must be congruent with our core belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all people. These approaches follow the same paths that we have learned are effective in challenging sexism, bias against sexual preference, and in anti-racism: We seek to reduce generalizations and discrimination (based on giving and economic status or the indicators of status), to encourage self-examination, to promote consciousness-raising, and to understand all people as interdependent, multi-faceted, and developing over the lifespan. Shaming, judgment, assumption, reproach, guilt, pressure, elitism, censure, and demanding language (or programs built on these concepts) are inappropriate and ineffective tools to open people’s hearts to deeper stewardship.

Aligned stewardship programs and communications use:

  • Orientation toward individual spiritual needs as well as the needs of organizations
  • An appreciative inquiry approach
  • Empowerment and choice models
  • Facilitation of personal development and spiritual growth
  • Inspiration and leadership
  • The provision of rich information (mission, planning, accounting, etc.) to increase motivation
  • Respect for each person as a rich repository of diverse resources as well as individualized needs
  • Caring systems (not cold, inhumane processes)
  • A respect for the challenges inherent in countering our consumer culture by aligning our values with our resources
  • An understanding of the reasonable fears and past wounding that may challenge a broadening of generosity
  • A view of giving and receiving as dynamically linked

Below is a hotlink to a chart intended to provide language for responding to people who are negative, frustrated, or angry about the stewardship of others. Just click on the line below:

Language Choices in Stewardship

How do you see loving stewardship as opening hearts and hands to both give and receive in your congregation? What language do you use to help you convey that?