A Building Campaign for All the Right Reasons – A Religion for Our Time

The Unitarian Universalist Association has just released the third short video in the exciting new series, “A Religion for Our Time.”

Episode Three, “A Building Campaign for All the Right Reasons,” spotlights the building campaign of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Elkhart (UUFE). In a small Indiana town that has been battered by the recession, the members of UUFE knew they were the only liberal religious voice in the area. That knowledge made them determined to go ahead with a building campaign, and a very successful one at that!

Please consider sharing this video on your congregation’s website or blog, and through social media.

If you would like to embed “A Building Campaign for All the Right Reasons” as a YouTube video, the video (along with embed code and options for sharing it on Facebook and other sites) is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUc-iZtDpzk

If you would like to download “A Building Campaign for All the Right Reasons,” please visit the “A Religion for Our Time” video series page (http://www.uua.org/multimedia/religion/index.shtml), right-click on the link labeled “Download Episode Three” and then select “Save Link As…” or “Save Target As…”

“A Religion for Our Time” highlights inspiring work in Unitarian Universalist congregations, including innovative projects relating to worship, social justice, membership, and fellowship. Thank you for watching the third episode in this series and sharing it with others.

Guest Author, Shelby Meyerhoff
Public Witness Specialist
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
25 Beacon St.
Boston, MA 02108
smeyerhoff at uua dot org

Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day

On this 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, may we hold the Earth delicately in our hands and reflect on how we may become better stewards of the Earth both individually and collectively.

There are many things you can do to celebrate Earth Day both locally and globally.  Invite you to join me by finding at least one way you can celebrate.  Here are some ways that you might want to celebrate:

Whatever you end up doing, I hope that you take some time to sit and reflect on the reverance of this beautiful planet.

My UU-UNO Spring Seminar 2010 Experience

Two weeks ago I traveled to the United Nations Church Center in New York, NY for the Unitarian Universalist-United Nations Office (UU-UNO) Spring Seminar 2010, Thursday April 8 – Saturday, April 10. About two months prior I met with one of the UU-UNO Board members, Connie Baker,  to talk about the the Green Sanctuary Program.  Connie told me that their upcoming Spring Seminar was going to be about climate change and asked if I would be willing to attend.  I said “sure.”  The next week, I received an email follow-up requesting that I also speak on a panel to which I also agreed.

The theme of the seminar was “A Climate of Change: Heads, Hearts, and Hands Around the Planet.”  As the Program Manager for the Green Sanctuary Program at the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) I am expected to be one of “the” voices for the UUA on the environment and environmental justice.  I was slotted to be on the Friday after-lunch “Hearts” panel “Faith-Based Perspectives on Climate Change.”  I left for New York with a handful of notes for my time to talk on the panel.

Welcome abundance and generosity into your life…

I was invited to speak on a panel at the UU-UNO 2010 Intergenerational Spring Seminar – A Climate of Change: Heads, Hearts, and Hands Around the Planet.  The panel topic was: Faith-Based Perspectives on Climate Change.  When I speak at Unitarian Universalist events I like to start with a reflection and/or reading to get participants thinking in a certain way.  The reading I chose for this particular event comes from Earth Bound: Daily Meditations for All Seasons by Brian Nelson and just so happens to be today’s (April 12) entry so I decided that it would be interesting to share on this blog.  It addresses stewardship in the broadest sense and in the sense that my office approaches stewardship.

“As the days get longer and the temperatures get warmer, animals start shedding the fur that helps them weather the winter and hoard their body heat.  Unless they shed this fur, they’ll overheat in the months to come.

Similarly, the longer we act as though we’re in a winter culture, a culture of scarcity and deprivation, the more likely we are to overheat now that it’s spring.

Stop living in a winter of your mind and shed the barriers that keep things at bay.  Act as though abundance and generosity are not only possible but imminent.  Welcome easier times and they will happen more often.”

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.

Financing options from the UUA

The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) has several financing options for congregations looking to acquire land, build a spiritual home, or make improvements to their existing buildings.  Below is a list of the current financing options offered by the UUA.  Click on the link(s) for additional information about the specific program(s).

Building Loan Program
The Building Loan Program provides affordable financing for three types of project:

  1. building or buying a new spiritual home
  2. repairing or renovating existing facilities where substantial construction is not required,
  3. expanding current facilities where substantial construction is required, especially to make facilities more accessible.

The interest rate is set at the time of closing and is based on the seven-year Treasuries plus three-percent.

First Home Grant Program
The First Home Grant gives money to congregations seeking to purchase their first piece of land and/or to construct their first spiritual home.  The program is not designed for congregations that already own a building.

Loan Guarantee Program
The Loan Guarantee Program offers to guarantee a loan made by a local lender in cases where the lender requires this support before agreeing to loan money to a congregation.

Site Acquisition Loan Program
The Site Acquisition Loan Program assists growing, financially healthy congregations that are without significant financial equity to acquire their first piece of land. The UUA, in consultation with and acting as an agent of a qualified congregation, will purchase a site in a location where demographics indicate a high potential for the growth of Unitarian Universalism.  Note: this program is a loan and not a grant or gift.

Small Projects Loan Pilot Program
The Small Projects Loan Pilot Program promotes congregational growth by financing relatively inexpensive projects that can improve congregational life and well-being. Smaller, shorter term loans can create positive changes in congregations by providing a new tool to tackle issues that may seem beyond their current financial means. The program focuses on three broad categories of projects: mission-oriented, environmentally friendly, and critical/emergency in nature.

Green Construction Award Pilot Program
The Green Construction Award Pilot Program provides financial awards to congregations that build or renovate green and have received LEED certification.  This pilot program is in effect until as many as six congregations have earned an award.  Only one congregation has received this award.  Congratulations to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Wayne County in Wooster, OH for obtaining LEED Gold certification.

The “Ripple Effect” at South Church in Portsmouth, NH

Environmental activists, often on the verge of burn-out, ask themselves “Does my work really make a difference?”

The answer to this question is “YES!”

As Unitarian Universalists, we seek out action that has meaning in our lives.  We find that meaning by looking to the UUA’s Seventh Principle “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”  I’d encourage people to see how each of the Seven Principles calls us to be good stewards of the Earth.

The Green Sanctuary Program, originally founded and managed by the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth, was designed to give roots and wings to the vision that, together, we can create a world in which all people make reverence, gratitude, and care for the Earth that is central to our lives.  The Green Sanctuary Program offers a way to join our efforts, both symbolically and explicitly, with thousands of other Unitarian Universalist congregations across the country.  Additionally, the Green Sanctuary program projects have deepened the inspiration of many individuals in their congregation to make personal changes in their lives.

One UU Church that decided to embark on the Green Sanctuary journey together was South Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  In their Green Sanctuary accreditation application they discussed sustainability and how it has become a major issue in Portsmouth. They have become a huge supporter , as well as a prominent leader, in the wider efforts in the New Hampshire seacoast region.  In addition to that, they were able to the see the “Ripple Effect” of the Green Sanctuary Program.  The list below is a sampling of the change effects that have resulted from what congregants describe as personal lifestyle modifications that were likely the result of the work of the environmental activism work of South Church:

‘Til the River Runs Clear – Film Review

             The Hudson River is considered the largest Superfund site in the United States, with over 200 miles of water scheduled for cleanup after the river was contaminated with PCBs from General Electric and various other industrial manufacturing companies over many years of dumping in the river. In the 1960’s, when there were virtually no environmental laws yet passed to protect our natural resources, an organization named the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. was launched by folk singer Pete Seeger and other advocates.

In the PBS short film (approximately 30 minutes) ‘Til the River Runs Clear, the community organizing effort put together by Pete Seeger & others is chronicled. The film begins by telling the story of how Pete Seeger and other activists got the idea of cleaning up the Hudson River. From there, the decision was made to build a traditional wooden sloop which was a replica of 18th and 19th century sailing vessels. The hope in building this particular type of ship was to encourage people to preserve the rivers beauty. Once the ship was launched in 1969, people began to take notice of just how powerful environmental advocacy could be. Today, Clearwater focuses on education and advocacy, bringing people on board to sail and experience the beauty of the river. The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. is one of the pioneering organizations that drew attention to this river that was once dying.

While so many activist movements have great intentions and promote something that I believe in, I was particularly moved by this documentary for a few reasons. The first reason is because it is close to my heart; I grew up in New Jersey, very close to Manhattan, and remember going for walks with my family down by the rivers edge. I remember thinking that such a grand, beautiful place should be able to be enjoyed by its citizens, instead of simply saddening them. Also, as a famous folk singer, Pete Seeger was (and still is) in the public eye for his popular music. I do think that there is something to be said for an individual that is a potential role model to millions of individuals to be part of such an important, environmental project.

In addition to the Hudson River Sloop educating and advocating for environmental awareness and change, each year the organization holds the Clearwater Festival in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. This year, the River Revival takes place on June 19 & 20. While the lineup of performers has yet to be announced for 2010, past years have brought some famous names to the stage. A few of these artists have been Arlo Guthrie, Ani DiFranco, Taj Mahal, Tom Paxton and Toshi Reagon. For more information about this year’s lineup, check out their website.