people are not hot potatoes.

28 May

Last week, I officiated at the memorial service for a 99+ year old woman. Though raised Methodist, she and her first husband found the Unitarian faith when they were young adults, and they immersed themselves in the life of the church. Prior to a devastating fire in 1985 at First Unitarian Church in Louisville, there was a room in the building named after them.

Her husband died, too young, and she remarried. She ended up being the mother of 5 children. Her new husband would not come to church, so when she could she would schlep her brood to Sunday School all by herself. She spent her spare time in the churchyard, weeding and tending it.

Very few of her contemporaries are still alive, even fewer attend church regularly. When I was talking to her children, they talked about how important the church was to her.

“When, and why, did she resign her membership?” I asked, curious to understand how someone who had been so involved and cared so much was not on my radar at all after 6 years of being the minister of the church.

“Oh, she never resigned,” her kids told me. “Some years ago, they took her off the roles so they wouldn’t have to pay the Association for her to be a member.”


How many people have our congregations done this to? People who have dedicated their lives to a congregation, loved it, nurtured it, but when, due to age and financial constraints, they are no longer able to pledge or show up, are dropped from the membership role like hot potatoes so that we don’t have to count them when our Fair Share contribution to the Unitarian Universalist Association is tallied?

This is no way to treat our co-religionists. Our financial stewardship Fair Share amount to our Association should not be based on membership because that encourages us to not count those who are unable to contribute at a particular level. And, after time, these folks who are not counted become unseen as well. They fall off our radar as leadership changes. And we don’t even realize what we have lost.

The Southern Region of the UUA utilizes G.I.F.T. to calculate Fair Share for UUA Stewardship.

So what are some alternatives? In the Southern Region of the UUA, they are trying out a new program that bases a congregation’s Fair Share contribution on a fixed percentage (7%) of a congregation’s certified expenses. These expenses are based on a congregation’s general operating expenses, but the calculation does not include things like mortgage principal payments (mortgage interest payments are included) and some other capital expenses. There is more detailed information available online.

Reports are that about 40% of congregations have seen their contributions go higher, some but a bit but others substantially. This means that approximately 60% of congregations have seen their Fair Share amount lowered or remain the same. And there is the added benefit that utilizing GIFT combines into one amount a congregation’s district/regional contribution with the national contribution, meaning one less thing for congregations to keep track of.

Though I am sure it has its detractors, utilizing a method such as GIFT seems a much more equitable way of determining what a congregation’s Fair Share contribution to our Association is – with the added benefit of not encouraging the abandonment of longtime members when they are unable to remain connected at previous levels.

I just wish it was available to those of us outside the Southern Region.

9 Responses to “people are not hot potatoes.”

  1. melhpine May 28, 2015 at 3:33 pm #

    You’ve definitely hit on something, Dawn. You probably remember John and Margret Woodworth from the UU Church of Reston (VA). John had been the UUA’s first Minister of Music, ordained at the Arlington Street Church in Boston, which he served for 30-some years. They retired to Reston, where they were mainstays of UUCR. John died while they were both active, but Margret lived on long after Carol and I moved out of Reston in 2000. She lived just a half mile or so from the church, but for years she was blind, deaf and unable to get around. A few UUCR members kept up with her and her daughter, but none of the subsequent ministers knew her, and she was pretty much forgotten by the larger church community. There’s probably nothing anyone could have done to help her, but it seems to me to be a tragedy that so few knew anything about her, and she died without being part of the UUCR community.

    • Rev. Dawn May 28, 2015 at 4:08 pm #

      I don’t think I ever knew John, but I do remember Margret quite fondly. Someone suggested creating a LifeTime member category, but that still is sort of a get-around for the UUA. Of course, membership means less and less these days, so it probably behooves us to figure some other calculation out anyway.

  2. Judy Welles May 28, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

    Maybe it is available. You could quietly figure out what your G,I,F,T, contribution would be, then determine if you want to go in that direction, then contact the UUA to tell them what you plan to do, disclosing full information. Then do it. It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.

    • Rev. Dawn May 28, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

      I think the problem with this method would be that our regional dues and our UUA dues are still separate in the MidAmerica region, and so the congregation would have to pitch both of them on this, and somehow decide the appropriate amounts to each, which then makes it more complicated. Though I like the idea of doing it anyway and may suggest that!

  3. madelyncampbell May 29, 2015 at 8:08 am #

    I think this is brilliant. It would also steer congregations away from what I consider to be the rather foolish policy of making a minimum pledge for membership equal to the dues payment to the UUA and region/district. This is a policy that tells our members that the cost of membership is “X” and then none of that money actually stays in the congregation. We might discover that people become more generous under this plan.

    • Rev. Dawn May 29, 2015 at 9:22 am #

      Thank you, and I agree! And it says something more holistic about our contribution to the UUA (and region/district), too, that it is not a “fine” based on our membership number.

  4. Sheila Smith May 29, 2015 at 5:51 pm #

    As a member of a UU congregation, you pay each year for the privilege of attending programs with like minded people. The congregation does not expect long term loyalty from its members, hence the congregation has no obligation to members who can’t attend. Some Beloved Community!

  5. johnarkansawyer May 30, 2015 at 5:56 am #

    The GIFT program is so very important.

    Our congregation is in the Southern Region and we’re able to participate. This year’s proposed budget has it at (by my calculations–it wasn’t stated explicitly) 6.5%.

    At about the same time that the GIFT program came around, we had a major change in membership requirements. We dropped the rule about not being a member of more than one church, which I was ambivalent about dropping, though happy to loosen. And then there was pledging.

    We’d always maintained a rule that you had to give to the church to be a member. It was loosely enforced except around time to pay our UUA dues. But the budget got tight, and:

    Section 1 Definition of Membership: Any person shall be a member of the Church with full voting privileges who has signed the official Membership Book, who is 16 years of age or older, and who has signed and remitted to the Church a pledge form for the current fiscal year, or belongs to a household which has filed such a form. Any person desiring to be a member who cannot make a financial contribution due to his or her economic circumstances shall qualify for voting privileges by stating in writing on his or her pledge form the circumstances of said hardship, provided that the other requirements of membership are met.

    Membership shall automatically terminate upon death, written resignation, or failure to submit a pledge form during the annual pledge drive. If a previous member chooses to reinstate their membership, he or she IS REQUIRED TO submit a current pledge form and re-sign the book to show his/her recommitment and to regain their membership status. The Board of Directors may exempt an individual from the requirement to submit a pledge form or to re-sign the membership book.

    The italicized parts are the earlier additions. The strike (which I hope shows up) and bold parts are what we’re voting on in a week. The SHOUTY ALL-CAPS part is in the original.

    I haven’t yet decided whether to speak against it or not. There are other changes, one of which is probably worse, and I may need to save my energy for that. I’d tried my best to schedule a work trip out of town so I could miss our congregational meeting in good conscience or something resembling it, but life didn’t cooperate, so here I am.

    GIFT won’t cure this mindset. Over time, it enables congregations willing to change to do so. As I said, GIFT is so very important. But you can adopt it and still get stingier.

  6. David Leppik June 4, 2015 at 3:59 pm #

    Amen. We really need to find a way to help people with money to be generous, without penalizing those without.

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