“Sermon on the Amount” – Rev. Wendy Fitting
Every one of us – when we go to bed at night – makes sure that the house is in order. The fire is banked. The lights are extinguished. The children have eaten and brushed their teeth and are safe in their beds. We have done our best when we retire for the night to return phone calls, answer our emails, and call our ageing parents in Florida.
Now is the time that we put this house in order. Board Chair, JoeAnn Hart, along with Treasurer, Bill Baumer, and Finance Committee Chair, Kate Ruzecki have worked with conservative mindfulness about what we need and what we can afford. We are very serious about stewardship of your money. Our budget planning for the coming year will mean cutting some expenses; keeping staff salaries at 2008 levels, while maintaining a fiscal commitment to expanded religious education programs for both children and adults, to establishing small group ministries, as well as to membership outreach. These are goals are set in our long-range planning retreats and we will stick to them.
Here is our recommendation: that we set the goal for members’ pledges at $105,000. That, in addition to investment income, and a yearly generous donation by the Judith Murray Guild constitutes the heart of our income. We are committed as well to expand our fundraising efforts in new and more sophisticated directions, making use of technology afforded by our website.
Every Sunday this month, church members will speak from the pulpit about why they support the church. As we put our house in order for the coming year, We will reach out to far flung members and new members. We’ll be calling and visiting, reinforcing the network of relationships – the fabric and the strength of the church.
“Why I Give” – Kate Ruzecki, Finance Chair
“In his newsletter message the treasurer, Bill Baumer, speaks of the current deficit – some $20, 000 – in the church finances as the impact of “the Great Recession”; I prefer to think of it as our own “perfect storm”. In the book and movie, the problem was three separate weather patterns that combined to create a storm of unimaginable strength. Our problem is three separate revenue streams that have combined to create a financial impasse. Each stream has failed to reach expectations – leaving us with a sizeable deficit and an even larger problem in balancing the budget for next year. Only one way is open to us, which is through the contributions from the congregation and friends. Not only by increasing the amount that we pledge, but also by finding new ways to raise funds through technology, ingenuity and outreach. And ultimately, working to bring new members to the church – which is the only way to ensure this situation does not re-occur.”
“Why I Give” – Ruth Ann (Rufus) Collinson
Every Sunday, as I stand at the beginning of the path that leads here, looking Up,
I am in awe of this big house, its steadfast presence on the earth, its tall and steady beacon
to those returning home from sea.
And so I have returned too from a far off place to the warmth of ushers , the phenomenon of organ music, the lift of voices
the ring and sway of the bell.
And I return again and again to this enormous, kindly room its portraits, its golden light, its history and ancient colors.
Here I find my place and sit, surrounded by sanctuary, in the presence of God and my parents and all of you.
Every Sunday in this place David and the choir will lead us to the river, to peace and longing and harmony –
the resonance of the music held deep within our souls.
Every Sunday in this place, Wendy gives us a reason to carry on. She gives to us straight from her life, from her heart,
from her mighty mind… words and images that will come back to us during the week,
to comfort or urge or delight or inspire again and again.
Every Sunday, here with you… You…..all and each of you, I break open again to Love
And then travel with you toward the smell of the coffee, toward talk and laughter and loving arms.
I give because I am so grateful to be here with you. Because being here with you feels like an intimation of heaven
And because as long as sailors are returning to the ancient harbor, as long as the human spirit is looking for a place to Be,
I want this house to stand.
“Why I Give” – JoeAnn Hart
As the chair of the Board of Managers of the church, I come before you today to talk about money, which is much on our minds. This is not an easy thing to do. It was pledge week on WBUR this week, and every time I turned on the station and heard them pleading and cajoling listeners to stop what they were doing and make a donation, I groaned. Who wants to listen to how much it costs to produce the news? I wanted to hear the news itself. I wanted to hear the Connection or Here and Now, I did not want to listen to what it takes to get those programs on the air. Like everyone else, I wanted them to appear by magic. But the magic of public radio does not happen until the bills are paid, much like the church. Our magic is in people. We are what makes the church happen, miraculously, week after week. We create a community by sharing the spirit, love, the prayers, hopes, and pain of one another, but none of it can happen without maintaining a sacred place, an actual building with real people where heating bills and salaries and coffee hour supplies must be paid in cash, not love. So I will have to test your patience for a few minutes and talk about money even at the risk of listening to groans. I want to talk about what it takes to keep the church running, where the money comes from and why we are asking everyone to dig deeper this particular year, something we have not had to do in a few years. But here we are in the final quarter of 2010 and we find ourselves woefully short of our budget goals. The good news is that it is not that church members have fallen behind in their pledges. 2010 pledges are more or less on schedule. More good news is that the board has not been spending wildly out of control, we are basically on budget for our expenses as well. Amazingly, our deficit has nothing to do with all the work we have put into our building this year either. That money comes from the Restoration Fund, money raised through the campaign and set aside specifically for keeping the roof over our heads.
So if it is none of the above, what is it? The first reason is abysmally low interest rates. We are not making the money we usually do from our investments, which we actually have due to a history of good stewardship of the church. Where once we might have pulled in five to eight per cent in these different accounts, we are getting less than a single percent. Our budget is cut so close to the bone that these percentages matter greatly to our projected income. The second reason for our economic woes is that we always budget a certain amount of money to just fall from the sky. Sometimes this takes the form of renting out the building to the synagogue, as we did a couple of years ago, but usually this financial miracle appears as unexpected big checks in the mailbox from friends of the church. But the recession is finally taking its toll on miracles, and since next year the economy and interest rates will continue to show only tepid signs of recovery, we must now turn to our members to help make up the difference.
We are asking that if you are already giving, please increase your pledge by 20% or more. 25% would be divine. That sounds huge, but if we look at an annual pledge of $500, 20% would mean $600 a year, less than a total of $50 a month, or $12.50 a week and less than $1.75 a day, the price of a cheap latte. You can tell I’ve been listening to public radio pledge week. They use the coffee analogy a lot. We also understand that economic times being what they are, many members cannot possibly increase their level of giving, but we hope to have everyone commit to something. We need to know where we stand for the coming year, so please fill out a card next week on pledging Sunday. If you are putting a certain amount of money in the basket every week, let us know you are going to continue to do that. Every dollar counts, and we are counting every dollar. When money is as tight as it is now, people want to give to places where they believe it will do the most good. I want you to consider this that place. Our church makes a positive difference not just for members, but for the community as a whole. And if you would like to help raise money outside of pledging, we will be doing active fundraising next year, which is not something we usually do, and there will be unique opportunities to join in this effort. Another thing you can do to increase the health of the church is to invite your friends to a service sometime. To know us is to love us, the church is a comfort in hard times and good, and they may be inspired to join us.
This past year, the board has been involved with making the church secure for the future, so that people will continue to have a spiritual home in any time. This means we did not ignore the hidden costs of deferred maintenance, so with the help of a great many dedicated volunteers and a fistful of money, we continued to moved forward in the overall restoration of the building, such as completing the exterior painting and repair, creating a handicap parking area, and initiating plans for full accessibility of the building. In order to help future congregations maintain this expensive building, we are beginning an endowment campaign. We also continue to work towards making the building more available to the wider community. We want to open it up for concerts and events, but we also want everyone, in and out of the church, to continue to have a place to turn to in times of crisis. I certainly had a crisis this year, and even though I was too sick to actually come to church during that time, the church came to me in the form of prayers and help, and it was a comfort to have a place to return to to start picking up my tattered pieces. We can’t do any greater good than to be the place where people come for comfort and find the magic to keep them going. In the next two weeks, let us pledge to keep it that way.
I’d like to finish with these words from Audre Lourde: “To acknowledge privilege is the first step in making it available for wider use. Each of us is blessed in some particular way, whether we recognize our blessings or not. And all of us somewhere in our lives, must clear a space within that blessing where we can call upon whatever resources are available to us in the name of something that must be done.”
“Why I Give” – Holly Tanguay
It should be said in three words, FAITH, FREEDOM and FELLOWSHIP, or in a few more. I give for the same reasons that I am on the Care Committee. I want the Care Committee to exist. I want someone to let me know when a member of the church is struggling. I want to belong to a church where people know and care enough about each other to offer comfort in the form of a card, a visit or a shawl. I want to know that someone will cook meals or drive to appointments or run errands if I, or someone I care about, needs that help. I want to enjoy circle dinners, and game nights. I want my daughter to get a care package at college. As you can see it is all about me.
But it’s enlightened self interest. Rabbi Rami Shapiro had words for it. “Ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices; ours are the hands the eyes the smiles.” If we won’t do it, who will? Just like I want the Care Committee to exist I want this church to exist. I want to sing in the choir, and listen to good sermons, and enjoy the nibbles at coffee hour. Who but we, you and I, can do the kindnesses we all need. Who but we, you and I, can make this building a community. Who but we, you and I, can give pay the bills so all of this good stuff can happen. Nobody.
To paraphrase another rabbi, if not we, who; if not now, when.
“Why I Give” – Josh & Leora Ulrich
I am Josh Ulrich. My wife, Leora, and I, joined you only two years ago. Our children, Quinten and Corryn, are ages seven and eleven. Leora is unable to be here today. This is too bad for me and you …. as I don’t enjoy public speaking; and you are stuck with me.
I can’t tell you whether or not; or how much to donate. All I can hope to do is to share with you what this place has come to mean to us.
Leora and I came to the Unitarian Universalist Church as part of a practical approach to cultivating family. In preparing our children for the world, we address issues honestly. It is our intent that the kids should know something about how to work hard; how to compete, how to fight; to shoot; and to perform as part of a team. They should choose healthy foods and get along with others. We want them to learn from mistakes and strive to improve. They should be fit. They should be able to size people up, and choose good friends. They should stand up for them. Also, for our children, we desire a deep well of meaning. A church. A place where one can absorb lessons about [someday] managing the deaths of loved ones. A place to sanction weddings. To learn about our shared cultural heritage.
Both Leora and I have made past attempts to find the right church. In other places we have failed to find a forthright perspective on religion. I’m speaking of honesty. Honesty, in sizing up other cultures. Honesty in our application of Christian principles to real life. Some mainstream perspectives never rang true for us. The way you refuse to dismiss the beliefs of others is a rare thing. Getting to the point, here. This place does ring true for me. I’ve been moved by many of your heartfelt presentations from the front of this church. I have listened to the talented choir. I’ve heard some of our gifted members perform music. I’ve enjoyed guest speakers such as Lama Marut and the gentleman who wrote the Unitarian book. I’ve had private coffee hour conversations with some of you. My two years of Sundays, and my instinct tells me that you are a wonderfully decent, and thoughtful bunch. We are grateful for having been accepted into your community. Thanks.
My Lucky Charm (Why I Gave) by Janet Ruth Young
Today is Halloween, a good time to talk about luck and superstition. That’s why I give to the church — because this church is my good luck charm.
My life has improved in so many ways since I joined Gloucester UU. I began attending because I had made a deal with God to get over a case of writer’s block. Since that time my publisher brought out one of my books, postponed another, then rejected and finally embraced a third. I’m not sure how many of those decisions had to do with me or the quality of my work. More likely, my fate was controlled by timing, economic conditions, the state of the market as I was ready to hand in a manuscript. In other words, luck.
Through all those changes, this place and this congregation have given me fun distractions and a sense of consistency. I’ve had friends to talk to, projects to work on, people who understood, through their own writing or music, what it means to give your best to a piece of work and have no one read it or listen to it. When this spring I experienced the ultimate bad luck, the loss of my mother, this congregation watched me to see what I needed, then comforted me without the gushing and platitudes that would have felt false.
We’ve all heard those freakish occurrences of good and bad luck: a tree falling on someone’s car, someone else winning ten thousand dollars on a scratch ticket. Yet day to day, in the normal course of things, we make our own luck by choosing the people we surround ourselves with. While suffering the bad luck of losing my parent, I enjoyed the good luck of working with Mark LaPointe on our sexuality program for teens, enjoying Holly Tanguay’s Spanish rice casserole, and receiving a condolence card handmade by a child of this congregation, which read, “With Sympathy!” As this year ends I’m enjoying a run of good fortune. Today, when the offering plate came around, I was able to give a big chunk of my annual pledge, and I know I’ll make good on the rest by year’s end. And I’m going to use my good luck to see if I can bring more good fortune to myself. Because this church is my lucky charm, I’m upping my pledge 25 percent for next year.
My pledge has two more parts to it, and in the spirit of Mitch Cohen and our friends at Temple Achavat Achim, I’m going to promise my support out loud in real dollar amounts.
First, I’m rubbing my good luck charm and I pledge that if my book The Babysitter Murders wins the National Book Award, which comes with a ten thousand dollar prize, I’ll give one thousand dollars of it to the church. Second, I rub my good luck charm and pledge that if the book reaches the New York Times Bestseller List, I will immediately give another one thousand dollars to the church.
Do you believe this church is your good luck charm? If so, think how you might let the church share your good fortune. Who knows? You might get lucky.
In honor of Halloween, I’d like to conclude with this Scottish prayer from The Carmina Gaedelica that reminds us of the mischief all around and how lucky we are to be protected from it.
BLESS, O Chief of generous chiefs,
Myself and everything anear me,
Bless me in all my actions,
Make Thou me safe for ever,
From every brownie and ban-shee,
From every evil wish and sorrow,
From every nymph and water-wraith,
From every fairy-mouse and grass-mouse,
From every troll among the hills,
From every siren hard pressing me,
From every ghoul within the glens,
Oh! save me till the end of my day.