For Whom the Bell Tolls

Rev. Joan Van BecleaereBy Rev. Joan Van Becelaere
CERG Congregational Life Consultant & Regional Lead

A perennial problem with religious organizations is that the professional staff who serve congregations at a district or regional level and those who serve the larger denomination as a whole must be funded somehow, usually through donations from local congregations.  And a question that all congregations face at budget time is – “Why should our congregation pay to support district, regional and home office staff instead of using the resources for local mission opportunities or increasing our church staff?”

In the case of our Unitarian Universalist Association, we rely on the the district, regional and national staff to provide vital services to our congregations:  e.g. transitions support,  faith development curriculum, leadership training,  conflict mediation,  ministerial fellowship,  religious educator credentialing,  growth/stewardship/mission/ vision consultation,  social justice advocacy,  and much more.  (Check out the latest annual report from your district or region for a much longer listing.)

But then some object –
“We don’t use any of these services……well,  we don’t use many of these services……OK, actually, we use most of them…..but not on a regular basis.  So why should we contribute just because it helps other congregations who do need these things now?   Or why should we pay this year when we might not need some of these services until next year?”

These are good questions.  What responsibilities do our congregations really have to one another and to the larger UU movement?   When our congregations join the larger Unitarian Universalist Association and covenant together,  what are we really promising each other?   Is it like our membership covenants in our congregations when we promise to take on the responsibilities of care and support for one another?  Or are our congregations all just Lone Rangers who occasionally nod ‘hello’ to one another  in a crowded hall at General Assembly?    But even the Lone Ranger had a mutually supportive relationship with Tonto.

“No congregation is an island, entire of itself.”

We profess that we are part of a truly interconnected web of existence where each and every part impacts each and every other part.   We know that, working together, we accomplish what no single church, district or region could ever hope to do alone.  In our Fair Share donations, each member, each congregation gives a fair share for the greater growth and impact of UUism. We combine our prayers, presence, gifts and service to make a significant difference in the world.

The English poet, John Donne, wrote “no man is an island.’  As we think about priorities in our budgets for next year,  I challenge us all to read this poem  – substituting  “congregation” for the word  “man.”

John DonneNo man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

poet John Donne
#29 on Poet’s Page website.

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Pittsburgh Cluster is “Better Together”

Greater Pittsburgh Cluster Choir
Greater Pittsburgh Cluster Choir

As the choir joined voices from neighboring congregations into a rousing rendition of the Turtles’ song “Happy Together,” the cluster of UU churches in the Greater Pittsburgh area joined in their first annual “Cluster Assembly” and voted themselves into being on November 1, 2014.

Pittsburgh Cluster WorkshopThe day started with an opening worship complete with banner parade and the participation of all of the area clergy. Using the theme “We Are Better Together” they wove their past and future into a story of long-time relationship. First Pittsburgh Assistant Minister Rev. Robin Zucker looked back to 1804 when the Meadville Unitarian Conference was first formed. First Pittsburgh Religious Educator Jennifer Halperin highlighted learning together. The Rev. Renee Waun (who serves four of the cluster churches on a part-time basis) held up their tradition of marching together in the local Pride march.

Pittsburgh Cluster Keynote GatheringThe eighty or so participants spent the rest of the morning attending one of six breakout workshops on various topics, including:

  • Anita Mentzer, the Director of UUPLAN (the Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network) was available to meet with activists interested in working with other congregations in the state.
  • Representatives from four congregations shared their best Stewardship Practices with interested attendees.
  • Another group participated in a worship associate training based on Erika Hewitt’s book The Shared Pulpit and led by Rev. Zucker.

After a lovely Cajun lunch from a local caterer, the eleven congregations voted to affirm the cluster, to adopt their founding structure including a mission statement (see inset) and bylaws. All of the member congregations were represented and (and their founding dates) include:

  • Mission Statement

    UU Congregation of Smithton (1860)

  • First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh (1890)
  • Allegheny UU Church (1905)
  • UU Fellowship of Morgantown (1954)
  • First UU Church of Indiana, PA (1958)
  • UU Church of the North Hills (1961)
  • UU Church of the South Hills (1965)
  • East Suburban UU Church (1966)
  • UU Church of the Ohio Valley (1976)
  • UU Fellowship Ligonier Valley (1988)
  • Ginger Hill UU Congregation (2003)

They also elected their first Board of Directors:

  • John Graham, East Suburban UU Church
  • Michael Hennessy, UU Church of the South Hills
  • Pat Jacobson, UU Church of the Ohio Valley
  • Midge Miles, UU Church of the North Hills
  • Ron Smutny, UU Church of the South Hills
  • Kurt Summersgill, First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh
  • Mark Tomlinson, Allegheny UU Church
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