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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