Ohio Issue 1 – Electoral Justice Issue

Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, UUA President

Ohio Issue 1, if passed, will dismantle much of the mass incarceration system in Ohio by reducing felony drug possession convictions to misdemeanors retroactively.  This aligns with our UU commitments to resist white supremacy, embody solidarity with those harmed by the prison system and prioritize resources for people healing from substance use.  Learn more about the issue from our partner, Ohio Organizing Collaborative.

Want to help? You can even if you aren’t in Ohio or unable to attend the get out the vote efforts.

Help with phone banks and get out the votes: Sign up here

Those in Ohio or nearby have an opportunity to be the boots on the ground November 3rd and 4th.

Unitarian Universalists, including UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, and UU Justice Ohio (UUJO) will join faith and grassroots partners to canvass and give people rides to the polls for early voting on Saturday & Sunday on Nov. 3rd & 4th in Cleveland, Ward 9.

Khnemu Foundation Lighthouse Center, known as The Lighthouse (956 E 105th St, Cleveland, OH 44108), and a part of the Organizing Ohio Collaborative will serve as the organizing hub. Training will be provided at the Center and volunteers will be asked to sign up for shifts. The polls are open between 8 am & 4 pm on Saturday and from 1-5 pm on Sunday.

During the weekend, we will have opportunities to come together for fellowship, networking, and worship. Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray will be preaching at the Sunday worship on November 4th at West Shore UU Church  in Rocky River Ohio before heading out with fellow UUs to bring ‘Souls to the Polls’ in Ward 9.

Sign up here if you would like to participate in the Nov. 3-4 weekend and we will send your more detailed information.

If you are interested in learning more about what is happening in Ohio, check out the UU Justice Ohio (UUJO) website for other events and trainings happening in Ohio. If you are not in Ohio but want to volunteer to help with other election trainings and events around the country, check the UUA webpage on Election Reform.

 

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Falling Off the Log

Rev. Sunshine Wolfe

“You promised Sunshine. You go first.”

I looked at the telephone pole 30 feet in the air on a mountain where we were 5,000 feet above sea level. She was right, I had promised that if asked any of the Coming of Age youth to do something, I would do it too. At that time, the ropes course was months away and barely worth my notice. Now, here it was. Very real and very high.

Did I mention I’m afraid of falling? It’s not heights. I can be high- it’s falling.

Our task, while harnessed for safety, was to climb up, walk across the phone pole that narrowed to six inches on the other side and then walk to the middle. All of that seemed reasonable and doable. The next part, so much not. We were to stand on the middle of the beam, lean backward, keeping the rope on the harness tight, until we were very nearly upside down and then to “swing” safely to the ground. All the while, looking upside down at the desert valley below.

For the record, I survived. And the teen who insisted I go first did it and survived.

Why do I share this story in a blog post introducing myself as the newest Congregational Field Staff in the Central East Region? First, because this job feels as big as that moment. Intense, terrifying, exciting, and totally worth it. Second, because I make the same promise to you. I will not ask you to do anything I am not willing to do. Of course, I won’t be asking you to fall off a rope’s course willingly, but I am aware that much of what we are asked to do in our congregations can feel just as intense.

I come to this work because I believe that our congregations have the potential to heal and energize our world. Finding the healthiest path is sometimes amazing and easy and everything we want it to be. More often, it is messy, hard, and a challenge to our very core.

I came to this denomination in my 20s. As a child, I was raised by my atheist father, my eastern Cherokee and Seminole mother, and Catholic grandparents. My mother kept religious texts and symbols from many different religious traditions and paths around the house. In many ways, I was raised a U.U. without every seeing a church. Within two years of joining my first congregation in Tucson, AZ I was hired as the Spiritual Development Director (Coming of Age, high school, and adult religious education). In this job, I discovered the call to interim ministry.

I went to Starr King School for the Ministry to become an interim ministry. In the last six years, I’ve served congregations in Montgomery, AL, Alton, IL, and Syracuse, NY as interim minister. I have completed the certification training for The Interim Ministry Network. It is work that I love and yet…

I have watched regionalization roll out across the denomination and seen the great health and connection it has brought to congregation after congregation. I have been impressed and supported by regional staff. When this position opened, I jumped at the opportunity.

I want our congregations to be the healthiest places they can be so that they can do their good work in the world. As Congregational Field Staff, I think I am especially well placed to do this with you and your leaders in concert with an amazing team of Regional Staff dedicated to work with you.

I will be working with 30 congregations across Ohio and western Pennsylvania. In addition, I will be the primary Regional Staff Lead for the Summer Institute, supporting the Commissioned Lay Ministry Program (Hope Johnson will be lead), and collaborating with regional staff to form a conflict resolution team responding to incidents of conflict with religious professionals and leaders of color. All of this helps build connection and healing and growth for our members and our movement.

I bring to this work, experience of attending and/or working with Unitarian Universalist congregations in nine states and four regions, experience as a religious educator and a minister, and experience working on particular programs as well as systemic process. I simply love systems theory even with its challenges and complexities. I’ve taught and created curriculum around anti-oppression and anti-racism work. I have specialties in governance/board work, after-pastor congregations (where professional misconduct has occurred), countering oppression work, religious education, creative worship, and collaborative leadership. Working with this region’s congregations, I look forward to expanding my knowledge, experience, and skill.

I am based in Columbus, OH and will be traveling quite a lot. That said, I am available for phone, Zoom, and in-person meetings when needed. If you have questions about how I can support you and your congregation, please feel free to reach out.

In the meantime:

“Cause trouble and comfort in equal measure.”

With blessings on the journey,

Rev. Sunshine J. Wolfe

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Congregation in “Rust Belt” Increases Pledges 30%

You don’t have to be in a growing area to see growth and vitality in your congregation. What you do need is energy, focus and a strong sense of purpose. Recently, Andy Crabb, the President of the First Unitarian Church of Youngstown, OH, posted how his congregation had a significant increase in pledges this past Fall.  -Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Primary Contact

UU Youngstown Congregation

The First Unitarian of Youngstown, Ohio just had our pledge drive in the fall and got an almost 30% increase in pledges.

We are going to present a balanced budget at our congregational meeting later this month.  The keys for us were to have an integrated pledge program and to be as transparent as possible about what we were spending money on and why we wanted more.  That doesn’t mean we buried people in financial details, but rather that we explained key points:

  • that we wanted to increase our UUA contribution to be closer to fair share,
  • that we wanted to have more hours for our office administrator to do the routine communication tasks that everyone asks of her,
  • that we wanted to continue to support involvement in community activities,
  • that we want to give raises to our staff (including our new, freshly ordained minister) so they see that we have a viable career path for them,
  • that we need to operate the building, and
  • that we have had shortfalls for the past several years that required late year special appeals and we don’t want to have to do that anymore.

Anyone who wants financial details can have them, but most people don’t need or want them, at least at first, so we didn’t bury them with numbers.

One of our stewardship co-chairs is a new member and she observed that we never talked about money when she first came to us.  We’ve changed that.  We now bring it up regularly as a fact of life.  Again, transparency is the key.  No one is trying to get away with anything or trick anyone or be cute about pledging.  We all want to see UUYO do well and we are being clear and open about what it takes to make all of the things that we came to UUYO to do, happen.

Key elements of our Stewardship Campaign:

  • We had a plan and a financial goal before the campaign started.
  • We made a brochure that focused on what we do and why, then stated the costs and the income needs.  We spent a little bit ($200 or so) to print up a very nice, quality color 11×17 single fold brochure with lots of relevant pictures and mission stories that really impress.
  • During the stewardship drive, we had a special dinner for our biggest givers to thank them and encourage increased giving, especially to help bridge the gap until newer members can reach higher giving levels.
  • We personally contacted and where possible met with all other members to review our plans and clearly state our financial plan and goals.
  • We promoted automatic giving as a prominent part of our pledge campaign with great success (we use Vanco).

Stewardship is integrated into the life of the congregation by:

  • Having an active membership program for new members that gets them involved right away and that presents the same information as we give our members about money.
  • Having active worship associates and hospitality teams with broad participation to keep all members involved and feeling connected to and invested in our vitality as a group and promoting this in the pledge campaign.
  • Making as many opportunities as possible for members to do things and feel connected to and valued by the church because that is how people come to where they want to give to and support the church.
  • Looking for where we had entrenched individuals and/or groups always doing “everything” and bring new people in to help.
  • Separating “governance” activities from “mission” activities.  Both are necessary, but most people came to us for “mission” activities, so we focus on making sure there are plenty of them and keep “governance” to just where it is really needed.
  • Creating opportunities to learn leadership skills.  These are valuable in all aspects of our lives and provide great opportunities for personal growth and enrichment of our lives.

In closing – it seems to me that whether we do year-round-pledging or all at once pledging, closely tying the pledge campaign with the members and the activities of the church is critical for the success of the pledge drive.  If the pledge drive doesn’t clearly tie to the mission and activities of the church, it will be less effective because the connection with the members and what brought them to UUYO is what really made the pledge campaign a success for us.

-Andy Crabb, President, First Unitarian Church of Youngstown, OH. (UUYO)

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Interfaith Anti-Racism & Anti-Supremacy Work in Bellville, OH

In Mount Vernon, Knox County, Ohio, interfaith classes confronting White Supremacy were developed in response to the larger community’s clear lack of understanding on issues of racism.

Rev. Scott Elliot with the First Congregational UCC Black Lives Matter Banner before it was stolen.

In Feb. 2016, First Congregational UCC raised a Black Lives Matter banner on the outside of their church. The Church was vandalized and the sign was stolen. Rev. Scott Elliot, pastor of First Congregational called the police, and was astonished when the responding officer said, “#BLM movement is “officially connected to terrorism by the government” and that the message’s terrorist nature likely upset the community…”

Rev. Scott probed further, seeking the name agency that placed #BLM on the terrorist list. The officer could not find it, and subsequently apologized for the error.

This was significant event, and it needed a real, compassionate response. At All Souls UU in Bellville, the church draws from both Richland and Knox Counties. The congregation felt a responsibility to help. All Souls UU reached out to Rev. Scott to offer assistance, the result was the development of a Fall 2016 9 week study group confronting the issues of White Supremacy and White Privilege.

This new collaboration then led to an interfaith service celebrating the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. And this led to the development of a Spring 2017 class on issue of White Supremacy that included more local area faith communities, including the Apostolic Faith Church, Beulah Apostolic Church and the Mount Vernon Zen Community.

These classes were led by a collaborative interfaith team (Rev. Scott Elliott of First Congregational UCC, Father David Kendall-Sperry of St. Paul Episcopal Church, Pastor Will Humphrey of All Souls UU, Rev. Denise Marikis of Gay St. UMC, and Pastor Eddie Massey of Apostolic Faith Church.) This pastoral partnership will continue this fall with goals of continuing education for the larger community and increasing the involvement of county/city officials.

This story appeared in the UU Justice Ohio Newsletter last week and was contributed by Rev. Joan Van Becelaere.

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More Congregational Social Justice

Image courtesy of John Kasawa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of John Kasawa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This month we are continuing to run social justice stories we received from congregations.

 

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Canton, Ohio

Every Sunday at 1:00, people who are hungry for a meal assemble on the lawn west of Market Street between 3rd and 4th Streets, where various churches and other organizations set up tables to distribute food and sometimes clothing to any who have gathered there.

The UCC church faithfully sets up tables and hands out a variety of hot foods every Sunday. Other groups, like ours, contribute less often. Every month there are familiar faces and new faces waiting in line.

 

On the Sunday before Christmas, we came to Kresge Square with homemade cookies and hats, gloves and scarves donated by UUCGC members and friends. There were so many cold winter accessories that we needed two tables to stack them on. It was gray, cold, and muddy. The people who came by the tables looked grimly through the hats and gloves, nodding with satisfaction when they found something that could fit them. “My little girl needs a new pair of gloves. She just keeps growing,” one man told me as he picked up a small pair of pink fleece gloves. Picking out the right pair of gloves, the hat that would fit, or a warm scarf was serious business. But when we pointed to our other table across the lawn, the table that displayed plates of homemade cookies, faces brightened. Two men pretended to steal an entire plate of cookies but returned laughing when the teens called after them. Another guy flirted with my 71-year-old mother, complimenting her on her Christmas tree earrings and asking her for a date. I like to talk smack about the Browns this time of year since so many people show up in Browns and Steelers gear.

 

On another Sunday, the weekend before Thanksgiving this year, Max and I put about 100 sandwiches and 20 juice boxes into a large plastic tub and carried it between us to the long line that snaked across the lawn as people waited for the UCC volunteers to set up their tables. It was a cold day, and we were all shivering. Those without gloves were holding them under their armpits, stomping their feet to keep them warm. The mood was more than usually pleasant, though, no doubt helped by a band of four musicians who had braved the cold temperatures and set up near a picnic table where they played guitars, violin, and a horn. The atmosphere was festive, and our sandwiches were welcomed. Our juice boxes, as always, disappeared within seconds. As Max once said to a visiting youth who wondered whether anyone really appreciates our tuna fish and egg sandwiches, “We don’t do it because we want their gratitude, we do it because they’re hungry.” But there was not one person who accepted a sandwich from us who didn’t thank us sincerely and bless us for coming down.

 

No moment during my own Thanksgiving celebration later that week made me feel as grateful, happy, and blessed as I felt to walk somewhat shyly among strangers and offer them food made by the children of our congregation.

—by Erin Dubois

 

First Universalist Church of Rochester, New York

Members and friends of the First Universalist Church of Rochester, NY, recently contributed nearly $500 to Interfaith Impact of New York State through a pass the plate for justice emphasis during a Sunday morning service. Interfaith Impact is a state-wide advocacy network composed of Unitarian Universalists, Reform Jews and progressive Protestants who advocate on state-wide issues. The particular focus of the contribution was on stopping hydrofracking in New York State.

 

Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland

Newly called minister Rev. Joe Cherry has brought a different way of giving to the community. In an acknowledgement that the minister’s ministry is never solely to the members and friends of the church, nor contained to the walls, Joe has asked his congregation to tithe some of his ministerial time. Through a lottery selection of organizations suggested by members, he is giving around four hours a week to organizations outside the church.

 

North Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Lewis Center, Ohio

The NUUC Social Action Committee (SAC) has been involved in numerous projects during 2014 to raise awareness, encourage participation in social justice, and provide assistance to address human needs.  Our congregation participated in UUSC’s Guest at Your Table program, hosted an Empty Bowls luncheon to raise money for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, collected school supplies to benefit students served by the Delaware County Juvenile Probation Department, and collected gifts and donations to support Montana de Luz, a faith based organization in rural Honduras that provides a home for children affected by HIV/AIDS.  Each month we donate our Loose Change Offering to an organization that provides educational awareness or support services to those impacted by social injustice.  Our monthly Fair Trade sales of coffee and chocolate support fair wages for farmers and the proceeds from sales are used to sponsor a child at Montana de Luz.

 

During 2015 the Social Action Committee offered several educational programs on different social justice topics to provide information to members of our congregation and the surrounding community.  Our environmental group watched “The Story of Solutions” discussed steps we can take to move toward a more sustainable future.  We showed A “Place at the Table”, a documentary about hunger in America.  We hosted a screening and discussion of  “Disruption! “. We sent ribbons for the Climate Ribbon Project with two members to  the People’s Climate March in New York City.  We also showed “Dollarocracy – The Influence of Money on Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It.”

 

 

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Congregations Create Unique Stewardship Plans Part 2

This weekend, the Up Close issue for November featured three congregations with unique stewardship plans. Here are two more we’d like to share. If your congregation has a new way of handling stewardship, please let us know in the comments.

“Our Financial Health” at Marietta

FUUSM (First UU Society of Marietta, OH) has begun a regular process of educating our congregation about financial stewardship called “Our Financial Health.”   This initiative began Oct 19 with a short presentation before the offertory during the worship service. Our minister, Rev. Kathryn Hawbaker, gave a brief introduction,  noted our annual service auction and made the point that, although fundraisers are important,  77% of the income of our annual operating budget comes from pledges.

We shall continue this series of brief presentations at Sunday service. Subsequent presentations will describe the other features of our annual operating budget, then a description of our trust funds and how we use earnings from these funds to support improvements & renovations of our historic building.  In later presentations we will get into how the trust funds work, a new trust fund to support non-capital projects (“Funding our Values”) and special funds (outside of the operating budget and trust funds), such as our Community Meal Fund, Green Sanctuary Fund.
This initiative  was started by leaders who believe that it is not helpful to talk about finances only one time a year at the annual fund drive. The book “Cultivating Generosity,” by Rem Stokes, has informed much of the thinking on this subject.

Stewardship Team Works Year-Round

Wooster Stewardship TeamThis year, the UU Fellowship of Wayne County (UUFWC) Stewardship Committee has been:

  • Shifting to a year round committee – to create a culture of giving
  • Working with the Leadership Development Team (LDT) and Volunteer Coordinator – to increase the volunteer base
  • Working with Finance to determine the annual budget needs – to increase communication about financial stewardship between committees and to the fellowship
  • Working toward a definition of a successful campaign (dollars and participation)

Successes:

  • We increased participation – 75% responded to the “how do you want to be contacted?” survey
  • We used a multi-prong communication approach – email, face-to-face, telephone; still worked out as an every member canvass
  • Faster & easier canvass – most people preferred email; 79% of pledge goal reached in 30 days (versus 80% in 70 days during last year’s drive) – very few visiting steward requests allowed for quicker pledge responses
  • We encouraged fellowship leaders (X-team, volunteer coordinator and committee chairs) to help communicate concrete examples of what a pledge actually supports and allows the fellowship to provide.
  • We created and presented a celebration of giving service to thank the fellowship for their generosity
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