Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.
Ann Perry and I were in a New UU session this past week. It was the first of two sessions and we had not yet talked about Stewardship, but somehow it came up. Ann shared that she had been doing some cleaning at her home and found lots of old canvass materials. She commented on how it was abundantly clear in what she found that only slightly more members than now have raised nearly the same amount of money every year, year after year, for years.
Rather than understanding that as something to worry about, she wondered if it might reveal an amazing stability for UUCSH. This has been happening during the time when many faith communities have experienced declining attendance, declining numbers of members, and the resulting decline in financial resources. But we are staying about the same. That is a sign of stability.
UUCSH’s consistency is happening during the decade when poll after poll shows that Americans are the least religious as they have ever been. The number of people in faith communities has been in decline since the early ’70s. Polls show that the percentage of Americans who declared “no religious preference” in 2012 was more than twice the percentage of Americans who said the same in 1990. What Americans said about having no religious preference in 2012 was four times higher than in 1972. And now, nearly ten years past the great demise of faith communities in America, those who say they aren’t religious is even more pronounced, especially among those younger than the baby boomers.
Yet a recent Pew Research Center study has found that in the US, since the pandemic began, people are reporting a much a higher need and a much stronger desire for a close relationship with their congregations. It seems that societal chaos and widespread grief is leading people to search for what we might call a spiritual home.
When I asked Ann if I had quoted her correctly for the beginning of this sermon, she added:
“UUCSH is a stable little congregation with a lovely building that is coming up on a quarter century together. We enjoy each other, celebrate our successes, and we grieve our losses together. It is a great place to raise your children and be in a community that gives meaning and purpose to your life.”—Ann Perry, Vice President and Membership Chair, UUCSH
Meaning, purpose, and an all-welcoming community is what you are making an investment in when you make your annual pledge of support. We began the stewardship drive to raise funds for the next church year in earnest this past Friday evening.
Let me be clear: it isn’t the same people who give the same dollars year after year. Who gives what shifts as it needs to. Some of us are making less than we used to. Some are making more. What we bring in is not always under our control. What each person or family needs to pay out in expenses is their business. What we can trust is that you will make a pledge, because you know we are all in this together.
Who gives what changes. We are not the very same group of people year after year. Who gives changes. We have grieved our losses. And we have welcomed new folks, new families, new children who keep being born, even while dear ones die or move away.
We think of our community as “all of us together.” It takes all of us, even if we aren’t the same “all of us” year after year. We continue to have members who have been here nearly 25 years. But there are more and more who joined fifteen, ten, five, or even one year ago, and some may join next week. New folks keep showing up, keep finding what they want and need to find, here.
Ann remarked that we likely need to let go of the idea that any minute there will be 20 new people at our Zoom door, waiting to come into our virtual space. And when we do finally reopen our physical building doors, we need to realize it isn’t likely that we are going to find 20 folks just waiting to come through the doors.
Many congregations fall for the myth that bigger is better, and keep expecting it to happen any minute. They believe that the more people there are, the more financial resources there will be. That is not necessarily true. More people bring more expenses. Or it may always be a barely break-even proposition, no matter what size a congregation grows to be.
Whatever size we are is okay. It is who we are. And like UUs from the beginning of the American experiment, we do a whole lot with what we have. No matter what size we are, we have a lot.
They say that you are likely to find only three out of every 1000 people who identify as UU. That is more numbers than the just over 1000 UU congregations right now who report a member total around 154,000. So, maybe there are a few more potential UUs out there looking for us and us for them, so we can again be “all of us together.”
You could have done the math already and know that the “average” UU congregation is about 150 or so members. But really, there is nothing average about UUs. That is because for such a small amount of UU congregations and congregants, compared to the total population, we UUs get amazing things done. We are leaders.
There are three UUs in the current US Congress—that’s .6% of the total members of Congress!—double the .3% of the overall population who identify as UU. I keep hearing about UUs running for office all over the country. We have way more influence than our size might make you think.
Of course, the stewardship team and I were thinking “all of us together… again, very soon.” These 13 months of being out of the building and out of “touch” with each other is enough already!
Yet look at all we have learned. How to do virtual worship and make it ours. How to create circles of contact and care so we stay in touch with everyone. How to significantly and generously give to community organizations who are doing direct care for those in need; the Share the Plate giving has been amazingly successful. How to do a lively, fun, and great virtual auction. How to pay our pledges online or with an app. How to create our own virtual choir performances. How to take advantage of being out of the building, as soon we will engage in UU communion again, drinking coffee and tea prepared in our brand-new warming kitchen in Fellowship Hall. There has been so much we have learned together.
What else can you think of?
Going forward, we have great plans for bouncing back even better in 2021.
We are in the process now of creating a support group for caregivers who have loved ones with mental health concerns. We already have a task force working on creating a multi-platform worship service that you will be able to be part of whether in the sanctuary, or in your home. We will continue partnering with other congregations to worship together, do children’s religious education programming together, and have fun together. As an act of reparation, we are making plans to offer our building to any historically marginalized group that needs meeting space.
We are committed to being the best little church on the block!
The most important thing is, we have remained close and consistent while physically apart from each other. Together again, we can and we will create something truly transcendent.
Please answer the communication you will receive from your visiting steward. In conversation with them, ask questions, share your thoughts, and finish up by filling out the online pledge form, or one to be mailed in, in a way that feels parallel to what you have received from UUCSH, and what you want others to receive. We are All of Us in this Together!
Ann Perry (or maybe I should say her granddaughter Anna) created this “All of Us Together” movie that we debuted at the pledge event this past Friday evening. We hope you’ll watch it!