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Generous Spirits: Transforming Stewardship
General Assembly 2014 Event 246
How do we successfully raise the money we need to keep our Unitarian Universalist faith creative, relevant and transformational? The answers might surprise you. Come join us for a worshipful experience that also provides UUs, in congregations and beyond, with take-home tools for successful fundraising.
- Rev. Vail Weller
- Rev. Darcy Roake
Order of Service
Rev. Vail Weller
Welcome into this time and this place,
Into what we hope is an island of peace in the busy-ness that is General Assembly.
Let’s take a moment to center together in silence, as the sounds of life go on around and within us.
Allow yourself to breathe deeply, to feel your body in this place,
And to arrive fully into this time of worship and reflection. (1 minute quiet)
We kindle the light of our chalice,
Calling to mind and heart those who have blessed us with their generosity,
By inspiring us to be more generous ourselves.
Here are some questions for us to contemplate as we enter into worship together.
Who are those who have given you gifts that have changed you?
Who do you think of as the most generous soul you know?
When have you given a gift that changed you?
What made it possible for you to open up and give in that way?
Introduction to Stewardship
Rev. Vail Weller
"For most of human history, our lives were defined by scarcity. Today, the defining feature of social, economic, and cultural life is abundance. Abundance has brought beautiful things to our lives, but that bevy of material goods has not necessarily made us happier."—Making the Annual Pledge Drive Obsolete; Timothy Dombek & Michael Durall
Stewardship Truth #1: Stewardship is a Spiritual Issue
Hymn 402: “From You I Receive, To You I Give”
Stewardship Truth #2—We Have The Money To Give
Rev. Vail Weller
I invite you now into that still place within, a place of contemplation, meditation, prayer.
Feel your awareness expanding, so that the world that we live in, the faith that we practice, is one of gracious generosity, and true abundance.
Without putting any limits on possibilities, I want to ask you into a time of imagination.
The question I want you to consider is:
What would an abundantly funded Unitarian Universalism look like in your congregation?
What would be possible? What would be happening? What would be thriving?
Think big. Now think bigger.
What would an abundantly funded Unitarian Universalism look like in your district? In your region? In our nation? In the world?
You’re invited to call out some of the possibilities, so that we can take this inspiration back home and paint these pictures for our people.
This place of imagination, possibility, and abundance is where we want you to be living when you are working with the sacred topic of stewardship in your congregation.
Meditative Hymn 123: Spirit of Life
Stewardship Truth #3: Ask and Ye Shall Receive
The ASK Exercise
Rev. Darcy Roake
Stewardship Truth #4: Giving is not a logical decision, it is an emotional one
Reading: Saint Judas
Rev. Darcy Roake
Spoiler alert- I'm pregnant. I know, you can hardly tell, right?... Many of you may know some of the attendant emotions that come with bringing a new life into this world- excitement, terror, joy, terror and...expectation. For me...expectation....most of all.
What will this child look like? What will they be like? How soon is too soon to help prepare his or her Nobel Peace Prize speech? But beyond this hoping and dreaming- beyond anything else- is an irrational bone-deep love. A love that is already throwing so many of these expectations out the window. Because, I know, that if my child has four toes or loves elevator music or doesn't want to hear me sing my beautiful, off-key Nina Simone standards- this child will be deeply, deeply loved for exactly who he or she is.
I can weave a myriad of narratives of what this child is supposed to be. My love, however, will weave a narrative far stronger than any I can imagine. That narrative will be of a child fated to have the personality that he or she does, fated to love the things he or she loves and fated to, perhaps fairly, scoff at my singing voice. This is because my love, that bone-deep love, will guide me as a parent first and foremost. Only from that place of bone-deep love will my own expectations follow.
And this understanding—of love first, expectations second - is how I try, and sometimes fail, to live a faithful life as a Unitarian Universalist. Because expectations, while hopeful or exciting initially, can quickly become demands or strictures—a way to box in opportunity and growth in favor of what we feel we individually need at that very moment. We see this in our every day in our UU faith.
We expect, nay we demand, meaningful worship.
We expect, nay we demand, more social justice work.
We expect, nay we demand more oversight.
We, expect, nay we demand, that our individual spiritual needs are cared for.
And we expect, nay we demand, that all of this happen with fewer and fewer resources.
As mentioned earlier, Unitarian Universalists are some of the wealthiest religious people in the United States and yet we give the least among religious communities to our faith tradition.
And I do not think it is because we are greedy—far from it. We give to many causes. But when it comes to that which moves us most to do great things in the world—our faith—we forget our bone-deep love and lead instead with expectations of what we want and we need. These become our, to coin a phrase, not-so-great expectations.
These not-so-great expectations lead to UU churches in which congregants cry out for social justice change with any number of programs but refuse to put in a budget line for healthcare for their staff.
These not-so-great expectations lead to Churches where the Minister works a six & a half day week and whose salary is scrutinized every Budget Meeting.
These not-so-great expectations lead to UU's refusing to give to our larger faith because they don't like the way our leadership preaches or the fact that we're moving our headquarters.
These not-so-great expectations lead us to be unable to see the forest of love and faith through the trees of demands and needs.
Leading from love and generosity and not expecting "immediate return on investment" is hard. We ask and expect so much of our UU faith because we navigate a world that is difficult and bruising and chaotic. We want a beloved community that protects us and works to change so much of what is unjust in this world. And each of us thinks we know exactly how to do that work; exactly what we need to expect to get this life-affirming, divine work DONE.
But the hardest and most wonderful and terrifying thing about human beings, about, God, about our Unitarian Universalism, about the world itself, is that we are constantly defying expectations. In James Wright's poem, St, Judas that I read today, Judas is imagined as defying those expectations that he himself has built, that very day, with his betrayal of Jesus. All that past evil—cast aside in one moment of deep love and selflessness with the dying man on the road. Does that acquit him of his past misdeeds? I'm not sure if that's the point. I do know that in that moment he is guided by love rather than expectations of who he is supposed to be. And he is all the better for it.
Which leads me to wonder how we let our faith, our people, be nurtured and grow in unexpected ways. How do we trust each other, our faith, enough to begin to think about what we can do for it—with the time we give, with the resources we give, with the skills we give—rather than what it immediately does for us? There is a retired Protestant Minister that I have built a relationship with in my time in Stewardship & Development at the UUA. Though she converted to
Unitarian Universalism years ago—teaching the Queen of Cakes Curriculum, leading pastoral care groups, jumping into the work of several congregations—it became too difficult of a process for her to be ordained as a UU Minister under the UUA's Ministerial Fellowship Guidelines. Though this has been a great disappointment to her, she continues to nurture her bone-deep love for Unitarian Universalism—participating and giving a large percent of her income to our faith as well as including the UUA in her will as part of our legacy giving—ensuring that her generosity and love for Unitarian Universalism will bear fruit for generations. In doing this she practically glows in recognizing what she is able to do for Unitarian Universalism AND what it continues to do for her. I look to this amazing Minister when I get caught up in my own trees of expectations as I go through the Preliminary Fellowship Process towards becoming a "full-fledged" fellowshipped Minister. How am I forgetting, at times, to love my faith and not get caught up in the not-so-great expectations of what I deserve or what I immediately need?
The reminder to lead from love and to defy expectations is easier when you've got a baby inside you kicking constantly. Daring you to guess what's to come but mainly asking you to love him or her. As Unitarian Universalists we need to do our own nudging, perhaps even, at times, our own—metaphorical!—kicking, to help each other see that forest of love through the trees of not-so-great expectations. Because this is a saving faith that deserves our bone-deep love—it is there for us as we celebrate the beauty and mystery of life and it is there for us when we are hopeless about the world that surrounds us. We must be fully present and there for Unitarian Universalism as well—in our love, in our trust and in our generosity. And then, only then, from that place of bone-deep love can our hopes, our dreams and yes, our great expectations become a radical, beautiful reality.
Stewardship Truth #5: Unitarian Universalism is at the heart of our lives
- Stewardship is a spiritual issue.
- We have the money to give.
- Ask and Ye Shall Receive.
- Giving is not a logical decision; it is an emotional one.
- Unitarian Universalism is at the heart of our lives. May our giving reflect these truths!
Hymn 95: "There is More Love Somewhere"
Rev. Darcy Roake
There is too much hardship in this world
to not find joy,
There is too much injustice in this world
to not right the balance,
There is too much pain in this world
to not heal,
Each of us ministers to a weary world,
Let us go forth and do that which calls us to make this world
and more filled with the grace of divine presence,
- Five Stewardship Truths (PDF, 4 pages) by Rev. Vail Weller
- Making the Case and Ask (PDF, 2 pages)
- Readings for Generous Spirits: Transforming Stewardship (PDF, 3 pages)
Audio recordings of General Assembly (GA) programs are available for purchase. Every GA 2014 registrant has access to all of the 2014 audio content at no charge.