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Greater Good Project

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Borrowing and adapting an idea from an evangelical Christian church, the First Unitarian Church in Rochester, NY, has developed an amazing holiday tradition called the Greater Good Project. Congregants decide how much they spend on the holidays and give half of that to the church! The children then decide what local and international charities the money will support. After five years, this remarkable project provides a whole new meaning to the holidays for hundreds of Unitarian Universalist (UU) families and for the people they help.

Download Episode Seventeen (MP4) (right-click to save the file).



REV. PETER MORALES: Christmas is such an interesting holiday for you UUs. Beyond struggling with the traditional theology of the season, many of us resist the emphasis on spending and consumerism. At First Unitarian in Rochester, New York, they've come up with an extraordinary holiday event called the Greater Good Project. After you see this, you may never look at Christmas the same way again.


REV. KAAREN ANDERSON: That first year we did the project and we implemented it, and we raised $80,000, just by having people look at their Christmas spending and cutting it in 1/2, and giving 1/2 to the church for the Greater Good.

WENDI CROSS: For us, the Greater Good was incredibly important, because in our family I was brought up Christian, my husband was brought up Jewish, and we were in some ways like a lot of families, kind of on this train of holiday spending, of holiday celebrations that didn't feel like they had much meaning for us.

REV. KAAREN ANDERSON: We really root it in, what did Jesus work on and celebrate in his life? And it was about service to others. So this is all about giving to needs greater than your own.

SPEAKER 1: So here's the concise version of how First Unitarian in Rochester does the Greater Good. In early fall, a group of adults reviews several potential projects, both local and international, that might split the money. And then the adults bow out.

REV. SCOTT TAYLER: So one of things that I love about The Greater Good is the way that we have woven the idea of a child shall lead us into the project. And we take that incredibly seriously.

WENDI CROSS: There's presentations about each of the projects. We make these icons so that, you know, if you can't read, that's OK.

SPEAKER 2: So if you want to make sure that around 90 inner-city families like mine get fresh food to eat instead of processed or fast food, circle this icon.


SPEAKER 3: So these are the three choices that are going to be on your ballot next week, OK? When you go into the voting booth, you're going to see these three choices on your ballot, and you're going to have to circle the one that you feel most strongly about, in terms of sending our Greater Good funds to them.

REV. SCOTT TAYLER: The kids decide which, one local and one international project, all our money will go to.

WENDI CROSS: They even get a little sticker that says, I voted today, just like the adults do.

REV. SCOTT TAYLER: It's made the kids feel like this is their project, not just something that they're being told to do, but they really feel that the Greater Good project is theirs. They've taken ownership.

SPEAKER 1: A new face to the Greater Good in Rochester is the observance of Black Friday.

REV. SCOTT TAYLER: Black Friday being the biggest shopping day, the day that happens after Thanksgiving. our folks really pushed us to have a religious service, a whole day that was sort of a countercultural, not just statement over and against the materialism of Black Friday, but a day that actually took on the materialism of Black Friday.

SPEAKER 4: What you were talking about here. So I bought a router that I don't need.

REV. SCOTT TAYLER: --Unitarians. So I'm going to give you your penance pennant. So this is your instruction. You have to go, go and sin no more, but want what you already have.

SPEAKER 4: All right. That's great.

REV. SCOTT TAYLER: If you brought your unwanted gifts, please raise them high in the sky. And as you all come around and pick up your gifts, let us all think to ourselves and commit to ourselves, make a huge commitment to getting rid of our unwanted stuff in our lives, so that we can focus on what we really, really want.

SPEAKER 1: The project culminates with the Greater Good service in December, and the giving of the incredible offering.

REV. KAAREN ANDERSON: We've done this project for five years. We have given away over $275,000.

WENDI CROSS: Our holiday celebration now is so different than what it was six years ago. We have now gone from, you know, just this explosion of gifts and a lot of stress, really, to never going to the mall. So now we spend very little at the holiday. We have meaning in our holiday, partly because we're part of this group, and partly because we've discovered other ways to be together.

REV. KAAREN ANDERSON: Many people have said this program saved them in a very practical and engaging way. And more so that it gave them the opportunity to be able to engage and embody their values, which is something that is sometimes hard to get at, but clearly is true for us here with the Greater Good.


Visit the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY website for more information.

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This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Friday, June 17, 2011.

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