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First Unitarian Society of Plainfield, NJ

Why has the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield (FUSP) risen to its current status as a Fair Share Honor Congregation after thirteen years of giving at a much lower level? This was the question posed to congregation leaders Jody Hey, President, and Art Lieberman, Finance Committee Chair. What follows is the story they shared.

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), our District, and especially Harry Green have helped our church through a lot of tough "adventures" over the last several years. They provided us a full level of support and guidance, even though our financial support to the UUA and District had been only at the 50% level.

At the time of its pledge, Art wrote, "We recognized the 100% pledge as our church's responsibility in being a member of the UUA, because we subscribe to the goals of the UUA and feel a responsibility to financially support the work it does." Of course, Art admits that the support they've received from the UUA and the District over the last 10 years certainly influenced their decision to make a full Fair Share the highest priority in their budget.

The support Art refers to came from the UUA and Metropolitan New York District staff and volunteers. There were simple items, like facilitating Board retreats. And there were the larger "adventures," like helping them through a few ministerial searches, working through financial difficulties, developing marketing strategies, managing crises with personnel—all being done while the church pledged at only the 50% level.

In addition, a number of congregants have become involved in professional ministry, district leadership, and events like General Assembly. These vocal leaders’ perspectives have inspired and encouraged a heightened awareness and valuing of the wider Unitarian Universalist movement. “We will be a Fair Share Congregation,” insisted past-president Peter Jones, and the Board made it happen, even while sharply cutting other budgeted items. Becoming a Fair Share congregation reflects not only a stronger commitment to be in right relationship with their Association, but also positions the FUSP as a recipient for grants and loans that could enable them to implement an ambitious marketing plan and do necessary renovations to their historical building facility.

Over the past year, members have engaged in deeper conversations about the congregation’s future: its priorities, its ministries, and its relationships. The Rev. David Leonard has been encouraging and supportive of the congregation’s process of self-examination and visioning. Over the past ten years the congregation has experienced a gradual drop in membership to a current 178 members from 368 members in 1995. The significant factors impacting the First Unitarian Society’s membership are the changing demographics in their city and surrounding area and several ministerial transitions. Currently members and friends come to the Plainfield congregation from 41 surrounding communities, with only 18% of their members residing in Plainfield. Despite fewer members on the books, the First Unitarian Society’s pledge income has increased by 12% a year, conveying a high level of hopefulness, commitment, and energy on the part of the membership. It is evident that there is much potential in this congregation to be realized in the months and years to come.

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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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