General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

Passion & Presence: A Lay Ministry of Generosity

General Assembly 2006 Event 5038


  • The Rev. Beth Graham, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Associate Vice President of Stewardship and Development
  • Catherine Lynch, Assistant to the Vice Presidents for Stewardship and Development
  • Rev Naomi King, Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church of Utica

Prepared for by Chris Sealy, Reporter; Jone Johnson Lewis, Editor.

When it comes to stewardship, some concepts bear repeating. Abundance. Passion. Listening. The unlocking of generosity. These are the key concepts lifted up by the Reverends Beth Graham and Naomi King, along with Catherine Lynch, at the workshop entitled "Passion & Presence: A Lay Ministry of Generosity."

After many years in parish minister, Graham has spent the last three years in Boston as one of the UUA's Vice Presidents of Stewardship and Development. The mantra she shares with the Reverend Terry Sweetzer is "approach stewardship with an attitude of abundance, not scarcity." For example, Graham decries the congregation which falls short in its fundraising and asks "what do we cut?" She recommends another question. "What's our passion, and how can we unleash and unlock our generosity?"

At the UUA, Graham says they now discourage "tell and sell" and encourage "listen and learn". Tell and sell, of course, is the practice of explaining a program or activity and trying to get people to give to support it. Listen and learn is a more relational, pastoral approach. Members of the congregation are asked: what do you want for this congregation? What do you care about? This can unlock the donor's passion and generosity.

One example of listening and learning at the UUA level involves the new Tapestry of Faith Curriculum. A couple named Lindy and David Anderson were in a position to give a six figure gift. Folks from the UUA Stewardship and Development department had long conversations with them to find out about their passions. It became clear that they were interested in religious education, and after several months, they decided to fund the distribution of the new RE curriculum online so every congregation could get the material for free.

On a very different parish level, the Reverend Naomi King told the story of her congregation in Utica, New York. She came to the congregation less than a year ago. She already knew it was a poor congregation; more than 60 percent of its members live below the poverty line. When she arrived to start work, however, she discovered the church was $25,000 in the red. Then, unexpected expenses added another $12,000 to the deficit. What did they do? King says they talked about why they loved their church. They talked about their motto—to "live free and untrammeled." They talked about how important it was to be UU and how it had changed their lives. And then they started putting more in the collection basket each week. Not fives or twenties, but lots and lots of one-dollar bills. And by the end of the year, the deficit was erased, and the UU Church of Utica actually had a surplus of $5,500.

As uplifting as that story is, that was simply the end of one fiscal year. Another lay ahead. How could this church with congregants of such modest means increase their pledges? King says as the pews grew fuller, they kept talking about their passions and what they could do to keep the place alive. Some decided to add to their pledge by giving up the money they spent on entertainment for a month or more. Some decided to fast one day a week and give the money they would have spent on food to the church—and this was not some symbolic move—this was honest-to-goodness fasting for one day a week to give the money to church. True sacrificial giving.

It's not simple. It's not easy. But it is clear. The people who go to the UU Church of Utica know why they're there, King says. They know what they're passionate about. They know how they and their church can make a difference.

And how do they celebrate their stewardship in Utica ? On their commitment Sunday, they all spend the day doing social action and social justice projects, and then get together to break bread and share stories about their passions and how they do make a difference in the world.