I want to talk about money; about giving money and about making a year-long commitment, or pledge to the church.
Perry’s story about ‘warm fuzzies, and cold pricklies’ reminds me that talking about money could easily be a ‘cold prickly,’ and sometimes the risk is necessary; but I want this to be a ‘warm fuzzy’ to those who have already made a pledge for the coming fiscal year; and a double warm fuzzy to those who have been making a fair-share contribution for years, as well as a warm fuzzy to those who make a pledge, soon.
Let’s compare our annual appeal to going out to dinner. At the end of a good, satisfying, tasty meal, accompanied by your favorite beverage, you’re ready to go home. You signal the server to bring the check: “Check, please.”
How would you feel if the amount you paid was discretionary? Instead of listing specific charges for each meal and drink and dessert, the bill simply listed what you had to eat and drink.
At first it sounds delicious but the more you think about it, the less comfortable you would be if you had to decide on the amount you paid for the meal — as well as the tip.
I’m reminded of the comment from the first grader in a Unitarian Sunday school class some years ago, as reported to me by the substitute teacher. With exasperation the little boy said, “Do we have to do what we want to do again today?”
Freedom isn’t easy; it carries the weight of responsibility, the decision-making task.
So, in our hypothetical situation at the restaurant, the waitperson brings the check, listing everything you’ve had to eat and drink, including desert and coffee; then you decide what, if anything you will pay for the meal, and what, if anything, you will leave for a tip.
Let’s add a little twist: on the way out of the restaurant you have to drop a little note on someone else’s table, telling them that you’d like them to pick up your tab, or whatever portion you paid is less than a ‘fair share’ amount.
That, of course, is precisely the way it works at the Unitarian Church in Westport.
I use a restaurant analogy with couples I meet with to plan their wedding ceremony.
To establish our working relationship I generally tell them that I use the analogy of going out to eat for a nice meal at a special restaurant. I say, “I’m your waiter; I’m here to serve you, and I enjoy my work, I’m glad to be serving you. In order to serve you well, I need to get to know your tastes and dietary restrictions.”
(When it comes to the meaty, traditional religious ingredients in weddings, most couples for whom I officiate, are vegetarians: they almost always say, “We’re spiritual but not religious.” The word religion is like red meat to a vegetarian, whereas spiritual is vegan!)
I tell them that I’m very familiar with the menu, which is to say, I’ve done a lot of weddings, many with special needs – like parents and grandparents who are concerned, or even upset, that there’s no priest or rabbi, etc. There are always ‘special needs.’
If either the bride or groom is a member of the congregation, or the son or daughter of an active member, I tell them that there’s no fee for the minister. If neither of them is in that category, I simply tell them my fee, and explain that it can be adjusted if they’re on a tight budget – having. Being on a tight budget would mean that they were having a pot luck reception, not Long Shore; it would mean picking their own flowers – no florists; and having Uncle Jack take a few photographs – no hired photographer; and no limo!
It’s very tempting for them to say, “Oh, an adjustable fee, that’s great, how about $20?” But it doesn’t happen because I’ve drawn the parameters for an adjusted-fee wedding; and the few weddings with a pot-luck reception and home-grown flowers that I’ve done the couple doesn’t flinch when they hear my standard fee.
All this is a way of talking with you about your annual pledge to the church – Bart calls it ‘annual giving,’ but most of us (I’ll speak for myself) could not afford to give a year’s worth of money in one fell swoop, so I don’t give annually, I make an annual pledge, writing out a check every month, and when I write out the check for $500 at the beginning of each month. I feel good about my annual pledge.
Not everyone can afford to pledge $6,000 a year, but I do it for several reasons.
First, in terms of the amount, what Bart calls ‘a fair share,’ I feel good about the amount itself. The old saying is to give until it hurts; John Hooper and Gail Pesyna say they give ‘until it feels good.’ Until it feels right. Until it feels generous; and I’m convinced that generosity adds to the quality of your life.
Generosity can be complicated, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it comes back to you in terms of the quality of your life. I’ve done a lot of memorial services and it’s one of the most admirable qualities that people hold up about a loved one. Charles Dickens hit it on the head with his portrayal of Scrooge and his Christmas Eve breakthrough.
I make a generous pledge because I want to support the staff, which has grown in recent years, to include a full-time minister of music – we ordained Ed Thompson several years ago. And I feel good about helping to support an Associate Minister, a position we added almost ten years ago, a position now filled by Margie Allan. I feel good about having a full-time D.R.E. — Perry Montrose is a walking warm fuzzy! We have two part-time youth staff, Jamie Forbes and Jason Kiska.
Our Community Minister, Debra Haffner, draws no salary, but she contributes a lot to the life and work of the congregation.
A few years ago a special gift from Jan Park allowed us to find and hire David Vita, our energetic Director of Social Justice.
For fifteen years Bobby Santiago, our indomitable sexton, has served us well.
Our expanded office staff includes John Carroll, our full time Church Administrator, and our eight-year veteran, Jan Braunle, Administrative Associate, part time.
When you read over the bill at the end of the meal, here, all of those names are listed as entrées.
As you know, much of the work here is done by volunteers, which is one of the important ways of contributing. Sometimes the opportunity to do volunteer work is a way of enhancing one’s own life as well as the life of the church.
Our Religious Education program is a co-op; parents are expected to volunteer in one of several ways — Perry and the R. E. Council help you to find what’s right for you.
Volunteering works both ways. It’s a way of making a contribution, but it’s also an opportunity. Several years ago I was with a men’s hiking group on Grand Manan Island in the bay of Fundy — a little island off the coast of Canada. We stayed at a B & B and their specialty was lobster. The strange thing, to me, was that they served lobster only one way – boiled
I spoke with the owner, who was also the chief cook and bottle washer, and who caught his own lobsters, and I asked about having a baked stuffed lobster. He told me he’d never made one, and he invited me to join him in the kitchen to prepare baked stuffed lobster. About half of our group of eight ordered baked stuffed.
It’s the only time I’ve been invited to prepare my own meal, and I was delighted! He appreciated learning how to make a baked stuffed lobster – it was a win-win, as they say.
So, thanks to everyone who has volunteered to come into the kitchen to help prepare a meal: everyone who has at one time or another volunteered to teach a Sunday school class or facilitate an Odyssey class; thanks to everyone who has at one time or another sung in a choir, worked on the annual canvass, help with a Spring Fling, serve on the Board of Trustees or a committee, volunteered to usher, and so forth. Warm fuzzies to you!
George Bernard Shaw has a nice statement about this; he called it ‘a splendid torch.’
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
Now, at the risk of inflicting a cold prickly, let’s be candid: there are some who don’t contribute their fair share to the day-to-day work of this congregation, but who enjoy bringing their children to the Religious Education program; or who enjoy the music, or the free pulpit or the Social Justice work, and so forth.
There are some people who get the check at the end of the meal and reach over and put it on somebody else’s table, and seem to do so without compunction, and, since we’re being candid, they don’t get it…I just don’t get it.
I’m not talking about people who are relatively new; I’m talking about people who bring their kids to R.E. and people who attend regularly on Sundays for years; people who wouldn’t miss a Christmas Pageant or candle light service or one of the special project choir’s concerts, but don’t pick up the check.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that they are very few and far between. The vast majority of active members and friends of the congregation give adequately, and many give ‘until it feels good.’ You who do make a fair-share pledge should know that the vast majority of active folks do the same. Those who don’t are on the periphery or gone.
The problem, however, is that those who haven’t stepped into the fair-share giving circle – for whatever reason – create a level of concern among those who contribute generously. More than one person has said to me, “Look, I want to contribute my fair share, but why don’t you go after the people who don’t…”
Well, that’s precisely what we’re doing, right now!
That’s why this year’s annual giving campaign has a goal of 100% participation, giving a fair share. No one is going to tell you what your personal ‘fair share’ is; but you deserve information about the financial needs here, and you deserve candor from this pulpit about it.
Fair share pledges range from $25 a year to $36,000.
The Finance Committee has proposed a budget for the next calendar year – a million dollars, in round figures: $800,000 from 500 pledging households.
About 75% of that is for salaries and employee costs, like health insurance, annuity benefits and employers taxes.
The remainder is for heat and lights; upkeep on a day to day basis, and long-term maintenance…
The actual budget will be voted on at our annual meeting I September, and it will be based on pledges that have been received as of the beginning of the new fiscal year.
This congregation started sixty years ago as a small, lay-led Fellowship, meeting in people’s living rooms. It grew, and it continues to grow; there have been heavy growth cycles and there have been a recession or two over the decades.
The growth is always the result of a vision of abundance, rather than fear of scarcity.
Every year, at the time of the annual canvass, or annual giving, those of us most intimately involved get a little nervous: ‘what if they don’t step up to the plate?’
Finally, let me say in a very loud and clear way that there are no second-class members of this congregation.
I met with someone just this past week who said, “I don’t think I can afford to belong here.” There’s a perception that everyone in Fairfield County and its vicinity is wealthy and everyone who belongs to this congregation is well-off financially. Let me simply say that this is not so; there are people here who are struggling to get by.
A fair share pledge is not about a certain amount of money; it’s about an amount of money commensurate with one’s financial ability.
It’s also about another kind of ‘ability,’ which is the ability to give; and there are some, for a very wide, complex set of reasons, who are simply not able to give; and it’s sad.
There’s only one cure for this condition – make a responsible pledge, one that makes you ‘feel good.’
Before closing I want to tell you a story about McGregor, the Scotsman who owned a large vineyard, growing all sorts of wine-making fruits. The minister of his Presbyterian church railed against the evils of alcohol, so McGregor had an uneasy relationship with the church; but still he made his annual contribution.
When it came time for McGregor’s daughter to be married a great feast was held at his vineyard, after the church ceremony. Quite by accident the teetoler minister sipped some of McGregor’s cherry brandy; one sip led to another – it was delicious, so he took McGregor aside and asked if he might send some cherry brandy to the parsonage. McGregor agreed under one condition, that the minister publish a thank you note in the church newsletter. The brandy arrived and the minister’s article said, “I want to thank McGregor for the gift of fruit and the wonderful spirit in which it was delivered!’
Thanks for your financial support and the wonderful spirit in which it will be delivered!
“If I’m not for myself, who will be?
If I ’m only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?”
– Hillel, 1st century rabbi