Asking Micah Bales’s question: Are we capable of planting churches?

A cautionary tale. I’ve worshipped with Micah here in D.C. so I sawa little of what he described but I’m certainly no Quaker, and (happily) have since gone back to my old church. But the critical mass issue is one that Unitarian and Universalist Christians are going to have to grapple with, in part because we’re probably too radioactive to attract ecumenical partners. Which is its own shame.

If Quakers don’t have the strength or inclination to seed new congregations, perhaps it’s time to partner with those who do.

Source: Are Quakers Capable of Planting Churches?

So, one new congregation in the UUA this year

The UUA October Board packet is up, and the good news is that there is a action scheduled to admit a new member congregation to the UUA. I don’t recall an application going this far and not being accepted, so let’s assume it’s going to happen. But that means that for the second year in a row, only a single congregation will be admitted to the UUA. (This is the last Board meeting of the year.)

But take joy where you can; I’ll recap the worrying signs later.

My best wishes to the thirty members of the Iowa Lakes Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, of Okoboji, Iowa. It has existed for nine years, but presumably only recently become large enough to petition for membership.

It sits in the middle of the Spirit Lake/Dickenson County, Iowa micropolitan area — one of the smallest in the country — and the nearest Unitarian Universalist congregation is the Nora Church, Hanska, Minnesota, about 80 miles away. So it serves people who would have otherwise not had a Unitarian Universalist church nearby.


How much church can you get for minimum wage?

I ask the question “How much church can you get for minimum wage?” not to suggest that low-waged workers should be segregated into their own parishes, but consider the proportional sacrifices and ability to give.

I routinely advocate for the formation of new churches: to keep up with population growth, to replace those declining and defunct, and engage with under-represented groups of people. But this doesn’t mean we have the same level of resources we did in the 1980s or 1940s (or 1880s or 1640s.)

One down side of a secularizing culture is that it’s harder to make a case for funding a religious endeavor, unless, perhaps there’s some attendant ethnic or cultural reason. And with a trend of declining wealth, stagnant wages and increasing student debt, the people who are left to contribute are likely to have less to spare.

We’re coming out of church culture of big asks, big sacrifices and big capital projects. But that just doesn’t seem realistic — certainly not in the same way — in the future.

Now, we look at millions of America who are just keeping body and soul together. The churches have to prove their value; double so with new ones.

So, how much church can you get for minimum wage? And more importantly, how will they work? And what will they do?

The church, in its history, has been impoverished, tested, challenged and troubled. I can survive, even prosper. But how?

Filing for non-profit status: hope and help for smaller organizations

Ever been stymied getting a non-profit organization together?

Got word from the IRS yesterday that a draft form 1023-EZ was being make available for review, for possible use this summer. And little wonder: the form 1023 is what an organization files to acquire its tax-exempt status. It’s a beast to complete, and the filing fee isn’t trivial for a group bootstrapping. Form 1023-EZ should take away some strain in those fragile, early days of of new organization.

So I looked at the much-shorter proposed form (PDF) and a couple of blog posts sharing the same news; this is the one to see for more detail. First, only relatively small organizations can use the 1023-EZ to apply: annual revenues of less than $200,000 and assets less than $500,000. Second, no word on the fees. Third, churches (which formally are exempt from applying, but need to do so to get a letter of exemption) would not be able to use this form at release time.  Fourth, the IRS also benefits due to its long backlog of applicants, which may not sound like much until your fundraising is inhibited for want of a determination.

So who, in church circles, should care? Smallish, independent mission-focused non-churches, like mission societies, charitable projects, publication efforts, travel funds and the like. Think of the former independent affiliate organization. Who shouldn’t? Those who can work through an existing non-profit organization, and those who want to form a very, very small organization (under $5,000 in annual revenues) because the IRS provides for those without application, and they’re unlikely to really need a determination letter. (I thought I had written about this option, but cannot find that I have.)

Watching Unincorporated Nonprofit Association Act, 2014 edition

I’ve written before how state adoption of the Revised Uniform Unincorporated Nonprofit Association Act — look; RUUNA, a UU acronym with no Unitarian Universalist reference — can make church organization easier and polity more organic, rather than always borrowing the idiom of corporations or trusts.

It is being considered this year/session in two states: South Carolina (S 552) and Oklahoma (HB 1996).

(Links are to the Sunlight Foundation’s Open States project. I work for the Sunlight Foundation, but these opinions are mine alone.)

The neighborhood of Boston, mapped and planned…

From the October 20, 1921 issue of the Unitarian Register.

Unitarian churche within 25 miles of Boston, 1921.


The map is familiar; the idea of a program launching after a 90 minute meeting is pheonomenal. But why should it be so? What might a group of people, meeting over a long lunch say, accomplish or at least propose?

The Boston Circle

The twenty five mile circle drawn around the Boston State House contains two elements of profound significance: first, it has the largest permanent population of any similar district in the States; second, it has more Unitarian churches than any similar area in world. What is the obligation of churches to this population?

To answer that question the ministers of the twenty five mile circle were called together May 25. After an hour of discussion it was voted that the chairman, Rev. Eugene R Shippen appoint a committee of seven to promote an intensive membership campaign…

A map of British Unitarian churches forthcoming

The annual meeting of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches took place recently, and (to mark the occasion) I have taken to reading the annual report (for 2012, PDF). Minister and blogger Stephen Lingwood referred to it in early March. Grim numbers. So little wonder I had a parallel concern with the persons interviewed in the UUWorld magazine (“British “Unitarians rally to save faith from extinction” by Donald E. Skinner) about the fate of British Unitarianism. I had already been putting together a map, not unlike the one I created for UUA member congregations last year.

And I discovered is how difficult it would be for a newcomer to find many Unitarian churches, based on their web sites. There’s often plenty of information about teas and their seventeenth-century history, too many lack basic directions, maps, visitor expectations, parking or transit information. So I hope my map in addition to being a visual tool for understanding prospect for new church development — see my earlier concern about a lack of a church in Milton Keynes — can also be useful in helping newcomers find a church that already exist. A good website isn’t everything, but why make it harder for vistors than it needs to be?

And because as was suggested in UUWorld article I believe what’s happening with the British Unitarians is a bellwether of what’s to come in the United States. We’re larger, but by no means large and the same thing can happen to us.

The map is quite a labor but I hope to have it up later this week.

Valuing volunteers

On Sunday I re-joined Universalist National Memorial Church, where I was the pastor and a member in the early 2000s, on Sunday. I’m now ready to contribute where I’m needed — if I’m able. Perhaps that’s why I noticed this new financial valuation of volunteer service by Independent Sector. In D.C., the average dutiful soul is worth $34.04 an hour. Nationwide, the figure is $22.14. By this, the lesson geos, we are better able to appeciate the value of volunteers and thu impact they make.

From a churchly point-of-view, this also means that the generation-on-generation loss of homemakers’ time — long undervalued, until it was no longer there — as a steady workforce is particularly stinging. Paid work and other activities have proved deeply rivalous. Treating volunteers as a financial resource (even if you dispute Independent Sector’s numbers) can help frame how a congregation can deploy its resources or decide to put aside struggling church activities, like newsletters, “forum” series, thrift shops, bean suppers, certain kinds of fundraisers or what have you.

A Unitarian Universalist wish list

Sometimes it helps to ask: “what would you like to see? what resources do you wish could exist? what connections do you wish existed? what problem would you like to resolve?” Think about issues that might concern many congregations, but may or may not be normally handled by denominational staff. I’m thinking within the Unitarian Universalist milieu, but not exclusively. I’ve got a bias towards “projects” (read that loosely) that others can build upon or modify to suit particular circumstances.

Ideas, anyone?