Saturday, February 07, 2009

Recession-Proof Religion

It appears our church is not the only one facing a big budget deficit this year.

First UU Portland faces a $185,000 deficit and intends to close its doors for the month of July.

What jumped out at me from the article was Rev. Sewell's comment to the congregation, "the congregation needs to own the problems and understand the consequences."

Further, the article stated that Rev. Sewell was disappointed by the congregation's willingness to accept the closure. I couldn't help comparing this with the feelings I had after our congregational meeting in December, when we announced that Staff hours would be cut, all committee budgets and most expense budgets eliminated, and that UUA dues would be removed from the budget (we do have a plan to pay them...). I think many UU congregations are going to be facing the same disappointing reality: pledges are down, costs are up, and individuals seem to feel little if any "ownership" of the problem, much less the consequences.

Simultaneous with this discouraging Stewardship Campaign, our Board sponsored a survey that showed that a majority of folks felt that their giving to the church rated a 4 or a 5 on a scale of one to five.

Recessions bring many things, not all bad.

I was not a UU during the recession of the 1970s, but I remember that there was plenty of fear, discouragement, and frustration to go around. I also recall that joy and satisfaction in life were not sharply diminished for me, because they depended upon friendships, family, and things that were free or nearly free, like reading and discussing literature, and spending time out of doors.

I think our religion itself should be recession-proof. The things that matter most: fellowship, fun, spiritual practice and mutual worship should not be threatened by a contracted economy. But I do think we in leadership will need to work even harder to help people act from generosity and compassion and not from fear.

I actually believe in tithing. Not necessarily giving ten percent, but giving a percentage of income right off the top to charity (church first). I know, because I commit five percent of my salary & housing to the church, that unless my income changes dramatically, my pledge will not change either. But, for way too long, people in UU congregations, who hate words like tithing, have given out of discretionary income. I think a whole entire culture shift will have to take place, and I have a few ideas about how it can happen.

Meanwhile, I feel very sad to hear about the situation in Portland, but I am glad for the opportunity for all of us to work together on this challenge.