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Unitarian Universalists give $1.1 million for growth

More than 500 congregations take part in Association Sunday.
By Donald E. Skinner
1.11.08

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Unitarian Universalist congregations have contributed more than $1.1 million to support growth initiatives sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association. Gifts on “Association Sunday,” held in many congregations in October, are funding national UU marketing efforts, local growth and outreach projects, and a new program that supports ministers of color.

The goal of the campaign was $1 million. Campaign manager Catherine Lynch said the total amount contributed is expected to be close to $1.3 million when final contributions are in, including $500,000 in matching gifts from anonymous donors. According to the UUA’s stewardship and development staff, 642 congregations signed up to participate in the campaign, dedicating a Sunday worship service to the Association and taking a collection on behalf of the UUA.

Approximately 540 congregations held Association Sunday services between October and December. Other congregations have planned services between January and May.

Association Sunday is part of the UUA’s ongoing “Now is the Time” fundraising campaign, which has a goal of $20 million in cash and $30 million in deferred giving by June 2009.

Some of the funds from Association Sunday have already been used. Proceeds from Association Sunday have paid for some of the ads the UUA has run in Time magazine and Time.com. Half of Association Sunday funds are committed to marketing outreach and visibility. The UUA’s Strategic Marketing Team will decide this month about the next phase of the UUA’s national marketing outreach, including whether there will be more ads in Time.

The Rev. Stephan Papa, special assistant for congregational giving to UUA President William G. Sinkford, said one-fourth of the money raised by Association Sunday will go to congregations for their own growth projects and will be distributed through UUA district boards. The final fourth will be used to support ministers of color and the congregations that call them as settled ministers. That money will be disbursed through the UUA’s new Diversity of Ministry Team, which has already begun work.

Beyond the money raised, Association Sunday helped transform congregations, said Papa. “We’re getting wonderful statements back from congregational leaders saying that some people had issues with the UUA, but that Association Sunday helped them understand how the UUA supports congregations. It has also helped congregations understand they can be more generous, not only in their local collections to charities, but to the Association as well.”

Papa said he participated in a California congregation’s Association Sunday service October 14. “A woman came up to me with tears coming down her face. She gave me a check for $250, which, because of matching grants in that congregation, was really a check for $1,000.” He said that she told him, “I never thought in my life I’d be able to give $1,000 to a cause I love so much.” The congregation gave a total of $7,000, he said.

The First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh contributed more than $11,000, including a matching gift of $5,000. “We had set our goal at $8,000, said the Rev. David Herndon. “This is a real testament to the generosity and commitment of folks here.”

Herndon said that early in 2007 the congregation began giving part of its collection one Sunday a month to a local charity and that may have had an effect on Association Sunday. “The discipline and the pleasure of doing that no doubt contributed to a sense of rightness about a special collection for our Association.”

First Unitarian Church is also one of several congregations that is considering calling a minister of color through the UUA’s new Diversity of Ministry project. “I think that was further incentive for us,” said Herndon.

Association Sundays are planned as annual events for the next four years. The next one will be October 12, 2008, although congregations are free to pick other Sundays as well. The theme this year will be “Growth in Spirit,” said Papa. Funds will be used for lay theological education and for developing excellence in ministry.


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