October 12 UUA fundraiser will support lay theological education and ministerial training.
Last year 626 of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s more than 1,000 congregations participated in Association Sunday 2007, raising $1.4 million that was used to pay for a nationwide advertising campaign in Time magazine and for a program to support ministers of color and the congregations that call them. It also provided funds for grants to support the growth initiatives of individual congregations.
Half of the funds from this year’s Association Sunday campaign will be used to support the development of lay theological education programs and half will be for developing programs that foster excellence in ministry. Congregations are encouraged to hold an Association Sunday event on October 12, but may also hold it at another time in the church year if more convenient.
The theme of Association Sunday this year is “Growing Our Spirit.” The initiatives on which the money will be spent this year were chosen based on survey responses from more than 1,800 UU leaders.
Funds collected for lay theological education programs will be used in the following ways. Congregations, districts, and seminaries will be invited to apply for grants for new or existing lay education programs that focus on spiritual and theological deepening. Emphasis will be given to programs that involve more than one congregation and that can be replicated by other congregations. The purpose of the grants, which may range from $2,000 to $100,000 each, is to support the creation of materials, rather than to provide for new staff positions.
The Rev. Harlan Limpert, the UUA’s director of district services, is a member of a task force that will help to determine which projects receive funding.
He described the need for more lay education this way: “There are many people in the UU community who are looking for ‘more’—more theological depth, more understanding, more insight—than they are getting simply by attending Sunday morning services and Wednesday evening adult [religious] education classes. Some of these people choose to enroll in theological schools even though they have no particular desire or calling to enter either parish ministry or community ministry. They simply want more.”
“With the resources we receive from Association Sunday this year we will be encouraging the development of programs that fill the void between what people receive in adult education courses and what they would learn in a three-year seminary program. Some of what exists now to fill this gap is too expensive, too inaccessible, or too obscure to be of use. So we want to encourage the development of other programs for this middle ground.”
The Rev. Stephan Papa, special assistant to the president for congregational giving and growth funding, said the excellence in ministry aspect of the campaign will include funding new programs through the UU Ministers Association’s CENTER program (Continuing Education Network for Training, Enrichment, and Renewal), and providing $20,000 scholarships for some promising ministry students. The funds will also be used to continue the program begun last year, to support ministers of color and the congregations that call them.
Papa said he is hopeful Association Sunday will raise as much this year as last year. “I do know that churches are having a tougher time this year because of the economy. We’re hoping they will recognize the importance of this effort.” More than 500 congregations have signed up to hold events this fall, in line with the total number that had made commitments at this time a year ago.
“What is different about Association Sunday this year is that almost all of the funds will be going to individuals, groups, and congregations outside the UUA administration,” he said. “We are empowering others. Funds for lay theological education will include grants to theological schools and congregations that have great ideas. And part will go to scholarships and for diversity of ministry.”
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.