UUA President Peter Morales rappels down the Rhode Island Convention Center as part of the UUA's Brave Souls: UUs Pledge Over the Edge fundraiser. ©Nancy Pierce/UUA. All rights reserved.
Would you hurl yourself off a downtown high-rise for the Unitarian Universalist Association?
Eighty UUs did just that on Friday, raising over $500,000 by overcoming any fear of heights to rappel 110 feet down the side of the Rhode Island Convention Center in the “Brave Souls” fundraiser, one of the most widely anticipated events of this year’s General Assembly in Providence, R.I.
“It was an adrenaline rush!” said UUA Moderator Jim Key, who was one of the very first to rappel on Friday morning. Key said he wasn’t scared, in large part because the event was so well-organized and well-managed, with numerous equipment back-ups and checklists. However, Key, who is bald, was amused that at each step of preparation, he was asked if his hair was tied back.
Brave Souls was organized to raise money for the Rev. Terry Sweetser Fund for Stewardship, in honor of Sweetser, who is retiring after 20 years as the UUA’s Vice President for Stewardship & Development. “Unitarian Universalists believe we can live heroic lives creating a world worth loving,” said Sweetser, who raised over $175 million for the association during his two-decade tenure. “It takes brave souls willing to go to the edge and over.”
A wide range of people took the Brave Souls plunge—from UU ministers to GA delegates who made a pledge in return for the chance to participate—and the 80 spots quickly filled up once GA began on Wednesday and word spread about the unusual fundraiser.
It had raised over $400,000 before the first Brave Soul stepped off the roof shortly after 7 a.m. Friday, and by the time the event ended, at 3 p.m., it had raised another $100,000.
The final person to rappel was UUA President Peter Morales, who was inspired to go over the edge after learning of $100,000 in pledges that had come in that day, said Cam Archibald of the UUA’s Stewardship and Development Office, who led the stewardship team and volunteers who assisted in the event.
Rappellers went through training on top of the convention center roof before strapping on helmets and gear and heading down the wall in teams of two, as the crowd below clapped and shouted encouragement.
Charlie Burke, a member of First Parish in Dorchester, Mass., and a former member of the UUA Board of Trustees, said he made a pledge in order to support making GA more affordable so more people can attend. “Nothing is as scary as people who we love in our religion who can’t afford to partake in the kind of events that we do here at GA,”* said Burke, who was sweating but smiling when he landed on the sidewalk.
Correction: An earlier version of this story left out a key phrase in Charlie Burke’s statement.
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Elaine McArdle is a UU World senior editor and a member of First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. An award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she has also written for the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Bulletin, and others.