Taking Care of Our Faith

Stewardship An Ongoing Commitment

        When I teach the Healthy Congregations workshops, one of the sessions focuses on stewardship.  Did you know that the word “steward” comes from two old English words?  “Stig” means “house” and “weard” means “keeper” and when they are combined the meaning is someone who is responsible for guarding something, usually the house or home.  Nowadays we use the term for several things.  But at its heart, the steward is one who holds something in trust for another. 

        When we look at modern Unitarian Universalist congregations, what are the ways that our members act as stewards?  Every contribution toward the functioning of the congregation is part of the steward’s role.  When someone volunteers to lead a committee, they are being stewards.  When a person becomes a part of the pastoral care team and visits another who is grieving the death of a loved one, they are being stewards.  Cleaning up the kitchen or sanctuary after a service or meal is an act of stewardship. 

        You may have noticed that I have yet to mention giving money as an act of being a steward.  Many times, we only think of what we give from our finances as our stewardship.  Yes, the money we contribute helps to pay the salaries, keep the lights and heat on, and buys the services and material for keeping a congregation whole. 

        We focus once a year on the stewardship campaign where we ask each other to give a portion of our resources toward the annual budget.  Occasionally, we will have a capital campaign to raise funds for expanding or buying a building.  But have you ever thought to do a stewardship campaign where you ask people to give of their time and talents in addition to their treasure? 

        Some congregations use a form that asks people what types of activities they would like to do as part of their stewardship of the congregation.  The form lists as many of the opportunities for service as can be done within the congregation and has a space for additional ways to help out.  They start with a canvass of the congregation one year and repeat it every year.  They also provide this to any new person who joins the congregation. 

        The forms are put into an electronic database and leaders within the congregation use them to match people’s interests and talents to the opportunities for ministry within the congregation.  If this is managed well, then the vast majority of the congregation is involved in the stewardship of the institution.  Can you imagine what your congregation would look like if you were doing this type of stewardship? 

        The common wisdom is that 20% of the members of a congregation usually do 80% of the work.  This new form of stewardship turns conventional wisdom on its head.  Should your leadership want more information or examples of what other congregations have done, contact me. 

        Care of our faith is all of our responsibility, not just a few leaders.  Stewardship is a rewarding offering to nurture our faith and make it stronger for those who come after us.  Our congregations are as strong or as weak as we allow them to be.  What will you do tomorrow to be a good steward?

 Yours in the Faith,



Special Announcement


January 2, 2014

Ministers, Religious Educators, Musicians, Administrators, Presidents, and Other Lay Leaders in the Joseph Priestley District

Dear Colleagues:

            I came into the Joseph Priestley District in the summer of 2000 to become the Acting District Executive.  Within a year, both the JPD Board and I felt that it was a good fit for my ministry.  Over the almost fourteen years that I have served as District Executive, I have grown in my understanding of congregational life and participated with many of you in both the joys of your faith community as well as sad and anxious times that come into our collective lives. 

            I chose to become a Unitarian Universalist because this faith made the most sense to me in understanding my place in the universe and my relationship to the holy.  I became a UU in 1974 and spent twelve years as a lay member of two congregations.  I grew in my service to our faith through elected and appointed office as a lay leader.  I was called into our ministry in 1986 so that I could expand my service to the men, women, and children who come into our congregations seeking a religious home.  After serving a parish in Vero Beach, FL for nine years, I answered the call to serve the Joseph Priestley District.  Each time, I knowingly chose to follow my heart and my head to extend my hands in service.

            I will turn sixty-six years old next October.  I have averaged 15,000-20,000 miles a year serving our seventy congregations in five states and the District of Columbia.  Over my time as DE I have driven the equivalent of at least ten times around the equator or from the earth to the moon.  I do not begrudge the sacrifices that I have made in helping our leaders and their congregations be the best and healthiest that we and they can become.  The long hours and trips are finally catching up to me and I feel that continuing indefinitely in this position will start to detract from the service that I can give and that each of you deserve.  I want to end my service on a high note while I still have energy and passion to perform my responsibilities effectively.

            Therefore, I am announcing my retirement as District Executive to take effect August 1, 2014.  I have been working with the JPD Board and our UUA’s Congregational Life Leadership for the past several months as they and I contemplated this change.  I will be continuing all of my regular duties between now and July 31st

            By this summer the JPD Board and our UUA’s new Director of Congregational Life, Rev. Scott Tayler, will hopefully choose the person who will begin serving the congregations in my position.  I stand ready to introduce and support this new person as they take up the duties that I will be laying down.  During this transition period, we will make plans to transfer some of the parts of my job to others in the JPD where it makes sense so that there is continuity to the functions that I have fulfilled over the years. 

            I have served this district as DE longer than any other UUA staff person since the JPD was formed.  I care deeply about our congregations and our faith in these rapidly changing times.  My fervent hope is that the energy and dynamic growth that has been the hallmark of this district continues into the future even though I will not be a part of it after July. 

            In the months that we have remaining together, I welcome conversations to discuss with you any concerns you may have.  My immediate plans, post retirement, are to take some time to focus on my hobbies.  I will continue to make music with a variety of instruments, dabble in woodworking, create stained glass, ferment and bottle wine, and fly my airplane.  I may take short term assignments for trainings if there is a need for my particular talents and I am recruited for those events by the new DE.  But know that I will do everything in my power to support the new man or woman who becomes the District Executive of the Joseph Priestley District.  I will be the retired DE just like a retired minister.  I will be cautious about any lingering influence that I may have and defer to my replacement whenever I feel it would be appropriate to do so. 

            I have been blessed to have served all of you for these many years.  I will carry my feelings for what we have achieved together with me wherever my future leads.  May you be blessed in all of your endeavors both now and in the years to come.

Yours in the Faith,


Rev. Dr. Richard Speck

District Executive