Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder and Happy Trails to You

Happy Trails to You

Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder and Happy Trails to You
July 2014

This is the last column that I will write as your District Executive. Over fourteen years we have worked together to build a strong and vibrant district that is the envy of the UUA. I am proud of all that we have accomplished together during my tenure as your district executive. I will treasure the many kind thoughts and well wishes that have come my way in personal notes, official letters from congregations, and the many people who have come up to me to thank me for my service to their congregation, the district, and the UUA.

Like many people on the cusp of this new adventure, I have reflected on some of the things of which I am most proud. We have grown our staff in response to the demands for more service to congregations and I am immensely proud of Cristina, Jillian, Paula, Andrew, Joan, and Sandra for the hard work they continue to do on your behalf. We have nurtured and trained others who served on the staff and went on to other ministries. I am grateful to have had the company of companions such as Rev. Susan Rak, Rev. Virginia Jarocha-Earnst, Rev. Cynthia Kane, Rev. Dr. Carol Taylor, Rev. John Gilmore, Bob Johnsen, Rev. Lyn Cox, Kim Mason, Christopher Sims, Rev. Jan Taddeo, Kathy Smith, Jody Malloy, and Meredith Higgins. We have sent Pat Infante and Mark Bernstein on to the CERG staff of the UUA.

We have created enduring programs such as Healthy Congregations to provide solid emotional health in our congregations and allow them to respond effectively to crises that seem to alway be present. We started the first Racial Justice Conference in any district and it continues into the future. Our district is a leader in building an antiracist, multicultural community of faith. We started the first Worship Arts Festival which has enriched our corporate worship through the introduction of music, liturgy, and other worship arts to wider audiences. This too will continue into the future.

i have no doubt that the Joseph Priestley District will continue to lead in these areas as well as others that are yet to come. Rev. David Pyle has been named as my successor and he and I have already begun a smooth transition which will take place over the next few months. I hope that you will like him as much as I already do after just a few encounters. I plan on doing all within my power to introduce him to you and help him in gaining a solid grounding as he begins his new ministry. He is very excited to meet you and become your new partner in faith as the District Executive.

But is now time that I start the new adventure of being retired. People have asked what I will be doing. My immediate plans are to take some time for myself and Janet, my wife. I have some travel plans for the fall to visit family in the south. I also will be attending my first UURMAPA meeting. UURMAPA stands for Unitarian Universalist Retired Ministers and Partners Association. I will spend time getting my musical skills on guitar and banjo improved so that I might play them in public without embarrassment.

I will become available for guest preaching starting in January 2015. I may do some consulting in the area of Policy Governance and teaching Healthy Congregations workshops. If David Pyle needs me for anything in the near term, I will respond affirmatively to assist his ministry as the DE. I also am going to spend time creating stained glass window art and may be an exhibitor at GA 2015 in Portland, OR, where I will be formally recognized as retired as I complete twenty-five years of ministry.
I want to thank each of you for your trust and confidence in me. Without that trust, we could not have been so successful all these years. I will still live in Wilmington and be seen around the district as a participant, not the leader. So as the songs say – Off I go into the wild blue yonder of retirement and I wish you happy trails until we meet again.

Yours in the Faith,

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Summer Time and the Livin’ is Easy

make-time-to-play

I don’t know about you, but I love to play. I enjoy a rousing game that involves movement and lots of laughter. I feel more alive when I’m using my whole body and releasing endorphins from laughter.

I was listening to NPR and heard a story about play during the school day. The average American school kid gets 27 minutes for recess — and that number is falling. Other countries put a much higher premium on unregulated play. Are they onto something? What with our over programmed lives and our need to be connected to the internet constantly, are we forgetting how to have fun?

When was the last time that your congregation hosted an all ages game night? When did you have a pot luck meal at church with no agenda other than to enjoy one another’s company? Have you ever had a music night where people brought their various instruments and took turns playing for each other? Or having a drumming circle which invited anyone to pick up some form of rhythm instrument and made fun together? What about softball games between teens and adults? Croquet anyone?

What I’m driving at is that it doesn’t take much to have fun together as a community of faith. When we have taught the Healthy Congregation workshops, one of the things we ask participants is how much does their congregation have fun and play together. The amount of fun and laughter is an indication of health in a congregation.

I have a book in my library that was written back in 1990. The title is Everyone Wins! And it is full of cooperative games and activities for all ages. Even though it is almost 25 years old, the games are timeless. They build self-esteem, enhance communication, allow people to laugh together and have fun. They are age appropriate for a wide range from age one up past age nine and can vary from one to more than eight players at a time. I’m sure that many of them could also include older youth and adults in the play.

Now that June is here, the church year is winding down. There should be more free time for play in the RE program as well as with the adults. During this lull, have some fun, play fun activities with each other. Remember, all work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy.

I will be sixty-six this fall. I expect to have more time to play after I retire from district work. But those of you who know me already have seen that I love to play and I will, in the words of Peter Pan, never grow up! While my body may limit the play that I am capable, I’ll keep on having fun until the day I die.

So let’s make a play date, shall we?

Yours in the Faith,

REV DR RICHARD SPECK SIGNATURE

Actions Speak Louder

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Our faith has spoken out against a wide variety of oppressions for over 200 years. Our forefathers and foremothers agitated against slavery, economic injustice for workers, and the right to vote for women, just to name a few.

But while these public pronouncements are fine, it is the actions that can speak louder than any words that are spoken. There were Universalists and Unitarians who harbored runaway slaves and helped them escape to freedom. Some were beaten and jailed themselves for what they did to help another human being. When women demanded the vote, courageous women chained themselves to the fence at the White House in Washington. These women were pelted with eggs, called unmentionable names, beaten by police, and put in jails.

When the Civil Rights movement was galvanizing the country, Unitarian Universalist ministers and lay people went to Alabama and Mississippi in support of African Americans seeking the end of Jim Crow laws that barred them from voting. Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo gave their lives in that struggle and are rightfully honored for their sacrifice today.

In more modern times, our fellow congregants have been arrested for protesting against the treatment of undocumented workers who were housed in inhumane conditions in Arizona. There has been civil disobedience by our leaders who have put their bodies on the line to protest injustice for the rights of same sex couples to marry.

There is the story of Henry David Thoreau being jailed for non-payment of a tax levied to support the Mexican War of 1845. Ralph Waldo Emerson visited him in jail. Emerson asked why Thoreau was in jail and Thoreau replied, “Waldo, why aren’t you in here with me?”

I must confess that I have never been arrested for any of my protests. I am not sure what I would do if faced with that prospect. I hope that I would be brave enough to face being beaten, jailed, or harmed in some way for a moral issue. I have only had verbal abuse heaped upon me at the protests I have attended.

As I approach retirement, I wonder about how I can still be involved in putting my faith into action. Maybe I will never be arrested. But I can also put my values into action in less dramatic ways. I can write letters to politicians. I can lobby elected leaders for better treatment of those that are oppressed. I can educate myself and others on the issues that matter. I can contribute to causes such as the Southern Poverty Law Center who use the courts to overturn injustices and seek to suppress those that hate because of the color of their skin or the country of their origin.

There is much that I can do to bring about a more perfect union and help bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice. Reflect on what you can do to add your efforts to those of hundreds and thousands of people of good will who are working to build the beloved community. I think you will find your efforts soul satisfying.

Yours in the Faith,

REV DR RICHARD SPECK SIGNATURE

We’re on a Mission from God

Blues Brothers

Did you ever see the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as “Joliet” Jake and Elwood Blues? The movie is one of redemption for the two brothers who take on “a mission from God” to save the Catholic orphanage, in which they grew up, from foreclosure. To do so, they must reunite their R&B band and organize a performance to earn $5,000 to pay the tax assessor. Along the way, they are targeted by a destructive “mystery woman”, Neo-Nazis, and a country and western band—all while being relentlessly pursued by the police.

The movie features some great blues performances as well as some hilarious situations that the band finds themselves in as they try to find the money to save the orphanage. The brothers find the money and save the orphanage.

“We’re on a mission from God” is the catch phrase that has stuck with me ever since I saw the movie. I have used it many times in my work for the UUA. Isn’t that what we are doing in our congregations? While we might broadly define God according to our theology, we are all on a mission.

And what, you may ask, is our mission? Within Unitarian Universalism there is no generic mission to which all congregations must subscribe. One of the Ends of the UUA focuses on mission. “Congregations and communities are covenanted, accountable, healthy, and mission driven.” I interpret this to mean that a mission needs to be at the heart of everything a congregation does. We lead workshops to help congregations identify the mission that guides them.

There are three simple elements to a good mission statement: (1) A mission statement should be no longer than a single sentence, (2) It should be easily understood by a 12-year-old, and (3) It can be recited by memory even under stress, is inspiring, exciting, clear, true, and engaging.

This might be your most difficult decision as a congregation. If you’re writing a one-sentence or one-paragraph mission statement, your job will more likely be more complicated, not less. A bulleted mission statement is easier, but may not accomplish what you want. Key statements that can be used to build a mission statement are:

Statement of Purpose: What inspirational purpose appeals to higher values in both your members and the larger public? Statement of Value: Identify values that form a link to the organization’s strategy that members can be proud of.

Statement of Character: What is the organizational culture?

Good missions are grounded in values. Can you guess what the values are in these mission statements from some of our congregations?

All Souls, DC: “A Diverse, Spirit-Growing, Justice-Seeking Community.”

Annapolis, MD: “Committed to Creating a Multicultural Anti-Racist, Anti-Oppressive Community.”

Wellsprings, Exton, PA: “A Community Charged Full With the Charge Of The Soul.”

Germantown, Philadelphia, PA: “Different People. Different Beliefs, One Faith.”

Newark, DE: “The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark is a community of spiritual seekers inspired to promote a just and compassionate world.”

If you want to create a mission driven congregation, contact us and we can help you create that mission.

Yours in the Faith,

REV DR RICHARD SPECK SIGNATURE

The Joseph Priestley District and the Future

jpd

The Joseph Priestley District and the Future

            Several people have asked me to reflect upon the many changes that are happening both within the Joseph Priestley District as well as the larger UU world of which we are a part.  As I head toward retirement in less than five months, I know that I will not be a part of those changes if or when they occur.  But having been involved in the discussions around these changes, I have a deep understanding of what might occur as the future unfolds.  I will address them in five broad areas.

 Regions and Districts

            The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Administration has designated five groupings of congregations called Regions.  The five regions encompass the boundaries of existing districts.  To see a map of the five regions go to http://tinyurl.com/ppmykt2.  The Joseph Priestley District (JPD) has been working within the Central East Regional Group (CERG) in a voluntary cooperative to share staff and resources for the past several years.  The four districts in CERG along with the UUA jointly fund three regional staff in growth, lifespan faith development, and leadership development as well as a part time communications consultant. 

            The four districts (JPD, Metro New York, St. Lawrence, and Ohio-Meadville) through their boards have been discussing what the future might be for this region.  There are several task forces exploring all aspects of the regional cooperation and a master plan for moving forward will take shape within the next year.  There may be a recommendation to merge all four districts into a single region similar to what happened in the Mid-America Region last year where Heartland, Central Mid-West, and Prairie Star Districts voted to dissolve and form one large region with a regional board. 

            If merger doesn’t happen, there may be other newer configurations such as the merger of districts or other collaborative solutions which haven’t been discussed.  Any plan for abolishing the districts will have to be voted on by the member congregations at an annual meeting in each district.  Any such consideration is at least one year away at the earliest.  The four boards may also find that keeping the districts and adding a regional board might make sense.

Governance

            This leads to a discussion of what form of governance will be used within any regional formation.  Currently, the CERG steering committee is made up of the four district presidents along with Rev. Scott Tayler, Director for Congregational Life.  Right now CERG is a cooperative agreement between the four districts.  The four boards have met together once a year for the past three years as the discussion of a region has evolved.  They have voted on a process for reaching a decision and are in the midst of that process now. 

            There are at least three possible ways that regional governance could occur.  The creation of a regional board with representatives from the existing districts would manage regional operations, finance, and staff.  They could receive mandates from the four districts on how to govern appropriately.  This would create a new level of governance with a wider view than a district. 

Another approach would be for the four districts to give up governance completely and use the UUA Board as the governing body for the region.  This has occurred in the Southern Region where they are functioning as “Elders” and not board members. 

The third governance possibility is to create a regional board elected by a regional assembly with governing responsibility for staff, finances, and overall fiduciary responsibility.  The Mid-America Region has chosen this model for their use.   See http://tinyurl.com/ozzdtvn  for how this works.

See http://tinyurl.com/q9a4kf8 for a fuller description of regionalization in a report to the UUA Board.

Finance

            Currently, there are two streams of contributions that finance most districts.  The congregations give directly to a district for support and also give funds to the UUA.  A portion of the Annual Program Fund (APF) is returned to districts in the form of a grant based upon how successful districts were in encouraging congregations to be full fair share to the UUA.  Each district then decided how it would allocate those grants and contributions in serving the congregations within its boundaries. 

            The Southern Region is experimenting with a new way of funding the UUA and the region.  It is called GIFT – Generously Investing for Tomorrow and it asks congregations to contribute a percentage of their budget to the UUA and the UUA in turn sends a grant to the region for its use.  The amount asked for will be on a percentage of the congregations certified expenditures, rather than on membership totals.  This means that the percentage allocated to GIFT remains constant; the total amount of funds allocated will go up or down as the total expenditures of the congregation goes up or down.  See http://tinyurl.com/on2sbu6  for additional information on how this works including a PowerPoint.  There is a possibility that this will be rolled out nationally in 2015 or 2016.  A portion of what is collected by the UUA is sent back to the region on a quarterly basis in a formula in development.

            One other possibility exists in a regional structure.  The funding stream could flow to the region and the region then send a portion of funds on to the UUA under a mutually agreed formula.  There has been no discussion of this methodology to date beyond mentioning it. 

            CERG is funded through an appropriation from each district based upon membership.  As the largest district with just under 15,000 adults, the JPD provides over 40% of the funds to support the shared specialty staff.  Each district also contributes to pay one fourth of the cost for a communications staff member who is ¼ time with CERG. This staff person is also ¾ time with OMD.  The UUA also contributes about ¼ of the total for staff costs.  An additional amount is contributed for funding quarterly meetings of the CERG staff.  In Fiscal Year 2014-15, the budgeted amount for all CERG related expenses is projected to be $98,000 or 15.4% of the JPD budget. 

Staffing

            Currently, the District Executive of the JPD is co-employed between the JPD and the UUA with each contributing a portion of the funds for the salary and benefits of the position.  The present board is seeking a new DE under the same employment arrangement after I retire at the end of July.  The UUA has created a Regional Lead position to supervise all other UUA staff whether co-employed or not in districts.  At present, there are seven UUA employees in the region.  Each district had a staff person called a District Executive and there were three regional staff. 

            Each district board is deciding on whether to end co-employment or not.  Those who do are changing the name of the district executive to congregational consultant.   The former District Executive reports to a Regional Lead who is the supervisor of all UUA staff in the region. 

            In addition, CERG has three specialist consultants in the areas of growth, lifespan faith development, and leadership development.  The CERG communications person is ¼ with CERG and ¾ with OMD. 

            Each district also employs various people to provide additional services such as fund development, stewardship, youth and young adults, racial and social justice, adjunct staff direction, and administration.  Under one possibility, all currently district only staff might be absorbed into a regional staffing group which might allow for greater ability to provide expertise in more areas than at present.  This would merge district paid staff into a UUA or CERG employed status which would equalize benefits across the region or with the current UUA employed staff. 

            The JPD currently matches all benefits offered through the UUA and is funding those benefits through district only contributions from congregations.  Should a single stream request for financial support become a reality, the amount requested needs to bear these obligations in mind. 

Service Delivery

            The main reason for the creation of districts over fifty years ago was to provide services to congregations.  This is still the reason for any entity beyond the local congregation.  At the creation of the UUA, a plan was proposed for districts and regional service centers.  The finances of the times were such that both could not be funded and districts were chosen as the service provider model. 

            With the advent of long distance communication capabilities such as webinars, video conversations, and web based learning opportunities, there are more ways to connect to congregations other than by telephone and in person.  Some people feel that the day of districts is fading and regionalization is the future.  In at least the middle of the country, the Mid-America Region is now the only entity linking the congregation to the UUA as a middle representative.  The three districts that comprise this region (Central Mid-West, Prairie Star, and Heartland) voted themselves out of existence in 2013.  All UUA staff who worked in one of the three districts now work in a larger combined staff structure.  There has been some elimination of duplicate district staff positions such as administrators. 

            The JPD has focused on service delivery to congregations throughout my tenure as DE.  We added district only staff to meet the needs and requests that we received.  As the possibility of regionalization has moved forward, we decided upon a strategy of bringing congregations closer together with one another and putting an adjunct staff person in a leadership role to keep the congregations connected.  We are presently organizing up to eight clusters throughout the JPD and have three functioning and two more in formation.  The other districts in CERG are also organizing clusters of congregations for the same purpose of networking and communications between congregations.  Clusters of congregations can identify common needs that will make service delivery more efficient.  One workshop or presentation on a topic to many teams from local congregations will result in better dissemination of those ideas within the congregations and support between them as they implement those new ideas. 

            As clusters develop, there will probably be some mixing of congregations that are on the borders between existing districts.  Should districts cease to exist in the CERG region, these clusters will become a central connection between the region or UUA and the congregations.  One possibility is that each existing UUA CERG staff person will be assigned to connect to two or three clusters and be known to the leadership of those congregations.  The staff person would spend time with the congregations in that cluster finding out what types of services would most help the congregation be stronger and healthy.  The CERG staff person could work alongside an adjunct staff person in making sure high quality services were delivered to the cluster and the congregations depending upon the specific needs. 

Conclusion

            The next several years will be full of surprises, some pleasant and some possibly not.  The world of Unitarian Universalism is evolving.  Outside pressures on religious life are causing people to rethink their understanding of a faith community.  There are large segments of America who state that they are “spiritual but not religious (SBNR)” and have no need for religious community.  Among those under thirty-five, the SBNR crowd now tops 30% and growing.  Gallup reported in 2012 that over 17% of America claim no religious identity. 

            If congregations are to continue playing a meaningful role in the lives of men, women, and children, then we who are leaders will need to be nimble and innovative in addressing the challenges of secularization and isolation that permeate life today.  In some ways it was much simpler in 1962 when districts were formed.  But we can’t turn the clock back nor would most of want to do so. 

            I believe in a resiliency within our leadership that will find a path forward.  I am hopeful that we will find better ways of connecting, enriching one another, and creating a safe place for those beyond our congregations to find us and join their energy with us to create a vibrant liberal faith for the Twenty-First Century.  I pray that it may be so.

Yours in the Faith,

 REV DR RICHARD SPECK SIGNATURE

Rev. Dr. Richard Speck

When the Spirit Says

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When the Spirit Says

         There is a hymn in the Singing the Journey Hymnal that says that when the spirit moves within you, you have to sing, shout, dance, or do what the spirit says do.  I like the tune and the jazzy feeling to it. 

        My personal theology is a naturalistic religious humanist with theistic tendencies.  As such, I am not certain that God exists, but if there is a God, then we humans are in partnership to co-create the beloved community here on this earth at this time.  The only God I can embrace is a God of Love who is always urging us toward greater love between each other and our planet. 

        Spirituality is both an inner focus as well as an outer one.  I personally don’t pray much since I don’t think that those thoughts are being heard by any higher power.  I do reflect on things when in the spirit of prayer in church.  My reflections are more often tuned to gratefulness for my life and the connections I have with others.  Or they will be focused on someone I know and sending my thoughts of healing and comfort for what they are enduring.  When I offer corporate prayer I usually address the Spirit of Life which enfolds each one of us. 

        We humans have been seeking answers to the big questions since we gained consciousness.  Every religion that has ever existed has tried to grapple with these persistent questions of existence.  The big three are: Where did I come from?  Why am I here?  Where am I going?  These are questions that science cannot answer, only religion.  Each of us must discover for ourselves an answer to each of them that is satisfying to each of us.  Those answers will differ based upon a variety of factors such as where we were born, who raised us, and what experiences we have had in our lives. 

        I have chosen Unitarian Universalism as my path to discover my answers to those questions.  My religious community is a test pad for my exploration of my connections to others and the divine. Here I can try new things and see whether they fit with my understanding of who I am and my place in the world.  I can experiment with spiritual practices such as meditation or art and decide how that affects me.  I can be mindful of all that is around me and learn new ways of relating to others and the universe. 

        All of this is part of spirituality.  I have a book in my library titled “One Minute Wisdom” written to help one deepen the sense of spirituality.  I close with an excerpt. 

 

Spirituality

Even though it was the Master’s Day of Silence, a traveler begged for a word of wisdom that would guide him through life’s journey.  The Master nodded affably, took a sheet of paper and wrote a single word on it: “Awareness.” 

The visitor was perplexed.  “That’s too brief.  Would you please expand on it a bit?”  The Master took the paper back and wrote: “Awareness, awareness, awareness.”

“But what do these words mean?” said the stranger helplessly.  The Master reached out for the paper and wrote: “Awareness, awareness, awareness means AWARENESS.”

Yours in the Faith,

REV DR RICHARD SPECK SIGNATURE

The Future is Among Us

UU Youth

       Over the years that I have been a Unitarian Universalist minister I have heard people in congregations say that religious education and inclusion of youth and young adults is an important value to them.  I also have observed how often the actions within our congregations speak louder than those words of inclusivity.  The actions that I have seen tell me that children need to be strictly controlled to keep out of the way of adults, youthful opinions are not welcome, and worship doesn’t include youth and young adult needs. 

        Lest you think I am being overly harsh, take a good look at your own congregation.  Identify any way you can find where youth are included in the work of the church.  The Youth Ministry Working Group Report of 2009 lifted up some pathways that should be created, or made explicit, in congregations:

  • planning, participating in and leading worship
  • engaging in spiritual reflection and discernment through small group ministries or other programs
  • singing in the choir and providing instrumental music in worship
  • providing religious education to children
  • co-facilitating youth-adult faith development programs
  • providing and receiving pastoral care
  • serving on committees and boards (in addition to youth-specific and religious education committees)
  • helping to plan and lead social service and social justice projects

 

When it comes to our young adults, how connected are they to the life of the church?  Are there young adults on the board or leading committees?  Do they participate in the social activities and worship?  Is there programming that addresses the particular needs of people who might be entering the work world, finding a mate, starting a family, or learning how to live a moral life in a complex media-saturated environment that elevates greed over goodness? 

While it has been thirty years since I was a young adult, I do remember how I had to work at being welcomed in a UU congregation.  I was embraced by my peers and tolerated by my elders.  Is this still true for your church or fellowship?

I discovered this article at the UU Planet site.  It discusses the needs of a young adult with children in one congregation.  Perhaps it will stimulate some discussion within your congregation on what can be done to be more inclusive of young adults. 

http://uuplanet.org/2013/06/13/reaching-out-to-and-involving-young-adults-and-families-with-children/

Unitarian Universalism has been known as a faith where people have come from another religious tradition.  But we also have a solid core of youth and young adults among us.  These people are our future and are with us right now.  How we integrate them into our communities of faith will help determine what Unitarian Universalism will be in a generation.  If we do the right things, they will stay and prosper and bring their energy and talents to strengthen our faith.  If we ignore them and do not provide their needs, we will follow the path of other major denominations and sink into oblivion.  It is your choice.  What will you make?

Yours in the Faith,

REV DR RICHARD SPECK SIGNATURE

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,

REV DR RICHARD SPECK SIGNATURE

Special Announcement

Retirement

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 SIGNATURE 

Rev. Dr. Richard Speck

District Executive

Tis a Gift to Be Simple

Happy holidays

        My wife and I don’t usually give gifts anymore to ourselves at Christmas.  We determined that we had enough stuff in our lives and decided that we would give to others who were not as fortunate.  One year we gave to the Heifer Project that combats world hunger by providing animals to help people become self-sufficient.   We also gave to the local Food Bank to assist in keeping area families nourished.  We have given to the Southern Poverty Law Center to help them in fighting against intolerance and hate groups in this country. 

        We get numerous requests both throughout the year and especially at the end of the calendar year to give financial support to many worthy causes.  If we were independently wealthy, I would have no problem giving to all of them.  However, on my UUA salary and my wife’s salary, we must make meaningful decisions on where our gifts can do the most good.  The first place we give is to our home church.  They get the largest part of our contributions.  We also support the JPD Chalice Lighter program to assist in growing our faith beyond the local church.  We are Friends of the UUA and have a regular donation taken out of my paycheck. 

        I list all of these areas of our generosity not to brag but to show that a part of my faith is using the blessings I have received to help others.  Giving is a spiritual discipline that we cultivate in our lives.  It isn’t something that we trot out at one time of year but is a practice that becomes a part of our everyday lives.  I believe that when we give of both ourselves and our resources, we make the world a little bit better. 

        According to the story, three wise men came from afar to see the baby Jesus in the manger.  They came bearing precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to give to the baby.  In the ancient near East, these last two gifts were worth their weight in gold.  These gifts were meant to pay homage to Jesus and what he stood for to those wise men. 

As you enter this season of the holidays, what are the gifts that you bring?  Who do you lift up that is in need of your time?  Who might be made better through your talents?  And what would your treasure do to make the world better? 

I have a favorite reading by Howard Thurman that I have used for many years.  I share it with you as my wish for your gifts to be used in merry measure throughout the coming year. 

The Work of Christmas

When the song of angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among the people,

To make music in the heart.

        May the love of family, friends, and church provide you with a community that celebrates the work of Christmas so that our world will be a little bit warmer for those most in need of our love.  Happy Holidays.