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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Recession hits Unitarian Universalist Association.

One of the largest congregations in the Unitarian Universalist Association, First Unitarian Church of Portland, Oregon, came up $185,000 short in its annual fundraising drive — and announced this past weekend that the church will simply shut down for the month of July. No services, no programs, and the staff will take a month-long unpaid leave.

Meanwhile, the UUA itself is projecting a $1.8 million revenue drop in fiscal year 2010, which begins in July. That's a 10 percent drop. The UUA has already implemented several cost-cutting measures in fiscal year 2009, but many more are expected in the 2010 budget the administration will present to the board in April. UU World reports:

To cut costs, the UUA has imposed a hiring freeze, cut travel expenses, decreased the number of employees going to GA, reduced catering expenses, and held more meetings by phone and online. The UUA will also stop printing and mailing several publications: the annual UUA Directory, the monthly Congregational Mailing packet, and two newsletters, InterConnections for congregational leaders and The Religious Leader for religious professionals. The publications will be made available electronically.

How is the recession playing out in your neck of the UU woods?

("First Unitarian Church will close for July," Nancy Haught, The Oregonian 2.2.09; "UUA board votes to end independent affiliate status," Jane Greer, 2.2.09)

Copyright © 2009 by Philocrites | Posted 3 February 2009 at 9:27 PM

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Scott Wells:

February 3, 2009 10:34 PM | Permalink for this comment

Oh, the directory! There should be a historical footnote, since I can think of no other religious movement (the Unitarians in this case) that had a serious internal crisis based on who was or wasn't included in a directory.

I was going to be sad -- there was a time when I read it like a catalog of delights -- but so many little churches I wondered about have since closed and arcane lists of life members, dual fellowship ministers and international contacts have long vanished.

It was how I used to keep up with the constellation of affiliated organizations, but -- oh, right -- they too have passed.

Justine Urbikas:

February 4, 2009 12:04 AM | Permalink for this comment

This economic downturn has caused many to rethink the ways in which things are normally done and not given any thought to. Here in the CMwD we went to a 'digital' district office a few years ago, because the value of a concrete one seemed mute. With that many other things have gone virtual, just in time for needing to cut 10% out of the budget.

The UUA Board has, like everyone else implemented budget shavings, decided to no longer mail or print out the 200+ page board packet to Board members... seems like a small move, like the directory, but those board packets to 30 people four times a year would add up.

we have the technology to spend less on everyday things...

Cynthia Landrum:

February 4, 2009 02:14 PM | Permalink for this comment

"How is the recession playing out in your neck of the UU woods?" you ask? Over here in Michigan, not well. Unemployment in Jackson, MI just hit 11%. Our congregation has been dealing with this recession for a few years, since in Michigan it really started a while ago, and has already made the cuts we think we can make without cutting program or staff, so I'm imagining when the next canvass results are in things will get pretty tough, frankly. How discouraging to hear about one of the largest churches in our denomination closing its doors for a whole month! I think the move to on-line publications for the UUA makes complete sense, although I would like it if we, as congregations, could still purchase print copies of things like the directory. My church has no internet service, and occasionally having a print directory around makes life easier. Since we don't have good cell coverage, either, now I'll have to drive the block over to the covered area and look up phone numbers on my cell phone, I guess, if there's another congregation or district I need to call when I'm at church! We appreciate, greatly, however, that both our district and association have responded to this crisis by not raising dues. I think that will translate very well in the congregations as hearing that they are hearing us and know that we're all facing troubles this year. That kind of good will may lead to more effort towards paying fair share, too. I suspect that if they raised dues, few congregations could meet the raise right now, at least over here.


February 4, 2009 02:28 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm sorry, but I'm kind of horrified by the idea of a church shutting its doors to save money. I've always disliked the idea of American UU churches closing down for the summer. It seems to me to say something about the model of church in operation, and it doesn't fit my idea of what a church should be. Lots of churches in very poor countries keep their doors open in hard economic times: in famine and drought too. Can't American UUs manage it?

By the way Scott, we've had lots of arguments over here about our directory.

Patrick McLaughlin:

February 4, 2009 04:23 PM | Permalink for this comment

Cynthia, I'm assuming that the online directory will be in (or offer--nudge to Chris to mention it to someone) a format that can be printed out.

For those who need it on paper, or just really, really want it that way, print one.

I don't see its going virtual does much harm--and it saves money and trees.


February 7, 2009 09:24 AM | Permalink for this comment

In response to the recession, Cynthia Kane's congregation in Lexington, Kentucky, cut staff hours, eliminated committee budgets, and removed UUA dues from its budget. She urges UUs to think about tithing — giving a fixed portion of income — rather than giving as a portion of discretionary spending.

Patrick McLaughlin:

February 8, 2009 07:51 PM | Permalink for this comment


Depends on the region. UU churches in the Northeast are more likely to do this than elsewhere (historical reasons, largely now historical... but you know how habits are). In So. California, there is no UU congregation I'm aware of that does this (or has). Fellowships without ministers carried on year round, and even as ministers were called, continued to be year round ventures.

Mine's going to be facing a crunch--having spent most of the building fund that got tapped (interest growth only) sometimes in the past to help carry us over, and lost a long term user of the building. But no one has suggested closing the doors at all. Tightening things, yes. We'll hear squeaks with this year's budget, I'm sure--but the idea of closing the doors is just so antithetical to our culture here... even with all the outdoor glories (mountains, beaches, deserts...) and near-perfect summer (fall, winter, spring) climate. I guess if we let the climate affect going to church, we'd never get there...


I think that you mean the other minister whose name sounds like Cynthia Kane (that spelling belongs to Rev. Lt. (Lt. Rev?) Kane, who is here in San Diego. Ah, yes... Lexington, KY... "Rev. Cain." Must not mix up our Cynthias.

And I'm in full support of the notion she urges--and it's what my wife and I started doing several years ago; setting a percentage then... and then reviewing it each year, because her income was going up and that meant we could afford a larger percentage and we could also figure out where our commitment level felt right (as in something other than easy and painless). And lo, it's moved in those years up to 10%. So I'll say the word "tithe," but only to assure people that it's possible and not unreasonable--not because that's where they ought to dive in.


February 8, 2009 09:04 PM | Permalink for this comment

Note that the Oregon minister who wanted to close her church in July has now announced her retirement, effective in May. She writes, "I feel that this is a good time for me to leave, since the institution is healthy and thriving." Hmmm.

In the last 24 months unemployment in Oregon has gone from 5.4% to 9%. People are going to be scared. Scared people need church more. Closing their church to try to extort more money out of them seems pretty callous.

It also seems odd to me that the minister should take responsibility for closing the church. In our church such decisions would come from the board and would be communicated over the president's signature. In any case, the threat of a staff strike was obviously not a big success. Let's hope there are few imitators.


February 9, 2009 08:41 AM | Permalink for this comment

Marilyn Sewell, senior minister of First Unitarian Church in Portland, has also announced that she is retiring in May (Oregonian, 2.8.09).

daniel o'connell:

February 11, 2009 10:27 AM | Permalink for this comment

The Ethical Society in St Louis is closing for the month of July with unpaid leave as well.

I agree that people tend to need church more in tough times, rather than less, and in many UU churches-- particularly large ones-- attendance does drop way off in July typically because the main preacher(s) are on vacation.

Justine mentioned the steps our district (CMwD) is taking to save costs. By having one virtual meeting out of 5 physical ones, we saved $2,000.

Cutting the UUA directory and the other publications mentioned does not make a lot of sense to me with a 10% budget cut. Many congregations are cutting budgets but they are not going to stop with their newsletters or orders of service.

Cutting your public presence is simply reducing the public face of the UUA to congregations, and publications probably do not represent a large dollar amount in any event-- not compared to costs of staff.

What might make more sense is to reduce the staff size, and increase brand awareness among congregations.


February 11, 2009 10:39 AM | Permalink for this comment

Daniel, stopping the printing and mailing of InterConnections, for example, will save the UUA $27,000. Obviously that's a drop in the bucket — but when staff groups are asked to cut *their* budgets 10 percent, but cuts have to come from somewhere. I won't argue about the wisdom of eliminating publications, but printing and mailing costs are huge parts of the UUA's expenses.

As for staff cuts, what would you propose? And in the midst of a worsening recession, do see any justice issues involved in laying people off as the first response to a drop in revenue?


February 24, 2009 10:28 AM | Permalink for this comment

Do you know exactly what a hiring freeze for the UUA constitutes? What happens to the internships, like those in the Washington Advocacy Office, which will be unfilled next year? Are they being cut completely, or will they be suffering downsizing?
Bart Frost


February 24, 2009 11:32 AM | Permalink for this comment

Bart, a hiring freeze means that departments cannot hire new personnel or replace departing personnel without getting special authorization from the executive vice president.

There are, however, a number of positions that aren't funded from the UUA's general operating budget, but are funded instead from restricted funds (or special gifts from donors). The cuts the UUA is trying to make are from its operating budget. I don't know what the status of Washington Office internships is, but I was under the impression that at least some of them are paid for with restricted funds. You'd need to ask the Washington Office for more information.

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