Clergy sexual misconduct site resumes

I’m glad to see Speaking Truth to Power — a site addressing clergy sexual misconduct (CSM) resume. In its own words, “its specific focus is Unitarian Universalist processes for dealing with CSM.” Though popularly conflated with child sexual abuse, the risk of clergy sexual misconduct remains and in a congregational system there’s little natural recourse for grievances (or protesting innocence).

It is a part of the larger Safety Net program, designed to address CSM and sponsored by the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville (Tennessee). This kind of sponsored program — I should add — might be a good model for some of the functions lost by an over-stretched UUA and which might have once been picked up by the now cast-off independent affiliate organizations. Indeed, it looks like a manifestation of the growing fiscal sponsorship movement in non-profits, which should be seriously considered by any group hoping to start something new of a charitable nature.

The winners with regions

I was a little amazed about the idea — from a special UUA Board meeting no less; where’s the fire? — that five regions should supplement and perhaps supersede the current nineteen districts.

Chutney asks who the losers would be. Staff, to be sure. That’s what reorganizations are for. But I wonder who the winners would be.

There shouldn’t be a reorganization unless there’s a good reason. And a good reason would be to devolve some of the functions centralized in the current system. Centralized, and I think unduly inhibited. At minimum, the following services should be decoupled from the center, apart from setting quality standards:

  • Admitting member congregations
  • Admitting ministers and others to fellowship
  • Sponsoring or caring for new church starts

With this, I imagine, comes the spectre of independent fundraising and ministerial development arrangements — with one of the current seminaries, or without — and that needn’t be a bad thing.

But again, where’s the fire, or is this an effort to make lemonade — unwillingly — out of the lemons of feared financial insolvency?

At Lent: less meat, less Google

Lent begins today, but the Protestant in me has never been very comfortable in the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. I went along in seminary, and followed local practice in my last pastorate, but since that ended haven’t — to coin a phrase — haven’t been imposed upon.

Still, I’ve been reflecting more deeply and now vocally about two things that have bothered me for some time. First, I’m not eating meat, at least nothing I’ve not already bought. I suspect there’ll be a place for the odd anchovy or oyster in my future, but food with feet are right off the menu. (I suspect the fish will be spared in time.) Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals — and its sideways take-down of Michael Pollen’s macho-neurotic The Omnivore’s Dilemma — is the most proximate cause. Foer makes a good case ethically and philosophically, but my faith is why I listen to him and not others. I hear St. Paul in Romans (8:18-25, here NRSV)

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Behind the groans, I hear the moos and bleets and chirping. Is salvation pushed so far future that it can not be tasted now? And if it is known now, how can it be enjoyed from the suffering of others. It is, at least in my setting, needless. And needless suffering must be rejected. (Just labor and trade are other concerns, and I’ve written about these, at my Boy in the Bands blog. And shall continue the practical pieces of this theme there.)

If not eating animals is an experience of realized eschatology, then my concern about Google is about freedom and consumption. I mention it in tandem with vegetarianism because I feel obese with the amount of data I’m consuming, and such a large part coming from and through Google. Or if I was to cite scripture, Google seems a lot like Mammon. It’s like a cheap, convenient and delicious food — but it’s not the world, and recent mistakes — such as Google Buzz — suggests that the clever kids from Mountain View are either testing the waters or are tone-deaf to the privacy concerns of its users. Bad, bad move. Again, practical details at Boy in the Bands. (In a related note, former office-mate Lizzie is giving up Facebook and Twitter for Lent.)

Nonprofit license for mailing?

I don’t think I’m reading this incorrectly, but it seems that a religious organization, whether or not it is incorporated (a state I wouldn’t recommend) or has an affirmative IRS 503(c)(3) ruling (that’s a recognition as a public charity by the federal tax authority, for my overseas readers) is eligible to apply for a nonprofit mailing permit. This permit could make mailings quite cheap.

From the USPS (postal service) Domestic Mail Manual section 703

1.2.3 Religious
A religious organization is a nonprofit organization whose primary purpose is to:

a. Conduct religious worship (e.g., churches, synagogues, temples, or mosques);
b. Support the religious activities of nonprofit organizations whose primary purpose is to conduct religious worship; or
c. Further the teaching of particular religious faiths or tenets, including religious instruction and the dissemination of religious information.

This could be quite an advantage to a small church trying to make an outreach through direct mail, or a ministry that makes mailing its main activity, and is small enough to not warrant formal recognition.

Does anyone know if this is actually the case?

The church noob

One way to distinguish a well-functioning church from one less well functioning is how it treats its novices — the “noob” or “newbie” — and that includes those entering ministerial life. We were all novices once, and failing to guide and shape the new and inexperienced is no credit to one’s expertise.

A bit of advice from Yehuda Katz, working from a different field where the same phenomenon is alive and well. A good start for Unitarian Universalists: stop the pretense of being so heroic and unique, and drop the frickin’ acronyms.

HT: Luigi Montanez, with whom I work.

Naming this blizzard

The Chesapeake Bay watershed has been hit by a large snowstorm; indeed, two outsize storms since December, and a supplemental snowfall is due this week.

The sidewalks are a patchwork of the clear and dry — a crown in heaven for those responsible persons who shoveled them — or, when, left uncleared like a wet and rocky beach, with uneven mounds of shifting snow for shifting sand. The main roads are said to be plowed, but compacted and smoothed would be a more accurate description. Ice unseen makes walking and driving a hazard. The side streets are impassible.

Restless workaholics are clamoring to return to their cubicles. Staples foods are running out of the open stores. The fun is wearing off the spectacle.

But certain dangers and inconveniences come with a storm. Having spent much of my childhood in hurricane-targeted New Orleans, you learn how to prepare for wind and flood, but you cannot prepare for the smells or the boredom that follow. Nor, indeed, can you prepare yourself for the hapless mess of oh-so-clever names this winter storm has been given. Let’s review.

  • Snowpocalypse. My favorite, if worn. A good use of hyperbole and the construction is little changed from the original word. Tricky to spell. That is, if you’re not cutting-and-pasting it.
  • Snowmageddon. Not as good, because it doesn’t map from Armageddon unless you say it with an intrusive R in the first syllable. Of course, native “Warshingtonians” might.
  • SnOMG. Unacceptable. When spoken “Snow my God!” it’s dated and twee. To those unfamiliar, it looks like the word smog spoken by someone eating peanut butter.
  • Snogasm. Evokes nasty thoughts. And laughable, since we’re now in the fourth day of this event.

Any other constructions (“snono”) means you’re trying too hard. Take that energy and apply it, say, to a shovel and a sidewalk.

Newsletters: more on the "why?"

The snow has stopped falling here in D.C., and I’m tired of writing about it. Back to church administration.

Earlier, I wrote that much of the utility of newsletters — not e-newsletters, but the ones handed to you or sent by mail — comes from their physicality, thus providing a connection to the ministry that sends them. I think this is why printed newsletter’s biggest defenders (and backseat copy editors) are the elderly, and not so much because of their age but because of the added difficulties of getting to church. It’s also more than “not getting the technology” — very often they have a vested interest in getting those printed pages. Think how many snow-bound people here will miss church but — perhaps unconsciously — leaf to see what the church news is as a touchstone or connection. (The instinct is akin to bringing and receiving food in times of distress.) For shut-ins and moved-aways, and for extra-congregational ministries, every Sunday is a snow day.

So I think the church and ministry newsletter will survive. But it needs to value the readers’ time and sensibility, be more clever in its production and attentive to quality.

Some thoughts about what I’ve seen next time.

D.C. church closings? openings?

I had a very nice invitation the middle of last week to fill in for a vespers service for a small church tomorrow. Since I’m not preaching these days, I was happy to be invited but asked . . . “what about the snow?”

They canceled, and I’m getting on the schedule. But it begs the question:

Which religious services will be open this weekend? This list, from WTOP Radio, rules out many of the synagogues and Adventist churches (understandable since the blizzard will be running neatly over the sabbath) but I wonder if other churches are holding out for more news, or have decided and are just not getting the word out. Please be clear about your opening policies, particularly in big, clear letters on your website.

If you’re in a position of leadership and haven’t decided, consider this. Some of my nicest experiences of worship have been at a church I don’t normally attend because the one I would attend is inaccessible, and bad weather certainly counts. Like the time several winters ago when we closed at my former pastorate and so I — living near the church anyway — wandered down a few more blocks and joined the remnant of First Baptist. They even took in two new members that day! Many of the twenty or thirty or so of us — less than 5% of the usual congregation — decamped to a local diner for lunch. A great experience of hospitality and a thought for those thinking, “none of our people will show up.”