This is a bleg, or a blog beg. Is there a brand of portable speakers you like and can recommend — the kind connected by an ordinary audio jack and powered with batteries — that would be convincingly clear and loud for a group to listen to. Say, a podcast sermon or — don’t wince — a hymn track to sing-along to. I’m trying to avoid tinniness, and this is not an area I know well.
I’ve been studying the Quakers more than usual lately. Not just the Friends General Conference — the main fellowship for liberal Quakers, including many who aren’t necessarily Christian — but others, including the Holiness pastoral Quakers, and the Conservatives, with whom I would likely be most at home, should I ever go to the Friends. (No plans, though.) They’re a interesting continuum, and I suspect offer many lessons both personally and for the institutions I care about.
A friend — not a Quaker — pointed out QuakerMaps.com as a resource for finding Quakers in North America and Europe, and its a good ministry worthy of emulation. And one with an actual funding model. (Perhaps not by a U.S. Unitarian Universalist, who are almost entirely in a single fellowship in the UUA; thus causing a duplication of effort.)
The thing that touched me was the implied seriousness with with Jesus’ promise that Â “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) The lone worship group in Croatia has (or had) two members. Also in Lithuania. The one in Greece has three; Estonia’s lone group has four. Denmark Yearly Meeting, in essence a national body, has 29 souls meeting in three different places. And I wonder how many more tiny groups are hidden in the statistics of relatively larger groups.
Which isn’t a romantic impulse toÂ tininess. Perhaps members of these little groups are frustrated by their small numbers. Or not. And it must be more work per capita to keep small meetings going, though it isn’t like faith is a wholesale business. And while some may be dwindling, legacy groups, I gather that others are much newer.
I could go back and forth like this all day, so suffice it to say that there’s a recognized place in the Friends environment for the smallest gatherings — even those that have no settled space and meet far less frequently than weekly. (“By arrangement” seems to be the mode of choice in some European countries.)
Recognition and respect — that’s worthy of emulation, too.
With this post, I open the category Quakers.
So, returning to the question of congregational size and spending, I wanted an answer to a question: what congregation spends the least money per member, and what does that “get you”?
That honor goes to the Joseph Priestly Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Its 28 members reported 2009 annual expenses of $800, or about $28 each. We’d be forgiven to think it’s a bit more, with the odd unrecorded pound of coffee pitched in. The fellowship’s format is much like fellowships of yore, and which younger Unitarian Universalists may have never seen: no minister, meetings in members’ home and (in this case) no UUA Annual Program Fund contribution. (The “fair share” would be double their annual budget alone. I’ll speak some other time about how responsibilities flow both ways with respect to the APF, even if the accountability talk is weighted against congregations.)
What do you get? A public meeting in a community center seven times a year, with weekly meetings the other weeks “from Labor Day through mid-May” — they even have their own song-book; I’d love to see it — plus life-cycle rites. Themes this year include tai chi, Buddhism and vegetarianism, which fits the modus operandi — a practical eclecticism — and which I bet would be more appealing than endless handwringing about what Unitarian Universalism is and isn’t. They have coffee and snacks before the meeting, and potluck meals at other times.
Fellowship members participate civic projects, mainly maintaining a trail and supporting women’s shelter.
Both a Google search for “lycoming unitarian” and “sunbury pa unitarian” (where one of my grandmothers grew up) — the sort of investigation a seeker would make — pulled up a map with three Unitarian Universalist congregations, theirs included, and the map listing linked to their plain, but informative website. It includes a schedule (not current, even considering the church year, but I’ve seen worse) and roster, and details about their democratically-elected leadership — a feature we tend to take for granted — and a rotating service plan that sounds both manageable and worth further investigation.
Of course, the value of the volunteer work — and perhaps even the in-kind contributions — is far greater than the financial piece, but the members of the JPUUF get a lot for their $28. Good for some, if not for all, and worth recognition as an option that’s served a little slice of central Pennsylvania since 1960.
I’m having unformed thoughts, and rather than trying to get them all ironed out, I thought I would open the floor.
What is the simplest church you know of? Simple in organization, mission, membership, finances and leadership. What do you think the simplest church could be? What “complications” — even hallowed ones — would you vote off the island first?
I can imagine so many permutations — and as many ways these could fail — but I wonder what occurs first to you.