UU resource featured on tools site

Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools site is one of my favorites for finding the perfect tool that does many jobs.

Normally that’s a physical artifact, but today he recommends a free download — a book and site about games called Deep Fun — that comes from the Unitarian Universalist Association.


Use case: helping the small town pastor

Let me introduce my user case doppleganger, The Rev. Angela Mather. She’s the minister of the Lower Walnut Universalist Church in Lower Walnut, Maine. I mention her because she could use some help with free and open-source software solutions. Actually, she could use any number of solutions. And we’re going to help her out.

Her position is half-time and the pay is low, but it gives her access to health insurance and a cottage the church owns as a parsonage. She works part-time for the local tourism board to make ends meet for herself and her thirteen-year old son, Absolom. Angela’s quite talented, but she’s “geographically limited” since her marriage ended. (Robert, her ex-husband, convinced her to move back to Maine, where today he runs the family business, a heritage grist mill/bed & breakfast in nearby Upper Walnut.) For her son and work’s sake, she keeps the peace. Settlements and other opportunities in the area are few; best to make the best of the situation.

One reason the pay is low is that the economy is bad — and threatens to get worse — and the congregation is a shadow of its historic size. The families that founded the church also founded the mills but the mills are closed and the families — at least those with money — are gone. Angela has no support staff, but a reliable handful of the elder women in the church help around the office and flower beds. She has an old computer — a 2001-era Windows machine; a relic she’s been told — that stalls and sputters and causes her so much frustration. Not only does she write the orders of service and newsletters, but calendars for the Senior Lunch program and reports for her other job. Oh, and a web site? Not so much.

This is Angela’s story. This matches many stories, at least in part. When I describe or develop solutions, I will have her — the meaning of a use case — in mind.

4-star Service Committee

I got a solicitation letter from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) today. I’m normally sour about solicitation letters and the UUSC hasn’t been so hot in recent years, having a weird-ambiguous relationship with congregational Unitarian Universalism and a less-than-perfect efficiency rating by services like Charity Navigator. But the print piece and its new logo is very cute, and cute has its place in this world. I wanted to see more. Alas, their website — www.uusc.org — in the old style! (Why?)

Old style or not, there was a feature there that caught my attention: the Service Committee has been awarded a Charity Navigator four-star rating, the highest available. See for yourself. And now I see the UUSC can steward its donors money effectively, I’ll look to see if its projects are something (the mission is good) I want to support.

Saviour of All Fellowship's gentle ministry

I’m always happy when I get an envelope of newsletters from the Saviour of All Fellowship. Even though you can read them online now — not always the case — there’s something about getting the letter. I need to put a check in the mail to them.

Each month is one side of a leaf (I wonder if some people get the newsletters monthly rather than bundled) with a bit of biblical instruction, an encouraging word and some news (like a conference or a death notice). It is written like a letter and always stays on topic: praising God and instructing the people on our final and complete salvation. Most Unitarian Universalists will find their theology odd, but I suspect those who find their way here will find something endearing.

The model, from a church communications point of view, is worth considering. I can imagine many small churches could dispense with the mini-magazine format and put out a well-made, timely and tightly constructed letter instead.

NYT: Manhattan synagogue takes on double duty

The Actor’s Temple, so progressive in its founding that it admitted the once less-respectable entertaining class, has been getting by in its Hell’s Kitchen location, but the risk of insolvency has moved the small congregation to modify its space as — what else? — a performance space. It isn’t always easy — well-loved pews vanished for 199 seats — but at least there’s a revenue stream.

This is another example of shared use that you in small, underfunded congregations can draw on. (My last pastorate rented space to arts groups, but none used the sanctuary to perform.) Bookmark the story in today’s New York Times.

Off Broadway and Nearer to God: It’s Curtain Time at a Synagogue” by Campbell Robertson (2006 November 29)

Congregation Ezrath Israel aka The Actor’s Temple

Hunting for lost churches

I’m cleaning obsolete files off my computer and have discovered saved webpages about the records Harvard holds about some defunct Universalist and Unitarian churches. There’s no good reason to save the cached pages; you can read about the holdings yourself here.

But why look? To feel miserable about what’s lost? No. To see the stream of mergers and consolidations. Turns out that the Fifth Universalist Society, Boston, changed buildings and names in a snail-like crawl from Boylston Hall, to Shawmut Avenue, to Brookline, to Waltham, where merging with another church expired in 1946. (Or perhaps not, the records got to Harvard in 1982 via the First Parish, UU, Waltham, so perhaps there was a final merger.)

The Shawmut Avenue era, as the Shawmut Universalist Parish, is the most glorious era as described in chapter 27, volume 2 of Miller’s The Larger Hope. The minister was George L. Perrin, recently returned from the Japan mission and he set about making the church “the Every-Day Church” or the kind of institutional church that responded to the community by providing social services. The Bethany Union — in case you’ve seen it in the UUA directory and wondered what it was — survives from this church’s members in this era.

Mariners' ministry in Hong Hong

I admit to being fascinated with Christian churches in unlikely places, in unusual formats, and under unconventional circumstances. Little wonder that transport chaplaincies appeal. In Hong Kong, four Protestant and Catholic ministry share space with a mariner’s club, which also offers accomodation, recreation, dining, and other resources. A room, dinner, a drink, a quick game of pool, and Mass: how can it get better?

The club in Hong Kong has two sites, each with its own chapel shared between the English, Danish, and German state churches and the Catholic Church’s maritime apostolate.

I partiuclarly like the good use of space in a city that can hardly support a little stone church with a steeple and cemetary.

A site from the Anglican end

A rabbi, a priest, an imam, and a minister go to the Astrodome . . . .

If the title sounds like the beginning of an old joke, then it follows a week of the cruelest possible jokes. I suppose some people will find it in poorest taste that a couple of dozen revellers decided to go ahead with Southern Decadence, the “gay Mardi Gras” event, but at least that sounds like New Orleans. Better to laugh than cry, sometimes at least. I suspect the two have blended in the full, coupled with mania, desperation, and perhaps madness.

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to minister unto such as are any ways afflicted or distressed in mind, body, or estate, to comfort and relieve them according, to their need, giving them patience under their trials, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions.

Just a little something from the litany of a 1894 Universalist prayerbook. I think it’s time to start doing a bit more theology and Christian nurturance, peppered with the occasional comment about the disaster and some helpful tips about preparing against future disaster. (I still think a few thousand pressuring letters to the President would prove useful.)

FEMA photo of religious leaders in worship September 4.

Yesterday, in the Astrodome, there was held some kind of religious service. I know the civil authorities at the Astrodome (which is whom, I wonder) have to be everything to everyone but I’ve been in enough interfaith events to know they’re a bit forced and contrived even in the best and most agreeable circumstances. And given these circumstances, I can’t help but think that it must have seemed awkward and paradoxically both the right thing to do, and perfectly useless.

The photos are from FEMA (public domain), and the one above had the caption

Houston, TX., September 4, 2005 — Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza (at podium), Rev. Bill Lawson (left to right), Sheik Mustafa Mahmoud and Rabi [sic] David Rosen deliver Sunday services to Hurricane Katrina evacuees housed in the Red Cross shelter in the Houston Astrodome. FEMA photo/Andrea Booher

What would you do if you were in such a circumstance: either behind podium — a bad visual, I must add — a relief worker on the floor, or one of the thousands brought there? What spiritual gifts and graces would you bring to bear? James at Peregrinato begins this thought.

FEMA photo of people attending worship on September 4.

Houston, TX., September 9, [sic] 2005 — Alezhanjla and Gary Mutin, Hurricane Katrina evacuees, listen to Sunday services given by Rev. Bill Lawson, Sheik Mustafa Mahmoud, Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenz (left to right),and Rabi David Rosen (at podium) in the Red Cross shelter in the Houston Astrodome. FEMA photo/Andrea Booher