– $35 million for UUism and UU Travels in Ireland

October 14, 2012 at 10:42 am | Posted in Online Ministry | 4 Comments

We recently purchased a second home on Cape Cod that will eventually be our full-time domicile. In recent weekend stays, we’ve visited UU congregations within a 25 mile radius in an effort to find a congregation that is right for us. We’ve heard many stories of good works and met loving, interesting people.

In one conversation, someone familiar with considerations involved in a potential sale of the Boston-based UUA headquarters buildings noted that the property is worth around $35 million. One thought, I was told, is to apply around $8 million of proceeds to purchase a new property, presumably in the Boston area.

I haven’t pursued the facts behind a sale. The notion of one poses an interesting exercise that I’m exploring here.

If I understood what I heard correctly, two questions popped into my head: First: Why spend $8M on a new headquarters and not apply as much of the $35M as possible to saving the religion from oblivion? The financial status of so many congregations begs the question of whether they will survive the next 20 years? So many are living off of legacies and not new revenue. And second: Why Boston? Why the East Coast for that matter?

I pose these questions here because every member of a UU congregation “is the UUA,” aren’t we? When I stood before my UU of Arlington, VA, congregation in 2010 to relay my takeaways from GA2010, I followed the minister’s prompting to end my account with “I am the UUA,” which my fellow GA delegates capped off their observations off with as well.

Why would I advocate a “Westward ho” option for the UUA? My spouse and I have chosen Massachusetts as our next domicile. We have for a number of reasons, one of which is that our extended families and friends reside in the Eastern half of the U.S. We don’t want to move more than a two-hour plane ride away from them for now.

And yet, it is the UU congregations in the Southwest and West that feel most authentically home to me, in particular. The UU Church of Berkley, the congregations in Oakland, Seattle, Portland and others speak to me more than any others. Ministers whose home churches are in these cities and who were schooled there, also practice in ways that speak to me more.

They seem alive, they’ve taken UU heritage and morphed it into an experience that to me is thoroughly contemporary. And I learned that many of them, like the UU in Albuquerque, NM are growing. They feel more intentionally multigenerational and multicultural. I’ve sensed less of a disconnect between what is preached there and what is the reality of their church communities.

Consider this chart of data from the American Religious Identity Survey.

I currently work in the elearning industry serving k-12 public schools. I’ve noted in my REACH grant work that elearning and digital ministry have much in common. It’s been my experience in my three-year exploration of UUism as a faith and as an organized religion, that congregations in the Southwest and West are successfully innovative in UUism as the school districts there are in elearning. California, Arizona, Washington state, and Oregon are leaders to whom other states look for improving the quality of education in this country.

And so I ask: Is it time to move UUA headquarters to the West, where our populations are growing and look to practices there to inspire and lead the rest of the UU world?

We should be seriously questioning whether to keep the UUA in Massachusetts or New England, in general.

Meanwhile, one of my observations regarding UUism in New England is that many people in congregations — especially in Massachusetts — do not feel any allegiance to a UU Identity or the UUA. That can probably be said of other congregations elsewhere in the country, to be sure. I just find it puzzling that UUs living in the UUA’s backyard feel that way.

But let’s say that leaving headquarters in the Boston area is the right thing to do. Does it have to spend $8 million on a headquarters? Why not limit a spend to $1M? Why not rent? When we own property we have to take care of it, and that’s costly. Until we are aggressively growing in attendance nationwide, I question why we would continue to spend down on assets to fund buildings and property and not the survival of our congregations and faith.

I don’t know how many people actually work in the buildings the association owns in Boston. I’m sure there are many good reasons to consider buying a new property there, but employee considerations shouldn’t be among them. Enormous numbers of people in the U.S. work productively and successfully from home far away from company headquarters.

All I’m saying is that assumptions should be aggressively double and triple checked when it comes to the potential uses of $35M.

On another note: Work takes me abroad regularly, and I try to manage the travel so that I can worship on Sundays. I recently visited the Unitarian Church of Dublin. I stopped by the Cork UU Fellowship, which I’ll write more about in an upcoming post. Below are a few pics of the old Unitarian church in Dublin, which is across the street from St. Stephen’s Green. Click on each one to see a better, larger image.

4 Comments »

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  1. I am always advocating for the Midwest!

  2. […] a larger scale, June Herold challenges the UUA to think seriously about moving its headquarters out of New England, and investing the savings in congregational growth. [Let’s] say that leaving headquarters in the […]

  3. Hear Hear!

  4. “Until we are aggressively growing in attendance nationwide,”

    You mean until the Hell that most U*Us don’t believe in freezes over? ;-)


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