Minister’s Column March 2023

Dear Ones:

March arrives and, if it hasn’t happened already, our spirits begin anticipating the arrival of spring in earnest. Though it’s been a mild winter to say the least, I am relishing the coming of warmer weather.

March arrives and UUS:E kicks off its Annual Appeal. I trust it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyways: this year is different. This year we need to dig deeper, to pledge even more generously.

Ever since the completion of our building project in 2010, we’ve been balancing our budget by spending down reserves. During the recent pandemic years, we’ve been balancing our budget using money from our Paycheck Protection Program loan. Back in 2010 we only expected to follow this practice of deficit budgeting for three years. Since we rarely spent as much as we anticipated; and since there always seemed to be unanticipated sources of revenue, we continued with this practice. (This is even true this year, as we aren’t paying what we budgeted for snow removal, the Chocolate auction did much better than expected, and we’ve had a few more rentals than anticipated.) But we were always slowly spending our reserves to the point where we simply no longer have this option. I should point out that one of the major benefits of this practice was that we were able to continue offering our staff the salaries and benefits recommended by the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Office of Church Staff Finances. This has been critically important to us as a congregation. Providing fair compensation to our staff is one of the ways we put our values into action.

A long line of UUS:E Treasurers (and others) kept reminding us, year after year, that this practice of deficit budgeting was unsustainable—that at some point we would have to change our behavior. Furthermore, this year, our Buildings and Grounds Committee, under the leadership of Lynn Dove, has reminded us—with necessary urgency—that various features of our beloved meeting house will be needing maintenance and even replacement in the coming years, and we are not ready. In order to care for our building over the long-run, and in order to not set ourselves up for endless capital campaigns in the coming decades, we need to start funding our building reserves now. There really is no way around this.

This year, no matter what, we will break our habit of deficit budgeting. This is a huge challenge that will require all of us to dig deeply and make the most generous financial pledge possible to our beloved spiritual community. As I write this column, the Policy Board is preparing an “ideal” budget that continues to compensate our staff fairly and which puts $30,000 into our building reserves. Both of these things are possible. Your generosity can make it happen! It is true that we may have to make some very hard decisions before next year’s final budget is presented to the congregation in May. The Policy Board is prepared to make these difficult decisions. But we’re not starting there. We’re starting from a place of abundance, from a place of love for UUS:E—its people and its meeting house—and from a place of profound faith in your generosity.

We have accomplished so much as a congregation, not just over my now 20-year tenure as your settled minister, but since the founding in 1969. Meeting our challenges with tenacity and grace is in our congregational DNA. I am confident we can meet this current challenge as well. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for your generous pledge to our congregation, and to the future of our faith.

With love,

Rev. JoshRev. Joshua Pawelek