I am still reflecting on what happened this past Sunday during the congregational meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett. This was our meeting always held at this time of the year to approve our budget for the coming fiscal year. Our stewardship drive had been going for many weeks at this point. We had received very well planned materials showing what we do as a congregation, what our ministries are both within and outside of our building. We had received multiple emails and messages through social media over the ensuing weeks about where our pledge drive stood–how much was pledged and how much we still needed to make our budget. We knew going into the meeting that we had not made our budget.
During the service prior to our meeting, Rev. Jan laid out before us how what we had been able to do over the last five years created beautiful, powerful ministries supported by a growing staff of mostly half time and quarter time employees. She acknowledged how vital the staff is to our shared community and ministries together, and then she told us that after much consideration, she had decided that next summer when she returns from sabbatical, she had decided to go half-time herself in order not only to make the budget work, but to support the longer term vision of what this community is and is becoming. I heard her saying: I’m willing to do this because this is who we are. This will be good for who we are and who we are becoming.
Who we are. I’ll be honest to say that I went into the service knowing that she was going to make that announcement. My heart was heavy and my mind was not very focused except to get through this thing. The service ended and we gathered for our congregational meeting. Our President began leading us through an examination of the budget and what it looked like from the beginning compared to what it would look like when Rev. Jan went half time. The room was fairly sedate.
And then questions. Would Rev. Jan still have health insurance? Was she being treated fairly? How would she be able to live? Would she have the off time she needed, study leave? That may have been the moment that my own demeanor began to lift. This is who we are. We care about one another. We care about our minister. We want to make sure she is okay. Then, someone asked the question: just how short are we? How much money do we need to keep Rev. Jan full time? Some quick calculations were done. We needed about 10,000.00 more than what was pledged. And then, the totally unexpected. Individuals from all over the room began to speak up and pledge additional amounts of money. At some point, I lost count, but I am fairly sure that we went well over 10,000.00. Sitting together, listening and working in real time together, we made the budget in less than a minute!
Here is what I am still amazed at, confused over, and marveling about. We all had been given plenty of information long before we walked into that service and that meeting that day. We knew we had not pledged enough. I am certain that all those who spoke up and pledged more came to that meeting that day feeling like they had pledged all that they could. But when we sat down together, being together, listening together, feeling together, that somehow changed who we are. Sitting there entering into our community’s life together who we are changed and together we were able to do something that we could not do while we were all pondering things at home, alone. Not to be overly dramatic, but this felt very much like I’ve always imagined the miracle of the fish and loaves in the stories of Jesus.
Here’s what I have so far. We have to be together to really know who we are. There is no digital substitute for that.