Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Minister’s May Newsletter Message: Where there’s a Will, there’s a Way!

I’m overdue to redraft my Last Will and Testament. I also should create a Trust.

Since doing my will in 1991, things have changed. My nephews have grown up. They are out on their own, and their parents have done quite well, so they are not in need of all my assets. For 17 years, I haven’t even been in the Midwestern UU church that I listed as a beneficiary in my will long ago. Now I have a new congregation that is near to my heart and whose mission inspires my actions. This one!


Other things have changed. Since those days, I’ve become a graduate of one UU seminary and I feel very close to another one. I want them to continue to produce “all the ministers that are above average” for a long time to come.


At UUSS, our 50-year Master Plan for the Buildings and Grounds is visionary and beautiful, and the amount of resources necessary over the years for it will not be small. What made this plan possible in the first place were bequests of beloved members and friends of UUSS, now departed. You can see all their names on the metal Gratitude and Appreciation tree sculpture in the lobby.


Our fundraising consultant, Rev. Bud Swank, told me that we need an organized program to invite people to consider and plan on leaving a bequest or other legacy to UUSS with instruments like wills, trusts, mutual fund beneficiary designations, etc. This will ensure the Master Plan has sufficient resources down the road. I decided to get going on this need myself.


I don’t expect to die soon, but I don’t want to neglect putting down on paper the decisions that could put my assets to use in the service of my liberal religious values and in support of the mission and continuing ministry of this congregation.


If you’d like to talk to a minister about the kind of legacy you would like to plan for the future of Unitarian Universalism, please be in touch with one of us. I’m glad you are here now, in person. I look forward to seeing you soon on a Sunday. Take care!


Thank you for being part of UUSS.


Yours in service,





The Risks of Liturgical Dance

For the December 13 service we had two offerings by the Sarah Bush Dance Project, from the SF Bay Area.  Sarah is a friend of mine, and the Project had appeared in a performance in town the night before.   I returned on a flight from Boston in time for intermission.  I was happy to host her and two of her young dancers on Saturday night, though I was jet-lagged and couldn’t wait up for them, and I left for church as Michael and Chelsea snoozed in my living room. Somehow they rose and transformed themselves (or at least brushed their teeth) in time for two beautiful dances at both services.

We have a stage behind our pulpit (which is on the main floor), so everyone could see them.  They danced before the kids left for Sunday School and then again before the sermon, as a Mary Oliver poem was read aloud.  Very moving and lovely.  They stood at the door to greet departing worshipers, so I heard lots of words of appreciation.  They said they’d love to come back.  My senior colleague and I would love to find a way to pay them to dance for us again.

It was raining as the second service began, but Michael and Chelsea had to walk outside from the stage area to the front lobby of the building so they could walk through the congregation and meet Sarah on stage.  She told them to wear their shoes out and leave them in the lobby.  After their dances in the second service, she offered to go outside and around to get their shoes.  She didn’t see any shoes.  She asked them:  Are you sure you left them in the lobby?  Yes, they answered, next to the donation boxes.  Uh-oh!

In December we have a few large, shoulder-height cardboard boxes decorated and marked with signs like food, clothing, personal supplies.  There’s also a red grocery cart there–year-round–for donations.  Someone had picked up the shoes and put them in the cart.  Then Arnie, our long-time member whose volunteer ministry is focused on social justice and service, came in and loaded his car with all the morning’s donated items–the unintentional ones as well as the intentional ones–and headed for the recipient organization.  By the time the administrator had tracked him down by cell phone, he was nearly at the destination.   The dancers hopped in their cars and made a shoe rendezvous with Arnie.  Thank goodness–we hadn’t paid them enough to cover a new pair of shoes!

Donations: Tax Deadline Approaches, but Don’t Get Taken While Giving!

The Tax Deadline Approaches:
Don’t Get Taken While Giving!
January Newsletter Column

You may be reading this as the Dec. 31 deadline for tax-deductible donations approaches.  Or maybe it’s the new year already, and you want to be intentional as you plan your philanthropic and charitable giving for the new year.  Of course, even without the tax benefits, many of us are moved to give and make a difference in the world.
No matter our personal circumstances or the amount of money and time that we can afford to share, giving to others is a life-affirming act.

Envelopes pile up on the desk and emails stack up in the in-box from many worthy causes–and some not-so-worthy operators.  My own giving guidelines are honed from reading broadly on the topic, web searches, volunteer leadership experience, and an early budget-office career.
I’ve also learned about giving from getting taken now and then.

My suggestions:

Give to what you know.  If you are volunteer for an organization–or if a coworker, close friend or family member is involved there–you will know if it’s doing relevant work, doing it effectively, managing money wisely, and not putting up its leaders in penthouses.  This is why I give the biggest chunk of my donations to this congregation, to the UU Service Committee, the UU Legislative Ministry in California, and to our two remaining UU theological schools– in Chicago and Berkeley.  When I know some of the staff, board members, or other volunteers, I have a better idea of what’s going on in an organization, and I can trust my money is being used well.

Give to what you value.  For example, I couldn’t imagine living in a community without a UU congregation or local Public Radio station, so I support them.

Give locally.  Most social change is forged and social services are delivered at the local level, not out of national headquarters. That’s why I try to give to local branches and chapters, rather than to respond to appeals from New York and Washington.  Every year at UUSS our members vote to select the Community Partner organizations with which we share our Sunday offering each week (such as Family Promise, the local SPCA).  I give in the offering basket with confidence that these were nominated and vetted by church members who have close knowledge of each organizations’ programs, staff and volunteer leadership, and who actually see the benefits of the work.

Give with awareness and intention  about what you’re gaining by giving.  Being reflective about what we get out of our generosity personally can help us avoid being manipulated by appeals to pity, guilt, urgency or drama.

Give after taking time to think about it.  Authentic fund raising professionals will respect your wish to take time to consider whether and how much to give.

Never give over the phone. That is, don’t give to solicitors over the phone (unless you are the one who makes the call to the organization).  Phone solicitors usually charge a large fee to the recipient organization.  Don’t give in response to an email unless you have an established relationship and receive regular emails from the organization.

Give to your own well-being.  Take care of yourself even as you strive to help others.  If you are paying high-interest finance charges, for example, work on getting those costs down rather than piling on debt. That will give you more financial security and more freedom to give in the future. Credit card companies don’t need your help.
Decide the total amount you can give in a year, either as a percentage of your income or your asset base or as a specific dollar amount withheld from your paycheck or drawn from your investments.

Of course, I barely follow that last bit of advice. Yes, I do set a percentage of my income for donations.  But when December rolls around, I realize that I can afford to give away more than I thought! This occurs to me as I reflect on the blessings of the past year and the blessings of my life.  When I pause to be grateful, it helps me to be generous.  And being generous makes me feel alive.

Happy New Year!
Yours in service,