Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Didn't Peter Morales campaign on hospitality?

Here she is, the mother of UUA on Tuesday, 12/29/09, at 10:30 AM locked up tighter than a drum.

The sign in the window next to the main door says that the bookstore is open, but no such luck.

So I wander on the Freedom Trail over to Northtown and guess what I find?

Sacred Heart church right in the middle of the Italian neighborhood wide open and warm.

I sat awhile and prayed some and took a few pictures and thought about my Catholic upbringing and past life. And then I went and made a contribution and signed their guest book and in the back of the guest book guess what I found? That's right, ladies and gentlemen, a card for the St. Francis bookshop right around the corner. So guess where I went?

And is if to taunt me there is this huge freakin sign which says OPEN.

So, I go to Boston, the cradle of Unitarian Universalism and get met with a cold shoulder by the UUs, but the Catholics........ah the Catholics, and the Episcopalians too at the Old North Church, they know how to make a soul feel welcome.

So, I'm thinking......is this a sign of some kind?

Didn't Peter Morales campaign on hospitality?


  1. I rather like this thread of yours David. It is telling.

    When I was in the Navy, we operated 24/7 year-round. I guess the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are just too important to take a holiday.

  2. Erm... To continue on the theme of hospitality, most guests call before they arrive to make sure they are coming at a convenient time.

    Did you?

    Maybe the lesson here is that for a successful encounter, one has to be willing to meet a church halfway.

  3. I think the UUA has been on vacation these couple of weeks for decades and decades, David. It's one way they save some dough and also give their staff a break.

  4. Put it on the internet instead.... save rent

  5. I take your points Chalicechick and Ms. Kitty but then I am mindful of all this talk from UU ministers and the UU leadership about wanting to grow. The leadership of this church has asked me repeatedly to give my extra time and significant amounts of my money to help it in that regard. I think I have done so - regardless of the time of year.

    But then, they have made it easy for me. The UUA assures me that if I want to make a contribution by the end of the year, someone will be available during the holiday period (even though other UUA services are on holiday break) to take my money. See the following link: http://www.uua.org/aboutus/professionalstaff/stewardshipdevelopment/index.php

    Maybe that church that has asked me for so much needs to meet me half way too, Chalicechick, and consider changing practices that might turn people away - like only keeping those services open that take in the money. In my view, a church that wants to grow should keep this in mind because, hey, some of those people who seek them out over the holiday period (when they may, like David, be taking in the sights in Boston) might become big givers in the future and help the UUA stay open year round.

    I think this is not a spiritual or hospitality issue. Just good fundraising and development sense.

    Have a Happy New Year.

    Tom Beall

  6. OK, I know people who work for the UUA. They value their time with their families and I'm sure the extra vacation time that they get was factored into their compensation packages, but the ones I know are nice folks who want to help UUism and UUs.

    Much like the website doesn't say "Drop on by and give us money," it suggests you make an appointment, I'm pretty sure that if David had called them up and said "Hey, I'm a UU visiting from out of state the week after Christmas. Could I get a tour of the UUA?" someone would have come in on his or her holiday to give him that tour. It's just that kind of environment. Frankly, every church headquarters has about that kind of environment because if you're not the kind of idealist who is willing to come in on your vacation to help somebody out, you take a better-paying job than church work. My aunt worked for PCUSA for years and coming on on a vacation to give somebody a tour is exactly the sort of thing she did.

    I'm glad you do lots of things for your congregation, but I have seen attitudes very much like "I dropped by the UUA unannounced and they weren't open. They should have anticipated my needs without beeing asked, and since they have not, I shall whine about them on the internet" before, especially from brand new UUs who haven't learned yet that just because you get a new church doesn't mean that the new church will automatically have all of the good qualities of your old church and none of the bad ones.

    That David compares the UUA building to the Vatican and Mecca, with no apparent note of the fact that the Vatican and Mecca are cities and UUA headquarters is an office building, is telling as far as his expecations go.

    I'm assuming David would never show up at the Vatican unnanounced and be amazed that he couldn't get an audience with the Pope, then complain on the internet about the lack of Catholic hospitality in not meeting his needs, so perhaps it is a compliment to UUism that those expecations are so high.

    But the UUA is made of people. People can't read minds and they take vacations.

    Presumably, if one of David's patients showed up at his office today and knocked on the door, the patient didn't find him. David isn't inhospitable. He's just a man on vacation.

    I've asked David before why it is OK for him to hate the Catholic church and not OK for some Catholics to hate Jews. Now I will ask a question with a similar structure: Why is it OK for David to take a vacation, but not OK for UUA employees?


  7. Chalicechick,

    Believe me when I say that I am really compassionate to the needs of people to share time with their families during the holidays - having spent a number of holiday seasons away from home and having served with and led many who did so and are doing so today. You need not remind me of this.

    Further, I'm sure that every person who works for the UUA is a good, hard-working individual who deserves time with his / her family at Christmas. I don't think that anyone commenting here suggested otherwise.

    I respect your views but my point was simply that an organization (and its leadership) that wants to grow and wants people like you and me to help them do so needs to practice a little more organizational sense.

    I believe that a church should reach out to people - it should not require people, especially newcomers, to make the effort to make an appointment or visit outside the holiday season to connect with the church (especially in public places like the bookstore). I think that was David's point in comparing the UUA to the other church organizations (which were open) that he came across in Boston.

    I suspect that if the UUA can find people to staff the development telephones over the holidays then it can find a way to keep its doors open year round. It can do this and still be compassionate to its employees' needs - granting vacations etc. Lots of organizations do that every day - especially the successful, growing, thriving ones.

    That was all I was saying. I sense your passion for UU'ism. Please respect mine. I engage in these conversations in part to exchange ideas but mainly because of that passion and a desire to see something I have been asked to work hard for and give to thrive and grow.

    Enough said. Again, a Happy New Year to you Chalicechick and to all who read this blog.

    Tom Beall

  8. The sign in the St. Francis Gift and Book Store said it was staffed by volunteers. It was loaded with a lot of interesting stuff too.

    Maybe there are not enough volunteer UUs in Boston to keep headquarters open over the holiday break or maybe there isn't enough interest to make a volunteer staff worthwhile. To be honest I don't even know what is in the building, that's why I wanted to visit, although I was enticed by the offerings of a bookstore and a map of UU historical sites.

    In spite of what Chalicechick implies I am not vain enough to expect them to open the joint just for me, not even by appointment, and I think her implication that I don't want hard working people to have a vacation is a very low blow.

    At any rate, I am well aware that the UUA is not the Vatican or Mecca so you folks can stop with the lectures and get real.

    The President, Peter Morales, campaigned saying he wanted Unitarian Universalism to be a world class religion of something to that effect, but he can't even keep the bookstore open in Boston the cradle of Unitarianism for the tourist week between Christmas and New Years. Of course, I am used to Presidents not keeping their campaign promises so I am really not that upset.

    I just think the whole escade on my part is ironic. You would have thought at my age, 64, I would have known better. If I was visiting someone's home I would have called ahead but I am not use to doing that with a National Organization. Further there is nothing on the web site that says they are closed this week. I looked three times. You can look yourself. The UUA bookstore does say it is closed this week, but the sign in the window does not and the UUA bookstore web site is a different section of the web site.

    At any rate it is not a big deal or maybe it is. I was startled as a new UU to find out that many UU churches do not have services in July and August as if God goes on vacation those months, and now I find out that God apparently goes on vacation too on His Son's birthday and at the turning of a New Year.

    Well, thank God I am not all that religious any more. God is in my heart even if He isn't being represented at headquarters.

    All the best,

    David Markham

  9. David,

    I think it is a big deal. Last year, my Congregation, faced with a fundraising shortfall, considered closing for the summer - after having remained open year-round for many years. A number of us argued that there was a real need for weekly worship year-round, not just in the Fall-Winter-Spring. After all, we argued, what is the purpose of church if not to offer spiritual succor and opportunity for communal worship, regardless of the time of year?

    I am happy to say that my Congregation, Channing Memorial in Newport, RI decided to remain open and continues to offer services year-round, including in July when our minister takes a well-deserved study-leave period - we support staff vacations while still remaining open and performing our mission. We also remain open over the holidays - in fact, my wife offered the service this last Sunday.

    Many of us at Channing (like, I am sure, many Congregations) recognize the importance of being there for people year-round - and attendance at summer and holiday season services demonstrates that the need is there, validating our decision to remain in business.

    If you are interested in what we did last summer, take a look at our sermon link and focus on the July and August 2009 services.


    Thanks for starting this discussion and best wishes for the New Year.

    Tom Beall

  10. I've worked in places that weren't even religious organizations that were closed between Christmas and New Years so the idea of just showing up is admittedly strange to me.

    And David's claim that the UUA's website doesn't mention that it will be closed is untrue. It took me all of thirty seconds to find that information here: http://uua.org/aboutus/28734.shtml

    Not to belabor the obvious, but I don't think the stewardship phones are "staffed" in any real sense. My guess is that if you call you get a voicemail account that someone checks once a day. For the record, I sent an email to a friend at the UUA and his vacation response said that he would be periodically checking email throughout his vacation. I suppose by y'alls definition he's working the whole time?

    As I mentioned in the thread below, I checked the Vatican's website. They have one tour of the Sistine Chapel scheduled for this week and that tour isn't sold out. If the Vatican can't sell out one tour, I'm not sure why anyone thinks keeping the UUA open for visitors for a week that is usually pretty dead makes any sort of "organizational sense."

    To me, there's a difference between keeping a church open and keeping the administrative offices open. My church had three times as many services last week as usual, but the administrative offices were closed. I guess by David's definition UUism was "dead as a doornail" in my hometown and that since we had only church and not administration that we felt that "God was on vacation," but it doesn't feel that way when I'm praying and listening to bible verses and singing. My impression from the Boston-area ministers I know was that the UUA was alive and well in the churches in Boston too. The UUA is not a church in itself, it is an administrative body. I'm sorry that David thinks the life of a church is in the administrative offices rather than the pews. To put it mildly, I disagree.

    I get that you at least want to improve things, Tom. I don't understand what this thread is doing to achieve that goal. If we want to move UUism forward, maybe tearing each other to peices over every little thing that we percieve as a mistake isn't the way to do that. If y'all want to volunteer to spend your vacation time staffing a bookstore*, do it. If not, don't complain that other people don't want to do it either, just find other things you think are worth your time. (Which it sounds like you do, Tom)

    I didn't intend the "spending time with families" thing as a low blow. To me, it seemed like a simple fact. If at all possible, most people like to spend time with their families around the holiday season. You can't work and spend time with your family at the same time, so anybody who has to work this week would logically be spending less time with his or her family. Indeed, almost all schools are closed this week, so if the UUA employees have to work, they not only miss out on extra time with their kids, they have to scramble to find child care for those kids.

    That's not a cheap shot that I invented to offend you, that's just reality.


    *Item: My church's bookstore was open last Sunday. Individual churches usually have an easier time getting volunteers than administrative organizations do.

  11. I didn't even know that the UUA had a physical bookstore.

    I can understand you would be disappointed about not being able to see the physical bookstore. I can't imagine what else the UUA building would have of any interest.

    It would be nice if the UUA had the resources to stay open more days. However, it is not clear to me that this is the number 1 priority in increasing the outreach of UUism. I suspect that the health of UUism depends more on the health of the individual churches in reaching out to newcomers than the hours of the UUA bookstore.

  12. The more I've thought about it, the more right I've decided anonymous is.

    I have only a few visual memories of the tour I did take around the UUA with some youth once (yes, I called first). What I do remember is meeting people who were passionate about UUism and getting a long discourse on how torture is a moral wrong from the social justice office folks that had my youth dedicated to fighting torture for several years. We held a con to educate other youth and youth groups on torture pretty much entirely because the social justice office so energized the youth from my church.

    So anyway, yeah, I don't remember the inside of the fairly ordinary building, I remember the people. UUism doesn't have a Sistine Chapel, a tour of the UUA is all about the people who work there and listening to them and soaking in their passion. So yeah, the week between Christmas and New Years that so many people everywhere take off would be a really bad time to go see the UUA even if they were open since likely a lot of UUA staffers take that week off.

    Ironically, the tour of UUism that I do remember visually is a walking tour UU blogger Fausto gave me of various historical sights, UU and otherwise, around that area of Boston. The UUA offers a guide to a similar tour here:



  13. David,

    I think that Chalicechick and our anonymous contributor have said all that needs saying about your concerns with the UUA administrative offices being closed for the Christmas holidays.

    According to the UUA bylaws, the primary purpose of the UUA is " ... to serve the needs of its member congregations, organize new congregations, extend and strengthen Unitarian Universalist institutions and implement its principles."


    Ideally, the primary place for individual UU hospitality would be the local UU congregation (I'm saying "ideally" because there are some growing edges -- youth ministry, campus ministry, affiliate groups for marginalized folks, etc -- where congregational life may be missing the mark).

    But the UUA is a provider of services to congregations and not to persons. They do offer UUA tours when they are open but that's not their primary purpose. Think of these tours as an "epiphenomenon" that is secondary to the primary purpose of the UUA.

    Given the limited resources (personnel and money), it may be the best allocation of resources to be closed during the holidays.

    For most UU congregations, congregational leaders are very busy during the Christmas holiday season (speaking from experience as the partner of a UU congregation's DRE). I suspect that the UUA gets very few business visits from congregational leaders during the holiday season.

    The only suggestion that I would offer to the UUA staff about your visit attempt would be to provide the holiday closure information on their "visiting Boston" web page:


    And in terms of UU hospitality, both Arlington Street Church and King's Chapel are walking distance from 25 Beacon Street. Did you visit these historical UU congregations while in Boston and see what hospitality they offer?

  14. I'm not surprised, as these are the admin offices - the UUA headquarters are not a church or congregation.

  15. Correct.


    But don't take my word for it.

    Take Rev. Diane Miller's word for it*.

    *Assuming that she was reasonably accurately quoted by Duncan Metcalfe. Something I have very little reason to doubt.

  16. Anyone who knows anything about YRUU and what it used to be like and what it is like now has lots of reasons to doubt Metcalfe based on the rest of what he wrote alone. He makes a lot of claims that don't have much in common with the realities of the situation.

    But taking him at face value, Diane Miller's half right.

    The UUA is not a religion. Unitarian Universalism is a religion. Similarly, the Vatican is not a religion, Catholicism is a religion.

    The UUA is not a business either, though. The IRS calls the UUA a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. If the UUA were a business, the government would be trying to tax them.

    I don't trust the IRS about everything, but I trust them more than I trust Diane Miller and certainly more than I trust Diane Miller as quoted by a guy who seems to have some issues with painting situations inaccurately.


  17. I think David, former Roman Catholic that he is, is having a little culture shock, that's all.

    For someone to come straight out of the RCC and into something as iconoclastic as UU really IS going to be very much a shock.

    I think had I gone to Boston, I would have looked for some of the historic churches in town, not so much the UUA itself. But then again, I grew up United Methodist, then pagan, then UU. Never having been Catholic, I never had that sense of something more centralized than my local parish or my own coven or pagan group.

    But my sweetheart is former RCC, and he left the Church when he was in the Army, some 20+ years back. He said those first weeks of not attending Mass were very hard for him too.

    Seems to me when Catholics break up with the Church, it's never, ever an "easy" breakup, eh?

    David, you're not alone. Lots of people have felt this kind of culture shock.

    One Episcopal priest I know of made a comment once that pagans really "get" the idea of a sacramental universe - where every leaf, blade of grass, star, raindrop, etc bespeaks the great mystery of God. I think that's one of the gifts that pagans bring to UU. If there are any UU pagans near you, maybe sit down with a couple of them and talk about their spiritual life within UU that is beautiful, artistic, sacramental, etc. :D