Updated: Apr 7, 2020
It seems lately there has been much discussion around the question, “Is our Church a refuge or a beacon?” I think my first reaction was that “refuge church” was a pejorative appellation, a congregation closed in on itself. A beacon, on the other hand, shines out to the larger community and the world with an active social justice outreach.
Then it began to dawn on me (and others) that a vibrant church must be both at the same time. Especially in a conservative community like ours, we provide a place of refuge, spiritual and social, for those with an inquiring mind and for those marginalized by the larger society for various reasons, including theological beliefs, gender identity, sexual orientation or myriad other aspects that distinguish and define us.
This does not conflict with our being a beacon, indeed it can enhance it. When we are recharged and motivated by our participation in services, meetings and other activities to go out into the world, we are strengthened, becoming a critical mass for encouraging positive action.
Recently, Rev. Renfro pointed out a UU World article from 2009 that gives a different take on the “beacon church” model. In “Reach Out to Become a Public Church”, Michael Durall notes the involvement of several congregations on major projects, such as providing substantial funding for a Boys’ and Girls’ Club or a community health facility.
Durall has an easy metric to determine if we are a public church. Mainline Protestant congregations have line items in their budget for 10 to 27 percent of the budget to go for outreach, for helping others. On average, the amount is 16 percent. Even with our Split-the-Plate contributions and other off-the-books donations such as meals for Family Promise, I do not believe we even make it to four percent of total giving at UUCBV for social justice projects, and our line-item giving in the annual budget is less than one percent.
Durall has a harsh comment for congregations that do not meet this level. He writes, “This is a congregation that essentially gives money to itself, a private church. Such a situation should be a matter of conscience for UUs of good faith.”
If we are to truly thrive, we will need to think beyond mere survival. If we cannot meet this financial rule-of-thumb, at a minimum, we need to look at other ways we can truly become a “public church.”