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Sex, Money and Commitment

December 1, 2013


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Ted Pack with an eagle on his head Good morning, and thank you for coming this morning. I'm Ted Pack, the web master for this congregation. If you are new to us, I have some warnings for you. First, our minister speaks 3 Sundays a month; the rest of the time we make do, usually with lay people like me. Second, we don't talk about God and Jesus as often as I did this morning. [A reference to the story about Jesus and the widow's mite, which I told to the children.] Third, we don't talk about money very often. Fourth, I tend to ramble; it comes with the territory when you have a nimble mind and read a lot. I'll try to connect the dots for you.

Finally, a warning for old members - you may recognize some of what I'm saying, because I've written it before, either as a document on our facebook group or as an article for the newsletter. I'm hoping, oddly enough, that not many of you read either one. On the other hand, my wife and I watch re-runs of the "Fraser" TV show every chance we get, and, as our opening words said, we need reminders; so repeating myself isn't the worst sin I could commit. The worst sin I could commit would be to tell you about the produce clerk who gave his sweetheart a ring - a 24 carrot ring.

My topic is "Sex, Money and Commitment". I'm going to talk more about money than sex or commitment, so I hope you won't be disappointed. I've been a member of this congregation since 1974, and I've learned that most UUs would rather talk about their sex lives than their money. I thought talking about both was a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

Our minister in the mid 1980's used to tell us that the professor in her preaching class at Starr King told them every good sermon had an element of confession in it. She took that lesson to heart, so much so that some of us sometimes wished she would confess a little less.

So, I've tacitly promised to say something about sex, and it should be a confession, but I have to face you at church and potlucks for the next ten years. Add to that this IS a church, so don't expect anything red hot. I would not want everyone whose surname started with "L" through "Q" to show up at the mid-winter potluck next February with a side dish and a smirk.

So here goes - we have a swimming pool. Our nearest neighbor on one side is a nectarine orchard, and our nearest neighbor on the other side is 100 yards away. On hot summer evenings I sometimes sit in the pool without the benefit of clothes, a practice termed "skinny dipping", although in my weight class "pudgy dipping" is a better term for it. That's not a vision that will arouse impure thoughts in anyone, but with luck it is mild enough it won't spoil your lunch.

So much for sex; on to money.

Our office assistant sent me the 2013-2014 pledge amounts, with no identifying information; just one column, the amounts, and I played with the numbers. I should say that the actual numbers have gone up a bit since she sent me the file, but the proportions are the same. I'm going to round almost everything to the nearest thousand to make it a little easier for you.

For the 2013-2014 year we had 78 pledges totaling $166,000. Our 2013 - 2014 budget was $177,000 so pledges account for almost all of our income.

A "Pledge Unit" is one or more people who pledge as a unit. It can be a family or a single person. Most married couples pledge together, but some don't.

I'm going to talk about highs, lows and averages. All of the numbers I'm going to fling at you are annual pledges, not monthly ones.

There are three ways to compute "average"; mean, median and mode.

Mean is what most people think of when you say "average". You divide the total pledged by the number of pledge units and get $2,133.

Median is the midpoint. Almost half of the pledges were over $1,000, almost half were under $1,000 and 5 were exactly $1,000, so $1,000 is the median.

Mode means the most common number in the array. Our most popular pledge amounts are $1,200 and $600, with 6 each, then $300 and $1,000, with 5 each.

I won't tell you the exact amount of the four highest pledges. I figured out who two of the four highest pledgers were in 60 seconds. Most of you could do likewise, but it wouldn't take you as long. So, to preserve a bit of their privacy, I'll sum them. They totaled almost $60,000. Our nine highest pledges totaled $84,000.

Our lowest three were all $100, and the next three lowest were all for $120.

Our four highest pledges account for just over a third of our pledge income. The top 9 pledges account for just over half of our pledge income, which is why I gave you the top 9 instead of the top 10. Assuming those 9 pledges are all from couples, and we have 135 members, 13% of our members are carrying 50% of the financial load.

We pay $26 in dues to the PCD and $60 to the UUA for each member every year. We send the UU legislative ministry and the UU Service Committee $1 each per member, as well, for a total of $88. So, if your pledge is less than $88 - or $176, if there are two of you - we're losing money on you before we even start to pay the electric bill. While we've never denied membership to anyone because of their inability to pledge, it is possible to be a "friend", not a member, if you can't afford to pledge enough. Friends get to do almost everything members do - attend services, sing in the choir, come out for Buildings and Grounds Work Days, teach Sunday School, work on the homeless dinners, and so on. They just can't vote at the congregational meetings.

This is the only suggestion I'm going to make this morning - if you can't afford to pledge enough to cover your dues, you might want to consider becoming a friend, not a member. That suggestion, I must add, is from me alone, speaking for myself; and, it is just a suggestion.

We average 65 people attending on a Sunday; a little more during the church year, a lot more for In-Gathering, a little less during the summer. Our $177,000 annual budget works out to $3,400 a week. That divided by 65 is $52.30, so if everyone attending would put $52.30 in the collection basket every Sunday, we would not need to pledge.

Most people put less than that in the basket. It turns out the cash from the collection basket is about 2% of our income. The morning collection is not an empty gesture, though. It is a handy way for some of us to save a stamp. I, for instance, let the basket pass three Sundays out of four; but, on the first Sunday of the month, if I've remembered my checkbook, I put $315 in the basket.

Here's another confession - that $315 comes out of my tithe account. I've put 10% of my net income aside to donate to assorted causes since 1972, when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer earning $110 a month. There have been years I couldn't do it, but not many.

When I was in college, a group of us from the same co-op - including two Jews, an Atheist, an Agnostic and a guy who'd been born into a Greek Orthodox family but hadn't been to services for 15 years - went to a fundamentalist revival in Oakland, out of curiosity. During one of the numerous collections, I heard a man tell the preacher he felt like there were a million angels riding on his shoulders as he wrote out his check. I've never felt that way; tithing is just something I do, like getting two days out of a pair of socks.

A pledge is a promise, no more, no less. Once the finance committee gets the pledges they can plan the budget. Without an idea of the income expected, they can't make any plans. So, they ask for pledges in March, spend some weeks struggling with the numbers, and we all vote on a budget in May.

One of the embarrassing things that comes up when you talk about sex and money is that some of us are better off than others. The fact that I am male and heterosexual radiates off me like heat waves coming off the parking lot at Wal*Mart on an August afternoon. No one is 100% male or female, of course. You ladies have some masculine traits and we men have a feminine side. I, for example, weep easily, and I'm happy to let the good people at Jiffy Lube change the oil in my car instead of doing it myself and getting my hands dirty. My best guess is I'm 95% masculine and 5% feminine.

There are people in our fellowship whose numbers are less lop-sided, so to speak. One of my favorite lesbians once told me she dressed ambiguously to express her identity. When she did, I realized that my wardrobe expressed my sexual identity too. My grooming is slap-dash, my shirts are usually wrinkled, and my pants last had a crease in them during the Bush administration. All in all, you can tell what league I play in from 50 yards. I never questioned my orientation when I was growing up; I'm as comfortable with it as I am in these corduroy slacks and flannel shirt.

Some of us are better off financially, too. That's why the canvas committee suggests you pledge a percentage of your income instead of a flat amount. And, if you are struggling along below the poverty line, they expect a lower percentage than if you are rich. "Worth and dignity", our first principle applies to people with different incomes just as surely as it applies to people of different colors, different ages or a different number of functioning limbs. I would not want to belong to a church that judged people by their income or their pledge.

I'll remind you that just a few of our members are carrying half of the financial load. That's common in non-profit organizations. That also brings up commitment, the third part of my talk. Another two numbers that are common in non-profit organizations is that 10% of the members do 90% of the work. My best estimate for us is that we are more committed; I estimate 30% of our members do 70% of the work.

I change the pictures and mini-biographies on the Board of Trustees page on our web site every year in July, when the new board takes office. I can almost always find a picture of the new board member in my archives, from a Buildings and Grounds work party or a homeless dinner. Everyone on the board is one of those "30 percenters".

I'm on the Ministerial Search Committee, so I got to see all the results from the cottage meetings and the survey before you did. One of the most frequent things people wanted was more commitment from the members. I don't think that's ever going to happen. I think that by the nature of non-profits, a small percent of the members will be committed, and thus contribute large amounts of their time, money or both, and a larger percent won't.

Those people who are not committed to us are not slackers, sitting at home with their feet on the coffee table, eating pork rinds and watching All-Star Bowling. They may be one of the 10% who do 90% of the work at PFLAG [Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays] or the Sierra Club or the League of Women Voters. They may be adult college students with two part-time jobs. They may have young children or aged parents who depend on them. Finally, we may not be important to them.

Different people value different things, which always reminds me of beets. If you invited a group of your friends to come to dinner, and told them the star of the show was to be home-grown organic beets roasted over oak and served with a lemon cream sauce, some would stop eating two days beforehand to build up capacity and some would schedule a root canal so they had a really good excuse to decline.

There are organizations where everyone is fully committed. Every time I read another response about commitment I'd think of Jesse Bryant, who served in the 3rd Ranger Battalion. If you go somewhere to do something as a Ranger, you can be sure that it will be more interesting than a committee meeting, and that everyone in the group will be committed - really committed.

Getting to be a member here is simple. You attend for a few months, take an orientation class with three 90-minute sessions, and sign the book.

Getting to be a Ranger takes longer. Jesse spent a total of 14 weeks in three preliminary training courses, where he learned the basic skills of soldiering, then 6 months in Ranger School, where he learned all sorts of interesting things. He knows how to find, catch, kill, clean, cook and eat a snake. He can get past obstacles, be they deep rivers, thick jungle or steep cliffs. In his prime, he could hit a dinner plate at 1,000 yards with a sniper rifle, nine times out of 10. The measuring tool in Google Maps tells me that's about the same as hitting the stop sign on Carver Road from our church's front yard.

I'm trying not to ramble, but Jesse's daughter is a Girl Scout. I'll bet he will be one of those dads you see in the back, carrying the heavy stuff, when Girl Scouts go backpacking. I'd give $100 to be a fly on the wall, three or four years from now, when one of his daughter's fellow scouts comes home and says "Mommy! Daddy! Guess what that nice Mr. Bryant taught us how to do?"

I'm just about finished. Please don't think of this my urging you to triple your pledge or sign up for two more committees, or save water and electricity by following my example with socks. You are the only one to decide how much you should pledge, how many hours you should spend working for the fellowship, and how many days you should wear your socks.

Thank you.

[Delivered December 1, 2013. In 2008, my wife and I went to Peru to visit our daughter, who was a Peace Corps Volunteer. While we were there we met a gentleman who rented out his Andean black-chested eagle-buzzard, one nuevo sole (35 cents) for five minutes, to tourists who had always wanted a picture of themselves with an eagle on their heads. Who could resist?]

This is one of a series of homilies I wrote for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stanislaus County, in Modesto, California, from 2003 - 2014.

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