So, returning to the question of congregational size and spending, I wanted an answer to a question: what congregation spends the least money per member, and what does that “get you”?
That honor goes to the Joseph Priestly Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. Its 28 members reported 2009 annual expenses of $800, or about $28 each. We’d be forgiven to think it’s a bit more, with the odd unrecorded pound of coffee pitched in. The fellowship’s format is much like fellowships of yore, and which younger Unitarian Universalists may have never seen: no minister, meetings in members’ home and (in this case) no UUA Annual Program Fund contribution. (The “fair share” would be double their annual budget alone. I’ll speak some other time about how responsibilities flow both ways with respect to the APF, even if the accountability talk is weighted against congregations.)
What do you get? A public meeting in a community center seven times a year, with weekly meetings the other weeks “from Labor Day through mid-May” — they even have their own song-book; I’d love to see it — plus life-cycle rites. Themes this year include tai chi, Buddhism and vegetarianism, which fits the modus operandi — a practical eclecticism — and which I bet would be more appealing than endless handwringing about what Unitarian Universalism is and isn’t. They have coffee and snacks before the meeting, and potluck meals at other times.
Fellowship members participate civic projects, mainly maintaining a trail and supporting women’s shelter.
Both a Google search for “lycoming unitarian” and “sunbury pa unitarian” (where one of my grandmothers grew up) — the sort of investigation a seeker would make — pulled up a map with three Unitarian Universalist congregations, theirs included, and the map listing linked to their plain, but informative website. It includes a schedule (not current, even considering the church year, but I’ve seen worse) and roster, and details about their democratically-elected leadership — a feature we tend to take for granted — and a rotating service plan that sounds both manageable and worth further investigation.
Of course, the value of the volunteer work — and perhaps even the in-kind contributions — is far greater than the financial piece, but the members of the JPUUF get a lot for their $28. Good for some, if not for all, and worth recognition as an option that’s served a little slice of central Pennsylvania since 1960.