Community Ministry: A Calling is Still a Job

Monday was Labor Day; a day for remembering the struggles that have shaped the quality of life that we enjoy and created the American Dream. We tried to share things over the long weekend to support that frame of mind.

Unitarian Universalism aspires towards a more just and compassionate world. While we live in a capitalist culture, we have to think carefully about wages, working conditions, and quality of life for those who serve Liberal Religion as a job. Money, in our culture, is a form of power and a literal symbol of worth; ensuring the people who work for us have enough money to participate in our culture – to buy the necessities of life with time and energy to take part in the community – is one important way we can increase justice. We can promote the use of the full democratic process, and create a representation of dignity to serve as an example.

Economic justice is an issue that many Unitarian Universalists care deeply about. As a movement, we care about paying people a fair wage for their work. The UUA has even created guidelines for various professional staff positions, adjusted regionally for cost-of-living. It is a way of respecting contributions to the community and our movement. Paying a minister, a religious educator, or an administrative professional a fair wage is a material representation of our values and our aspirations.

Here is the ask:

My name is Thomas Earthman, a recognized UU Lay Community Minister, a religious educator, and the founder of the I Am UU project. Today, I am making a request, as the administrator of the I Am UU project (and writer, editor, graphic designer, webmaster, researcher, and handyman):

Help me fund my calling.

The I Am UU project requires work – skilled labor and a lot of time. Like a congregation, we create a message and materials to help encourage spiritual growth and make the world a more just and compassionate place. I give that away freely, because I know it does good in the world. I want to do good, and don’t believe anyone is currently doing this better.

I want to be transparent with you all about the expenses and the responsibilities of this project, much as if it were a congregation. It does cost money to keep this website online. It takes more to keep the computers updated, both hardware and software to keep producing the content we do. We spend around $75 a month on those expenses, plus utilities (phone, electric, and a share of the internet bill) and general office needs. Another $50 or so goes to professional development; books, workshops, seminars. The rest goes to compensate me, personally, for my time and energy. Right now, that amounts to a couple of hundred dollars for the whole month, and I try to give of my time accordingly. It is getting hard to produce new and compelling content in the amount of time that is currently funded.

What I’m Asking You to Fund:

My job is part religious education, part office administration, and a lot of social media management. There are almost daily discussions in comments, over messaging and email, and even via telephone to help people understand Unitarian Universalism, to have difficult conversations about race, class, or theology, and to help congregations be more inviting to the community around them. It matters to me that I do justice to this work. I put so much of myself into this, and I honestly love it. But, as many have said before me, love does not pay the rent.

I want to do my bit of good in the world, but I also want to live indoors. If I wasn’t sure that this was my calling, I wouldn’t have put in this much effort to get to a place where I feel comfortable asking for money. I know that no one else is doing this better, as consistently, and with the passion that I am. I’ve heard it from UUA staff and board members as well as ministers, religious educators, and congregational staff all over the country. No one else is making  resources to share general Unitarian Universalism with the world. No one else is serving small congregations and individuals this way. Some congregations have the staff, but dozens more rely on me to make their websites and Facebook pages interesting and informative.

What I am doing is part crafting religious education and part managing the office and the communications for the project along with some design and writing that is hard to match up to any congregational position.  According to the UUA, an office administrator for a medium congregation living in my town should make around $2,800 a month ($16.55 per hour), where as a non-credentialed religious educator should make about $3,100 ($18.33 per hour).  That means I should be giving no more than an hour of work for every $17 I raise. This is as close as I can get to what the UUA says it is worth. That isn’t going to make me rich, but at 30 hours or more, it is a livable wage.

My Commitment to Unitarian Universalism

I am not a congregational minister; I don’t try to do pastoral care, and am not responsible for sermon-length writings each week. There is no claim of authority to speak for anyone else, except where I am using the words I’ve been given or teachings I have absorbed. I’m not seeking ordination, though I am seeking recognition as a Religious Educator.

I am actively seeking to be more professional. I listen to or read at least 4 sermons a week in research. I’m constantly studying Unitarian Universalism, liberal religion, marketing, and graphic design. It has been a goal for a few years to attend every workshop, convention, and seminar I can afford the time and money for. I take online classes from major universities from around the world. I am trying to figure out how to afford UUA Renaissance modules as an individual. I am also exploring credentialing as a lay minister, a religious educator, and/or several other modes of both improving my work and having it recognized for its quality and impact.

Currently, I spend 12 to 15 hours a week to bring you what you see on the page and website; to create the art and writing along with researching links, quotes, and the other information that we share. Several hours a week are spent on communication: fielding comments, emails, and even phone calls about UU themes and theology, social justice work, and building membership. A few hours a month go into communicating with folks who look to me to help them answer Big Questions; sharing what I know, helping them locate books or articles, or connecting them with a religious professional. I’m honestly putting in more than I should, because a calling is a hard thing to ignore.

In addition to my work in sharing Unitarian Universalism, I am also a lay community minister: I attend rallies, vigils, and marches as a spiritual commitment. I spend time down town talking to college students, homeless folks, and anyone else who needs someone to listen. For me, this is a serious responsibility; I can’t promote our Principles effectively if I am not living into them as fully as possible.

I’m also trying to give my best in a national-level volunteer position, a position that I am only able to hold because my work is not location dependent and I can set my own hours and priorities. I could not serve the UUA in this way if I were tied to a register or a desk.

I Have Plans!

I hope to start producing content for YouTube soon. This has long been a goal, and most of the parts are finally in place. YouTube will bring in more fans and their platform is built to pay creators for their work, so it could bring more stability to the project, as well.

We’ve changed how we use Facebook, and we now reach more people with the community group than the page some weeks. We are spending a little more time with Twitter and less with Tumblr, in reaction to how those platforms have changed in the last couple of years. In all, I am working to be responsive and to create things that draw people in and give them something to consider.

Why I Really Need Your Support

My family supports what I do, and I am lucky for that. My wife appreciates the mission of the I Am UU project and the value of Unitarian Universalism in the world. It also matters that I am able to be home almost every day when my kids get out of school. We have 2 kids with special needs, and I love that we don’t have to trust them to a daycare (or try to afford one). Still, my family needs more money than I am making. The fact is that I cannot keep giving myself away indefinitely. That means either raising more support or cutting back on the time and production of new content. I’ve already cut back from full-time effort to where we are now as I take on for-profit contracts.

I’m not asking for charity. I think my work has value. I think it matters that you know what you are supporting: a lay minister with a deep love of liberal religion and a real desire to serve. Furthermore, you are supporting a family committed to Unitarian Universalism.

We need to know if you all find value in my ministry. Will you support our work to share the life-changing, life-saving message of Unitarian Universalism?

If you can afford to give even a small amount, it goes a long way towards affirming the value of the work and the dignity of the person doing it. If you can afford a monthly gift, that is even better. We don’t want anyone to put themselves at risk. Still, we do hope you will help us spread out the burden already taken on for this project.

You can give either a one-time gift or make a monthly pledge via Ko-fi:

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