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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What can and can't be measured

A recent post by the wise and excellent UU Minister Ton Schade does what he always does--introduce the heads of several nails to the hammer of his clear vision. Each dot point has the ring of a resounding thwack!

Rev. Tom Schade

Much of his post echoes the changing ecclesiological landscape described by Mike Piazza in this year's UUMA institute seminars. Only on one point do we substantially differ.

My own (admittedly limited) experience is that the idea of place seems to matter just as much as it ever did and perhaps more, not less, in a world of virtual communication and associations. (Yes, I am aware we are in a virtual communication space right now...) Ironically, though, if our places are going to be imagined on the model of 'community hub', they require more paid professional staffing in a context of diminishing financial support.

For example: we were renting out our manse at a handsome return, thus becoming a landlord- neighbour, and thus its use for our community was limited to the sanctuary and a couple small adjoining rooms. This naturally limited what we could do to engage the community. Over the past year, though, we have re-framed the manse as a community hub, administered by a single, woefully-underpaid, part-time admin. assistant. The flow of community groups through the place has increased markedly, as has added to an already healthy vibrancy.

It looks quiet here. But the manse is around the back, and it hums.
BUT the financial return is a fraction of the rent we were getting. Money you can measure; relevance and vibrancy you cannot. When it comes to the crunch, my fear is that the older generation (boomers raised in  culture of unquestioned economic rationalism) will always look to what's bankable in the immediate term. The only way around land-lording again, it seems, is to grow a culture where community pledging can be fostered to match community need. But as Tom rightly points out, that effort would further drain an already shallowing pond of people's disposable revenue in the post-GFC context.

I study and pray daily for a vision that finds a way to reconcile relevance/vitality and finance.

No word from On High yet. (C'mon God....where's my enlightenment? I haven't got all day...)

In the meantime, any human wisdom (from you, dear reader) would be welcome.