Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

“Partner Church” by Rev. David Baumbaugh

The church I currently serve is in an affluent New Jersey suburb of New York City. When I came to the church, almost nine years ago, it had a modest budget which was never quite adequate to its needs a budget supported by an annual pledge drive which always a little more successful than the previous year, but never quite reached the goal. For years we struggled to finance a modest but not very imaginative program and we might have continued in that way for years longer had it not been for one very determined woman.

A member of the church decided that we should enter into a partnership with a congregation in Transylvania. The immediate response to her suggestion was politely negative. After all, we said, we have so much we need to do here and cannot afford; and, we said, it would be unkind to make promises to Transylvanians and then not be able to keep them; besides, we said, why worry about Transylvania when there is so much to be done in Newark.

But this was a determined woman who was possessed of a dream. She planted that dream wherever she found a thimble full of fertile soil, and she nurtured it and she tended it. More than this, she took on her critics. She pointed out politely but firmly that our congregation was wealthy enough to do whatever it really wanted to do; that of course we would not make promises to our friends in Transylvania and fail to keep them we are not that kind of people: and yes, there is much to be done in Newark, but the needs of Transylvania are not invalidated by the needs of Newark, and besides, in case no one had noticed, we weren’t doing anything for Newark anyway.

Over the course of the year, her dream took root. The partnership was established. Our partners happened to be constructing a new building the first new Unitarian church to be built in Transylvania in many years. Over the next few years, we raised enough money to pay for the heating plant; to purchase some chairs; to obtain a car for the minister; to subsidize the needy in the parish, to buy a bell for the tower, and to bring the minister and his wife to the United States to visit with us.

As an unexpected consequence, we gradually developed a new vision of ourselves and what possible for us. Our pledge began to increase significantly. The social action budget went from $300 to $13,000 in one year, allowing us to begin to respond to needs in Newark and other communities around us. The Transylvania partner church became a regular part of our budget. Our sanctuary, which had not been painted in twenty years, was painted. Funds were raised to restore our marvelous tracker organ. Funds were donated to purchase two baroque violins. A handicapped access ramp we had postponed building for years was constructed. We added a full time minister of religious education to the staff. And we entered into a covenant with two other congregations to establish a new Unitarian Universalist Church in our area. As a congregation we began to realize what we were capable of. We stopped worrying about meeting the budget and began to focus our concern on realizing our dreams. And the effect was to transform us as a people, encouraging us to act out of a culture of abundance, which was a more accurate description of reality, than the culture of artificial scarcity we had created for ourselves and which had dominated our existence for so many years. The result of our partnership with a Transylvanian congregation was that we were empowered to embrace our possibilities as a religious community and to become the people we dreamed of being.

Leave a Reply

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: