First Parish in Concord History and Impact of Social Action Grants



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Beginnings: First Parish Social Responsibility Grants


In the tumultuous 1960s, liberal religious ministers and congregations struggled with the social upheavals of the time, notably the war in Viet Nam and Civil Rights. Reflecting on these social concerns, First Parish Minister Rev. Arthur Jellis recommended the creation of a Social Responsibility Committee in his 1965 Ministerial Report.34 He felt the Parish could develop lay leadership to spearhead social responsibility work and build on the generosity already apparent in the congregation through the work of groups like the Women’s Parish Association.

The following year (1966), First Parish mounted a special fundraising effort and raised $9,500 to support the social justice work of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC).5 In 1967, the Standing Committee created the Social Responsibility Committee (SRC) as an elected standing committee of the Parish6. Under the leadership of the first SRC chair, Mark Connelly, First Parish became a founding member of the Cooperative Metropolitan Ministry (CMM), an ecumenical service organization focused on low-income housing in Boston. SRC also undertook a multi-year project and relationship with a black church in the South End that needed funds and support for renovation projects after an apparent arson fire. The SRC participated with other churches in a major fund drive and raised $9,600 on behalf of the Reverend Vernon Carter,7 “a small man, a real force … although many in the church were opposed … ‘what are we doing spending money in Boston when we have plenty of needs here in the church?’”8

The first budget line item for social responsibility -- $150 -- appeared in 1968. Over the next few years, this amount grew to $750, which included earmarked grants to CMM and the UUSC. Grant making during these early years was quite formal with the congregation approving social action-related contributions at the Parish’s Annual meeting.

Arriving in 1970 and making social action a major part of his ministry, Rev. Dana M. Greeley believed that, in addition to individual family private giving, the church as a whole should share some portion of its collective wealth with those in need. Dr. Greeley was strongly connected to the social justice activities of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) nationally and internationally, and to the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry (UUUM) in Boston. First Parish firmly established its financial contributions to UU denominational social justice projects during Reverend Greeley’s tenure. These continue to today, and represent fully 25% of all FP social action-related grant dollars over the last 45 years. Dr. Greeley also established the tradition of earmarking FP Christmas service collections for social responsibility purposes.


Context and Decisions About Social Action Grant Amounts


FP Annual Reports document more than $880,000 in Social Action grants since social action became a separate line item in the church budget in 1968. Pledge income represents about 80% of TOTAL operating income that First Parish uses to finance annual operating expenses, including ministers’ and staff salaries, facilities and utilities, denominational support, and all other Parish programs, including social action grants. Other sources of income include rental and RE income, plate collections, other gifts, and contributions from the Trustees of Parish Donations. Table 1 shows the proportion of the First Parish budget devoted to social action grants as well as other church activities over the 45-year period. About 4.7% of total operating expenses were devoted to social action grants over this period.

Table 1: Uses of First Parish in Concord TOTAL Income (1968 - 2010)

Operating Expense Item

Amount

Percent

Ministers

$7,990.000

42.6

All other salaries

4,100,000

21.9

Facilities

2,750,000

14.6

All other programs

3,030,000

16.2

Social action grants

880,000

4.7

TOTAL

$18,750,000

100.0

Appendix 3 shows annual grant amounts and the corresponding percentage of subscriptions (pledges) from 1968 to 2010. Since the church made the commitment to make social action grants a part of its operating budget, these grants have varied between 2 and 7.5% of pledges annually.



1971. In consultation with Dr. Greeley, the SRC recommended to the Parish that 5 to 7% of subscriptions be designated in the annual budget for social responsibility grants. After “considerable discussion” at the 1971 Annual Meeting (Dana’s first), Social Responsibility giving increased nearly seven-fold to $5000 and represented 7.1% of the $70,000 budget for subscriptions that year.9

Table 2 shows the recommended breakdown of SRC expenditures for the first Social Responsibility budget, presented at the 1971 Annual Meeting by SRC chair Herbert E. Goldberg.10 SRC giving continued at the level of 5-7% of subscriptions until 1976 when a combination of economic recession, other internal concerns (physical plant, Bi-Centennial celebration) and lack of lay leadership for social action resulted in a reduction in social action giving to between $2100 and $2800, or between 2 and 2.5% of subscriptions.11



Table 2: Breakdown of SRC Spending by Category, 1971

Percent of SRC Funds

Purpose

48%

Local area programs

22%

Housing and Black Affairs (Christmas offering additional)

15%

International programs

10%

First Parish Educational Program

2%

Interdenominational contribution

3%

Contingency



1980. By 1980, galvanized by Dr. Greeley’s commitment and Parish-wide success in resettling the Ahumada family from Chile and other projects, the social action grants budget stabilized at 3.3% of subscriptions and would continue at this level until 1991; a strong signal of the church’s mission to help meet needs in the outside world. Also by that time, the SRC had become an “open-enrollment” committee, with membership open to all interested persons, rather than elected at the Annual Meeting, and better suited to accommodate the congregation’s wide and varying interests in social action.12

Through the 1980s, social action grants grew from about $5000 to just under $10,000 annually, in part reflecting the growth of the congregation with the arrival of Reverend Gary Smith in 1988. Significant grants helped establish the Concord Prison Project (now Concord Prison Outreach13), which makes important contributions to social justice in Concord today. FP social action grants to Concord Prison Outreach since 1980 have totaled over $30,000.



1990. In 1990, Social Action chair Loretta Ho Sherblom proposed that the Parish increase its social action giving to 5% of subscriptions.14 With Gene Brown, Betty King, Ted Osgood, Hrand Saxenian, Rich Stower and others speaking in favor, the 1990 Annual Meeting voted unanimously to raise the percentage as recommended. Annual social action giving grew from about $10,000 to $20,000 by 1995.

1996. Six years later, Trustee Peter Harwood and Treasurer Tim Jacoby urged that the Parish increase its social action giving to 7.5% of subscriptions. A unanimous 1996 Annual Meeting again voted “Yes.” This increase, together with rapid growth in church membership, raised the annual amounts of social action grants from $25,000 in 1997 to over $60,000 ten years later, in 2007. 15

2004. This rapid increase in social action grant amounts was not without controversy. Some parishioners disagreed on the appropriate sources of funding for social action, taking exception with Dr. Greeley’s formulation and proposing that special fund raising outside of the Parish’s annual operating budget support social action. In 2004, the Standing Committee authorized a strategic planning process and report that concluded that social action projects should be supported by special fund raising; noting that the total amount available for social action might well increase as a result. While this report was “accepted” by the Standing Committee, the larger priority in the mid-2000s was the development and implementation of a capital campaign for much-needed facility improvements.

2009. The Parish carried out the capital campaign successfully, but a consequence, together with the economic recession, was downward pressure on annual pledge amounts, which resulted in necessary and painful budget cuts. Social action grants became a target for these budget concerns and a proposal was made at the 2009 Annual Meeting to reduce the social action grant percentage from 7.5% to 5% of pledges for the 2009-10 fiscal year.16 The motion was defeated overwhelmingly, but the debate over social action grant financing endures.
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