First Parish in Concord History and Impact of Social Action Grants

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Policies for Allocation of Social Action Grants

Policies for managing the social action grants program have evolved over the years.17 Key developments in SRC grant making in the 1970s were an emphasis on giving to organizations that reflected First Parish and UU values, and using SRC contributions as seed money, or important start-up money, for new social action venture. For example, the SRC made grants, typically in the $100 to $300 range, to Amnesty International, the World Conference on Religion and Peace, METCO, the UU-UN office, CMM, and Service to Youth, Inc. (Concord). First Parish grants bolstered Parishioner involvement in significant outreach projects, including the founding of the Concord Human Rights Council (now the Concord-Carlisle Human Rights Council).

The mid-late 1970s also brought two successful refugee resettlement projects, the Ahumada family from Chile and the Diep-To family from Cambodia. Both these efforts had important involvement of the ministers and members of the congregation. “The ‘Boat People Project’ under co-chairs Claire Griffiths and Phil Villers, was established with initial monies raised by contributions from the committee and requests to the Parish.”18 The Parish repeated this success in 1998-2001 with the resettlement of four Albanian orphans from the war in Kosovo.19

Total social action grant giving from 1968 to 1986 totaled about $50,000. Detailed records of grant recipients were not kept nor listed in the Annual Report, but the narrative shows strong support for activities of the UUSC, Amnesty International and local Concord youth projects.

The early 1980s marked the beginning of strong social action leadership demonstrated by lay leaders in the Parish and inspired by Rev. Greeley and active associate ministers. Successive strong chairs of the Social Responsibility Committee, Phil Villers and Richard Stower, succeeded in expanding the involvement of parishioners in social action by establishing project committees and engaging the ministers in social action projects.

Other organizations receiving significant contributions from First Parish during the 1980s included Planned Parenthood, Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, the Greeley Foundation,20 Amnesty International and Renewal House, an important domestic violence program of the UU Urban Ministry.

Renewal House and UU-supported programs for urban youth in Boston represent some of the most significant social justice programs undertaken by the denomination.21 Since 1985, First Parish has directed social action grants to Renewal House totaling nearly $60,000, as well as grants for similar amounts for Funderberg Youth and Scholarships (high school-aged youth) and Stand High Stand United (middle school-aged youth). First Parish financial support and individual parishioner involvement in these UUUM programs, along with other Boston-area UU churches, has been crucial to the success and survival of these programs. Under the leadership of Loretta Ho Sherblom, who independently raised significant monies since the mid 1990s, 20 high school students from Roxbury and other inner city neighborhoods have attended and/or graduated from college.

Through the years, FP has used grant money to become a steady supporter of the UU Urban Ministry in Roxbury and the UU Service Committee abroad. In addition, the Parish supported Concord Prison Outreach and domestic violence programs in Concord, provided free medical care to underserved Bostonians through Albert Schweitzer Fellowships, and supported homeless people through Common Cathedral and bilingual children at the city’s first bilingual school.

The Parish provided initial leadership and financial support to Jericho Road, a nonprofit organization created by First Parishioners under SAC auspices, which has become a national model for harnessing parishioner professional expertise to address social and economic needs in a nearby urban community. Nationally, FP contributed to hurricane relief and built several homes on the Gulf Coast. Internationally, FP supported tsunami and earthquake relief, the micro bank in San Marcos (Concord’s Nicaraguan Sister City), African economic development, and orphanages in Argentina and Cambodia. Important initial financial support for the Transylvania Sister Church in the mid-1990s emanated from a series of social action grants.

FP’s current level of collective annual giving is nearly $60,000. Any parishioner can propose a recipient that meets criteria set out on the church website. Applicants must complete a comprehensive form indicating how they would use the money, and recipients must report regarding what FP funding achieved. A representative committee administers this process, announces spring and fall application deadlines, and makes awards twice a year.

Procedures and criteria for awarding SAC Grants funding have evolved over this 40 year period. First Parish and SRC (now SAC) criteria have included evolving elements:

  • establishing a Social Responsibility Committee (SRC) to oversee social responsibility activities of the Parish with membership open to all interested persons

  • adopting a policy of making social action grants to organizations outside the Parish

  • funding this grant-making policy from the annual Parish budget

  • entrusting the SRC with the authority to determine grant recipients

  • using grants to “make a statement” about First Parish values and principles

  • using grants to initiate projects or to support organizations with the intention they become independent of solely First Parish support

  • using grants to support parishioner social action activities and to increase parishioner participation in these activities

  • professionalizing grant making with accountability for overseeing grants, specific criteria for grant recipients, dissemination of project results and using part of the social action allocation to support social action infrastructure, including a part time staff position

Themes in First Parish Social Action Giving

Committees and parishioners responsible for making social action grants over the years took care to distribute the funds over a broad range of projects and purposes consistent with UU values and social action issues and priorities of the day. Table 3 shows the breakdown of social action grants from 1968 to 2010 by geographic category. Note that until 1985, the committees responsible for social action grants did not publish specific amounts associated with grantees mentioned in the annual report narrative. Thus, we do not know specifically the allocation of about $50,000 of the $880,000 in total grants.

Table 3: Allocation of Social Action Grants, by Geography, 1968-2010

Geographic Category



Eastern Massachusetts



E. Mass – UU Urban Ministry



Concord-Area Projects






Unpublished Allocation (1968-1985)



Other USA



First Parish Projects






Attachments 1-6 in the accompanying file detail the breakdown of grants by grantee or theme within the geographic categories. First Parish spends nearly 50% 0f grant monies in Eastern Massachusetts, with almost half this amount awarded to the UU Urban Ministry. Projects of the Urban Ministry, including Renewal House for victims of domestic violence, Funderberg Youth Programs for high-school aged youth, Stand Hi-Stand United for middle-school-aged youth, and United Souls for recently released prisoners are well known and strongly supported in the Parish. In addition, First Parishioners routinely serve on the Urban Ministry board; groups and individuals within the Parish frequently sponsor special fund-raisers to benefit these Urban Ministry programs.

In addition to the programs of the UU Urban Ministry, over the years First Parish made over 170 grants in support of housing/homelessness, youth programs, racial justice and diversity and community development in Concord and in Eastern Massachusetts. Table 4 identifies organizations in Concord and Eastern Massachusetts that received the largest amount of FP funding between 1986 and 2010.

Table 4: Concord and East MA Organizations Receiving Most SAC Funding 1986-2010





Albert Schweitzer Fellowships




Hernandez School (Friends of Hernandez)




Concord-Prison Outreach




Domestic Violence Victim Assistance




Open Table




Common Cathedral




First Parish has been instrumental in establishing and sustaining many social justice organizations in Eastern Massachusetts and the region. Open Table, which provides a weekly supper and groceries for low income persons in Concord and surrounding areas, has been hosted by First Parish since its founding in 1989.22 SAC grants supported the expansion of Open Table to Maynard in 2007.

First Parish’s support of Common Cathedral through parishioner and youth participation has been augmented by SAC grants that have supported the expansion of the Common Cathedral model of engaging homeless persons in church services and meals to other cities.23 Several early grants to Jericho Road supported the Parish’s initial participation in launching this model of connecting affluent congregation expertise with urban community needs.24 The unique domestic violence program with police departments in the eight towns of the 8th MA District Court and Hanscom Field has been supported by First Parish since 2000 and provided a basis for the program to obtain several hundred thousand dollars from the federal Grants to Encourage Arrest program. Concord Prison Outreach is a model “town-prison” program that connects local communities with prisoners preparing to re-enter society.

Domestically and internationally, First Parish has made grant awards in support of disaster and war relief through a number of agencies including Doctors without Borders and the UUSC. In addition, SAC has supported a number of social justice and development projects around the globe. Table 5 shows the organizations involved in international projects and domestic/international relief efforts that have received the most FP grant funding in 1986-2010.

Table 5: International and Relief Organizations Receiving Most SAC Funding, 1986-2010





Bridge to Biloxi Hurricane Relief

US Gulf Coast



Transylvania Partner Church




UUSC Disaster and War Relief




Sharing Foundation Orphanage




San Marcos Sister City Micro Bank




Doctors w/o Borders Disaster Relief




Amnesty International




First Parish SAC grants provided substantial, early financial support of the Transylvania Partner Church project until it gained wide acceptance in the congregation and a separate line item in the church budget.25 Subsequently, that program gained widespread congregational participation and financial support, including youth service trips and scholarships for Romania youth. In a similar vein, support of Bridge to Biloxi hurricane relief efforts led to a number of parishioner and youth service trips to the Gulf Coast region.

Support of the San Marcos Sister City (of Concord) through the Concord Carlisle Human Rights Council leveraged loans to small businesses in the region to stimulate economic development along the lines of Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammed Yunis’s micro bank concept for women-owned businesses in Bangladesh.

SAC grants has also supported Concord native and physician Nancie Hendrie, who inspired many health professionals, Concordians and First Parishioners to support her work with orphaned youth in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge atrocities in that country. SAC grants also supported the local chapter of Amnesty International for over 25 years in letter writing and lobbying for prisoner release, anti-slavery, regime change and support of conscientious objection around the world.

Finally, SAC grants has supported several closer-to-home projects that enabled First Parish, as a congregation, to participate in a number of important social justice initiatives. Notable among these are direct support for the initial First Parish youth service project, to the Navajo Nation in Arizona in 2000. The success of this project then led to several, self-funded youth service projects to the Gulf Coast, Transylvania, and El Salvador. In addition, several years of City Year projects brought FP families together with families from other Concord congregations, notably Tricon, Kerem Shalom and Our Ladies (Holy Family) for service work. It also led to a long-standing relationship with the Hernandez School in Jamaica Plain and numerous social justice activities in that area.26

Executive Summary and Conclusion

Building on a long historic tradition, Social Action giving (SAC Grants) has been a key, and growing, and evolving, part of First Parish life for the past 42 years.

From a modest 1968 start of $150, SAC Grants now approximate $60,000 annually.

Over 42 years, SAC Grant giving has totaled nearly $1 million ($880,000), representing nearly 5% (4.7%) of total FP spending during this time.

Approximately ¼ of SAC Grant funding has supported UU-affiliated organizations, primarily the UU Urban Ministry in Boston and the UUSC. A second ¼ supported other eastern Massachusetts groups, while another 1/5 supported Concord-area activity. Another 1/5 supported overseas organizations.

Any FP member can nominate a group to receive funding or comment on a group that has been nominated, and the process of evaluating potential recipients and the effectiveness of recipient use of the money has become increasingly professionalized.

Still, a reasonable question remains: “Why do we do this? Why, especially when money is tight and FP programming faces cut backs, should money pledged to support the church flow out to others outside our community?

One answer is that Social Action giving is a long-time, core part of what First Parish is, of how it defines itself and its mission in the world.

A second is that we should not balance our budget on the backs of the poor, When FP experiences tight times, the less fortunate in the world feel that squeeze even tighter.

Finally, the work of creating social justice will never end. One small part of what one small group (First Parish in Concord) is committed to doing, putting its money where its mouth is, is to hold fast to its commitment to keep part of its collective wealth “going out into the world … to support the weak, and help the suffering.” So be it.

Appendix 1

A History of SAC – Compiled by David Dawson, December 2010 – May 2011

Four main phases to be covered:

Phase I.

Pre-World War II until the end of Rev Daniels’ tenure in 1956. There were contributions from the Parish—at one point as high as 20% of Parish income according to Daniels; monies given away either by the minister, or by WPA, or the Trustees (this included Trustees of Parish Donations and Trustees of WPA). Activities of the Parish consisted primarily of WPA and were layettes for expectant mothers, food and clothing donations during WW II, and specified donations by Trustees to Concord residents in need.

Excerpts from Annual Reports----having to do with social action as it was in the “old days”-

    1. 1937. E.P. Daniels Minister. Committee on External Charities gave $35 to the American Unitarian Association. Committee on Domestic Charities gave $250, held by the Trustees. The Easter collection of $110 was paid out. Money went to the Baldwinsville Hospital. The Prendergast Prevention, and the Unitarian Booth at the Springfield. The WPA gave $57 to local charities. (At this time the minister’s compensation was $4,000 per year)

    2. 1938. Domestic Charities spent $240 for the Nancy Holden Fund per a bequest.

    3. 1939. Recorded church members 124 (noted to be probably incomplete). The “total constituency” stated to be 660. There was a “Special collection for the silent poor of the town and Parish on Easter Sunday”. A number of special funds were administered either by the trustees or by the minister: e.g. Nancy Holden fund, Ann Holland fund. (For example, a fund was in place to assist a single daughter or other relative caring for a female parishioner at home).

    4. 1945. 127 members were on the Honor Roll, and there had been six deaths. There were 281 families listed, and a total constituency of 744. Rev. Daniels states in his annual report: “Parish philanthropies maintain a high level---- if our interests were not so widespread our distinctly parochial interest might be greater”. (He was not nearly as satisfied with church attendance).

    5. 1948. “The Committee on External Charities is the agency through which the Parish contributes to the American Unitarian Association, the Unitarian Service Committee, and other affiliated organizations. The Parish gave $1406, exceeding the quota of $1178.” The USC began during World War II. The Women’s Parish Association is bringing a young student from Czechoslovakia to study in the US. Helping a school in the Southern mountains. Gathering clothing for the USC. The World Fellowship sent clothing and food to England

Note The WPA had an autonomous system of giving grants, and had their own trustees, funds to disburse, and list of donors to the WPA Trustees.

Phase II.

With the advent of Rev. Jellis, and the two nationwide upheavals of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War, First Parish looked outward. Marches, protests, speeches, anti-war and civil rights events. There was a major degree of opposition in the church, which led eventually to Jellis’ removal. Social Action was less of a consideration. There was a Committee of Social Responsibility.

Phase III.

During Rev. Greeley’s tenure, gradually Social Action developed. This was fueled in part by the decision to increase the proportion of pledging income to 7.5% from 2.5%, the leaders of that movement being Loretta Ho Sherblom and Peter Harwood. The money was spent by SAC itself via individual grants. Some of these had a component of action or participation by parish members, but many were merely grants to worthy causes. Rev. Greeley often participated in SAC meetings.

Phase IV.

Under Gary Smith, and especially with the arrival of Jenny Rankin, more SAC activity occurred. The Committee expanded. The Grants process was spun off and became semi-autonomous. SAC lunches and dinners with speakers occurred from time to time. Jenny asked Katharine Esty and Eric Van Loon to co-chair. A number of SAC dinners were held, at which people described what they were doing. A continuing issue of structure remained: interaction, feedback and involvement existed. The Four Pillars of social action were identified to be Action, Education, Grants, and Long Range Planning—and individuals still did their thing. A Social Action Coordinator was hired and was paid out of SAC Grants money. After much discussion and renewed interest, a new Board with new energy and new people began to function.

  • Notably---and continuing to this day---many SAC-like projects occurred without much direct SAC involvement, Prison Outreach, Open Table and Funderberg scholars being prime examples.

  • The Jericho Road project was conceived, launched, and fostered by the SAC Long Range Planning group. Eventually it became an independent 501(c) 3 charitable organization, in part to enable it to pursue independent funding. It has since become fully independent, has volunteers from outside FP, and is being replicated. This story is detailed in Appendix 2.

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