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Dec 20, 2013

Responding to Dan Harper's Open Letter to the UUMA Board

Dan Harper recently penned an open letter to the UUMA Board describing why he is dropping his membership in the UUMA. I was moved to write a long comment that I thought I would repost here:

I admit to being more than a little disappointed with reading this post. Over the last year and a half that I've spent as a semi-itinerant minister I have grown increasingly appreciative of the UUMA. I left the parish ministry in the autumn of 2012 to begin working on a PhD and have been supporting myself and my family partially through pulpit supply and officiating rites of passage. The experience of not having my own pulpit has helped me to understand exactly how much the UUMA does for me (I discuss this realization at length here). My membership in the UUMA has provided me with connections that have allowed me to earn higher wages and find more opportunities than I would have otherwise found. In addition, I have been taking advantage of the UUMA's excellent coaching program this year. The cost of the program is $100 for ten sessions. I'm getting far more from the peer coach that I'm working with than from the professional speech coach I paid close to $700 for a couple of sessions a few years ago.

Frankly, I tired of hearing settled ministers with good salaries and housing allowances complain about how much UUMA dues are. When I was a parish minister I simply paid for my UUMA dues out of my professional expense account. I suspect that most of the settled ministers who complain about the cost of UUMA dues do the same.

These days, I pay for my UUMA dues out of pocket. I live in the Boston area, which is close Silicon Valley cost-wise. My wife and I support our family on my graduate student stipend, pulpit supply fees and her very part-time DRE salary (we are food stamps and receive other forms of public aid). Yet I still think supporting the UUMA is worthwhile.*

In my experience, most of the people who complain about UUMA dues are fairly highly paid and skilled workers (Dan earns almost twice the median wage in the US, and 140% the median household income in California). One of the reasons why UU ministers earn relatively good wages is because of the advocacy, over time, of our professional association.

As for the community minister who makes $200,000 and doesn’t want to pay .5% of his income to the UUMA, all I can say is that maybe he doesn’t value his identity as a UU minister enough. He certainly don’t seem to feel a need to support the organization that helps minister maintain professional standards and wages which, at the end of the day, is what the UUMA does. Those standards are crucial in maintaining the viability, if that is possible in this changing religious landscape, of our profession.

*As a graduate student I also belong to a number of professional academic associations and a labor union. I don’t complain about paying dues to those groups either.

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