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One Congregation Response to Workshops on Class and Classism

Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, Middlebury Vermont

by Michael Greenwood

During the years between 2015 and 2017, the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Governing Board sponsored two Class Conversation workshops, “Organizing for Change: Addressing Classism In Your Faith Community” and “Create Justice- Not Walls: Class and Race in UU Settings.”  Later, the congregation sponsored the worship service, Born on Third Base led by Chuck Collins author of the book of the same title.

As a result congregational members examined our policies, practices and norms.  For example, from the minster to the sexton, we examined the equity of what we offered our employees.  Were we equitable in our wages and more importantly the benefits we offered?  Was passing the “plate” an embarrassing component of the Sunday service? We noticed who was missing at our events – pay for dinners, the auction- and wondered why.  

In response, our minster Barnaby Feder with other key individuals in the congregation instituted the following changes.  

  1. We made childcare an integral offering for every committee and small group meeting thus enabling single parents and families to attend without having to worry about providing childcare.  This allowed them to participate in our congregational life outside of Sunday service.  
  2. We shared our personal stories from the pulpit of how we had moved from one class background to another e.g. working to professional middle class or vice-versa from professional class to working class.  The sharing of these personal stories dispelled the myth that even though we are a largely affluent white congregation in a well respected liberal arts college town not all of us were professionals earning a comfortable income with generous benefits.  

Because these stories were public, it created a culture of inclusion – “there is no shame to your economic status as others share that experience with you.”

  1. We moved away from charging and advertising discounts for families in order to attend communal meals and concerts.  If a donation was needed to offset costs, a “free will” donation box was left to side of the entry door. 
  2. Perhaps the most significant change we made was ending our annual auction fundraiser where the highest bidder wins.  Instead we did a Radical Love Giveaways event.  Raffle items were displayed on a table with a collection container where tickets could be deposited.  Every family unit received 10 tickets to deposit wherever they wished – weekend vacations, dinners, a midnight snowshoeing event, a watercolor, etc. How did this event work as a fun-raiser?  Participants were asked to give 4% of their annual pledge. But everyone received their 10 tickets and the equal chance of winning that dinner or weekend get-away regardless if they contributed that 4% or not.

To be sure our work has just begun.  But I, along with many others, look forward to finding ways to be more inclusive as an integral part of our personal and spiritual growth.