Monthly Archives: April 2009

Goodbye, April. Hello, May.

The month of April was a little too full of events. Carol’s mom a month and a day ago, and we had her memorial service in early April. I resigned from the New Bedford church at the beginning of the month, in order to become the minister of religious education at the Palo Alto, Calif., church. I came down with a nasty gastro-intestinal virus from which it has taken me weeks to recover.

It is my firm belief that no month should contain more than one big life event. I’m looking forward to May, in the hope that it will contain no big life events.

Swine flu? Common sense…

The BBC reports today that the World Health Organization has raised the alert concerning swine flu to just under pandemic level. That means that there has been person-to-person spread of the flu in at least two countries. Now I’m a minister, not a health care professional, and obviously I’m not qualified to give medical advice. But churches have long been places where common sense public health advice has been distributed, and after reading qualified sources (on and off the Web), let me remind you of a few things you already know:

(1) Be scrupulous about washing your hands. Wash your hands before you eat. Wash your hands before you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Flu is one of those diseases that is easy to pick up on your hands, and if you don’t wash your hands you can deposit the virus right into places where it can easily infect you.

(2) You remember how to wash your hands, right? As a religious educator, this is what I’d tell kids: Wash your hands under running water, use soap, and don’t forget to wash your wrists, the backs of your hands, and between your fingers. When you start washing your hands, start singing the A-B-C song (slowly), and don’t stop washing until you get to the very end of the song — that’s how long it should take you to wash your hands.

(3) Get plenty of sleep, drink an appropriate amount of fluids, eat well, and exercise regularly. The better your health now, the less likely you will come down with the flu later.

(4) If you become ill, stay home from work or school. You’ll recover more quickly, and you won’t transmit your illness to others. And if you’re ill, or someone in your family is ill, please don’t come to church, OK?

(5) What about all those scary news stories about how a flu pandemic has the potential of shutting down the economy, so that you won’t be able to get food? I don’t know how to judge the accuracy of those news stories, but I do know that it’s plain common sense to have a couple of weeks’ worth of food and water on hand in case of emergency. Here in New England, we have to worry about the occasional blizzard, ice storm, or hurricane, and keeping some canned goods and bottled water on hand is just plain common sense. (Oh, and you always keep more than half a tank of gas in your car, just in case the power goes out and you can’t pump gas, right?)

All the above are standard public health precautions, or standard emergency preparedness precautions — in other words, these are all things you should be doing anyway. Obviously, if a swine flu pandemic does occur, it may pose unique and special problems that I am not qualified to address. And if you have better information about standard public health precautions, or standard emergency preparedness precautions, let us all know in the comments. But in any case, it won’t hurt you to follow the above common sense procedures, and it’s not a bad idea to use your church as a communications hub where you can let others know about all this.

Spring watch

When I got to the church this morning, I was already feeling slow and groggy. I said hello to Linda, the church administrator, then said, “How are your allergies this morning?”

“Horrible!” she said. “It feels like there’s a little man in there (she pointed to her sinuses) trying to push my eyeballs out.”

“It’s really bad, isn’t it?” I said. “I can barely breathe.”

“It was those two warm days,” she said. “Every tree decided it’s the time to get rid of their pollen all at once.”

Warm spring days may be nice and all — but right now I’m longing for a nice cold snap, followed by a cold, heavy rain.

Spring watch

The temperature hit 87 in New Bedford today — unheard of for April. As I was leaving church this afternoon after a poetry reading, Laurie was getting into her car, which was parked right next to my car.

“So what do you think?” she said. “Is this a result of global warming?”

“Well,” I said, “I’m no climate scientist, so I don’t think I’m qualified to make a definitive statement….” I nattered on for a while.

“Oh, but with all your wisdom, you must have some opinion,” she said, smiling and interrupting me.

“Well, obviously it’s global climate change,” I said. “We don’t get days like this in April.”

“I think so, too,” she said. Then we both got into our hot cars, started up the engines, and drove off under the hot, bright April sunshine.

Ideas from a folk festival

Ted and I spent twelve hours at the New England Folk Festival today. Ted has been running our church’s children’s choir, and I’ve been running our church’s folk choir, and we were both looking for new music (or maybe new approaches to old music) that we could introduce to our church.

Here are five things I brought home from the festival:

(1) You can sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as a round, and it sounds pretty good (see below for details).

(2) Several performers yesterday sang Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More,” obviously in response to the current economic downturn. Our folk choir might be swayed by the Zeitgeist, and add “Hard Times” to our repertoire. (“Hard Times” sheet music here.)

(3,4) I heard two songs that have some potential for liberal religious worship services: “Take My Hand” by Ben Tousley, and “Gentle Hands” by Ellen Schmidt. Both songs might need a verse dropped or other minor tweaking, but both songs would fit in with many Unitarian Universalist worship services.

(5) The best one-liner came from Ken Mattson, whom I know from Unitarian Universalist conferences (as well as shape note singing and dulcimer festivals). During a singing workshop that he was co-leading, someone in the audience went on a little too long with an obscure question about Stan Rogers. After about three minutes of this, Ken gave a big smile, and said, “We’re losing valuable singing time here.” What a great line for getting a workshop — or a rehearsal — back on track.

To sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as a round… Continue reading

Spring watch

we both had to work today, but at sunset Carol and I took a walk along the waterfront. The air was warm, and a light breeze blew out of the southwest. We were standing out at the end of State Pier when I saw a swallow whiz by.

“Hey, that’s a swallow,” I said, interrupting something Carol was saying. “I think maybe it was a Barn Swallow.” I thought I had seen a yellowish color, but it might have been an effect of the setting sun.

“I told you, I saw lots of swallows flying around the bridge,” she said.

“You didn’t tell me that,” I said. Actually, she probably did tell me, but I wasn’t listening when she did. “You mean the swing span bridge over at Fish Island?”

“Yes,” she said.

We walked back along State Pier towards where the Cuttyhunk Ferry is berthed, when I saw the swallow again. It gave a funny buzzy sort of call. Then I saw it had a brown back and a dark throat. “Hey, that’s a Rough-winged Swallow,” I said. “And there’s another one.”

We watched the swallows as the swooped in among the fishing boats, obviously catching insects. Then they would sit for a moment — on the deck railing of a boat, on a rope tying one fishing boat to another, and, once, clinging to an outlet hole for a bilge pump on the side of a boat. Then they would be off flying again, doing amazing aerobatics as they swooped in among the boats and low to the water.

“Seeing the first swallow of spring is good luck,” I said. Actually I’d never heard of such a superstition before, but I said it anyway because seeing those swallows made me feel good.

Funding models for nonprofits

The spring, 2009, issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review has a good article on non-profit funding models, titled “Ten Nonprofit Funding Models.” The authors, William Foster, Peter Kim, and Barbara Christiansen, note that while for-profit businesses have well-established short-hand terms to name various business models (e.g., “low-cost provider,” or “the razor and the razor blade”), nonprofits tend to be less explicit about where their money comes from. But the authors believe we should be explicit about where our money comes from, so they define ten different non-profit funding models.

For those of us who work with churches, only one of these funding models applies — we use the “Member Motivator” model:

“There are some nonprofits, such as Saddleback Church, that rely on individual donations and use a funding model we call Member Motivator. These individuals (who are members of the nonprofit) donate money because the issue is integral to their everyday life and is something from which they draw a collective benefit. Nonprofits using the Member Motivator funding model do not create the rationale for group activity, but instead connect with members (and donors) by offering or supporting activities that they already seek. These organizations are often involved in religion, the environment, or arts, culture, and the humanities….”

In other words, churches use pretty much the same funding model as National Public Radio and the National Wild Turkey Foundation.

The authors go on to note that the Member Motivator funding model has the richest mixture of tactical tools available to it of any nonprofit funding model. Tactical tools include: membership, fees, special events, and major gifts. Another advantage of the Member Motivator model is that you are tapping into an inherent and already-existing collective community for fundraising — much easier than writing grants.

Certainly an interesting article, and worth reading if you can get your hands on a copy of the magazine. Update 24 April: In the comments, Eclectic Cleric points out you can access an abridged version of the article at the SSIR Web site. If you can’t get the full version, the abridged version is definitely worth reading.


I have neglected to announce some news here on this blog (the death of Carol’s mom tended to make everything else seem far less significant). Probably the best thing to do is to give you the text of the letter I sent out to the congregation here in New Bedford:

2 April 2009

Dear friends,

I am writing this letter to you to inform you that I am resigning as minister of First Unitarian Church in New Bedford effective 31 July 2009. I have accepted an offer to become the Assistant Minister of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, California.

I have valued serving as the minister of the church here in New Bedford. I have decided to take on this new ministerial challenge because the time seemed right. No less important, living in a larger metropolitan area will provide more employment opportunities for my spouse, Carol.

Serving here in New Bedford has been a rich and satisfying ministry for me. I am glad to have been minister here with you, and I will look forward to hearing of the continued upward progress of this congregation.

Yours truly, [signed]

A tale of April 19, 1775

Today is Patriots Day, a legal holiday in Massachusetts commemorating the Battle of Lexington and Concord, which is popularly held to be the first battle in the American Revolution. I used to be a licensed tourist guide in Concord, and I delighted in helping people get past the myths that have grown up around April 19, 1775: so I would help people understand that Paul Revere never made it to Concord (he was captured by the British in Lincoln); that there weren’t any Minutemen on Lexington Green but rather the Lexington Militia; and that nobody said “The British are coming!” because on April 19, 1775, the colonials had not yet declared themselves to be a separate country and still probably thought of themselves as British.

One of my favorite myth-busting stories told how there wasn’t a firm line between the colonial soldiers and His Majesty’s troops. By April 22, 1850, Amos Baker, the sole survivor of the Battle at the North Bridge in Concord told a story of how one of those who had gathered with the Minutemen and Militia companies in Concord decided before the battle that he just wasn’t going to fight. Here’s the story in Baker’s own words:

“Before the fighting begun, when we were on the hill, James Nichols, of Lincoln, who was an Englishman, and a droll fellow, and a fine singer, said, ‘If any of you will hold my gun, I will go down and talk to them.’ Some of them held his gun, and he went down alone to the British soldiers at the bridge and talked to them some time. Then he came back and took his gun and said he was going home, and went off before the fighting. Afterwards he enlisted to go to Dorchester and there deserted to the British, and I never heard of him again.”

Thus, contrary to myth, some of the colonial Minutemen and Militiamen had doubts about what they were doing — and at least one of them, James Nichols, acted upon those doubts.

Baker’s story comes from “The affidavit of Amos Baker, of Lincoln, given April 22d, 1850; he being the sole survivor of the men who were present at the North Bridge, at Concord, on the 19th of April, 1775, and the only man living who bore arms that day” (reprinted as an appendix to An oration delivered at Concord: on the celebration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the events of April 19, 1775 by Robert Rantoul [Boston: Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1850], pp. 134-135).