Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1910-1915

Part Three of a history I’m writing, telling the story of Unitarians in Palo Alto from the founding of the town in 1891 up to the dissolution of the old Unitarian Church of Palo Alto in 1934. If you want the footnotes, you’ll have to wait until the print version of this history comes out in the spring of 2022.

Part OnePart Two

Building the Institution, 1909-1915

Following Rev. Sydney Snow’s departure, the leaders of the Palo Alto church were able to attract Rev. Clarence Reed as their next minister. Reed had been ordained in the Methodist Episcopal church in 1894, served a series of short-term pastorates in that denomination, and wound up in San Francisco in 1904. He then decided he was a Unitarian, resigned from his Methodist pastorate to spend a year at Harvard Divinity School, and was called to the Alameda Unitarian Church. The Alameda church was even smaller and had less money than the Palo Alto church, but it proved convenient for Reed to serve there while pursuing graduate study in philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. The Alameda church had paid him $1500 per year (roughly $44,000 in 2020 dollars), and by moving to Palo Alto he received a modest increase in his salary to $1600 per year (roughly $47,000 in 2020 dollars).

Reed took two extended sabbaticals while at Palo Alto. In 1910, just a year after arriving at the church, he spent eight months traveling in Europe recovering from a health crisis. Then in 1914, he spent six months traveling in East Asia. Thus although he served the Palo Alto church from 1909 to 1915, he was actually at the church for only five of those six years.

Reed’s relationship with the Board of Trustees was not entirely harmonious. There are moments in the Board minutes where Reed is portrayed as ambitious, driven, and annoying, while for their part the Trustees seem content to remain a small, close-knit group comfortably supported financially by the American Unitarian Association. Not to put too fine a point on it, Reed wanted the church to grow, and the Trustees weren’t that interested. Reed also managed to ruffle the feathers of other lay leaders. Emma Rendtorff sounds slightly resentful when she notes in her Sunday school records that Reed took over running the Sunday school from her, and then didn’t even keep careful records of attendance. Yet Reed must have done something right, for he increased average attendance in the Sunday school to around 60 students, probably twice the average attendance Emma Rendtorff was able to achieve.

Despite the low-level tension between Reed and some lay leaders, the years when Reed was minister were a golden age for the church. Sunday attendance probably averaged around 60 to 70. The congregation finally built the social hall that they had hoped for since they bought the building lot in 1906. Sunday school enrollment climbed to 90 children and teenagers; the church had enough children and teens to stage a fairly elaborate play, “King Persifer’s Crown,” in May, 1916. But beyond these statistics, what was the church like during this golden age?

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Transparency, part two

A follow up on yesterday’s post on transparency:

If we want to maintain trust in clergy, we have to be able to name names when clergy have been proven to engage in misconduct. By naming names, we demonstrate that we are willing to hold ministers accountable for their actions. If we don’t name names, if we keep secrets, then we cannot maintain trust.

The Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association hosts the Berry Street lecture, an annual lecture given by a respected minister. In 2016, Gail Seavey gave the Berry Street lecture, and she named names. She named Forrest Church as a minister who engaged in sexual misconduct. She called out Bill Schulz, who told her she was a “new Puritan” for speaking out against Church’s sexual misconduct. And she named David Maynard, who engaged in sexual misconduct over many years at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville.

You won’t find Gail Seavey’s Berry Street Lecture on the UUMA website, though. Nor will you find Deborah Pope-Lance’s Berry Street lecture on clergy misconduct. As I heard the story, the UUMA wouldn’t post the texts of those two lectures unless there were revisions made, and those two women refused to make revisions. Fortunately, you can read Gail Seavey’s Berry Street lecture on Deborah’s website.

It’s hard to name names. Clergy who have engaged in misconduct have been known to threaten lawsuits if someone named their name. Sure, they probably wouldn’t prevail in court, because if what you say is true then it’s not slander or libel — but the mere threat of a law suit is enough to silence someone like me. I don’t have the money to hire a lawyer to defend me. In other words, someone like me can’t afford to name names of misconducting clergy, as long as they are still alive and able to sue me.

We need the kind of transparency that Gail Seavey’s Berry Street lecture provides. When a clergyperson has been proven to have committed misconduct, we need to be open about that fact. But when the UUMA refused to place Gail Seavey’s unrevised Berry Street Lecture on their website, that’s not promoting transparency, that’s keeping secrets. When the Unitarian Universalist Association refuses to post lists of clergy who have been disciplined for misconduct, that’s not promoting transparency, that’s keeping secrets.

Transparency equals trust. We need to build trust.

Transparency

The Rabbinical Assembly, which credentials rabbis in the Conservative movement, has begun posting a publicly available list of “Rabbis Expelled from the Rabbinical Assembly.” Included on the list are all eight rabbis expelled since 2004, along with an apologetic note reading, “Please note the RA began posting this information in 2021 and this list does not reflect decisions prior to 2004.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) was equally transparent about ministers who have been expelled from fellowship? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to the web page of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, and click on a link that would lead to a list of all the Unitarian Universalist ministers from 2004 on who have been expelled or suspended from fellowship with the UUA?

Religion News Service, where I learned about this story, interviewed the head of the Rabbinical Assembly, and he told why they adopted this new policy:

“‘An important part of preserving the safety of anyone who comes into a religious institution is trust in the integrity of their clergy,’ said Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, chief executive of the Rabbinical Assembly and CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the movement’s congregational arm. ‘When we have rabbis who fail to meet our ethical standards and have been expelled or suspended, it’s important to be transparent about that.'”

If we Unitarian Universalists want to preserve safety and maintain trust in our institutions, we should follow the Rabbinical Assembly’s lead. But our denominational leadership — including the UUA Board, UUA staff, the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA), and the Ministerial Fellowship Committee — haven’t been willing to provide this level of transparency.

(Footnote for goyim: “Conservative” in this context doesn’t mean what most Unitarian Universalists mean when they say “conservative.” The Conservatives ordain both women and LGBT people as rabbis, use critical-scientific methods, and are open to a variety of opinions on religious matters. And when it comes to this new policy of transparency around clergy misconduct, Conservative Jews may be said to be far more progressive than Unitarian Universalists.)

Responsive reading

Last week, I posted a responsive reading with words by the Universalist minister Eliza Tupper Wilkes, that’s copyright-free so you can use it freely in online worship. Now here’s a copyright-free poem by Unitarian poet Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, arranged as a responsive reading and available under a copyright-free CC0 license.

Our twenty-first century eyes might find Frances Harper’s nineteenth century rhythms and rhyme schemes a little trite. But I think when read out loud, responsively, our twenty-first century ears will enjoy this poem.

Songs for the People

Let us make songs for the people
Songs for the old and young;

Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.

Not for the clashing of sabres,
For carnage, nor for strife;

But songs to thrill the hearts of all
With more abundant life.

Our world, so worn and weary,
Needs music, pure and strong,

To hush the jangle and discords
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.

Music to soothe all its sorrow,
Till war and crimes shall cease,

And human hearts grown tender
Girdle the world with peace.

Arranged from “Songs for the People,” Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (Unitarian) CC0

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, public domain image from the Library of Congress

Bad UU hiring practices

Over the past year, I’ve talked to quite a few UU professionals who are thinking about changing jobs. Mind you, this happens every year. If you have a professional job in a small nonprofit, the typical path for job advancement is to find a job at another, slightly larger, nonprofit. This is obviously true for part-time directors of religious education — the quickest path for a part-time professional to advance in their career is to find a similar position elsewhere that’s full-time. There’s also the classic career path for full-time senior ministers — stay in a small congregation for about seven years (until you get your first sabbatical), then move to a larger congregation that pays more.

The result of all this is a constant movement of professional employees — directors of religious education and parish ministers — among UU congregations. This kind of movement is actually a good thing, because it helps spread best practices and new ideas from one UU congregation to another. It also provides an obvious upward career path, which means we all can continue to attract the best talent into our congregations.

Problem is, there are too many UU congregations who do a lousy job of hiring new employees. I’m going to give three examples of lousy hiring practices by UU congregations. I’m going to change details to protect the innocent — and by “protect the innocent,” I don’t mean I’m going to protect the UU congregations who have lousy hiring practices — no, I mean I’m going to protect the UU professionals who provided some of these examples for me.

Requiring more than full-time work

Several months ago, a colleague showed me a job posting where a UU congregation in the northeastern U.S. posted a job that required eight hours a day, six days a week.

The first problem with this is that it’s stupid. Back in June, 2019, Shainaz Firfiray, Associate Professor of Organisation and Human Resource Management at the Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, England, wrote a piece for The Conversation titled “Long hours at the office could be killing you,” in which she cites growing evidence that a 35 hour work week is most efficient, whereas longer work weeks can cause stress, anxiety, and depression. That’s even more true in the middle of the pandemic, where I’m seeing a huge increase in stress, anxiety, and depression among UU professionals.

I know we have congregational polity, so no one can stop your congregation from being stupid and demanding six day work weeks of your professionals. But if you do that, please do not complain to me or express surprise when your professionals grow stressed, anxious, and depressed — and then become less efficient and effectual — and even in the worst case scenario engage get driven into unethical or unprofessional behavior. Do not complain or express surprise, and also, please, accept full responsibility for being stupid.

The second problem with demanding a six day work week is that it’s unethical. Why? Well, first of all, if you claim to be paying a salary that conforms to UUA guidelines for this six-day-a-week job, you’re lying. The UUA guidelines are for full-time work, so if you’re demanding more than full-time hours, then you’re not paying the salary required by guidelines. I’ll walk you through this. Let’s take the example of a parish minister in a small congregation with fewer than 150 members in Geo Index 3. For full-time work, the UUA guidelines call for a range of $54,100 to $76,500. If you’re demanding a six-day work week, then on an hourly basis you should pay time-and-a-half for every hour over 40 hours. That gives a salary range of $70,330 to $99, 450. So if you advertise a salary range of $54,100 to $76,500, require a six-day workweek, and claim to be meeting UUA guidelines, you are in effect lying.

There’s another reason why this is unethical. It’s treating your professional employee like a wage slave. Actually, a congregation that demands a six day work week of its professionals is treating them worse than wage slaves. I spent twelve years punching a time clock, and when you punch a time clock your employer tends to be very respectful of your extra hours. But an unscrupulous employer will ask for more and more hours from a more-than-full-time salaried employee, because demanding more doesn’t cost them a cent.

Not publicly advertising the salary

Recently, BBC News reported on “Why companies don’t post salaries in job adverts.” UU congregations appear to be part of this world-wide trend. Over the past year, UU colleagues have pointed out to me several instances of UU congregations posting jobs that give no indication of what the salary is.

In addition, there now seems to be a trend of posting jobs with the vague claim that the congregation “pays UUA guidelines.” Except that when you get to the interview, it turns out that the salary that’s offered is the lowest possible salary the congregation can get away with. A year ago, I was shown one job posting for a religious educator that claimed to “pay UUA guidelines.” Now for religious educators, there are five different salary levels based on your level of experience and training. For example, the salary ranges for a full-time religious educator position in a mid-sized II (250-349 members) congregation in Geo Index 3 range from $55,100 to $65,200 for a Credentialed Masters Level religious educator, down to a range from $34,700 to $37,900 for an inexperienced, untrained Religious Education Coordinator. When my colleague got to the interview, this congregation that claimed to “pay UUA guidelines” for a Director of Religious Education was actually only offering $34,700, the lowest possible salary for a Religious Education Coordinator. That’s dishonest.

It’s not only dishonest, it’s stupid. As the BBC reports, “knowing the expected salary upfront lets a candidate understand whether a job will be financially viable for them.” So the hiring committee is actually wasting its own time reviewing applications and conducting interviews with people who are going to turn them down when they hear what the salary is. Furthermore, it’s also stupid because, according to the BBC, “organisations that are more transparent about their salaries can win over the best candidates and attract diverse applicants.” BBC quotes one expert as saying, “if the salary banding isn’t there, I think there can be a tendency for some of the better talent on the market to not apply.” In short, lack of salary transparency means you’ll attract a lower-quality and less diverse talent pool.

Finally, it’s not only dishonest and stupid, it’s also illegal in some states. As of 2019, Colorado requires employers to disclose pay ranges in all job listings. Similar legislation is pending in other states. The very title of the Colorado law makes it clear that this is a justice issue — “Equal Pay for Equal Work At” –and the law is designed to eliminate the gender pay gap, and all other pay disparities. So to avoid potential fines, and to hep further justice in the work world, you might as well get in the habit of posting the salary range in your job listings.

Cheating on benefits

Some UU congregations post jobs where they claim to compensate at UUA salary guidelines, but then they don’t offer the full benefits package called for under UUA guidelines. So technically, they’re not lying — the congregation is in fact paying the salary called for under UUA guidelines. But the total compensation package does not meet UUA guidelines. That’s dishonest. It’s the old bait-and-switch game.

Actually, sometimes it goes beyond dishonest into stupid. A colleague showed me one job posting where the congregation claimed to pay at UUA salary guidelines. Of course the actual salary wasn’t listed. But they did list the benefits. And the benefits package wasn’t even close to the UUA recommendations. I guess they assumed that applicants were going to be either desperate enough not to care, or ignorant enough not to look at the UUA guidelines. It’s stupid when you go out of your way to try and attract applicants who are desperate and/or ignorant. It’s also stupid to assume applicants are going to be desperate, when in actuality there’s a nationwide labor shortage.

Lessons to be learned

First lesson to be learned: There’s a labor shortage right now. If UU congregations want to attract the best candidates, especially if they want to attract more diverse candidates, they need to offer reasonable hours, they need to be transparent in their job postings, and they need to offer a decent benefits package.

Second lesson to be learned: If the congregation’s budget won’t pay for all the staff they want, trying to squeeze more work out of your staffers for less pay is not the way to go. You’ll get lower quality work, and pissed-off staffers. Either raise more money, or reduce your expectations of what you can get out of staff.

Third lesson to be learned: Financially, it’s gotten to be a harsh world for small nonprofits. We all know that staff cuts are going to be the norm for most congregations for the foreseeable future. We all know that the way to attract the best talent in this harsh world is to be fair and transparent. And I’m predicting that the congregations that attract the best talent, the most diverse talent, are going to be the congregations that survive — and even thrive — in the face of today’s harsh financial realities.

Noted without comment

Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn now lives in the Bay Area, where he attends the Lighthouse Church in San Francisco, and plays in the worship band. According to a recent news article — about how he recently recorded four songs that will benefit the church’s homeless ministries — being a Christian in the U.S. may require apology:

“While he doesn’t have ‘any hesitation’ identifying as a Christian, [Cockburn] is starting to wonder if that’s such a good thing to say in public in the U.S. these days. If someone asks if he’s a Christian, he still says, ‘Yes, I’m a Christian, but I got vaccinated.'”

Responsive reading

I’m slowly working on an update to my static website, including a complete overhaul of readings for use in worship that have no copyright restrictions. (I hope that update will be done by 2022.) I’ve been having fun with this project. For example, I found a transcription of a sermon that Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes gave at Stanford University’s Memorial Church back in 1895, and arranged some of her words in the form of a responsive reading.

Below you’ll find that responsive reading. I’m releasing my arrangement of Wilkes’s public domain words under a CC0 license so you can freely use them in online worship, in recordings, etc., and you can also revise them and rework them in any way you want.

The Re-creating Force of Love

Life has in it a re-creating force. This force brings to us the sweetest results; it can remove the scar and destroy every sign of injury.

Each great thought emerging in our brains gives to us a new re-creative force, and puts new life in what appeared to be mud and dust.

Through intellect and affection, new life comes to fainting souls. Every new burst of emotion arouses the will, and it is through action that character arises.

So it is that we can change our lives. Our destinies are in our hands: what we love is what we become.

The greatest power is a loving power. But how can we know that great power?

We know it only through the touch of human love.

Adapted from a sermon by Eliza Tupper Wilkes (Universalist), preached May 6, 1895, in Palo Alto, California CC0

Eliza Tupper Wilkes, public domain image from an 1893 book

Sunrise on Black Mountain

We took some kids backpacking to the Black Mountain Trail Camp last night. The trailhead is a short drive from Palo Alto, and the hike in is just two miles with only 500 foot elevation gain, making it a nice get-away for both church and Ecojustice Camp kids.

I got up before sunrise and heard some Great Horned Owls. And then, as the muted chorus of autumn birds was starting up, watched “rosy-fingered Dawn [Eos]” cast her glow on low-hanging stratus over Black Mountain.

It was a good way to start the day.

Unitarians in Palo Alto, 1905-1910

Part Twoof a history I’m writing, telling the story of Unitarians in Palo Alto from the founding of the town in 1891 up to the dissolution of the old Unitarian Church of Palo Alto in 1934. If you want the footnotes, you’ll have to wait until the print version of this history comes out in the spring of 2022.

Part one, 1891-1905

The Unitarian Church of Palo Alto Begins, 1905-1910

In 1905, Ewald and Helene Flügel invited Rev. George Whitefield Stone, the Field Secretary of the American Unitarian Association for the Pacific States, to come to Palo Alto to christen their children. When Stone arrived in September, 1905, the Flügel children were aged 4, 10, 13, and 15 years old. The family had lived in Palo Alto since 1892; it may be Rev. Eliza Tupper Wilkes had christened the two eldest children in 1895. In any case, Stone came to Palo Alto, and while there he conducted Unitarian services each Sunday from September 10 through October 8. At the conclusion of the service on October 8, Stone said he was willing to continue with weekly worship services if those assembled showed sufficient interest. Karl Rendtorff made a motion “that a Unitarian Church be formed at once,” giving Stone the authority to appoint a “Provisional Committee” to transact any necessary business until a regular congregational organization could be formed. The motion was seconded by Melville Anderson, and “carried by a rising vote.”

Stone promptly appointed five men and two women to the Provisional Committee: Melville Anderson, John S. Butler, Henry Gray, Agnes Kitchen, Ernest Martin, Fannie Rosebrook, and Karl Rendtorff, who became the Secretary-Treasurer. Melville Anderson, Henry Gray, Ernest Martin, and Karl Rendtorff were all professors at Stanford. John Butler and Fannie Rosebrook had both been on the executive committee of the old Unity Society. Agnes Kitchen was active in civic affairs in Palo Alto, including the Woman’s Club. Once again, women filled leadership positions in the new Unitarian congregation from the very beginning.

Collection of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, used by permission.

Just two weeks later, on October 23, the women formed their own Unitarian organization. The Women’s Alliance, formally known as the “Branch Alliance of the Unitarian Church of Palo Alto,” became a local chapter of the National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Liberal Christian Women. How did the Palo Alto women decide to form their own Branch Alliance so quickly? Perhaps George Stone promoted the idea. The national organization existed to “to quicken the life of our Unitarian churches,” which would have suited Stone’s goal of building a self-sustaining Unitarian church. But it’s equally possible that some of the women had already belonged to a Unitarian women’s group. The National Alliance had roots in several earlier organizations, including the Western Women’s Unitarian Conference, organized in St. Louis in 1881; Emma Rendtorff and her mother Emma Meyer were active Unitarians in St. Louis in that year. Closer to Palo Alto, the women’s organization of the San Francisco Unitarian church, called the Channing Auxiliary had been active in promoting Unitarianism along the entire Pacific Coast ever since it was formed in 1873; perhaps some of the early members of the Palo Alto Alliance had contact with the Channing Auxiliary.

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Anesthesia

Update, October 10: Turns out when I wrote this, the anesthesia was still clouding my brain — my prose is even more confused and incoherent than usual. I’ll leave it up as written, so to show what anesthesia can do to you.

In college, I took a class with Lucius Outlaw, Jr., in which we read Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations. Husserl’s book opened up the possibility of observing the stream of one’s own consciousness, something I’ve been interested in, and have practiced, ever since. So when I went in for a colonoscopy yesterday, I decided to take the opportunity to try to observe what happened as I was given anesthesia, and later how I came out of anesthesia

Thinking back to a previous colonoscopy, I realized that I simply couldn’t remember some things I knew had happened after coming out of the anesthesia. I couldn’t, for example, remember getting dressed, though I knew I had done so. Before I underwent anesthesia yesterday, I wanted to see what I could retain in memory from the time I went under anesthesia until I arrived back at home.

I have a clear memory of when I lost consciousness. One of the nurses asked me to settle myself slightly differently on the gurney, which I did, and then — nothing.

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