When I received my renewal notice from the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) this year, I faced a tough choice.
This fiscal year, I had decided to attend both the annual conference of the Religious Education Association (REA), an international, interfaith organization of scholars and practitioners, as well as Religious Education Week at Ferry Beach Unitarian Universalist conference center in Maine. These two conferences each provided me with professional development that specifically addressed my needs as a minister of religious education. The REA conference was especially fruitful for me this year — I had an opportunity to attend workshops and have informal interaction with people like Thomas Groome and Siebren Miedema, scholars with an international reputation in my field, and to spend time with colleagues and former mentors, people who are facing many of the same issues and concerns that I face in religious education. Religious Education Week at Ferry Beach was also very fruitful, as I was able to take a graduate-level class with Mark Hicks of Meadville/Lombard Theological School in an intergenerational setting where we could both learn about religious education for young people, and watch it happening around us.
The basic issue for me is a cost-benefit analysis: as a minister of religious education, the UUMA provides me with very little benefit for the cost. And the cost is very high. My salary is $80K a year. The UUMA sliding scale means I pay $825 (10% of gross salary + housing), minus $100 for my membership in the Liberal Religious Educators Association, yielding a total cost of $725. It’s interesting to compare this to my REA membership: the REA also has a sliding scale, but for the same salary I pay only $105 per year.
You may be thinking that with a salary of $80K a year, I shouldn’t be whining. But I live in Silicon Valley, which has one of the highest costs of living in the United States. According to relocation Web sites that calculate cost of living across the country, $80K in Silicon Valley provides about the same standard of living as $40K in Rochester, New York. So it’s not like I’m getting rich (indeed, according to a recent newspaper article, my salary is below average in Santa Clara County). If I lived and worked in Rochester, New York, and made an equivalent salary providing about the same standard of living, I would pay about $325 for UUMA dues. Continue reading “An open letter to the UUMA Board”