Keeper of the Flame: Lisa Dickinson
This article series continues the Keeper of the Flame tradition started by retired president Lee Elliott Carnes. The questions are posed by Piedmont UU Church President of the Board of Trustees, Jim Price, and the answers are provided by leaders and visionaries in our church community.
1) What brought you to the Unitarian Church?
I went looking for a spiritual home when my daughter was old enough to start learning about religions so she could make an informed choice. I arrived after I saw an article in the Charlotte Observer about the sad shooting of UU members in the sanctuary in Kentucky. The article described the two UU churches in Mecklenburg County. I visited the big one and it did not speak to me, but when I learned there was a small one nearer, I visited right away and liked it. It was a time of big transition for Piedmont UU Church, but the people were welcoming and the messages were thought provoking.
2) Where do you see opportunity for improvement and how would you accomplish the improvement if you could do so?
I have been involved in Piedmont UU Church finances from the first season I arrived in one way or another, even though I have sought to contribute from different, non-monetary perspectives several times.
I have served as a non-voting member of the Board, Stewardship co-chair and chair, and on the Finance Committee, the last stint which has been for over a year. I am not good at accounting, but I do understand financial health including the vagaries of a non-profit such as ours. I have been a loud and persistent proponent of more conservative fiscal policies at Piedmont UU Church for over 5 years and this year, it appears many members are in agreement. The best way I can contribute has been described to me as: an ability to simplify financial problems and solutions into plain language.
The opportunities for financial improvement are many, and include 1) The sharing of pledge-based funding responsibility over more shoulders- this means that the top givers should not be expected to give more to bail us out and the middle must increase their pledge amounts to a fair share; 2) We must reduce or eliminate our dependence on fundraising for income- the UUA recommends that only a small percentage come from this source, and, if more is raised, the monies should go to charities, as they do it at Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte; 3) As a congregation, we not only must maintain the church for our own use but must insure its viability for future generations. This requires meaningful reserves like savings for major repairs and capital expenses like roofing, parking surfaces, air conditioning or plumbing. The money that must be raised has to be in excess of what we need for annual operating expenses. We need a positive cash flow, with more income each year to increase reserves; 4) We must live within our means; if we do not have the cash flowing via pledges, then we must cut expenses until we are in a healthy sustainable situation. We cannot budget on hope; 5) Lastly, every Member or Friend has the responsibility to understand our finances and the part they must play to make us healthy. This takes a devotion to read what is shared via email, to attend committee meetings and to ask leaders to explain what is going on. One of the things that we committee members keep hearing is; “I had no idea that…”. We are frustrated that we write minutes, make recommendations to the Board, post information on bulletin boards, make brochures at pledge time, and make ourselves available to chat or educate members, but regardless, we seem to make limited headway in member comprehension or average member financial commitment to making things better.
3) What do you love most about our church?
The church is not the minister and is not the building, it is the people. I think we take care of each other pretty well, don’t you? That is what I love the most–a community that ‘has my back’ and everyone else’s back when needed. That is love. That is who we are.