Any cash given by members to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York will be returned if they find themselves in tough financial straits during the course of the year.
A committee of the congregation recently approved the refund option, saying it should give members some peace of mind in uncertain times, said Bengt Dalemar, a member of the UU board in York who helps oversee the annual pledge drive.
"Our promise is to give back money pledged and paid to UUCY if someone loses their job or finds themselves in financial hardship," Dalemar said.
"The premise is simple: We want to encourage all of our congregation to give generously without fear."
The 255-member UU congregation borrowed the refund-guarantee idea from a UU congregation in Indianapolis, Ind., that's offering a similar option, Dalemar said.
Hyundai recently tried to sell car buyers on a like offer in recent commercials: Buy a Hyundai and, should you lose your income, give the car back with no harm done.
Like folks everywhere, UU members are feeling anxious about the economic downturn. Some fear they might lose their jobs, and retirees have watched the devaluation of their investments and savings.
Their worries have manifested in a lackluster showing for the congregation's fundraising drive. Pledges are down 15 percent from where they were this time last year, Dalemar said. Leaders count on the drive bringing in about $225,000 of the congregation's $300,000 annual budget.
"We're recognizing that people are anxious," said the Rev. Robert Renjilian, parish minister.
"If that is what's holding them back from giving generously, we want to be able to give them some courage to face the anxiety and live up to the generosity that they would wish to have."
Yes, the congregation's budget could suffer if too many members lose their jobs, Dalemar said.
"We're more worried about people's well-being. If we have to delay painting the building or doing something like that, then that's what we will do," he said.
While Unitarian Universalists rely upon and accept freewill offerings, leaders don't expect people to tithe 10 percent of their income -- or at all -- as do some denominations, Dalemar said.
Many UU congregations are comprised of followers from a variety of backgrounds who identify as Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, pagans, agnostics and humanists, among other traditions. There is no official Unitarian Universalist guideline for giving.
"What I preach here is generosity," Renjilian said. "The 10-percent tithe lifted up by others is a fine example, but we hold up the idea of giving not just to the church but the entire community."
In the old days, Renjilian noted, churches were the institutions that sponsored the artists and cultural ventures and provided welfare for those in need. Today's society includes organizations that specifically meet these needs and sponsorships.
"We recognize that as the total picture of what we ask people to keep in mind as they give," he said. "Our congregation is a very important part of (our members') total giving. But we don't say, 'Just give to us.'"
In other religion news around the region:
Prayers for crime victims: Sonya Tyree, whose 25-year-old son, Dion Williams, was murdered last year, is again planning a prayer vigil to remember local murder victims, she said.
She asks people to meet at 11 a.m. May 25 in the parking lot of the Susan Byrnes Health Education Center, 515 S. George St. in York.
The service will include praise music, prayers, candle lighting and a reading of the names of the dead.
To add a loved one's name to the program, contact Tyree at 849-5249 or email@example.com.
Pneumatology in North York: St. Peter's Lutheran Church in North York is launching NOOMA, a ministry aimed at 18- to 30-somethings.
NOOMA is the phonetic spelling of the Greek word "pneuma," which is often translated as "spirit" or "breath." Pneumatology refers to the study of spiritual beings, particularly the interactions between humans and God.
Using videos narrated by author Rob Bell of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan, NOOMA will be a lay-led ministry examining questions about faith and life and discuss them in a group, the Rev. Beth Schlegel said.
The group will meet 10:15 to 11 a.m. Sundays, starting this weekend.
Parish curious about history: Are you distantly related to the tailor Casper Wise, who settled in Paradise in 1761?
Perhaps your family tree connects to that of Frederick Brandt, who lived in Brandtsburgh in the early 1800s.
Maybe you can trace your heritage to the Bievenours or the Dellones of Abbottstown or your grandparents mentioned a relationship with Joseph Noel or Peter Noel.
If so, you might have ties to the 200-year-old Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Abbottstown.
To celebrate their anniversary, parishioners are searching for photos and other memorabilia to help document the early and recent history of the congregation. For details, call 259-9426.
Mormons in the ballroom: The Brigham Young University Ballroom Dance Company will perform 7 p.m. May 19 at The Forum in Harrisburg at Fifth and Walnut streets.
The show is sponsored by the York Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Advance tickets are $8 a person or $25 a family ($10 a person at the door).
For tickets, send a check made out to the York Stake, as well as a stamped, self-addressed envelope to BYU Ballroom Dancers, c/o Linda Toone, 1689 Lilac Road, York, PA 17408. For details, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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