Like a lot of Generation X, I grew up watching PBS. Honestly, I probably watched much more than average. The local station, KERA, has a huge budget relative to other markets and was the first station in the US to offer British comedies. I grew up on Sesame Street, but also Justin Wilson and Julia Child, Are You Being Served and Doctor Who. My life has been shaped profoundly by several artists and educators through television, the primary media vehicle of the time.
At the top of the list is Jim Henson, through Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and The Muppets (as well as some great feature films). Second, through just 30 minutes a day Monday through Friday, was Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
I’ve learned a lot about some of my heroes since the turn of the century. Not all have been positive revelations, but Mr. Rogers has never disappointed me. Contrary to popular myth, Mr. Rogers was never in the military. He went to college to study music and then to seminary. The driving forces behind his show were a distaste for television, an acknowledgement of its influence, and a desire to use the new tool to create a show he himself could love. He wanted children to have something positive to tune into every day. I learned much more recently that he was ordained by the Presbyterian Church (USA), but rather than asking him to serve a congregation, they charged him to keep using television to spread love and acceptance.
Fred Rogers: Community Minister.
He created his own ministry to do the work he felt was valuable; work he felt called to do. He was not paid by the church, but by the stations that used his work. In front of Congress, he fought for Public Broadcast funding and even to save the VCR so that people could record his show to watch later. He preached his values of love, respect, and curiosity without ever condemning anyone (except the KKK). Mr Rogers did all of this without the need to invoke his god to those under his influence. He was a chaplain to the children of the entire continent.
His ministry was the Beloved Community, making every child feel like a neighbor. He loved the world, and every story of his life reflects a commitment to make the world feel that love. Mr. Rogers was a huge influence on me as a child, but Rev. Rogers has been inspirational to me as an adult. He is an example of the power and purpose that community ministry can have.
His example is nearly impossible to replicate today, but there are those who come close. John Green, bestselling Young Adult Author, is also a former seminarian and an educational content creator on YouTube. A number of Facebook pages and groups have been supporting the LGBTAQ community for years.
Thomas Earthman: Community Minister
Fred Rogers is a role model for my work. I want to be encouraging, generous, and thoughtful. I want to help people be more kind and fair. I want a world where every person is treated with dignity and worth. Since finding liberal religion, I have felt called to make those things happen by sharing Unitarian Universalism with the world, and I do that pretty effectively.
While the I Am UU project is rooted firmly in Unitarian Universalism, my work occasionally gets shared by other liberal churches and (rarely) even by conservative groups because our work is generally welcoming and positive. It is also shared by pages not tied to religion for the same reason. That means that a diverse crowd of people will see a link to information about Unitarian Universalism, which they might never have heard of before. That responsibility weighs on me pretty heavily.
Combined with the fact that dozens of UU congregations share my work every week, some of them counting on me for a significant portion of their social media content, I have felt compelled to put more of myself into this ministry. Over the first 4 years, it was a hobby, but then I saw the need it filled and started growing into that space. Over the last 4 years, I’ve pushed myself to be a better designer, a better writer, a better religious educator, and a more informed Unitarian Universalist.
I Am UU: Community focused and Crowdfunded
Two and a half years ago, I started collecting on-going support to offset the costs of running the project; things like web-hosting, software subscription, and computer upkeep. The growth on that front finally built to the point where there has been money leftover for professional development, too, allowing me to attend more workshops and conferences. A year ago, I applied for membership in the Unitarian Universalist Society for Community Ministries. I was accepted as a lay community minister doing professional-quality work. In fact, I was asked to take a spot on the Board of Directors and elected over the summer.
I love this work, and I have put more and more of my time and energy into it. Honestly, too much. This project has become a full-time job. Now, I am taking another lesson from Mr. Rogers and asking the people who appreciate my work and use it on your own wall or your congregation’s social media, to pay me for my time. I can do this work, full-time and with all my heart, for a lot less than the new UUA salary guidelines suggest; where I would be making $40k on a congregation’s payroll, I am trying to raise $2,500 a month, which is only $30k for the whole year. Whether that comes in as one-time contributions or monthly pledges isn’t important; I just need to know if my work can sustain my family. With over 10 thousand followers on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and IAmUU.net, I am asking for so little from each of you. If a fraction of you all can spare $5, I can do my dream job; I can follow my calling to support liberal religion in an illiberal time.
My Commitment: What’s in this for UU?
I can attend classes, workshops, and General Assembly. I can buy books and tools. Most importantly, I can buy food and pay rent without having to take on freelance work and temporary jobs. I can focus all of my professional energy on Unitarian Universalist outreach and faith development. I cannot take this responsibility more seriously, but I could give it a stronger commitment, with your support. That means more art, more writing, and more new kinds of outreach including video inspired by Mr. Rogers. And all of it can be better quality.
If you think that what we publish here is valuable, I need you to put a number on it. I need you to know that I think I have more to give, if you all will support me in giving it. Unitarian Universalism deserves that kind of investment, but I cannot make it on my own.