Religious Institute

March 2012 Newsletter

From Rev. Debra W. Haffner

As you may already know from our e-cards, the Religious Institute is in the fight of its life.

On February 21, 2012, at 8 p.m. in the evening, I opened an email from the Religious Institute’s fiscal agent, Christian Community Inc. that informed me it had ceased business operations, and that it was shutting down immediately. In its capacity as our fiscal agent since 2001, Christian Community Inc. was responsible for processing all donations to the Religious Institute, serving as our employer as well as managing our financial obligations. On the morning of Ash Wednesday, I learned that that all of the Religious Institute funds already obtained for fiscal year 2012, and all of the Religious Institute reserves and fund balance, were gone—more than $424,000 that was owed solely to the Religious Institute for its future operations and activities.

The Religious Institute had entered the wilderness. We were left with $3800 in a local bank account. I don’t think I have words yet to describe the sense of betrayal and despair I felt or the horror of realizing that the Religious Institute might have to close immediately.

I thought a lot about the Lenten and Easter story. I prayed, met with staff, and we prayed some more. We reminded ourselves that the greatest learnings can happen in the wilderness, and that betrayal can lead to re-birth.

The ministry of the Religious Institute is too important, too vital for us to do anything but continue. We are the leading multifaith organization promoting sexual health, sexuality education, and full inclusion of women and LGBT people in the life of the faith community. We were and are determined that we will survive this crisis.

We went to work. All ties between the organizations were immediately ended, and all possible local, state, and federal authorities were contacted and are investigating. I am confident that ultimately justice will prevail.

Within two days, The Unitarian Church in Westport had voted to become the Religious Institute’s temporary fiscal agent. (This is the church that ordained me and that I serve as a community minister.) As our new fiscal agent, TUCW is receiving tax-deductible donations to the Religious Institute which allowed us to open a bank account solely for the Religious Institute’s financial obligations.

We immediately obtained pro bono legal counsel from the Pro Bono Partnership. I am pleased to report that Religious Institute, Inc. is now legally incorporated in the State of Connecticut, obtained its own EIN, and as you will read below, has a new Board of Directors. The first meeting of the Board took place on March 9, 2012, and bylaws and a conflict of interest policy were adopted. In the next few weeks, we will be filing to become a nonprofit organization under the IRS.

Religious Institute 2011 staffPeople and organizations have been supportive beyond words and expectations. Later in this newsletter we will tell you about so many of them. Within 2 days, I had raised the money to cover the debts we were left and staff salary for two payrolls. By the time I’m writing this, in just three weeks, we have commitments for more than half of a tightened 2012 budget. We have had office volunteers, people bringing us lunch, the most lovely letters and notes, and infinite generosities. I have now experienced the worst of people and the best of people in new ways.

Our 2012 work will continue because it must. As you’ll see below, even during this crisis, we have continued to speak out on the war against women, providing the progressive religious voice that is so urgently needed. We are going ahead with our plans to create a new theological framework on domestic and international family planning, needed more than ever with new controversies about contraception. We are continuing our work with seminaries and denominations. The Rachel Sabbath initiative will go on, and the Religious Institute online class has more than 70 current students.

What can you do? If you have ever considered supporting the Religious Institute, now is the time. We have received donations ranging from $1.45 from a seven-year-old to commitments from foundations. In total, we must raise $365,000—$1,000 per day—to implement the plan for 2012 activities. Every donation, no matter what the size, matters.

If you are local, you can volunteer your time – we are a small staff, but can easily use one volunteer a day to help us through the crisis. You can hold a special collection or share the plate for the Religious Institute at your community of faith. You can send a card or a note of appreciation or encouragement to our staff. You can ask your friends on Facebook and Twitter to follow us or like us, or you can reach out to colleagues to endorse the Religious Declaration. And, please hold us in your prayers or in the light.

Thank you so much for your love and support. It will allow the Religious Institute not just to survive but once again thrive.

To donate, please go here.
Read the sermon I preached on Lent, Betrayal, and Re-birth on February 26, 2012 here.


Take Action: How YOU can help

Here are some ways you can help the Religious Institute continue:

  • Donate to the Religious Institute. All donations are fully tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. If you have ever considered financially supporting the work of the Religious Institute, now it the time. Every size donation matters. You can donate online here, or consider an ongoing, monthly donation to support the work of the Religious Institute. Email your interest with your phone number, and a staff member will contact you.
  • Contact us for help. Each year, Religious Institute staff conducts workshops, preaches sermons, gives presentations, and much more. Email your offer and phone number, and a staff member will contact you.
  • Pass the plate or special collections. Many faith communities take a special offering to support notable projects. A collection to benefit the Religious Institute would be a very meaningful way to support our work.
  • Buy Religious Institute publications. We are offering ALL of our outstanding study guides and resources at a 50% discount for the next 30 days. Contact us here for more information.
  • Introduce us to people and foundations that can help. If you know foundations or individuals who could fund our work, please tell them about us! Email your offer and phone number, and a staff member will contact you. We would welcome your introduction
  • Share our story with your friends. Share our information on your social networks, forward this email to your friends, post your comments on our Facebook wall, follow us on Twitter. Tell people that progressive religious voices support sexual justice!

Now more than ever—thank you for supporting the work of the Religious Institute.


Faithful Voices Network

The Faithful Voices Network exists as a way to demonstrate the power of everyday people in our movement. This has never been truer for the Religious Institute as people of faith are working around the clock to make sure that the organization will survive. In just two weeks, the Religious Institute has received more than 450 (and counting!) individual donations. We are grateful that you share in our commitment to this work.

The challenges of the last few weeks have come with one very welcome silver lining: The love and support of many, many people who are going above and beyond to do what they can to help the Religious Institute and its staff get through this difficult time and emerge stronger than ever.

wall of cards and lettersSpecial thanks to:

  • The Unitarian Church in Westport, for acting quickly to become the Religious Institute’s new temporary fiscal agent.
  • Pro Bono Partnership of White Plains, NY for their invaluable aid helping us to become a freestanding, nonprofit, independent organization.
  • Digital ArchiTechs, for hosting our web site at no cost until we are back on our feet.
  • Fred Garcia of Logos Consulting, for crisis communications assistance.
  • To Lynda Bluestein and Ruth Mayer for pro bono grant writing assistance.
  • To Kristen and Chad Helbert for providing pro bono shipping services for our publications.
  • To Betsy Miller, for her invaluable help in setting up our financial system.
  • To Tess O’Brien, Rainy Broomfield, Joanne Coviello and Perry Montrose for volunteering for office help.
  • To Ralph Tartaglione, Rodrigo Godoi, Doug Jones, Andy Jones, and Randy Burnham for help in receiving and organizing Religious Institute publications.
  • To April Alford-Harkey, Shannon Cobb, Rodrigo Godoi, and Ralph Tartaglione for all they have done to hold us up during these past three weeks.
  • For the notes, cards, and emails from people who support the ministry of the Religious Institute

We know that we are surrounded by prayers, and the kindness of so many friends, loved ones, and strangers has been uplifting. If you are able to offer assistance to the Religious Institute, please call or email us—we are grateful for the help. Thank you all very much!

Rachel Sabbath Initiative

What kind of a Rachel Sabbath will you celebrate in your congregation?

rachel sabbath initiative
This is our third year of using congregational gatherings or events near Mother’s Day (May 13th) to make a powerful statement on behalf of women and girls everywhere.

In 2011, participating congregations chose to highlight reproductive justice in many ways. Some of the most popular include the following:

  • Holding adult education programs on maternal health or family planning,
  • Engaging their social action/social justice committees on maternal health or family planning,
  • Incorporating Religious Institute prayers, readings, and other resources into their worship services,
  • Speaking about maternal health or family planning from the pulpit,
  • Addressing maternal health or family planning in congregational newsletters or web sites,
  • Youth education that discusses or addresses maternal health or family planning issues,
  • Bringing in Planned Parenthood or another women’s healthcare provider for a presentation on maternal health or family planning,

Highlighting reproductive justice can be as simple as using one of our responsive readings, or you can make it the centerpiece of your worship service. Congregational events or gatherings near Mother’s Day (May 13th) are the ideal times to make a powerful statement on behalf of women and girls everywhere. New prayers, sermons, responsive readings and much more are available here. Please sign up here and tell us that your congregation will be observing a Rachel Sabbath.

People won’t act if they don’t realize that global maternal mortality and the lack of access to family planning is a moral and public health crisis. Observing a Rachel Sabbath will not only highlight the challenges in women’s and girls’ reproductive health services worldwide, but it can also highlight the actions we can all take to become a part of the solution. Please take a moment to sign up here and let us know that your congregation will be speaking out for reproductive justice and health.


Religious Institute News

Religious Institute, Inc. Announces Inaugural Board of Directors

The Religious Institute, Inc. is pleased to introduce its incorporating Board of Directors:

  • Chair: Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield is the Executive Minister, American Baptist Church of Metro Chicago, IL, and the former President of Colgate Rochester-Bexley Hall-Crozier Divinity School. Rev. Greenfield is also the co-founder of the Religious Institute.
  • Secretary: Ms. Betsy Wacker serves as a board member of Connecticut Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and is former Director of Public Policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.
  • Treasurer: Dr. William W. Finger, is a Psychologist and Professor at the VA Medical Center in Mountain Home, TN, the President of American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), and an AASECT certified sex therapist and supervisor.

Members At Large:

  • Rev. Barbara Fast is the minister at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Danbury, Connecticut.
  • Ms. Katherine Hanley is the Executive Director of Tempe Community Council, and of the Tempe Community Foundation, Tempe, Arizona
  • Rev. Dr. Su Yon Pak is the Senior Director & Associate Professor of Integrative and Field-Based Education at Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York.
  • Rev. Debra W. Haffner, President and CEO, Religious Institute, Inc.

Religious Institute In The Media

Rev. Haffner on Geraldo
The past month has been one of the busiest for Religious Institute media appearances.  The day after we learned that the fiscal agent had ceased operations, Rev. Debra Haffner appeared on the “Geraldo” national radio program on ABC Radio, reacting to the Republican debate in Mesa, AZ and attacks on contraception, and giving voice to progressive religious support for contraception. Listen to the show here.

Religious Institute Blogs on CNN.com
In addition to her regular blogs on Huffington Post and Washington Post, Rev. Haffner has started blogging on CNN.com via Erin Burnett OutFront. Her February blog asks the Roman Catholic Bishops to Stop Playing Politics with Women’s Bodies and in early March she wrote An Open Letter to Rush Limbaugh. Please post your comments supporting sexual justice!

UUWorld Publishes Article on Religious Institute Crisis
On March 5, UUWorld Magazine published the first article on the crisis facing the Religious Institute and its impact on the organization. Read the article here.

Religious Institutions and Birth Control
On March 5, Rabbi Sandy Sasso published a thoughtful piece on contraception and religiously affiliated organizations, including a quote from Rev. Haffner and reference to the joint statement supporting the White House’s decision on contraceptive coverage. Read the article here.

The Panel Congress Really Needs to Hear From
On February 21, RH Reality Check published a list of people they want to see testify before Congress on women’s health, which led with Rev. Haffner. Read the full list and article here.


Religious Institute on the Road

March 25, 2012, St. Mark’s Episcopal Chapel in Storrs, CT
Director Marie Alford-Harkey will be preaching during the worship services.
Read more information here.

April 4, 2012, Norwalk Community College Academic Festival, Norwalk, CT
Director Marie Alford-Harkey will be part of a panel on “The State of Gay Marriage” from 10-11:30am.
Read more information here.

April 11-13, 2012, Mass Adolescent Sex Offender Coalition Annual Conference, Marlborough, MA
Rev. Haffner will be giving the Keynote Address “Talking About Sex: Pathways to Healthy Sexual Behaviors and Relationships” on April 13.
Read more information here.

April 15, 2012, St. Mark’s Episcopal Chapel in Storrs, CT
Director Marie Alford-Harkey will be preaching and leading worship.
Read more information here.

April 25-27, 2012, Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, Iroquois Spring Retreat, Rochester, NY
Rev. Haffner will be presenting the “Skills for a Sexually Healthy Religious Professional” workshop on April 26.
Read more information here. 

May 4-5, 2012 – UU District of Metro NY 2012 Annual Meeting
Rev. Haffner will be presenting the “Creating Sexually Healthy UU Congregations” workshop. The Religious Institute will also be exhibiting at this event. Stop by our table and say hello!
Read more information here.


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