Go Forth and Serve

Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford
Live Oak UU Church
Cedar Park, Texas
"Trying to love the hell out of the world"
Welcome Another writer to the Lively Tradition ! 

Nurturing and Feeding the “Pet Projects”
by Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford

When did “pet project” become an insult in UU churches?

A person has a charity or a cause that they’re passionate about. They devote time and money to it. They talk about it at their church or – horrors! – ask for support. 

“Oh, that’s just their pet project,” says someone.

We don’t want pet projects. We want Church Programs. We’re fine with making the world a better place, but it needs to be done here, through the proper channels, something we all feel the same amount of passion for. Which may be virtually nil, but at least we all feel nil about it. We’re not spending the church’s energy on someone’s pet project.

I used to buy into that. But not anymore.

I knew someone who had a passion for a particular issue. At her workplace, she mobilized others. She wound up with 200 people helping her “pet project.”  Her church did something similar and wound up with a not insubstantial 40 participants – good for their size. 

But let’s just think about that.

What if, rather than trying to get 40 participants for one program, we instead equipped and empowered 40 members to go out and each one follow their own passion? Maybe we gave them meeting space or maybe even a little seed money. Maybe all we did was cheer them on, and offer them the shared wisdom of all the other church members who were changing the world in their own particular calls.

40 x 200? Heck, 40 x 10 would still be pretty impressive, wouldn’t it?

The balance to this is an understanding that the church is not going to adopt anyone’s pet project. Because instead, there’s an expectation that every member is called to find what lights their soul on fire. And as a church, we’re going to find the ways that we can support all these different “burning coals” within. 

Pets need to be fed, given love, have people they can trust.

So do their owners. Let’s work on that. 


  1. I would love this. I'm not optimistic it'll be widespread.

    Mark Morrison-Reed has convinced me that we are an ethnic church and that our ethnicity is white and middle-class.

    Sharon Welch has convinced me that white middle-class people have an ethic of control and not an ethic of risk.

    This will change. But soon enough?

    I'd love to hear from those who try this. I'd love more to hear that it's been continued. Let me make a suggestion for doing so: Figure out some relatively low bar for declaring it successful. By putting in a success criterion, perhaps the risk can be justified.

    Just because I'm not optimistic doesn't mean I'm not hopeful!

  2. I'm not sure if I completely under policy governance, but I wonder if the idea that a church should operate as a cohesive and well-organized organization, which I understand to be an element of policy governance, creates a skepticism toward pet projects which generally are not integrated into the church structure. Personally, I think there needs to be a mix of church-organized initiatives and free range activities that exist within the church but aren't officially tied to it.


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