Thursday, March 01, 2012

Disasterous News But We Will Survive -- Please READ

Dear faithful blog readers:

I need your help. I need your prayers. I need your support and I need you to help spread the word about the vital ministry of the Religious Institute. If you can't read all of this, please go to for a short version.

I am in the fight of my life. The Lenten season is upon us, I have been betrayed, we are in the garden, and we need you to stay awake for us.

My regular readers know that I am the director of the Religious Institute, a multi-faith organization that I co-founded in 2001 to promote a progressive religious voice on a broad range of sexuality issues and to help faith communities address sexuality issues.

On February 21, 2012, the Religious Institute received shocking news from its fiscal agent, Christian Community Inc., that it had ceased business operations, and that it was shutting down immediately. In its capacity as fiscal agent, Christian Community Inc. was responsible for processing all donations to the Religious Institute as well as managing its financial obligations. At that time, we were notified that all of the Religious Institute funds for fiscal year 2012, and all of the Religious Institute reserves and fund balance, were gone. All ties between the organizations were immediately ended at that time.

The shock and the betrayal are beyond words. All authorities -- local police in several jurisdiction, state attorney generals offices in several states, U.S. Attorney, and the FBI have been contacted and are investigating. We have filed reports, given statements and documents, and I've been asked to let them begin their investigation.

I am working 15 hour plus days, harder than I ever have in my life. I have ceased having a salary. The staff of the Religious Institute -- Marie, Blanca, and Michael -- have been AMAZING. We pray, we cry, we hold each other, we feed each other, and we work incessantly. I have never felt so loved. And I have never known how strong I can really be. We are in the wilderness, but we WILL survive.

The response so far (and it's only been a week) has been remarkable. A probono law firm has agreed to take us on as a client and will help us become our own independent 501 c 3. My church, the church I serve as a community minister, The Unitarian Church in Westport (TUCW) immediately voted to become the new fiscal agent for the Religious Institute.

In this role, it will process donations to the Religious Institute. (I have served this congregation as a Community Minister since 2003, and have been a member since 1988.) Additionally, the Religious Institute has started the process of being recognized by the IRS as an independent nonprofit organization, and is managing its own finances. Once the Religious Institute receives IRS recognition as an independent nonprofit organization, it will no longer need the services of TUCW.

The kindnesses people have offered demonstrate to me how loved we are, how we can get through anything with enough love and support, and concrete actions. Our website host has dropped all fees for 2012. My chiropractor has donated free sessions to the staff as has my spiritual director and a psychologist. Members of my church are volunteering their hands and their professional expertise. Churches are taking collections for us.

I've raised one third of what I need to keep us open for the next ten months so we can re-establish ourselves. You can help us get to that goal.

And through it all, I have continued my ministry. In this past week of horrors, I've also done the Geraldo ABC radio show to defend contraception in health care reform, written an article for the Albany Times, provided technical assistance to a church where a staff member was arrested for child sexual abuse, and created a plan for an international meeting on maternal health and family planning. The ministry must survive -- indeed, it is more critical than ever.

Donations to TUCW on behalf of the Religious Institute are fully tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. Donations can be sent to the Religious Institute at 21 Charles Street, Suite 140, Westport, CT 06880, or can be made online at

A seven year old boy sent $1.45. One of my friends sent $10,000. Your $25, 50, 100 to $1000 will make the most vital difference. If you have ever thought about supporting our ministry, now is the time. Tell your friends who have resources that you are committed to helping raise a progressive religious voice in the world and ask them to help.

And most of all, please pray for us. God is with us in this struggle. God and love will get us through this. Thank you for whatever you can do.

Rev. Debra W. Haffner

1 comment:

plaidshoes said...

Wow, I can't imagine what this has been like. Sending prayers your way!