Friday, March 30, 2012

Update on Religious Institute, Inc. -- We Have Survived and Are Moving On!

I wanted to give you an update since my blog a few weeks ago.

I am now more confident than ever that the Religious Institute (now formally Religious Institute, Inc.) has survived a financial tsunami and that we are ready to move on.

I am pleased to report that the Religious Institute, Inc. is now legally incorporated in the State of Connecticut, obtained its own EIN, and has a new Board of Directors. The first meeting of the Board took place on March 9, 2012, and bylaws were adopted. We are just about finished with our IRS papers, seeking 501 c 3 status. We expect to have that by September.

People and organizations have been supportive beyond words and expectations. Within 2 days, I had raised $40,000 to cover the debts we were left and staff salary for two payrolls. By the time I’m writing this, in just five weeks, we have commitments for more than two thirds of a scaled down 2012 budget. We have had office volunteers, people bringing us lunch, the most lovely letters and notes, and infinite generosities. I can honestly say that I have now experienced the worst of people and the best of people in new ways.

Our 2012 work will continue because it must. Even during this crisis, we have continued to speak out on reproductive justice, LGBT equality, and sexuality education on television, radio, and in print media. In a few weeks, we are convening an amazing group of theologians to develop a new Open Letter to Religious Leaders on contraception. We are moving ahead with our plans for the Rachel Sabbath Initiative on Mother's Day weekend, and I'm backing to co-writing our new guide for congregations on the Internet.

If you had considered donating, but were waiting to see if we would make it, please know how grateful I would be for your tax deductible contribution. You can do it online at or mail us a check to 21 Charles Street, Suite 140, Westport, CT 06880. Let me know that you are one of my blog readers.

P.S. If you want to know what's going on with the investigation that's public, google search my name and "news." There's going to be an article on Sunday that will tell you more. Please know that we continue to work with authorities at the local, state, and federal level on their investigation so that justice will prevail.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Help the Religious Institute survive! What You Can Do!

The Religious Institute -- and I - am in the fight of our life.

I believe with all my soul that the Religious Institute ( must survive having its parent organization close down and the loss of all of our funds.

In last week's post, I told you that The Unitarian Church in Westport ( immediately became our new fiscal sponsor. On Monday, with the assistance of the Probono Partnership, we will begin filing to be an independent organization and becoming our own 501 c 3.

We are accepting tax exempt donations immediately. You can donate at or send a check to TUCW/Religious Institute to 21 Charles Street, Suite 140, Westport, CT 06880.

If you are local, you can volunteer. We need at least one volunteer a day to do clerical work. Please call first as our offices are tiny.

If you believe in our mission promoting sexuality education, sexual health, and full inclusion of women and LGBT in the life of the faith community, you can ask your friends through FB, twitter, or blogs to "like" us on FB, take the Faithful Voices Pledge at, or send us donations.

You can send a card or a note to the Religious Institute offices for our staff and advisors. Every kind word is making a difference. Use the address above.

Please know that the Religious Institute has contacted every possible local, state, and national authority and they are investigating. Please know that I am working 15 to 18 hour days to survive -- and to do things like write CNN blogs and appear on radio and TV shows on current sexuality issues where our religious voices is desperately needed. Please know that our program work is continuing but that our usual 24 hour turn around time on requests for assistance is slowed down.

During crisis, whether this kind or in a personal tragedy or loss, people have often told me that they don't reach out because they don't know what to say. What we need to hear is simple: "I'm sorry. What can I do? Your work is valued." (If you are reading this and don't know about our ministry, please go to

The kindness of loved ones and of strangers has been uplifting. We know we are surrounded by prayers. My church is doing all they can. Our web site designer is hosting us free for a year. A seven year old sent in $1.45. Churches are holding special plate collections. My chiropractor has offered a free session for all of our staff. A hair dresser even offered me a free blow out. People have brought lunch to the office for us. A church sent the office spring flowers.

I am confident we will survive. YOU can help us survive. Please make your most generous donation (again is the quickest way) and please PRAY.

Rev. Debra W. Haffner

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