What is our faith worth?
I love Beacon Press. I read Beacon books. I give them as gifts. I discuss them with my children. Owned by the UUA, Beacon publishes books that promote UU values and make a crucial difference in the world books that would probably never be published if Beacon didn't exist, like James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son, Mary Daly's Beyond God the Father, Jean Baker Miller's Towards a New Psychology of Women, and Marian Wright Edelman's The Measure of Our Success, to name just a few. But as many of you know, Beacon has lost money in five of the last seven years, and the reserves we have used to cover those losses have run dry.
Faced with Beacon's vanishing reserves, we have considered a variety of options over the past year: Find a major donor to endow the press. (No luck so far.) Publish fewer books. Merge with another small publishing house. Sell the press.
Or and this is what the UUA Board of Trustees chose limit losses to an "acceptable" level. For the next three years, the UUA will cover Beacon's losses up to an average of $200,000 a year, not to exceed $300,000 in any one year.
Let me be clear. Keeping Beacon is a choice, with real implications: Every dollar we spend on Beacon is a dollar we don't have for something else.
So what is the press worth to us? Beacon is a vital part of our ministry, bringing our principles and purposes to the wider world, as it was founded to do almost 150 years ago. As former UUA financial advisor Bob Lavender put it at General Assembly, "We're dealing here with a publisher whose health derives from its ethical strength, not the amount of revenue it generates." The Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt, an editor at The New York Times Book Review before joining our parish ministry, testified to the power of Beacon's voice in the public square: "There is no witness to our liberal values more trusted and with greater reach than Beacon Press. It has built its formidable reputation on printing what others will not print, advancing ideas others refuse to countenance, preserving for generations the stories others will not tell."
Your delegates rallied around the press, buying $38,000 worth of books from the Beacon booth, a General Assembly record. I hope this inspires you. As former moderator Denny Davidoff pointed out, Beacon clears $1 to $2 on each book sold. So if each of us buys just two Beacon books a year, we can erase most or all of the press's red ink.
Folks, the holiday shopping season is coming. For the people on my list, I plan to buy Free for All, Wendy Kaminer's new book on civil liberties; Poems to Live by in Uncertain Times, edited by Joan Murray; and Breakfast Epiphanies, by David Anderson, and I encourage you to do the same. If you support the work and witness of the press, please buy Beacon books; the easiest way is through the UUA Bookstore, (800) 215-9076, which is offering eight special packages of Beacon titles for holiday giving, or check out Beacon on the Web, www.beacon.org. As McNatt said of Beacon's publishing, "We will never get rich doing it. We will often lose money because of it. But as we affirm and support Beacon Press and its extraordinary work, we affirm and support the good news of Unitarian Universalist values. In making the choice to invest this money, we are making a serious commitment to our mission and to one part of our witness in this world. We are deciding, in part, what our faith is worth."
WILLIAM G. SINKFORD
President, Unitarian Universalist Association