I am a mom and have been the minister of a church in Sanford for 10 years. Each year when we start to talk about the church budget, there are groans. I remind the congregation that planning a budget is not just about working out one specific document; it is one more way that we live out our values and mission.
Budgets are about choices. We can afford what we choose to afford, and where we put our money reflects our priorities and our values. We could throw up our hands and say, “There just isn’t enough,” or “We can’t afford it.” Or, we can ask ourselves, “What is most essential?” and join together to do the hard work of making a budget that reflects our values.
It is the same in Augusta. Sometimes, it would be easier to throw up our hands and just hope that “they” — the unknown Mainers behind every budget line — will be okay. But every day as a minister I see the impact of budget cuts on some of the most vulnerable: women, children and elderly in need of health care and prescriptions as well as single moms struggling with balancing work, child care needs, housing and transportation.
I know these beautiful souls because they show up in my office with nowhere else to turn. I know these neighbors and friends because “they” are “we.” As hard as we work, the reality is that many of us are only one paycheck, layoff or illness away from despair. As people of faith, our church and many others try to help fill the gaps, but our means are entirely inadequate compared to the need. One “easy” decision at the state level in Augusta means countless hard decisions, spread all over Maine’s kitchen tables, as people wrestle with unfair choices.
It’s easy to judge people who benefit from state and federal services. I have heard them called lazy, uneducated and manipulators of the system.
I want to share that I am one of “those people.” My former husband left me with two young girls, a mortgage, bills, the need for childcare and no child support. My full-time employment as a minister was not enough. The years of higher education were not enough. A master’s degree does not pay the electric bill.
I needed help, and I was so grateful for the financial reprieve I found by participating in the WIC program, reduced-price lunches and more, while I reorganized my life and my finances. It was hard, but we made it.
Any budget is a moral expression of an organization’s values. The state’s budget is no different. Whether our compass is the Bible where Matthew reminds us that we should care for the “least among us,” or our military creeds that vow to leave no one behind or something else, we have a moral obligation to care for one another. We have a moral obligation to our family, friends and neighbors.
Part of why so many of us choose to make Maine our home is because we know and understand the value of community and live out our values by helping each other. We know we can count on “our people,” and we hope that when faced with hard choices, our leaders will remember our people, too.
As a mom, minister, long-term Maine resident, neighbor and friend, I work each day to live up to our state’s ethic of community and make sure that community includes everyone. I am counting on our state’s leadership to do the same, to safeguard all members of our community in the difficult budget discussions to come.
Rev. Sue Gabrielson is the minister of the Sanford Unitarian Universalist Church and program coordinator of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination.