Joy Berry: RE-Visioning Ends…A New Way in Faith Development Begins!


Ready for what’s next? After four productive, inspiring sessions of congregational conversation, we are ready to roll out some changes to our program of Lifespan Religious Education, this Fall!  Thanks to all who contributed their time and energy to help give us a shared vision as we move forward. Here’s what you need to know about new opportunities and activities for an integrated faith development program at 9:15, and our planned schedule of classes at 11:15.

9:15 RE becomes a time for all ages to grow together in faith, come September.  Yes, adults can now experience RE on Sunday mornings! Check out the bulletin board in Sandburg Hall for the options we are currently offering (dependent upon recruitment). For now, we know we will have a rotating schedule each month, with the following All Ages activities available at least one Sunday morning each month:

  • Worship + Social Justice 
  • Yoga
  • HymnSing
  • Spirit Play + Drama
  • Miracles and UU–a Tapestry of Faith class.

What does All Ages mean? Any registered adult may attend, any registered child or youth may attend–and they can come together or separately. You can come alone or with your child or grandchild or partner to an activity; parents can attend one activity while their child attends another.

Please note: Registration for the All Ages Activities above is for the 9:15 program in general: once that is completed, attendees may attend any all ages class at early service.  We’ll also be offering K/1st OWL (8 sessions) in late Winter at 9:15–you’ll need to register children separately for that class. This year, we will not use MyInfo to register–we are moving to Google Forms. 

2016-17 RE Registration will be open today (5/19)! Just click here

Want to get involved in 9:15 RE?

We have a few opportunities to offer–come grow with us!

  1. We’d love to offer a dedicated MakerSpace activity, tinkering and building and engineering projects with real tools for 4th graders and up. This could be a great place for youth to bond and grow, for families who want to attend first service only, but want something at that time targeted to their older kids/youth. Read more about MakerSpace as faith development here, on a blog the UUA published about our program: We are in conversation now about constructing several Little Free Libraries and Little Free Blessing Boxes this year, sharing books and the kind of care packs we made in RE this year. This would combine hands-on work with social justice–perfect for kids! We may also have a chance to work on a film editing project–stay tuned, and let me know if this is the kind of faith development you’d like to be involved in.
  2. We are looking for leaders for our most popular activity center, Contemplation. This is a space dedicated to helping us learn healthy contemplative habits, and is often a quiet place filled with children sewing, stringing beads, setting up their own prayer or meditation altar, creating sacred spaces with special blocks, reading, or creating mandalas. We’d like to open this self-directed activity to all ages on one or two Sundays each month.
  3. The “Parents as Primary Sexuality Educators” class we offered this Spring was a HUGE success. The parents who attended this class bonded, laughed, worried, and eventually felt more confident about  talking with their kids about sex, relationships, puberty, and more with their kids! In fact, this class immediately converted to a Parent Covenant group, a sign of success at bringing congregants together in a way that helps build what I call “sticky faith”–a sense, built through diverse connections, that this faith community is a priority in one’s life! We’d like to offer it again in the Fall–you don’t have to be OWL trained to lead it,nor do you have to have a kid in an OWL class concurrently. The ,class leader is really a facilitator for the discussions and activities, not a teacher. RE staff mostly led this class this Spring, but we need others to do so this time. Let us know if you’d be willing to teach, even if just a few sessions, sharing the task with your fellow classmates–offering this class is a priority!

11:15 programming looks almost the same as usual.
K-3rd graders will attend Spirit Play, and 4th-12th grade classes will be offered, including OWL for 7th/8th graders, Coming of Age for 9th/10th graders, and YRUU (Youth Group) for 10th-12th grades. Details below:

4th/5th Grade will work with Sing to the Power, a 16 session UU Identity curriculum that uses the earth’s elements and an exploration of how powers such as listening, persistence, action, and flexibility enhance our agency and ability to change the world. The class will also use a Wisdom from Hebrew Scriptures curriculum to build their foundational understanding of Judeo-Christian faith. Through discussion that helps them understand the cultural context of stories from the Old Testament, kids will use critical thinking skills, exploring what the stories meant and mean to the people for whom they were written. They will also have a chance to reflect on UU values while acting out the Bible stories–first, as written, and then, with a UU twist that helps them understand key similarities and differences between UUism, Judaism, and Christianity.

6th graders (and 7th and 8th graders NOT in OWL–see below) will enjoy Neighboring Faiths. This curriculum focuses on learning about and then experiencing other faiths and ways to worship, right here in our local community, by going out to those communities of faith and experiencing them directly. In Spirit Play, we learned about the stories and mythic dimensions of other religions; nowwe turn our attention to the experiential or emotional dimension: what does it feel like to be part a worship service in another faith community? And we consider the social component: how should we behave so that we fit in as well as possible to another faith community’s social structure? Finally, in this course we directly experience the material or artistic dimension: when we visit another faith community, what beauty do we experience, what art and architecture, what music, what smells, what tastes, what movement or comfort or discomfort?” (Dan Harper, author). Each of several diverse neighboring faiths is explored for three Sundays in a row: on the first, we learn about it; then we go out and experience it; finally we take time to discuss and share how the experience was for us. We believe such careful consideration of other religious experiences enlightens and opens our minds to the value of diverse worldviews–and to the commonality of the human search for truth and meaning.

7th and 8th grades will have the opportunity to take Our Whole Lives (OWL), with full recruitment. While Our Whole Lives is secular, it is not value-free. The program gives clear messages about the following key sexuality issues: self worth, sexual health, responsibility, and justice and inclusivity. Our Whole Lives recognizes and respects the diversity of participants with respect to biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and disability status. The activities and language used throughout the program have been carefully chosen to be as inclusive as possible of this human diversity. 7th and 8th graders not in OWL: see Neighboring Faiths for middle school grades (6/7/8), above.

9th and 10th grades will have Coming of Age, a program meant to support and mark a time when youth are coming to a fuller understanding of themselves as individuals on a journey that includes their religious and faith exploration. CoA students develop and share their personal credos (what I set my heart to) in a special worship service  in the Spring, and a special Summer trip that enhances their understanding of UUism and their own faith. UUCA’s CoA class has been an important part of so many youth’s experience here; it serves as the last standard RE class and youth go on from there to senior high youth group. 

11th and 12th graders will have YRUU, a special program meant to help high schoolers bridge from RE classes to the life of the congregation before they graduate. Our goals are to include multigenerational relationships, shared covenantal leadership, justice making, Beloved Commuity, pastoral care, faith exploration, spiritual development, and identity formation i our time together. One Sunday each month is dedicated to worship and talkback with a minister, social justice, small group ministry, and the ministry of the feast (cooking and eating a meal together). YRUU youth have opportunities to take part in an array of activities in the church, building connections to the congregation and the larger faith as they move toward adulthood.

Ready to register? We are using Google Forms this year.

2016-17 RE Registration will be open today (5/19)! Just click here

Want to help or get involved at 11:15? We need teachers and advisors at every level, and more people willing to be mentors for CoA! See the bulletin board in Sandburg Hall or stop by the RE table this Sunday, 5/22, for our final day of conversation with RE staff and parents, information and recruitment. We would love to help you find the place where you will be transformed, learning and growing in the ministry of faith development!



Sermon: The Blessed Rage for Justice (audio & text)

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
As religious people, we pine for justice, but we struggle over what our role should be in tempestuous marketplace of ideas. Today we’ll explore how, rather than just adding to the din, our unique voice might be a blessing to this work.



From “The American Dream,” by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 “There is a word today that is the ringing cry of modern psychology: it is maladjusted. Certainly all of us want to live a well-adjusted life in order to avoid the neurotic personality. But I say to you, there are certain things without our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon anyone of good will to be maladjusted.

“I never did intend to adjust to the evils of segregation and discrimination. I never did intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry. I ever did intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never did intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. And I call on every person of good will to be maladjusted because it may well be that the salvation of our world lies in the hands of the maladjusted.”

“Making a Fist,” by Naomi Shihab Nye

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,

I felt the life sliding out of me,

A drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.

I was seven, I lay in the car

Watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past

the glass.

My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”

I begged my mother.

We had been traveling for days.

With strange confidence she answered,

“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,

the borders we must cross separately,

stamped with our unanswerable woes.

I who did not die, who am still living,

still lying in the back seat behind all my questions,

clenching and opening one small hand.


One of the joys of my having spent some years with you as your minister is the way I’ve seen our worship deepen and grow. Over time we’ve come to know each other, you and I, so that what happens here on Sundays emerges in many ways out of how we evolve as a community. And these sermons I give are not so much meanderings that come out of my head as part of an ongoing conversation between us. I make this observation because this service today emerges directly out of that conversation.

About a month ago I observed that this year’s elections were distressing for many of us in all kinds of ways, but that what was especially troubling was that, as essayist Bill Moyers wrote, Americans seemed to be losing hope, and that “without hope we lose the talent and drive to cooperate in the shaping of our destiny.”

We are seeing a kind of uncompromising, righteous anger that is quick to judgment, when, in fact, I said, “the world is a lot more complicated that our righteous judgments allow for, and justice has other demands than to serve our petty needs.”

I argued that as people committed to affirming the inherent worth and dignity of all we need to be part of building a new way grounded in a commitment to make a common life together centered in compassion and respect. Several of you told me later that you appreciated the message, but were left with a gnawing question: at a time when so much that we care about is under assault, what do we do with the anger we feel? It’s an important question.

The truth is that many of us are uncomfortable with anger, and for a good reason. Our experience of others and even ourselves is that we’re often at our worst when we’re angry. That’s certainly been true of me. And yet anger can be a natural and even life-giving response to the circumstances of our lives. The issue is, as my questioners suggested, what we do with it.

Several years ago our staff here at UUCA took part in a training on the principles of nonviolent communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg. It was a wonderful exercise that helped us better listen to and connect with each other.

But several of us stumbled a bit on the exercise around anger. Anger is tricky because, as Rosenberg puts it, we often fail to distinguish the stimulus of the anger from its cause.

For example, I may say, “It made me mad that you came late to the meeting.” The stimulus for the anger may have been the person arriving late, Rosenberg would say, but it was not the cause. That’s the fallacy that trips us up. And it’s an easy mistake to make, living as we do in a culture that encourages us to use guilt to get our way. But the fact it is, what others do is never the cause of what we feel.

The image I hold in my mind is the toddler who flies off in a rage when she doesn’t get her way. As a parent, I know that I’m not the cause of her anger. The cause is her sadness over not getting what she wants.

In the case of our example, there were many ways I might have responded to the person being late to the meeting. But the way I processed the experience in my mind caused me to get mad. Here, though, I can see that my anger didn’t really accomplish anything because it distanced me from what I really needed in that instance, which was something like inspiration, fulfillment, or trust. Instead of expressing my anger, I could have taken a moment to reflect on why this person’s lateness triggered me, why I felt their promptness was important and shared that with them. And then we could have gotten on with the meeting.

What’s important to remember, though, is that in itself anger in itself is not a bad thing. I like the metaphor that Rosenberg offers: “Anger can be valuable,” he says, “if we use it as an alarm clock to wake us up – to realize we have a need that isn’t being met and that we are thinking in a way that makes it unlikely to be met.”

This is the kind of anger that stirs us to action. It reminds me of what Martin Luther King was speaking of in the reading we heard earlier. There are certain practices or conditions, he said, to which we ought to be “maladjusted,” that rightfully stir us to anger. He names racial segregation, religious bigotry, economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few, the madness of militarism, the self-defeating effects of violence. I’ll bet there are a few that you could add to that list.

Yet, how shall we frame that anger in a way that doesn’t do damage or distract us from our larger goals and deeper needs? How might anger be a blessing to the world?

One source where it’s interesting to explore that question is in the testimony of the ancient prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. They are writings full of wrath for all the ways that different authors perceive that the people of Israel are failing to live up to what their faith calls of them.

I think of that famous passage in Amos: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer my burnt offerings, I will not accept them . . . . Take away from my the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps, but let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Many readers when they first see that passage wonder why such harsh words of condemnation for the Jewish people were preserved in their scriptures. But as the great Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel remarked, the point of such angry testimony was not, in his words, “petulant vindictiveness,” but “a call to return and be saved.”

In this case, the point of Amos’ rant is not to express disappointment or even disgust but to remind the people of their duty to one another, of how attention to songs and ceremonies distracted them from the larger need for justice.

As Heschel puts it, “The call of anger is a call to cancel anger. It is not an expression of irrational, sudden, and instinctive excitement, but a free and deliberate reaction . . . to what is wrong and evil.”

This style of prophetic rhetoric has a powerful history in this country. It dates back to the early Puritans, who envisioned themselves as a new Israel building the Promised Land in the new world. And so their preaching often took on what they took to be the prophetic spirit, admonishing followers for their failure to live in the spirit of that vision.

In time, though, as the community grew to include people outside that nucleus of settlers that style came to seem narrow and shrill, and a split developed in the church. Our forebears were among those who led that split, people who believed that faith arose not from the admonishing of preachers but from how individual believers sorted out their own beliefs.

It was an empowering kind of religious awakening, but it also seems to have meant that from early in our evolution as a religious movement there was a deep suspicion of the role of emotion in the development of faith. We were a “reasonable religion” and emotional exuberance was seen as merely a means of manipulation.

For all the ways that may be true, the problem is that if we choose not to address how emotion influences our faith we are left tongue-tied with how to respond when it does, and, of course, it does, all the time. For our faith, that fundamental center of trust in our lives, connects deeply to that which we care about most deeply, and it can’t help make us feel sad and glad . . . and mad.

Returning to Marshall Rosenberg, if we are to live satisfying lives and connect compassionately with others, we must learn to tune into that which is core to us, how we truly feel. And anger, as we already saw, poses probably the greatest challenge of all – both because it’s hard to wrestle with and because it is potentially so damaging. And yet, like a refining fire, it can also bring crystal clarity to a situation, and, like an alarm clock, wake us to our duty.

So, how do we welcome anger into our religious lives? I wonder if an understanding of prophecy might offer us a way through. I’m not talking about the hectoring of TV evangelists or street-corner preachers.  Rather, I’m drawn to Abraham Heschel’s description of prophecy as “a call to return and be saved.”

Cathleen Kaveny of Harvard says in her book Prophecy Without Contempt that prophetic language can be a powerful tool “to combat entrenched social evil, to shake persons out of indifference,” but that if aspiring prophets “cannot connect their calls for reform to deep veins in the community’s own values, they’ll be perceived as cranks.”

She recalls, for example, how in the Civil Rights Movement activists “insisted that they prepare themselves and purify their motives before engaging in civil disobedience.” You might say they wanted to be sure that the needs they were serving were those of justice, not of their own egos.

Effective prophecy, then, must arise from a context in which the underlying values are shared. Part of the power of the civil rights movement was that it appealed ultimately to an ethic of equality that most people, even their opponents, agreed on.

But prophecy need not be the work only of a single individual. The Rev. Meg Riley, senior minister of our Church of the Larger Fellowship, argues that we Unitarian Universalists should explore the notion of what it might mean to create prophetic communities in our congregations, communities that see their work as the Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams described it as a matter “of making history, rather than being pushed around by it.”

Meg argues that there are three main qualities to such congregations: they are clear about the values they stand for; they embrace an ethic of radical caring; and they focus on hope.

If our call is to return, we must be clear on what we seek to return to, the principles of moral integrity, openness and compassion that guide us.

We also need to cultivate practices of full inclusion so that our congregations become places where we can relax when we enter the door, knowing, as Meg puts it, “that all of our edges are accepted” and we don’t have to “choose which of our identities we can safely allow in the room.”

And we need we need to orient our work toward a concrete and visionary sense of the future, so that we understand our hope not as wishful thinking but as a disciplined, existential choice that helps us bear together what we cannot bear alone.

In such a community we might learn how to turn our anger into action, rather than recrimination or blame, and to dispatch with facile, righteous judgment that only puffs up our sense of self-importance.

In such a community, we might learn to attend to each other so well that we listen each other into speech that awakens our hearts, that touches our deepest longing and our deepest joy.

What do we do with anger? We make it a tool for our own and our community’s awakening.  The fist that Naomi Shihab Nye’s seven-year-old self tries out – opening and closing her hand in the back seat of that interminable car ride that she describes in the poem you heard earlier – is a gesture, not of aggression, but of self-determination.

It embraces that impulse within us to endure, to stand for what matters, and not just by ourselves alone. It also calls us to ally ourselves with others who will stand with us, who will join as gentle, angry people, singing for their lives. And so, let us sing together.




John Bates: Defying Gravity


Calvin and Hobbes was one of the great comic strips of the late 80s and early 90s. A recurring theme was Calvin imagining gravity had been turned off or altered, with consequences just for him. I’ve been feeling that way the past month or so as a medical emergency involving my wife, Mara Sprain, evolved. Mara had been feeling constantly tired and unable to focus since early March. Several trips to the doctor and blood work did not reveal a cause. Then, by later in April, her physical condition rapidly degenerated and we ended up in the emergency room at Mission Hospital.

An MRI revealed a tumor, on the brain, called a meningioma and typically non-malignant. It had grown large and was pressing on the brain. Suddenly gravity no longer seemed to apply and our world changed. Mara was stabilized in the hospital and two surgeries took place; first to cut off the blood flow to the tumor and then a second to remove it. All went well; as well as 11 hours of brain surgery can go. Visits from our friends and the Pastoral Visitors has meant a lot. Don’t hesitate to call on our wonderful Pastoral Visitors to help out.

Mara’s recovery continues. However, recovery from a tumor that was in place for quite a while will take some time. I’ve had to step away from being President so I can focus 100% on Mara and dealing with all the other stuff that just started floating around when gravity got turned off. Thanks to my fellow Board members and others in the Congregation for stepping up to help in our time of need. We miss you all and will be back soon.

PS  I’ve been posting updates on Facebook. To find it, search “mara’s meningi get well” on Facebook.  You don’t need to have a Facebook account to see it.

Rev. Mark Ward: Oh, Let Us Sing!

LeslieDowns-piano-fontI have some exciting news to share with you: after a nationwide search lasting some nine months, I can now announce the next Music Director at UUCA. He is Dr. Leslie Downs, who goes by the name of Les. He starts June 13. As it happens, Les is a local candidate, but only recently so. He came to Asheville three years ago from Oklahoma, where he received his doctorate in piano performance in 2010. There, he was also a musician at a progressive Baptist Church, started an arts academy, taught and coached pianists and singers, and was music director for community theater productions of a number of musicals. Before that he lived in New York City, where he was principal accompanist for the New York City Gay Men’s chorus, worked as an assistant at Carnegie Hall, taught piano, and was music director for music theater productions.

Since arriving at Asheville, he has been a regular soloist for the Asheville Piano Forum, coached and accompanied for the Asheville Lyric Opera, taught at Mars Hill College, and played piano for Spencer Baptist Church in Spindale. Earlier this year he was the pianist for Ann MacPherson’s memorial service at UUCA. As part of the interview process for this position, Les also had a 45-minute rehearsal with our own choir.

This hiring comes at the end of an exhaustive – and sometimes exhausting! – search process. This was the first time that we conducted a nationwide search for this job. Listings were posted in with the UU Musicians Network, the American Guild of Organists and the American Choral Conductors Association. Altogether we received interest from some 30 candidates from across the country – we even had one international candidate! We culled that group to around 13, interviewed nine of them and had six finalists, five of whom we invited to rehearse with the choir.

At the center of this process was our Music Committee, which I expanded to eight members last summer but later shrank to five, due to other obligations of some members. The core committee was Gwenn Roberts, chair; Mike Ellis, Beth Gage, Kassie Hughes-Lamprose, Langdon Martin and Jeff Robbins. Together, we spent many hours first defining the position, then sorting out our priorities for skills and experience, and interviewing both in person and by Skype or FaceTime.

We also felt that especially with candidates we didn’t know it was crucial to experience them with the choir. So, Interim Music Director Melody McGarrahan graciously agreed to let our search process take over two regular choir rehearsals, and choir members generously agreed to come in for one rehearsal on a Saturday. I am so grateful for so many people – Music Committee & choir, especially – for doing so much to get us to this place.

Please plan to welcome Les when he arrives in June. He will need help from all of us to get oriented to this place. And he is interested to learn more about how we tick musically – what kind of music works well for worship – and what the musical interests of the congregation are. The choir will be finishing their regular schedule with Music Sunday on June 5, but please keep an eye out for announcements about rehearsals resuming in August for the new worship year. It will be an exciting time with a new person, so please plan to come and try it out.

It’s been a long haul, but I think the attention and diligence given to this process will serve us well, and I’m delighted with the choice we arrived on.