Transitions and Possibilities (audio & text)

Adaptability & Life Transitions

Good morning. It is good to be with you today. I’m starting to recognize some of your faces and remember some of your names. I look forward to getting to know you better as I serve this congregation in partnership with Rev. Mark, our staff, and our lay leadership. I’m thrilled to have a portfolio that emphasizes the importance of faith development for all ages, throughout all the transitions in our lives and when we gather to worship.

I will approach my work with you with this definition of ministry in mind. The author is unknown.

“Ministry is the act of ministering to.

It is the way we are mindful and nurturing of each other.

Ministry is not something only ordained ministers do.

When we care with someone, when we stand with them through struggle, when we help them learn and grow,
we are engaging in ministry.

When we offer programs that engage the heart, the mind or the spirit we are engaging in ministry.”

I eagerly anticipate engaging in ministry with you and watching your ministry to each other and the larger community unfold.

I know you will miss Rev. Lisa and her ministry with you.  Change is challenging and as I begin my work with you I hope to gain your trust and respect. I do not promise you perfection, none of us can do that. But I do promise commitment to supporting faith development at UUCA and providing leadership for the programs in my portfolio: pastoral care, lifespan faith development, and Wednesday Thing. I’m a Zumba fan (Zumba is a dance workout to Latin and Hip Hop tunes that was started by a fellow Colombian) so I see our relationship like a dance.  Sometimes it will flow nicely. Other times we may step on each other’s toes or miss a step. But we will always have a chance to try again and learn together as we transition into a new ministry.

This is new for me, too. I was accepted into UU fellowship in April, graduated from seminary in May, was welcomed into UU ministry at General Assembly in June, moved to Asheville in July and started my work with you August 1. As all that was happening my partner Steve and I prepared to sell our house in Vero Beach, FL and find a home here. I also had to say goodbye to the congregation I served as the religious educator for 17 years, as well as to my friends, my parents who live down the street from our former house and the beach.  But, it isn’t really goodbye. In Spanish, we say “hasta luego” ….until later. I know I will be back to visit. It will be different because Asheville is now my new home and you are the religious community that I am eager and excited to serve. From what I have experienced so far, I sense much possibility for the ministry we will do together.

During time of transition, we will be challenged to grow and learn together.  Struggling through situations, welcomed or not, requires our willingness to question our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

Can we change the way we think about a situation?

Can we look at evidence, examine facts, and maybe even change our mind about a conviction or belief we have held a long time that is not supported by the evidence? Learning and growth require the willingness to engage new ideas and perspectives. Being open to change is what allows us to adapt to circumstances in our lives and the ever-changing world around us. [1]

My move here has been challenging but I knew what I was in for. And I’m glad to be here! I made a move many years ago when that wasn’t the case.   It was before the internet, so I couldn’t Google everything and really learn about this new place. In 1993, my partner’s job took us to Brazil. Our family moved to Bahia, one of the poorest states in Brazil, with an infant and a toddler. We lived in the town of Cruz das Almas where there was water every third day, limited access to medical care, no air conditioning as well as rampant inflation: food prices increased daily. These are only a few of the many details our young family had to deal with. I was tempted to either feel sorry for myself (which I admit I did for a brief period of time), complain to my partner or even blame him for putting us in this situation …or I could have found a way of making the best of it. I decided to do the latter and by the time the three years were over…I didn’t want to leave.

You may have heard the saying: “You can’t direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails.” Those years in Brazil taught me to adjust my sails.  I learned that we have it within us to transcend many of the hardships and losses we face if we are willing to embrace change rather than fight it; if we are willing to adapt and be transformed.

From the moment of birth, we experience change. We leave the comfort and warmth of the womb to enter a sterile, cold, harshly lit hospital room

We nurse and are weaned.

We start school.

Our parents may divorce.

We move to another neighborhood, state or country.

A parent dies.

A young adult leaves for college.

A spouse is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s

And the list goes on.

Each change requires a transition and maybe even the acknowledgement that there has been a loss.  We often think of loss and grief as responses to death or catastrophic events in our lives. But sometimes it’s unfair situations, big disappointments, life milestones, serious heartaches or the reality of aging- and confronting one’s mortality, that leads to significant transitions in our lives. Acknowledging the sense of loss, they produce can be cathartic.

Furthermore, life transitions often involve a change in how we define ourselves. There is a shedding of a previous identity, a new way of seeing ourselves regardless of whether the situation is happy or sad. What identities have you embraced throughout your life? I know I am making a shift from being an intern and a seminarian to being Rev Claudia: it’s both awesome and intimidating….

In our story today, Pete the Cat just went with the flow, and in the end “it was all good.” It isn’t really always “all good.” However, we can choose how we deal with transitions and the feelings of loss, anger and even despair they may engender. Not all of us are as mellow as Pete the Cat. And that’s OK. We’re all different. We each need practices and friends we can turn to when events in our lives and around us feel overwhelming. And when they occur it is good to know we are part of a caring community.

The earlier reading by Beth Casebolt highlighted the transitions we experience throughout our lives and reminds us of the role our faith community can have in helping us move through them. There are many opportunities of fulfilling that role by ministering to each other as a pastoral visitor, a facilitator for our children or youth program, a Coming of Age mentor, a worship leader, retreat organizer and so on.

Remember, we are doing ministry when ‘When we care with someone, when we stand with them through struggle, when we help them learn and grow….

When we offer programs that engage the heart, the mind or the spirit we are engaging in ministry.”

I hope my ministry with you will support you in deepening your spirituality and commitment to the ministry that your talents and gifts call forth. This is a time of transition and also a time of tremendous possibility.

May we find ways to minister to each other and remain engaged in the task

Of transforming not only ourselves but our community and beyond.

May it be so.

[1] How to Cope with Transitions and Change by Dr. Cheryl McDonald, http://healthpsychology.org/how-to-cope-with-transition-and-change/

Much is Underway

Much is underway,
reach for a star and hold on,
evolve together.

It is hard to believe, but summer is almost over. Not the seasonal summer, of course, as that won’t end until September 22nd, but the psychical summer that ends when the school year is imminent.
    I am feeling that more this year because, on August 20th, I will once more be in the classroom at UNC Asheville. After teaching there for 32 years—I retired from full-time teaching on June 30th, 2015—I didn’t expect to teach again. But soon the curtain will go up and I will be back on stage. But just one course this time (Senior Research in Economics).
Perhaps because of my career, certainly because of my schooling, I have always experienced the fall as a time of rebirth, a time of the new when all things seem possible. There is a lot to like about that!
    As I look forward to our new congregational year—one doesn’t need to look far—there is a lot to like, too! This Sunday, Rev. Claudia Jiménez, our new Minister of Faith Development, will be in the pulpit for the first time speaking on “Transitions and Possibilities.” I am eager to be in her presence and hear her words.
    I am eager, too, to see a solar panel array on the roof of Sandburg Hall. We are effectively halfway toward our goal of 100 panels, as established by congregational vote at our Annual Meeting on June 3rd. Let’s support the efforts of the Earth Community Circle to create a more livable world for our children, grandchildren, and ourselves. How to do that? Talk with someone at the ECC table after a Sunday service or visit the Donate button on the UUCA webpage and designate Campus Dev. Contribution.
    The new, though, is not all that is happening in our congregation. In recent years we have made strong commitments to supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement (June 2016) and being a Sanctuary Congregation (October 2017), and that work continues. And The Wednesday Thing makes its return on September 12th. I will be there.
    So much is underway. I am grateful for all that we will do and be this year, developing in faith, serving and transforming our community and the world.

Bruce Larson, Board of Trustees

Finding Joy in “Yes”

Summer for us at UUCA is a time for planning and preparation. We try to catch up on reading and research and plan for the church year ahead, but we’re also organizing and recruiting. The success and effectiveness of what we as staff do depends strongly on finding people in the congregation who are willing to partner with us in advancing the ministries that help us achieve our mission. As with all great work, it takes a village to make it happen. And with us, it is an essential truth that all the ministry we do is shared.

All of this has me thinking about the challenges of leadership. There is hardly an organization I know of these days that is not struggling to find leaders, and we are among them. I understand why. People’s lives are busy, and the task of leadership often sounds like just one more thing. And even if we’re interested, some of us feel it’s a little immodest, even self-important, to offer ourselves as leaders. Who do we think we are?

Also, some of us inclined to volunteer may be initially wary, having found ourselves roped into leadership jobs in the past where we were lightning rods for criticism and rarely acknowledged for the good work we did. Or we were overburdened with responsibilities for which we were not prepared and for which we received little support.

That’s a way of saying that I get that you might be a little reluctant when “the ask” comes your way from one of us here. Still, I want to urge you to see if you can find a way to say, “Yes.” And here’s why.

The first reason is simple: accepting a role of leadership helps assure that those things that you are passionate about getting attention. In recruiting volunteers we try to make a point of matching people with their areas of interest. Of course, it’s also true that there are times you may be asked to help out with something that you’ve never done before, that’s outside your comfort zone. It can be a great opportunity to experience a beginner’s mind, and sometimes that’s the best formula for growth. We all have growing to do.

The second reason takes us to the covenant that gathers us as a congregation. The last sentence of that covenant sums it up nicely: “Our life together declares that the future of each depends on the good of all, and the future of all depends on the good of each.” Each of us has a role in the success of the whole. We bring our best selves, our best intentions into our work together, giving what we can, sharing in carrying the tasks that make this community go as we also share in the joys that result.

My third point comes from Parker Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak. “If it is true that we are made for community,” he wrote, “then leadership is everyone’s vocation.” No matter how unsuited any of us may feel for leadership, he added, “I lead by word and deed, simply because I am here doing what I do.” None of us is outside the circle; we each influence it profoundly by our very presence.

Then, why not claim that presence, why not own the gifts that you bring and put them to service for this community of memory and hope that carries our hopes and seeks to realize the values that give our lives meaning, a community that touches our hearts, our souls, that abets our awakening?

So, please say, “Yes,” when the call comes, and we, in turn, promise to respect your needs, your limits, and to support you and celebrate you for work that is joyously given and gratefully received.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister