Interesting question, isn’t it? Because all of a sudden you’re asking yourself, “What do you mean by leader?” Imagine sitting on a committee and trying to answer that question. That’s part of the job of the Leadership Development Committee (LDC). I can’t say that we’ve come up with a definitive answer, but we have been coming up with a list of information that UUCA leaders say they need.
After sitting in on a UUCA workshop for church leaders last spring, and then interviewing current Board members, the members of the LDC (James Cassara-chair, Susan Andrew, Bill Kleiber, Natale Polinko, Bob Wilson) concluded that congregants really want a better understanding of how things get decided around here. They also want to know where to find information, how to purchase something and get reimbursed, or maybe even how to run a new fundraiser. If you’re one of these inquiring folks, plan to attend a 2-hour workshop on Saturday, September 28, 9:30-11:30, that will reveal all! Reserve your spot by contactingBill Kleiber.
The LDC also knows that some folks haven’t explored their own leadership qualities lately, so we’d like to give you a chance to do that. Consequently, you’re invited to attend a different 2-hour workshop on Saturday, November 9, 9:30-11:30 that will explore leadership styles. At this event, workshop participants will gain a better understanding of the primary styles of leadership and how they affect the decisions we make and processes we employ. What’s our natural leadership style (we each have one) and how do we know when it’s best suited for one task but not another? When do we lead and when do we stay back and allow others to do so? This fast-paced, discussion-centered workshop is well suited for anyone who is on any committee, focus group, problem-solving task force, or covenant group at UUCA or for anyone who simply wants to become a more confident and assured leader. Reserve your spot by contactingNatale Polinko.
So who can be a leader at UUCA? Get it out of your head that all leaders have to be chairs of something. That’s so 1990s. Nowadays, anyone who works with others in devoting time and energy to making UUCA a better place is a leader. Yes, indeedy. We need introverts! Extroverts. Idea people. Organizers. Techie people. Luddites. Older people. Younger people. Numbers people. Word people. Brainy people. Brawny people. Get it? Do NOT sell yourself short. Because we don’t! Volunteer to share your time and talents at UUCA today!
Sunday August 25, 10am Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister and Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
Once again our annual intergenerational Water Service features puppets, stories and songs as we explore what the ways of water teach us about change in the world. Please plan to bring with you a little water from a place that is special to you to intermingle in our ceremonial bowl. <i>Click on title to continue.</i>
The Earth and Environmental Justice Ministry team is now the Justice Ministry Team in recognition of the interconnectedness and complexity of the work of justice. The Justice Ministry Council has held two organizational meetings to prepare ourselves to support and bring together the different justice projects and action groups in our congregation. Our goals are to:
Facilitate connection and communication between the groups and the congregation
Provide spiritual grounding and educational opportunities to inform and sustain the justice work of the congregation
Create a vision for Justice Ministry aligned with the theme of “Sanctuary Everywhere”
Facilitate budgeting and a reporting process so there is accountability to the congregation
The Council includes representatives from each of the following areas:
Racial Justice – Eleanor Lane Environmental Justice – Wink Zachritz Economic Justice – Joyce Birkenholz LBGTQ+/Gender Justice – Shawn Landreth Denominational Action – Deb Holden Faith Development – Martha Kiger, Melissa Murphy Community Plate – Linda Kookier Spiritual Grounding – Nancy Bragg
Whew! What an awesome group. You will be hearing about our work through the Justice Ministry eNews (contact Elizabeth Schellelizabeth@lainschell.comto register), the Justice Ministry Table on Sunday mornings and the soon-to-be-updated bulletin board in Sandburg Hall. Opportunities for engagement will be announced in the Sunday insert and the Weekly eNews.
Yes, this is a lot of information. It takes teamwork and collaboration to stay connected and informed about the work of putting our faith into action. Each of our individual yeses contributes to being part of creating the inclusive, welcoming Beloved Community we talk about.
I am excited to work with the Justice Ministry team this year. I look forward to learning together, engaging together, and laughing together as this ministry transforms us, strengthens our connection to each other, and challenges us to learn from our inevitable mistakes. As UU Rev. Mark Morrison Reed reminds us,
“It is the church that assures us that we are not struggling for justice on our own, but as members of a larger community. The religious community is essential, for alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be seen, and our strength too limited to do all that must be done. Together, our vision widens and our strength is renewed.”
Below are a few opportunities to join others in the work of justice in the coming month. Visit the Justice Ministry Table in Sandburg Hall Sunday morning for details.
Sept 5 Voter Registration Training sponsored by the League of Women Voters; 6PM; North Buncombe Library. It will be led by UUCA member, Melissa Murphy.
Sept 13 Anti-Racism & Sanctuary Training hosted by UUCA sponsored by CIMA and Faith Communities Organizing for Sanctuary; 9:30-4:00 PM, sliding scale $35-$65 includes lunch. Register here.
Sept 22 Mary Katherine Morn preaching at UUCA . She will share information about the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). Deb Holden is leading the effort to bring back the UUSC Guest at Your Table Program to UUCA. Thank you, Deb!
Sept 28 Blue Ridge Pride. UUCA participation being organized by Universal Rainbow Unity (URU); 11:00 AM- 7:00 PM; Pack Square. URU encourages multigenerational participation.
Sunday, August 18, 2019 10am Rev. Claudia Jimenez, Minister of Faith Development
What does the practice of improvisational theater have to teach us about living? Join us for a reflection on how the curiosity, playfulness and vulnerability of improvising can enrich our lives.<i>Click on title to continue.</i>
This month marks my first-year anniversary at UUCA. It has been a year of learning, juicy challenges and building relationships. When I consider what preparation I had for this job of being a minister I recall my first seminary class: Creative Encounters: Ministry as Improv. You might be thinking, “Really?! You mean they make all this stuff up?!”
Well, as with anything in life, there are no scripts, in many ways we do make it up as we go along. We are always improvising to life as it reveals itself to us, day by day. Like the jazz musician in our reading who was classically trained, our perception of the world emerges from the interaction between our experience, our expectations and the unpredictable events of the day – the quotidian ‘stuff’ of life.
The idea of ministry as improv made sense to me – ministers should be prepared for anything: requests for spontaneous prayers and invocations; unscheduled pastoral conversations and “a few words from the minister.” That is why when I moved to Asheville last year as part of my professional development, I took improv classes. It was not only a way of meeting people in my new community but also groundwork for my work with you.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been challenging myself to move beyond my comfort zone. And, it wasn’t easy. I tend to be very detail oriented and a planner so the concepts of spontaneity and improvisation are, well, difficult. Nevertheless, I did it! I survived 8 weeks of improv training with total strangers. In terms of this sermon, which I assure you is not improvised, I take inspiration from Ralph Waldo Emerson who said of preachers that they “deal out to the people [their] life passed through the fire of thought.” Go Ralph Waldo! I love the image of our lives passing through the fire of thought!!
This morning I share with you a few takeaways from my experience with improv, a year later.
But first: How many of you are familiar with improvisational theater?
You may be familiar with professional improv through exposure to Tina Fey, Amy Poehler or Steven Colbert. Improv doesn’t always have to be funny. It is basically theater without a script in which the players (in improv the actors are called players) create a scene in the moment based on a phrase or word provided by the audience. It is a spontaneous, collaborative, creative, and for some of us, scary experience.
Improv players prepare by playing games to involve our voices, bodies, our creative impulses by miming, chanting or acting out short skits (Examples: Catch, The Expert). Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theater practitioner described games as “warm ups to shed inhibitions and establish a form of theatrical communion” I think the games we played accomplished that. We started out as a group of strangers, awkward and probably mortified who learned to play well together and share a lot of laughter.
What were the rules of playing well in improv that generated such laughter?
One takeaway was accept your partner’s offer and advance the scene. Your partner says: Look, what a beautiful green sky! You respond: It matches my green hair…” Notice how that is different from Your partner says: Look, what a beautiful green sky! You respond “But, it’s blue!” That shuts down the conversation. The first scenario is an example of a foundational principle of improv: responding with “yes, and.” You accept their idea, not necessarily their point of view. You choose your response.
I found this principle to be life changing. When I took the Ministry as Improv class I was serving my final year on a county school board in Florida. I had a difficult relationship with my conservative and intransigent colleagues. As a result, I entered board meetings defensively, prepared to argue my positions. I was a “but” person. I usually preceded my responses with but… and deepened our disagreement as they in turn, became more defensive. After improv class, I changed my strategy. I still prepared well but preceded my arguments with yes, and have you considered instead of “but”…. That seemingly small modulation changed the tone. My colleagues didn’t always agree but they were more willing to listen. Our conversations were less combative. And, sometimes they even agreed.
I don’t always remember this strategy, and I keep trying. It has also been helpful in dealing with the news. Lately, the cruel treatment and policies of the administration toward immigrants have been exasperating. My initial response is anger, followed by what can we do?
Last week in a meeting “Faith Communities Organizing for Sanctuary” I listened to accounts of the Bus Ministry organized to help asylum seekers passing through Asheville, visits to lawmakers and the detention center visits being organized, efforts to host and sponsor asylum seekers and a workshop “Anti-Racism and Sanctuary Training on Sept 13 hosted here at UUCA (visit the Justice Ministry table for details)…. All of that gave me hope.
Yes, we lack moral, compassionate leadership in our country when it comes to immigration, that’s real, and caring people are organizing to speak out and act against the hate some of our leaders promote and enshrine in policy.
Another takeaway from improv is the importance of being in the moment, meaning paying attention and listening deeply. If I approach a scene trying to plan a response that will get laughs, I will miss “gifts” from my partner. In improv, “gifts” are information about the character or relationship being established in the scene that will help improvise a response. Being in the moment makes us vulnerable, especially if, like me, you’re used to planning and controlling. That’s why improv is challenging for me. Comedian Amy Poehler describes it this way, “We all think we’re in control of our lives, and that the ground is solid beneath our feet, but we are so wrong. Improvising reminds you of that over and over again.”
A benefit of being in the moment is that we can embrace silence. In improv, that is very helpful because when your scene partner says something totally off the wall (and that happens often), being comfortable with silence allows you to gather your thoughts and respond. I wish I had taken improv when we were raising our daughters: pausing before responding and being creative in my responses may have added humor and levity amidst the complexity of those improvised parenting moments. I think my partner, a jazz pianist, understood this approach somewhat better than I.
I recently listened to a podcast “The Worship Whisperer” no, I’m not making that up, in which colleague Rev. Glen Thomas Rideout proposed a little more playfulness and levity in worship planning. He shared an improvisational exercise for Worship Associate training. In the group you call for an object, call for a worship theme, call for a liturgical element and then invite a participant to weave those together and create the element on the spot: closing words, opening words or prayer. We have some or worship associates with us this morning. What do you think? Up/down gesture
A final takeaway (there are more, but there isn’t enough time) is that “it is not about you”, imagine that? In improv you are basically working on building trust and supporting each other. Your job is to make your scene partner look good. If you are seen as focusing on yourself and trying to be funny or witty it will be hard for your scene partners to trust that you have their back. The humor usually happens organically when you connect with each other. The more you play together, the more you’ll know how to gift your scene partner and make each other shine. That is a refreshing attitude in an American society that worships rugged individualism.
Ultimately, I think good improv is all about relationships, and isn’t it the same in everything we do? It is about community building, like we do here at UUCA strengthening and nurturing our community. The “I” focus that interferes with trust building in improv also interferes in nurturing the communal “we” in a congregation. And, how often do we mistakenly think that even in religious community it’s about what I want, what I am comfortable with, what I need? If we are to create a truly welcoming beloved community -because this is where it starts-what are we willing to do to be welcoming to all? It is important, if we want to create a diverse community of spiritual seekers that embraces African American, Latinx and Indigenous People who traditionally already consider the family, tribe or community before individual advancement.
Oh, and one more really important takeway…It’s OK to fail! Really, it is. One of the reasons I accepted this job a year ago is that UUCA is willing to experiment with programs like the Wednesday Thing and in all ages worship. I feel comfortable experimenting here knowing that the goal isn’t perfection. Mistakes are opportunities for growth and learning.
In improv, when missteps occur each actor will do their best to make the others look good and move the action forward. The attitude of making one’s scene partner look good, is an attitude we can use in our everyday lives to help us be more compassionate when others make mistakes. One of my favorite warm ups was the entire group raising up their hands and shouting “I failed” (lets do that) How did that feel?
Failure means you have acted. Without risk, there is no change, no sparking of the imagination to explore other possibilities.
This coming week, I invite you to consider the ethos of improv (not theology, “I failed!)
be in the moment,
support your partner
embrace uncertainly and imperfection
find ways to use “yes, and” thinking.
These are strategies that can help us build the inclusive, welcoming beloved community we talk about as well as cope with the justice challenges facing our world.
And be on the lookout for the gifts. In the words of Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana who is also a fan of improv
“Life is constantly handing us stuff.
Tragedies, too often.
Opportunities, all the time.
To be the change we wish to see in the world.
To respond to hate with love.
To not let the darkness have the last word.”
May it be so.
 Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), U.S. essayist, poet, philosopher. Address, July 15, 1838, “The Divinity School Address”
 Games for Actors and Non-Actors, Augusto Boal, p2
“Don’t be afraid of some change, don’t be afraid of some change; Today will be a joyful day, Enter, rejoice and come in.”
We sing this hymn on a regular basis – this is my favorite stanza. Those in our congregation who have come to know me as a fairly extroverted blabbermouth will be shocked to learn that I was once a painfully shy nonentity who regarded change as anathema. My father was a contract engineer in the aerospace industry in the 50s and 60s. Among other projects involved with rocketing folks into space, he worked on the Mercury program in Huntsville, AL, on the Redstone Arsenal with no less a personage than Wernher von Braun. I took dance lessons when I was five with his daughter Margrit.
All this “glory” was totally lost on me. I attended four elementary schools, one junior high and two high schools. I did not enjoy being uprooted so often, and when I landed in my second high school, I chose to fold my social tents and abstain. Change had just gotten too hard for me to bear. I attended my 10-year high school reunion in 1980 but still felt like such an unwanted fifth wheel in the tiny little town of Marion, VA that I have never gone back.
I married into a very loud family and had to get loud or die, which was very good for me! Thirty -five years later, I moved to western North Carolina soon after my husband’s unexpected death at the age of 58. Now THAT was a change – and a painful one, but so much joy has come from it. I would not be a member of this congregation, nor would I have even discovered Unitarian Universalism, in all likelihood, were I still living in Baton Rouge with my husband. I have an adult daughter and a granddaughter living with me now, and I have the great privilege of helping to rear four-year-old Allita, who would almost certainly not even exist if our family had not been convulsed with my husband’s death.
I no longer regard change as an unmitigated evil but as an opportunity and an entrance to something good just around the corner and out of sight. Even if it doesn’t feel good initially, change is essential to the progress of life, as anyone familiar with the theory of evolution well knows.
Change drives discovery; discovery brings growth and, sometimes, I would say often, great joy and spiritual growth. People, singly and in groups, need to fully embrace change when it comes, as it always does, even when change is initially upsetting and seems to be a cause for unmitigated grief. Change, approached constructively, can be used to discover new insights, new people and more joy.