Interim Ministry, COVID and Community

Now there’s a three-for-one Gordian knot if I ever saw one.  When a staff person writes a blog, I’m pretty sure there’s an unwritten rule that you don’t complain or whine (much) or lay guilt on folks or throw shade (I think I finally got the meaning of that new-to-me idiom right—took a while).  However, there seem to be times……

Without intending to do any of those three, here goes.

We have a new interim lead minister.  She’s pretty darn cool (have you HEARD some of her background stories?).  She has a very specific set of jobs to do to help US prepare for our called minister. One loop of that knot wonders how she can help us if she doesn’t KNOW us?

(Hey, did you know that there are “parts of a knot?”  I looked that up on the way to this metaphor.)

An elbow of that knot is COVID.  THAT turned what could have been a quite lovely meeting among new minister and congregants into a nightmare of Zoom and one-on-ones and lots of people not “tuning in” to either services or events or the website or eNews.  This creates what Rev. Cathy has referred to as her phantom congregation.

And then, how about a little bight that actually starts the knot–the need for community-by all humans as it turns out.

Here’s the kind of headline that scares staff members:  Churches face volunteer shortages, difficulty mobilizing congregants amid pandemic, experts warn.  Now that seems like a no-brainer because how could that NOT be true right now, but it IS a most difficult circumstance when trying to learn about your brand-new congregation.

And then there’s the article from long-time church consultant Lawrence Peers.  He writes,

Talking with another clergyperson recently, we bemoaned the current spike in COVID-19 infections and the Delta variant. Congregations were moving in the direction of “opening up” again for indoor worship and activities. All systems were go, it seemed.

But then many congregations, in an abrupt retreat, slowed down or modified reopening plans. The ink on books about the “post-pandemic church” was hardly dry as we found ourselves thinking about a possible longer arc of this health crisis.

Suddenly my colleague blurted out, “Maybe I don’t want to do this hard thing.”

The hardest thing for many clergy about this current situation is not knowing what to do or when to do it—or whether it will be enough.

When I was feeling overwhelmed by the current situation of reopening, I created a compass to help me channel my feelings of overwhelm into four directions:

  • Reconnect with one another and our wider community.
  • Rebound as we bounce back to increased levels of participation and service.
  • Redevelop all of our offerings as a highly inclusive, engaging multiplatform congregation.
  • Renew our commitment to our mission and our generous support of that mission.

This is what all of our staff are doing right now.  We’re all trying so hard to do all four of those things.  PLUS, as a congregation, we need to help Rev. Cathy help us.

So, here’s what I’m asking:  please, please try to do more with UU Asheville than you have in the past year.  I know it’s hard, you’re in a different rhythm now, who needs to “attend” an 11am service when you can watch it later (or never), I know you planned to come to that in-person event but then you forgot, or it didn’t feel right, or something else came up, but to steal a phrase from Charlie Marks, we really, really need you!

We need you to reconnect, bounce back to increased levels of participation and service, support our efforts as we offer in-person and online programs, and sort of summarizing it all, renew your commitment to our mission and your generous support of the mission with time, talent, and money.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration




The Spirituality of Imperfection

Sunday, September 26, 2021  11am Live Zoom
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead  Minister
William James, author of Varieties of Religious Experience, came to believe that human existence, even at its best, is left with an irremediable sense of precariousness”; it is a bell with a crack.”  Human existence, life, is a bell with a crack.  I wonder if Leonard Cohen read William James….?

Bread For the Journey

Sunday, September 12, 2021 11am Live  Zoom   
Rev. Dr. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister
The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. ~ Joseph Campbell

UU Asheville is in the midst of a ministerial transition while at the same time coping with the multiple changes caused by the pandemic. All of this uncertainty can feel unsettling, but transition can also be a time that is pregnant with possibility.  We must be willing to dwell in the messy middle for a time, and just like with making bread, things can be sticky for a while. Bread undergoes many transitions and ultimately “dying” in the oven as it transforms into sumptuous aromatic loaves. Campbell famously said, “Follow your blissWe must be willing to give up the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”  What will UU Asheville look like in five years?  Ten years?  Much will depend on how comfortable we can be living in the creative, messy tension of what was and what will be.



Got Luck?

adam griffithOK, first things first, if you haven’t watched the video of Revs. Cathy and Claudia, please stop reading and click on this link.  Their energy and giggles will improve the quality of your day as it did mine and I think we can learn from their general approach–reframing disappointing news as an opportunity for growth.  They explain the rationale behind the decision NOT to meet for in-person services at UUAsheville due to the delta variant of the coronavirus.  As a scientist, I understand we made these decisions keeping in mind the recommendations of the CDC and the Unitarian Universalist Association regarding the variant.

Personally, I am disappointed by the news we will not meet in person for services in our beautiful sanctuary.  I consider myself to be a rather rigid person who thrives when things go according to plan and schedule.  My children ask me about “church” and the coronavirus (will there be a spiritual developmental lag?) and when we can go there.  I have been fumbling for answers, but now I will fumble less because there will be creative opportunities for outdoor gatherings spearheaded by Rev. Cathy, Rev. Claudia and other members of our community.

But I can’t help noting that their approach of reframing the bad news as an opportunity is a characteristic of lucky and happy people.  Social science researcher Richard Wiseman writes that people who consider themselves lucky often imagine how things could have been worse.  I have very little trouble imagining services resuming at UUAsheville and coronavirus infections happening as a result.  It would be devastating to have infections or deaths of members of our family, possibly young and old, because we rushed getting back together.  When I think about it in this fashion, the decision to wait is much easier to stomach, but the work to keep the commnity together through this time will not be, and the congregation will need to shoulder some of the load.  If something has resonated with you from a service, send a message to Cathy or Claudia.  If you have ideas, please let us know!  We want to hear from you.

Luck researcher Wiseman highlights other attributes of lucky people and describes them as resilient, optimistic, intuitive, and open to chance encounters – all qualities I strive for personally and qualities I am attracted to in organizations and people.  Our congregation is filled with such people and participating in services and UUAsheville activities increases the likelihood of a positive chance encounter with such individuals.  We are also very lucky to have two resilient and optimistic women leading us, so please join us virtually on Sundays and in-person for fun events. I hope to see you soon!

Adam Griffith, UUAsheville Board of Trustees

Walking Together

Sunday, September 5, 2021  Live Zoom  
Rev. Dr. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister  
Our Unitarian Universalist congregational polity is affirmed by our covenant with one another; to support, to honor, to grow into a greater affection for ourselves and the world.  Our vision of becoming better people, better parents, better citizens of the world, are only made possible by our willingness to walk together on the journey.