Holding History

There are a lot of ways to explore our theme this month – consider sharing some of these options with extended family while gathered for the upcoming holiday.

At the Table – Discussion Questions

  1. What’s the story of your birth? Is there something about your own birth that you’ve always wanted to know? (The questions that arise here may or may not be able to be answered; hold the questions in love if they remain a mystery even after being asked.)
  2. How many Thanksgivings back can you remember? **
  3. What’s the history of the home you live in? When was it built? What was the neighborhood like then?
  4. Who in the family is most likely to tell stories about the way things used to be?
  5. Which is your favorite old photo of yourself and/or your family?
  6. If you could go back in time and visit a historical event, which would it be?
  7. If you were to create a time capsule to tell people in the future about what our times were like, what would be the 5 most important things you would include?
  8. What are the favorite parts of the history of your pets? Do you remember first meeting them? What was it like to train them? 

Treasure Hunt for Holding History

This month’s treasure hunt sends us sleuthing around–in our neighborhoods, but also online, and in the memories of friends and neighbors. Don’t feel the need to proceed through this like a list. Rather, pick a few that feel sparkly and exciting to you, and delve into those. The treasures here will be both the process of discovery, and the stories that unfold!

  • What did the street you live on look like 50 or 60 years ago? *
  • Who lived in your home before your family?
  • Which would you guess to be the oldest tree in your neighborhood?
  • Who in your neighborhood lived through the Great Depression?
  • When did your UU group first begin to gather, or when did your congregation join the UUA, or when was your church building built?
  • Who were/are the original peoples of the land that you now call home? How might you acknowledge that?
  • What’s the history of how your town got its name?
  • What’s the history of how your town became a town?
  • What’s the oldest building in your town?
  • How much hotter is your hometown than when you were born? (check here)

November’s Mantra:

Breathing in, breathing out

The air we breathe is the same air our grandparents breathed, the same air that paleolithic people breathed, the same air that the very first trees breathed, the same air that the earth itself breathed when creating our precious atmosphere. Breathing is the first thing we do on the planet, and it will be the last. Breath is what marks our entrance and exit from this existence. 

For this month’s mantra, we turn not to centering words, but instead to an action: draw in, hold, and release the precious breath that connects us to all things that have ever lived, and that ever will. This is our molecular history, the one that makes up every atom of us.

At a quiet time of your choosing, set a five-minute timer on your phone or other device and focus only on the tiny circles of skin around each of your nostrils. Keep your awareness on those two, dime-sized spots, noticing the sensation. Words and phrases will doubtless come up as your mind tries to describe, qualify, and assess the situation. Let those words come and go, but don’t linger on them. Instead, come back to the simple experience of breathing in, breathing out. 

Set aside a regular time each day to practice this. You might keep the time limit at five minutes, or you might try to work up to longer meditations. A mind that is able to hold stillness, for five or 55 minutes is better able to act with clarity and integrity in trying times, a great boon to us as we navigate challenges both personally and collectively.

Cold Swimming Holes On a Hot Summer Day: Knowing When to Jump

photo of Ryan WilliamsIt was roughly 4 years ago when a major turning point occured in my relationship with UUCA. It was on one random Sunday afternoon in Sandburg Hall that James Casarra and Rev. Mark Ward approached me about stepping in to fill the spot of a Board member who was unable to complete their term. Though I had been a member for quite some time, I had always kept a very low profile and my service to the congregation had largely been played out as a volunteer for “Room in the Inn” or as a RE teacher. Both roles involved work that I truly loved doing even though it meant I often spent more of my “church” time downstairs or at “the Inn” rather than in the Sanctuary. This was a deal that worked well for me as it kept me within my own comfort zone while also keeping me at a comfortable arm’s distance from “other people”. Though James’ and Mark’s request didn’t really feel like my cup of tea, after some thought, I went on and said yes, figuring that I would quietly slip in, fill the spot, and then slip back out a year later.

The following year however, just when I was about to head back out into the shadows, James and Mark came at me again, this time with an even wilder cup of tea than before, requesting that I not only start a new 3 year term but that I also consider assuming the role of Board President. If you think my hesitance was present when asked to join the Board in general, then you can only imagine how unprepared and uncomfortable I was with assuming an actual leadership role! It did not match any of my skill sets nor my personality in general. The arm’s distance would be gone. I imagined this instead to be more like a long awkward full body hug. Yikes.

But I said yes. 

In and of itself, the time commitment and work that came with being the Board chair quickly brought about a big shift in both my personal life as well as in my church life. And just as I was getting settled into the new role, Mark announced his retirement and I soon found myself working as Chair of the Interim Search Committee (not only for one year but for two consecutive years due to Covid. It was a lot. A LOT. But have you ever jumped into a cool swimming hole on a hot summer day? You feel incredibly nervous about what the water will feel like but you eventually jump off the rock anyway, you sink into the deep water, feel a bit of shock at first, and then quickly discover that the water feels great! That’s how I found the experience of jumping into deeper church work. It was a shock at first. And then it felt great. 

For the last several years, the experience serving with the Board as President as well as with the Search Committee has served to push me deep out of my comfort zone and have challenged me and strengthened me in ways that I believe have made me a better person who holds a more well-stocked toolkit than I did prior. It also

resulted in me learning so many new things about how UUAsheville works and how I relate to it that strangely enough, “church talk” has become one of my favorite topics of conversation! It has also introduced me to so many people that I might not have ever had the opportunity to know and love. Overall, serving in this role these last few years has strengthened my connections and deepened my love for this place. For these reasons, I will forever hold this time as an important and powerfully rewarding period of my life.

However, the return to school this year has been an experience like none I have experienced in 20 years in schools. There is hardly a box in my brain in which I can fit in and process the daily traumas and stresses I am witnessing in my students, all of which have only been compounded by the sudden lack of resources our school district has to offer in both money and staff. (While the needs of our students are unprecedented, we still currently have 60 positions that are vacant across our district!) 

And perhaps because I am crazy, I have somehow managed to decide that this already surreal educational moment is the perfect time for me to begin the process of pursuing my National Boards. The National Boards program is a teaching certification process that might take me up to two years and will require tremendous amounts of additional time and energy. 

So though my work with the Board over the last 3 and ½ years has strengthened my relationship with the church in profound and positive ways, I have come to the decision that I need to step down from the Board so that I can maintain a balance, both spiritually and mentally, in order to jump into this new and unfamiliar pool of cold water.  Over the last 6 weeks, I have been in conversation with the amazing Board Council team, Rev. Cathy, and Rev. Claudia about this decision and I am overwhelmingly grateful for the compassion and kindness and care that they have offered me as I contemplated my decision to step down. They really are the most top notch of people and have become not only friends but heroes and role models of a sort to me as well and it has been an honor and privilege and even a blessing (can I say that word as a UU?! ha!) to serve in this role. I am excited to say that the amazing Clyde Hardin will be stepping into the role of President moving forward. I am proud of not only the work that we have done together as a Board but even more so of the work that I have done on myself in the process. And though I will miss the work that happens around the Board table, I also plan to continue to be involved as an active participant in the work of the congregation. I guess there is no heading back into arm’s distance and the full body hugs are here to stay. After all, the congregation needs each one of us, now more than ever. So though I am leaving one role, I plan fully to step into other ones. I plan to continue to be here on Sundays be it virtually or face to face. I plan to pitch in when asked with odd jobs as they come up. And yep, I plan to look for other UUAsheville groups in action that I can join forces with to do the good work of this community. If I have learned anything in the last 2 and ½ years as Board President, it’s just how important it is that EVERYONE find a way to pitch in and participate and if I truly love this place, then Board or no Board, I will have to keep doing my part in helping hold the ship together so that we can all stay afloat. 

Big hugs and love to you all and thanks for everything you all not only do for UUAsheville and the larger community but what yall have done for me and my family.  

Ryan WIlliams



Vespers 6:30 PM & Program 7:00 PM

Join Vespers leader Nancy Bragg for reflection on the month’s theme: Holding History
Program – Centering Love: “Loving-Those-We-Know.”
All are welcome to join with Nancy Bragg to center our action-oriented spiritual practice of “loving- those-we-know,” including our inherently worthy relatives, friends, and neighbors  – not always easy!

Wednesday Vespers & Program themes:

1st Wed.    Theme Talk or Special Program
Discussion about the monthly Soul Matters theme.

2nd Wed.    Liberation Conversations: Pursuing our Congregational Goals to practice Anti-racism. These conversations will provide updates on the work of the Racial Justice Advisory Council and an opportunity to ask questions and discuss why the work of liberation at UUAvl matters.

3rd Wed.    Spiritual Practices: Centering Love
Centering Love – Love is a core value of our UU faith. On the 3rd Wednesdays this fall at 7 p.m., we will center our spiritual practice of love-in-action with self, others, and the world. 

4th Wed.    Theology
We began with an introduction to theology: What is it? Do UUs do Theology? Future sessions will focus not theological themes: Hope, Death, Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Evil, Covenant. 

November Calendar – Theme: Holding History 

3       Vespers Leader:  Rev Claudia
Program: Theme Talk, Rev Claudia

10     Vespers Leader: Rev. Cathy
Program: Anti-racism conversation, Noah Hall, Rev Claudia

17     Vespers Leader: Nancy Bragg
Program: Spiritual Practices, Nancy Bragg

24     Thanksgiving Vespers Leader: Rev Claudia and/or Rev. Cathy

No Program