Work on the Vision

Hey, how about this?  It’s my last blog post.  That could be a lot of pressure—what do I want to tell you?  What’s the one thing?  Turns out it’s easy—I want you to be creative and daring as you try to find the “new and improved” UU Asheville following a pandemic and getting a new minister.

In the fall the Ministerial Search Committee will want (no, will NEED) your ideas of what you want UU Asheville to be and do in the next 5-10 years.  The more clearly that future can be described, the better job the Search Committee will be able to do in finding a minister who will lead you there.

I want you to have big ideas, matched by your energy and commitment to join in on the action.  There are lots of destinies to think about, but very few that will work for this particular congregation at this particular time. The general direction for the congregation needs to come from the congregation.  A good leader will further articulate and mold that future, but in UU polity it is the congregation’s will that should set the destination.  It’s time for you to envision the next UU Asheville.

Here are some ideas.  Not all will work here.  Not all will ignite the energy needed to do the thing well.  But there IS something that will do that. Can’t wait to see what you come up with next year!

This is a passage from a book I’ve been reading about a ministerial candidate talking about the congregation that is interviewing her:
“I sense a deep vein of creativity in this congregation,” she said.  “So many writers and artists and musicians; so many teachers, scientists, and good cooks.  I’d call on this creative energy to nourish and enrich church life.  More art on the walls!  Music in the air–and maybe in that charming amphitheater!  Flowers in the garden! Delicious meals cooked in those big kitchens and eaten together!  Let’s get people reading the newsletter again…..And let’s start an arts and literary magazine with contributions by members.  Let’s hold poster-painting parties before each protest, so we’ll wield clever, eye-catching signs that speak truth to power!  Together, let’s inspire one another to radically reimagine how to responsibly inhabit–and save–this precious, endangered world for our children and theirs.”

Or two descriptions from the handy internet of ideas:

  • This church community supports creativity and the arts.  They live and breathe the arts, believing in supporting arts, imagination, and creativity. They created the Convergence Arts Initiative in their city to foster creativity, conversation, and art making. You do not have to be a part of the church or any particular faith background to participate in the Arts Initiative. They provide physical space to local artists and arts organizations to help make their creative vision reality.
  • This church’s goal is not to build the biggest church but to help build a city that people love. They have various Sundays with only one service scheduled to encourage church members to get involved in the life of the city. One of their main programs is a refugee mentoring program. The church has created a place where those refugees can come to experience the support of a church community and receive education.

It’s pretty easy to find all kinds of outreach ideas for churches online.  The best ones come directly from the vision of the church, of the reputation they have in their community, and are the single focus of the church’s outreach. Sure, we still need/want to provide faith development opportunities for all, offer some form(s) of worship, provide pastoral care, create space for the growth of personal relationships, and encourage participation in events where “showing up” is important.  But a congregation has the most powerful impact in its community when it doesn’t scatter its resources.  Everything sounds great and important, but picking ONE seems to me to be most impactful.

  • What if we were Asheville’s Climate Change congregation? The City of Asheville already has a Climate Justice Initiative.  What if we were a congregation at the front lines of support of this work.  Imagine how much more powerful the city’s work could be with a cadre of helpers from UU Asheville?  We already use the campus for demonstration projects like rooftop solar panels, our rain garden, and our designation as a Pollinator Garden.  What if MANY members of the congregation, visibly (people know you are a UU) joined various environmental groups already active in Asheville?  Would that be making a difference in Asheville?
  • What if we were the Refugee congregation, with many of us visibly partnering with the two or three existing agencies in Asheville to help with that work?
  • What if our only community partnership was with BeLoved Asheville? We already have a goodly number of congregants involved in their work.  What if that really was the only outreach that we did?  How might our donations of time, talent, and treasure make a difference in the construction of BeLoved’s Village of 12 microhomes to bring home our neighbors who’ve struggled with housing insecurity?  Or in their other projects, like Racial and Cultural Healing or Asheville in Black? They are working in areas that we have had interest in.  Why not join with them and become known as a partner in their work?
  • What if we decided to be the Sex Church? And I say that in the most flattering way.  Our denomination’s Our Whole Lives curricula are developmentally appropriate classes for ages from 5 to senior citizens addressing lifespan sexuality issues.  They help participants make informed and responsible decisions about their relationships, sexual health and behavior. With a holistic approach (PDF), Our Whole Lives provides accurate, developmentally appropriate information about a range of topics, including relationships, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, sexual health, and cultural influences on sexuality.

Our Whole Lives was designed to be secular, but not value-free. The program gives clear messages about self-worth, sexual health, responsibility, and justice and inclusivity.  The program recognizes and respects the diversity of participants with respect to biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and disability status in addition to cultural and racial background. The activities and language used throughout the program have been carefully chosen to be as inclusive as possible of this human diversity.

Why are we keeping this to ourselves?  Aren’t many, many parents in Asheville wishing their children had access to this kind of information?  Aren’t there adults wishing they had access to this kind of information?

  • What if we adopted a school? UU Asheville could provide volunteers for tutoring, or “track and field day” or supplies for under-financed teacher initiatives, or needs of children, or surprise snacks and thank yous to teachers and other staff members,or help with after-school programs.

These are just ideas.  There are more!  Bring them to your conversations with the Search Committee.  Think about why it might be important to have a singular vision of the congregation’s mission.  Or make a case for why you don’t like that.  The point is to THINK, CREATE, DREAM about the future of UU Asheville.  Your next minister’s success will depend on it.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration