Taking Risks: Who, Me?

This weekend I did something completely out of my comfort zone. I packed my paniers and bicycled with Steve to Hot Springs, NC for a bit of relaxation. It was a big deal for me! Unlike Steve, I did not grow up riding a bicycle. Mastering an e-bike added an unexpected twist. Nevertheless, despite my hesitation and fear of riding in traffic (Hwy 25 has minimal shoulder) I decided to give it a try. I prepared over the last two months by riding this new contraption to the office and around town on errands to conquer my fear. It paid off! Our ride through Alexander, Marshall, Walnut and over the hill into Hot Springs  in spectacular weather was more fun than I had imagined. When we returned home I was proud of myself for taking that risk. It was scary at times when big trucks drove by or a few drivers (two to be precise) chose to be rude and honk or get unnecessarily close.  But we made it and I was elated at doing something I had never tried or even thought about attempting.

It isn’t easy going outside of one’s comfort zone and feeling vulnerable. Although my weekend, at times, was one of physical vulnerability, I perceive a similarity with the emotional vulnerability that comes with doing the work of exploring white supremacy culture and complicity in that culture, even if unintentional. It has been important to me to learn about the history, writings and legacies of people ignored in history and the literature of my educational experiences. I have gained a greater understanding of systems created in the US and beyond to uphold hierarchies based on skin color and power that favor White males. But reading is not enough. The hard work has been asking myself, “How did I learn to be anti-Black, to be racist?” and, “What will I do differently now that I recognize my biases?”

I once read that marginalized People of the Global Majority cannot be racist because they do not have power. That made sense to me. Furthermore, I thought that I could not a be racist given my life experiences. I have learned otherwise. I have a greater understanding of how I learned to be anti-Black, both in Colombia where I was born and here in the U.S. Because I recognize that reality in me, I catch myself being judgmental and racist. Last week when I was recording the Time for All Ages “Antiracist Baby” by Ibram Kendi, the section that said, “Confess to being racist. Nothing disrupts racism more than when we confess the racist ideas we sometimes express” resonated with me. I am being more mindful of racist ideas that go through my mind. I don’t confess them publicly (although in this blog I am), but I do pay attention, and interrogate where those attitudes are coming from. What socialization and conditioning led me to the attitudes that I am embarrassed to acknowledge?

Of course, I am not always as self-aware as I would like. I sometimes unintentionally offend. I am striving to engage people without making assumptions based on perceived identity. Doing that allows me to listen and be present at times when assumptions would have been a barrier. The gift has been a greater understanding of other perspectives and in some cases the beginning of new relationships. Awareness for how my biases affect my interactions motivates me to be more mindful. I’ve had a lifetime to learn how to be a racist, unlearning it won’t be easy, but I will keep trying.

This year we begin what I hope will be a multi-year focus on antiracism in Faith Development at UUCA. Our recent history and the pandemic have made it impossible to ignore the tragic impacts of racism on our community and nation. I invite you to consider how you will engage, re-engage or deepen your work in becoming an anti-racist. The work involves acknowledging and learning about the effect of White supremacy/racism in our lives and society and mobilizing to pursue justice and equity. What questions do you have?  How can we support you? Starting Oct. 8 at 7PM, Rev. Ward will facilitate a second Thursday conversation, “White People Wondering”, to create space for reflection about where you are on the journey of disrupting racism in your life. Various lay leaders are facilitating the UUA adult curriculum, “Building the World We Dream About” as part of the Wednesday Thing programs. And, there are also discussion groups delving into the work of Ibram Kendi and Layla Saad. I welcome your feedback on the programs we are offering and your suggestions for future programs.

Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Why Bother With the Auction?

Yes, you should donate and participate and there’s a very good reason below.  But first, let me just get the ad portion of this blog out of the way. 

Yes, we are holding our auction–but in 2 parts.  Part 1 is a Silent Auction and it lasts for a week, starting November 11 and ending November 18.  (That’s the part where back in the day we walked around the room—either before auction day at UUCA or on the night of the auction—and wrote our bids on bidding sheets.) Part 2 is a LIVE Zoom Auction on November 14 where about 10 items will be auctioned. (That’s the part where our auctioneer works hard to get prices up for what we hope are desirable items and where back in the day we ate, visited, enjoyed The Sandburgers, and danced.)

The auction committee has been working on this for several months now.  They have attended a variety of other online auctions to see how it’s done and are sure we can come up with an auction that will actually be fun to experience online. I believe them. (I know they’re working on some very clever add-ons for the LIVE Zoom auction.)

But really, why bother this year?  The most obvious answer is that the auction most assuredly raises more money than any other fundraiser for the congregation (about $35,000).  And this is money that makes a huge difference in what we fund.  But with our budget skewed this year in every direction, we don’t have any idea if this money is critical or not.  And believe me, running an auction, especially one like never before, is a LOT of work.

Here’s a better answer though, which I re-learned on Sunday.  It is literally all about connections!  At last year’s auction, UUCA members Mike Closson and Jill Overholt donated 100 Frozen Monkey* ices for a gathering of the buyer’s choice.  Without having any plan for it, the McLellans bought that item.  Fast forward to about 2 weeks ago.  I’m having a casual conversation with the McLellans about how I’m trying to figure out how to offer some kind of outdoor gathering for UUCA and they offer their auction win (honestly, I didn’t even remember they had bought that!).  And next thing you know, 75 or so of us enjoyed a beautiful late afternoon at UUCA, SEEING each other!!!

Frozen Monkey gathering on September 13

We had younger members (down to about 2), older members (up to about, well, never mind), and everyone in between.  Nothing warms the heart of a UUCA staff member more than seeing a multigenerational gathering!

This, of course, is not the only auction item that works this way, although the scale is larger than normal.  Any time you donate an item that gathers people together, you are creating micro “small-group” ministries.  It really doesn’t matter if you are one of the amazing dinner providers or someone who has a few people over to bake bread.  These gatherings make connections and these connections are what makes UUCA important in the lives of its congregants.

So, bottom line, the auction is an important part of our congregation’s year and through your generous participation–by donating items and buying items (we ask for donations at all price points)–you support the church through your time, talent, and treasure.  It’s real stewardship; taking care of this congregation!

*Just because it’s interesting to know, Mike created this business himself and got a designer to create all his graphics on the trailer.  It is not a franchise.  (UUs can be so creative!) 

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

We Gather Again

By the calendar I have followed in my head for the past 16 years, this coming Sunday – the week after Labor Day – should be Ingathering Sunday, the day when we return from the slower pace of our summer services and start our fall worship schedule. We should be resuming two weekly Sunday services, dedicating our teachers, restarting our Religious Education program, and in general just celebrating this community.

But as with so many things, the novel coronavirus has disrupted our plans. We won’t be gathering at 1 Edwin Place. Worship and religious education are online. And we’re all trying to get our heads around how the work we do as a congregation translates into a socially-distanced world.

It’s disorienting, but really we’ve been at this now for about six months and there’s no sign it’s going to end any time soon. And more importantly, the work we do as a liberal religious voice, as a gathered people seeking connection, inspiration, compassion, and justice is as essential as ever.

So, we’re staying the course. We won’t falter in our commitments, and as we adjust to all the technological and other challenges of this time we’ll be looking for how we can leverage what we are learning and experiencing to grow this congregation, this faith in a world still thirsty for what we have to give.

We’ll begin this Sunday with a different kind of Ingathering that will be a live Zoom service at 11am. We will, once again, be dedicating our teachers for a new year of religious education, and we’ll be using the time to explore who we are in this new age and what we need from each other.

Of course, we’re not alone in this situation. Church consultants have pointed out all kinds of ways that the pandemic has forced congregations of all denominations to think differently. I was intrigued this past week with a posting by Susan Beaumont, a consultant who has worked with us in the past. She wrote that there are several myths about congregations that COVID days have exploded.

Traditionally, she said, churches defined the communities they served by people in their geographical area. Well, when worship and other church programs are online, there are no geographical bounds. People can tune in from far away.

That’s certainly been our experience. There are a number of people formerly connected with UUCA who are tuning into worship and other events as well as many others with no formal connection to the congregation who are checking us out. Before COVID, we had an average Sunday attendance of around 300 or so with a membership of around 500. These days we send the link for Sunday services to a mailing list of around 1,425 people and roughly 450 open it each Sunday; others open later in the week.

But even then, Beaumont reports, worship attendance may not be the best measure of participation. Some people connect with a congregation’s social justice work or small group ministry more than worship and may check in Sunday only occasionally.

Also, even though we feel that the best connections happen in person, there are some deep and meaningful interactions that can happen online. For that to happen, though, it requires us to adjust how we plan our gatherings and discover and then build confidence in the technologies that work best for those settings.

So, yes, all these changes are a big lift for us all, but they also offer new opportunities that help keep us relevant and keep our ministries vital. Our staff at UUCA are in conversation about how we tweak what we do here to stay on task and help our people stay engaged. But we’d like your help, too. Keep us posted on what’s on your mind and we’ll get through this time together.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

 

No,”We Are Not in a Handbasket.” Together, We Can Decide Where We Want to Go.

Over the last few years, I have heard a number of people in my life express a wide range of feelings at the sudden insertion of words like White Supremacy, White Privilege, Systemic Racism, and Black Lives Matter into their daily lives. It is important to note that the awareness of the sudden increase in these words has been noted by both black friends and white friends alike. After all, the mainstream introduction of a set of vocabulary words and frameworks previously reserved for more academic settings is honestly new for everyone. What has been more interesting and impactful for me in hearing the various responses however has been the underlying experiences and understandings of what these words mean to different people. Many of my white friends and family, when talking about this new vocabulary, have expressed such feelings as confusion, anger, sadness, guilt, denial, enlightenment, and inspiration. The response of the majority of my black friends and family however has been much more consistent. “Aha,” they basically have said. “So that’s what it’s called. So that’s the word for describing what we already knew was real.”

So let me speak to my fellow white UUs. It is my belief that however you or I have personally experienced or responded to this new vocabulary and framework is valid. It’s real. It’s honest. In my opinion, the immediate experience of complex emotions is part of that whole inherent worth and dignity of every individual. It’s what we proclaim when we speak of our First Principle. So please don’t judge others for where their hearts and minds are located when confronted with “new” ideas. Please don’t judge me. Don’t judge yourself.

But please don’t stay there. Don’t sit passively by while others stay there. After all, though the First Principle might allow us a space to be seen and respected for our immediate emotional and intellectual responses, there are other principles we have to listen to as well. Other Principles to help move us forward.

Personally, I would argue that once we recognize where we are in one principle, we might listen to and be moved by some of the others. For example, our 2nd Principle calls for equity and compassion in human relations. Our 3rd Principle calls for acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. Our 5th affirms our belief in the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. Our 6th Principle proclaims a goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

One might even draw inspiration from the recently proposed 8th Principle that calls UUs to “affirm and promote a journey toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by actions that dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.” In other words, regardless of where you find yourself  within the 1st Principle, you are also called on to move yourself by the others.

Motivated by this past summer’s explosion of anger and action around racial injustice, the Board of Trustees here at UUCA has felt the call to respond to the reality of White Supremacy in the world around us near and far, as well as to the reality of White Supremacy in the world within us. We have felt called to move ourselves. We have felt hopeful and inspired by the idea of the movement of our congregation. In that vein, we have been engaged in conversations around how we might craft a statement in support of Black lives and opposed to White Supremacy. Further, we have been engaged in discussion on how we might move beyond a statement as well to help strengthen the momentum already occurring within UUCA towards the goal of racial justice.

These are ideas that we all agree on. Yet despite our shared values, as it is in our larger lives, simply agreeing does not always result in “Agreement”. This conversation, be it taking place among the Board members or taking place around the dinner table, is not an easy one. It takes patience, love, flexibility, and steadfastness. It takes buy-in. It takes covenant. It takes time. It’s hard work.

In the coming weeks and months, the Board will be continuing to center our Annual Vision of Ministry discussion around the work of anti-racism and Beloved Community. As we work out the meaning and the methods of this annual vision of ministry, know that the larger goal will not be based necessarily on the offering of more workshops or book studies. Know that the larger goal will not be based necessarily on the sharing out of websites and worship services. After all, we as a Board know that there are so many incredible individuals who have already been and continue to do these things and who have been leading this work on so many levels for years and we want them to know that their work is deeply appreciated and honored.

However, rather than fine tune our vision on the involvement of individuals, it is our hope instead to focus on the UUCA as a whole and on empowering and fostering a UUCA that not only believes in the goal of racial justice but systemically provides the spiritual nourishment and environment for that work to fully happen.

So how do we get there? Well, that brings me back to us all sharing and honoring where we as a congregation came from and where we find ourselves now, to letting our principles guide us forward. And know that as we move forward in this conversation, we the Board will be leaning on the input and experience of those UUCA individuals already so actively engaged. We know also however that each and every congregant here can contribute a wide range of inspirations and ideas to help shape or influence the direction in which we will embark. We know that there are Black and Brown neighbors and friends in our community who stand outside of the UUCA walls (that’s figurative of course since, thanks to COVID, we are all standing outside of UUCA walls…) that can offer the truth of personal experience and who can hold up guidepost and caution signs as we make our way towards this new horizon.

In the coming weeks and months, know that we might come to you and ask for your input as well as your action to help this vision take shape. Know that we will want you to come to us and share with us your ideas on how this vision takes form. This work will require the COLLECTIVE participation of us all as we work to envision what it means for UUCA to help build and become the Beloved Community our Principles call us to be. Are you ready to get moving?!

Ryan William, President, Board of Trustees

 

We have Religious Education this year?!? YES! And…

Did you know?  Religious Education at UUCA is still a thing! We already have 53 kids/youth registered for the 2020-21 year. We are excited to offer religious education and family ministry in a different way this year. Due to the pandemic that must not be named (for you Harry Potter fans), we have made an effort to simplify our programs but still have fun connecting points with the faith development you want from your UU congregation! These relationships and the spiritual support are still accessible to you.

Why would I want this?  I’m so busy and more screen time is not what my kids need.  Remember this cheer: “We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit, how about you?”  Do a body check. How are you feeling? How about your kids? Your UUCA congregation is here to support your family’s spirit right now. Read more reasons to stay connected to UUCA this year at the bottom of this blog.

What will RE look like this year?

Religious education for children and youth has been divided into 4 groups:

  • PreK-3rd grade
  • 4th-6th grade
  • 7th-9th grade
  • 10th-12th grade

Groups will typically meet 2 Sundays/month via Zoom: PreK-3rd & 10th-12th grades will meet on the first and third Sundays of the month and 4th-6th & 7th-9th grades will meet on the second and fourth Sundays of the month.

Note: Due to the nature of these unique programs, Coming of Age and OWL (Our Whole Lives) will not be offered until we are regularly meeting in person again.  Look for a parent OWL group later in the year!  We hope to offer both CoA and OWL later for those youth who normally would’ve taken them this year.  Contact Kim or Jen if you’d like some personal support or resources.

Will this be like the typical (curricula based) RE classes that we normally have?

There will be spiritual elements to our virtual gatherings to help foster UU faith development and personal growth.  There will also be an intentional focus on FUN, social and supportive connections, compassion, inspiration and justice – our UUCA core values.

BONUS

In addition to classic (mostly virtual) RE, we will have other opportunities as well, some online and possibly some occasional small, safer in person gatherings for youth or adults:

  • Family Fun Nights for fellowship and fun
  • “UU in a box” for at home fun and faith development
  • Socially distant youth group “masked meet-ups”
  • Parent/caregiver groups and adult UU and social justice offerings
  • Time for All Ages during worship, family led Vespers, and multigenerational services

What if my kids don’t plan to participate Sunday mornings very often?

Even though this year will look different, we encourage your family to stay involved for some needed spiritual grounding and social connection.  We would love to see you whenever you can make it.

Do I need to register?

YES!  This is how we know you still want to stay connected to UUCA this year and beyond.  We use our registration list to communicate about both current and future offerings, including OWL and Coming of Age (once we can offer those programs again), youth group, parent groups, and home deliveries (a special feature we have planned this year).

Please register here, and we’ll see you in September (or before)!

  • September 13 – RE launch date for 4th-9th grade groups
  • September 20 – RE launch date for PreK-3rd and YRUU: 10th-12th grades

Why does this matter again? 

  • Relationships! We’re bonding peers and multigenerational connections in a supportive UU community.
  • Our core values: Connection, Inspiration, Compassion, Justice are still our core values. Our mission:…
  • We still have UU values to learn, to embrace, to live.
  • We need to harness this moment to gather, to learn, to strive to be bolder, to act, individually and collectively, for justice in our city, county and our world. Social justice will be an integral part of our programming this year.
  • People still need our love – within our own UUCA community and reaching far beyond our walls. Kids and youth need to both receive and give love and support.
  • Nurturing the spirits of our kids, teens, and their parents.
  • Playful and calming spiritual engagement with ritual elements.
  • A sacred place your kids can call home now and throughout their whole lives.

A recent blog from UUA’s Southern Region (that includes us) August newsletter, by Natalie Briscoe, spells out some of the stressors parents are experiencing.  She notes that church can be a positive “release valve” for families during this particularly difficult time.  Read her blog here.

Behind the Scenes

Everything seems disconnected these days, with all of us feeling a bit “left out,” so I thought I’d tell you a little about what has been going on with the UUCA staff this summer.  I’ve also added a few other things we want you to know about.

RE for Children & Youth
The RE staff has worked mightily to contact our families by phone and survey to determine what might be useful to our kids during this semester (and probably year) of no in-person gatherings.  The result is a plan for the fall that includes online “classes” for four age groups. The “youngers” will meet at 10 every Sunday.  The others will meet every other Sunday. We are also focusing on providing resources for Family Ministry on the website, offering “Church in a Box” in partnership with the RE Council, and holding monthly Fun Days (Zoom) with options for safe, physically distanced gatherings (we hope).

Money!
Oh no!  Not that word!  Everyone knows that UUs are way more comfortable talking about sex than money.  But YOU are an owner of UUCA so you ought to know what’s going on.  I am loath to say this out loud, but we are doing fine financially speaking.  Now just because I said that out loud does not mean you can stop donating to us.  What it means is that we had a substantial surplus from the 19-20 fiscal year which we have held in our Contingency Fund, AND we applied for and received about $90,000 from the federal Payroll Protection Program.   Right now, we are experiencing a loss in income of about 30% per month.  But our spending is wildly different than budgeted, too (for example, more money being used for worship service guests, less money for the Wednesday Thing, more money being used for our video editors and Zoom hosts and less for childcare, etc.).  So, here’s the message I want to send.  If you are able to keep making donations, please do.  If you are unable to do that, it’s OK, don’t worry. We’re in this together.

Zoom Can Be Your Friend two people at church pulpit with computer set up to record
Do you remember that Sunday in March when we sent you the link to our first recorded service?  Here’s a photo of what we rigged up. A computer on a footstool on the pulpit.  A music stand on a table for the script. And the most amazing part of it was we recorded on Saturday and somehow put together a service for Sunday morning with a person who had never used video-editing software before.  Sheesh!  (Fun (unbelievable) fact:  our last in-person service was Celebration Sunday!)

But now we have a rhythm–and better equipment.  And it includes a video deadline of Thursday at noon.  (How relaxing.)  And we’ve also been producing live Zoom services, which we plan to continue once a month.  These live services are very different, but we like them because our congregants get to see each other.  Which reminds me….. 

I am very aware that it is great fun to watch a worship service on Sunday morning in your pajamas.  Or while you are eating breakfast.  Or while you are puttering around.  But one of the great pleasures of these live Zoom services is that you get to see your fellow congregants.  This is a comment we get at every live event: “It is SO nice to see everyone again.”  So, if it is at all feasible, please let us see you.  We think pajamas can be cute.  And there’s no shame in eating—we all do it.

Anti-racism and Get Out the Vote Work
It’s been a summer, right?  But if you’ve been paying attention at all, you know our congregation is actively doing anti-racism work (book groups, small groups, Justice Ministry Council) which is only just getting started.  And we’ve been doing what we can, individually and part of UUCA, to get out the vote and get our favored candidates elected (whoever they may be.)

Adult Spiritual Development and the Wednesday Thing
Unlike previous years, we kept our Wednesday Thing vespers services going all summer.  Well, almost all summer.  We did take 2 weeks off for the survival of our ministers.  But I digress….

Starting in September, most Wednesdays will feature a vespers service AND a program that will last no more than an hour.  For the fall, we’ll feature anti-racism work and opportunities to explore our spiritual selves.  And the groups that we had going before the “pandemic break” are still meeting, talking, connecting.

Staying Connected
As a staff, we believe our biggest challenge is to make sure that you know that you are still a valued part of UUCA, that we haven’t forgotten you, and that your friends haven’t forgotten you either.  It’s a big reason we offer live Zoom programs.  We’ve also conducted 2 rounds of calling all of our members, and we’ll be starting a third round soon.  We’ve sent you all postcards. We’re also interested in coming to see you!  Stay tuned for that announcement.

Anything Else?
Probably.  But this is long enough and you get the idea.  Your staff is working hard to help you keep UUCA an important part of your life—even now.  Or especially now.  If you have any needs that we can help with, please contact me, or Rev. Ward, or Rev. Claudia, or your favorite UUCA staff person, and let us know.  We’re here for you!

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

These Dogs Days Are Different

So here we are in August, in the dog days. Usually I would be deeply involved in gathering of family and friends celebrating almost any occasion we could have thought of, camping, fishing, walking Natty the dog all over the place, dinners and lunches in the gastronomic wonderland of Asheville, and especially walking in the National Forests. But this is a year unlike any other we have faced in most of our lifetimes.

Most of us have been shut in since April or before, isolating, waiting for the return of something approaching the old normal, waiting for that magic elixir from the labs of hard-working scientists, hoping to hold onto hope. For those of us with extra health concerns, or like myself with my newly-minted knee, we are restricted even further, as any trip into the unknown could lead to the virus and worse health issues.

But in our time of isolation the world has not stood still.  It has ferociously moved along.  Great events have happened while we have been observing through our windows and from our porches. A lucky few of us are able to selectively engage in these events in person, and the rest of us try as best we can to Zoom our way into participation–even for worship.

But the world IS changed and hopefully we are about to walk through the doorway to a new existence. I for one will never be able to forget the image of George Floyd under the knee of the officer as his life ebbs away, and even more seared into my mind are the other images by the bystander videoing the event of the EMS workers arriving and treating George Floyd’s body like a limp side of beef as his body is lifted onto the plastic sheet and gurney. A quote from the past raced into my mind, “Oh, the Humanity of it all” or in this case “Oh, the total lack of humanity of it.”

Now, the evidence of the long history of racism, abuse, and death at the hands of police has once more smacked us in our faces along with the realization that we are headed toward a white supremacy future if we don’t stop it now.  We cannot allow it to fade back into the woodwork again.

In response, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are in the streets demanding that the country, and even the world, live up to its promises and change to fulfill the aspirations of our America, all are created equal. In general, White people have been there walking alongside, listening and following the voices of the new movements, and not inserting our voices in leadership. Let’s keep it that way.

Then in the midst of this crisis we lose one of the true giants of the decades-long fight for voting and equal rights, and see that historic group of leaders shrink once again.  John Lewis will never be replaced, but there will rise in a younger cohort new leadership to walk to the front of the line.  We should celebrate that the movement will never die, that we will continue to stand and walk “forward together, not one step back.”

As Unitarian Universalists we are a people who covenant that all people have value and worth and we are once again given the opportunity to live our values. Find a way, in isolation or not, to show your values and support The Black Live Matter movement.

Michael Beech, Board of Trustees

A Different Story

The story once told of Asheville was that heritage of slavery, so important across most of North Carolina, was never really much of an issue here. Compared with the plantations of the Piedmont, it was said, there was very little in the way of slavery in the mountains. But the deeper we dig into history, the more we learn of how little of the real story is told.

 Attention lately has been focused on Vance Monument, the 65-foot obelisk downtown built a century ago to celebrate to the memory of Zebulon Vance, one-time Confederate officer, governor and then US senator of North Carolina. Vance not only owned slaves but was a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Questioning such a prominent monument celebrating a slave owner, city officials had the monument shrouded as a committee is being chosen to decide what will be done with it.

But Vance, of course, was not alone. Just about every famous name memorialized in Asheville’s streets, villages and neighborhoods was also a slave owner, from James Patton to Augustus Merrimon, Nicholas Woodfin, Samuel Chunn, Michael Weaver, and Leonard Henderson. So was the city’s and county’s namesakes: Samuel Ashe and Edward Buncombe.

(For a fuller treatment of Asheville’s slave history and its legacy check out this recent video: produced by Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church:

All of this is simply evidence of how deeply the legacy of racial oppression is interwoven into our lives in ways that are not immediately apparent to most of us. The fog of history clouds uncomfortable truths, and most of us go on with our lives without giving the past a second thought. But the consequences of that oppression remain in the white supremacy culture we live with today. And without deliberate action to dismantle it, it will remain, continuing the violence it has done to generations of Black people.

It’s been said that the killing of George Floyd and the renewal of the Black Lives Matter movement have offered Americans a “Moment” when real transformation – accountability of the damage done and debt owed to African-Americans – is possible, and room can be made for racial healing.

Our hope as a congregation is that we can be agents of that healing. In the coming year, we plan to offer many ways to help you get engaged in this work, from conversations that ground us, to advocacy for the work before us locally, to connections with others joined in the struggle. Look for opportunities to get involved, to learn and grow and to make your voice heard.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

 

 

 

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps

Right now, this very second, UUCA has three recent graduates of Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Training.  Wink Zachritz, Ed Prestemon, and I will be receiving our Green Ring pins in the mail soon to indicate our accomplishments.  We join Sally Beth Shore who completed her training in 2015!

In this time of “everything virtual” we have the bad news of being sick and tired of staring at computer screens (funny how I don’t mind watching TV after I get done with zooming—why is that?) countered by the good news of the many, many opportunities that are being offered for free as online experiences.

This particular training was global and free, with the cost paid in screen time.  It ran over 9 days and included 14 hours of zoom and video watching along with several written assignments.  About 10,000 people from all over the world participated, nearly doubling the number of active Climate Leaders.  We are all committed to taking action on climate change in a variety of ways.  We have access to the infamous Al Gore slide deck, so any trained Climate Reality Leader can give presentations. To anyone. That means that if you’re looking for a climate speaker, you can contact Wink, Ed, Sally Beth, or me! Other Acts of Leadership include contacting elected officials; leading climate events; writing blogs, social media posts, or op-ed pieces; or partnering with other local groups for climate actions.

One fun outcome is that I now have a Climate Accountability Partner in New Delhi, India named Gitanjali Sreedhar.  We’ll check in with each other periodically to make sure we’re on track to perform the 10 Acts of Climate Leadership we committed to do in the next year.  Turns out that my writing this blog gets me one act closer to my goal.  (As in any group, there are super-performers.  I don’t think I’ll end up in the big leagues where Climate Leaders are accomplishing many 100s of Acts of Leadership a year.)

But I digress in a major way.  I wanted you to know about the Climate Reality Leadership Training (another virtual training is being planned for August 28-September 3) but I HAVE to tell you about Climate Change!!!!

The whole point of the Climate Reality Project is to continue to get the word out that the need for DOING SOMETHING is urgent.  The tide seems to have turned in people “believing” that climate change is happening.  Mother Nature has a very convincing repertoire of actions.  However, it is not at all a commonly held belief that a 2-degree rise is a big deal and that changes have to happen now.

Here’s a graph that shows the urgent nature of the situation.

 

 

Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Annual Assessment Report, 2014

The thermometer on the left shows the rise in Celsius degrees using a slightly different baseline than the thermometer on the right.  Each bar shows how risks increase as the global mean temperature rises.  It’s probably important to point out that in 2019 the mean global average temperature was 1.15C degrees on the right-hand thermometer.  Note that the highest risks are to unique and threatened ecosystems.  One of these ecosystems is the southern Appalachian Mountains.  Just sayin’.

The basic questions, to which the Climate Reality Project answers yes, are:

Must we change? (the science is clear, although the weather effects are getting pretty clear, too)
Can we change? (there turns out to be a LOT of good news on this front—just not quite enough yet)
Will we change? (This part is our job. And when I say “our,” I mean all of us!)

Linda Topp
Director of Administration

Finding Hope: What Is Your Call?

Minister ClaudiaOur seemingly endless physical distancing, the dilemma of how to provide safe schooling, federal interference with peaceful protests, political intransigence on all fronts – there are moments when hope eludes me. But I’m reminded daily that we live in a world of ambiguity where hate, violence and inequity coexist with love, generosity and compassion. Many have suffered, many still suffer AND many are working to alleviate suffering. In recent months, we have witnessed nationwide protests speaking out against racism and police brutality even as we mourn the losses of so many lives to COVID19 and racism. There seems to be an awakening to the reality of the brokenness of our nation, a society that has ignored how white supremacy and racism leave so many black and brown people vulnerable and under-resourced during this pandemic. That awakening calls to mind the words of UU minister Victoria Safford who in the essay, “The Small Work in the Great Work” wrote:

          “Once you have glimpsed the world as it might be, as it ought to be, as it’s going to be, (however that vision appears to you),            it is impossible to live compliant and complacent anymore in the world as it is….and so you come out and march, the way a              flower comes out and blooms, because it has no other calling. It has no other work.”

It is impossible to live compliant and complacent!  What are each of us called to do in this moment when police brutality and injustice can no longer be ignored?

With elections almost three months away, what are we each able to do to make sure all votes are counted and that our UU values are represented in the public square?

Our denomination and congregations have a history of advocacy. Hope is grounded in memory and it is important to know what we have done, successful or not. Changing hearts and attitudes takes time. We are in this for the long haul. And that gives me hope. I return to Safford’s essay, which offers a thoughtful reflection on what our mission is during these anxious times, 

“Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope —
not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower;
nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through);
nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right.”
But a very different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling….
And we stand there, beckoning and calling,
telling people what we are seeing,
asking people what they see.”

      What do you see?

     Who are you asking?

     What is your call?

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Living At the Speed of Change

So, welcome to our 2020-’21 church year!

If you thought last year was crazy and disruptive, get ready for the one ahead, what with an escalating COVID pandemic, an epochal election season, extraordinary economic turmoil, and social upheaval as Americans begin to come to terms with the consequences of our longstanding national sin of racism.

And all that has consequences for us as a people of faith. Kept from meeting at our beautiful campus, we are turning to technology to continue the transformative work of connecting hearts, challenging minds, nurturing spirits as we seek to serve and transform our community and the world. We’re still in the middle of figuring out what that looks like, even as we do it: as they say, building the plane as we fly it.

It is in many ways frightening, stressful, and disorienting to be caught in the middle of this. But in truth, it is also an amazing time to be alive, to be present to all of this. We remember that it is at times of turmoil that transformational change, long-overdue change is possible, and we hope to be part of that change. To do that, though, each of us needs to find a way to name and affirm what gives us hope and brings us wholeness and to be in its service.

A couple of weeks ago in worship, I invited you to consider these words of the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was duty. I worked – and behold, duty was joy.” What is the duty that brings you joy? And how can you enlist yourself in its service?

I can see different ways that these words apply to my life, but lately I’ve found a way that it applies to how I engage in the challenging work of coming to terms with race. Like many of you, my heart aches at all the ways that I see racism tearing at the lives of Black people, those I know and those I don’t. The outpouring of support in recent months for the Black Lives Matter movement encourages me. And yet, given what I know of America’s intransigence at ever confronting the legacy of racism, the path to meaningful change feels awfully steep. Other than simply stewing over this, what do I do?

I recognize the fraught place in which I stand: an older, cis-gendered white male heaped with privilege. I could comfortably turn aside from this challenge: many do. But it is plain to me that I could never be at peace with that choice. My heart won’t let me. So, again, what do I do?

We know that many white people, awakened to this injustice are quick to waltz in and offer a solution. It’s what we do, infused as we are with a culture of white supremacy. We’re the ones in charge, right? We can fix this. Actually, no. We are, in fact, clueless: too preoccupied with ourselves to be of much use to anyone. Until we’re ready to listen.

And it’s here that Tagore’s words come back to me: It comes to understanding our duty. To be of service, to be of use to the movement of Black Lives Matter, we need to be present to receive, then to accept what we receive and let it work on us, let it change us. This is a duty that no one imposed on me; it is a duty that my heart declares, that is core to my identity. And a way I can frame it is with our first principle: I affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

If I hold to that principle, I need to learn to get over myself and attend to the other, listen to those under the knee of oppression, and commit myself to helping to undo that oppression. As Mohandas Gandhi put it, we must be, we must embody the change we want to see in the world.

In recent weeks, I’ve been working at listening, receiving so that when I act it will be from a place of greater understanding. And it does give me hope, and not only hope but joy, joy in the conviction that I am living aligned with my values, living fully, authentically. I have no expectation that change will come tomorrow, but I do trust that I am walking the path to real change, and in the company of those committed to this change. Each step takes me a little further. I look forward to walking with you.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

A View On Change

Cecil BoardThe definition of change is: Make or become different; The act or instance of making or becoming different.

Has change affected you and how you are doing things today compared to a month, six months, or even a year ago? Throughout our lives we have been faced with changes almost constantly; celebrating various events–birthdays, births, deaths, meeting new people, or losing old friends. These are some of the changes brought into our lives. The challenge of learning new things also changes us–learning and succeeding to ride a bike or to skate or starting a new hobby or skill. As we let our memory float to the past, we can remember so many changes we have faced in our lives. Some of these changes brought us joy, some great sorrow, and others led to different lifestyles. We try to accept these changes as they occurred.

Our church has seen many changes as it has grown from its inception in the 1950s. It moved from a small group of similarly focused people meeting in small groups in a house in West Asheville that was converted into a meeting house for the UU fellowship. Later they moved from there to its current location at 1 Edwin Street. Over a period of time, the church was able to purchase the two houses at 21 and 23 Edwin as well as change the church building to its present configuration. (If you are wanting more history, look on UUCA’s website where you can find additional information.)

Last year we learned that Rev. Mark planned to retire at the end of June 2020 so we needed to start the process of finding a replacement. After 16 years of serving as minister to this congregation, we would be undergoing a big change. Unknown to all was that another change was coming down the pike. COVID-19 occurred and has affected us in so many ways. When Rev. Mark realized the severity of this, he made the decision to postpone his retirement until June 2021. This was a big change for him and his family and was a welcome change for the congregation.

In March the decision was made to stop having face-to-face services and meetings. The staff and Board made the decision to go virtual. Wow! Talk about change! One change was how to conduct Sunday services, meetings, and other church business. The decision was made to use a restricted YouTube link to broadcast the Sunday services to lessen the church’s exposure to copyright violations. Many meetings, including the church service and coffee hour, have shifted to using Zoom. One potential problem was how to conduct the annual meeting. The decision was made to allow mail-in ballots or email votes. The congregation voted on new board members, last year’s minutes, a bylaw change, LDC members, and the proposed budget. The congregation accepted this change and it went very well.

Social media has become our way of life whether it is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Zoom, or one of the many others. I am sure that many of our seniors, myself included, have had a learning curve to try to learn and understand how to work the systems. Most of us have conquered the basics so we can keep up with most UUCA events. (Some of us are lucky to find a teenager or another person we can ask for help.)

Yes, not only have we had to change our UUCA ways, but our personal lives have drastically changed also. We cannot go to theaters, concerts, gatherings, parties, and the list goes on. So, we have been and still are faced with more changes. Most of us have adapted to the new standards. With extra time at home, we have rekindled old hobbies we had put aside some time ago. Perhaps we are painting, reading, gardening, doing jobs around the house, or contacting people we haven’t been in touch with via phone, email, or social media. We might even start something new.

Let us not forget the many changes made by the health care workers, store employees, truck drivers, farmers etc. They, too, have made changes in their lives. We need to tell them just how much they are appreciated.

Most of us are aware of the many changes I have mentioned. I have only touched the surface for the many changes people are experiencing during this time. We all have undergone some drastic changes. I am sure we will have more changes to face in the future. Sometimes we cannot do anything about these changes but must just accept them. Other times we can work to make the changes easier.

A Greek philosopher ( Heraclitus) was given credit for saying “THE ONLY CONSTANT IN LIFE IS CHANGE.” Everything is changing constantly whether it’s the weather or the flowing water of a river. Change is all around us. During this change, the church staff has had to modify how to do the daily work of the church. They have done a wonderful job and deserve our thanks and appreciation.

Cecil Bennett, Board of Trustees

Living At the Speed of Change

So, welcome to our 2020-’21 church year!

If you thought last year was crazy and disruptive, get ready for the one ahead, what with an escalating COVID pandemic, an epochal election season, extraordinary economic turmoil, and social upheaval as Americans begin to come to terms with the consequences of our longstanding national sin of racism.

And all that has consequences for us as a people of faith. Kept from meeting at our beautiful campus, we are turning to technology to continue the transformative work of connecting hearts, challenging minds, nurturing spirits as we seek to serve and transform our community and the world. We’re still in the middle of figuring out what that looks like, even as we do it: as they say, building the plane as we fly it.

It is in many ways frightening, stressful, and disorienting to be caught in the middle of this. But in truth, it is also an amazing time to be alive, to be present to all of this. We remember that it is at times of turmoil that transformational change, long-overdue change is possible, and we hope to be part of that change. To do that, though, each of us needs to find a way to name and affirm what gives us hope and brings us wholeness and to be in its service.

A couple of weeks ago in worship, I invited you to consider these words of the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was duty. I worked – and behold, duty was joy.” What is the duty that brings you joy? And how can you enlist yourself in its service?

I can see different ways that these words apply to my life, but lately I’ve found a way that it applies to how I engage in the challenging work of coming to terms with race. Like many of you, my heart aches at all the ways that I see racism tearing at the lives of Black people, those I know and those I don’t. The outpouring of support in recent months for the Black Lives Matter movement encourages me. And yet, given what I know of America’s intransigence at ever confronting the legacy of racism, the path to meaningful change feels awfully steep. Other than simply stewing over this, what do I do?

I recognize the fraught place in which I stand: an older, cis-gendered white male heaped with privilege. I could comfortably turn aside from this challenge: many do. But it is plain to me that I could never be at peace with that choice. My heart won’t let me. So, again, what do I do?

We know that many white people, awakened to this injustice are quick to waltz in and offer a solution. It’s what we do, infused as we are with a culture of white supremacy. We’re the ones in charge, right? We can fix this. Actually, no. We are, in fact, clueless: too preoccupied with ourselves to be of much use to anyone. Until we’re ready to listen.

And it’s here that Tagore’s words come back to me: It comes to understanding our duty. To be of service, to be of use to the movement of Black Lives Matter, we need to be present to receive, then to accept what we receive and let it work on us, let it change us. This is a duty that no one imposed on me; it is a duty that my heart declares, that is core to my identity. And a way I can frame it is with our first principle: I affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

If I hold to that principle, I need to learn to get over myself and attend to the other, listen to those under the knee of oppression, and commit myself to helping to undo that oppression. As Mohandas Gandhi put it, we must be, we must embody the change we want to see in the world.

In recent weeks, I’ve been working at listening, receiving so that when I act it will be from a place of greater understanding. And it does give me hope, and not only hope but joy, joy in the conviction that I am living aligned with my values, living fully, authentically. I have no expectation that change will come tomorrow, but I do trust that I am walking the path to real change, and in the company of those committed to this change. Each step takes me a little further. I look forward to walking with you.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Rooted, Inspired, and Ready

Sunday, June 28, 2020 – a LIVE service at 10am
–A program of the UUA General Assembly

We join thousands of UUs across the country in online worship prepared by leaders of the Unitarian Universalist Association and presented live at 10am. Click here to watch.

Greetings From General Assembly

Minister ClaudiaI had been looking forward to being in Providence, Rhode Island, this week to reconnect with UU friends and colleagues at the UU General Assembly (GA) and explore Providence. Instead, I have a full week of online sessions queued up for viewing from my home office. This is not at all what I expected, and like so many of us, after three months of hand-washing, mask-wearing, and physical distancing, online platforms are what keep me connected. As do e-mails and phone calls. The irony is that I was trying to reduce my screen time with the help of the app on my phone that tracks use in categories such as social networking, productivity, entertainment, and creativity. My screen time has gone up tremendously these last three months–just a reality that I have to accept. Not only am I online more for work, but I spend time connecting with family and friends via Zoom or FaceTime because I want to (need to!) see their faces. My GA experience will be defined by how much time I am able to sit or stand in front of a computer.

GA is about to begin as I write. I have participated in the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) pre-GA workshop, “Threading the Needle: Practices for Centering Love and Liberation in Faith Formation.” As I listened and discussed this topic with colleagues in breakout sessions, I identified a few key takeaways:

1. The work of liberation is done in relationship. It isn’t just an intellectual exercise, although studying history, especially the history that has been ignored, is necessary but insufficient to affect meaningful progress. Relationships allow us to engage in the deeper conversations that establish pathways for working together for change. In America, that requires disrupting the culture of rugged individualism. What if we prioritized relationship over ego? What if, when covenants are broken, we were able to choose ways to re-covenant instead of allowing the relationship to disintegrate? What if we were willing to work collaboratively to disrupt repressive hierarchical structures that promote power-over rather than power-within our relationships? This work begins in the predominantly white spaces many of us inhabit and prepares us to establish relationships beyond our comfort zones.

2. The work of liberation requires accountability. It is not merely performative. How can it be transformational? We have experienced much sorrow, anger, and frustration in the face of police brutality in America and continuing anti-black racism. Many have protested and marched for justice. That is only the beginning. How will we show our marginalized siblings that we are in this together? How will we each be transformed by working for liberation for all? Are we willing to do the work for structural change that moves us closer to an equitable society? How do we hold ourselves accountable to the work of disrupting oppressive systems in our midst? What if accountability wasn’t scary?

3. Practicing liberation requires moral imagination. We cannot achieve what we cannot imagine. As we imagine an equitable world, the Beloved Community we often talk about, the question for each of us becomes what will we do with our time, talent, and treasure to make it happen? What is our commitment to justice-centered love?

Those are my takeaways and questions after 5-1/2 hours of Zoom sessions. I will be reflecting on them as I work with staff and volunteers to plan Faith Development and Justice Ministry for the 2020-21 congregational year. I wonder what these thoughts bring to mind for you? Let me know!

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

 

UUCA Needs YOU!

Thanks for all the kudos you’ve been sending to us as we on staff have completely and totally changed almost everything we do for UUCA and where we do it!  Your appreciation means a lot.

Now that we can see that this state of affairs will continue for quite some time, we need YOUR help!  We know that many of our groups are still functioning, be they spiritual deepening groups, covenant groups, social groups, or committees (Board, Leadership Development, Auction, Finance Advisory Committee, RE Council, Justice Ministry Council and more!).  But there is a need for more, and the UUCA staff is unable to attend to it.

Just a little aside here, quoting someone recently (and if it was you, tell me!), “Staff supplies support and the congregation owns the programs.”  It’s true!

Our highest priority need is to identify more covenant group leaders.  What is a church if it is not a locus of relationships?  And where is that locus when there is no there there?  It’s in small group ministries!  We want everyone to be in a small group this coming year, but there’s no way to offer that without more leaders.  If you can spend about 2 hours a week reviewing materials and   Contact Rev. Claudia to learn more.

Our second-most (desperate) need is for more participants for our worship services.  Both Wednesday Vespers and our Sunday service would benefit from more, different voices.  You will get lots of help and advice from the ministers and you will show your fellow congregants that you are still alive(!).  (OK, maybe not the best selling point.)  Contact Rev. Mark for Sundays, and Rev. Claudia for Wednesdays.

And finally, our third most important need (only because it’s not immediate) is for RE program facilitators.  We’ll be doing RE differently this year, with fewer classes adapted to online interactions, but we’re not doing any of it without volunteers.  Really.  So, if you can volunteer on a teaching team with three other congregants to learn with a small group of youngsters, contact Kim Collins or Jen Johnson.  (And you can’t use, “But I don’t want to miss the service,” as an excuse, can you?)

Thanks for your help.

Dr. Linda Topp
Director of Administration

UNFRIEND ME NOW!!! (Just kidding. I meant to say, “Can we still be friends?”)

photo of Ryan WilliamsIf you are like me and you have spent any time on Facebook in the last few weeks (years!), you have probably seen quite a range of thoughts and feelings being shared by various people in your life regarding issues of race, police brutality, protests, white privilege, and of course, the President. Often, much of what I see and read is information that I connect with, can learn from, and be inspired by. However, there are also obviously times when I read or see something that someone has posted and my jaw drops in disgust or anger.  After all, as a liberal white guy from conservative Eastern NC, my Facebook social circle also includes quite a number of individuals, both family and friends, whose paradigm seems to be from another planet from mine all together. A bad planet. Planet Cringe. Planet Denial. Planet Disregard. Planet Disrespect. A planet that I don’t want to visit. 

So the thing that I hate is that I feel like whether I want to or not, I have to sometimes travel there anyway….

Will and I were talking recently about commonplace Facebook posts that include words like  “Unfriend me if you think ______” or “I will unfriend you if you believe _____”. The positions that often fill in the blanks of these ultimatums aren’t normally cut and dry like “if you think it’s okay to steal from the mouths of babes!” or “if you believe it’s okay to throw kittens in the river” but instead often seemed to be a bit more nuanced with current examples like, “I will unfriend you if you call a protest a riot!” or “Unfriend me if you think property is more important than people!”

I can’t help but cringe every time I see them. Though I understand the feeling and the frustration that often comes with these righteous declarations, I also struggle, particularly as a white person in the current moment, with what it says about how we choose to engage and to what purpose. What is the balance between sharing our own positions and standing by our values while also taking the time to hear someone else’s? 

When I think about my own social circles, I notice that I don’t often see these same declarations being made by my black friends. After all, be it Facebook, social settings, work environments, or schools, it is highly unlikely that black or brown individuals have the privilege of simply cutting out the comments and the commenters that don’t align with their own experience. It’s just part of being black in a white-centric society, of hearing white people say things with sharp edges, of navigating whiteness.

So when progressive whites stand firm to their either-or declarations, it can unfortunately read a little too much to me as a form of white isolationist privilege. In other words, in the last few weeks, I have seen a number of ALL CAPS posts where white people, upon hearing other white people say things they found disagreeable, declare that they would no longer engage and were simply going to “block” the offender. Although I am sure those pronouncements are on some occasions necessary, can help calm white nerves, and boost one’s sense of nobility, I wonder what purpose they serve beyond that. 

With these thoughts already in my head, I was intrigued by words I found posted this morning on Facebook (go figure…)

Michael Soldati writes:

“I see a lot of fellow white folks, particularly left-leaning liberals and progressives, struggle to connect and communicate effectively with their conservative/Republican friends and families on Facebook. I want to encourage people NOT to block them, unfriend them, or to cease communicating with these people. Now is the time to speak up, to communicate with them. Like it or not, the unchecked opinions and beliefs of these people are what hurt our communities and put black lives at risk. You are not to blame for their views, but you are responsible. White folks need to police white folks, that’s our problem that only we can fix.”

He goes on to offer a number of suggestions including:

  1. Ask yourself if it’s more important that you deliver the message or that they receive it. Expressing your feelings is important, but sometimes what’s more important is that they hear what it is that you are saying and that they are able to receive that information and understand it. Knowing one from the other can go a long way to help you understand how you need to interact. Word choice, tone, and understanding where their mind/heart is at are absolutely vital so that you can shape the conversation without losing them.
  2. Hold their hand while you hold their feet to the fire. Confrontation and being called out can feel very uncomfortable, it can feel very personal, and it can be easy to act defensively or shut down. Unfortunately this can lead to outcomes that are counter to what we’re trying to achieve. Therefore it’s incumbent upon us as white folks who have gone through this process ourselves to coach them through it like we might have wanted someone else to coach us through it. This can be a difficult balance, we are creating a safe space for people, not their views. The tone is firm and direct but compassionate, you’re not letting them off the hook, they still have to be held accountable but we can also recognize their humanity at the same time. If things boil over and they disengage, this is a good sign, they are feeling the fire. Stay on them or make plans to re-engage at a later time when you’ve both had time to think and cool down.
  3. Identify. It’s important to identify people’s struggles and their values and to differentiate them from their ideology, mass media, or other belief structures. In a way you need to isolate them from the powers that might be influencing them negatively. “Ok that’s what Fox News said but what do you think?” etc. Also identifying logical fallacies, holes in their argument, or flat out lies, regardless of where they are coming from. However it is important when identifying these things, to not raise alarms, or to come off as superior or like you’re always right. Overall we want to sneak behind their wall, point it out to them and recommend tearing it down.

His words spoke to me as someone who is simultaneously hot-headed and non-confrontational. As someone who knows too many people in my life who see things in ways that are hard for me to understand.  As someone who believes deeply that if things are to get better, we are going to have to be willing to (re)visit uncomfortable planets and positions rather than bypass them. Let’s be willing to make this journey…together.

 

Ryan Williams
President, Board of Trustees

A Dream Deferred-Still!

“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a rain in the sun?
Or fester like a sore – and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over – like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?”

It has been almost 70 years since Langston Hughes wrote that iconic poem, which he entitled “Harlem.” And still we in America – or more specifically we whites in America – have yet to learn its lesson. The poem has a specific reference from Hughes lifetime – the Harlem conflicts of the 1930s – but it has echoed many times in the years since, through the Civil Rights disruptions of the 1960s to any of the more recent “explosions” that we have known in response to unjust police actions against black men and women.

Year after year the roll call grows. Some of the more famous cases more recently involve people like Rodney King, Malice Wayne Green, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Philando CastileAhmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and now George Floyd. And even that roll call omits the thousands of others who die year after year in racist killings or are injured in racist incidents. Add to that the legacy of centuries of racism that has caused black hopes and aspirations to dry up like the raisins in Langston Hughes poem: side-tracked into inadequate housing, first to be laid off or evicted in a shattered economy, deprived of a decent education, suffering and dying early in a failed healthcare system. Is it any wonder that black Americans are most likely to be killed by the COVID pandemic, losing out on unemployment benefits and now murdered in the streets by public safety officers?

Explode? Yes, explode! Isn’t it time that we paid heed to the tragedy African-Americans have endured and which we whites are complicit in creating by prospering to their detriment? So, while we hate to see the damage done downtown and are discomfited by the angry protests, we should not pretend that we don’t understand why it has come. It has been building like a magma chamber of a volcano, and an explosion was to be expected. Our greatest hope now is that the white majority in this country and the power structure that serves them will finally listen and take concrete action to address generations of inequality and oppression.

And please note the sequence of what I argue is required of us: listen first, then take action. We whites, even when we’re sympathetic to the oppression that our African-American neighbors experience, have the unfortunate habit of rushing off with some half-cocked idea of a solution without ever asking them.

We remember that when Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative spoke at UNC-A last year he told us that the first step in being of service to others is, in his words, “to get proximate.” For our justice work to be effective, we need to know and understand the people we are working with. And that doesn’t happen right away. It takes time to build relationships and come to know communities.

So while we need to be advocates for political change and systemic restructuring, we also need to be about the hard work of listening, of putting ourselves in places where we can hear the stories of people’s lives and learn to lament and grieve with them the losses so many have suffered. And sooner or later we will need to acknowledge our own complicity in the system of white supremacy, the ways in which the racism marbled throughout our culture offers us gains which come on the backs of others.

Then, once we understand at least a little better we will be in a position to act, to use our wealth, our connections, our privilege to bring about real change, to access the levers of power to bring about true equity and justice.

The protests underway around the country, and here in Asheville, can feel impressive, consequential, but they are no more than flashes in the pan if they do nothing to change the way that systems work, whether they be policing, schools, employment and more. Let us be among the allies and partners who help make that happen.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

 

Are We All Zoomed Out Yet?

Minister Claudia

Last night thirty UUCA members gathered via Zoom for an Animal Blessing Vespers. We met pets, remembered past pets, introduced stuffed pet avatars and even took time to consider animals endangered by human greed and carelessness. We listened to music, with Les, our music director, playing piano. Vespers leader MaryAnn Somervill shared poetry and inspiring words. We lit chalices and shared joys and sorrow via “chat.” I found it to be a meaningful way to connect when analog gatherings pose a risk of contagion.

Our UUCA family continues to thrive in virtual gatherings of covenant groups and other spiritual deepening groups. Whether lay-led or minister-led, we are all seeking ways to ground ourselves spiritually in these unprecedented times and to stay connected to each other. I hope we are providing substance that meets, however incompletely, some part of your need to feel connected to our community. Daily, I wonder, worry, debate, and puzzle about how this can best be done by taking advantage of the opportunities inherent in communication technology while recognizing its deficiencies. A major concern is how we can best reach those who are not comfortable with technology or do not have access or just plain don’t like video-conferencing. I certainly get tired of seeing myself on the screen! Phone calls and old-fashioned snail mail are an option.

I have heard people say that observing social distancing and wearing a mask express our care and respect for others. That care also includes deciding if and when to gather. It is complicated. Public institutions, businesses, churches, and other organizations are threatened by closures. Last Sunday, as I delivered roses to two of our bridging seniors wearing a mask and keeping adequate physical distance, I realized how much I miss seeing each of you in person. How much I miss our being together. More than anything, I miss giving and receiving your hugs. I wonder how long Zoom or other platforms are going to be our main vehicle for connection. I am trying to be mindful of how many video meetings I attend each day. There are many opportunities for connecting with family, friends, and other professionals. It can be overwhelming! How are you dealing with this sudden technology overload?

It is particularly challenging for families juggling work and parenting. Screen time for children has inevitably increased during this time. That is to be expected with school online and parents working from home (if they have that privilege). What to do? How can families realistically regulate online and offline experiences? While planning for our parent check-in group, I came across what pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky calls the “Three C’s Framework.” Parents can approach media use considering their child: who they are; content: what they are watching, and context: how you are interacting with them. My own children are young adults and I can’t imagine having to write this blog while also having to keep track of them while my partner is upstairs preparing breakfast, or he might be trying to get them to help out. What if I were on my own? Whatever permutation, it is complicated. Technology is part of our lives now, and this pandemic has deepened our dependency on it.

So, am I Zoomed out? Not quite yet. The computer has become an essential tool for many, including ministers. To compensate, I try to engage in more offline experiences. More walks, phone calls, letter-writing, and the occasional outdoor, properly distanced gathering with 2 or maybe 4 friends from deck chairs or driveways. What is helping you avoid Zoom-out?

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

EVERYONE Can Come to General Assembly This Year

You don’t have many excuses now.  The Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly will be online, making it accessible and affordable to all.  Dates are June 24-28.  UUCA has funds, so we will definitely pay the full registration ($150) for all 12 of our delegates, and we’ll keep paying registrations (or partial registrations if you don’t need the full $150) for non-delegates until the money runs out.  First come, first serve.  Contact Ryan Williams, Board President, to be a delegate.  Contact Linda Topp to get in line for registrations without delegate status.

Why do this?  Because it’s interesting!  It’s educational!  It’s exciting!  It’s a convenient way to take workshops from other UUs who are doing what you’re doing!  It’s encouraging/heartwarming/amazing to discover all those UUs from all over the world! There is special programming for youth and young adults! You can time-delay the workshops as they will be accessible to registrants later!  You can sing in the choir! (Sign up fast—the choir will fill up quickly.) Hear amazing, inspirational speakers! (Naomi Klein, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Dina Gilia-Whitaker, Jean Mendoza, Natalie Martinez, Howard Bryant, Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, Rosemary Bray McNatt, Elías Ortega, John Buehrens)

Don’t have the time?  How about sampling the free stuff?  Without registration, you can attend:

  • General Sessions – in which the business of the Association is conducted.
  • Synergy Bridging Worship – a celebration of treasured worship elements, rites of passage, and brilliant contemporary musical performances.​
  • Service of the Living Tradition – a worship service that honors fellowshipped and credentialed religious leaders; remembering those who have died, recognizing those who have completed active service, and welcoming those who have received fellowship or credentialed status in the past year.
  • Sunday Morning Worship – the largest annual gathering of UUs joining in worship

By the way, that Sunday Morning Worship service will be UUCA’s worship service on Sunday, June 28 at 10:00am.  It’s the perfect win-win—give our worship service team a break and join thousands for a UU worship service!

All the information there is can be found on the UUA’s website.  Go for it!

Linda Topp
Director of Administration

I’m a Planner

I am a planning addict. I have my desk calendar, the fridge calendar, the calendar app on my phone, the weekly calendar sheet that I carry in my bag. And then there is the “bible.” The giant, hardback, yearly planner that goes with me EVERYWHERE. “If it isn’t in the bible, then it isn’t happening.”

Mariah Board

This planner lists our entire lives. Birthdays, vacations, meetings, doctor’s appointments, bills that are due, chores that need doing, and meal plans. Everyone in the family has a different color assigned to them and everything is color-coded. I have spent hours of my life filling these planners with things to remember, places to go, activities to do. I can comb over my old planners and recollect everything we were doing. They are like windows into our past years.

But now….

These days, the white-out is getting used more than the fancy-colored pens. Now the blank pages of the calendar are glaringly white. Every day I get another email that requires me to get out the white-out and flip further and further through the book. All that organizing, budgeting and dreaming–crossed out. My plans deleted.

The erasing breaks my heart. The eighth-grade trip. Two proms. Mountain CON. Teaching in RE. Church auction events. A cruise. LEAF festival. The eighth-grade dance. OWL class. Graduations. A trip to New York City. Each time I scratch out these words, I realize how important these things were to us. Sometimes it seemed like we were too busy and had too much going on. But they were GOOD things. They were valuable to us, so we gave our time and money towards them. And now they are just gone….

But there is something valuable about these blank pages, too. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, we are connecting more as a family. Instead of running around all over town on the weekends, we watch documentaries and play board games. My teens are home with me and there are no arguments about curfews or friends coming over or me dragging them to do things they don’t feel like doing. Life has become simple.  My meditation practice exists again. My husband is working on a project in the yard. I’ve baked desserts and read whole books. The boys play basketball together every evening.

We have been given a chance to live in the present instead of planning out the future. I know I will be scribbling away in my planner again one day, filling up all these calendars with a million places to go. For now, I’ll hang out with my kids, do some jigsaw puzzles, and deep-clean my house. I will try to see the gift in the grief. There are spiritual lessons everywhere. It’s nice to have a chance to slow down enough to find them.

Mariah Wright, Board of Trustees

How Are We A Congregation When We Don’t Congregate?

It’s something like a koan that we have been living for almost two months. Ever since it became clear back in March that the novel coronavirus made it unsafe for us to gather as a community, we have distanced ourselves from our campus at Edwin Place on Asheville’s north side.

Worship, religious education, covenant groups, committees, spiritual groups, staff meetings – everything we do we are learning to do while peering at small screens, bathed in blue light, navigating unfamiliar software. For some of us this was a pretty quick transition. After all, we were already spending a lot of our lives online, and so shifting more of what we do onto our devices was not a big deal. Others of us have been wading into a not-so-brave new world that is disorienting and frustrating.

We’re far enough into this new world that it’s starting to lose its novelty. Sure, it was fun for a while catching up the Berlin Philharmonic for free or binge-watching Friends, but we miss good old face-to-face conversations, not to speak of hugs and handshakes. What if we are weeks, months . . . who know how long? . . . from being in each other’s company again?

In such stressful times, we need more than ever the support of a community that affirms us for who we are, that points us toward higher values, that demands justice for all – for the oppressed and marginalized, but also the vast number of people who have seen their lives tipped into chaos.

Whether we congregate or not, the work remains: the drive to find inspiration, to facilitate connection, to build community, to uphold the common good. So, all of us – staff, lay leaders, facilitators – are keeping at it: mostly at home, often on Zoom calls or by telephone. We are learning new skills but also sticking with the tried and true – check-in calls, meal trains, singing, laughing, talking over whatever medium we have available to us.

Worship, my chief responsibility, has changed radically. Everything we do is much more a “production” than it ever was. The writing is different, and we’re more conscious of how we integrate images into all that we do. We’re still reaching some 250 to 300 people a week, but video is a more intimate medium than presenting to a sanctuary full of people. What’s nice is that it’s enabled us to invite lots of different people into worship. For example, we’re involving families and children more than we have before.

As we look ahead to the summer, we want to do more of this. Claudia and I will be asking around, but don’t wait for our call. If you have something to offer or if you just are willing to be a video worship participant, please let us know. As disorienting as this time is, it also presents us with all kinds of opportunities to try new things. We have continued to follow something like what had been our regular order of worship. It is, after all, a tested container that we’re familiar with. But I envision us exploring some other options as this medium evolves. We still want music, meditation, stories and inspiring words, but what form they take may shift. Come help us figure out what this might look like.

And the same applies to our Wednesday Vespers, offered weekly at 6:30 p.m. It is the part of what had been our Wednesday Thing that still continues, and we would like to stick with it, if we can. We see Vespers as a moment to pause midweek for a kind of spiritual tune-up. Unlike the weekly worship service, it is presented live on Zoom, which gives us a chance to see each other. Presenters offer a story, reflection, meditation for 15 minutes. Then, we take another 15 minutes to share, either together or in Zoom break-out rooms if the gathering is more than 10 to 15 people. Please check in with Rev. Claudia if this sounds interesting, or even better: join her planning team. We could use some more help right now.

The biggest lift of all has been learning to interface with the daunting array of technology to produce all of this. It is bright and shiny, but also often a real puzzle to sort through. The technologies we’re using are new to many of us and often take enormous amounts of time to figure out. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. We’re learning.

One decision we made around Sunday worship early on to was record the elements of the service in advance, then combine them into a package that can be viewed on Sunday. That way we can present a relatively finished presentation. But, of course, what’s missing from all this is you. So, we’re beginning to talk about what it would look like to offer a live, rather than recorded Sunday service. The downside is it would take away the flexibility that you have to watch the service whenever you want, but it would also enable us to truly “congregate” and more easily welcome visitors into our services.

There has been lots of speculation on when people will feel comfortable gathering again. We staff are operating on the assumption that we will be worshipping online at least until early September, and, depending on how well we navigate the COVID pandemic in North Carolina, it could be much longer. One thing I feel confident in saying is that the way we “do church” is changing. But if we do this thoughtfully, compassionately and with an eye to our values and mission in the world, it can be for the good. And throughout all this it will be good to have you along for the ride.

Be well. Stay in touch. Hold onto hope.

Lead Minister Rev. Mark Ward

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Going to Happen Next at UUCA and How You Can Help Determine That

Photo of Linda Topp, author

Now that things have somewhat normalized to the current “normal,” we’ve been able to take a minute to think further than one week ahead. We now know that North Carolina has a three-phase plan to re-open and that the timer for Phase 1 won’t even start until illnesses, positive lab tests, and hospitalizations are all decreasing across the state. As always, we don’t really have any idea when this might happen, but let’s say Phase 1 starts on May 15.  At Phase 2, gatherings at “reduced capacity” will be allowed. Assume Phase 2 can start three weeks after Phase 1.  That would be June 5.

Now I don’t know about you (although I think I can guess), but just because you CAN go out doesn’t mean you will.  And you sure won’t go into a space where a good-sized group is gathering.  So, with that in mind, the Executive (Lead Minister) and senior staff members have chosen to keep UUCA closed until September 13, our first two-service Sunday (or, more accurately, the day we traditionally resumed two services).  This is not to say that we will definitely open then, but that September 13 is the first possible moment we will consider doing so.  Even then, procedures for gatherings will be VERY different.  But that’s a discussion for a different day.

In the meantime, here’s how you can help. When there is no way for staff members to “ask around” and “chat up” folks to get feedback, we suffer from a lack of information about our congregants. I normally don’t think surveys are all that helpful, but right now, in abnormal times, maybe a survey is just the thing. We do need to know how the UUCA staff (and volunteers) can best serve our religious community.

So please take 2 minutes to complete this eight-question survey (and one question just asks for your name so you can see it’s not going to be time-consuming).

And as a thank you, here’s a lovely quote from David Brubaker, a well-known church consultant:

Perhaps the greatest takeaway from our current virtual reality is that we were never meant primarily to attend a congregation, but to be a congregation. In this crisis time, we can explore more deeply what it means to be a congregation. After all, what is a “congregation” but a group of human beings who “congregate” periodically, to connect with and encourage one another—and then to scatter once again…to love and to serve. 

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Muchas gracias!

Minister Claudia

This week is “National Volunteer Appreciation Week.” As I think about how we are “doing church” during this time of social distancing, it is important to thank, agradecer, all the volunteers working behind the scenes to support the ministries of the church and our staff. They help keep us connected and support our spiritual deepening. I will not type a list of names because it is inevitable that at least one person will be inadvertently overlooked- perfection is an illusion. However, I do want to share with you a snapshot of what is happening in Faith Development while our brick and mortar congregational home is closed.

Children and youth continue to gather on-line Sunday mornings and afternoons. Volunteers are recording stories for the Spirit Play program for our youngest UUs. The Coming of Age program advisors continue to meet on-line with Coming of Age youth to plan one of the most inspiring services of the year, “Credo Sunday” to be offered May 17. Mark your calendar and be sure to view this beautiful gift from our youth. The Neighboring Faiths program advisors are also meeting with youth on-line. This Sunday they will have a guest from the Muslim community as they continue their study of world religions. Youth group advisors and youth are exploring ways to stay connected. The Religious Education Council continues to meet on-line to explore ways to support RE staff. These are just a few of the more than 75 volunteers who have supported Religious Education this past year either in person (pre-Corona) or on-line.
Thank you! Muchas gracias!

UUCA volunteerism is also crucial for the continuation of on-line Adult Faith Development Programs. Volunteers lead and coordinate our Small Group Ministry covenant groups. Many are meeting on-line and have started to meet twice a month instead of monthly. Peacemakers, Buddhist Fellowship and CUUPS-Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans are also meeting on-line and keeping our faith community connected. Classes such as “UU History 101” are also volunteer led and encourage us to keep learning and growing together. Church is happening in all of these gatherings. They are the new iteration of congregational life as we transition into a new way of doing church. We may be apart but the spirit of our community prevails. We are grateful, agradecidos, for all the volunteers that are keeping Faith Development alive and vibrant during this time.

Lastly, because Faith Development also happens in worship and in the work of congregational care, we are grateful, agradecidos, for our worship associates who are now recording their contributions to service and continue to share their insights with us. We are also grateful, agradecidos, for our pastoral visitors, meal train coordinators and meal providers who continue to care of our members in need. And a very special thank you, un reconocimiento muy especial, to all of those making phone calls to each of our congregants to say hello and check-in.  What an amazing bouquet of people we are! 

With gratitude, con gratitud,

Rev Claudia

Good News for UUCA!

In 2015-16, our congregation made a fabulous decision to upgrade the main floor of the main building to be much more accessible.  We hired a landscape architect and an architect, made plans, bid the project at a rather unhelpful moment (eight hotels were going up in Asheville at the time) and built what you see today with our general contractors, Patton Construction with the amazing guidance of UUCA member Bob Roepnack.  We also raised nearly $800,000 thanks to the leadership of member Larry Wheeler.  Unfortunately, timing is everything in the construction business, so the actual cost exceeded the money raised by tens of thousands of dollars.  That’s when we applied for our mortgage.  Up until then, this congregation had remained debt-free.Project Description of mortgage of $145,112.60The mortgage was a balloon mortgage, financed for a 20-year period but requiring either a final “balloon payment” on August 25, 2020 or refinancing on that date.  Since then, the UUA Legacy Challenge program, Awake Now Our Vision, came into being.  Our beyond-fabulous Legacy Circle Team, at the time lead by the equally beyond-fabulous Beverly Cutter, with members Mike Horak, Myrtle Bennett and Mara Sprain, signed on more bequests (legacy gifts) than any other participating organization and earned us a matching gift of $138,516.77!!!!!!!

We are receiving this essentially free money in four installments and the first three installments have been applied to the principal of our mortgage.  Because we’d been making payments all along, the third payment that we made last week PAID OFF THE MORTGAGE!!!!!  Congratulations, UUCA!Linda Topp, Director of Administration

A Pandemic Consolation Prize?

We already had a dog. That was my take on the situation.

Well, we sort-of already had a dog. For 10 years now, we have been the second family for a sweet, mid-sized mutt named Trouser (yes, as in a single pant leg). Her parents drop her off at our house nearly every weekday so she can hang out with me while I work from home, and she has sleepovers here when they go out of town.

It’s been the perfect arrangement as far as I’m concerned. We don’t hold the title, so we aren’t ultimately responsible for her care and well-being (vet bills), and we don’t have to make arrangements for care when we go out of town. Typically no last-thing-at-night and first-thing-in-the-morning walks.

But ol’ Trousie and her family are practicing social distancing, so we haven’t seen her in nearly a month. And I haven’t mentioned yet that we have a 15-year-old daughter for whom a part-time dog has never been quite adequate. Enter Slinky.

Slinky came to live with us on Tuesday, via Brother Wolf and a foster family. She is a 22-pound, seven-month-old hound mix who is still learning not to eliminate in the house. She is sweet, energetic (goes without saying) and eager to please.

I’ve observed that we’re not the only family that has decided to add a four-legged friend in the midst of a pandemic. Anecdotally, it looks like a fair number of formerly homeless animals are finding (hopefully) forever families among those who are stuck at home and have the time to integrate them into their lives. Certainly in no other circumstance would our daughter have so much time to spend helping Slinky learn to pee in the right place.

And…it might be obvious by now that I have been reluctant to commit to full-time dog ownership. I didn’t really have a good reason to put the kibosh on my family’s wishes; only that I don’t love change and new commitments. It has been tempting to think of Slinky as our daughter’s consolation prize for, well, life at the moment. She was crushed when the Senior High Con at the Mountain was cancelled and is already mourning the possibility that Mountain Camp could be cancelled (among the many other ways in which normal teen life has been disrupted). But bringing Slinky home wasn’t an impulsive decision. We’d been discussing this for, literally, years; it just turned out that a pandemic was perfect timing.

So welcome, Slinky, to our household, and here’s to the non-socially distanced times that are sure to come.   

Louise Anderson, Board of Trustees

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing To Stay

It came to me one morning about a month ago as I was making my way through the newspapers. No one was using the word “pandemic” yet, but story after story was making it clear what a cataclysm the COVID-19 coronavirus would be for us all. Then, suddenly it popped in my head: what an insane time this would be for this congregation to change lead ministers!

Yes, UUCA had an Interim Search Committee diligently planning for the change, and I was well into planning for retirement. But, oh my gosh, every sign was that about the time I was slated to leave was also when health experts were predicting the infection would be peaking. In the midst of all this trauma, I couldn’t imagine walking away from this congregation.

So, when Debbie got up, I told her I thought I needed to stay. I told her that I wanted to offer to delay my retirement. She nodded and said it was a good idea. The next day I had a Zoom conference scheduled with Board President Ryan Williams. He told me that he had a few things to run by me, and I said I had something to run by him, too, but I thought I should go first, since it would probably affect the subjects he wanted to talk about.

I was right. Ryan was a little stunned at first – after all he was hard at work on the interim process – but he quickly agreed and said he was grateful for the offer. Over the next day or so he polled the board and the consensus was quick: yes, please stay!

It is heartening and humbling to receive notes of thanks from many of you. It will be a challenging year for us all, but I can’t think any others who I’d like to have as company on the ride.

Now that I know that I’ll be sticking around, I’ve begun thinking about how we’re going to negotiate the year ahead. We don’t know exactly how it’s going to be, but it’s definitely going to be different.

For likely the next several months what had been our weekly gathering of some 300 of us for worship will continue as a prerecorded link that you receive on Sunday mornings to watch when you choose. Religious education classes, the Wednesday Thing, committee & staff meetings, covenant groups – all the various ways that we gather outside of Sunday will devolve into Zoom calls or some other meeting app.

Meanwhile, as we stay in with groceries and other needs delivered to our homes, we will need to be more attentive to each other than ever. People are finding all sorts of creative ways to stay in touch – Debbie and I are using Zoom calls to our daughter in Wisconsin to play Scrabble. But the old-fashioned ways work, too. Thank you to those of you who have responded to our invitation to join a group to make calls to members of our conversation.

But don’t wait for our invitation. I’m finding it rewarding to call around in the congregation just to check in. It’s a great way of building relationships. Also, please keep me, Claudia or pastoral visitors apprised of people you know who are having a hard time or may be in need of support in some way. And, as you hunker down, look for ways that you can reach out to the larger community providing money or support. There are many people who are struggling to get by.

As we negotiate all these changes, it’s occurred to me that it would be useful for us to use this time to reflect on some larger questions. I’ve told Ryan that I’d like to invite the Board into a conversation on this topic, but I welcome you into the conversation, too:

What is needed of us, what is called from us as a congregation at this time? What do you need, what does your family need, what does this community, heck, what does the world need of us now?

And, once you’re done binge-watching everything you’ve been saving in your online queue, give some thought to what you think this congregation will need to be when we get to the other side of this crisis. Once we can gather and hug and march and dream together, what is your vision of us then?

Give it some thought and send me a line here. I’d love to know what you’re thinking.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Live Bravely, Give Generously

Sure, that’s the theme of this year’s Annual Budget Drive.  But it’s so much more than that.  It’s really my mantra for living right now.  (Which is why I start the worship services with it.)  Who knew back in September that this would be such a timely phrase?  When the Annual Budget Drive team (Gina Phairas, Will Jernigan, and Wes Miller) came up with it, we were thinking more about ministerial transitions and the general political climate.  Little did we know….

For me, Living Bravely means a lot of things, but first and foremost it means lowering anxiety WITHOUT doing crazy things: wash those hands, try to remember that 6-foot rule, walk the dog, reduce trips to the grocery store, stock a few items in case we get sick but mostly buy what we need without hoarding, wipe down doorknobs and copy machine interfaces at work a lot, breathe deeply, listen to music.  It also means learning vast amounts of new things:  Ta-da! I’m now a video editor. Who knew? And Zoom?  Never hosted a meeting before. Never actually ate a take-out meal at home before because why would we?  Just go to the restaurant, silly.

And Giving Generously?  It’s way too easy to “hunker down” and protect and connect our nuclear families and close friends.  Looking outward is just not natural.  Yet as the Annual Budget Drive team wrote, “We are called to live bravely across the wide spectrum of life.”  We are called to be generous. Learning technology to connect with others is a generous act.  Baking bread and leaving it at a neighbor’s doorstep is a generous act.  Giving money to help local small businesses is a generous act.  Giving to local nonprofits that are providing services right now is a generous act.

Here’s a request we have received from AHOPE/Homeward Bound (sponsors of Room in the Inn) who also work with Haywood Street Church and Rescue Mission:

There is one thing you could consider – and it doesn’t put you in danger. We really need good adult socks, gloves, blankets, and such. We also could use easy-to-hand-out food like peanut butter crackers, bananas. easy-to-open cans of veggies or fruit or canned tuna or spaghetti.

Drop supplies off at our AHOPE Day Center on 19 N. Ann Street downtown. Just pull up in front and start unloading. People will quickly be there to help when staff is onsite (8am-12n, 7 days a week). Or I can come to wherever and pick them up if you don’t want to be in that setting. Contact Joe Hoffman for more information.

Here’s another example of generosity.  I know a lot of you are trying to connect through video–but it can be intimidating.  So, we have 5 congregants who are willing to host a meeting for you.  Whether you want to connect with fellow UUCAers or family members or friends, contact one of these people who will either help you figure out how to host a meeting or actually host it for you, so all you have to do is click in to join.

Many thanks to these volunteers.  Look up their contact info on REALM or email Tish for that info.

Evelyn Becker
Virginia Bower
Rebekkah Hilgraves
Jeff Jones
Kelly Wedell

PS  I would be totally remiss in not mentioning that references to the Annual Budget Drive might be very good cues for you to make sure that you’ve sent in a commitment for the fiscal year starting on July 1.  I know it’s clearly impossible to know your financial status for next year right now, but we’re operating on the assumption that “normal” is the only way to plan.  We’ll flex and accommodate and adjust when we need to. Thanks!

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

 

So What Happens At GA?

I invite you to think about how it is that you show up for Unitarian Universalism. Think of the ways, large and small, that you come back to this place, that you do the work, that you share the good word. Now think about what it would be like to do that in the company of thousands of other UU’s. 

I attended my first GA in 2017 when it was held in New Orleans, LA. It was hot, crowded, and involved lots of walking. I hate being hot, get anxious in crowds, and have chronic foot pain. And I loved it. 

So what happens at GA? Well, if you think the committee meetings that we have here are exciting, just wait until you experience your first general session! Seriously though, GA is where a lot of the work of our faith happens. Sometimes it happens on a large scale in a big hall filled with congregational delegates who are voting on items like making the language of our bylaws more inclusive, or giving religious educators the right to automatically be voting delegates at GA just as ministers are. It’s also happening on a smaller scale through workshops and lectures. Sometimes it is happening in a very public way through our demonstrations of public witness.

Last year in Spokane, the public witness was a demonstration to show support for ending cash bail and putting a stop to building more jails in Spokane. The youth are there working, too. They are delegates and they help determine which Actions of Immediate Witness are voted on. They caucus together and do a lot of other activities together as well. There is also a middle school day camp that goes on expeditions in the host city, and child care for younger kids as well. There is even a child-friendly area in the main hall where all of the big events take place. There are workshops and lectures galore, for every different interest. The worship services are plentiful and diverse. The best part though, the best part is being together with so many other people who are showing up in all sorts of ways for Unitarian Universalism.
Kim Collins, Lifespan Religious Education Coordinator

UUCA Exists!

During times of change and uncertainty, when there are strange political realities, weather, and viruses, it can be easy to overlook and take for granted the things that we are used to and which are relatively unchanged.  With the backdrop of the coming minister change at UUCA and in the midst of the annual budget drive, it is a good time to remember that the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville does not have to exist.  

UUCA does exist because we want it to exist and beyond that we make it exist.  If you are reading this, I feel comfortable assuming you have at least some level of involvement with UUCA.  I encourage you to think about how you are engaged with UUCA and how engaging in more or different ways will benefit both you, UUCA, and the greater community.  

We are all so privileged and benefited by what we do and stand for at UUCA.  While it indeed does take considerable effort and determination to keep UUCA moving forward, when we all take part the the weight becomes light and I truly believe we get back so much more than what we put in.

James “Buck” Schall, Board of Trustees