This week I attended “SACReD Faith Communities: Reclaiming Reproductive Dignity and Autonomy,” an energizing Zoom gathering of ministers and lay people. More than 30 faith traditions (Unitarian Universalist congregations were well represented!) gathered to discuss reproductive justice and freedom as we face the reality that Roe v. Wade will likely be overturned. Twenty-six states are prepared to limit abortion access when it happens.
Discussing abortion is a provocative, uncomfortable, and sacred conversation. It is a sacred responsibility to have the ability to bring forth life and nurture that child into adulthood. Because faith communities and religious beliefs shape congregants’ understanding of sexuality, faith communities have a role to play in advocating for reproductive justice and body autonomy. It is part of the commitment to building the Beloved Community where all have dignity, freedom and the potential to thrive.
Our denomination recognizes the sacredness of sexuality. It acknowledges its importance to our thriving as human beings by promoting comprehensive sexuality education. The Our Whole Lives (OWL) program equips participants throughout the lifespan and in developmentally appropriate ways to understand sexuality and to engage in healthy, responsible decision-making. OWL is grounded in the values of self-worth, sexual health, responsibility, justice, and inclusivity. One of the reasons I converted to Unitarian Universalism, yes converted, meaning I embraced it as my religion and one of my identities, is because of my involvement in OWL as a facilitator for 8 years. I did not grow up in a sex-positive environment and belonging to a religion that promotes healthy sexuality, welcoming the whole self, helped me to heal and embrace the totality of who I am. I see no conflict between celebrating the right of a person who can get pregnant to choose if and when to give birth and celebrating the joy and sacred responsibility of childbirth. Our commitment to humanity as humanists, deists, Christians – indeed, all denominations – must include a commitment to providing for the coming generations while leaving choice in the hands of the future caregivers of those generations. Provisions for postnatal services, child care, affordable housing, a living wage, comprehensive and equal educational opportunities and other basic human needs – these merit passionate support alongside the issue of abortion rights. It is a “yes, and” situation! Justice work is multi-dimensional.
An extension of embracing the values of justice and inclusivity is recognizing that people who can get pregnant have a right to make choices about their pregnancies without decisions being made for them by the government. Choosing to become a parent and carry a pregnancy to term is a private decision. Although subjected to restrictions, Roe v. Wade supports autonomy for people who can get pregnant in the face of patriarchy, religious dogma, and political manipulation. Limiting their autonomy denies them the right to make decisions for themselves.
As I said earlier, abortion is a provocative, uncomfortable and sacred conversation. The purpose of this blog is to acknowledge that some of us are concerned about the increasing likelihood that people who can get pregnant will not have safe, accessible options to full-term pregnancies regardless of the circumstances. If you share this concern and would like to explore ways we can speak up for reproductive justice, please reach out to me.
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development email@example.com
Do you know how UU Asheville supports itself? We don’t charge for participating in our worship and programs, so where do we get money? I know you know the answer to this: people give us money. Sure we raise a little bit of money through rentals and interest, but the vast majority comes from you.
Do you know why we annoyingly ask you EVERY year to please consider increasing your commitment? I bet you know the answer to that one, too: prices rise (inflation). That doesn’t even take into account new ideas that might take more resources. Even in the best of low-inflation years costs go up 1 or 2 percent. That means at the very least our salaries go up (and don’t even get me started on health insurance costs). And salaries make up 60-65 percent of our budget.
As the most obvious example of rising costs, we pay our childcare workers (they are the only “minimum wage” workers we have) the Asheville Living Wage. Between 2019 and today, that hourly rate went from $13.00/hour to $17.70/hour (a whopping 36 percent increase over 3 years). Believe me that no other employee got anywhere near that size increase in that same period. But still, we do keep up with the cost-of-living increases published by the Social Security Administration and that still means our costs go up every year. For our 2022-23 budget, the cost-of-living increase that will impact salaries is 5.9 percent.
So far, this lovely congregation—YOU!—has managed to keep donations pretty steady so that we are not seeing any dramatic drop-off in giving. But we sure don’t expect that our giving will increase, either. But if our costs keep going up, even marginally, and our income does not go up, or worse goes down, then something’s gotta give. Due to the nature of our budget, what usually “gives” in that situation is employee hours.
UU Asheville’s 2021-22 budget splits out this way:
Personnel – 62%
Administrative costs – 27%
Program costs – 7%
UUA GIFT – 4%
Personnel costs can be decreased by reducing employee hours. This has most recently been done by letting employees go, but it can also be done by hoping an employee is willing to drop some duties in order to work fewer hours. Either way it results in staff doing fewer things than they do now.
Administrative costs cannot be decreased. These are the costs for insurance, computers, software (much software!), supplies, copier leases, cleaning, mowing/snowplowing, facility repairs, banking fees that we pay for the wonderful luxury of accepting payments other than checks, and fundraising costs.
Program costs include the costs for RE supplies, volunteer background checks, our amazing Coming of Age program, membership, worship (occasional guest worship leaders and supplies we need), music, justice ministry, and congregational events (don’t we all love Halloween treats, hot cocoa bars, flower communions, and more?) I frankly don’t have the heart to cut any of these costs, and since that little 7 percent is spread across all these items, it would take a lot of cutting to make an impact on the budget.
UUA GIFT is our donation to our denomination. Our Interim Lead Minister points out that ministers in search often look for congregations that provide the support that the UUA asks from each congregation. That would be 6.5 percent of our budget. Right now, we donate 4 percent ($31,600) so it’s unlikely this can go down. (Nicely understated, don’t you think?)
I know that the best fundraising happens when I can tell you all the wonderful things that this organization does to “change the world,” which includes directly impacting the lives of our congregants. That kind of messaging will happen when the annual budget drive starts. But I also think it’s important for you to know how the numbers will work.
The congregation is in no danger of going under because we have a decent amount of savings. Still, deficit spending is not a long-term solution. This interim period will be a good time to talk about the future of UU Asheville, including its long-term financial sustainability.
If you’ve read Ryan Williams’ blog from November, you already know that he has left the Board of Trustees and that we have a new president filling his vacancy; and you would also know that that new guy is…er…gulp…, me! While our Bylaws mandate that the Board pick its own officers each year, our Governance Document declares that the vice president automatically assumes the presidency when it is vacated. And I thought that I would just serve out the last year of my Board term as VP!
I’m a tad nervous about taking on this job, not so much because I don’t have the time or basic skills needed, but more so because, as a more recent member (I joined in late 2017), my knowledge of the people, culture, and history of UU Asheville is not as deep as I believe a good president should have. Of course, of my four-plus years here, having two of them in “pandemic mode” has not helped that situation at all. But I will also admit – and please excuse the chest-thumping here – that I have been a UU since age four, was a deeply-committed congregant at my previous church for more than 30 years, and served that congregation as Board president for five years, over two terms. This means that I’ve already made most of my “rookie mistakes” that a new guy might make, and I hope it indicates to you that I take this job very seriously.
But I need the help of the rest of the Board, the staff, and the congregation in general, to help fill in that missing knowledge about UU Asheville. So, I’m putting out a general plea for folks to give me a call or write me a note (my contact info is on Realm) and let me know how our Board can be more responsive to the needs and mission of this congregation. What are we doing right, what are we doing wrong? During the pandemic, this question takes on an expanded meaning because we are wrestling with how to be the church that folks need in the middle of a crisis that so significantly alters how we are used to being together. I would appreciate any input you feel like giving.
One last thing about the Board presidency: I want to publicly thank Ryan Williams for all he has done for the Board and for our church. He took on a hard job – one that was out of his comfort zone, at least initially – and gave it his all for 2½ years – this while handling the demands of a full-time teaching job during COVID and a young family. So, thanks, Ryan – enjoy your new life at UU Asheville!
Thing 2: Finding Our New Lead Minister
I just wanted to give you a heads-up regarding what I believe will be happening, largely from the Board perspective, over the next few months as we begin our search for a new lead minister.
Governance-wise, our Bylaws don’t say too much about how we find a new minister. In fact, here’s the whole of it: “In the case of a vacancy for Lead Minister the Board of Trustees shall initiate the search for a new minister and may appoint an Interim Minister as needed. The Board may be guided by the comprehensive selection process recommended by the UUA for Called Minister searches.”
So, the details of the selection process are formally left up to the Board. Thankfully, the UUA does indeed provide not only a time-tested selection process, but help from UUA staff trained in that process. While the Board does indeed have the freedom to define our own process, I can’t imagine that we won’t follow the UUA process closely. I believe we would be foolish not to.
We have already accomplished the first major step of that recommended process: we have concluded the previous ministry well (thank you, Rev. Mark) and we have hired a wonderful Interim Lead Minister to guide us through our transition (thank you, Rev. Cathy). We’re now ready for the second major step of the process, which in essence is “choose the search committee.” Again, the Board could just choose some folks on their own, but this is an area where the UUA has lots of experience and associated data on search committee selection processes and final outcomes.
The UUA-recommended process (which I believe we will follow) is a time-intensive one, with the following major steps:
The Board and the Leadership Development Committee divide up all the households in the congregation and place a call to every single household, asking them for recommendations for Ministerial Search Committee (MSC) members. (The callers have a list of attributes that make for a good MSC candidate which they share with each household in the discussion.)
One Board member, acting as the “data manager” collects and records all of the names suggested in these calls and the number of times each was mentioned. At the end of all the calling, the data manager reports to the entire Board the 12 to 14 names that were mentioned the most.
Board members then call everyone on this short list, asking if they are interested in being an MSC candidate, if they agree to give up any other leadership position they hold if chosen for the MSC, and if they are available for all key portions of the rigorous schedule the MSC plans to maintain. The ones that answer in the affirmative to these questions become MSC candidates.
At a congregational meeting (most likely our regular May/June annual meeting), we hold a vote to determine the congregation’s rank order of preference of these candidates. (Each candidate will have filled out a bio, written a “reason for running” and submitted a picture, all of which are published/posted in advance of the meeting so the congregation can familiarize themselves with the candidates.)
The Board then meets in executive session to count ballots and determine MSC members. For a congregation of our size, seven is the recommended MSC size. The full seven can come from the seven getting the most votes in the election, but they don’t have to. The option exists for the Board to take the top n candidates (where n is less than 7) and appoint the remaining 7 – n from the remaining candidates. The reason for this is to balance and diversify the committee in terms of age, gender, race/ethnicity, or sexual orientation. The Board would also want to make sure the MSC has people that are tuned in to major aspects of church life, such as RE, worship, music, justice work, governance, etc.
Finally, the Board announces the MSC members, never telling anyone – including the selected search committee members themselves – who was elected and who was appointed.
The MSC then gets to work. The UUA provides a well-defined set of tasks and milestones which will keep them busy right up until they present us with a candidate at the end of April 2023.
Don’t expect to receive a call asking about your suggestions for MSC members for a month or more; but do be thinking about who might represent UU Asheville well to our next minister. This is a really important step in the process.
Intentionality is our Soul Matters theme for January. As we move into the second phase of our interim work together, I am struggling with the reality of our situation. It feels slower than usual because I came to you in the middle of an unprecedented lockdown due to COVID that made it much more difficult for me to foster relationships and build trust with you, but the truth is that we are right on schedule. The second phase of this interim time involves education and preparation as we move into the process for selecting a search team. The next few months will be exciting and very busy.
As I was sharing my thoughts with Les, he reminded me that we are all exhausted from the last two years and said, “Cathy, now is not the time for overachieving.” Wow, I thanked him because he is so right. We cannot accomplish our tasks by overachieving. We can, however, do what we need to do with intentionality. Soul Matters Director of Religious Education Katie Covey writes, “To set intentions, we must listen to our inner voice which tells us who we truly are.” It is essential for a congregation to determine who they are before choosing their new minister.
I know a little bit about the futility of overachieving. When I was in my twenties, a young single mother struggling to survive financially, emotionally, and physically, it seemed I couldn’t manage to be a wonderful mother, a good housekeeper, a great worker, and a good provider all at the same time. I felt like a failure which made me want to overachieve so people wouldn’t judge me harshly. One day, I looked around at my messy lived-in house and thought, “When I’m dead, I don’t want the only thing people can say about me is, ‘she kept a clean house.’” I knew then that “good housekeeper” would not be my highest goal.
My children are long grown, and those responsibilities are behind me, but it seems I developed a liking for chaos because I continue to overload my schedule. My father used to accuse me of being addicted to the adrenalin that accompanies stress. Could that be it?
When I was working on my Doctor of Ministry degree while serving a congregation full time, I was living in Michigan but had to travel to Meadville Lombard in Chicago twice a year for intensive classes. I remember one January when it was time for me to travel to Chicago for my DMin class on Evil, Trauma, and Ambiguity. I was completely overwhelmed and hopelessly behind in my preparation for the class. I knew that it was too much, but I desperately wanted to take this class and ignored my inner wisdom to pare down my schedule. Sure, my life was crammed full of wonderfully interesting events, but I literally couldn’t breathe. My counselor explained it this way, “Cathy, music is made up of notes and spaces. Without the spaces, the notes are simply noise.”
NOISE? My interesting, full, rich life is noise? I thought I was composing a work of art, a symphony. I thought that I was building a repertoire that would inform the rest of my life and give me the tools to be a better person, a better minister, and have a successful future. It was disheartening to think that my efforts, as sincere and dedicated as they were, would in the end be just noise.
Space. Between. The. Notes.
I had a good friend at the time and as I relaxed in his comfortable, minimalist home it occurred to me that a collection of colorful Fiestaware would look great on the space above his cabinets in the kitchen. When I suggested it to him, he sighed and said, “Cathy, you need to learn to appreciate the peace in open spaces.”
Space. I Googled, “space as peace.” The founder of a concept called “open space technology,” wrote, “Destructive conflict occurs when you run out of room — physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. And the answer would seem to be — open more space.” Obviously, this wasn’t a new concept to me because it instantly reminded me of a poem that I once used in a sermon to teach what I’d learned about the need for space. It has been said that ministers preach what we need to learn the most. Here’s that poem, and I hope it speaks to you in whatever you need to learn most.
FIRE by Judy Brown
What makes a fire burn
is the space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs packed in too tight
can squelch a fire,
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pan of water can.
So building a fire
requires tending in a special way,
attention to the wood
as well as to the spaces in between,
so the fire can catch, can grow, can breathe,
can build energy and warmth
which we need in order
to survive the cold.
We need to practice building open spaces
just as clearly as we learn
to pile on the logs.
It’s fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that makes fire possible,
let it develop in a way that’s possible
when we lay the logs in just the way
the fire wants to go.
Then we can watch as it leaps and plays.
burns down and then flames up in unexpected ways.
Then we need only lay a log on it from time to time.
then it has a life all of its own,
a beauty that emerges
not where the logs are but where spaces invite the flames
to burn, to form exquisite
patterns of their own,
their beauty possible
simply because the space is there,
an opening in which flame
that knows just how it wants
to burn can find its way.
Dear ones, now is not the time for overachieving, it is the time to practice self-care and be gentle with ourselves and one another. We cannot creatively face the future if we are exhausted. I hope you will join me in building the space that will sustain and create a path forward.
This year again we approach the holidays with caution as the pandemic persists and COVID variants arise. Many have been vaccinated and boosted; some have not, for a variety of reasons. They too, have worth and dignity. We are still masking at UUAvl and figuring out how to gather safely. We continue to grieve COVID losses having surpassed 800,000 deaths in our country and countless more worldwide. We grieve for our planet and a nation whose leadership is unable to unite and pass a bill to alleviate the hardship this pandemic has caused to so many. We are tired and traumatized. In the words of Maya Angelou in her poem “Amazing Peace”
“Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters, Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air. The world is encouraged to come away from rancor, Come the way of friendship.”
Take a moment to breathe and acknowledge your feelings, your bodily sensations as you think about this reality. And take another deep breath. Think of the moments of joy and delight you have also experienced this past year. What manifestations of beauty and compassion have made you smile? What friendships have sustained you? What have you done to bring joy or delight to another?
I have found delight in the continued engagement of our UUAvl community. Our buildings may have been closed but our congregation has always been open. You have participated as you are able given all the challenges of this past year. The Christmas Caroling and Cookie Exchange & Tree Decorating gatherings this month filled our campus with joy and connection. It was delightful and heartwarming to see many of you again. Our community remains vibrant. On-line or in-person, we continue to show up for each other. Programs for all ages continue to be offered, in person or on-line for you to participate as you are able. Committees continue to meet to do the work of the congregation. We have not been idle! Staff will be taking a much-deserved break after the Christmas Eve service. We will spend time with our families and friends and recharge our batteries. We hope this holiday season, whatever your practices, you have an opportunity to celebrate, rest and reflect as you prepare to welcome a new year.
May we observe the winter holidays in a way that resonates with our UU values. May we act in the spirit of giving and generosity that permeates the season.
Feliz Navidad, Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
The November report by the Reopening Task Force is available on our website. Consequently, we have a few questions that have come to us regarding that report. Since others may be interested in the same things, here’s a follow-up for all.
Who is making our re-opening decisions? Why the Reopening Task Force, of course (catchy name, right?). Their names lead the November report but to save you a click, here they are again: Kay Aler-Maida, Michael Beech, John Bloomer, Kim Collins, Amy Moore, Gina Phairas, Venny Zachritz and additional participants Rev. Cathy Harrington, Clyde Hardin, Iris Hardin, Adam Griffith. And as an FYI, although there was a request for volunteers for this Task Force in the Weekly eNews last spring, all of these people graciously said yes when recruited since no one volunteered themselves.
If you have questions or concerns about our reopening, please ask anyone on the Reopening Task Force, the Board, or any staff member (email addresses are on the website). If they don’t know an answer, they’ll find out and get back to you.
Are we following State, County, and City COVID protocols? Definitely for Sunday services. Can’t do much more than require vaccines, wear masks, and pay attention to some distancing. We’re doing front-to-back distancing but not enforcing side-to-side distancing although 75 people in the Sanctuary seem to do it naturally. However, for smaller meetings at church we are not requiring masking, even though these would be indoors. Because Sandburg Hall is so big and gatherings of less than 15 have plenty of air volume and space to work in, we are allowing those groups to agree to the rules they want to follow as a group. That means they may choose, as a group, to not wear masks while in a meeting. We do trust that UUs understand their own risk tolerance as well as the power of covenants, consensus, and right relationships to make the right decision for the group.
Does the UUA issue re-opening guidelines? If so, are we following them? Yes, they do. No, we don’t. Because we are very concerned that we are losing our sense of community with each other, and have some congregants who are extremely eager to worship in person, we have chosen to meet in person even though UUA guidelines would have us remain closed as long as Buncombe County infection rates are very high, which they currently are (and have been since early fall). We believe that people always live in a state of risk and know their own levels of risk-taking. They can choose to attend in person, watch the live stream synchronously or asynchronously, or do none of it. We are desperately trying to keep people engaged with the congregation in any way they feel comfortable.
Do we have a way of doing hybrid Zoom/in-person meetings in Sandburg Hall? Mostly, yes. The same tech folks who are working hard to perfect our new A/V equipment will get that system up and running soon, with instructions for all. (In fact, we’ve already done that a couple of times so if you’re technically capable, you can do it yourself.) However, we cannot afford to pay tech people to work extra meetings so only people who are capable of setting up computers, a speaker, and latching onto Zoom will be able to run meetings that way.
When do we expect to be fully re-opened? No idea. As long as there is a large pool of unvaccinated people somewhere on the planet, mutations will keep occurring.
Why does the report mention reopening with a maximum number of 50 people when, less than 1 month later, that number increased to 75? Turns out that in July the Reopening Task Force produced a report that we did not release because Delta became rampant at that point. In that report, we had this to say:
Rather than use volunteer time to plan for a variety of scenarios “just in case,” the TaskForce agrees that UUCA staff will be charged with adjusting these recommendations as things change. This might mean loosening recommendations, tightening masking requirements, or shutting down again. Just as we were in March 2020, we will be light on our feet and FLEXIBLE!!!!
That paragraph was accidentally omitted in the November version but still applies. When we saw the level of emptiness in the room with 50 people (several available rows were completely empty), we realized that we could still fit in 75 and have a safe environment.
With infection rates likely to rise as people choose to gather indoors together for the holidays, why DID staff decide to increase the number for indoor worship services? On the first Sunday that we tried it, we took a look at the space that 50 people used in the Sanctuary and felt that spacing would still be adequate at 75. Aside from the fact that it is extremely likely that a larger percentage of congregants are triple-vaccinated than the general population in Buncombe County, we are also requiring vaccinations, masks, and front-to-back distancing. Further, since we know that people can certainly still be uncomfortable with that, our services are now always available online. (Closed link that everyone receives on Sunday mornings.)
Why does the report state under the heading “Masks” that “Masks will be required for now,” yet in the last paragraph of the report, it states “Groups below 15 may make their own rules for meeting (e.g., no masks while indoors).” As noted, there are rules for large worship services and separate suggestions for meetings of 15 and under. For large meetings we feel that requiring masks is essential at this time, no matter vaccination status, although as the report notes we are also requiring vaccinations for all eligible participants. Should people be uncomfortable with any of the prevailing conditions, our services are now always available online. (Closed link that everyone receives on Sunday mornings.)
However, when it comes to smaller meetings, we believe that UUs understand covenants and right-relationships, so we ask that each group that meets arrives at a consensus set of rules for that group. We have small groups choosing to meet online, choosing to meet at church, choosing to meet in people’s homes, choosing to meet outside when weather permits. These are all determined by the groups themselves. Further, when people meet at the church, they are meeting in Sandburg Hall, which is a large space with enhanced air purifying equipment.
At this time, all Religious Exploration classes for children and youth are required to wear masks at all times while inside buildings, no matter the size of the group.
When will the Reopening Task Force meet again? This group is convened when conditions change dramatically enough to warrant another group discussion (via Zoom). A meeting can be called by any member of the Task Force. What we’re seeing on Sunday mornings is that people are definitely making their own decisions about how and where they spend their time. For the two Sundays that we have had more open registration, Sunday #1 had a full 50 in attendance. Sunday #2, open to 75, had 38 in attendance. So far for this coming Sunday (Sunday #3) our registrations are still under 40 with 75 available.
Some reflections on the Ware Lecture Delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly, Hollywood, Florida, May 18, 1966.
I recently had the occasion to re-read theWare Lecture by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.delivered in 1966. The struggles Dr. King saw in liberal religious institutions are reflected in our congregation‘s current internal audit of our own white supremacist history and culture. As a society, all these many years later, we continue to struggle with the truth of the damage done to black and indigenous people, even as we are determined to put our congregation on solid footing as ally and accomplice. The lecture is as cogent today as when it was delivered. Especially so if we replace the word “segregation” with “white supremacist philosophy.”
Dr. King‘s lecture provokes us as practitioners of a liberal religious tradition to examine our commitment to the meaning and application of our calling to social justice. In many ways we are struggling to rise up from the past and to live to the standards Dr. King set for all of religion. UU Asheville is about to undergo a process of discovery that will illuminate for us how far we have come—and how far we have to go—toward equality, equity, and true fellowship. The process will help us define if we are sleeping through the current revolution or are accomplices in that revolution. Here are excerpts from that lecture that struck me as especially relevant to today’s world.
I’m sure that each of you has read that arresting little story from the pen of Washington Irving entitled Rip Van Winkle. One thing that we usually remember about the story of Rip Van Winkle is that he slept twenty years. But there is another point in that story which is almost always completely overlooked; it is the sign on the inn of the little town on the Hudson from which Rip went up into the mountains for his long sleep. When he went up, the sign had a picture of King George III of England. When he came down, the sign had a picture of George Washington, the first president of the United States. When Rip Van Winkle looked up at the picture of George Washington he was amazed, he was completely lost. He knew not who he was. This incident reveals to us that the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that he slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up in the mountains a revolution was taking place in the world that would alter the face of human history. Yet Rip knew nothing about it; he was asleep. One of the great misfortunes of history is that all too many individuals and institutions find themselves in a great period of change and yet fail to achieve the new attitudes and outlooks that the new situation demands.
There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution. And there can be no gainsaying of the fact that a social revolution is taking place in our world today. We see it in other nations in the demise of colonialism. We see it in our own nation, in the struggle against racial segregation and discrimination, and as we notice this struggle we are aware of the fact that a social revolution is taking place in our midst. Victor Hugo once said that there is nothing more powerful in all the world than an idea whose time has come. The idea whose time has come today is the idea of freedom and human dignity, and so allover the world we see something of a freedom explosion, and this reveals to us that we are in the midst of revolutionary times. An older order is passing away and a new order is coming into being.
Secondly, it is necessary for the church to reaffirm over and over again the essential immorality of racial segregation. Any church which affirms the morality of segregation is sleeping through the revolution. We must make it clear that segregation, whether it’s in the public schools, in housing, or in recreational facilities, or in the church itself, is morally wrong and sinful. It is not only sociologically untenable, or politically unsound, or merely economically unwise, it is morally wrong and sinful.
There are many insights in all of the major religious faiths which bring this out. Segregation is evil, to use the thinking of the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, because it substitutes an “I-It” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, segregation is wrong because it is based on human laws, which are out of harmony with the moral, the natural, the eternal laws of the universe. Paul Tillich, great Protestant theologian who died some months ago, said that sin is separation. What is segregation but an affirmation of man’s tragic estrangement, his terrible separation, his awful sinfulness? So, over and over again, we must make it clear that we are through with this unjust system now, henceforth, and forever more.
All I’m saying is this: that all life is interrelated, and somehow we are all tied together. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of all reality.
Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday. Historically we have been fed a narrative of Pilgrims and Native Peoples sharing a meal of thanksgiving that overlooks the theft of land, the erasure of culture, and genocide. This challenges us to explore the history we have not been taught.
Beyond the historical context of the holiday, the act of thanksgiving unlinked from false narratives is a practice that enriches our lives. Gratitude for the big things and the little things in life invites us to maintain perspective in the face of so much brokenness in the world. It is something we should do on a regular basis, not just on one day.
Nevertheless, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. There is no need to worry about gifts or decorations. For me, it is a time to gather with family (natural or chosen) and/or friends (a Friendsgiving). It is a time of re-connecting, sharing favorite recipes, relaxing together and for most, time off from work routines. I know that the political divide in our country has further complicated this holiday. That messiness is undeniable, but I believe we can still find ways to gather and be grateful with those we love.
During this time of COVID isolation followed by a slow return to in-person gatherings after vaccines were made available, many of us have thought deeply about what our priorities are, including relationships: which ones are life-giving? Which are toxic? How do we move forward with this awareness?
We have deeply missed being in community. Last year many Thanksgiving meals were shared outdoors with blankets and outdoor heaters. However we observe this holiday, it reminds us of the need for gratitude and a recognition of the true history of a holiday that is a Day of Mourning for Native People and their allies. Maybe it could be called a Family Day, as suggested by Zenobia Jeffries Warfield in her essay “Don’t Trash Thanksgiving. Decolonize It.” A Family Day with an expansive understanding of what family means to each of us.
As I prepare to welcome my older daughter and sister-in-law for Thanksgiving dinner, along with brief visits from neighbors and friends, I recognize I have a lot of gratitude in my heart. A few things that inspire gratitude today are:
Knowing my family has been healthy during COVID and for over a year continues to have open Zoom room every Sunday evening for those who can gather;
Engaging in ministry with you that continues to be fulfilling and challenging. It invites me to continually reflect on why UUism matters in the world today. Those of you who engage in the life of the congregation and are putting your faith in action through your work and volunteerism inspire me.
Exploring the NC mountains that continue to offer solace and delight. Those of you who follow me on social media know they result in #gratitude posts of photos celebrating the beauty that I see around me.
As you gather with friends and family, I invite you to reflect on gratitude by exploring these questions offered by Diana Butler Bass in her essay, “The Turkey Hostage Situation.”
To whom or what are you grateful?
What challenges have you been grateful through?
Have you been grateful with others?
Where have you discovered gratitude within?
Has something in your life been changed by being grateful?
In what circumstances have you experienced thankfulness?
Natalie Briscoe, the Lead of the UUA Southern Region’s Congregational Live staff team wrote those words. I wish I could take credit. Her entire article is so good I just have to share it. Here it is:
There are a couple of things that have been on my heart lately. I’ve been saying them to each of you in every phone call, every board retreat, every staff start up I’ve been doing, but I feel the need to say it broadly, to all of you. Here are the truths I wish to give you right now:
This sucks. Flat-out. We are dealing with a situation we didn’t sign up for. We are forced to solve problems that no one prepared us for. We live in a constant state of unease and disruption. It’s terrible. The last time we felt optimistic about the possibility of gathering again, our hopes were dashed with rising rates. As cases are on the decline once again, it is very natural to feel apprehension. That is the trauma surfacing in our bodies, and it’s going to keep us on edge for a long while. I just want to take a moment to recognize how much it all just…sucks.
There is nothing wrong with you. I know it feels like everything is wrong with you, but I assure you, it isn’t YOU who is wrong, it is the world. You are not fundamentally broken, and we are all stumbling our way through each day. Everyone is having a hard time right now, and no one is doing it better than you are. We need to stop behaving as if everything is normal and we should be able to go about our functioning as if everything is fine.
Since there is nothing wrong with you, nothing will fix you. There is no workshop, training, or webinar that is going to take the anxiety out of your congregation. People are short, on edge, and easily hurt. I know that you want anything to take the pain away, but that is mere distraction. All feelings are for feeling, and right now, this is difficult. We will find our way through together.
Don’t turn on each other, turn to each other. We’re all we’ve got. Give everyone else the grace you need. Everyone experiences hurt, but trauma is only caused when we experience hurt alone. The anxiety and unease we feel makes us short with one another, and we look to conflict to release the pressure that we feel. But if we resist this urge, we can lean into one another and become communities of support and resilience.
You don’t have to do anything. Nothing is required. The ONLY thing we have to do right now is take care of one another, and the ONLY decisions we need to make deal with how we best do that. Our only obligation is to love one another. An easy escape from the pain we feel is to take on a bunch of projects and to attempt to plan a large slate of programming. You’ll soon find that you are halfway into the plan and cannot maintain it, which may cause your congregation to see itself as having failed, thus creating more overwhelm. You don’t have to do ANYTHING. You don’t have to worship, have RE, meet as a board, or ANYTHING.
We love you, and we’re sorry. Your Southern Region Staff is here for you. We love each one of you, and we are in the mess with you. Please call us often. We are your partners.
Same goes for the staff here at UU Asheville. We love each one of you, and we are in the mess with you. Please stay in touch with us. We are part of your faith community.
It was roughly 4 years ago when a major turning point occured in my relationship with UUCA. It was on one random Sunday afternoon in Sandburg Hall that James Casarra and Rev. Mark Ward approached me about stepping in to fill the spot of a Board member who was unable to complete their term. Though I had been a member for quite some time, I had always kept a very low profile and my service to the congregation had largely been played out as a volunteer for “Room in the Inn” or as a RE teacher. Both roles involved work that I truly loved doing even though it meant I often spent more of my “church” time downstairs or at “the Inn” rather than in the Sanctuary. This was a deal that worked well for me as it kept me within my own comfort zone while also keeping me at a comfortable arm’s distance from “other people”. Though James’ and Mark’s request didn’t really feel like my cup of tea, after some thought, I went on and said yes, figuring that I would quietly slip in, fill the spot, and then slip back out a year later.
The following year however, just when I was about to head back out into the shadows, James and Mark came at me again, this time with an even wilder cup of tea than before, requesting that I not only start a new 3 year term but that I also consider assuming the role of Board President. If you think my hesitance was present when asked to join the Board in general, then you can only imagine how unprepared and uncomfortable I was with assuming an actual leadership role! It did not match any of my skill sets nor my personality in general. The arm’s distance would be gone. I imagined this instead to be more like a long awkward full body hug. Yikes.
But I said yes.
In and of itself, the time commitment and work that came with being the Board chair quickly brought about a big shift in both my personal life as well as in my church life. And just as I was getting settled into the new role, Mark announced his retirement and I soon found myself working as Chair of the Interim Search Committee (not only for one year but for two consecutive years due to Covid. It was a lot. A LOT. But have you ever jumped into a cool swimming hole on a hot summer day? You feel incredibly nervous about what the water will feel like but you eventually jump off the rock anyway, you sink into the deep water, feel a bit of shock at first, and then quickly discover that the water feels great! That’s how I found the experience of jumping into deeper church work. It was a shock at first. And then it felt great.
For the last several years, the experience serving with the Board as President as well as with the Search Committee has served to push me deep out of my comfort zone and have challenged me and strengthened me in ways that I believe have made me a better person who holds a more well-stocked toolkit than I did prior. It also
resulted in me learning so many new things about how UUAsheville works and how I relate to it that strangely enough, “church talk” has become one of my favorite topics of conversation! It has also introduced me to so many people that I might not have ever had the opportunity to know and love. Overall, serving in this role these last few years has strengthened my connections and deepened my love for this place. For these reasons, I will forever hold this time as an important and powerfully rewarding period of my life.
However, the return to school this year has been an experience like none I have experienced in 20 years in schools. There is hardly a box in my brain in which I can fit in and process the daily traumas and stresses I am witnessing in my students, all of which have only been compounded by the sudden lack of resources our school district has to offer in both money and staff. (While the needs of our students are unprecedented, we still currently have 60 positions that are vacant across our district!)
And perhaps because I am crazy, I have somehow managed to decide that this already surreal educational moment is the perfect time for me to begin the process of pursuing my National Boards. The National Boards program is a teaching certification process that might take me up to two years and will require tremendous amounts of additional time and energy.
So though my work with the Board over the last 3 and ½ years has strengthened my relationship with the church in profound and positive ways, I have come to the decision that I need to step down from the Board so that I can maintain a balance, both spiritually and mentally, in order to jump into this new and unfamiliar pool of cold water. Over the last 6 weeks, I have been in conversation with the amazing Board Council team, Rev. Cathy, and Rev. Claudia about this decision and I am overwhelmingly grateful for the compassion and kindness and care that they have offered me as I contemplated my decision to step down. They really are the most top notch of people and have become not only friends but heroes and role models of a sort to me as well and it has been an honor and privilege and even a blessing (can I say that word as a UU?! ha!) to serve in this role. I am excited to say that the amazing Clyde Hardin will be stepping into the role of President moving forward. I am proud of not only the work that we have done together as a Board but even more so of the work that I have done on myself in the process. And though I will miss the work that happens around the Board table, I also plan to continue to be involved as an active participant in the work of the congregation. I guess there is no heading back into arm’s distance and the full body hugs are here to stay. After all, the congregation needs each one of us, now more than ever. So though I am leaving one role, I plan fully to step into other ones. I plan to continue to be here on Sundays be it virtually or face to face. I plan to pitch in when asked with odd jobs as they come up. And yep, I plan to look for other UUAsheville groups in action that I can join forces with to do the good work of this community. If I have learned anything in the last 2 and ½ years as Board President, it’s just how important it is that EVERYONE find a way to pitch in and participate and if I truly love this place, then Board or no Board, I will have to keep doing my part in helping hold the ship together so that we can all stay afloat.
Big hugs and love to you all and thanks for everything you all not only do for UUAsheville and the larger community but what yall have done for me and my family.
The Soul Matters theme for November is Holding History, and Scott Taylor shares a rabbinic wisdom story to illustrate the importance of “holding” our history.
A disciple asks the rebbe: “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The rebbe answers: “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So, we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.”
The wisdom in this story reminds us that educating ourselves about our history, personal and culturally, isn’t enough. It isn’t until we willing to accept the past by taking it into our hearts, so we fully grieve, forgive, confess, and redeem the past through apology and restitution.
It is disheartening to witness the overt refusal of so many people in our country to accept the ugly truth of our nation’s history to the degree that books that tell the truth are being banned from school curriculums. When I heard that one of the targeted books is Toni Morrison’s Beloved, I was outraged. The story in her first novel, The Bluest Eye, broke open my heart and continues to drive my commitment to do the difficult work of becoming an anti-racist. While I was serving our congregation in Chattanooga, I enrolled in an African American Literature class and was introduced to Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and more. Through these authors, I was introduced to the racist history of America that was not taught when I was growing up. And I know that one college class doesn’t make me an anti-racist.
Yesterday, UUC Asheville’s staff went on a Hood Huggers driving tour designed to teach the past, present, and future history of African Americans in Asheville led by founder, DeWayne Barton whose vision behind this innovative enterprise is “rebuilding Affrilachia through art, environment, and social enterprise.” The history we learned on this tour is a story of resilience and ingenuity while exposing how systemic racist policies and practices closed and bulldozed the all-black Stevens-Lee High School in 1965. Sadly, desegregation of schools did not improve the lives of blacks, in 2019 Asheville city schools ranked fifthin the nation in the achievement gap between whites and blacks and according to DeWayne, this has not improved.
Although you have been doing a great deal of work in this area already, one of the goals of the interim period is to address this issue and is directly stated in my contract:
1.5 Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression, and Multicultural Awareness: The Congregation and the Interim Minister are committed to understanding the ways systems of oppression within and beyond our Congregation are perpetuated and agree to collaborate on the development of a joint process of reflection and growth to ensure progress. This includes, but is not limited to, the ways in which the characteristics of dominant cultures live in our practices, systems procedures, and our very lives.
Your board of directors will be studying together Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be an Anti-Racist, in addition to working monthly with Rev Claudia to examine the existing “equity footprint” of UUC Asheville’s system of governance.
The Holding History theme provides an opportunity to reflect on our personal histories as well. Scott Taylor writes, “Remembering who we want to be is tied up with remembering where we’ve come from. Holding on to our roots keeps us rooted. It also keeps us connected to gratitude and humility.”
You don’t have to be in a small group to explore the rich resources and opportunities of this month’s theme. If you would like to receive a copy of the Holding History packet, send an email firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be delighted to share it with you,and to entice you, I offer this poem from the packet by Jo Harjo: https://poets.org/poem/remember-0.
In faith and love, Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister
Last Sunday our full Audio Visual Team was in the Sanctuary supporting our first live-streamed service. Rev. Cathy and I know it was frustrating when the link didn’t go live. We stuck it out, and many of you did, too. Thank you! Once we were live, the service went well. Whew! Our AV team figured out the glitches. We are all learning as we do the work and strive to create meaningful worship whether you are at home or in person.
Last Sunday, after Rev. Cathy and I discussed how, unlike Zoom worship when we can see your faces, preaching to an empty sanctuary while live-streaming is not fun. One of the joys of preaching is feeling the energy in the room and seeing our gathered community. So, as we continue to explore what in-person worship will be like (wait for it…) we will be experimenting with 10 congregants each Sunday in November signing up electronically to join us- masked and distanced, of course.
We are also planning a few outdoor gatherings in December (weather permitting). On December 12 we might have a tree decorating and cookie exchange. Some of you will be in the Sanctuary and you may want to join us after the service. Others are invited to drive over and join in the fun. What do you think? Cookies and tree decorating? We’ll have to work out the logistics. We will also have a second tree, the Tree of Hope. Last year we partnered with Sand Hill-Venable Elementary School to bring some holiday joy to students and families. UUCAsheville member, Laurel Stolte serves as assistant principal. Sand Hill-Venable is a Buncombe County school with a culturally and racially diverse student body, but also a high level of economic need (three-quarters of students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch). You will have the option to pick up a tree ornament from the Tree of Hope or from the online tree with instructions. Details and a link are forthcoming. If you are interested in being on the planning team, please let me know. I have a few ideas and we have a staff lead that will support making it happen. We can’t do this without your involvement. Having thought partners in planning events and even worship are ways to use your gifts and talents to serve the larger community.
This morning, we had a rehearsal for this Sunday’s Remembrance Service. That service was created in partnership with Les Downs, our music director; Kim Collins, our LRE Coordinator; and Nancy Bragg who leads the Good Grief Group. Everyone contributed ideas and together we crafted the service. I am experimenting with creating opportunities for diversifying the voices and music heard in worship as well as the team involved in crafting worship. I welcome your thoughts, ideas, and participation in worship planning and other faith development experiences, such as Vespers, Soul Matters Groups, and Wednesday Programs at UUCAsheville. On November 28 I will be leading worship “Gratitude & Songs.” I invite you to consider being part of the planning team and/or sharing songs or personal stories of gratitude. I look forward to our continued journey of faith development.
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development email@example.com
Glad you asked. I mean, just because you did it last year doesn’t mean you remember any of it. Here’s a rundown on what you need to know. If you’re still unclear, contact Ann McLellan, Tory Schmitz, or Margaret McAlister. (And thank them for the enormous time they’ve devoted to this project along with Deb Holden and Marta Reese.)
How will I get a catalog? Hmmm, “get” is a funny word here. You can VIEW the catalog at rsabid.com using the code 28801. Look in the upper right corner for “Check Out the Catalog!” There are various sortings of the items and search is available. If you are desperate for a print version, here is a link to a version of the catalog as it was on October 20. For any updates, check rsabid.com (code 28801).
Hey, I want to bid on something in the Silent Auction. Now what? First, wait until the auction actually opens at 8am on November 3. Then, head to rsabid.com (code 28801) and look in the upper right corner of the home page. (You can look now but can’t bid until November 3.) Select Sign In. On the page you land on, go to Request Account. (Even though you have signed in to view the catalog, you don’t have an account until you follow this step.) Fill out the form to request an account. Keep following directions as they come….. When you place your first bid you will be required to enter a credit card number. If you want your credit card on file early, or you don’t bid on anything in the silent auction but want to bid at the LIVE auction, call Ann McLellan at (828) 350-9005 and give her your card number over the phone. We don’t keep cards on file year to year. Silent Auction bidding opens on November 3 at 8am.
Is there anything else I need to know about bidding during the silent auction? There are several features you can access to automate your bidding if you’d like. Also, when you signed up you indicated whether you want emails or texts when someone outbids you on an item. If you don’t like the settings you chose, just go back and change them (My Account/My Settings).
What happens if I win something? At the LIVE Auction, you’ll know immediately. Once the Silent Auction closes on November 10 at 10pm you will be able to look at your account (My Account/Checkout) on rsabid.com to see exactly what you won. At that point you will be able to complete the purchase by charging to the credit card on file or by sending a check written to UUCA to Ann McLellan. Once we receive your payment, we’ll send you a certificate via email that either IS the won item (such as a gift certificate) or tells you how to claim it. If you’ve won a “thing,” you and the item donor will negotiate the exchange.
How will I get invited to the LIVE Zoom AUCTION? If you get our emails, you’ll get an invitation. In order to get the Zoom link you will have to register through that invitation. That link is not shareable so don’t forward it.
Are there still food and drink options even if we’re Zooming? Absolutely! The Coming-of-Age crowd is making this a Soup-er Event! Every Soup-er Event has its own sign-up link so watch for the Auction offer fairly close to November 6. They’ll have a drive-thru pickup set up at UU Asheville on November 6.
“And drinks?” you ask. Any time from now through LIVE Zoom Auction Day (November 6), you can visit Metro Wines on Charlotte Street to purchase special “UU Asheville Auction Wines” selected and discounted just for us! They have selected three wines that will definitely remind you of our Enchanted Garden theme. If you do buy something from Metro Wines, you can now enter the store or call (828) 575-9525 from your car for pickup (it’s better to order ahead but you can order from the parking lot if you need to).
Will the LIVE Zoom Auction be family-friendly? We’re sure trying for that. Some of the entertainments sprinkled throughout will definitely be kid-friendly, but as we’ve all learned, full kid-attention on Zoom is not a thing. It’s barely a thing with adults. That’s why we’re trying to keep the whole thing as short as possible while still accomplishing our mission. (As I recall, we ran closer to 90 minutes last year. Just sayin’.)
Tomorrow, many UU Asheville friends, members, and staff will head to The Mountain for our annual congregational retreat and I am giddy with anticipation. For new folks, the Mountain is a UU camp and conference center located outside Highlands, NC atop 4,200’ Little Scaly Mountain. I still get butterflies when driving up the winding road even though I know I am too old for youth camps there. No, things will not be as they were two years ago at the UU Asheville Gathering at The Mountain – putting our infant daughter on our dining table as a centerpiece, gleefully singing and eating indoors – unaware of how special unmasked times like those would become. But this weekend will still be awesome thanks to the preparation by Kristi Sanborn Miller and a host of others who have planned outdoor events and activities like a nice warm fire complete with stories and music on Saturday night.
My days of summer camp at The Mountain were filled with similar evenings listening to the music of local musician, Lee Knight. Lee was born in the Adirondack mountains but came to The Mountain as an employee about the time The Mountain was founded. He entertained youth camps there for more than four decades and became an accomplished musician playing with Pete Seeger, Wu Man, and the Kronos Quartet. I regret not seeing him at Carnegie Hall, but I have many bootleg recordings of his including one from our wedding and other recordings from around the campfire circle where we will be gathered on Saturday night.
A campfire almost sounds like an event that could happen on our new patio (is that a hint for a program?) Now that our sweet patio has been dedicated and broken in with a service under its belt, we can plan more outdoor and hybrid events, which is exactly what the staff has in mind. (The pet dedication service was a barking success, so much so that I was not able to listen at home thanks to our Labradoodle, Chloe, who was happily conversing with other attendees.) Yes, UU Asheville leaders are brainstorming creative ways to get together and we will continue our pivot and roll with the punches. For me, being in the presence of others seeking a deeper connection is the core of UU Asheville. Looking around and seeing a smiling face looking back at you in the midst of a shared experience is what we find at UU Asheville and it reminds me of some of my favorite lyrics from a Lee Knight’s song:
Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Sometimes you have those lowdown blues. But your smiling face and this pretty place, And I’m so glad to be with you.
I hope to see you at The Mountain or on the patio soon.
The Soul Matters theme for October is Cultivating Relationship, and one purpose of this theme is to help us reflect on what we have learned from the pandemic. Perhaps most importantly, the pandemic taught us not to take our relationships for granted. Our arms literally ache to hug our loved ones after being separated for longer than we could have ever imagined. And not being able to meet in person with our beloved church community has been a tremendous loss as well. As the COVID rates continue to go down, we have reason to be hopeful that we will be able to ease into meeting safely in person before too long, so hang in there!
In the meantime, we are creating opportunities to get together for outdoor activities and worship. It has been a joy to meet some of you in person at events such as the Coming of Age Kickoff, the Third Thursday Joyful Noise gathering, the Patio Dedication (thanks to all who came out in the rain), and I look forward to meeting more of you at the outdoor Animal Blessing this Sunday. Come and hear the Sandburgers play Peter, Paul & Mary and Steve Miller! And there will be treats for both pets and their humans!
With the help of our technical gurus, Steve Carter and Jen Bennett, we are aiming for our first hybrid worship service, so you have the option to stay home and watch on Zoom. I am compiling the delightful pet photos you have been sending, and I have room for more! Send your favorite pet photos firstname.lastname@example.org ASAP, and don’t forget to add their names. We will also honor the beloved pets who are no longer with us in body but remain forever in our hearts, so send me a photo to add to the Memorial Slides. We will remember them with gratitude and love.
I am looking forward to meeting more of you at the Gathering at The Mountain next weekend. Bring your questions regarding the interim process or anything else on Saturday afternoon at 3pm on the common deck for the Ask the Minister event.
My friend and colleague, Hilary Krivchenia, said it best; “We are like aspen trees – who have mistakenly thought that since we look like many trees that is the truth – but under the ground, our root system is one – we are fully alive when we are connected because we are, we were always, part of one another”. May we never forget this hard-earned pandemic wisdom.
In faith and love, Rev, Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister
The first big change is the name of our program. We have been making the shift from Religious Education to Religious Exploration for a while now, so it was time to make that change official. While there is still education involved, we feel that exploration more accurately reflects what we are doing in RE. We have learned over the last couple of years that flexibility and adaptability are key. We had hoped to begin RE in a more “normal” way this year, but the Delta variant put a stop to those plans in late August so we’re adapting and flexing our way to a program that we hope will lead to more community, commitment, and putting our values into practice.
So, what’s happening in RE this year?
For our K-8 groups, we’ll have a combination of online and in-person gatherings. We’ll be using the fabulous Soul Matters material for children and youth to keep exploring our monthly themes, our UU values, how to work towards liberation for ALL people, and hopefully keep connections going as we look forward to being able to be all together again on our beautiful campus. We have new, lovely outdoor spaces, and we’ve invested in outdoor furniture and shelters so that we can utilize those outdoor spaces as long as the weather cooperates. Make sure to register your kids for RE so you can receive up-to-date information about what we’re doing in RE.
We’re happy to bring back Coming of Age (CoA) this year for our 9th-10th graders. They have already begun their journey to look deeper into themselves and our UU community — to better understand and define their spiritual beliefs, how our liberal faith shapes their lives, and how to enact that in the world. These 10 youths are joined by their 4 group facilitators and 10 mentors, who are also more deeply exploring Unitarian Universalism alongside the CoA teens. The group is meeting in person (mostly outside) and are headed to their fall retreat at the YMCA campus in Black Mountain this weekend for some community building and UU exploration.
Note: in hopes of a youth trip while they’re still in high school, the families will be offering some modified “Soup Sundays – and other days!” Coming soon at the Third Thursday events, the Remembrance and Halloween celebration 10/31, and the UUAsheville Auction (11/6), watch for the announcements about how to get fed by and support our youth – and sometimes enjoy fellowship on the UUAsheville grounds too!
YRUU = Young Religious Unitarian Universalists, our high school youth group, will kick off their meet-ups this Sunday, October 3, at 11:00 outdoors on campus. We look forward to bringing our older teens together for some new and classic adventures and exploration:
This fall we hope to get involved with the BeLoved Village homebuilding project to help combat housing insecurity in our community.
We’ll explore our congregational themes to discover and deepen what is holy and sacred to us.
We’ll cook together! We’ll provide food for our congregants in need and send care packages to our college students. We hope to learn bread- or bagel-making from Rev. Cathy!
We’ll offer the high school version of Our Whole Lives (OWL) to foster healthy sexuality and relationships.
We’ll take a “Hood Tour” with Hood Huggers to learn about the powerful and resilient history, present, and future of African Americans in Asheville. Info here.
We look forward to bringing you the annual YRUU-led worship service in February.
We’ll discover what it means to be a member of UUCA and invite youth to join.
And we’ll play, laugh, converse, create…and so much more! We can’t wait to be together again and discover what we can do together.
The generosity of our and our partners’ congregants from Faith Communities Organizing for Sanctuary recently completed the funding needed for Maria’s legal fees. Her lawyer will pursue a different strategy requiring character reference letters that humanize Maria. If you know Maria, there is still time to write a letter of support. The deadline is September 30. An Action Alert was sent out with details. Contact me if you have any questions.
Also, please plan to attend the masked gathering on October 3 at UUAsheville from 1:00-3:00pm to dedicate our new outdoor patio. We will also be dedicating the new sculptures in our Memorial Garden. Maria and Esteban will bring their food truck. This is an opportunity to directly support Maria and enjoy her delicious tacos. There will also be a DJ and the possibility of salsa dancing instruction if there is interest. A bailar!
On October 3 during worship we will celebrate Religious Exploration facilitators and mentors with a dedication. October 3 is a busy day! It is also the date for our Coming of Age fall retreat. Since they will not be able to attend service, I want to be sure to recognize our Coming of Age mentors* and facilitators* who will be spending their day with our COA youth. Lots of dedications happening at UUAsheville because there are a lot of dedicated people! Yeah!
Faith Development programs start next month. Volunteers and staff have been planning and looking forward to your participation. Soul Matters and Creativity Matters groups launch with October’s theme, “Cultivating Relationship,” so appropriate to these times when relationships have been stressed and deepened. Contact Venny Zachritz if you are interested in joining a group. We have an “empty chair” for you!
6:30 Vespers and 7PM Programs also resume in October. Each Wednesday there will be a theme: 1st Wed (Oct 6) – Soul Matters Theme Conversation – October is Cultivating Relationship
2nd Wed (Oct 13) – Liberation Conversations (Anti-racism defines us by what we are against; liberation defines us by what we are for. Let me know what you think of making a name change)
3rd Wed (Oct 20) – Spiritual Practices
4th Wed (Oct 27) – Theology: Exploring Core Theological Themes (During the first session, “Theology 101,” we will discuss which themes we will explore in future months. Beauty, Evil, God, Peace & Non-Violence, Suffering, Joy, Prayer, Forgiveness & Reconciliation, are just some examples. Our resource will be Theology Ablaze by UU minister, Rev. Tom Owen-Towle.
Contact me if you have questions or would like to lead Vespers. An outline and support are provided for Vespers leaders.
I am excited about what this new Faith Development year will bring. Amid the challenge of this moment, it is important we make time to connect and nurture our spirits.
P.S. Next week’s blog will feature our religious educators, Jen and Kim, highlighting our offerings for children and youth Religious Exploration.
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
Shawn Landreth Missy Reed Tony Reed Clyde Hardin Maggie Reynolds Poist Sarah Hargrove Mame Fleming Will Smith Allison Hardesty Laurel Jernigan Deanna Banks Tom House
COA Facilitators Allen Currens Brian Daniel Steve Lapointe
Now there’s a three-for-one Gordian knot if I ever saw one. When a staff person writes a blog, I’m pretty sure there’s an unwritten rule that you don’t complain or whine (much) or lay guilt on folks or throw shade (I think I finally got the meaning of that new-to-me idiom right—took a while). However, there seem to be times……
Without intending to do any of those three, here goes.
We have a new interim lead minister. She’s pretty darn cool (have you HEARD some of her background stories?). She has a very specific set of jobs to do to help US prepare for our called minister. One loop of that knot wonders how she can help us if she doesn’t KNOW us?
(Hey, did you know that there are “parts of a knot?” I looked that up on the way to this metaphor.)
An elbow of that knot is COVID. THAT turned what could have been a quite lovely meeting among new minister and congregants into a nightmare of Zoom and one-on-ones and lots of people not “tuning in” to either services or events or the website or eNews. This creates what Rev. Cathy has referred to as her phantom congregation.
And then, how about a little bight that actually starts the knot–the need for community-by all humans as it turns out.
Here’s the kind of headline that scares staff members: Churches face volunteer shortages, difficulty mobilizing congregants amid pandemic, experts warn. Now that seems like a no-brainer because how could that NOT be true right now, but it IS a most difficult circumstance when trying to learn about your brand-new congregation.
And then there’s the article from long-time church consultant Lawrence Peers. He writes,
Talking with another clergyperson recently, we bemoaned the current spike in COVID-19 infections and the Delta variant. Congregations were moving in the direction of “opening up” again for indoor worship and activities. All systems were go, it seemed.
But then many congregations, in an abrupt retreat, slowed down or modified reopening plans. The ink on books about the “post-pandemic church” was hardly dry as we found ourselves thinking about a possible longer arc of this health crisis.
Suddenly my colleague blurted out, “Maybe I don’t want to do this hard thing.”
The hardest thing for many clergy about this current situation is not knowing what to do or when to do it—or whether it will be enough.
When I was feeling overwhelmed by the current situation of reopening, I created a compass to help me channel my feelings of overwhelm into four directions:
Reconnect with one another and our wider community.
Rebound as we bounce back to increased levels of participation and service.
Redevelop all of our offerings as a highly inclusive, engaging multiplatform congregation.
Renew our commitment to our mission and our generous support of that mission.
This is what all of our staff are doing right now. We’re all trying so hard to do all four of those things. PLUS, as a congregation, we need to help Rev. Cathy help us.
So, here’s what I’m asking: please, please try to do more with UU Asheville than you have in the past year. I know it’s hard, you’re in a different rhythm now, who needs to “attend” an 11am service when you can watch it later (or never), I know you planned to come to that in-person event but then you forgot, or it didn’t feel right, or something else came up, but to steal a phrase from Charlie Marks, we really, really need you!
We need you to reconnect, bounce back to increased levels of participation and service, support our efforts as we offer in-person and online programs, and sort of summarizing it all, renew your commitment to our mission and your generous support of the mission with time, talent, and money.
OK, first things first, if you haven’t watched the video of Revs. Cathy and Claudia, please stop reading and click on this link. Their energy and giggles will improve the quality of your day as it did mine and I think we can learn from their general approach–reframing disappointing news as an opportunity for growth. They explain the rationale behind the decision NOT to meet for in-person services at UUAsheville due to the delta variant of the coronavirus. As a scientist, I understand we made these decisions keeping in mind the recommendations of the CDC and the Unitarian Universalist Association regarding the variant.
Personally, I am disappointed by the news we will not meet in person for services in our beautiful sanctuary. I consider myself to be a rather rigid person who thrives when things go according to plan and schedule. My children ask me about “church” and the coronavirus (will there be a spiritual developmental lag?) and when we can go there. I have been fumbling for answers, but now I will fumble less because there will be creative opportunities for outdoor gatherings spearheaded by Rev. Cathy, Rev. Claudia and other members of our community.
But I can’t help noting that their approach of reframing the bad news as an opportunity is a characteristic of lucky and happy people. Social science researcher Richard Wiseman writes that people who consider themselves lucky often imagine how things could have been worse. I have very little trouble imagining services resuming at UUAsheville and coronavirus infections happening as a result. It would be devastating to have infections or deaths of members of our family, possibly young and old, because we rushed getting back together. When I think about it in this fashion, the decision to wait is much easier to stomach, but the work to keep the commnity together through this time will not be, and the congregation will need to shoulder some of the load. If something has resonated with you from a service, send a message to Cathy or Claudia. If you have ideas, please let us know! We want to hear from you.
Luck researcher Wiseman highlights other attributes of lucky people and describes them as resilient, optimistic, intuitive, and open to chance encounters – all qualities I strive for personally and qualities I am attracted to in organizations and people. Our congregation is filled with such people and participating in services and UUAsheville activities increases the likelihood of a positive chance encounter with such individuals. We are also very lucky to have two resilient and optimistic women leading us, so please join us virtually on Sundays and in-person for fun events. I hope to see you soon!
As we enter the beginning of the new church year and embark on the work of interim ministry together, we are challenged by unforeseen circumstances that keep us from gathering in person. This is disappointing but know that much work is being done behind the scenes to make our return to church as safe as possible. Sadly, Buncombe County has a “Very High Risk” level and large indoor, in-person gatherings are not possible. This Ingathering Greeting from UUA President Rev. Susan Frederick-Grayhttps://youtu.be/RSqmSeyhQ-Y offers UU congregations both guidance and comfort as we navigate these difficult times. She acknowledges that the Delta variant setback has left us feeling frustrated, heart-broken, and exhausted.
We hoped to be in the sanctuary together by September 12 but since that isn’t possible for a while, Rev Claudia, Linda, and I have been brainstorming ways to gather safely outside while the weather permits. The Dedication Ceremony of the beautiful new patio on Sunday, October 3 from 1-3 promises to be lots of fun with a food truck and music. Another opportunity for fellowship and fun is being planned for Thursday, September 16 at 5:30. We will call it “Third Thursday” and while this is still evolving there is a rumor that drumming will be involved.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and you are invited to stop by the church from 4-5 pm on Saturday, September 11 to light a candle of memory and hope. Rev Claudia and I will be there, and Les will provide beautiful piano music to honor the solemn occasion.
Our Soul Matters theme for September is Embracing Possibility invites us to consider that “Embracing Possibility has more to do with being a people of vulnerability and courage than we’ve thought. The work isn’t just about believing in possibility. It’s about being willing to endure a few wounds along the way. It can hurt to be hopeful.” Taking care of ourselves and one another needs to be a priority for us right now. The pandemic has shown us what matters most in life, and family, friends and beloved community have moved into a prime priority position for many of us. Margaret Wheatly sums it up best: There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about. Ask: “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking. Notice what you care about.
This is just one of many gems of wisdom found in this month’s Soul Matters small groups packet. Soul Matters groups will be starting again in October, but if you are interested in having an experience of a small group but aren’t ready to commit for whatever reason, I’m going to offer a monthly “Taste of Soul” session. Even if you don’t join a small group, the monthly packet is a wealth of resources for self-reflection and exploration. This month we will meet on Sunday, September 26th at 1 pm via Zoomhttps://uuma.m.us/j/93936564103. I hope you will give it a try!
I look forward to meeting you, and in addition to my Zoom office hours and outdoor UUCA events, we can meet for a walk, a one-on-one Zoom appointment, or share time enjoying the beautiful UUCA campus. Email me for an appointment and join me in embracing the synergy that emerges when we ask one another, “what is possible?”
As I was scrolled through my digital pictures for our water service this week, I did a lot of reminiscing of the morning beach walks, expansive skies and dramatic cloudscapes that lifted my spirits when I lived in Florida. I return a few times a year to visit my parents who live next door to the house we sold when we moved to Asheville. A lot of beach photos and memories. The picture I chose was not one of those. Instead, I chose a picture of a sunrise at Beaver Lake in North Asheville. Walking or jogging around the lake has become my new morning practice, replacing beach walks at dawn. As I scrolled through those pictures, I have many memories of the three years I have been in Asheville. The move has brought new opportunities and experiences. I am still close to the water, and it still brings calmness and delight.
Similarly, UUCA is undergoing a move of sorts. A new interim minister moving us into a new chapter in the life of the congregation. Who are we? Who have we been? Who will we be?
We are also moving toward embracing online church as we begin another church year during a pandemic when indoor gatherings are not yet possible without appropriate safety precautions. Our Sanctuary has been outfitted for live streaming, which will be the next step in deepening our online ministry. In fact, from now on we will be offering hybrid programming in a lot of areas. We will have options for both in-person and virtual church in worship and faith development. And we will also embrace opportunities for outdoor programs and gatherings, especially this fall until we are able to gather safely indoors.
I invite you to consider how you will return to church this year. Our services will be live via Zoom, and you will continue to receive a link to the recording on Mondays.
Check out our Zoom water service this year. Our programs will have both online and masked gathering components.
Join our September 11 Memorial at UUCA. Our Music Director, Les Downs, will be playing piano from 4 to 5 PM while members and friends, individually or in family pods, walk into the Sanctuary, light a candle, and experience a moment of silence. Participants will then exit through one of the side doors in the Sanctuary. Masks are recommended and requested.
Join us for the Blessing of the Patio in early October (tentatively October 2) to celebrate and bless the new outdoor space that will create opportunities for gathering.
You might also consider joining us for the Halloween Parade around our campus on October 31. Details coming soon (as soon as we invent them!).
You may also consider joining a Soul Matters group (formerly known as Covenant Groups) when they launch in October. They provide opportunities for connection, deep listening, and reflection. We are experimenting with a new group, Creativity Matters, which uses art to explore the monthly theme. I participated in the Creativity Matters pilot this past year, and it not only awakened my creativity but also helped in building trust and being vulnerable with my creations. And did I mention? It was fun! There was a lot of laughter and music in our gatherings.
There are many ways to re-connect with UUCA this new church year. I look forward to seeing you online and/or at one of our masked gatherings. Be well, Beloveds! Check in with each other. And cultivate delight amid the harsh realities of this time.
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
When the Reopening Task Force got close to concluding our work, we all agreed that what we were deciding was going to work “unless something changes.” Well, something has changed. And because Delta COVID + unvaccinated folks have changed the game, we’re changing ours.
Instead of September 12 as our reopening target date, we will now aim for December 5 as our first in-person worship service. UNLESS SOMETHING CHANGES. (See a theme?) I’m actually a bit pessimistic that we’ll hit that target because of the vaccination rate of children under 12, but we’ll go with that date for now and see what happens.
This decision was made by UUCA’s senior staff (Rev. Cathy, Rev. Claudia, and me) and is in keeping with the UUA’s “Guidance for Gathering in Covenantal Community”:
As part of our covenantal commitment to care for all, we encourage congregations to maintain a culture of masking while indoors regardless of vaccination status, and to take time to listen deeply to one another’s concerns and fears before making any decisions that might put members of the community at risk, either physically or mentally, with a continued practice of inclusion, covenant, consent, and care for each other.
This decision is for in-person worship services only. We are not “locking down” the building (yet?) so we are still allowing groups to meet in any room on campus, although we strongly encourage picking the largest room available for your meeting time. All buildings have had their HVAC systems upgraded with additional filtering and UV-C light treatments, so we feel that the rooms are aired out enough for group meetings. However, it’s important to practice inclusion, covenant, consent, and care for each other. Some of us are perfectly happy being unmasked in a room with other individuals, vaccinated or not, others would require everyone to be vaccinated, others will want to have everyone masked, and others won’t go inside just yet. So as a leader of a group, please get consent from everyone before finalizing a decision. Remember that the church Zoom account is always ready for action.
As for our in-person November 6 auction, Enchanted Garden, it will now be a somewhat Dis-Enchanted Garden on Zoom. Same date, different “venue.” PLEASE help our fabulous auction team byproviding donations and attending the event. These hard-working volunteers deserve your support.
As for worship services between now and December 5 (or beyond), they will all be live online at 11am with a recording available on Monday morning. Sometime this fall we will switch from live-on-Zoom to live-on-YouTube once our amazing A/V techs learn how to use our fancy new video equipment in the Sanctuary. We will also be scheduling outdoor events in September, October and November so watch the Weekly eNews or our Facebook groups or our website for announcements (which you should be doing anyway—just sayin’)
The last time I wrote the blog entry for the Board of Trustees was just before the pandemic began to rage in earnest, and not long after Rev. Mark Ward announced that he planned to retire (for the first time). Not being clairvoyant, I had nothing to say about the pandemic; so I went straight to the issues of transition. Having been active in the UU movement for many years, I had seen three separate ministerial transitions, up close and personal. To briefly summarize that blog entry, I was trying to say that my experiences gave me faith that, while the ministerial transition was going to require work on our parts, it would reward us with a growth-inspiring, re-invigorating and exciting time for UUCA.
Fast forward to today… The pandemic raged, calmed a bit, raged very wildly, then calmed greatly as vaccinations rolled out, and now is raging wildly again, mainly amongst the unvaccinated. Our beloved Rev. Ward stepped up and took one for the team by “unretiring,” and then ably guided us through that scary, uncertain time. We’ve now said our goodbyes to Mark, and have welcomed Rev. Cathy Harrington, our new Interim Lead Minister to UUCA.
But “transition,” I believe, is still the watchword for UUCA. The pandemic has thrown us a devastating curve ball, so the transition to normal life (or maybe “new normal” life) remains much further off in the distance than we’d hoped a month or so ago. How do we as individuals respond? How does UUCA respond? On the ministerial transition front, Rev. Cathy has been on staff for less than two weeks, and the congregation’s work with her is yet to really begin. What’s life at UUCA going to be like with Rev. Cathy? Are we going to be okay? So, transitions still abound; and I’m compelled (or, constrained by my lack of originality) to write about it once again.
The angle I want to take today, though, is through an analogy. (Anyone who knows me knows I just love a good analogy…) In The Parable of the Trapeze, author Danaan Parry analogizes an acrobat’s leap from one trapeze bar to the next trapeze bar to how we make personal transitions. Perhaps you’ve heard or read this – I was introduced to it by a sermon at another UU church. While I recommend reading Parry’s actual words (follow the link above – a short read!) for the is the fullest and best description, the analogy roughly goes like this: You are swinging on a trapeze bar, tightly holding on, but basically comfortable dealing with your current life. Then off in the distance, you see another trapeze bar, and you just know that that is where you are supposed to go. It’s frightening thinking about making that transition – letting go of the “safe” bar you’re currently on, not knowing fully what the “new” bar you’re headed for will mean for you, and deathly scared of that period of time when you are in mid-air, not holding on to anything at all. Parry’s thesis is not just that personal transitions are like those periods between bars, but that those periods are incredibly rich, and even further hypothesizes that “[maybe] the transition zone is the only real thing and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void where the real change, the real growth, occurs for us.”
What a great way to look at our transitions at UUCA! And that goes not just for our own personal growth as individuals, but for UUCA’s institutional growth. Each of us as individuals will of course deal with the pandemic and the ministerial transition – as well as our own personal transitions – in our own individual ways. But if we all can embrace these transitions as true growth opportunities and can be brave about getting to that next bar when we know we just must go there, I believe that some great things will happen at UUCA in the coming years.
I, personally, am already excited about working with Rev. Cathy. I believe that the Board is excited as well. And I trust UUCA as a group to figure out how to deal with new and future pandemic realities. So, I’ve got the resin on my hands, and I’m swinging harder and holding tightly onto my current trapeze bar, and getting ready for that magical time when I leap off into the void. See you on the next bar!
Let your joy be in your journey – not in some distant goal. –Tim Cook
It’s August, and I am excited to begin our time together as your Interim Lead Minister! As I have gotten older and wiser, my main goal in life has been to cultivate joy in my personal life and in my ministry. We have a lot of important work to do in the next two years as you prepare to call a new settled minister, but it has been my experience that there is joy, growth, and possibility in that work. There is room for fun, too. One of my first tasks as your interim minister is to get to know you as a congregation and individually. I’ll be delving into your history, spending time visiting your committee meetings (please invite me) and meeting with as many of you as possible. This can be done via Zoom or in person. I love to meet outside, sitting under a shade tree, or walking in nature. With the uncertainty due to the rise of the Delta variant, we will honor CDC guidelines to keep everyone safe.
The goal of the interim period is to answer three questions: Who were we? Who are we? Who do we wish to be? I look forward to getting to know you over the next few weeks. Someone once said, “We must go slowly, we have so little time.” There is often a sense of urgency and anxiety about getting the work done, but my job is to help you slow down and take time to discover who you are now and where you want to go. This is an essential first step that will inform the rest of our work together.
In a brief period, I’ve attended a board meeting, an all-staff meeting, a worship associates meeting and had individual and joint meetings with senior staff. Wow! I am honored to work with such a talented and dedicated team! UUCA is on solid ground with a bright and exciting future! But this doesn’t just happen without the support of the members and friends of a congregation. There are many reasons to celebrate your accomplishments and the hard work that brought you to this place. I would love to hear your stories about a time the congregation was particularly meaningful to you. Send them to me in an email if meeting in person isn’t feasible.
For you to know who I am, I will share a bit about my life’s journey and path to ministry in this Sunday’s sermon. It’s a lot of life so I’ll abbreviate a bit, but mostly I’ll share how I learned to face my fears and discover my purpose and direction in life.
My office hours are Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday 10-2, but I will be available to meet by appointment at other times as well. Friday is normally my study day, and Saturday will be devoted to Sunday service prep and Monday is my sabbath. I want you to feel comfortable reaching out to me in times of need day or night. My cell number is 231-301-3177 and you may call or text me.
I look forward to hearing about your joys, concerns, and hopes for the future of UUCA!
As I’m writing this, it’s been two days since our Religious Education Celebration service. I’ve been reflecting on the service and thinking about how all the pieces and participants were what made it so special. It felt like the perfect culmination of this strange and extraordinary year in RE. Some of us cried, all of us laughed, and everyone gave what they could. We are extremely grateful not only to the volunteers who helped make it happen, but also to the children and youth of this congregation who participated in RE in whatever way felt right to them this year.
When Jen Johnson and I were planning for RE last summer, we must have scrapped our plans at least three times to start over. When things began to shut down in March, we already had the 2020-21 RE year planned. We were just about to start recruiting volunteers. Obviously that went right out the window when the seriousness of the situation became apparent. Things were changing so fast and the timeline for when we might reopen kept getting pushed further back. We knew that we had to offer a program that would meet as many needs as possible, but also that we would need help. Once we decided what to do, we started looking for the helpers. We were blessed to have so many folks step up to help with everything from leading online sessions to stuffing and delivering our “church in box”.
We don’t know quite what we’ll be up to in RE next year yet, but we’re working on it. Jen and I will be spending the next few weeks planning for the fall and beyond, and we’d love to hear from parents and kids about what you want to do in RE next year. We’ve been thinking about it over the last few months, but now is the time to make decisions and put things in motion. It’s definitely still going to look different than what we did pre-pandemic, but I think that’s a good thing. We’ve learned a lot about doing this work in a different way this year, and it has only made our program stronger and more committed to the faith development of children, youth, and adults at UUCA.
Not only do we need input on what our program should include, we will need folks to make it happen. We’ll need people to teach in RE, help out with family ministry outside of Sunday mornings, and help behind the scenes. If cleaning and organizing is your thing, we’ll definitely need you in August. Many of our rooms haven’t been inhabited in over a year and could use some love and attention. Please reach out to us if you know how you’d like to pitch in or what age group you’d like to work with. Being able to offer our program is largely dependent on having dedicated volunteers. Teacher training is on the schedule for Saturday, August 28, so mark your calendars! We are going to need you.
In faith, Kim Collins, Lifespan Religious Education Coordinator
I sometimes think that the people who know me well often can get frustrated and confused by my distractability and forgetfulness. Or perhaps more specifically, by the inconsistency of these traits in me. One day, I am extremely organized and on top of things and the next day I seem to have forgotten everything. One day, I am thoughtful and appreciative of important events and moments, the next day I forget to say things like thank you or Happy Birthday.
Thinking of Mark’s retirement has been no different. In many ways, as a member of the Interim Search Committee I have been thinking of his retirement for a couple of years now. As a member of the Board, I have met with him monthly or more and we have talked about his departure and the transition and changes ahead. I watched his last service a few weeks ago and was all weepy at the end. And yet here we are at the end of June, Mark is (almost) retired and I am looking around like “Where the hell did the time go?! I thought we still had another year ahead! After all, doesn’t the church need to be reopened before he can actually leave it?!” I had all intention to proactively reflect on what Mark has meant to me and yet it seems as if I blinked and his time with us is pretty much over and I am kind of looking around with one big “d’oh” expression on my face. But if you are prone to run behind like I do, then the words “Better Late than Never” can be a mantra and the time to reflect can happen even in the last seconds of the shot clock.
Neither Will nor myself had a background or knowledge of Unitarian Universalism as a denomination; however we just so happened to get married by a UU minister in Durham and decided that once we moved to Asheville we would make a point to stop into one and check it out. After a summer of settling in, we finally walked through the doors in the fall of 2006. Fortunately for us, Mark was at the pulpit. I wish I could remember the topic he spoke to that day but instead all I remember was the inclusion of poetry. I could be totally wrong but for some reason Emily Dickinson and Audre Lorde come to mind. I remember we smiled at one another as we listened to him talk and after we left, we spoke about how comforting the experience was and how we almost wished we had had a notebook to take notes in so that we could reflect back upon them later. We decided to come back the next Sunday and then we just kept coming back. Mark had hooked us both with his words.
Over the first few years, we were pretty quiet and kind of stuck to ourselves and our direct interactions with Mark were typically brief and infrequent. Will and I found ourselves both feeling connected to this strange sense of Mark as a father figure of sorts but aside from always giving him big hugs in the foyer as we exited the sanctuary, we didn’t really speak often. When I finally started to reach out to Mark more directly, he probably would have preferred that I hadn’t. I embarrassingly remember sending him emails about the name change from church to congregation as well as my thoughts regarding when exactly “Joys and Sorrows” should take place in the order of service. Despite my uncomfortably long hugs and my entitlement emails, he always seemed to be genuinely happy to see me. We kept coming back.
I think perhaps a big shift in how I saw Mark came in May of 2009 when my brother tragically died in a car accident. Returning to be with my family in Eastern North Carolina, I was struggling to find a spiritual space for grieving amidst the evangelical voices all around me and found myself wanting to reach out to Mark for some kind of framework or anchor or, hell, maybe an answer to what had happened to my brother and why. Though I was an official “member” of UUCA and was down with hugs and emails, I am not sure if I truly felt a sense of belonging or of actual relationship until that moment. It might just be my faulty memory but I actually think that when I sent Mark that email, I prefaced it with an introduction/reminder of who I was as I figured that he might not really be sure. His response however was as kind and strong and genuine as his embrace always was in the foyer. He responded with heartfelt words of condolences and he shared poems and reflections that I was able to use for my own processing. I had never really felt that I would want or need a “minister” to help me make sense of my own life and yet there I was.
Over the years, Mark would go on to be involved in more important moments in our lives. When Rainier was born and still just a babe, Mark blessed him in front of the congregation, doing that magical thing with water and fire and flower and if I remember correctly, he blew into Rainier’s face. Ha! Can you imagine that now?! For part of the dedication, Mark held our son in his arms briefly before Rainier began to wiggle and lean his way back to us. It somehow seemed like an actual blessing having Mark dedicate our son in front of and with our congregation. A few years later, when marriage equality was finally realized, Will and I knew that although we had in our own minds been married years before in 2005, we needed to “get married” again. On October 22nd, 2015, with our 5-year-old son serving as our Best Man, Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper recording and volunteers from the Book Sale serving as witnesses, Mark “officially” married us in the UUCA Sanctuary. It was on the same day as our 10th wedding anniversary.
Over the last few years, my relationship with Mark has continued to change.
As president of the Board, I have met with him at least 2 times a month and gotten to know him better as a minister, as a caring part of the congregation, and as an individual. I have to admit that it was a strange shift in relationship at first (maybe still) as I have had to learn to work WITH Mark rather than under him. After all, when someone feels a bit like a father figure of sorts, it can be strange to start having to think of them as your colleague instead. Rather than talk down or to me or attempt to “direct” me, he has consistently simply encouraged me to have some faith in myself, to get comfortable with my own voice, and figure out what leadership looked like for me. He has listened while I ranted and raved in frustration, while I cried dramatically with self-doubt, and supported and cheered me on when I needed it.
When I think back on our last 16 years here at UUCA, I am overwhelmed with awareness and gratitude for the changes that have taken place within me, within our family, and within this larger congregational community. I think of so many incredible, inspirational, and deeply wise people that I have gotten to know as part of this community including Rev. Claudia and Rev. Lisa as well as a crackerjack staff that includes/has included Linda, Tish, Jen, Kim, Susan, Benette, Taryn, Les, Milt, Lenora, as well as every member of the Board that I have worked with. But if I want to look for an origin story for how my family found ourselves here, it would be the day that we walked in and Mark was standing at the pulpit and how he made us feel right at home. I was 31 back then. I am 47 now and the man I have become has been largely influenced by Mark Ward. I will forever be grateful for that day and all the days since during which I have been fortunate to have been able to call him my minister and my friend. Thank you, Mark.
So what are your memories of Mark? What are you grateful for? What would you want him to know about how he has been a part of your life here at UUCA?
On Saturday, July 10th from 2:00-4:00, there will be a Retirement Celebration for him at the E.W. Grove Park (just a block past the church). Please come out and join us to celebrate his ministry and to wish him well as he moves into his next chapter! And perhaps consider writing down some of your own thoughts about what Mark has meant to you so that we can collect them all and share them with him to keep. The times ahead are ripe with excitement, possibility and change for both Mark as well as our entire congregation. Let’s celebrate this transition by honoring all that Mark has shared with us and who we have been together these last 17 years before we all collectively step into our bright futures.
This month, we had the first in-person staff meeting in over a year. It was wonderful to see each other, reconnect and share a potluck lunch after our meeting. It was also Rev. Mark’s last meeting. We shared stories and laughter reminiscing about our work together. That meeting felt like a first step in re-constituting community after a year of mostly virtual engagement with each other. No masks. No physical distancing. Just a small group of colleagues reconnecting and continuing the work of the congregation in Sandburg Hall.
Many of us have been vaccinated. We are feeling more comfortable socializing and traveling to visit family and friends. It is wonderful to see people’s smiles and not have to maintain physical distance from each other. It is heartwarming to hear people sharing about trips to see grandchildren and family, to comfort friends grieving the loss of a loved one or those caring for someone who is ill. There is so much joy in reconnecting with each other, even if it is to grieve or lament. Being present to each other is a blessing. My daughter, who I haven’t seen in over a year, arrived yesterday. It was emotional and reassuring to be able to hold her in my arms. We are re-constituting community, one person at a time. Who have you been reconnecting with during this time of re-emergence?
It feels a little awkward not knowing when to wear a mask. Some places require it still. And, even if they don’t, I wonder about those who are immune-compromised or too young to be vaccinated. How do they or their parents feel about going out when most people are no longer masked and they or their loved ones are still vulnerable? What should our priorities be as we return to in-person gatherings and worship at UUCA? I am grateful for the Reopening Task Force that will explore best practices for safely re-constituting (and perhaps expanding) our community. How do we adjust after months of limited personal interactions outside our pods or solitude?
Many of us anticipate the day when we can worship in our beautiful Sanctuary. We don’t have a date yet. Our Faith Development programs for children, youth, and adults will begin in October to give staff time to finalize program plans during August and September after a much-deserved break in July. It will also allow us to incorporate recommendations of the Reopening Task Force.
Until then, may we each find ways to begin the process of re-constituting our UUCA community. Who have you missed seeing in person? Maybe you can reach out and check in with them. Maybe your covenant group or committee can consider gathering in person to celebrate the work you have done this pandemic year? What insights have you gained during this time apart? What are you looking forward to when we gather again? It will be a joyous time for our community when we can be together. I look forward to celebrating our collective joy when we return to gathering at UUCA. I’m particularly excited to start an exploration of our aspirations and dreams for the next phase of UUCA in partnership with our interim minister, Rev. Cathy Harrington. So, rest up and recharge! I look forward to being with you again for our live-on-Zoom August 1 Poetry Sunday service. Have a great summer!
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
We have a Reopening Task Force put together and you will soon be getting a survey that will provide us with information we will be needing to make some decisions about how we will proceed. With your input and the wisdom of the Task Force, we will come up with the “rules of engagement.”
Right now, I want to explain MY thinking. This is NOT an opinion of the Task Force and I expect the Task Force to give this opinion no more consideration than that of any other Task Force member. (That’s why we have committees, doncha know.)
These are the facts I am working with:
Vaccinated people will very rarely get sick and will not get sick enough to be hospitalized even if they have a breakthrough infection. These vaccines are by far the most effective ones ever created.
Vaccinated people do not pass along “silent” infections.
Everyone over the age of 11 can be vaccinated.
A very small proportion of the population cannot be vaccinated for MEDICAL reasons.
People who are immune-compromised have lots more to worry about than COVID-19 viral infections and therefore would not normally be attending indoor public gatherings of any sort.
All of our worship services and some of our adult programs will be available online, both live and recorded (worship services only).
UUCA’s air-handling equipment in all three buildings will be modified to include UV-C light treatment and more air filtering.
The world is NEVER a safe place, viruses and bacteria are around all the time, people drive and ride in cars, go up ladders, etc.
With that set of facts, MY conclusion is that we can resume normal activities RIGHT NOW (though I’d rather wait for the HVAC upgrades). I know it feels uncomfortable, but a vaccinated person can sit in a room full of singing people and be fine. The vaccinated person does not need to have the other people be vaccinated.
So, what about the younger kids? In this case, I think it will be up to parents to decide how they feel about it all. The teachers in the room will be vaccinated, so they are safe. I’ll leave it to our survey and the Task Force to decide if we will require younger kids to be masked or socially distanced.
I also want to point out, in case it’s not obvious, that this is a response to conditions as they are now. Should other evidence present itself, such as fading vaccination protection or variants that elude the immunity of the vaccines, we will be FLEXIBLE! We know how to lock down. What we seem to have forgotten is how to resume normal life.
I hear that news of who will be serving UUCA as interim minister will be going out soon. What an exciting time! As it happens, I’ve already spoken a little with your person, as they called me ahead of the interview with our search committee to scope out this place and get my impression on leaving.
I sang your praises but also acknowledged some of the challenges that you face in the coming days. The one thing I particularly wanted to share with you is that I told them that this fall you need to find lots of ways to gather – formal and informal, fun and serious. Many of us are only now creeping out from behind our Zoom screens to experience people in person again. And I think we’re all hungry for real face time.
We as a congregation are an institution, of course, and we stand for many important principles, but most of all we are a people place. This reminds me of a talk I gave a couple of years ago to kick off one of our fund drives.
“Each Sunday,” I wrote, “I stand by our door, and I watch as the most amazing stories walk by me – some tall and moving fast, some small with wide eyes, some laughing in clusters, some moving slowly. Some of them I know something about, and we catch up as they pass. Some are total mysteries, and I wonder what is behind that shy smile. Some are smiling and talkative. Some are withdrawn, or just enigmatic. It is the most amazing part of my week, when I watch us inhabit this place, when we fill this space and give it life, when we venture out from our cozy homes, navigate city streets, scramble, sometimes, for parking, and find our way here.
“Walking up the sidewalk, we look around and see some people ahead of us, others behind. We come to the door, a hand reaches to welcome us, the busy stir of mixed voices washes over us and we are back, back to a place like nothing else in our lives, a place where our stories join a common story.”
This, I think, is what so many of us miss: the sense of connection and community that comes of our spending time together. And that is what you must find ways to create as you restart. I know you can because you have. In my experience, this has always been a warm, welcoming community, and it’s what everyone wants to have back again. Now, go and make it so!
By the time you read this, the Interim Search Committee will be in negotiations with our new interim minister. The work of an interim minister is different from the work of a called minister and therefore will be different than what we have been used to as Rev. Mark Ward has served us.
Yes, the interim minister will act as the Executive in our governance structure, and be responsible for (but not necessarily lead) all Sunday worship service, and act as lead for pastoral care, just as Rev. Mark has. But the activities below are actually the heart of their work at UUCA and are literally part of the agreement that our interim minister will enter into with our Board of Trustees. The interim minister will address:
Heritage: Review how UUCA has been shaped and formed by encouraging and hearing all the stories about the Congregation’s past as the foundation upon which the present rests, and embracing the rich variety that makes up the Congregation.
Leadership: Review the membership needs and its ways of organizing and developing new and effective leadership by providing opportunities to examine the types of leadership needed for new leaders to emerge, and for seasoned leaders to recommit or to refocus their gifts.
Mission: Guide us in redefining UUCA’s sense of purpose and direction by revisiting the faith community’s identity and core values; working to develop, update, and revitalize mission and vision statements; and reviewing strategic and tactical plans including stewardship and the financial health of the congregation.
Connections: Revitalize or develop the association, interfaith, and community relationships a congregation builds outside of itself.
Future: Develop congregational and pastoral profiles that position the congregation for its next ministry, including a healthy and honest assessment of focus points so that the congregation can turn its energy toward proactive decision-making for the future.
Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression and Multicultural Awareness: The Congregation and the Interim Minister are committed to understanding the ways systems of oppression within and beyond our Congregation are perpetuated and agree to collaborate on the development of a joint process of reflection and growth to ensure progress. This includes, but is not limited to, the ways in which the characteristics of dominant cultures live in our practices, systems, procedures, and our very lives.
This is an incredibly exciting and a little bit scary time filled with possibility and change. As far as I’m concerned, “possibility” is super-energizing while “change” has that shadow side of loss. Whenever a person or institution changes (and it is almost always intended to be a “good change”), something is lost. Here’s hoping we have the resilience and grace to leave room for the grieving as we invite everyone to head for new territories.