I had been looking forward to being in Providence, Rhode Island, this week to reconnect with UU friends and colleagues at the UU General Assembly (GA) and explore Providence. Instead, I have a full week of online sessions queued up for viewing from my home office. This is not at all what I expected, and like so many of us, after three months of hand-washing, mask-wearing, and physical distancing, online platforms are what keep me connected. As do e-mails and phone calls. The irony is that I was trying to reduce my screen time with the help of the app on my phone that tracks use in categories such as social networking, productivity, entertainment, and creativity. My screen time has gone up tremendously these last three months–just a reality that I have to accept. Not only am I online more for work, but I spend time connecting with family and friends via Zoom or FaceTime because I want to (need to!) see their faces. My GA experience will be defined by how much time I am able to sit or stand in front of a computer.
GA is about to begin as I write. I have participated in the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) pre-GA workshop, “Threading the Needle: Practices for Centering Love and Liberation in Faith Formation.” As I listened and discussed this topic with colleagues in breakout sessions, I identified a few key takeaways:
1. The work of liberation is done in relationship. It isn’t just an intellectual exercise, although studying history, especially the history that has been ignored, is necessary but insufficient to affect meaningful progress. Relationships allow us to engage in the deeper conversations that establish pathways for working together for change. In America, that requires disrupting the culture of rugged individualism. What if we prioritized relationship over ego? What if, when covenants are broken, we were able to choose ways to re-covenant instead of allowing the relationship to disintegrate? What if we were willing to work collaboratively to disrupt repressive hierarchical structures that promote power-over rather than power-within our relationships? This work begins in the predominantly white spaces many of us inhabit and prepares us to establish relationships beyond our comfort zones.
2. The work of liberation requires accountability. It is not merely performative. How can it be transformational? We have experienced much sorrow, anger, and frustration in the face of police brutality in America and continuing anti-black racism. Many have protested and marched for justice. That is only the beginning. How will we show our marginalized siblings that we are in this together? How will we each be transformed by working for liberation for all? Are we willing to do the work for structural change that moves us closer to an equitable society? How do we hold ourselves accountable to the work of disrupting oppressive systems in our midst? What if accountability wasn’t scary?
3. Practicing liberation requires moral imagination. We cannot achieve what we cannot imagine. As we imagine an equitable world, the Beloved Community we often talk about, the question for each of us becomes what will we do with our time, talent, and treasure to make it happen? What is our commitment to justice-centered love?
Those are my takeaways and questions after 5-1/2 hours of Zoom sessions. I will be reflecting on them as I work with staff and volunteers to plan Faith Development and Justice Ministry for the 2020-21 congregational year. I wonder what these thoughts bring to mind for you? Let me know!
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
Thanks for all the kudos you’ve been sending to us as we on staff have completely and totally changed almost everything we do for UUCA and where we do it! Your appreciation means a lot.
Now that we can see that this state of affairs will continue for quite some time, we need YOUR help! We know that many of our groups are still functioning, be they spiritual deepening groups, covenant groups, social groups, or committees (Board, Leadership Development, Auction, Finance Advisory Committee, RE Council, Justice Ministry Council and more!). But there is a need for more, and the UUCA staff is unable to attend to it.
Just a little aside here, quoting someone recently (and if it was you, tell me!), “Staff supplies support and the congregation owns the programs.” It’s true!
Our highest priority need is to identify more covenant group leaders. What is a church if it is not a locus of relationships? And where is that locus when there is no there there? It’s in small group ministries! We want everyone to be in a small group this coming year, but there’s no way to offer that without more leaders. If you can spend about 2 hours a week reviewing materials and Contact Rev. Claudia to learn more.
Our second-most (desperate) need is for more participants for our worship services. Both Wednesday Vespers and our Sunday service would benefit from more, different voices. You will get lots of help and advice from the ministers and you will show your fellow congregants that you are still alive(!). (OK, maybe not the best selling point.) Contact Rev. Mark for Sundays, and Rev. Claudia for Wednesdays.
And finally, our third most important need (only because it’s not immediate) is for RE program facilitators. We’ll be doing RE differently this year, with fewer classes adapted to online interactions, but we’re not doing any of it without volunteers. Really. So, if you can volunteer on a teaching team with three other congregants to learn with a small group of youngsters, contact Kim Collins or Jen Johnson. (And you can’t use, “But I don’t want to miss the service,” as an excuse, can you?)
If you are like me and you have spent any time on Facebook in the last few weeks (years!), you have probably seen quite a range of thoughts and feelings being shared by various people in your life regarding issues of race, police brutality, protests, white privilege, and of course, the President. Often, much of what I see and read is information that I connect with, can learn from, and be inspired by. However, there are also obviously times when I read or see something that someone has posted and my jaw drops in disgust or anger. After all, as a liberal white guy from conservative Eastern NC, my Facebook social circle also includes quite a number of individuals, both family and friends, whose paradigm seems to be from another planet from mine all together. A bad planet. Planet Cringe. Planet Denial. Planet Disregard. Planet Disrespect. A planet that I don’t want to visit.
So the thing that I hate is that I feel like whether I want to or not, I have to sometimes travel there anyway….
Will and I were talking recently about commonplace Facebook posts that include words like “Unfriend me if you think ______” or “I will unfriend you if you believe _____”. The positions that often fill in the blanks of these ultimatums aren’t normally cut and dry like “if you think it’s okay to steal from the mouths of babes!” or “if you believe it’s okay to throw kittens in the river” but instead often seemed to be a bit more nuanced with current examples like, “I will unfriend you if you call a protest a riot!” or “Unfriend me if you think property is more important than people!”
I can’t help but cringe every time I see them. Though I understand the feeling and the frustration that often comes with these righteous declarations, I also struggle, particularly as a white person in the current moment, with what it says about how we choose to engage and to what purpose. What is the balance between sharing our own positions and standing by our values while also taking the time to hear someone else’s?
When I think about my own social circles, I notice that I don’t often see these same declarations being made by my black friends. After all, be it Facebook, social settings, work environments, or schools, it is highly unlikely that black or brown individuals have the privilege of simply cutting out the comments and the commenters that don’t align with their own experience. It’s just part of being black in a white-centric society, of hearing white people say things with sharp edges, of navigating whiteness.
So when progressive whites stand firm to their either-or declarations, it can unfortunately read a little too much to me as a form of white isolationist privilege. In other words, in the last few weeks, I have seen a number of ALL CAPS posts where white people, upon hearing other white people say things they found disagreeable, declare that they would no longer engage and were simply going to “block” the offender. Although I am sure those pronouncements are on some occasions necessary, can help calm white nerves, and boost one’s sense of nobility, I wonder what purpose they serve beyond that.
With these thoughts already in my head, I was intrigued by words I found posted this morning on Facebook (go figure…)
Michael Soldati writes:
“I see a lot of fellow white folks, particularly left-leaning liberals and progressives, struggle to connect and communicate effectively with their conservative/Republican friends and families on Facebook. I want to encourage people NOT to block them, unfriend them, or to cease communicating with these people. Now is the time to speak up, to communicate with them. Like it or not, the unchecked opinions and beliefs of these people are what hurt our communities and put black lives at risk. You are not to blame for their views, but you are responsible. White folks need to police white folks, that’s our problem that only we can fix.”
He goes on to offer a number of suggestions including:
Ask yourself if it’s more important that you deliver the message or that they receive it. Expressing your feelings is important, but sometimes what’s more important is that they hear what it is that you are saying and that they are able to receive that information and understand it. Knowing one from the other can go a long way to help you understand how you need to interact. Word choice, tone, and understanding where their mind/heart is at are absolutely vital so that you can shape the conversation without losing them.
Hold their hand while you hold their feet to the fire. Confrontation and being called out can feel very uncomfortable, it can feel very personal, and it can be easy to act defensively or shut down. Unfortunately this can lead to outcomes that are counter to what we’re trying to achieve. Therefore it’s incumbent upon us as white folks who have gone through this process ourselves to coach them through it like we might have wanted someone else to coach us through it. This can be a difficult balance, we are creating a safe space for people, not their views. The tone is firm and direct but compassionate, you’re not letting them off the hook, they still have to be held accountable but we can also recognize their humanity at the same time. If things boil over and they disengage, this is a good sign, they are feeling the fire. Stay on them or make plans to re-engage at a later time when you’ve both had time to think and cool down.
Identify. It’s important to identify people’s struggles and their values and to differentiate them from their ideology, mass media, or other belief structures. In a way you need to isolate them from the powers that might be influencing them negatively. “Ok that’s what Fox News said but what do you think?” etc. Also identifying logical fallacies, holes in their argument, or flat out lies, regardless of where they are coming from. However it is important when identifying these things, to not raise alarms, or to come off as superior or like you’re always right. Overall we want to sneak behind their wall, point it out to them and recommend tearing it down.
His words spoke to me as someone who is simultaneously hot-headed and non-confrontational. As someone who knows too many people in my life who see things in ways that are hard for me to understand. As someone who believes deeply that if things are to get better, we are going to have to be willing to (re)visit uncomfortable planets and positions rather than bypass them. Let’s be willing to make this journey…together.
“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a rain in the sun?
Or fester like a sore – and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over – like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?”
It has been almost 70 years since Langston Hughes wrote that iconic poem, which he entitled “Harlem.” And still we in America – or more specifically we whites in America – have yet to learn its lesson. The poem has a specific reference from Hughes lifetime – the Harlem conflicts of the 1930s – but it has echoed many times in the years since, through the Civil Rights disruptions of the 1960s to any of the more recent “explosions” that we have known in response to unjust police actions against black men and women.
Year after year the roll call grows. Some of the more famous cases more recently involve people like Rodney King, Malice Wayne Green, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and now George Floyd. And even that roll call omits the thousands of others who die year after year in racist killings or are injured in racist incidents. Add to that the legacy of centuries of racism that has caused black hopes and aspirations to dry up like the raisins in Langston Hughes poem: side-tracked into inadequate housing, first to be laid off or evicted in a shattered economy, deprived of a decent education, suffering and dying early in a failed healthcare system. Is it any wonder that black Americans are most likely to be killed by the COVID pandemic, losing out on unemployment benefits and now murdered in the streets by public safety officers?
Explode? Yes, explode! Isn’t it time that we paid heed to the tragedy African-Americans have endured and which we whites are complicit in creating by prospering to their detriment? So, while we hate to see the damage done downtown and are discomfited by the angry protests, we should not pretend that we don’t understand why it has come. It has been building like a magma chamber of a volcano, and an explosion was to be expected. Our greatest hope now is that the white majority in this country and the power structure that serves them will finally listen and take concrete action to address generations of inequality and oppression.
And please note the sequence of what I argue is required of us: listen first, then take action. We whites, even when we’re sympathetic to the oppression that our African-American neighbors experience, have the unfortunate habit of rushing off with some half-cocked idea of a solution without ever asking them.
We remember that when Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative spoke at UNC-A last year he told us that the first step in being of service to others is, in his words, “to get proximate.” For our justice work to be effective, we need to know and understand the people we are working with. And that doesn’t happen right away. It takes time to build relationships and come to know communities.
So while we need to be advocates for political change and systemic restructuring, we also need to be about the hard work of listening, of putting ourselves in places where we can hear the stories of people’s lives and learn to lament and grieve with them the losses so many have suffered. And sooner or later we will need to acknowledge our own complicity in the system of white supremacy, the ways in which the racism marbled throughout our culture offers us gains which come on the backs of others.
Then, once we understand at least a little better we will be in a position to act, to use our wealth, our connections, our privilege to bring about real change, to access the levers of power to bring about true equity and justice.
The protests underway around the country, and here in Asheville, can feel impressive, consequential, but they are no more than flashes in the pan if they do nothing to change the way that systems work, whether they be policing, schools, employment and more. Let us be among the allies and partners who help make that happen.
Last night thirty UUCA members gathered via Zoom for an Animal Blessing Vespers. We met pets, remembered past pets, introduced stuffed pet avatars and even took time to consider animals endangered by human greed and carelessness. We listened to music, with Les, our music director, playing piano. Vespers leader MaryAnn Somervill shared poetry and inspiring words. We lit chalices and shared joys and sorrow via “chat.” I found it to be a meaningful way to connect when analog gatherings pose a risk of contagion.
Our UUCA family continues to thrive in virtual gatherings of covenant groups and other spiritual deepening groups. Whether lay-led or minister-led, we are all seeking ways to ground ourselves spiritually in these unprecedented times and to stay connected to each other. I hope we are providing substance that meets, however incompletely, some part of your need to feel connected to our community. Daily, I wonder, worry, debate, and puzzle about how this can best be done by taking advantage of the opportunities inherent in communication technology while recognizing its deficiencies. A major concern is how we can best reach those who are not comfortable with technology or do not have access or just plain don’t like video-conferencing. I certainly get tired of seeing myself on the screen! Phone calls and old-fashioned snail mail are an option.
I have heard people say that observing social distancing and wearing a mask express our care and respect for others. That care also includes deciding if and when to gather. It is complicated. Public institutions, businesses, churches, and other organizations are threatened by closures. Last Sunday, as I delivered roses to two of our bridging seniors wearing a mask and keeping adequate physical distance, I realized how much I miss seeing each of you in person. How much I miss our being together. More than anything, I miss giving and receiving your hugs. I wonder how long Zoom or other platforms are going to be our main vehicle for connection. I am trying to be mindful of how many video meetings I attend each day. There are many opportunities for connecting with family, friends, and other professionals. It can be overwhelming! How are you dealing with this sudden technology overload?
It is particularly challenging for families juggling work and parenting. Screen time for children has inevitably increased during this time. That is to be expected with school online and parents working from home (if they have that privilege). What to do? How can families realistically regulate online and offline experiences? While planning for our parent check-in group, I came across what pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky calls the “Three C’s Framework.” Parents can approach media use considering their child: who they are; content: what they are watching, and context: how you are interacting with them. My own children are young adults and I can’t imagine having to write this blog while also having to keep track of them while my partner is upstairs preparing breakfast, or he might be trying to get them to help out. What if I were on my own? Whatever permutation, it is complicated. Technology is part of our lives now, and this pandemic has deepened our dependency on it.
So, am I Zoomed out? Not quite yet. The computer has become an essential tool for many, including ministers. To compensate, I try to engage in more offline experiences. More walks, phone calls, letter-writing, and the occasional outdoor, properly distanced gathering with 2 or maybe 4 friends from deck chairs or driveways. What is helping you avoid Zoom-out?
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
Why do this? Because it’s interesting! It’s educational! It’s exciting! It’s a convenient way to take workshops from other UUs who are doing what you’re doing! It’s encouraging/heartwarming/amazing to discover all those UUs from all over the world! There is special programming for youth and young adults! You can time-delay the workshops as they will be accessible to registrants later! You can sing in the choir! (Sign up fast—the choir will fill up quickly.) Hear amazing, inspirational speakers! (Naomi Klein, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Dina Gilia-Whitaker, Jean Mendoza, Natalie Martinez, Howard Bryant, Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, Rosemary Bray McNatt, Elías Ortega, John Buehrens)
Don’t have the time? How about sampling the free stuff? Without registration, you can attend:
General Sessions – in which the business of the Association is conducted.
Synergy Bridging Worship – a celebration of treasured worship elements, rites of passage, and brilliant contemporary musical performances.
Service of the Living Tradition – a worship service that honors fellowshipped and credentialed religious leaders; remembering those who have died, recognizing those who have completed active service, and welcoming those who have received fellowship or credentialed status in the past year.
Sunday Morning Worship – the largest annual gathering of UUs joining in worship
By the way, that Sunday Morning Worship service will be UUCA’s worship service on Sunday, June 28 at 10:00am. It’s the perfect win-win—give our worship service team a break and join thousands for a UU worship service!
I am a planning addict. I have my desk calendar, the fridge calendar, the calendar app on my phone, the weekly calendar sheet that I carry in my bag. And then there is the “bible.” The giant, hardback, yearly planner that goes with me EVERYWHERE. “If it isn’t in the bible, then it isn’t happening.”
This planner lists our entire lives. Birthdays, vacations, meetings, doctor’s appointments, bills that are due, chores that need doing, and meal plans. Everyone in the family has a different color assigned to them and everything is color-coded. I have spent hours of my life filling these planners with things to remember, places to go, activities to do. I can comb over my old planners and recollect everything we were doing. They are like windows into our past years.
These days, the white-out is getting used more than the fancy-colored pens. Now the blank pages of the calendar are glaringly white. Every day I get another email that requires me to get out the white-out and flip further and further through the book. All that organizing, budgeting and dreaming–crossed out. My plans deleted.
The erasing breaks my heart. The eighth-grade trip. Two proms. Mountain CON. Teaching in RE. Church auction events. A cruise. LEAF festival. The eighth-grade dance. OWL class. Graduations. A trip to New York City. Each time I scratch out these words, I realize how important these things were to us. Sometimes it seemed like we were too busy and had too much going on. But they were GOOD things. They were valuable to us, so we gave our time and money towards them. And now they are just gone….
But there is something valuable about these blank pages, too. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, we are connecting more as a family. Instead of running around all over town on the weekends, we watch documentaries and play board games. My teens are home with me and there are no arguments about curfews or friends coming over or me dragging them to do things they don’t feel like doing. Life has become simple. My meditation practice exists again. My husband is working on a project in the yard. I’ve baked desserts and read whole books. The boys play basketball together every evening.
We have been given a chance to live in the present instead of planning out the future. I know I will be scribbling away in my planner again one day, filling up all these calendars with a million places to go. For now, I’ll hang out with my kids, do some jigsaw puzzles, and deep-clean my house. I will try to see the gift in the grief. There are spiritual lessons everywhere. It’s nice to have a chance to slow down enough to find them.
It’s something like a koan that we have been living for almost two months. Ever since it became clear back in March that the novel coronavirus made it unsafe for us to gather as a community, we have distanced ourselves from our campus at Edwin Place on Asheville’s north side.
Worship, religious education, covenant groups, committees, spiritual groups, staff meetings – everything we do we are learning to do while peering at small screens, bathed in blue light, navigating unfamiliar software. For some of us this was a pretty quick transition. After all, we were already spending a lot of our lives online, and so shifting more of what we do onto our devices was not a big deal. Others of us have been wading into a not-so-brave new world that is disorienting and frustrating.
We’re far enough into this new world that it’s starting to lose its novelty. Sure, it was fun for a while catching up the Berlin Philharmonic for free or binge-watching Friends, but we miss good old face-to-face conversations, not to speak of hugs and handshakes. What if we are weeks, months . . . who know how long? . . . from being in each other’s company again?
In such stressful times, we need more than ever the support of a community that affirms us for who we are, that points us toward higher values, that demands justice for all – for the oppressed and marginalized, but also the vast number of people who have seen their lives tipped into chaos.
Whether we congregate or not, the work remains: the drive to find inspiration, to facilitate connection, to build community, to uphold the common good. So, all of us – staff, lay leaders, facilitators – are keeping at it: mostly at home, often on Zoom calls or by telephone. We are learning new skills but also sticking with the tried and true – check-in calls, meal trains, singing, laughing, talking over whatever medium we have available to us.
Worship, my chief responsibility, has changed radically. Everything we do is much more a “production” than it ever was. The writing is different, and we’re more conscious of how we integrate images into all that we do. We’re still reaching some 250 to 300 people a week, but video is a more intimate medium than presenting to a sanctuary full of people. What’s nice is that it’s enabled us to invite lots of different people into worship. For example, we’re involving families and children more than we have before.
As we look ahead to the summer, we want to do more of this. Claudia and I will be asking around, but don’t wait for our call. If you have something to offer or if you just are willing to be a video worship participant, please let us know. As disorienting as this time is, it also presents us with all kinds of opportunities to try new things. We have continued to follow something like what had been our regular order of worship. It is, after all, a tested container that we’re familiar with. But I envision us exploring some other options as this medium evolves. We still want music, meditation, stories and inspiring words, but what form they take may shift. Come help us figure out what this might look like.
And the same applies to our Wednesday Vespers, offered weekly at 6:30 p.m. It is the part of what had been our Wednesday Thing that still continues, and we would like to stick with it, if we can. We see Vespers as a moment to pause midweek for a kind of spiritual tune-up. Unlike the weekly worship service, it is presented live on Zoom, which gives us a chance to see each other. Presenters offer a story, reflection, meditation for 15 minutes. Then, we take another 15 minutes to share, either together or in Zoom break-out rooms if the gathering is more than 10 to 15 people. Please check in with Rev. Claudia if this sounds interesting, or even better: join her planning team. We could use some more help right now.
The biggest lift of all has been learning to interface with the daunting array of technology to produce all of this. It is bright and shiny, but also often a real puzzle to sort through. The technologies we’re using are new to many of us and often take enormous amounts of time to figure out. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. We’re learning.
One decision we made around Sunday worship early on to was record the elements of the service in advance, then combine them into a package that can be viewed on Sunday. That way we can present a relatively finished presentation. But, of course, what’s missing from all this is you. So, we’re beginning to talk about what it would look like to offer a live, rather than recorded Sunday service. The downside is it would take away the flexibility that you have to watch the service whenever you want, but it would also enable us to truly “congregate” and more easily welcome visitors into our services.
There has been lots of speculation on when people will feel comfortable gathering again. We staff are operating on the assumption that we will be worshipping online at least until early September, and, depending on how well we navigate the COVID pandemic in North Carolina, it could be much longer. One thing I feel confident in saying is that the way we “do church” is changing. But if we do this thoughtfully, compassionately and with an eye to our values and mission in the world, it can be for the good. And throughout all this it will be good to have you along for the ride.
Now that things have somewhat normalized to the current “normal,” we’ve been able to take a minute to think further than one week ahead. We now know that North Carolina has a three-phase plan to re-open and that the timer for Phase 1 won’t even start until illnesses, positive lab tests, and hospitalizations are all decreasing across the state. As always, we don’t really have any idea when this might happen, but let’s say Phase 1 starts on May 15. At Phase 2, gatherings at “reduced capacity” will be allowed. Assume Phase 2 can start three weeks after Phase 1. That would be June 5.
Now I don’t know about you (although I think I can guess), but just because you CAN go out doesn’t mean you will. And you sure won’t go into a space where a good-sized group is gathering. So, with that in mind, the Executive (Lead Minister) and senior staff members have chosen to keep UUCA closed until September 13, our first two-service Sunday (or, more accurately, the day we traditionally resumed two services). This is not to say that we will definitely open then, but that September 13 is the first possible moment we will consider doing so. Even then, procedures for gatherings will be VERY different. But that’s a discussion for a different day.
In the meantime, here’s how you can help. When there is no way for staff members to “ask around” and “chat up” folks to get feedback, we suffer from a lack of information about our congregants. I normally don’t think surveys are all that helpful, but right now, in abnormal times, maybe a survey is just the thing. We do need to know how the UUCA staff (and volunteers) can best serve our religious community.
So please take 2 minutes to complete this eight-question survey (and one question just asks for your name so you can see it’s not going to be time-consuming).
And as a thank you, here’s a lovely quote from David Brubaker, a well-known church consultant:
Perhaps the greatest takeaway from our current virtual reality is that we were never meant primarily to attend a congregation, but to be a congregation. In this crisis time, we can explore more deeply what it means to be a congregation. After all, what is a “congregation” but a group of human beings who “congregate” periodically, to connect with and encourage one another—and then to scatter once again…to love and to serve.
This week is “National Volunteer Appreciation Week.” As I think about how we are “doing church” during this time of social distancing, it is important to thank, agradecer, all the volunteers working behind the scenes to support the ministries of the church and our staff. They help keep us connected and support our spiritual deepening. I will not type a list of names because it is inevitable that at least one person will be inadvertently overlooked- perfection is an illusion. However, I do want to share with you a snapshot of what is happening in Faith Development while our brick and mortar congregational home is closed.
Children and youth continue to gather on-line Sunday mornings and afternoons. Volunteers are recording stories for the Spirit Play program for our youngest UUs. The Coming of Age program advisors continue to meet on-line with Coming of Age youth to plan one of the most inspiring services of the year, “Credo Sunday” to be offered May 17. Mark your calendar and be sure to view this beautiful gift from our youth. The Neighboring Faiths program advisors are also meeting with youth on-line. This Sunday they will have a guest from the Muslim community as they continue their study of world religions. Youth group advisors and youth are exploring ways to stay connected. The Religious Education Council continues to meet on-line to explore ways to support RE staff. These are just a few of the more than 75 volunteers who have supported Religious Education this past year either in person (pre-Corona) or on-line. Thank you! Muchas gracias!
UUCA volunteerism is also crucial for the continuation of on-line Adult Faith Development Programs. Volunteers lead and coordinate our Small Group Ministry covenant groups. Many are meeting on-line and have started to meet twice a month instead of monthly. Peacemakers, Buddhist Fellowship and CUUPS-Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans are also meeting on-line and keeping our faith community connected. Classes such as “UU History 101” are also volunteer led and encourage us to keep learning and growing together. Church is happening in all of these gatherings. They are the new iteration of congregational life as we transition into a new way of doing church. We may be apart but the spirit of our community prevails. We are grateful, agradecidos, for all the volunteers that are keeping Faith Development alive and vibrant during this time.
Lastly, because Faith Development also happens in worship and in the work of congregational care, we are grateful, agradecidos, for our worship associates who are now recording their contributions to service and continue to share their insights with us. We are also grateful, agradecidos, for our pastoral visitors, meal train coordinators and meal providers who continue to care of our members in need. And a very special thank you, un reconocimiento muy especial, to all of those making phone calls to each of our congregants to say hello and check-in. What an amazing bouquet of people we are!
In 2015-16, our congregation made a fabulous decision to upgrade the main floor of the main building to be much more accessible. We hired a landscape architect and an architect, made plans, bid the project at a rather unhelpful moment (eight hotels were going up in Asheville at the time) and built what you see today with our general contractors, Patton Construction with the amazing guidance of UUCA member Bob Roepnack. We also raised nearly $800,000 thanks to the leadership of member Larry Wheeler. Unfortunately, timing is everything in the construction business, so the actual cost exceeded the money raised by tens of thousands of dollars. That’s when we applied for our mortgage. Up until then, this congregation had remained debt-free.The mortgage was a balloon mortgage, financed for a 20-year period but requiring either a final “balloon payment” on August 25, 2020 or refinancing on that date. Since then, the UUA Legacy Challenge program, Awake Now Our Vision, came into being. Our beyond-fabulous Legacy Circle Team, at the time lead by the equally beyond-fabulous Beverly Cutter, with members Mike Horak, Myrtle Bennett and Mara Sprain, signed on more bequests (legacy gifts) than any other participating organization and earned us a matching gift of $138,516.77!!!!!!!
We are receiving this essentially free money in four installments and the first three installments have been applied to the principal of our mortgage. Because we’d been making payments all along, the third payment that we made last week PAID OFF THE MORTGAGE!!!!! Congratulations, UUCA!Linda Topp, Director of Administration
We already had a dog. That was my take on the situation.
Well, we sort-of already had a dog. For 10 years now, we have been the second family for a sweet, mid-sized mutt named Trouser (yes, as in a single pant leg). Her parents drop her off at our house nearly every weekday so she can hang out with me while I work from home, and she has sleepovers here when they go out of town.
It’s been the perfect arrangement as far as I’m concerned. We don’t hold the title, so we aren’t ultimately responsible for her care and well-being (vet bills), and we don’t have to make arrangements for care when we go out of town. Typically no last-thing-at-night and first-thing-in-the-morning walks.
But ol’ Trousie and her family are practicing social distancing, so we haven’t seen her in nearly a month. And I haven’t mentioned yet that we have a 15-year-old daughter for whom a part-time dog has never been quite adequate. Enter Slinky.
Slinky came to live with us on Tuesday, via Brother Wolf and a foster family. She is a 22-pound, seven-month-old hound mix who is still learning not to eliminate in the house. She is sweet, energetic (goes without saying) and eager to please.
I’ve observed that we’re not the only family that has decided to add a four-legged friend in the midst of a pandemic. Anecdotally, it looks like a fair number of formerly homeless animals are finding (hopefully) forever families among those who are stuck at home and have the time to integrate them into their lives. Certainly in no other circumstance would our daughter have so much time to spend helping Slinky learn to pee in the right place.
And…it might be obvious by now that I have been reluctant to commit to full-time dog ownership. I didn’t really have a good reason to put the kibosh on my family’s wishes; only that I don’t love change and new commitments. It has been tempting to think of Slinky as our daughter’s consolation prize for, well, life at the moment. She was crushed when the Senior High Con at the Mountain was cancelled and is already mourning the possibility that Mountain Camp could be cancelled (among the many other ways in which normal teen life has been disrupted). But bringing Slinky home wasn’t an impulsive decision. We’d been discussing this for, literally, years; it just turned out that a pandemic was perfect timing.
So welcome, Slinky, to our household, and here’s to the non-socially distanced times that are sure to come.
It came to me one morning about a month ago as I was making my way through the newspapers. No one was using the word “pandemic” yet, but story after story was making it clear what a cataclysm the COVID-19 coronavirus would be for us all. Then, suddenly it popped in my head: what an insane time this would be for this congregation to change lead ministers!
Yes, UUCA had an Interim Search Committee diligently planning for the change, and I was well into planning for retirement. But, oh my gosh, every sign was that about the time I was slated to leave was also when health experts were predicting the infection would be peaking. In the midst of all this trauma, I couldn’t imagine walking away from this congregation.
So, when Debbie got up, I told her I thought I needed to stay. I told her that I wanted to offer to delay my retirement. She nodded and said it was a good idea. The next day I had a Zoom conference scheduled with Board President Ryan Williams. He told me that he had a few things to run by me, and I said I had something to run by him, too, but I thought I should go first, since it would probably affect the subjects he wanted to talk about.
I was right. Ryan was a little stunned at first – after all he was hard at work on the interim process – but he quickly agreed and said he was grateful for the offer. Over the next day or so he polled the board and the consensus was quick: yes, please stay!
It is heartening and humbling to receive notes of thanks from many of you. It will be a challenging year for us all, but I can’t think any others who I’d like to have as company on the ride.
Now that I know that I’ll be sticking around, I’ve begun thinking about how we’re going to negotiate the year ahead. We don’t know exactly how it’s going to be, but it’s definitely going to be different.
For likely the next several months what had been our weekly gathering of some 300 of us for worship will continue as a prerecorded link that you receive on Sunday mornings to watch when you choose. Religious education classes, the Wednesday Thing, committee & staff meetings, covenant groups – all the various ways that we gather outside of Sunday will devolve into Zoom calls or some other meeting app.
Meanwhile, as we stay in with groceries and other needs delivered to our homes, we will need to be more attentive to each other than ever. People are finding all sorts of creative ways to stay in touch – Debbie and I are using Zoom calls to our daughter in Wisconsin to play Scrabble. But the old-fashioned ways work, too. Thank you to those of you who have responded to our invitation to join a group to make calls to members of our conversation.
But don’t wait for our invitation. I’m finding it rewarding to call around in the congregation just to check in. It’s a great way of building relationships. Also, please keep me, Claudia or pastoral visitors apprised of people you know who are having a hard time or may be in need of support in some way. And, as you hunker down, look for ways that you can reach out to the larger community providing money or support. There are many people who are struggling to get by.
As we negotiate all these changes, it’s occurred to me that it would be useful for us to use this time to reflect on some larger questions. I’ve told Ryan that I’d like to invite the Board into a conversation on this topic, but I welcome you into the conversation, too:
What is needed of us, what is called from us as a congregation at this time? What do you need, what does your family need, what does this community, heck, what does the world need of us now?
And, once you’re done binge-watching everything you’ve been saving in your online queue, give some thought to what you think this congregation will need to be when we get to the other side of this crisis. Once we can gather and hug and march and dream together, what is your vision of us then?
Give it some thought and send me a line here. I’d love to know what you’re thinking.
Sure, that’s the theme of this year’s Annual Budget Drive. But it’s so much more than that. It’s really my mantra for living right now. (Which is why I start the worship services with it.) Who knew back in September that this would be such a timely phrase? When the Annual Budget Drive team (Gina Phairas, Will Jernigan, and Wes Miller) came up with it, we were thinking more about ministerial transitions and the general political climate. Little did we know….
For me, Living Bravely means a lot of things, but first and foremost it means lowering anxiety WITHOUT doing crazy things: wash those hands, try to remember that 6-foot rule, walk the dog, reduce trips to the grocery store, stock a few items in case we get sick but mostly buy what we need without hoarding, wipe down doorknobs and copy machine interfaces at work a lot, breathe deeply, listen to music. It also means learning vast amounts of new things: Ta-da! I’m now a video editor. Who knew? And Zoom? Never hosted a meeting before. Never actually ate a take-out meal at home before because why would we? Just go to the restaurant, silly.
And Giving Generously? It’s way too easy to “hunker down” and protect and connect our nuclear families and close friends. Looking outward is just not natural. Yet as the Annual Budget Drive team wrote, “We are called to live bravely across the wide spectrum of life.” We are called to be generous. Learning technology to connect with others is a generous act. Baking bread and leaving it at a neighbor’s doorstep is a generous act. Giving money to help local small businesses is a generous act. Giving to local nonprofits that are providing services right now is a generous act.
Here’s a request we have received from AHOPE/Homeward Bound (sponsors of Room in the Inn) who also work with Haywood Street Church and Rescue Mission:
There is one thing you could consider – and it doesn’t put you in danger. We really need good adult socks, gloves, blankets, and such. We also could use easy-to-hand-out food like peanut butter crackers, bananas. easy-to-open cans of veggies or fruit or canned tuna or spaghetti.
Drop supplies off at our AHOPE Day Center on 19 N. Ann Street downtown. Just pull up in front and start unloading. People will quickly be there to help when staff is onsite (8am-12n, 7 days a week). Or I can come to wherever and pick them up if you don’t want to be in that setting. Contact Joe Hoffman for more information.
Here’s another example of generosity. I know a lot of you are trying to connect through video–but it can be intimidating. So, we have 5 congregants who are willing to host a meeting for you. Whether you want to connect with fellow UUCAers or family members or friends, contact one of these people who will either help you figure out how to host a meeting or actually host it for you, so all you have to do is click in to join.
Many thanks to these volunteers. Look up their contact info on REALM or email Tish for that info.
Evelyn Becker Virginia Bower Rebekkah Hilgraves Jeff Jones Kelly Wedell
PS I would be totally remiss in not mentioning that references to the Annual Budget Drive might be very good cues for you to make sure that you’ve sent in a commitment for the fiscal year starting on July 1. I know it’s clearly impossible to know your financial status for next year right now, but we’re operating on the assumption that “normal” is the only way to plan. We’ll flex and accommodate and adjust when we need to. Thanks!
I invite you to think about how it is that you show up for Unitarian Universalism. Think of the ways, large and small, that you come back to this place, that you do the work, that you share the good word. Now think about what it would be like to do that in the company of thousands of other UU’s.
I attended my first GA in 2017 when it was held in New Orleans, LA. It was hot, crowded, and involved lots of walking. I hate being hot, get anxious in crowds, and have chronic foot pain. And I loved it.
So what happens at GA? Well, if you think the committee meetings that we have here are exciting, just wait until you experience your first general session! Seriously though, GA is where a lot of the work of our faith happens. Sometimes it happens on a large scale in a big hall filled with congregational delegates who are voting on items like making the language of our bylaws more inclusive, or giving religious educators the right to automatically be voting delegates at GA just as ministers are. It’s also happening on a smaller scale through workshops and lectures. Sometimes it is happening in a very public way through our demonstrations of public witness.
Last year in Spokane, the public witness was a demonstration to show support for ending cash bail and putting a stop to building more jails in Spokane. The youth are there working, too. They are delegates and they help determine which Actions of Immediate Witness are voted on. They caucus together and do a lot of other activities together as well. There is also a middle school day camp that goes on expeditions in the host city, and child care for younger kids as well. There is even a child-friendly area in the main hall where all of the big events take place. There are workshops and lectures galore, for every different interest. The worship services are plentiful and diverse. The best part though, the best part is being together with so many other people who are showing up in all sorts of ways for Unitarian Universalism. Kim Collins, Lifespan Religious Education Coordinator
During times of change and uncertainty, when there are strange political realities, weather, and viruses, it can be easy to overlook and take for granted the things that we are used to and which are relatively unchanged. With the backdrop of the coming minister change at UUCA and in the midst of the annual budget drive, it is a good time to remember that the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville does not have to exist.
UUCA does exist because we want it to exist and beyond that we make it exist. If you are reading this, I feel comfortable assuming you have at least some level of involvement with UUCA. I encourage you to think about how you are engaged with UUCA and how engaging in more or different ways will benefit both you, UUCA, and the greater community.
We are all so privileged and benefited by what we do and stand for at UUCA. While it indeed does take considerable effort and determination to keep UUCA moving forward, when we all take part the the weight becomes light and I truly believe we get back so much more than what we put in.
With the increasing spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, we at UUCA are exploring ways to keep our people safe while also continuing the care and connection that is so important to our community.
remains uncertain about the nature of the virus and how it spreads, but there
are some basic practices that we can promote that public health authorities
tell us can make a difference in reducing the spread of the disease.
Since the virus appears to be airborne, it is
most easily spread when people infected with the virus cough or sneeze openly
and don’t wash their hands. So, we can each help assure that the virus isn’t
spread that if we cover our coughs and wash our hands frequently.
At church, this means that at least for now we should generally avoid shaking, holding or touching each other’s hands. Or at a minimum washing our hands or using hand sanitizers after we do. We have hand sanitizers in prominent places and boxes of tissues in the Sanctuary and elsewhere in our buildings. Don’t hesitate to use them. (Note that hand sanitizer supplies are low, as in we can’t buy any. Please be aware that hand-washing for 20 seconds is a very effective means of cleaning.)
This can be
hard in our community, where hand-shakes and hugs are part of how we show care
for each other. But in such a time we actually do more to show our caring by
avoiding the touch and instead offering a smile and a few warm words.
corona virus remains a threat, we are encouraging staff at UUCA to avoid hand-touching.
Our ushers will greet you when you arrive, but we’re discouraging handshakes,
and when our weekly services close we invite you to offer an “elbow bump,” a bow
and a “Namaste” to your neighbor, or just a smile. At least for now we will discontinue
our traditional hand-holding.
If you’re not feeling well – especially if it’s a respiratory illness – it would be better not to come to church, but don’t hesitate to call a pastoral visitor for support. And if you need one, we’d be happy to arrange a meal train. Pastoral Visitors are Karin Eckert, Iris Hardin, Myrtle Staples, Carol Taylor, Christine Van Wandelan, and Dale Wachowiak.
Last weekend we had two events that highlighted the importance of Faith Development and parent engagement in the lives of our youth. On Sunday, the Young Religious Unitarian Universalist (YRUU) youth group crafted and presented a service on the importance of friendship. They shared how their relationships deepened after the Coming of Age (CoA) trip to the Farm Sanctuary in Ithaca, NY last year. The creativity and thoughtfulness shared by the youth provided inspiration and food for thought.
We are grateful to the youth: Cameron, Ella, Fiona, Nora, Nick and Sydney for sharing their time and talent. And, for modeling what multigenerational worship can be like. A shout out to youth advisors, Langdon Martin, Sarah Hargrove, Steven Reines and Steve Lapointe for their guidance and support.
On Saturday, our Coming of Age group hosted their Trivia Night to raise money for their end-of-year trip. It was a great way for participants to get to know the youth better through the slideshow and touching introductions of each other. The CoA event on Saturday was not only an important fundraiser for the trip, but also a chance for CoA families and youth to build stronger connections as they worked together to host a community-building event for the congregation.
A special thank you to all the parents and youth for a fun and delicious evening. Great work! An updated fundraising report will be available later next week. This congregation’s generosity and support of CoA is greatly appreciated. We thank Brett Johnson for his help in providing the trivia for the evening and Mary Alm for donating her winnings from the 50-50 raffle back to the CoA trip fund (more generosity on display!).
So, where are the CoA youth going this year?One of our parents shared the following information about the trip:
They are participating in a trip offered through the UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ) and their partner, Southern Appalachian Labor School (SALS). The mission of SALS is to “provide education, research, and linkages for working class and disenfranchised peoples in order to promote understanding, empowerment, and change. SALS is committed to developing a real comprehension of the social, economic, and legal structures which affect the lives of the Appalachian People.’”
We’re excited for our CoA youth to be the first group from UUCA to participate in a UUCSJ program. Their WV program is an immersive learning experience. Our youth will travel deep into Fayette County to have a first-hand experience working and learning alongside community members with diverse perspectives on West Virginia’s past, present, and future. It is a chance to put UU values into action, confronting the environmental, social, and economic injustices that revolve around coal mining. UUCSJ describes this program as immersion learning instead of service because it emphasizes the equal relationships and expertise among all community members and partners. There will be some fun, too, as the youth also explore a beautiful region of WV together!
Our youth are leading the way by providing multigenerational worship that brings all ages together and engaging in justice work. They are supported by their parents, youth advisors, and the congregation in these endeavors. We look forward to hearing about the CoA group’s experiences in the fall. It does take a village to raise engaged UUs!
Faith Development work continues during The Wednesday Thing:
March 25 – The Hidden History of Asheville.
Some of Asheville’s racial history is hidden in plain sight; Patton, Vance, Merrimon, Dickson. Who were the people behind the names? Join local educator, Betsi Conti, in a discussion about how we as a community are affected by who and what we choose to remember. (Middle and High School youth are welcome!)
April 15 – Tech Talk
Join fellow parents in discussing challenges and strategies for handling teen use of technology. Facilitated by Kristi Miller.
Rev. Claudia Jimenez, Minister of Faith Development
This past Sunday, UUCA Board President Ryan Williams spoke about his membership path at UUCA, where he arrived as a consumer (look at all the cool things I can get from this!) to his current position much further down that path as a supporter (what can I do to keep this congregation alive and vibrant?).
As luck would have it, Rev. Claudia ran across an article that speaks to this same idea but in a somewhat humorous (and yet telling) fashion. The original author is Thom S. Rainer. I have de-Christianized the language a bit and made it UUCA-specific in a couple of cases. You’ll see.
Seven Differences Between Your Church and a Cafeteria
The article starts with a reminiscence of a first visit to a commercial cafeteria. Mr. Rainer wrote, “For a small-town kid who had never seen such a feast, I was amazed. The concept was basic. If you paid your money, you could choose whatever you wanted. Your preferences were paramount. It was all about you.” But a church is NOT a cafeteria. And here’s why.
In a cafeteria, you pay for your preferences. In a church, you give abundantly and joyfully without expecting anything in return. If you ever hear someone say, “We pay the bills in this church,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.
In a cafeteria, the focus is on you. In a church, the focus is on others. If you ever hear someone say, “I’m not getting my needs met in this church,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.
In a cafeteria, you can expect to have things your way. In a church, you should sacrifice your own needs for others. If you ever hear someone say, “I want the order of service to be the way it’s always been,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.
In a cafeteria, the business must continue to make things more appealing and attractive for you to return. In a church, you should not expect to be entertained to get you to come back. If you ever hear someone say, “I’m going to a church where the preacher is more exciting,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.
In a cafeteria, if the customer does not get their way, the business must make every effort to address and remedy the complaint. In a church, we should be so busy doing for others that we don’t have time or the desire to whine or complain. If you ever hear someone say, “People are saying…,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.
In a cafeteria, you have a full staff serving you behind the glass partitions, indulging your every desire. In a church, you should not expect the staff to do all or most of the ministry or service. Instead, the members are to do the work of ministry. If you ever hear someone say, “Rev. Claudia, you should….,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.
In a cafeteria, you will likely complain to others in person or on social media if you are not fully satisfied. In a church, you should not have a gossiping or complaining spirit in public. Complaints get directly communicated to the person with whom you are aggrieved. If you ever hear or see public complaints, you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.
And a bonus one from me:
In a cafeteria, you will not return if your needs or expectations are not met. In a church, you should (and I’m quoting from our covenant) attend to our differences with openness, compassion and trust; create healing by listening and speaking in the spirit of love; and be steadfast in support of our community in times of disagreement. If you ever hear someone say, “I don’t like the decision that was made so I’m leaving,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.
As almost all are well aware by now, our minister of 16 years is retiring in just a few months. I myself have been here less than three years, but that too-short time at UUCA, with Rev. Mark in the pulpit, has left me wishing that I’d moved to Asheville much earlier!
Although I’m a newbie to UUCA, I’m an oldie to UUism. I was raised as a UU, and before moving to Asheville, I spent 32 years at another UU congregation (I’ll call it UUCx). During most of that time, I served in various leadership positions. During those 32 years, my congregation went through three ministerial transitions. Yes, three. Since I saw those transitions “up close and personal,” I’m brazenly declaring myself “experienced” in ministerial transitions, at least from a congregant’s point of view.
I’d like to share a few thoughts about UUCA’s upcoming 2-year transition period, during which time we’ll be served by a professional Interim Minister. We’ll be doing many things, the capstone of which is the selection of our permanent, “called,” or “settled” minister to start serving us after the transition period. The Interim Minister comes “pre-fired” as they say, and is here specifically to help us through this period, and then move on.
Mainly what I want to tell you is that even though UUCx’s ministerial transitions presented many challenges, they all provided tremendous opportunities for growth, for both the congregants individually and the congregation at large. I expect this will be the case for UUCA as well. I expect we’ll come out of this process even stronger than we are now.
Back to UUCx: Of those three transitions, two were departures of long-time, beloved ministers, both moving on to new experiences (which they certainly get to do, and in many cases should do). UUCx was in pretty good shape when they left. The other was a transition from a negotiated resignation, and the congregation had lots of issues centering around that minister. We were a polarized community, and we needed healing. In all three cases, however, we went through the same process; and in all three cases, the consensus was that UUCx came out better and stronger having gone through it.
As I mentioned, the Interim Minister is here specifically to help us navigate the transition. Fortunately, the Interim we’ll hire will almost certainly be an Accredited Interim Minister (AIM). AIMs have all received training targeted at transition work and common transition issues. They come with the education, tools, and experience to guide us. The ones I’ve experienced have focused on helping us recognize and understand ourselves as a congregation, largely independent of the minister: What is our past – our conflicts and griefs as well as our joys and successes? What is our identity now – our strengths, challenges, needs? Where could we go in the future, and where do we actually want to go in the future – and from that, what sort of minister do we need to help us do that?
Referring to a congregation in conversation, I’ve often heard people say (and have even said myself) something like “that’s Rev. So-and-So’s church.” That’s not really correct. UUCA is not Mark’s church, even though I firmly believe his presence was absolutely central in making UUCA a truly great place. When our settled minister arrives, it won’t be his, hers, or their church. It’s ours. The congregation’s church. The interim period allows us to recognize and internalize that ownership, take hold of it, and start planning the future for this gem we call UUCA.
I personally will miss Rev. Mark profoundly. Full stop. But I believe the upcoming years will be really good for us. Lots of interesting things are in store. So buckle up, and get ready to do the work we need to do as we usher in a new and exciting era at our beloved UUCA and, hopefully, have a little fun in the process!
When I mention to people that before entering the ministry I spent 25 years in newspaper journalism, they often ask what I miss from that former life. The truth is: not much. At about the time I was leaving for ministry, the newspaper world was changing dramatically. Newspapers were shrinking, the demands on reporters were exploding, and compensation was falling. There is still good work to do in journalism, but it’s a rougher go these days than it was.
Still, there is one recurring moment when, even now, 15
years after leaving the field, I feel the old tug of newspaper life. And that’s
on Election Day. It was always an electric moment. As reporters, we were among
the first to get the election returns, and the adrenaline was pumping as we
called in to the candidates for their responses and then banged out our stories
as fast as we could for a deadline that was always NOW.
I had those same feelings watching the returns from the Iowa
caucuses the other night. I sympathized with the beleaguered newsfolk, who I’m
sure were tearing their hair out as the caucus machinery fell apart and they
were left with nothing to report. But it also reminded me that for the quirks,
faults and frustrations with our electoral system, it is in the end a marvel of
That for over 200 years we have managed to maintain a system
that at least in concept and over the years increasing in fact assures every
citizen a say in their government is kind of amazing. Yes, there have been
setbacks: the Supreme Court has hobbled the franchise through the Citizens
United decision, which put moneyed interests in the driver’s seat in campaigns
in an unprecedented way, and by shrinking the effectiveness of the Voting
Rights Act, once again endangering representation of minority voices. But the
bones of a good system are in place and are waiting to be built on.
This is all a way of calling attention to the importance of
the UU the Vote campaign that our congregation has joined in. Our country may
be consumed in partisanship these days, but UU the Vote goes deeper. It takes
us to the heart of trying to make our democracy truly representational. Look at
the bulletin board in Sandburg Hall and you’ll find many things that we can all
do to help assure that every person, especially people in marginalized
communities, have a voice in our elections.
We can’t know how this work will impact the ultimate results
in the election, but we can help bend the arc of justice toward a fairer and
more equitable system of government.
One of the qualities of our congregation I admire is your willingness to experiment. We have been experimenting with The Wednesday Thing (this is year three!) and with multigenerational worship. These are two of the programs that generated excitement when I interviewed for my job with UUCA almost two years ago. I have updates on both.
The purpose of The
Wednesday Thing has been to create a midweek opportunity for multigenerational
community-building and spiritual growth through a shared meal, worship and
engaging programs. Much staff time and resources are allocated to making this
midweek gathering possible. This year the planning team (Kim Collins, John Bloomer,
Elizabeth Schell, Linda Topp, Winslow Tuttle, and me) has worked hard to
diversify our programs with a focus on engaging multigenerational programs such
as storytelling with David Novak, Fiber Friends knitting circle, Spiritual
Experiences with Nancy Bragg, and drumming with Will Jernigan. We are grateful
for all the volunteers who offer programs and preside at Vespers.
We have a small group of attendees each Wednesday and struggle to find hosts
for the communal meal. At the last planning team meeting we discussed the value
of this midweek program and the challenges of sustaining it. And….here it
comes….we decided it is time to try something new! Starting in March—not
February—in March we will offer only Vespers and Programs—no meal. Folks are
welcome to bring their own food and eat in Sandburg Hall before Vespers. We
will observe how this works as we continue to explore ways to create spaces for
fellowship, fun, learning, and worship beyond Sunday mornings. Your thoughts
and feedback are enthusiastically welcomed and encouraged. We are proud of our
programming and hope that some or all of these will entice you to attend:
Storytelling with David Novak; Earth Community Circle’s Invitation to Green
12: Peacemakers’ Book Study – An Indigenous People’s History of the United
States by Roxanne Dunbar- Ortiz
The Story of the UU Chalice Design with Jerry McLellan and Chris VanWandelen
26: Black History Trivia with Brett
March 25: Hidden Faces of Asheville: Exploring
Asheville’s Hidden and Not So Hidden Racial History with local educator Betts
Odyssey Interview: Rev. Ward
is another area of experimentation. I appreciate serving a congregation that
understands participation in worship to be an important part of faith formation
for our children. It allows them to learn to be part of our faith community and
learn the songs, rituals, and cadences of worship. Multigenerational worship is
an invitation for us to honor our differences and support our children in
developing their “worship skills.”
I also acknowledge that crafting
a multigenerational service is challenging. How does one craft worship that
nourishes the spiritual needs of all ages? It isn’t easy, but it IS doable. I
have received feedback about the things that work and those that don’t. I am
reaching out to colleagues to discuss best practices and will be visiting our
congregation in Oakridge, TN to observe one of their Whole Church services.
After meeting with RE staff
and listening to your feedback (This is an ad: There will be more opportunities
for feedback at the RE Town Hall after both services February 2nd!),
we will experiment with offering Multigenerational
Services for children in grades 3 and above with extended childcare. Whole Church services with childcare
for PreK and younger will be crafted to be shorter, with more music and
embodiment as well as content that appeals to adults and children.
So we begin experimenting! For the remainder of the year we will have two
opportunities (3rd grade and above) on February 23, our YRUU Service
led by our youth group and May 17, the service where our Coming of Age youth
share their credos. There will also be two Whole
Church services (childcare for preK and younger) on March 8 for Celebration
Sunday and April 19 for Earth Day/Flower Communion.
Mark your calendars and join us in this ongoing experiment in Faith Development.
Rev. Claudia Jimenez, Minister of Faith Development
Last Sunday after Melissa Murphy’s call to action to get out the vote and advocate for electoral justice, the congregation joined in “Social Justice Stretching.” We touched our toes reaching down to get the power of the grassroots. We reached our arms up to the sky for inspiration. We stomped our feet on the ground to stomp out injustice and used our hands to wipe out white supremacy. Finally, we raised our arms swaying side to side to move in the winds of change. That quick energy break during the service reminded us that we each should find our way of contributing to positive change this election year. Your participation matters.
This election year the Justice Ministry Council is encouraging all of us to participate in our denominations #UUtheVote campaign. The bulletin board in Sandburg Hall is continually being updated with ways we can each participate. You are invited to share your commitment on one of the forms on the bulletin board. So far, we have 39 commitments out of a possible 558 members & friends. I hope we have at least 100. Will you be one of those hundred?
To follow up that call to action, Melissa will be offering two workshops:
“Voting Essentials” January 29, 7PM; a Wednesday Thing program. Join us for dinner and Vespers if you can. You would leave knowing:
1. How to look up your own voter info in the public voter search 2. Leave with your sample ballot on your phone 3. Leave with a good nonpartisan resource to use for candidate info 4. Leave with the early voting schedule in hand 5. Leave knowing the importance of sharing with all your friends as a voter turn-out strategy
There will also be a TED Talk “How to Revive Your Belief in Democracy” and discussion.
“Engaging Voters” February 11; 6:30 PM, Sandburg Hall. This training is for people who want to be active in educating voters in the spaces where they volunteer or work. It will provide more in-depth information on: voter registration; what’s on the ballot and the influence of those races on issues that align with our UU values; and how to show voters where to find essential voting information.
Lastly, there is one more opportunity to get involved. On February 23rd there is an opportunity to get “Souls to the Polls” after the YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists) youth-led service. Folks could carpool to the North Asheville library to vote early in the primary election. Why? Because NC could lose Sunday voting in any given year. To keep it we need to show that it is needed. One thing faith communities can do is organize group voting on the Sunday of early voting to keep the numbers up, demonstrating to our government leaders that Sunday voting is used. If you are interested, please let me know at FaithDev@UUAsheville.org.
How will you s-t-r-e-t-c-h this year and make a commitment beyond your vote?
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
Happy 2020, friends! I hope that your new year is off to a wonderful beginning. If, though, like me, you’re already feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything only ten days into the new year, I invite you to use this season of new beginnings and new approaches to try a maybe new-for-you approach: cut yourself some slack. Not a natural slack-cutter? Yeah, me neither. As I type this, I’m feeling all the guilt: guilt for not finishing all the work I had scheduled for this week; guilt for this post being late due to aforementioned work; guilt for not helping my husband get my three kids to sleep, due to this post needing to get sent in ASAP. Etc. Etc.
I recently read Kate Northrup’s Do Less: A Revolutionary Approach to Time and Energy Management for Busy Moms. (Although the title specifies mothers, the book is suited for anyone in a caregiving role, and I think that’s pretty much everyone.) Anyway, the premise seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? How can we do less right now? Besides what’s going on in our personal lives, our country’s politics are in disarray; bigotry and hate crimes continue to occur daily; and the world is literally on fire. Where do we even begin, let alone stop?
While I’m not in complete agreement with every point in Northrup’s book, she does make a number of good ones, and one of them is that we simply cannot do (and hold) everything alone. We are a species built for community, despite the fact that many aspects of our modern lives leave us in isolation.
Here’s where I bring it back to UUCA. (You were wondering, weren’t you?) We begin with each other. With our community. When things are scary or overwhelming or just too darn much despite outward appearances maybe looking like you’ve got it all together (*raises hand sheepishly), we can always begin at UUCA. Our community uplifts (and challenges) its members. Our community has created social justice action plans. Our community offers hope. And the more we engage with that community, the more supported we can feel.
This new year, I invite you to engage in some new-to-you ways. Perhaps join the Peach March and Rally on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, offer to lead a Wednesday Thing activity, or maybe sign up for a covenant group. Or, even simpler but perhaps more profound, make a point to connect with people you don’t know well at church coffee hour. Ask how they are and really listen. You can change the world more than you’ll ever know by these tiny seeds of kindness.
And yeah, we’ll make mistakes and missteps. We might occasionally miss deadlines (sorry, Tish!) and leave our spouses to do bedtime solo (sorry, Josh!) But if we put ourselves out there, the connections we make can relieve so much of the fretting, self-guilt-tripping, and despairing. And that can open up more time for the actual doing of the important work we all have before us.
I’ve been looking at Susan Beaumont’s book, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, again. This time I’ve been reading more about the soul of an institution. As part of that discussion, Beaumont talks about the spirituality of an institution (pp. 57-59). She first quotes Mary Ann Huddleston, who defines spirituality as “the manner, mode, or way in which an individual or group lives out its doctrines, ideas, values, hopes, traditions and habits of faith.” Then she presents Corrine Ware’s four styles of spirituality: thinking, feeling, being, doing.
Ware explains that each faith community has its own preferred type of spirituality, represented by some blending of the four basic types. Most congregations express a strong preference for one or two types of spirituality and a lesser attachment to the other styles. (Note that in these Beaumont excerpts, I have used “holy,” where Beaumont is using “God.” I figured it might be easier for you to read if I made the switch for you.
Congregations that favor a head, or “thinking,” spirituality are attracted to sermons, lectures, and study as a way of experiencing the holy. These congregations value understanding ideas about the holy…. They demonstrate a love of order and desire for things to be rational and logical.
When I first read this, I stopped right here and said, YES, this is UUCA. But then I kept reading.
Congregations with a heart spirituality know the holy by “feeling” the holy’s presence. A congregation that favors this spirituality type over the others will experience highs and lows in religious feelings…. Heart spirituality is most often engaged through spontaneous experiences, through music, testimony, and more informal worship styles.
Hmmmm…probably not us.
A congregation with a “being” spirituality values the journey. In fact, the quest is more important than an arrival. Being is more important than doing. This spiritual type values a mystical approach to the holy. They enjoy pausing to listen for the holy…. This congregation enjoys contemplation, wordless prayer, and experiences of silence and stillness.
I thought the line about the journey was going to be us. But turns out the journey is a bit more mystical than I was thinking so I would say that this definitely describes some of us, but we don’t practice it very much as a whole congregation. Although we are better than most UU congregations at holding a several-minute silence during the meditative part of our worship services.
Finally, some congregations embrace a spirituality of “doing.” These congregations experience the holy best when they are actively working to advance a cause for which they are passionate. They are rooted in social concerns and are often impatient with the passivity of the other types.
I know this is true of some of us, probably more of us than the “being” group, but again, is it the spirituality of the congregation as a whole?
I am sure that every congregation does have its own recipe for spirituality, just like every classroom has its own “personality.” But it’s not so easy to discern. Here’s my guess. Send me yours!
If numbers stir your curiosity, then it’s a good bet that this new year has you wondering. 2020 – it’s been a century since we had a double year like this, and the last time we did – 1919 – was monumental, marking as it did the Versailles Treaty that ended the First World War.
Can we expect an event as epoch-making this year? Well, the potential is certainly there. And if I had to guess, I’d wager it could have something to do with the election in November. We UUs hope to have something to say in that, which is why we’re hopping on board the national initiative from UUA headquarters called #UUtheVote. Look for more details in coming weeks.
2020 will also be important for this congregation, marking with my departure in June the first turnover in the position of Lead Minister here in almost two decades. You will be learning more from your Board of Trustees about what that transition will look like.
Meanwhile, I’ve been giving thought to how our worship life might prepare us for this change. The way I’ve chosen to do this is to take some time reflecting on some of the basics of our religious tradition.
So, beginning this Sunday and continuing periodically over the next six months I intend to focus our worship on each of the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism. These principles were adopted 35 years ago in a major revision of the bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association as a way of describing what unites us as a community of faith. They are framed as elements of a covenant that all member congregations of the association agree to “affirm and promote.” And they are joined by a statement of first five, and now six sources that inform our living tradition.
These are the foundation stones of contemporary Unitarian Universalism. So, I thought that as you begin thinking about what you want for the next ministry here it might be worthwhile taking some time to examine them and consider what they call for from each of you and this congregation.
Surprise! This is NOT about asking for donations. Though that’s not a bad idea. In fact, why don’t you just keep that idea in the back of your head while you keep reading? This IS about the many ways we accept donations. We aim to please so we try to make it as simple as possible for you to support UUCA. Here we go:
Sign up for a regularly scheduled ACH transfer from your bank account to ours. (This is our favorite–you don’t forget and we are charged lower fees than if you use a credit card.)
Sign up for a regularly scheduled donation by credit card. (Same as above but has higher fees. Does solve the forgetful problem.)
Write a check. Drop it in the Sunday collection, bring it to church and hand it to us or drop it in the black lock box outside my office, mail it. All good.
Use the Donate link on our website to make a one-time or recurring gift.
Text to give. Use that little computer in your pocket to send this message to 77977: UUAVL GIVE. Once you input your credit card info the first time, it’s easy-peasy after that.
Transfer stock shares to us. You give us stock shares and we sell them and keep the money. This has some tax advantages. (Check with your financial folks–we are NOT financial advisors.)
Set up a donor-advised fund and direct that the fund make donation(s) to UUCA. Donor-advised funds are like mini-grant foundations with you as the grantor. You get a tax deduction when you put money into your fund, not when it gets doled out by your directives. This has a tax advantage for some folks. (Same caveat about financial advisors.)
If you are 70-1/2 years old, you are required to withdraw a certain amount of money from your IRA each year (not Roth IRAs). The amount is defined by the IRS. Go look it up. If you send the money from your IRA directly to UUCA, you pay no income taxes on that contribution. (Still not financial advisors.)
If you want to leave money to UUCA upon your demise, we have our Legacy Circle Committee ready to sign you up. This does NOT have to be a large amount. And it can be as easy as making UUCA one of the beneficiaries of an insurance plan, a bank account, or investments. Contact Mike Horak.
It’s that time of year for many of us when, in addition to thinking about holiday festivities, we are also beginning to think of resolutions for the coming year. Well, the Board is no different and this past Tuesday night, we sat around the table and started a conversation around changes we wanted to make for our board and how we do our work. The idea of change had actually begun a few months prior as we were going through the 1st module of a board training series offered by the UUA. In it, Unitarian Universalist minister Dan Hotchkiss shared his vision of how UU Boards of Trustees might construct their agendas led by values rather than policy. After all, board work, he suggested, can and even should be something that at its core is spiritual work.
I bet that if I were to ask people in our congregation what they think of when they hear the words “Policy Governance,” many would quickly conjure up ideas centered around bylaws and procedures and checklists regarding less-than-spiritual topics such as facility repair and staff contracts. And while these things are crucial in keeping our UUCA boat afloat, these are not the work of the Board. Hotchkiss reminded us that policy governance is actually intended to make space for more lofty matters. “The purpose of good governance,” he says, “is to free the Board to spend more time on thinking about the future of the congregation itself in relation to a deeper and better understanding of the congregation’s mission.” Hotchkiss went on to describe his idea of how to do this, in what he called “An Annual Vision of Ministry” that would set three “Priorities” for the Board as well as an “Open Question.” The priorities guide the work of the year. The open question starts a conversation around the years to come. Though this would not limit the Board in regards to addressing other issues as they arise, it would establish a core focus for the Board’s annual work in a way that would allow for a more “values-driven” agenda. It would also provide for a common language which we could use to communicate the big picture of our work with the congregation. So this past Tuesday, we set out to decide which big priorities would guide our board work through the end of the church year.
The priorities chosen to guide our work for the current year are as follows:
Finding the Right Interim: This might seem like an obvious priority, but as you can imagine it will require everything from establishing a search committee that can navigate the paperwork and procedures required by the UUA to working within the Board as well as the greater congregational community to collect and communicate what people are feeling in regards to the interim process.
Widening Our Welcome: All members of our congregation’s leadership recently participated in a series of surveys, interviews, and training in a process called the IDI or Intercultural Development Inventory, which measures cross-cultural competency and suggests ways of broadening our goal of creating a more inclusive space for all. By setting these ideals into our agendas, we hope to explore ways as a Board to share some of our learning with the congregation as well as to make space for reflection on our practices and places that might lead a more welcoming environment and experience for all.
Building Board Visibility: As we enter in a time of transition/departure in leadership, we felt that greater Board visibility could help provide an aspect of stability during the change. In addition, as the Board is ultimately responsible for making the hire of the interim minister, it serves us all that the congregation better know who we are, what we are doing, and how to comfortably communicate with us their feelings around the transition.
In addition, we agreed on one Open Question:
How Will Transformation Be a Part of Our Coming Transition? Though this does not guide our action steps for the current year, this question will be a recurring theme regarding conversation and outreach with the congregation as we begin to think about the bigger picture of UUCA after Mark. Mark has led this community through many transformative changes over the last 15 years. The question for us now will be what transformations might we want to communicate and create in time when a new minister is called?
In the coming months, the Board will be using these priorities and questions to guide what we do both during our monthly meetings as well as outside of them. We will be communicating and reaching out to you as the congregation to help us in this work as well as for us to make sure that this work is helping you. Be on the lookout for information in the newsletter, on the Board of Trustees bulletin board in Sandburg Hall, on Facebook, in order of service inserts, and in conversations over coffee, just to name a few. And feel free to reach out to me or any member of the Board if you have questions or comments regarding this work ahead. (I have a new email address email@example.com)
This coming New Year, I am making the usual resolutions to curb some of the bad habits and strengthen some of the good ones. But perhaps one of my biggest goals for the coming year is that I do my part to help our congregation move into 2020 celebrating what HAS BEEN while also building something NEW together! Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you all!
“Now, you Unitarian Universalists don’t identify as Christian, is that right?”
“Well, there are certainly people in our congregations who are drawn to the teachings of Jesus and identify as Christian in some way. But, yes, I would say that as a denomination we are outside what I would call the Christian consensus. We respect Jesus, as we respect other prophets and teachers, but we don’t accord him special status or put him or his teachings at the center of our worship life.”
“OK. But then I see that you still make a big deal about Christmas. Why is that?”
It’s a good question, and answering it requires taking stock of a few points in our history and theology. The two historic movements that led to the religion we are today – Unitarianism and Universalism – both arose as Christian churches. But over the years for many historic reasons, both drifted outside of the Christian orbit.
We still honor that past, as you can see in the list of sources that we proclaim inform our living tradition, including among them “Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.” The ethic of love set out in those scriptures remains a strong grounding for our spiritual life, but we don’t necessarily buy into what the Christian church has made of it over the years.
Christmas itself can be problematic. Scholars have observed that many of the stories surrounding the holiday, from its timing at the end of the year, to the traveling Magi and Herod’s campaign of infanticide, have little foundation in truth beyond serving as political expediency for one group or another.
That said though, there is also something beautifully true about the Christmas story. The Unitarian religious educator Sofia Lyon Fahs touched on it when she wrote, “Each night a child is born is a holy night.”
The Christmas story reminds us that each human life holds within it the potential for beautiful and amazing things. Each person is born fully worthy, fully whole, and new birth is cause for celebration. The rough manger, surrounded by curious visitors humble and great, over which joyous parents certainly hear hosannas of some sort, is a lovely image representing the kind of hope we all seek at the darkest moment of the year.
Christmas Eve is one of my favorite moments in our worship year. Our early service at 4 p.m. is full of story-telling, music, and fun with players of all ages in full costume. Our later service, beginning at 8:30 p.m. with a half-hour of wonderful music from our choir, moves on at 9 p.m. with a quieter, more meditative vibe. Gathered together with the midwinter dark and cold outside, we are given to reflect on the blessings of our lives, not least the community surrounding us that we continually create and sustain.
Of all that I will leave behind when I retire next June, I think that our Christmas Eve services are among those things that I will miss most. They have always served for me as a kind of hinge in the year, a moment when I feel most acutely how precious and precarious our brief lives are. But it is also a moment filled with deep gratitude for those I love and love me, for this congregation, for all the forces of hope and renewal that persist among us whatever the adversity.