Our Invitation

June happens to be one of those rare months when I have an opportunity to write to you twice. Given the recent news about Roe, my blog this week reflects on how we might respond as Unitarian Universalists.

Glennon Doyle writes, “there is no one-way liberation.” Equally, we might say there is no one-way oppression. We know the Supreme Court’s decision to end Roe is intricately tied to the history of slavery, violence against LGBTQ+ people, barriers to accessibility, and the impact of poverty. We know a ripple effect will emerge from this decision in ways we will never fully comprehend.

When the announcement about Roe made the news, I wanted our faith to speak comfort as fear began to take hold. Yet, words failed in the hours following the Supreme Court decision. While out for a walk to clear my mind, this stanza from a David Whyte poem came to mind:

“Sometimes you need your God
to be a simple invitation
not a telling word of wisdom.”

On Friday, I understood this poetic truth in a new way. Our Unitarian Universalist tradition extends to us a simple invitation. It invites us to action. It invites us to protect. It invites us to be in the world differently. Unitarian Universalism extends an invitation to work for liberation–to expand what it means to live faithfully, to see justice as both what we do and who we are.

Our work continues, the invitation awaits our reply, and together we fight for love and dignity. Please read the message below from Forward Together: The UU Justice Ministry of NC on how we can engage with the invitation Unitarian Universalism is extending to us.

———

Thankfully, North Carolina is not one of the 13 states with a “trigger law” that would automatically make an abortion ban go into effect. As of now, it is still legal to get an abortion in North Carolina, but we recognize the uncertain future of reproductive rights in our state. And currently, only nine out of 100 North Carolina counties have abortion clinics.

We grieve for all those in states more directly impacted by this decision. We are now preparing for a massive increase in people traveling to NC to seek an abortion–as we will now be one of the only places in the south where abortion is legal. We know that many will experience extreme financial barriers and other challenges to getting the care they need, and we must have their backs.

At this moment, we must affirm our right to agency over our own sacred bodies. And as our Side With Love leadership has powerfully stated, “When disparities in resources or freedoms make it more difficult for certain groups of people to exercise autonomy over their own bodies, our faith compels us to take liberatory action.”

What Can We Do? 

  • Donate to our trusted partner the Carolina Abortion Fundto help reduce financial burdens for North Carolinians accessing abortion and for people who have to travel to NC to access abortion: https://www.carolinaabortionfund.org/donate.
  • We encourage UUs to also donate Pro-Choice NC, our trusted state leader in protecting and advancing reproductive rights for North Carolinians — and sign-up for their listservto stay informed about upcoming events & calls to action.
  • Join Side With Love’s UPLIFT Action campaign for their upcoming three-part Reproductive Justice Congregational Organizing series. In congregational cohorts and a large group, we will explore the role of congregations in a post-Roe world (Session 1), spend time discerning risk and accessing courage (Session 2), and make an organizing plan (Session 3).
  • Call your members of the NC General Assembly and tell them to pass HB 1119 and SB 888 – bills currently in the NC House & Senate respectively that would codify abortion rights in our state. It is critical that right now our elected officials hear from constituents who want them to protect reproductive rights. Find your State Representative and State Senator’s contact information here: https://ncleg.gov/FindYourLegislators

Basic Script:

  • Hello, My name is _________, I live in _______ and one of [NAME OF LEGISLATOR]’s constituents
  • Following this week’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, I join others across the state in calling on you and the state legislature to take immediate action to codify abortion access in North Carolina!
  • As a person of faith, I believe that we are each endowed with both agency and conscience. Each of us should have the power to decide what happens to our bodies because consent and bodily autonomy are holy.

Abortion Clinics in North Carolina 

Our partners at Pro-Choice NC want to remind us that while misleading, fake women’s health centers operate all over the state, abortion providers are only located in a few key cities. There are currently 14 abortion clinics in the state, located in 9 different counties.

Asheville
– Planned Parenthood Asheville (68 McDowell St. Asheville, NC 28801)
Charlotte
– A Preferred Women’s Health of Charlotte (3220 Latrobe Drive, Charlotte)
– A Woman’s Choice of Charlotte (421 Wendover Rd. Charlotte)
– Planned Parenthood Charlotte (700 South Torrence Street, Charlotte)
Winston-Salem
– Planned Parenthood Winston-Salem (3000 Maplewood Ave Suite 112 Winston Salem)
– Hallmark Women’s Clinic (491 Cleveland Ave Winston Salem)
Greensboro
– A Woman’s Choice of Greensboro (2425 Randleman Rd. Greensboro)
The Triangle
– Planned Parenthood Chapel Hill (1765 Dobbins Dr. Chapel Hill)
– North Durham Women’s Health (400-B Crutchfield St. Durham)
– A Woman’s Choice of Raleigh (3305 Drake Circle. Raleigh)
– A Preferred Women’s Health of Raleigh (1604 Jones Franklin Rd, Raleigh)
Fayetteville
– Planned Parenthood Fayetteville (4551 Yadkin Rd. Fayetteville)
– Hallmark Women’s Clinic (1919 Gillespie St. Fayetteville)
Wilmington
– Planned Parenthood Wilmington (1925 Tradd Court, Wilmington)

Brittany Crawford, Director of Administration

 

A Growth Opportunity

rev Claudia JiménezEarlier this month, a small group from our congregation attended Jubilee Training, a 20-hour weekend remote workshop led by UUs Paula Cole Jones and Lutricia Callair. One of the purposes of the workshop was to challenge congregations through the participation of their members to move toward greater engagement with anti-racism work. We are moving in that direction at UU Asheville, and we are hoping you will join us and/or continue on the journey of collective liberation.

Exploring anti-racism is part of the work of collective liberation that recognizes that we are not just learning about and discussing anti-racism for our own understanding and liberation. It is also about being aware that we are called to work to dismantle oppressive structures so that all of us are free to thrive.

A consistent concern in the Racial Justice Advisory Council report released this year was that there are so few people “doing the work.” What is the “work”? For me, it is decolonizing myself, freeing myself from cultural expectations, and thereby recognizing and using my own particular voice and gifts. Only then can I leverage them to work with others for a society in which all can flourish. Each of us has our own gifts – what are yours? What is “the work” for you?

Confronting biases, gaps in the understanding of history, and complicity with White Supremacy is not easy. It means engaging vulnerably in personal and group learning and reflecting on how we have been socialized into anti-blackness and the white status quo. It is uncomfortable work. One facilitator called being uncomfortable “a growth opportunity.” It has been that for me.

I appreciated centering the voices of People of the Global Majority during training. We were invited to share experiences and explore what solidarity and allyship look like for us in our congregations. Although there are trainings in Asheville like Racial Equity Institute (REI) Workshops and Building Bridges that connect us to community, Jubilee uniquely frames liberation work in a UU context. There will be another training the weekend of August 19. Details will be forthcoming. If interested, I invite you to reach out to Nancy Bragg, Jensen Gelfond, Mary Alm, Jen Johnson, or me to learn more.

I know there are many issues weighing on our hearts these days. As you consider your commitments, I invite you to reflect on these words from Rev. Karen Johnston:

“Do not be alone right now. Gather together.

Gathering together grows courage: in ourselves and in others who see the numbers swelling. It is a small thing, but right now it is an important thing.

Great sources of wisdom remind us: just because you cannot stem the tide of all hate, it is still right to do the thing you can do. These things add up: your one thing and my one thing; his one thing and their one thing and her one thing. Together, it becomes a BIG thing.

Do not be alone right now. Any liberation—all liberation—is collective liberation. My freedom is bound with yours and yours with mine. Inextricably.

Let us together cast our lots doing this BIG thing: bending the moral arc of the universe towards justice.”

Have a wonderful summer. I am attending General Assembly this week and look forward to sharing with you what I learn when I return to the pulpit in August.

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

“Love boldly and always speak the truth”

I am grateful to have officially joined you here at UU Asheville. I met many of you at our Annual Meeting last Sunday, and I look forward to meeting more of you this summer. Your ministers and staff have welcomed me, and my gratitude extends to Linda Topp for her willingness to continue teaching me even after her official retirement. For this first posting, I want to share more about how I see my role here as your Director of Administration.

I enter this role with a slightly different background than you might expect. My undergraduate and graduate degrees are in religion and gender studies. From a young age, I was steeped in congregational life and the transformational work of religious communities. I worked in higher education and a large non-profit before returning to congregational life as the Communications Director at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, Wisconsin. I share this background with you because a theological perspective is how I enter into the conversation about the administrative and business aspects of UU Asheville. I see this work as an extension of our larger ministry.

I believe the local congregation must balance the call to live out its values in the context of a society that doesn’t hold those same values. This balance requires constant calibration, and for me, this is acutely present in congregational business operations. Budgets, databases, and facilities work are often seen as the necessary tasks churches must undertake rather than an extension of the ministry we offer the world. For me, the question is always, “how can we embody our values in our everyday operations?”

My final thought for this introductory posting centers on the quote at the top, “Love boldly and always speak the truth.” I keep this quote on my desk both at work and at home. It is my reminder of how I strive to be in the world. I believe honesty can be a form of kindness. I will endeavor to be appropriately transparent with you about the state of our community, and I ask that you also share in the work of honest dialogue in return. I ask for your grace and patience as I grow in my relationship with you, the congregation, and this new role.

It is a joy to be with you, and I look forward to our work together.

Doing Church

The last couple of months have been busy for me.  The Board has had a lot going on lately, what with the development of our Ministerial Search Committee, the retirement of our administrator (Linda Topp), the hiring of our new administrator (Brittany Crawford), and the return to an in-person Annual Meeting, all on top of the usual Board duties.  During this time, my own personal life has been filled with the joy of friends, family, travel, and some service to others; but the cost of those joys – which I willingly paid – was time usage in an already overloaded schedule.

I’m not complaining, though, even if it may sound like it.  Well, maybe I am complaining just a little bit; but I do derive a certain joy in being busy and productive, even when it is somewhat stressful.  My work with UU Asheville of late has mainly involved interacting with other Board members, our staff, and other congregants – not on spiritual matters, but mainly on matters of church business and operations.  I’ve often heard these kinds of activities and interactions referred to as “doing church.”  So, I’m spending all this time doing church, and one might think that it’s just a lot of stressful work, with frustrations galore, and with none of the reflective or community-building sorts of features that make church meaningful and fun for many of us.

Well, that would be partly true – I have felt stresses or frustrations, especially of late.  But what I find interesting is that it’s pretty far from being completely true for me.  All those “doing church” interactions are in fact personal interactions, even if the subject is a budget or a bylaw change.  It’s always a pleasure getting to know my fellow congregants or a staff members better; and that can happen dealing with even the least spiritual of matters.  There is community-building going on there.  And there is the personal reward of knowing that my “doing church” serves our mission, that it is an integral part of our collective ministry, and that it thus helps build something important to both our inner souls and the wider world.

I hope each and every one of you can find a way of doing church that brings you closer to our church family, and that brings you joy and meaning.  Your way almost certainly won’t be the same as my way.  But my many years of doing church has taught me that it takes actual work to realize the payback of those deeper meanings and deeper connections.  It cannot be done passively.  You might have to take a plunge into some activity at UU Asheville that piques your interest, even if you’re not really sure you want to.  This is especially true in these pandemic times, when many of us have, understandably, pulled away from church.  Had I not wandered into this job of Board president, I might well have pulled away some myself.

I guess I’m advocating for us all to avoid pulling back.  Rather, I’m hoping that each of us can find our own way of doing church that re-engages and that suits the soul.  I seem to have found a little bit of that for myself in a too-busy couple of months recently.  Take a plunge, even if you’re a little hesitant.  There are some great things going on at UU Asheville, and there are some great people doing those things.  Let’s work together to realize the true value of our church home.

Clyde Hardin, President, Uu Asheville Board of Trustees

Blessing the World

There is a reality in blessing…it doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it. ⎯Marilynne Robinson

Photo of Rev. Dr. Cathy HarringtonAfter the horrific and senseless mass shooting last week where 19 children and 2 teachers were murdered just days after ten people were shot and killed in a Buffalo supermarket, I started rereading two books from my studies at Meadville Lombard Theological School where I earned my Doctor of Ministry degree. They are, Violence; Reflections on a National Epidemic by James Gilligan, M.D. and From Violence to Blessing by Vern Neufeld Redekop.  I began my studies at MLTS because I wanted to understand the structures of violence and the roots of “deep-rooted conflict that has humankind in its grasp” (Redekop).  In this year alone, there have been over 222 shootings in our country. I think we can all agree that this senseless killing has to stop.

How can we transform violence?

Vern Redekop explains what he calls “the structures of violence” by using case studies and wisdom from multiple sources including the Bible and the Quran. Intrigued by something he read that claimed it takes ten positive articles about a person to counter one negative article, Redekop was reminded that “within Islam one good deed counts for ten. A bad deed is counted at par.” I took this to mean that the orientation of violence in our world has become so structurally entrenched that violence has become the norm or “par for the course.”  Blessing is the word chosen by Redekop when he searched for a word to express a correspondingly positive impulse to the negative force of violence.  Blessing, he says, is so overshadowed by violence that it is expected, but it doesn’t have to be inevitable. Years of extensive experience and research led Redekop to the powerful conclusion that if structures of violence are our reality, then structures of blessing are possible.  Structures of Blessing can become our reality instead of constant violence, but it is up to us to build them. What would “structures of blessing” look like?  How do we build structures of blessing when violence has become an everyday occurrence?

Redekop writes that in deep-rooted conflict and scapegoating, people can become united around violence. “Imagine a situation in which people are united instead of working for the well-being of others…when people are united around a positive-centered practice, they can experience the same exhilaration around the shared experience as in the violent scenario.”

In general, mimetic structures of blessing are open and life-oriented, involving creativity and generosity. Mimetic structures of blessing result in trust, love, and joy, which are their driving dynamic.  Emotions associated with mimetic structures of violence –anger, fear, hatred, resentment, envy, and shame. These occur from interpreting events as a threat resulting in an emotional response.  

The Soul Matters theme for June is Celebrating Blessing.  Contact me at minister@uuasheville.org to receive a copy of the small group packet filled with readings, quotes, activities, and resources to help you explore the meaning and practice of blessing.  If you are interested in joining me for a conversation and deeper exploration of how we might help move our world from violence to blessing, email me at minister@uuasheville.org.  It feels overwhelming right now, but if we work together we can make a difference.

In faith,
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

Not Again

rev Claudia JiménezMy plans for today’s blog changed. Like many of you, I feel anger, frustration, and heartbreak (and so many other feelings) after the latest school shooting. I feel a deep sadness to live in a country where guns are more important than children’s lives, where a government refuses to protect its citizens, where legislators accept cash in exchange for thousands of innocent lives – over and over and over again. I take deep breaths as I type because my body is tense and constricted at the thought of so many lives lost, grieving families, and a nation, once again, evading its obligation to pass legislation on sensible gun control. I take deep breaths. I cannot look at the front page of today’s paper. Yesterday, my daughter, a teacher, reached out to let us know she was OK. On the last day of the semester, they were on lockdown because of a shooting outside their school. I have no. more. words.

These are the times when we need each other to acknowledge our sorrow, care for each other, and reaffirm the values we hold that will help us decide how we can respond to such horror.  Rev. Cathy and I will be holding a vigil tonight at 7PM in Sandburg Hall to provide a space for grieving and lamentation. I will open a Zoom space for those of you unable to join in person. Please contact me for the link. Join us if you are able.

I share below a reading from a colleague, Rev. Derrick Jackson, that invites us into reflection about what these times ask of us. If you have children in your life this resource might be helpful as you consider how to address their questions.
https://draliza.bulletin.com/what-to-say-when-the-words-escape-us-all

We Are Called
In these times, we are called:
Called to step into the mess and murk of life
Called to be strong and vulnerable
Called to console and to challenge
Called to be grounded, and hold lofty ideals
Called to love in the face of hate
We are called
And it is not easy
And we will not always agree
And we will yell, and scream and cry
And we will laugh and smile and sing
We are called to be together
There is so much work to do
And we cannot do it alone
We need one another
Holding each other accountable to our covenants, to the holy, to love and justice.
In these times, we are called.

In love and sadness,
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Work on the Vision

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

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

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

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

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

Or two descriptions from the handy internet of ideas:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

UU Asheville + BeLoved Asheville = Making a Difference

Margaret McAlisterPatricia Adams Farmer, a minister and a writer, tells us: “Beauty is that which glistens on the edges of our yearnings and lures us into the depths of things.”  Rev. Claudia gave me a gift of beauty a year ago, unbeknownst to me or her at the time. Let me tell you about it.

You may remember in April or May of last year, Rev. Claudia put a call out to the congregation for someone to volunteer to investigate the organization BeLoved Asheville and how UU Asheville might partner with them. I volunteered for this; to go to a meeting with BeLoved Asheville to learn more about them. I adore Claudia and thought I could certainly attend a meeting for her. I remember explaining via email to Claudia that my only commitment was to gather information…that I was not volunteering for anything else! I think I was a little abrupt about it!  So I attended the meeting–via Zoom–and my life was shaken up!!! My yearnings that I had not yet named were stirred up. As I listened to Rev. Amy Cantrell, a BeLoved Asheville co-Director, tell the story of how BeLoved Asheville came to be and how it lives its mission, I had an epiphany that what was being revealed to me was how I could live my faith. What. A. Gift!!!! By the end of the meeting, I had my list of UU Asheville members I wanted to invite to explore with me.

Anita Feldman said yes, and over the next months, oversaw UU Asheville members and friends establish a Street Pantry which is located on Charlotte Street, and coordinated 60 volunteers (UU Asheville members and friends) to keep the pantry stocked. It is the first of the 15 BeLoved pantries in Buncombe County that has been adopted by an outside organization, and the first that has been made into a painted work of art by young community artist Jamie Morris. UU Asheville member Jensen Gelfond organized a Charlotte Pantry Google Group so that all the volunteers can easily communicate with each other about the types of supplies most needed, substitute needs, and any other issues. Thanks to Anita Feldman and Jim Gamble for continued leadership, and the 60 volunteers who have generously made this an ongoing project!

Jim Gamble said yes, and became the UU Asheville liaison with the BeLoved Village project manager. He coordinated a Work Day with many UU Asheville teens and looks forward to coordinating more projects around the construction of the homes in the BeLoved Village when we are called to do so by BeLoved Asheville.

Jen Johnson and several RE youth said yes. They came out in November to the BeLoved Village property, learned about BeLoved’s missions, and then rolled up their sleeves and worked a couple of hours clearing the land where the homes will go. They are on standby for more work and assisting BeLoved with the project of building the BeLoved Village.

Nancy Gamble said yes, and joined me on an odyssey of planning an auction to benefit the building of one home for BeLoved Village. With Amy’s help, we recruited committee members from other faith organizations including St. Mathias, All Souls Church, and the Jewish Secular Community of Asheville. We eight named ourselves the RAH (Raise A Home) Committee. We were coming from different places in more ways than one, but we were in lockstep about our mission and as we grew to know each other, we saw that we each had talents and skills that were essential to pull this off, and we did it! We sold out, had over 300 guests, and made $25,000 over our goal, netting just over $120,000! Special thanks also go to Anita Feldman, Michael Majewski, Jim Gamble, Fredda Mangel, and Reed Olszack for their help leading up to the event & during the event.  (The 2nd annual Raise A Home Auction will be May 6, 2023- mark your calendars!)

What’s next? I have asked Rev. Cantrell to think about how I and we can get involved with BeLoved more directly because we can be vocal advocates for them. They are doing amazing things!! Read about them here: www.belovedasheville.com

I want to be boots on the ground for them. I want to pray with my feet for them. Yearnings stirred up?! I’ll say. Will you say yes, too? Will you come out from your committee meetings (that’s where I was!!) and pray with your feet with me?!  Are you ready to be “lured into the depth of things”?

Join me and all the people above- we’ll be glad to have you and you’ll be glad you did.

Thank you for reading,
Margaret McAlister, Board Member

Welcome, Brittany Crawford!

I am delighted to introduce our new Business Administrator, Brittany Crawford.  Brittany is a Unitarian Universalist, a graduate of Yale Divinity School with a Master of Arts in Religion and Women’s studies. She has a wealth of experience working in a large UU congregation, a passion for social justice and religious community, and she has roots in North Carolina.  Brittany will join our staff team beginning on May 23rd so that she can cross paths with Linda and take up the mantle so Linda can retire as planned sometime in June.  Linda has graciously offered to assist Brittany with the transition and be available for consult if needed in the summer.  Here is a brief introduction from Brittany:

 

Hello, fellow Unitarian Universalists at UU Asheville!

I am grateful and excited to be joining you later this month as your Business Administrator. I’ve heard wonderful things about your community, and I look forward to getting to know you as we share in the work of congregational life. I’ll start by offering you a little bit of my story. I am coming to you from First Unitarian Society of Madison in Madison, WI, where I’ve served as the Communications Director. The move to Asheville is a homecoming for me as I was raised in a small town on the North Carolina coast. My family brought me up in the United Methodist Church, and I found my way to Unitarian Universalism while in divinity school. Our tradition’s capacity to hold the big questions and its call to create a more kind and just world, continues to inspire and challenge me. I’m looking forward to hearing your stories about what inspires you about our tradition and this congregation. I’d also love to hear more about what makes Asheville home for you.

 Let’s plan to give Brittany a warm UU Asheville welcome when she arrives!  She has found an apartment in East Asheville (praise goodness) and will be moving in while training with Linda for the first couple of weeks.  We will have an in person formal introduction at our annual meeting, but you may see her in the office or in Sunday worship beforehand.

I want to thank you for answering your phones! The mass calling campaign is over, and your Ministerial Search Committee suggestions have been processed by our board’s expert data analyst, Margaret McAllister. I am confident that when it is all said and done (candidate slate will be presented for a vote at our annual meeting on June 12th), you will have an MSC that represents YOU and will serve you well in this process of calling your next settled minister.

Thank you for showing up to have your voice heard in this critical chapter in the history of this congregation. There will be many opportunities in the coming months to take part in the discernment process. Your presence matters.

In faith,
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

 

 

Celebremos!

rev Claudia JiménezThis Sunday is Celebration Sunday at UU Asheville, an opportunity to reflect on abundance–the generosity of time, talent, presence and resources in our faith community. I won’t be joining you because I will be supporting the planning for the May 15 Coming of Age youth service, one of the most meaningful, moving services of the year and one you really don’t want to miss! The commitment to supporting our youth on their spiritual journey is one of the many gifts this congregation offers our faith community. This year ten mentors, four facilitators and our Religious Educator Jen Johnson, with the support of the youths’ families, have provided a meaningful experience of reflection, community building, and spiritual deepening for our youth. Celebremos!

Last night I led the final Vespers and Program for this year focusing on Beauty, Justice, and Eco-theology. Wednesday Vespers will resume in September. We gathered online to reflect, listen to music, share joys and sorrows, build community, and explore our relationship with the Earth. This was just one of our many Wednesday gatherings offered online for the past two years and led by creative, committed volunteers. This wouldn’t happen without your support and participation. Celebremos!

I could go on and on sharing my appreciation for all that is happening at UU Asheville despite the trauma and losses of the pandemic. In October of last year, Adam Griffith invited staff to document all who serve in leadership roles on boards, committees, and taskforces. We documented over 80 people, and that list doesn’t include the over 50 people who support the BeLoved pantry, more than 30 who are part of the Circle of Welcome for an Afghan family as well as all the volunteers for Religious Exploration, participants in Soul Matters Groups, Wednesday program facilitators and so forth. You get the idea! There is mucho que celebrar!

 I see my role as Minister of Faith Development to serve as a catalyst to invite you to explore theology, spiritual practices, and community as you discern how to use your gifts, presence, and resources to put your UU faith in action. Many of you are doing that, and for that I say Celebremos!

A more personal celebración this month was a trip to Long Beach, California to attend the Finding Our Way Home retreat for religious professionals of the Global Majority sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association. That is one of many activities the UUA organizes and finances to support congregations and religious professionals. I gathered with colleagues from all over the country: ministers, religious educators, music directors, administrators, membership coordinators, and lay leaders to heal, mourn colleagues who died during the past year, to worship, to learn, and relish each other’s company. We hadn’t been able to meet during the past two years, so this retreat was truly a homecoming. I share this because our congregation is not a Fair Share congregation in the UUA, which means we do not pay our complete dues (6.5% of our budget) to the UUA. I hope one day we will be able to fulfill our obligation. The UUA supports congregations in ways we are often unaware of. Interim minister training and support is provided by the UUA. My journey to full fellowship as a UU minister was supported by UUA staff. Training for our religious educators and consultants who we reach out to support Faith Development are provided by the UUA. In such a privileged congregation, this feels like a shortcoming we should be aware of.

Beloveds, tenemos mucho que celebrar, we have much to celebrate! This journey of ministry enriches my life because working with you, getting to know you, and learning together how to put our faith in action continues to be challenging, transformative, and a blessing, una benedición. May you also feel blessed, challenged, and transformed by your connection with this faith community.

Un abrazo,
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

We’re Open, Open, Open! Come On Down!

We’ve actually never been “closed,” but now we’ve really got things cooking! (Please send this blog to people you haven’t seen for a while and invite them to meet you at church on Sunday! I’m betting they’ve given up reading the eNews by now.)

Back to what’s happening….
Sunday worship services at 11 are fully in person, masks optional, and hymn-singing has resumed. Children and youth have been learning and connecting safely in person all year. Committees are meeting in person (or on Zoom if they prefer—sometimes it’s just more convenient). I’ve been to in-person Board and auction meetings, will be meeting with the Leadership Development Committee in person at our next meeting, but still meet with the Finance Advisory Committee over Zoom because it’s just plain easier for our two full-time workers to do it that way. The choir has been practicing, masks optional. (Hey! EVERYTHING is mask-optional. If you want to wear one, we want you to!)

I think everyone who joins a religious group does it for two reasons. They are seeking some sort of spiritual deepening AND they are seeking meaningful connections with other people. As a staff we have been working like crazy this past two years to provide experiences that do that, but we all know that Zoom is an imperfect medium AND there is totally something called Zoom fatigue. Yes, many of us are all Zoomed out.

As we adjust to a less restricted lifestyle, I invite you back to UU Asheville! (And I’m not just saying that because I’m giving the presentation for next year’s budget this Sunday after the worship service and we’re talking about running a very large deficit next year.) Yes, we have added alternative ways to “attend” without being in person, so you will always have the option to watch worship services and participate in many faith development activities virtually. You can even attend the budget meeting through YouTube. However there really is no better way to connect with people than seeing them in person. I think we’ve learned that by now.

So, come, come whoever you are! If you are comfortable being out and about, we invite you to return in person. If you are uncomfortable or unable to be out and about, attend worship virtually and participate in online programming when you can. It’s time to see you again!

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Reaching Out

karen dill

The second week of March turned colder.  My husband became dangerously ill with a ruptured gallbladder and after a harrowing two week stay in the hospital, was transferred to a nursing facility to recover. I was immobilized by fear and doubts. Reaching out for help was harder than calling fellow congregants. I was raised to be independent, self sufficient, and secretive.  I told no one for several days.  Finally, I reached out to family, a few friends and my fellow UU Asheville Board members and staff. What did I say?  I wanted to say:  “Help. I think I’m drowning.” 

The last week of March brought rain.  And on the last Sunday of the month, a long time friend and former colleague from Jackson County tragically lost her two young sons in an accidental shooting at her home. What could I possibly say?  Every sentence seemed inadequate. When I did reach out to my friend, the best I could do was listen, say her sons’ names, and help her remember their love for her.  Saying: “I’m here in body and in spirit for you”. 

Just as I was reaching out to initiate conversation with members of our congregation, I also needed to reach out to UU Asheville for help. Just as the congregation was reaching out to me, I was also reaching out to my friend in need. This was a lot of reaching out for one month.  

Reaching out takes courage. A leap of faith is required to put aside old fears of rejection. Reaching out for feedback, for support, or for a friend in desperate need is hard work indeed. Yet, reaching out to others allows them the opportunity to reach back in that same spirit of love.

Reaching out to the members of the congregation through those phone calls brought connections I might have otherwise missed.  As we move forward in selecting a settled minister, I heard constructive ideas, helpful insights, and optimism for our congregation. Reaching out to my UUCA family in my personal time of need brought emails, letters, beautiful cards with healing words, a bouquet of spring flowers.  My spirit soared on those hard days.  Reaching out to my friend who lost her boys brought simple connection and the realization that words won’t fix a broken heart but friends will hold you close in those dark hours.  And each day, my friend was able to reach out in tiny ways to her friends who had opened that door.

Today I am sitting on my deck. The April sun is shining brightly as the cardinals sing crazy love songs.  As dogwood trees awake from their winter sleep, I watch their brown limbs with tiny green leaves stretch and reach for the sun. By reaching out, those leaves will grow with the sun’s warmth.  May we, as well, continue to reach, to grow, and to heal with the warmth of the sun and the power of human love.

Karen Dill, UU Asheville Board of Trustees

 

The Eternal Immigrant

Photo of Rev. Dr. Cathy HarringtonThis Sunday, April 10, Dr. Edwin Murillo will speak to us about the importance of understanding our United States history if we hope to accomplish the goal of becoming anti-racist and dismantling white supremacy. Dr. Murillo is a professor at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, an author of two books, a poet, and a husband and father of two daughters. He will join us after the service via Zoom for conversation and questions facilitated by Rev. Claudia. (See his bio below)

I was fortunate to take two classes with Dr. Murillo over the past two years, a Spanish language class and a World Cinema class that introduced me to the history of Hispanic Americans. Our first assignment was to view the first episode of that PBS series, Latino Americans, Foreigners in their Own Land.  Over the semester, we viewed most of the episodes of the PBS series as well as many movies, Carandirú, Cesar Chavez, La misma luna, Mi familia, Machuca, The Mission, The Official Story, The Secret in Their Eyes, After the Rain, and more. The power of film to educate and challenge our erroneous assumptions cannot be overstated. The films we viewed and studied opened my eyes to the courage, integrity, sacrifice, endurance, and suffering immigrants to the U.S. endure not only in the arduous journey but also in what happens to them after they arrive. The truth is that many Hispanic Americans are here because they were always here. As one scholar pointed out, “they didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them.”

Professor Susan Drake compared the immigrant’s journey to Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”; the three stages, departure, initiation, and return. She says that the immigrant’s journey follows Campbell’s outline in the departure and initiation phases, but that’s where it stops because the immigrant cannot return home and is forced to straddle two worlds and is never being fully at home in either. She writes, “The heroic journey of the undocumented immigrant experience remains somewhat incomplete—the treasure that the immigrants seek is out of reach or not quite what they imagined—yet they persevere, sharing what they gain with family and community.”

One day, I pray we will be able to experience fully the rich gifts an equal society has to offer that will benefit everyone. The greatest gift, the gift that Paulo Freire outlined in his scholarship over fifty years ago, is the gift of restoring humanity.

Join Rev. Claudia and Dr. Murillo this Sunday to reflect on the importance of knowing the complete history of our country and explore opportunities for religious communities to challenge bigotry based on lies and affirm the value of diversity and radical welcome.

Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

Dr. Edwin Murillo is an Associate Professor in the Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures Department at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. He received his doctorate in Romance Studies from the University of Miami. Dr. Murillo is a second-generation US Hispanic and the first person in his family to attend college. His articles have appeared in HispanófilaCrítica hispánica, and Hispanic Journal, among others. His poetry, written in Spanglish and Portuñol, has appeared in various international academic journals. His short-story collection Midnight Vallenato was published by Floricanto Press in 2019. His book Latin America and Existentialism is under contract with the University of Wales Press. At UTC, he teaches Spanish language, composition, and literature courses, as well as creative writing in Spanish. He loves music, travel, and the noise his daughters make in the morning.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Edwin Murillo is an Associate Professor in the Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures Department at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. He received his doctorate in Romance Studies from the University of Miami.  Dr. Murillo is a second-generation US Hispanic and the first person in his family to attend college. His articles have appeared in HispanófilaCrítica hispánica, and Hispanic Journal, among others. His poetry, written in Spanglish and Portuñol, has appeared in various international academic journals. His short-story collection Midnight Vallenato was published by Floricanto Press in 2019. His book Latin America and Existentialism is under contract with the University of Wales Press. At UTC, he teaches Spanish language, composition, and literature courses, as well as creative writing in Spanish. He loves music, travel, and the noise his daughters make in the morning.

 

 

Budgeting in a Time of High Uncertainty

feet at bottom of picture, standing on pavement marked with three arrows; left, straight, rightThings we don’t know about UU Asheville in the next two years:

  • What is the state of the congregation? How many members will we have once the pandemic settles down and we have a new minister?
  • What kind of ministry do we want? It’s possible to change our structure to include just one minister (this would be dictated by giving levels), or a lead minister with an assistant minister like we have now, or co-ministers.
  • What income can we work with? Remember that we get no funds from anyone but us. If there are a lot of us and we give 3-5% of our incomes, we can do a lot.  If there are fewer of us and we are less able/willing to give generously, that’s different.
  • Some of our staff members are at retirement age. How might that affect staff structure and accompanying costs?

Things we know:

  • Re-visioning and getting new ministerial leadership will re-energize the congregation. From other congregations, we note that a transition like this usually results in a significant uptick in giving and volunteerism.
  • We need a half-time A/V Coordinator now to make sure our video capabilities are dependably available and that some of the website and graphics work done by the Director of Administration is moved out of that job.
  • We are benefiting from the fact that our RE Coordinators are functioning at a level defined as “Religious Educators” by the UUA, but we are paying them at the lower “RE Coordinators” level.
  • The inflation rate for goods and services in the US is significantly higher than it has been for the past 40 years.
  • For the past nine years we have made sure that all employees received the SSN cost of living increase. This year that increase is 5.9%.
  • Years ago, the Board of Trustees declared that we would always pay our minimum wage employees (exclusively our childcare workers) at the Asheville Living Wage rate. This year that rate is $17.70/hour.
  • The UUA asks congregations to donate 6.5% of their expenses to support their work on our behalf. Historically we have managed 4%.

If you were paying attention to that last list, you will have figured out that the budget pressures are HUGE this year.  I hinted in my January blog that this was going to be a rough year and that deficit spending could be on the table.  If we choose to pay for all the items in the “things we know” list, we will create a budget deficit of a little less than $90,000 if early returns from our Annual Giving Drive are any indication of our income for 22-23.

Right now, as the Executive, Finance Advisory Committee, and Board of Trustees wrestle with the 2022-23 budget, they are faced with some tough decisions.  Nearly all decisions are made with “too little” information, but as you can imagine, making budget decisions in an environment where expenses are going up, income is not meeting it, and future income and expenses are hidden in a fog of uncertainty is crazy-making.

Here are some of our choices:

  • Create a balanced budget right now! Because it looks like our income will not be much higher than it was last year, that would mean not doing any of the things listed in the “things we know” list: no new A/V position, no raises for the RE Coordinators, no cost-of-living increases, maybe a decrease instead of an increase in UUA giving. And even then, other cuts might need to be made.
  • Create a balanced budget right now! Since personnel costs are always our largest expense area, we could lose staff members as we have had to do in the past.
  • Deficit spend. We have about $203,000 in our Contingency Fund.  Let’s try to raise more money but then use the Contingency Fund this year and next year to tide us over until we have less uncertainty and can make smarter long-term decisions.
  • Deficit spend, but choose which of the things in the “things we know” list we can drop for now so the deficit isn’t quite so large.

Thank your congregational leaders for this work.  It is NOT for the faint of heart.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

 

 

 

 

“Theology Ablaze” and “Haunting Church” at UU Asheville

rev Claudia JiménezWhat a juxtaposition of programs! Let’s begin with Theology Ablaze. Last night a group gathered via Zoom after Vespers for theological reflection on the topic of forgiveness. We explored questions such as:

  • Is forgiveness an opportunity? An obligation? A necessity?
  • What stories of forgiveness in the media or in our lives surprise us and why?
  • Are there times to be a moral unforgiver?
  • How does our Unitarian Universalist faith inform our understanding of forgiveness?

There was deep listening, questioning, and vulnerability in the search for understanding of forgiveness in our lives and the larger world.  This communal inquiry is a reminder that we do not build our theology alone. It is done in community. As we share insights, experiences, and beliefs, we learn from each other. Sometimes our beliefs are challenged in the process.  Ultimately, our connection to each other is strengthened as we recognize shared values as well as differences of opinion.

This fourth Wednesday Zoom gathering is part of the Theology Series that was started last year to invite us to consider theology in a broad sense: examining our understanding of what is of ultimate significance in our lives, and as UU theologian Paul Razor wrote, “examining our actions in the world and our justifications for them.” We have been using “Theology Ablaze” by Tom Owen-Towle for background and discussion questions on a variety of theological topics.

Next week, March 30, is a fifth Wednesday so we will have an additional Theology Ablaze session. Our theme will be covenant, a central tenet in our non-creedal faith. We will explore the types of covenants we have and how our covenants can be more inclusive. Before the program, there will be a Vespers celebrating Transgender Day of Visibility co-led by Ruth Christie and me. I hope you join us.

Finally, if you are struggling with the concept of faith, theology, worship, and other religious words, I invite you to consider attending next month’s Adult Faith Development Program “The Haunting Church: Owning Your Religious Past” which invites participants to reflect on their religious journey. What do you leave behind? What do you bring to the present? What do you redefine? We will meet via Zoom, Monday evenings 7-8:30 pm, April 11, 18, 25, and March 2. Contact me to register.

My ministry with you is rooted in supporting you on your faith development journey. It is a journey of accompaniment as we find meaning and are held accountable in community. Whether you are new to UU Asheville or a long-time member, I encourage you to engage in our programs and be part of this caring community supporting each other as we figure out how to create a more loving world in the midst of so much grief, loss, and violence.

In faith,
Rev. Claudia, Minister of Faith Development

How Budgeting Works at UU Asheville

Maybe not the most exciting headline I’ve ever written, but definitely information that congregants—you, the owners of the congregation—ought to know.  Every year in March the Administrator, in conjunction with the Executive (the policy governance role of the Lead Minister) and the Finance Advisory Committee, produce an operating budget for the next church year.  Then,

  1. That budget is reviewed by the Board of Trustees at their April meeting.
  2. Revisions are made if needed.
  3. The revised budget is presented to the congregation online as a slide deck and in person at a Budget Town Hall for review by interested congregants. That meeting will occur on April 24 following the worship service.
  4. Revisions are made if needed.
  5. The final proposed budget is accepted by the Board of Trustees to be presented at the Annual Meeting on the first Sunday in June for the congregation’s members to approve by vote.

How is the budget created?

We need to estimate both income and expenses for the next church year (July 1-June 30).

To estimate income, we look at all income sources and try to make sensible projections for them.  Since payments on commitments make up about 85% of our income, the closer we can predict that, the more realistic the proposed budget will be.  THAT’S WHY WE WANT YOU TO GIVE US YOUR COMMITMENT NOW!

To estimate expenses, we

  1. Produce a worksheet that compiles all of our personnel expenses from wages and salaries, to hours worked, to tax payments, retirement benefits, and more.
  2. Use those personnel figures in a “master budget sheet” that lists all the expense line items we use and their estimated totals for the coming church year (things like utilities, cleaning services, all building and office administration costs).
  3. Send out budget requests to all leaders of programs of the congregation. These include program areas like faith development, justice ministry, worship, music, etc.
  4. Input all the estimates and requests (projected expense lines and all budget requests) in the master budget sheet.
  5. Confer with the Executive and the Finance Advisory Committee on how to make adjustments if expenses on this first look exceed income. The Executive may consult with anyone else she desires to help with this decision-making.
  6. If adjustments are needed for program areas, discussion is initiated with the affected program leaders.

By the time of the April Board meeting, the proposed budget will either be balanced (income = expenses) or we will identify ways to make up the difference (we never come out with too much income!).  This could happen by asking congregants to reconsider their commitments, or by intentionally including a transfer from our Contingency Fund, or both.  At the present time our Contingency Fund holds a little more than $200,000.

So that’s the way it goes.  You’ll get more information about that Budget Town Hall Meeting in April.  In the meantime, if you want to see how we’re doing compared to our budget for this year, here’s a link to the Operating and Expense portion of the Finance Report as of January 2022.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

 

 

 

 

 

Pandemic Living Endures

From the time the pandemic locked us down in mid-March 2020 until the present, there has been an endless flow of well-intentioned advice by experts about how to live with isolation and not languish:

  • Do whatever you can to connect with people. Zoom. Write. Telephone. Email.
  • Create/sustain meaningful group connections: church groups, book club, children, grandchildren, friends, siblings.
  • Read.
  • Grieve your losses, no matter how small.
  • Keep a journal.
  • Listen to music: dance, sing, and write with it.
  • Find joy in everyday routines.
  • Engage with nature.

Now that we are, cautiously, beginning to emerge from the isolation, COVID has clarified my priorities. I find that there are ways of being, from among these and a myriad of other suggestions, that I wish to maintain.

The thrill of seeing a friend’s or loved one’s unmasked face, and observing their body language, leads me to a sense of warmth and engagement I have truly missed. Technology is a valuable tool in many contexts, but it is not a replacement for human contact. Social interaction is a sensory experience that enables our brains and bodies to feel safe, comfortable, and to explore authentic relationships. I intend to appreciate that with every human encounter.

Books can become a salvation. The luxury of time to read books was a gift that has led me to more deeply consider their importance in my life. I value being with a book; it is not a passive activity. I consider its weight, the paper’s texture, the beauty of the illustrations. I can curl up with it, escape through it, be consoled by it.

We missed the high school graduations of both of our grandsons and our granddaughter’s performance in her high school play. We postponed travel. A special event to celebrate my husband’s 80th birthday with friends and family was canceled. However, now that we can see our children and grandchildren, engagement has been more deeply satisfying and celebratory. We relish more the ability to see a live play and attend the symphony in person.

While I am usually one who desires to optimize every hour, I have discovered during this period of isolation that life is richer if I routinely meditate, go outside to observe nature, wake up with no plans for the day.

We monthly Zoom with friends from our days at Northwestern, over 50 years ago. The group members reside all over the country. We now communicate more often and more meaningfully than we would when traveling with one another every year or so before the pandemic. We plan and then actively explore, learn about, and discuss a chosen topic, teaching one another at our next meeting.

I have maintained a journal since fifth grade. My journals served as diaries in my younger years; as I matured, they were a place to record and reflect upon my inner thoughts and feelings. Journaling has become a resource to clarify my decisions, to ascertain patterns of my behavior, and to discover how my thinking has evolved over time. During the pandemic, I have paid more attention to my anxieties and have imagined ways to remain resilient. I now write about my experience with the pandemic, creating a history of what aspects of my life are changing because of it.

In reviewing my journal entries I have discovered that I am more willing to accept not being in control of many aspects of my life. Living with the pandemic over the past two years I have adapted to the unknown future, accepted the possibility of more variants to come, learned to embrace solitude, practiced better listening, invented coping statements, engaged in new hobbies, acknowledged the importance of my inner life, and found meaning in the midst of loss.

Today, I am unwilling to postpone the experiences in my life that I love the most. I am maintaining a routine, staying active in a natural space. And I am nurturing a network of family and friends through love and attention. The past two years have taught me how better to accept uncertainty while living my life.

Julie Stoffels
Member, UU Asheville Board of Trustees

 

A Faith That Troubles the World

“Beware the faith that does not trouble the world.”
Steve Garnass- Holmes

rev Claudia JiménezWelcome to the month of renewing faith. There are many ways to define faith beyond the traditional idea of trusting in a deity or higher power. For me, one understanding of faith is trusting in the capacity for human goodness and the work we can do together. Despite violence and injustice in the world, there are people doing good. I see good happening in our faith community not only in the Welcome Circle that supports an Afghan family, in the generosity of those committed to restocking the BeLoved Pantry or those volunteering with UU the Vote, but also those who give of their time and talent to work with children and youth or participate in committees that do the work of the congregation. There are also many of you engaged in the community, living out your values there. It is a both/and engagement. We are grounded in this UU community, held in love and challenged to deepen our spirituality so that we can engage beyond our four walls or zoom boxes.

Renewing faith. What an appropriate theme for the month when we launch the Annual Giving Campaign to support and deepen the work of this congregation. As we begin to gather in person and continue our virtual gatherings, it is a good time to wonder what this faith community means to you; to consider how you renew your commitment to the possibilities that await this congregation as you call a new minister and revisit your mission. What an exciting time! I invite you to consider these questions (or create your own) to explore your engagement with this congregation.

Why did you decide to attend the first time, in person or on-line?

What do you value most about this congregation?

Think of a time when your engagement with this congregation made you feel alive, vibrant and engaged? What were the circumstances? What was your role?

How has this congregation made a difference in your life?

What is this congregation known for in the community?

When has this congregation let you down (because we’re human)?

What 3 wishes for the future of this congregation do you have?

As you reflect on what this faith community means to you, I invite you to consider how your time, talent, presence and resources can contribute to joyfully imagining what the role of UU Asheville is in this pandemic time. We have a learned a lot these last two years about what matters and what isn’t working in our society. Many of us were finally jolted into understanding the true and insidious depth of white supremacy and racism with the death of George Floyd and so many others. We were called to work for racial justice. We became more aware of the glaring inequities when the pandemic disproportionately affected Black and other marginalized communities. Opportunities are knocking at our door. Who do we want to be? Can we be audacious and creative in exploring what our call is in 2022?

Are we called to trouble the world, in a good way? I hope so,

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

 

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

Our hearts and minds weigh heavy with the people of Ukraine as we watch the news of the Russian invasion and listen to the dire warnings from leaders around the world. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s advisor, Mykhailo Podolyak, said: “A full-scale war in Europe has begun. … Russia is not only attacking Ukraine, but the rules of normal life in the modern world.”

After a restless night, I woke up this morning with this song written by Ed McCurdy in 1950, in the middle of the Joseph McCarthy Red Scare when the threat of war cast its dark shadow over the world, in my head. Pete Seeger was the first to record Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream that never made the top forty but was translated into several languages as it spread around the world.

Feeling helpless and depressed, I was reminded of this wonderful story that I read recently on Facebook about singer/songwriter and activist Pete Seeger who devoted his life to working for change. This story helped lift me out of despair and reminded me that we are not helpless. As the author of the Facebook post said, it matters who we are in the world. Here’s a link to a UU World article called, “Singing for Humanity” about Pete Seeger. A UU at heart, Pete officially became a UU later in his life and his story is inspiring and hopeful.

THIS IS JUST ONE OF MANY GREAT STORIES – WHO WE ARE IN THE WORLD MATTERS – WORDS HAVE POWER

“In the 1970s, Pete Seeger was invited to sing in Barcelona, Spain. Francisco Franco’s fascist government, the last of the dictatorships that started World War II, was still in power but declining. A pro-democracy movement was gaining strength, and to prove it they invited America’s best-known freedom singer to Spain. More than a hundred thousand people were in the stadium, where rock bands had played all day. But the crowd had come for Seeger.

As Pete prepared to go on, government officials handed him a list of songs he was not allowed to sing. Pete studied it mournfully, saying it looked an awful lot like his setlist. But they insisted: he must not sing any of these songs. He took the government’s list of banned songs and strolled on stage. He held up the paper and said, “I’ve been told that I’m not allowed to sing these songs.” He grinned at the crowd and said, “So, I’ll just play the chords; maybe you know the words. They didn’t say anything about *you* singing them.”

He strummed his banjo to one song after another, and they all sang. A hundred thousand defiant freedom singers broke the law with Pete Seeger, filling the stadium with words their government did not want them to hear, words they all knew and had sung together, in secret circles, for years. What could the government do? Arrest a hundred thousand singers? It had been beaten by a few banjo chords and the fame of a man whose songs were on the lips of the whole world.”

In faith and love, Cathy
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

 

 

 

Future Thinking – How Brave Are You?

fantasy picture of white staircase ascending left to right with a turquoise figure on a landing in the middle of the staircase, gazing out to a night skyI’m not sure you know it, but your staff is exceptionally creative.  Sometimes we’re so creative we’re afraid to try an idea because it’s “too radical.”  For instance, Rev. Claudia and I had several ideas to completely change our Sunday morning worship once we fully resumed after COVID.  What if we used up three hours on Sunday mornings by having faith development activities for one hour (for all—some age-appropriate, some mixed ages), a snack/social time for some time period, and a gathering time that would be worship?  Or, what if we changed worship so that it was an abbreviated service followed by breakout sessions of art, discussion, videos, etc.?  Or what if we just used one Sunday morning a month and called it Potpourri Sunday, and you wouldn’t know what was happening until you got here (and it would definitely be a happening!)?

In the UU seminar I attended at the start of the month, I listened to Dr. Anthony Pinn, a professor of religion at Rice University, as he spoke about going so far beyond “outside the box” thinking that it borders on fantasy.  The two facts that practically had me jump out of my chair were 1) UUism is wildly diverse in its religious underpinnings but always includes a strong justice element and 2) our church services look just like Christian worship (same form, different content).

He went on from there but I’m pretty sure the following idea is a blend of what he said and what I was thinking about when he was talking. You can give him full credit though.

What if our gatherings were designed to support individual justice work?  We could gather to examine our values and our feelings as we work for justice in whatever manner we choose (in our paid work, in our volunteerism, in our families).  We would not necessarily have a church-wide justice initiative, though we could. We could establish a reflective practice with other UU Ashevilleans and be accountable to/with our friends.  The time together could start with a worship form (or forms) that makes sense for this—inspiring words and music perhaps, a conversation-starting video, a drumming practice…. 

And why Sunday mornings?  Could this happen multiple times per week?  Weekdays, evenings, weekends?  What kind of building might we need?  Would we need a worship space with pews?  Would we need a space to hold hundreds of people? Would we still want to hold RE classes for school-age children and youth on Sunday mornings because it is probably culturally easier?  Is it?

This is fantastical future thinking, and it’s these kinds of ideas we hope you are thinking about, too! 

Here’s your assignment:  Who will we be and how will we act as a congregation once the critical phase of the pandemic ends and a new ministry begins?

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

 

 

On the Journey Towards Racial Justice

laurel amabileYour UUAsheville Board identified the work of Racial Justice as one of our priority goals during the summer of 2020, working with our Minister of Faith Development, Rev. Claudia Jiménez to assemble and empower the Racial Justice Advisory Council (RJAC), made up of an amazing group of insightful and talented leaders dedicated to help our congregation navigate this important work.

The RJAC has worked with a consultant over the last few months to gather information about our UUAsheville system and sought feedback from our congregation. This initial process has resulted in a Draft Assessment Report which Rev. Claudia shared with us all via email on January 26. She and the RJAC are hosting a series of Listening Circles to engage us in conversation about the assessment findings. Your UUAsheville Board met last Sunday for a Listening Circle session and found it to be a great forum for sharing our thoughts and getting clarification for greater understanding.

Please join one of the upcoming Racial Justice Advisory Council Listening Circles if you have not already. We plan to have at least one member of the Board at each one. We want to hear your thoughts!

Three decades ago, one of our much beloved and influential Unitarian Universalist ministers, The Reverend Melvin Hoover, shared a piece he wrote in a meditation manual entitled Been in the Storm So Long. This brilliant compilation features the writings of 29 African Americans, from 19th-century poets to the thinkers of the time, the early 1990s. Mel’s piece, Spirit of the Pioneer, speaks to me as I embark on the next part of my journey toward Racial Justice and as I dare to explore what I must do to truly be an antiracist person. This is not a new journey, for me, UUAsheville, and for Unitarian Universalism, but a continuing and challenging one begun many decades ago.

 I will share these wise words with you as inspiration and an invitation to join me and our congregation on this journey toward Racial Justice:

    We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it and build on it.

    We can’t control the future, but we can shape it and enhance the possibilities for our children and grandchildren.

    We can’t discern in the present the fullness of our actions and their impact, but we can be pioneers in our time, exploring fully the crevices and cracks where knowledge and new insights might be found.

    We can explore our spectrum of relationships and confront our complacency and certainty about the way things are.

    We can dare to face ourselves in our entirety,

                  To understand our pain,
                  To feel the tears,
                 To listen to our frustration and confusion, and to discover new capacities and capabilities that will empower and                         transform us.
                 In the spirit of the pioneer, let us now go forth.

Blessed be and may it be so.

Laural Amabile, Clerk, UUAsheville Board of Trustees

Reproductive Dignity and Autonomy

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
faithdev@uuasheville.org

 

Financially Speaking

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.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Two Things From the New Guy

Thing 1 – Our New Board President

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.

Clyde Hardin, President, Board of Trustees

Now is Not the Time For Overachieving

Photo of Rev. Dr. Cathy HarringtonIntentionality 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.  

Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

 

Embracing the Season

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 poemAmazing 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

FAQs regarding Reopening Procedures

6 question marks in multiple colorsThe 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 Task Force 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.

Linda Topp, DIrector of Administration

Sleeping Through the Revolution

Michael BoardSome 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 the
 Ware Lecture by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered in 1966The struggles Dr. King saw in liberal religious institutions are reflected in our congregations 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. Kings 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 comeand how far we have to gotoward 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 all over the world we see something of 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.

MIchael Beech, UUAsheville Board of Directors

On Gratitude

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?

May gratitude be a regular practice in your life.

Rev. Claudia, Minister of Faith Development

This Sucks, There Is Nothing Wrong with You, and Therefore Nothing Will Fix You

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:

Dear Congregations,

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration