The Earth and Environmental Justice Ministry team is now the Justice Ministry Team in recognition of the interconnectedness and complexity of the work of justice. The Justice Ministry Council has held two organizational meetings to prepare ourselves to support and bring together the different justice projects and action groups in our congregation. Our goals are to:
Facilitate connection and communication between the groups and the congregation
Provide spiritual grounding and educational opportunities to inform and sustain the justice work of the congregation
Create a vision for Justice Ministry aligned with the theme of “Sanctuary Everywhere”
Facilitate budgeting and a reporting process so there is accountability to the congregation
The Council includes representatives from each of the following areas:
Racial Justice – Eleanor Lane Environmental Justice – Wink Zachritz Economic Justice – Joyce Birkenholz LBGTQ+/Gender Justice – Shawn Landreth Denominational Action – Deb Holden Faith Development – Martha Kiger, Melissa Murphy Community Plate – Linda Kookier Spiritual Grounding – Nancy Bragg
Whew! What an awesome group. You will be hearing about our work through the Justice Ministry eNews (contact Elizabeth Schellelizabeth@lainschell.comto register), the Justice Ministry Table on Sunday mornings and the soon-to-be-updated bulletin board in Sandburg Hall. Opportunities for engagement will be announced in the Sunday insert and the Weekly eNews.
Yes, this is a lot of information. It takes teamwork and collaboration to stay connected and informed about the work of putting our faith into action. Each of our individual yeses contributes to being part of creating the inclusive, welcoming Beloved Community we talk about.
I am excited to work with the Justice Ministry team this year. I look forward to learning together, engaging together, and laughing together as this ministry transforms us, strengthens our connection to each other, and challenges us to learn from our inevitable mistakes. As UU Rev. Mark Morrison Reed reminds us,
“It is the church that assures us that we are not struggling for justice on our own, but as members of a larger community. The religious community is essential, for alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be seen, and our strength too limited to do all that must be done. Together, our vision widens and our strength is renewed.”
Below are a few opportunities to join others in the work of justice in the coming month. Visit the Justice Ministry Table in Sandburg Hall Sunday morning for details.
Sept 5 Voter Registration Training sponsored by the League of Women Voters; 6PM; North Buncombe Library. It will be led by UUCA member, Melissa Murphy.
Sept 13 Anti-Racism & Sanctuary Training hosted by UUCA sponsored by CIMA and Faith Communities Organizing for Sanctuary; 9:30-4:00 PM, sliding scale $35-$65 includes lunch. Register here.
Sept 22 Mary Katherine Morn preaching at UUCA . She will share information about the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). Deb Holden is leading the effort to bring back the UUSC Guest at Your Table Program to UUCA. Thank you, Deb!
Sept 28 Blue Ridge Pride. UUCA participation being organized by Universal Rainbow Unity (URU); 11:00 AM- 7:00 PM; Pack Square. URU encourages multigenerational participation.
“Don’t be afraid of some change, don’t be afraid of some change; Today will be a joyful day, Enter, rejoice and come in.”
We sing this hymn on a regular basis – this is my favorite stanza. Those in our congregation who have come to know me as a fairly extroverted blabbermouth will be shocked to learn that I was once a painfully shy nonentity who regarded change as anathema. My father was a contract engineer in the aerospace industry in the 50s and 60s. Among other projects involved with rocketing folks into space, he worked on the Mercury program in Huntsville, AL, on the Redstone Arsenal with no less a personage than Wernher von Braun. I took dance lessons when I was five with his daughter Margrit.
All this “glory” was totally lost on me. I attended four elementary schools, one junior high and two high schools. I did not enjoy being uprooted so often, and when I landed in my second high school, I chose to fold my social tents and abstain. Change had just gotten too hard for me to bear. I attended my 10-year high school reunion in 1980 but still felt like such an unwanted fifth wheel in the tiny little town of Marion, VA that I have never gone back.
I married into a very loud family and had to get loud or die, which was very good for me! Thirty -five years later, I moved to western North Carolina soon after my husband’s unexpected death at the age of 58. Now THAT was a change – and a painful one, but so much joy has come from it. I would not be a member of this congregation, nor would I have even discovered Unitarian Universalism, in all likelihood, were I still living in Baton Rouge with my husband. I have an adult daughter and a granddaughter living with me now, and I have the great privilege of helping to rear four-year-old Allita, who would almost certainly not even exist if our family had not been convulsed with my husband’s death.
I no longer regard change as an unmitigated evil but as an opportunity and an entrance to something good just around the corner and out of sight. Even if it doesn’t feel good initially, change is essential to the progress of life, as anyone familiar with the theory of evolution well knows.
Change drives discovery; discovery brings growth and, sometimes, I would say often, great joy and spiritual growth. People, singly and in groups, need to fully embrace change when it comes, as it always does, even when change is initially upsetting and seems to be a cause for unmitigated grief. Change, approached constructively, can be used to discover new insights, new people and more joy.
Change is the river we swim in, friends, and the change I want to talk about this month has to do with me. As I announced on Sunday, this current church year will be my last at UUCA. I will retire as your lead minister as of June 30, 2020.
It’s a big change for all of us. For me, it will end my tenure here and open a new chapter in my life; for you, it will be a moment of taking stock, then starting the exciting process of self-reflection and search for the next person to serve as your lead minister.
I am happy to say that there is nothing particular driving this decision. My health is good, and I enjoy the work with you. For those reasons, though, this is also a good time to leave. Moving into what for many is retirement age, I find myself ready for a change, and you are a strong and vital congregation that has the resources and good leadership to get through a major transition like this and come out stronger.
Indeed, that is my hope for you. Change in leadership can be an occasion to challenge old assumptions or ways of doing things and open the door to newer, fresher ways living into the faith that you here embody. You are a happening congregation, and I feel certain that great things await you. I am making this announcement now, some 10 months before I actually leave, to give you the space to work through how you want this transition to go. I am already in conversation with the Board about how to structure that conversation. You will be hearing more from them soon about their plans.
What can you look forward to? I can tell you that people who work with churches recommend that congregations who are concluding a long-term ministry bring on an interim minister to work with them for one to two years. This gives the congregation time to get a strong sense of itself and gain clarity on the qualities of leadership they seek.
For many of you, I know, this process is new, but you have people in leadership and on staff who have been through ministerial transitions before and can help you navigate this. Also there are resources at the Unitarian Universalist Association to help coach you on this transition. In this next year, I promise to do what I can to help make this a successful transition.
In the midst of this, though, I have to own the sadness I feel to think about leaving this place. The nearly 16 years I have been here have changed me in the best possible ways. I love you, and I am so grateful for all that you have given me.
That said, you need to know that, while Debbie and I will remain in Asheville, once I leave in June you won’t be seeing me at church for at least a couple of years. It’s part of the commitment that we UU ministers ask of each other: to put distance between ourselves and the congregation we had been serving so that the congregation and the colleague who follows us can make their own covenants and find their own way together without our interference. Out of respect for you and whoever succeeds me I affirm that practice and consider it wise.
As for my own future, I am mulling lots of things. For a time, though, I plan to press the pause button and settle into this new life. But I know that there is too much in the world that calls to me to sit on the sidelines for long.
Meanwhile, we have a great year coming up, and I’m looking forward to my part in it. Please keep an eye out for our weekly enews and other announcements on what to expect. And do look for ways to dive in and take part. It is by participating that you get the greatest benefit of this community.
From June 19-23, I was a delegate from UUCA for the 2019 General Assembly (GA) in Spokane, WA. What is General Assembly (GA)? GA is the annual gathering of UUs to deal with the business of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), worship together, and attend workshops. Worship was lively and multicultural including music such as “There is More Love (Somewhere)” and “Keep On Moving Forward.” The workshops ranged from those with broad appeal such as: “Strategies for Community Organizing,” “Faithing Family,” and “Achieving Our 6th Principle Goal of World Community” to specific “role-based programming” for specific positions in UU congregations (e.g., musicians, treasurers, religious educators). One of my favorite sessions was an interview with Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, where she examined “whiteness” and how it shapes interracial interactions. See her work here.
One of the most beloved GA rituals, the “banner parade,” occurs at the Opening Ceremony. Each attending congregation marches into the convention hall with their unique congregational banner. It feels quite unusual and amazing to be surrounded by thousands of UUs. See the UUCA banner and our representatives from last year’s Banner Parade here.
I encourage you to watch the entire Sunday worship especially Reverend Marta Valentín’s powerful message about the need for full inclusion within Unitarian Universalism.
Every year “Actions of Immediate Witness” (AIWs) are selected by the body to “express the conscience of the delegates.” This year’s AIWs addressed: “Immigration and Asylum,” “Building the Movement for a Green New Deal,” and “Supporting Our First Amendment Right to Boycott” (related to Israel/Palestine).
Based on three years of congregational study, delegates also passed a Statement of Conscience titled “Our Democracy Uncorrupted.” While the statement passed by a large margin, there was a lively debate regarding the statement’s charge to “repeal the electoral college.”
Although UUs love to debate, a number of non-controversial issues quickly passed. There was a very close yet successful vote to make it more difficult to be a petition candidate for a UUA position (e.g. President). The most controversial thing that happened at GA was when a UU minister handed out a self-authored pamphlet that criticized, as overly “PC,” the UUA’s campaign to “dismantle white supremacy” within UUism. Read more here.
GA is a great way to meet UUs from around the country and to seek inspiration. If you are interested in being a delegate in the future speak to the Board of Trustees (and they might even help offset the cost of registration). Upcoming General Assemblies include Providence, RI (2020) and Milwaukee, WI (2021). Contact me, Mary Alm (“UUCA Queen of GA” [my term]), or Linda Topp for more info.
On behalf of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville and this year’s Coming of Age Class, I want to thank you for your generous contribution to our Coming of Age program’s trip to the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. Your contribution made possible a week-long learning adventure for nine teens and four chaperones. Traveling in two vans, covering over 700 miles each way, there were visits to three different UU congregations, a tour of Cornell University and the Entomology Department, time for hiking and swimming and several days of service projects at the Farm Sanctuary.
During the trip, the Coming of Age participants got to put their UU values into action. They experienced each other’s support on the emotional ups and downs of a very active trip in close quarters, explored the interconnectedness of all beings, and gained insight into the food production system that feeds us. They also experienced some added independence in being responsible for their daily budgets and schedules.
Here are some quotes from the COA teens:
“I became responsible with money and eating wisely on the COA trip.”
“This trip was such a unique experience. I learned a lot of information at Farm Sanctuary that was heartbreaking but was really a wake-up call for how I can make a difference. I am really grateful to the donors for making it possible for us to go on this exciting trip!”
“The trip was wonderful and the Farm Sanctuary was enlightening.”
“One of the best experiences of my life. A true bonding trip. The animals were cute. It made me think about becoming vegan.”
And from their chaperones:
“I am grateful to have been part of this trip. It was incredibly rewarding to get to know the teens a little better as they learn about their UU values and how to live them. “
“I volunteered to chaperone so I could get to know the CoA youth. I can report complete success on that front! I particularly enjoyed discussing current events, the Democratic debates, and a couple of philosophical conundrums that helped to pass time during the long drives. I’m curious to know if our visit to the Farm Sanctuary changed any attitudes towards their dietary choices. I look forward to exploring that and other topics with them during the coming year.”
“This trip was the culmination of a year-long experience in which participants explored their own understanding of spirituality, God, the inherent worth of each individual, and their interconnectedness to the world around them. At the end of the year, the youth presented their credos to the congregation in a service that they planned and delivered.”
“I know that when I thought about my children coming to UUCA, I envisioned that my kids would have a community of peers, outside of school, that shared their values and were supportive. This CoA group gave me faith that that is possible. Each of these students had different personalities and yet they have a strong bond and truly supported each other during the trip. Their connection was strong, but even got stronger through spending time together on the trip learning, working, having fun and exploring their UU identity.”
Again, thank you for your support and for making this invaluable experience possible.
Sincerely, Tom Dessereau, on behalf of the parents of this Coming of Age class.
If you have ever wondered what benefit we receive from our financial contribution to the UUA in Boston, this blog is for you! Last month three of the UUA Congregational Life Staff facilitated a workshop for UUCA staff, board members and lay leaders to reflect through candid conversation on the first year of my ministry with you. This gathering brought together approximately 25 individuals on a beautiful May weekend when many would have preferred to be enjoying time with their families. I am grateful for each one of them and their commitment to supporting my ministry with you.
Our gathering involved a lot of storytelling. The story of the position I hold, the story of policy governance at UUCA, the story of the journey that led me to you and the story of this past year. Last month, Mark’s blog described the story of my position. This month I will reflect on the time I have spent with you and the takeaways from this gathering.
However, I will begin with a brief summary of why I chose this position. When I read the job description I felt it was tailor-made for me. Faith development was my ministry as a seventeen-year religious educator and I had always dreamed of serving a large congregation with a thriving religious education program. Check. I also wondered what it would be like to serve a congregation that offered midweek worship, fellowship, and programs. UUCA has The Wednesday Thing. Check. I also wanted a position that would allow me to develop my pastoral care and worship skills. Check. I applied with excitement and apprehension…. and was offered the job!
During these ten months, my ministry with you has been rewarding and challenging. Just what I expected it to be in a position that is “experimental” because two positions, religious education director and minister, were combined into one. I have spent time getting to know the congregation and the systems at work within it. I have also worked with committed individuals who serve on the RE Council, Congregational Care Team, The Wednesday Thing Planning Team, and the Committee on the Ministry whose time and talents ensure that the ministry of Faith Development thrives at UUCA. I cannot do the work delineated in my job description alone. We share the ministry at UUCA. During one of my first sermons with you, I used this anonymous quote to describe my view of ministry. It is worth repeating:
“Ministry is the act of ministering to. It is the way we are mindful and nurturing of each other. Ministry is not something only ordained ministers do. When we care with someone, when we stand with them through struggle, when we help them learn and grow, we are engaging in ministry. When we offer programs that engage the heart, the mind or the spirit we are engaging in ministry.”
Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas of challenge and improvement. Those surfaced during our conversations, as well as other important learnings. I have summarized them into five takeaways that I will continue to explore in the coming year.
Covenant is central to our work together. We make agreements as staff or members of UUCA about how we are going to be with each other. My ministry relies on upholding the covenants made among staff, ministers and the congregation so that together we can fulfill the purpose of this church, which is ultimately to transform lives by connecting hearts, challenging minds, nurturing spirits and serving the community. With covenant also comes the reality of fallible humans breaking covenant. How do we re-covenant when we inevitably miss the mark? How many of us are familiar with our congregational covenants (Yes, there is more than one)?
Communication is crucial to our work together. One of the challenges I have faced is the assumption that I am the director of religious education. While I supervise and provide leadership to our adult and children’s RE programs, I have other responsibilities which make it unrealistic for me to function in that capacity. I wonder how I can better communicate this to the congregation? Also, in providing leadership for The Wednesday Thing and Congregational Care, how do we effectively communicate what we are doing and what congregational support is needed?
Recruiting individuals to support the ministries of UUCA is vital. Right now, RE is recruiting facilitators for next year’s RE program. Last year we had 75 individuals willing to serve as facilitators. (Thank you!!) It was affirming to honor them during the Teacher Dedication on the first day of RE. I am optimistic by the end of the summer our teaching teams will be complete. And yet, we have other areas of ministry that require individuals willing to serve, too. When volunteers are lacking, people are paid to do tasks such as preparing the coffee after Sunday service and cleaning up afterward, or weeding and raking leaves. However, that approach is not the best way to use our precious financial resources. How do we encourage greater service and participation? Are we trying to do too much?
We are understaffed. OR Is there a body missing? When I started my ministry with you, our religious educators, Jen Johnson and Kim Collins, took on the role of DRE and had everything ready for the new RE year. I wish I could say I came in and took back many of those roles. But the reality is that my other job responsibilities have made that difficult. Their job descriptions say they are coordinators, but they do more than that. We are spread thin and can’t do it all. Our children and youth programs are rich and diverse. What do we let go of? What can we let die so something else can be born? How can we work realistic hours and provide the excellence in religious education that the congregation expects? Is there a body missing?
Policy governance is an imperfect model, as are all governance models. My understanding is that it delegates authority with accountability within the parameters of the mission and vision of UUCA. However, during the gathering it became apparent that there was a disconnect between the board and the ministry of faith development. It led to the question: Where does the vision for Faith Development reside? If the work of the church is transformation as participants develop a UU identity, deepen their spirituality, and put their faith into action, what is the board’s role in strategizing how this will happen? How do they stay connected with the ministry of Faith Development while avoiding micromanaging staff and programs?
These are my takeaways and the questions that arose during our time together. What is missing is that as a result of my conversations with Mark about my work so far, we decided to switch portfolios. He will lead pastoral care and I will lead social justice. That is part of the “experimental” nature of the position I described earlier. That is content for a future blog.
It is done. I have shared my learnings and assure you that I continue to be excited about my work with you. I am committed to continue to collaboratively work with staff, lay leadership, Mark and you, the congregation, to explore answers to these questions. I welcome and encourage your feedback and thoughts as I continue this sacred work of ministry into a promising, exciting second year.
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
One of the things that church staff members do is spend way more time than you do reading, learning, thinking, and talking about churches. Right now, I am precisely 31 pages into a very thoughtful book about churches called Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World by long-time church consultant, Gil Rendle. At the start he is describing the scene that underlies the many changes (it didn’t used to be this way) that churches are struggling to find “answers” for, including decreasing membership, decreasing income, and decreasing volunteer time. Here are some quotes from the book that I just can’t keep to myself.
…we need to understand that the losses we have incurred and the challenges that we face are shared by other membership-based organizations that have had similar experiences of loss and aging since the 1960s. The story of loss and age can also be told by organizations and activities from Kiwanis, Rotary, Masons, Elks, Eastern Star, bowling teams, and bridge parties. (p.22)
Rendle claims that the period of growth that all these organizations experienced during the first two-thirds of the twentieth century was an “aberrant time.” He references work by Yuval Levin (The Fractured Republic, 2016):
[Yuval] describes the first half of the twentieth century as an age of growing consolidation and cohesion. It was a time of massive growth of economic industrialization and centralization of government. A fifteen-year period of challenge and sacrifice through the Great Depression and World War II bonded the American people into a cohesive force built on a consensual national and global agenda. It was a time in which people “agreed to agree” and sublimated their differences in order to work together on a great common agenda. It was particularly in this time of consensus and cohesion that the American culture pushed people toward membership in congregations and a legion of other membership organizations. The United States exited World War II as the only global economy not devastated by the war; and for a period it held its remarkable position of producing a full half of all global manufacturing and production. We were a unified people with resources at hand. The widely shared story among many organizations was strength and growth.
Levin then goes on to describe the second half of the twentieth century as an age of growing deconsolidation and decentralization in which our economy diversified and deregulated in energizing ways. This second half of the century produced a sustained pushback against the uniformity and cohesion that marked the first half…. An upsurge of individualism and the need for personal identity began to rise, supported by newfound interests in psychology and tied to the economy through advertising and technology. It was an energizing and vibrant age as people and institutions rode a heady wave of progressivism.
Levin captures the aberrant moment, saying, “Keeping one foot in each of these two distinguishable eras, midcentury America combined cohesion and dynamism to an exceptional degree.” It was in this mid-twentieth-century time that the mainline church, like so many other institutions and organizations, aggressively pursued growth, bureaucratic structure and strength, and resource and property development. We became large, strong, and institutional in a cultural moment that favored large, strong, and institutional.
The age of large and consolidated strength, however, has waned, and “micropowers,” decentralized organizations, and small expressions of community are now taking the global stage. Ours is not a turnaround situation in which we can recapture the size and strength of a large institutional system once sustained and nourished by a culturally aberrant time…. We are now living in this current aftermath that is defined by micropowers and small communities but are still dependent on our memories of size and strength and still constrained by the polity, policies, and practices once effective in large institutions. (pp.23-24)
So, things have got to change, right? There really is no long-term way to keep things going the way they always have with reduced resources. But what should change? I know that no one has figured out any definitive solution to this adaptive problem, but we’re adrift in this boat with LOTS of other folks. Watch this blog for further Rendle updates!
Lately I have found myself saying to myself and others “Be the change you want to see in the world.“ I believe it to be a great and eloquent quote. However, I believe it can be overdone. Go, go, go. Do, do, do. There is so much to do and so much to improve.
How do we allow ourselves to be satisfied while also pushing for betterment and change? Ultimately, how do we stay engaged in a world filled with so much pain, frustration, and unfairness while still allowing ourselves to be silly, joyful, and grateful?
There is a picture of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X during their only meeting. It is impressive to me that they are laughing. One might assume that those two people with so many heavy issues on their minds during their only meeting might have had a conversation that was only serious. It is a testament to their wisdom and effectiveness that they were able to laugh during such fraught times.
It is not selfish to take care of yourself. It is not excusing the negative behavior to acknowledge the positive actions of a person who does a lot of harmful things. It does not mean you cannot take things seriously if you can also laugh during trying times.
You may have picked up that I am someone who sees a lot of gray area in life. While that is indeed true, I really also appreciate the nonverbal simplicity of the Yin – Yang symbol. It shows us that rather than judging things and people on a linear continuum of polar opposites, life and people are more like a swirling mix of things that defy absolutes.
So regarding my question of: How do we stay engaged in a world filled with so much pain, frustration, and unfairness while still being silly, joyful, and grateful?
My answer is: We can stay engaged in a world filled with pain, frustration, and unfairness BY still being silly, joyful, and grateful.
It is such a gift to be doing this work of ministry in collaboration with a colleague. I know because in my time here it wasn’t always so. When I arrived at UUCA in the summer of 2004, I was the sole minister to handle all the work of this congregation. I did my best to get by, but it quickly became clear that I needed help. At a recent Start-Up Workshop for our Minister of Faith Development Rev. Claudia Jiménez facilitated of staff by the UUA Southern Region, I told the story of how the position of a second minister at UUCA evolved, and now I want to share it with the rest of you.
It began in the summer of 2006 when I got in touch with the Rev. Sarah York, who was finishing up an interim ministry at the Eno River UU Fellowship in Durham, NC. I asked her if she would be willing to serve during the next year as a part-time consultant to help me organize our pastoral care program. Sarah was a great candidate since she knew the congregation – she had been a member before entering the ministry and was planning to move back to a home she still owned in Asheville – and she was accomplished in the area of pastoral care.
It was a such a great year that at the end I asked her to stay on in a one-third-time staff position as Assistant Minister for Pastoral Care. She would manage our Pastoral Visitors, staff a newly formed Congregational Care Council, and preach once a quarter.
In the fall of 2010, Sarah told me that at the end of that church year she intended to retire from ministry. So, I met with the board to talk over how we would handle that opening. I reported at the time that we had more than enough work for a full-time second minister, but we couldn’t support one in the budget.
Board President Kay Aler-Maida said this seemed like a moment to invest in our staff. We had only recently received a sizeable bequest from the estate of UUCA member Marian Elmslie, and Kay proposed that we use part of that bequest to supplement our budget for up to five years until our pledge base grew enough to fully pay for the position. It seemed like a reasonable bet because in recent years our pledge base had been growing steadily.
So, the Board convened a Town Hall meeting where we asked for feedback on what the focus of this second minister should be. As a result of that meeting, we decided to focus the position on pastoral care, social justice, preaching once a month, and what we called “shared ministry,” which included supervising small groups and our membership program.
A search committee was appointed and in the spring of 2011 we hired the Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper as Assistant Minister, leaving open the possibility that she could later ask the congregation to formally call her to an upgraded position of Associate Minister. Lisa did terrific work for the congregation, and in 2014 was formally called as Associate Minister.
Meanwhile though, the bet we made to fully support the second position by the pledge base didn’t pan out. Whether it was the result of the recession or other factors, contributions leveled off. We did our best to cut costs – a portion of money we set aside to last us 5 years in fact lasted almost 10. We will finally exhaust that fund in the coming year’s budget. But meanwhile, some staff positions were eliminated (membership coordinator, communications specialist), program expenses were held to a minimum, salaries for exempt staff were frozen and money for professional expenses was trimmed year after year.
It became clear that we couldn’t sustain all the staff that we had. So, I began to explore options. As it happens, about the same time as this, our then-Director of Religious Education Joy Berry announced that she would leave. We investigated finding an interim, but in the end Director of Administration Linda Topp said that with the help of RE Coordinators Kim Collins and Jen Johnson she could manage the congregation’s RE program for the next year. Linda had prior experience as a DRE and had reduced her own work time from 40 to 30 hours a week to save money. So, she had room in her schedule to take on the RE duties.
After discussions with colleagues I learned that some congregations had created ministerial positions that combined supervision of religious education with other ministry duties. So, I proposed to the board that this was a way we could solve our budget needs: find a minister who could combine supervision of children’s, youth and adult RE with pastoral care, supervision of small group ministry and the Wednesday Thing and preaching once a month. I suggested the title of Minister of Faith Development.
Rev. Lisa was clear that she was not interested in this position, but also she was ready to seek out a church where she could serve as lead minister. So, while Rev. Lisa entered search, we did, too. A search committee interviewed a number of candidates, and in April 2018 recommended Rev. Claudia for the job. Meanwhile, Lisa found a position as minister of the Greenville, SC Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
It’s been a great first year. Rev. Claudia has more than exceeded our hopes and expectations. But during this year she and I have also remained in conversation about how well this combination of duties worked in general and how well it worked for her. From early in her time here, she found herself increasingly drawn to social justice. And the more we talked about our hopes for adult faith development here the clearer it became that it often dove-tailed into justice work.
So, we have decided that in the coming year she and I will shift our portfolios a bit: Rev. Claudia will take over leadership of social justice, and to give her room to do that, I will take over leadership of our pastoral care program. We will spend the summer figuring out how to accomplish this shift, but I think you will find it a positive change that will serve our hopes for this congregation.
THIS is the bane of every organization in America–heck probably the world. How do we get our congregants, customers, clients, constituents, stakeholders, etc. to pay attention to US? I was just in a meeting this week and the otherwise helpful, lovely folks there mentioned more than once that if only we did a better job of communicating about events, more people would attend.
That sounds right, doesn’t it? And so we publish three (3!) weekly e-newsletters (worship, TLC and upcoming events), we repeat the upcoming events in an insert on Sundays, we post items to our Facebook groups, we hang posters, we print additional inserts, and we interrupt worship services with special announcements. And still, no one knows what’s going on.
Because one of my roles on the staff is to oversee communications, I think about this a lot. There is, of course, no answer as the phenomenon afflicts all sorts of organizations, including all churches. And the more things that go on in a church the worse the problem gets.
Last year we upgraded our calendar so more information is available on it with a click on the event title. The events are also sortable by subject. We’re about to update our website (where there is a LOT of information that no one knows is there–sigh…..) and create a smartphone app that will also help us highlight events.
But like I said, I’ve been thinking about this and I’m not at all sure the original premise is accurate. I don’t think it’s necessarily true that if we did a better job of communicating about events, more people would attend. (Ignore the fact that I cannot think of how to do the job “better.”) People make decisions to attend events for untold number of reasons, and although it’s true that you’d have to KNOW about something to choose it, “knowing” is necessary but not sufficient. There’s interest, desire, time availability, health, and an entire flock of things that make people choose NOT to attend. Turns out “no” is much easier than “yes.”
So, two things: 1) If you have any ideas on how to communicate “better,” let me know (it cannot involve much staff time) and 2) Whenever you see an event that interests you, whether or not you are personally choosing to go, let your friends know about it. YOU are a reader (because here you are) and your friends may not be!
That was my response when I heard how many volunteers were participating in the Religious Education (RE) teacher dedication ceremony at UUCA during one of my first worship services last year. Over seventy-five individuals volunteered to support the faith development of our children. Wow! I have been serving as Minister of Faith Development for almost a year and am grateful to know that children and youth programs are so important to UUCA. As the year draws to a close and Summer Magic Sundays begin (Yay, Hogwarts!) we continue our efforts to recruit volunteers for next RE year. I invite you to consider joining one of our teaching teams. What? You have questions about what that means? Read on….
Questions, Myths and Facts about Volunteering in Religious Education at UUCA Compiled by Jen Johnson and Kim Collins
Question: How will I know what to do?
Fact: You are provided a scripted curriculum (for most classes), plus other ideas, tools, and support from the RE staff and your team.
“Thank you for making my first teaching experience such a positive one. You made it so easy. The resources you provided for activities and discussion questions were simple, creative and fun – it was hard to choose just one. At first I was a bit apprehensive about volunteering. I don’t have any teaching experience and I wouldn’t call myself artistic, but I’m so glad I did. Listening to the RE stories and watching the children engage with the lessons has deepened my own understanding of our heritage. It was a gift to be able to explore our UU principles through the eyes of our kids. Thank you for the opportunity.” — Gina Phairas
Myth: I don’t need to volunteer in RE because that’s a job for the parents.
Fact: We need all sorts of people of all ages and all life experiences to volunteer in RE. In order to become a truly multigenerational congregation, we must get to know each other and develop relationships across all ages. We take care of each other better when we have deep connections with each other.
“For my children, the adults who teach them are the adults they know. I am happy that my children get to form relationships with a variety of adults in this intergenerational community- not only with the parents of their peers, but with the elders in our community as well. In today’s world, you cannot have enough adult mentors in your corner!” — Melissa Murphy
Myth: Volunteering in RE is just busy work or babysitting and isn’t spiritually fulfilling for me at all.
Fact: Many of our volunteers report that serving in Religious Education is extremely spiritually fulfilling. Our volunteers also learn a lot from both the curriculum and our kids.
“…Because it is what we do in RE, I end up taking a deeper look at myself and my own beliefs and discussing meaningful ideas with adults and youth than I would otherwise. And the kids themselves have literally taught me things that have changed the way I live my life. I’d be a poorer soul for having missed all those experiences!” – Coming of Age teacher
Myth: If I volunteer for RE, I will never get to go to the service.
Fact: You will still be able to attend services! Most of our volunteer positions have a commitment of serving in RE 1-2 times per month in rotation with your teaching team. Some folks even come for the early service on days they are volunteering at 11:15, or vice versa.
Myth: Sometimes attendance is inconsistent, and I would be wasting my time teaching just 3-4 kids on a given Sunday.
Fact: Time that kids spend with adults in an RE setting is valuable for those kids. Think of the impact you can have with a small class!
“Religious Education is a ministry of loving children and youth. The curricula are clear and easy to follow. You as a teacher may learn a great deal about UU history and beliefs. You will certainly have fun with our children who are without a doubt “above average.” The greatest qualification you need is to be able to love. These bright young people may not remember all of our excellent lessons about what our great historical UU’s have done or when we merged from two religious branches or the teaching from other world religions. They will always remember that here in our UU faith they were loved, they were appreciated for the unique individual that they are and the incredible potential that they bring to this world. We are growing UUs in the love of this community. There is no better feeling for me than to come on Sunday and love these students. Just like a hug, we both benefit.” — Long-time RE teacher
Question: So I have to love being with children if I volunteer in RE, right?
Fact: We have several volunteer positions available that allow you to serve without interacting with children or even having to be present in RE on Sundays. You know those awesome activity packs and coloring materials we have available for all ages Sundays in the Sanctuary? Someone has to replenish those, which can be done on your own time. Same for organizing rooms and closets!
“Our youth need a religious foundation so that they can explore their own beliefs. RE curricula provide that foundation. Learning about our UU tradition, our UU principles, and other religious traditions helps lay this foundation, helps foster respect and understanding for others in our community and our world, and helps create the responsibility we have to making our world a better place. What is more important than that?” – RE Parent and Teacher
UU churches are a place of diversity (which we already know) and a church that is visited by folks that are either disillusioned by their previous religious background or un-churched. We often have newcomers coming to us in search of “something different.” And the “something different” definition can be an entirely different thing for each and every one of us. So how do we meet and greet newcomers in a sensitive and inclusive manner?
I recently attended a UUAMP (UU Association for Membership Professionals) conference where we spent a great deal of time discussing hospitality and how to meet and greet our newcomers when they stop in for a look-see. By practicing hospitality we are modeling our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of each person. When we pre-judge a newcomer by our standards we miss out on the richness and depth of the individual. So let me share some ways to meet and greet our newcomers when they have opened themselves up to us.
Say this “Hi. I don’t think I’ve met you. My name is ….”
Instead of “Hi! You must be new.”
Say this “Is there any kind of group I can connect you to? We have a huge variety.”
Instead of “Come meet our other transgender (or LGBTQ+, black, German, young adult, etc.) person!”
Say this “What lovely children. Let me introduce you to our RE staff.”
Instead of “Your children don’t look like you – are they adopted or foster children? We have several parents in the same boat.”
Some other tips on welcoming would include being an intentional listener. By intentionally listening we can enjoy the gifts our newcomers bring to us. Be sure to greet everyone that comes through our doors, not just the new people. Ask open-ended questions and respect people for choosing not to answer. Refrain from asking personal questions, including theology. People will share when they are ready. Or start a conversation from a shared experience like the morning’s service. Remember that our newcomers made an intentional decision to come and visit our “home,” let’s be sure to welcome them in an open and inclusive manner.
Somehow, it’s May already. The beautiful weather, bursting flower blossoms, and baby bird chirps make this month—in my opinion—the springiest of Spring months.
Recently, I’ve started consciously tuning into the energy of the seasons. All of us do this to some extent, whether we think about it or not. Have you ever felt the urge to spring clean or perhaps begin a new springtime project that you didn’t have the energy for previously? Those activities reflect nature’s rhythm of awakening. In spring, we’re coming out of winter sleepiness; our energy levels are usually higher; we have the urge to create, to tidy, to make new.
This is all well and good, but in the context of UUism, I think spring can give us energy (and bravery) to do a bit more. May’s theme is Curiosity, and UU minister Victoria Safford explores it in terms of perception. She says:
“To see, simply to look and to see, is an ethical act and intentional choice; to see, with open eyes, is a spiritual practice and thus a risk, for it can open you to ways of knowing the world and loving it that will lead to inevitable consequences. The awakened eye is a conscious eye, a willful eye, and brave, because to see things as they are, each in its own truth, will make you very vulnerable.”
To say there is a lot going on in the world is a laughable understatement. And it is easy—too easy, sometimes—to look away and think: that doesn’t affect me personally; I don’t have time for that; or there’s nothing anyone can do.
Similarly, there’s a lot going on in each of us personally, and sometimes it can be easier to ignore sources of discomfort instead of facing them head on and challenging them.
One of my favorite quotes hangs on my office wall. Below a butterfly, it reads, “put on your brave girl wings.” I rely on this concept often, from writing to parenting to dealing with irksome, unexpected, everyday situations. But it seems apropos of Spring’s energy, too. Sure we can use forces of rebirth and renewal to tidy our homes and workspaces. But might we also pull some of its strength to give us courage to see the world, to really see it, in Safford’s use of the term? What kinds of things might we discover? What might we do about them?
This month, I wish you all the wonderfulness and joy that Spring has to offer. And I invite you to pull on your own brave wings, and in doing so, to help others slip into their own. After all, bravery, much like fear, is contagious.
It was love at first sight and probably not the wisest move. But I went for it anyway. A couple of weeks ago at the North Asheville tailgate market I spotted the most alluring heirloom tomato and basil plants. “No, no!” my sensible inner gardener shouted at me. “Too early!” But did I listen? Well, no. I bought them anyway, even knowing how often the freakish weather of these mountains breaks the hearts of intrepid gardeners.
I planted them in porch pots with casters on them so I could roll them in and out of our screened porch several chilly evenings last week. But they’re out there in the weather now, and I hope they make it. In fact, last week I even doubled down and bought kale and squash seedlings for my raised bed in the garden.
Each spring it’s the same: my hands itch to get back in the dirt. Though, I don’t think I’ve ever planted quite so early before. But I realize it’s not just my longing for the soil that’s working on me. Spring temperatures these days are warmer than they’ve been in the past, part of the overall warming trend that we’re seeing across the globe.
It’s a troubling trend. Several weeks ago in worship I described how science is showing that warming from human-induced carbon dioxide is accelerating, with fearful potential consequences for all life. The issue is, though, that the problem is so big that it’s hard to imagine what we might do to combat it.
The short answer, I said, is that it will take many things, among them big initiatives like reducing the use of coal and increasing the use of renewable energy. But there are also small things available to individuals that can make a difference. And here’s where gardeners can make a difference.
Plants of all kinds pull carbon dioxide out of the air. Trees are especially good at this, and we as a congregation have been doing our part in recent years. About five years ago as part of the Welcome Project remodeling of our campus, we undertook a major effort to plant our campus more responsibly. We replaced areas of lawn with two rain gardens – one in front of the main building on Edwin Place, the other behind 21 Edwin – and we planted many trees and shrubs, all of them native to this region. The mini-meadow beside the entry way from the parking lot and the pollinator plants that I introduced you to on Sunday are all part of that continuing effort. Hardy indigenous plants last better than exotics, and they provide good pollen and food sources for birds, butterflies and bees.
And the gardens in our playground and the blueberry bushes beside it also remind us of the pleasures and convenience of growing some of our own food. Meanwhile, local tailgate and farmer’s markets offer places where we can support local growers and reduce demand for food shipped over long distances.
Bit by bit, we can each be players in the campaign to preserve this beautiful garden Earth that is our home.
Spring is here and I am so grateful to be in Asheville. It has been awesome to witness the vibrant colors and hues of green of the plants and trees in our neighborhood and lining the roads I drive to get to UUCA each morning. Spring also means our programs begin to wind down as we celebrate transitions (check out the calendar below) and launch our summer program:
Summer Magic – Hogwarts Summer Sunday School
June 9-July 11, 2019
Explore the 7 principles of Unitarian Universalism through the lens of the Harry Potter Universe. Leaders and assistants still need! Contact Kim Collins if you can help out firstname.lastname@example.org
We also begin preparations for the 2019-2020 Faith Development programs for children and youth. That means it is recruitment time! Our program is a cooperative program relying on parents and non-parents alike to nurture and accompany our children and youth as they explore spirituality while developing their UU identity. On Sunday, April 28 and each Sunday in May we invite volunteers to sign up in Sandburg Hall to join a teaching team, mentor or support the program in other roles (visit our table for details). This is an opportunity for faith development for the adults as well as a way of building inter-generational community. We have integrated numerous social justice activities for different class levels and the whole congregation. We welcome those of you engaged in social justice to share your passion with our youth. It takes the whole community to nurture future UU adults. As one of our volunteers wrote:
“Teaching our youth draws me into the life of UUCA in a way that nothing else does. It reminds me of what it is like to be a kid—both remembering my own experiences and seeing the new experiences of kids today. I marvel at the strengths of my fellow teachers, and the special fellowship that occurs among us. Because it is what we do in our program, I end up taking a deeper look at myself and my beliefs, and discussing meaningful ideas with adults and youth… And the kids themselves have literally taught me things that have changed the way I live my life. I’d be a poorer soul for having missed all those experiences!”
– Coming of Age Teacher
You Are Invited…
May 5 Coming of Age Credo Service. Led by our youth featuring their “credos” or statements of belief. One of my favorite services! May 15 Wednesday Thing Parent Support Group, 7PM; Facilitator: Jill Preyer May 19 Senior Bridging Ceremony during Time for All Ages. An opportunity to recognize an important life transition for this year’s high school graduates. May 21 Workshop: Racial Equity Engagement and Language- advocate Marta Alcalá Williams will discuss asset-based community development and language to equip participants to engage diverse communities with respect for the assets and ideas as they support and partner to reduce inequity. Details forthcoming. November 2 Workshop: Mental Health First Aid. Sponsored by the Pastoral Care Team. Training to help participants identify, understand and respond to signs of addiction and mental illness. Contact Rev. Claudia for details email@example.com
Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z….NO! No snoring! This is NOT going to be a boring presentation. There will be slides with cute cartoons! There will be interesting information! Well, yeah, there will be numbers, too, but you’ll actually learn stuff about this congregation.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Follow the money?” Turns out that people in the know have figured out that if they understand how an organization gets and spends money, they understand quite a bit about that organization. That’s the reason there are people who WANT to be part of the Finance Advisory Committee.
But I digress…..
At the budget hearing you will be privileged to receive the detailed budget of the congregation. A one-page summary budget with notes is distributed for the annual meeting, but budget-hearing attendees get “the big one!” I’ll go over the details of our income projections and expense expectations, and then I’ll give you a little more information on what we’re planning to do with the money we will be receiving from the UUA Legacy Challenge program (Wake Now My Vision) that our Legacy Circle Committee was so successful at executing (yay team!!). The entire meeting takes less than an hour (I think I remember that correctly) so you might want to make sure you have a snack so you can last until 1:30.
I admit that there are no surprises in this budget, but still, it would sure be nice to see you there. We usually have 40-50 attendees, but that’s just 10% of our membership. How about if we try for 25%? See you there!?!
By the time this blog is posted, my lovely ancient mother will have turned 99-years-old, outliving her four siblings literally by decades. We are stunned by her longevity, but she’s a little less of herself each day, ravaged by the inevitable physical and mental declines of ancient age. But once in a while – though increasingly rarely – I get a little peek at the original ‘Marion’ who still inhabits, somewhere deep inside, one little corner of this now almost unrecognizable mind and body.
I see Mom several times each week, at her dementia assisted living facility just minutes from our house. Always a sweet and sensitive person, Mom had often spontaneously shared poetry she’d loved and memorized through the years. On a recent visit, she surprised me by reciting her favorite stanza from Invictus, a poem by William Ernest Henley.
“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.”
The last two lines of Invictus declare, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Marion really isn’t the “master of [her] fate” any more. From dawn to dusk, her day is planned and prescribed by others. They choose her clothes, puree her food, and roll her wheelchair into activities that are far beyond her now-reduced understanding.
Honestly, my visits with Mom, who can no longer engage in lucid conversation, can be draining and frustrating. It’s a little too easy for me to disengage and mentally review plans for my own day. But Mom’s poetic recollection brought me right back into the room – fully.
What a joy and relief for me to think that ‘Marion’ still has one small part of herself that feels “unconquerable.” And it’s a welcome reminder to me to try a little harder to be fully present, to honor and embrace that “unconquerable soul” every time I visit.
Our support of La Mariposa in sanctuary last year connected us more deeply to the whole struggle over immigrant rights, which is an ongoing mess. Much of what we read comes from the debates in Washington and the human rights crisis at our Southern border. But there’s also news here in North Carolina that merits our attention.
About a month ago you may have seen me among area clergy and immigration activists in a news photo standing in support of Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller. At that news conference, he announced that absent a court-approved warrant, his department would not honor requests by officers of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain immigrants that it was seeking. Nor, he said, would his deputies participate in ICE raids or investigations.
Miller is among a number of North Carolina sheriffs who have refused to participate in a program called 287(g), which sets out an agreement for ICE agents and deputies to work together. Miller is right to refuse to participate in such an extra-legal arrangement that puts the immigrant community at risk.
But now under a bill proposed in the North Carolina House, sheriffs would be required to work with ICE, including asking people about their immigration status, notifying ICE when they come upon people who are undocumented and detaining those people if ICE asked them to. It would, in other words, put sheriff deputies in the position of enforcing unjust racial profiling throughout the state.
This is a moment when our voice could matter on behalf of our immigrant neighbors. While ICE action has been limited locally, hundreds of people have been seized across North Carolina in the last month or so. So, let me urge you to consider writing a letter to your representative or even the local newspaper opposing this move.
And while we’re at it, I welcome your participation in our immigration justice work. Recently, over the course of two Wednesday Thing programs I met with about 20 UUCA members to talk about what in our work in the last couple of years was most fulfilling and effective and how that should guide us in the future. We agreed that we appreciated being a part of an effort that built bridges to others, not walls, and that expanded our own awareness about and contact with our immigrant neighbors. And we are grateful to have built and still maintain a relationship with Maria and her family.
We also agreed that this experience and our commitment to affirming the inherent worth and dignity of all have called us to go further. Among other things, we hope to continue bringing the Spanish language into our worship and into our community. Maria’s presence with us prompted us to begin organizing Spanish language classes. We hope to continue those. We also want to look for ways to build contacts and relationships with the immigrant community in our area and raise our awareness of and act on justice issues that affect them.
If this interests you, I invite you to be in touch with me or members of our organizing team – Katie Winchell, Carol Buffum , or Elizabeth Schell. We remember, as Theodore Parker put it, that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. But lest we forget, for that to happen, it needs a few benders. Let us be among them.
Unitarian Universalism challenges us to put our beliefs into action. Our faith development programs for children and adults explore what those beliefs are and how they inform our actions. This year during Sunday worship (yes, worship is faith development) we have been inviting you to participate in Random Acts of Kindness and share your experiences on the last Sunday of the month during Time for All Ages. Engaging ourselves and others with kindness seems so simple, and yet, the simple can be overlooked in a world of busy-ness, political divisiveness, and social media distraction. The slip of paper with a suggested Random Act of Kindness that I picked up at service in January (you can still pick one up from the loom in the Sanctuary) is tucked in my agenda and serves as a reminder to get out of my head and my schedule, and be more present to others. It has helped me be more appreciative of family, friends, and co-workers as well as more attentive to others when I am out in the community. Exploring opportunities to surprise someone with an unexpected kindness can be fun.
Another way of putting our beliefs into action is by partnering with local organizations that engage in social justice work. On Sunday, April 7 at 3pm in partnership with Helpmate and Our Voice, we will be screening “The Mask You Live In.” This documentary follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating society’s definition of masculinity. The film explores how society can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men. There will be a facilitated discussion afterward. This is a very powerful and timely documentary whose screening is made possible through the generosity of a generous UUCA donor. Mark your calendar, and plan to join us.
Lastly, this month I have been working with our religious educators, Jen and Kim, planning next year’s children and youth programs. We are being intentional about integrating social justice projects into each grade level that are experiential and address racial justice and equity issues in a developmentally-appropriate way. Ideally, these projects will tie into social justice work being carried out by the adults in the congregation. If you are engaging in social justice work that you would like to share with our youth, please contact me.
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
I’m so glad we have UUCA to help us raise our child.
My husband, daughter and I joined the congregation in 2013 when she was eight years old. At UUCA, we found a place that shares our values, a place where those values are brought to her by other people, in different ways than she gets at home. At UUCA, she sees that cool people – a.k.a. non-parental units – share those values. She is immersed in a whole community that strives to live with kindness, compassion, integrity, and justice.
She has come into a community of peers she loves, through youth group activities, and youth retreat weekends (“cons”) and camps at The Mountain.
She learned about world religions in our religious education program last year. And now, as an eighth grader, she is in the OWL (Our Whole Lives) class, a sexuality education program offered at UUCA every year.
In truth, OWL is one of the main reasons we joined the congregation. If you aren’t familiar with OWL, UUA describes it as a “sexuality education program for youth that models and teaches caring, compassion, respect, and justice. A holistic program that moves beyond the intellect to address the attitudes, values, and feelings that youth have about themselves and the world.”
In OWL, they discuss everything from body image to consent, gender identity, sex and sexuality in the media (including social media), and much more. Her parents have discussed many, though not all, of these subjects with her. But it is a relief to know that if we miss something, or get something wrong or incomplete, that she is getting correct, value-based information from a trusted source. I wish this were available to every adolescent regardless of their congregation, regardless if they even have a congregation.
OWL is taught by a dedicated team of four teachers who have to be trained, then prepare for and thoughtfully present sensitive material to (easily embarrassed) teens every Sunday for 90 minutes from September to May. Bless ‘em for their service to our children and the world!
Meaningful social justice work is at the heart of what we do as a congregation, but the focus of our work shifts and changes as circumstances in and around us change. That creates challenges for organizing that work since we want to be nimble in responding to needs that arise, while also sustaining programs and activities that underlie our most basic commitments.
The past couple of years offer some good examples of how that happens. Two years ago the notion of offering sanctuary for undocumented immigrants was only an idea that we had begun to explore. But after about six months of meetings, forums, research, and debate we concluded that it was something we were called to as a congregation. Six months after that we welcomed La Mariposa into our space, and so began another eight months of intensive support for her, involving dozens of people from our own and neighboring congregations. Now, that she has been able to return to her home, we are left as a congregation to decide: is this a ministry that calls us further? Where do we go now?
Go back even further to 2016 when our congregation adopted a resolution in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Sustaining commitments that arose out of that include participation by our members in MotherRead, a support group at Hillcrest Apartments for women of color and white allies, and the creation of a Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) group that meets regularly at our church to offer mutual support for people seeking to confront the consequences of white supremacy. Where else might this commitment take us so that we have greater impact on the fight for racial justice?
For several years the Earth Community Circle has been working on ways to make our campus more earth-friendly and carbon neutral, including promoting insulation and energy-saving practices as well as children and adult programs to raise awareness of our connection to the Earth. Last year ECC’s leadership played a key role in garnering congregational support and helping to raise money for more than 100 photovoltaic solar panels that will be installed in the next week or so. ECC leaders are urging us to renew our status with the UUA as a Green Sanctuary. What new work are we called to live into that ambition?
Hunger and Homelessness remain perennial problems in this privileged part of the world, where the disparity between rich and poor stares at us wherever we go. Shifting coalitions of organizations serve the poor in our community, and we are haltingly connected to a number of them, ranging from food pantries to Habitat for Humanity. What is the best way to focus and coordinate this work?
That’s a rough summary of some of our activities right now, and there are others ranging from our Peacemaking group, our Social Justice movie night and our newly created Universal Rainbow Unity support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other folks who find themselves marginalized by their gender or sexual expression.
All of this work gives us a good foundation from which to decide where we go next. So, this spring I plan to use the process of Appreciative Inquiry to help us explore that question. During the Wednesday Thing on February 20, March 6, April 3, and May 1 you are invited to take part in a process that will help us name what we have gotten out of this work so far and where we think it could take us. Each time we’ll explore a different area. Our goal will be to sort out next steps arising from the energy and success of what we’ve done so far. Please join in if you can.
What is a “living church” and what does it have to do with membership? Here is a description of a living church from an article that was adapted by the UU minister the Rev. Sam Trumbore.
Living churches always have a parking problem; dying churches don’t.
Living churches have lots of noisy kids; dying churches don’t.
Living churches’ expenses always exceed their income; dying churches take in more than they ever dream of spending.
Living churches are constantly improving and planning for the future; dying churches worship the past.
Living churches grow so fast you forget people’s names; in dying churches you’ve known everyone’s names for years.
Living churches move forward and out in faith; dying churches operate totally by sight.
Living churches are filled with healthy pledgers; dying churches are filled with tippers.
Living churches support community work heavily; dying churches keep it all at home.
Living churches dream great dreams of beloved community; dying churches relive nightmares.
Living churches have the fresh wind of love blowing; dying churches are stale with bickering.
Living churches evangelize; dying churches fossilize.
How perfectly this comparison describes UUCA, no parking, noisy kids, who are all these new people! Living churches don’t just happen by accident, they occur because of the work of the congregation. When I interact with newcomers and potential new members they frequently tell me what a vibrant, exciting, and energetic experience they had at a service. But, occasionally I have a conversation or hear of an incident where a newcomer felt isolated because no one approached them during social hour. My response is to please try again but, unfortunately, these folks don’t usually return. It is the time during social hour that our potential new members learn about us – who we are, what we stand for and the work that we do. The conversations that our visitors have with you, our members, determine whether or not they will return and whether it is worthwhile for them to support our work. To continue to be a “living church” all of us must reach out to our newcomers when they have reached out to us. You can help support your membership program simply by having a conversation with a visitor on a Sunday morning. When you see that new face at social hour, or someone standing by themselves looking lost please initiate a conversation with them. Let us work together and continue to grow our church. There is still so much to do and we need all the new energy and ideas that we can get from new members. Let’s do this together!
This is challenging, important, on-going (and probably never-ending) work that we are doing. It is no easy task to build a community where adults and children participate together, respect each other, and learn from each other. The work is ours—all of us at UUCA. Staff members can lead, train, cajole and invite, but this really is the work of the congregation. What can you do to help? So glad you asked.
Every Sunday that we gather for worship, we share time together lighting the chalice, hearing welcoming words, singing a hymn and listening or participating in a segment called “Time for All Ages” (TFAA) before our children go to their classes. This is a special time of multigenerational community building when we model and teach what we do in worship. There are large pillows on the floor so children can be close to the speakers and the choir, or, it is a time that can be used by families to sit together and share experiences. “Soul Work” packets (for all ages) are available on the table outside the Sanctuary to support centering and focus during this multigenerational time together.
Experiencing the rituals, hymns, and stories that are part of our living tradition is part of faith development. As the staff person overseeing this part of the service, my goal is to recruit a team of volunteer storytellers and readers of all ages who can share stories related to the theme of the sermon. I usually provide the story unless the volunteer has an appropriate story. If you are interested in being a storyteller for TFAA, please contact me.
How else can you contribute to building multigenerational community at UUCA? ¨ This Saturday, January 26, the Coming of Age (CoA) youth are hosting their “Big Event” which includes dinner, games and other surprises. It’s a great chance to get to know our 9th graders, and them you!
¨The weekly “Wednesday Thing” provides an opportunity for a multigenerational dinner, vespers, and activities that allow for socializing in a smaller setting as well as participating in programs for all ages such as story yoga, creative dance and game nights.
¨Signing up for the “Mystery Friend” program that launches February 3 and connects you with a youth with whom you share letters. The Reveal Party on March 6 will allow you to meet in person and celebrate with your new friend.
¨ It can be as simple as sitting with a family/elder during TFAA, Wednesday Vespers or “all ages worship” such as the YRUU*-led service on February 10 and the Coming of Age Credo Sunday on May 5. Mark your calendar! You can also engage with a family or elder you have not met during coffee hour or stroll out to the playground and say hello! *YRUU=Young Religious UUs=9th-12th graders.
¨ Consider joining us for 9:15 or 11:15 RE downstairs in the Commons. I have had the opportunity to sit in on various classes. I have been impressed by the insights shared by our children and the meaningful curricula that are grounded in our UU values and principles. Our volunteer teachers are well prepared and are part of a supportive teaching team. We welcome and train new volunteers to work with our children and youth as teachers or mentors.
This is not a comprehensive list, but I think you get the idea. There are many ways to build bridges across the generations. You, too, can join the team, and contribute to building and strengthening multigenerational community at UUCA.
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
Have I told you about this fabulous book I read about generosity? OK, I realize that this may not be a book for everyone’s taste, but heck, I’m a church administrator! The book is actually a layperson’s version (meaning totally readable) of a five-year study called the Science of Generosity Initiative. The book, The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, explores the tantalizing link between practicing generosity and leading a better life. The authors make the case that generous people are happier, suffer fewer illnesses and injuries, live with a greater sense of purpose, and experience less depression than ungenerous or less generous people. And they go to great pains to show that the arrow of causality goes from generosity to health and happiness and not just that healthy, happy people are more generous.
Based on the assumption that you would like to lead a happier, better life, you should be heartened to learn that you can learn generosity. By practicing generosity, you can become a more generous person and thereby reap the benefits.
Right now, UUCA congregants, particularly those who attended Sunday Services on January 6, are getting a chance to practice generosity by doing random acts of kindness this month. If you missed that service, or selected a random act that day that just doesn’t work for you, do an internet search for “random acts of kindness,” pick one you like, and do it! Do more than one! At our January 27 services, Rev. Claudia will be asking you how it felt to be generous in that way.
Practicing generosity in this way can be fun, and it certainly doesn’t require money to do it. There are actually four forms of giving that are part of the generosity cluster: volunteering your time and skills; giving attention and sharing emotions with others (relational generosity); neighborly expressions of care (hospitality, friendliness, assistance with chores)—this is where I would classify random acts of kindness—and the one we all think of first, financial generosity.
Somewhat surprisingly, although generous people practice all these forms of generosity, it is financial generosity that is most highly correlated with health and happiness. But there is still one more variable that needs to be met to activate the benefits of generosity; the attitude of the giver. Giving dutifully, giving begrudgingly, or giving transactionally, no matter the amount, won’t do it. It’s joyful giving that is the key. Generously supporting groups, activities, or people that deeply connect with your own values is your ticket to a better life for you. It’s science!
So do yourself a favor. Flex your generosity muscle with some random acts of kindness, donate your time and talent to benefit others, be kind, emotionally support friends and/or family, and find your passion—that place where generous financial giving will give you joy!
Two recent events, seemingly independent, deeply connected.
Last Saturday I spoke about “Who’s in charge here?” at the Membership Orientation that led to our welcoming of new members to our congregation on Sunday. I had thirty minutes to talk about our way of being together—governance—a topic, though important, that does not always leave people on the edge of their seats. My approach to the talk has been to say a bit about myself, then a bit about the history of our congregation, and then take a tour of governance-related documents on our congregation’s website. This seems to work.
What I have found most meaningful in giving these presentations is reviewing some of the things I’ve accumulated from participating in our congregation since 1983. Here are three things I found this year. One, the list of the 11 people who joined UUCA on November 13, 1983; Mary Alm joined that day, as did my wife of 47 years Jean Larson. Second, a sermon delivered by Mel Hetland, he of the scholarship featured in this month’s Community Plate, in 1997; this sermon is now in the hands of Rev. Ward. And third, I recaptured the name of Rev. Clarke Dewey Wells who served as our sabbatical minister in 1998 as best I can recall.
This Tuesday our Board of Trustees met for its monthly meeting. I always ask a question that allows us to get to know one another better. This month, in light of our sanctuary experience over the last year, I asked about what the experience might mean for our congregation. Answers varied—what has our experience meant for you?—but I recalled my uncertainty going in. And I expressed my gratitude that our congregation, working with many other congregations, reached out and worked together to make a difference in the life of one person, one family, ultimately many congregations.
Connecting these events in my mind is a sense of possibility, an openness to something new. Someone on the brink of joining our congregation has questions and perhaps some uncertainty about the path being embarked upon. A congregation on the brink of providing sanctuary has questions and perhaps some uncertainty about the path being embarked upon. And someone on the brink of taking sanctuary has questions and perhaps some uncertainty about the path being embarked upon. But each of us, individually and collectively, chose to explore possibility rather than rest in certainty. One definition of courage is “being afraid and doing it anyway.” We may not always be afraid when we act, but when we are afraid, may we be courageous when the moment comes.
“Step into the center,” writes my colleague Rev. Marta Valentin. “Come in from the margins. I will hold you there.”
We enter the New Year together with much on our hearts and minds. Our busy lives hold many challenges and adventures in 2019. That’s work enough, but we also can’t escape the daily news of a government that seems to be decompensating before our very eyes, and so many people suffering from injustice. In the midst of this, how do we sustain some sense of peace and hope?
Our natural response is protective: to hold back, to pull in, to let fall the fragile threads that connect us and hunker down. Part of what we exist for as a congregation is to persuade each other to stay in the game, to set our gaze higher than the muck of the news cycle, and to reaffirm our life-giving deepest values.
A couple of years ago we concluded a congregational process by centering our understanding of what this congregation is for on four central values: Connection, Inspiration, Compassion, and Justice. Each of these values works to call us from those protective impulses, which are understandable, but in the end only make ourselves shallow, reactive, isolated and alone.
We gather in this place to remind each other that it is in each other’s company that spiritual awakening occurs; that hope comes from opening ourselves to sources of inspiration that open us to new views of our lives, of the world; that each of us and all people deserve love, respect and care; and that it’s not enough to sit on our laurels, rest on our privilege, enjoy our cozy community without making ourselves agents of the change that the world needs to see.
All this can be challenging, of course, which is why I like the way Marta frames it: she’s not writing a prescription or demanding terms. In the center where everything happens, it can be confusing, uncertain, uncomfortable. I think of our eight months as a sanctuary site for our friend Maria. A number of us had significant reservations about whether this even made sense, but in the end, we decided to follow our values. There was a bit of chaos along the way and some gnarly issues to work through, but with the assistance of dozens of people in faith communities surrounding us, we made it happen, and we all were transformed.
I’m not yet sure what awaits us in the coming year, but one way or another we will be at work in the community and also looking for ways to deepen our faith journeys to be better prepared for those challenges. But you have my pledge, and I hope you will join me, that when you enter the center, as Marta writes, “I will hold you here.”
“Don’t look back or around,” she adds, “feel my arms. The water is rising. I will hold you as you tremble. I will warm you. Don’t look out or away life is here between you and me. In this tiny space where I end and you begin hope lives.”
We can create such a space. Let us bring the intention to do so.
Can you tell it’s the week before Christmas? It’s the time of year when EVERYTHING!!! needs to be done by Tuesday! Here at work, the deadline is Monday, which makes the rush even rushier. Since we are closed between Christmas and New Year’s, there is just a little more pressure to get EVERYTHING done. Like how about 4 orders of service this week? (I always feel sorry for Tish in this runup to the holidays since she’s the producer of those orders of service.) Or making sure that all the things you appreciate about our Christmas Eve services will be ready when you arrive? Or paying all the bills that fall next week this week? Or making plans for the beginning of January? It’s all craziness. Who has time to breathe?
Home life is no better, and I don’t even have any kids. But the rushing around, deciding what can be put off (my famous Christmas letter–I actually have fans but no one cares if it comes before Christmas) and what can’t (mail those presents to the out-of-towners NOW!!!!!), and still fitting in meals(!) and sleep(!!) seems impossible. Breathe, you say?
OK. Here. I can’t do this very well, but maybe YOU can.
A great, simple breathing exercise for calming both the nervous system and the overworked mind is a timed breath where the exhale is longer than the inhale. When your exhale is even a few counts longer than your inhale, the vagus nerve (running from the neck down through the diaphragm) sends a signal to your brain to turn up your parasympathetic nervous system and turn down your sympathetic nervous system. So, count to 2 in, hold for one, count to 4 out. Simple enough. And the count doesn’t matter at all, just longer exhales than inhales. I can do THAT. But this only works if you do it for 5 minutes! Yikes! Well, as I said, maybe this will help YOU.
But whether you can manage to fit in a slow breath or not, celebrate well, celebrate happily, or just hunker down and endure. Do what works for you.
Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion characterized by a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Unitarian Universalists assert no creed but instead are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth. As such, their congregations include many atheists, agnostics, and theists within their membership. The roots of Unitarian Universalism lie in liberal Christianity. –Wikipedia
I was raised in a small United Methodist community church west of Asheville. As a young man in my early teens, I started having some questions regarding the Bible and other of the religious teaching. The Sunday school teachers and ministers could not fully answer my questions to my satisfaction. It was in 1979 that I was first introduced to the UU religion.
Here I learned that questioning was an accepted way and I got a variety of answers. Differing beliefs were accepted. In discovering this new religion, I really started looking at the beliefs of my upbringing. I started looking at new answers to my questions. This also brought new questions for me to research for answers.
There is no creed or dogma for us to follow. Instead, we have an inclusive and diverse set of beliefs. We have a shared covenant of the seven principles which are used as a guideline in our religious quest. We also incorporate diverse teachings from Eastern and Western philosophies and religions.
We question and reflect together on subjects of life and death, higher power existence, prayer, spiritual practices, various sacred texts, and other topics of interest. In our search for answers we are sharing our experiences with each other and we are able to learn from each other, thus increasing our understanding and knowledge. We have open and exciting worship services touching on many varied topics; rites of passage ceremonies; sharing expressions of our love; and an RE program that teaches our youth about life and the many differences to be expected and a way of dealing with life’s issues.
We are a religion of various backgrounds and beliefs that we bring together. Our religious backgrounds differ: no religious background; people who believe or not in God; UU’s pagans; agnostics; atheists; humanist; and many other choices.
We promote gay rights. ( UU’s have been active in this area for over 40 years). We welcome people of all ethnicities no matter where they come from and whoever they love.
We come from many backgrounds with many varying beliefs. We are compassionate, deep thinkers, and doers. We work for social justice and community and more love and understanding in our lives. We stand on the side of peace, justice, and love.
We come together under the banner of Unitarian Universalism and together we will continue to grow with help and understanding from each other. These are some of the reasons why I was drawn to this path.
“I love the dark hours of my being,” writes the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. “My mind deepens into them. There I can find, as in old letters, the days of my life, already lived, and held like a legend and understood. Then the knowing comes: I can open to another life that’s wide and timeless.”
This is a time of year that invites us into the dark hours of our being: not necessarily sorrow or gloom, but a more contemplative, reflective state of mind. Even as our Internet feeds fill with holiday ads, our minds and hearts feel drawn to follow our body’s advice to pull in and nest a bit. The advance of literal darkness, the shortening of days and with it the chill of winter, makes us a little sleepy, a little less sharply focused and invites a longer perspective on our lives.
It’s a good time to take stock and maybe attend to some of the mania that can drive us day to day. In the days of our lives, already lived, what lessons can we find? What is tugging for our attention that merely saps our spirit, that distracts us from that which truly feeds us? How might we organize our lives to better attend to that?
Mine is a job that often demands rapid-fire multitasking – planning worship one moment, arranging a pastoral call next, then completing a board report, or making a connection for a social justice event, and more. It’s important work, but sometimes it pushes me pretty hard. So, I am drawn to questions like: What tasks need my attention now? What can wait and what of this can I share or pass on to others? And on a larger scale, for us as a congregation, what is called of us now? What are we positioned to take on?
In the dark hours of the year it is a good time to create space for these questions as well as for the fallow times in our lives when we need to ease up on the accelerator. This work of ours is something we are in on for the long haul. Let us create space for it so that rested and refreshed we can, as Rilke puts it, open to life that’s wide and timeless.
It’s holiday time! Let’s talk turkey…..um, Wish Lists! (Still working on leftovers ?). First off, I’d like to report on our amazing generosity from last year. We were able to buy EVERYTHING on the list! So thank you, thank you, thank you! Technically, we haven’t spent all the money from last year because some of it went toward plantings and we’ve been slowly buying new plants all year long. The final chunk helped buy the plants and mulch for the new pollinator garden.
A funny thing happened to my Wish List this year. Well, not funny, more like astounding. I had started my list just when we got a substantial donation from a lovely, generous, long-time member. So, that donation covered several items that would have been on the list but that we no longer need—because we have them!: 20 new hymnals; the completion of the hearing sound loop in the choir area of the Sanctuary (newtechnology has allowed us to do something we could not do just 3 years ago); video equipment to be used to record in the Sanctuary; with the remainder being applied to the long-term (i.e., expensive) project we have in mind for the yard between the main building and the Memorial Garden, now to be known as the “Main Building Backyard Project.” (It will be awesome when it’s done, I promise.)
But fear not! (Holiday spirit, right?) I still have a Wish List for this year! Just like for the solar panel project, you may donate to a particular item in any amount you desire. However, please designate your donation to the WISH LIST so we can use it for any item on the list if we need to.
Nursery changing table – $100 Our hand-me-down table is in sad shape. Entry sign for the Memorial Garden – $500 The current one is peeling AND has “church” instead of “congregation” in the name. Furnish a designated “teen space” in RE Commons – $500 Every church needs a hang-out space for teens, and the way we are spread across campus, there is no place in the main building for that. Our great RE folks have set aside an area in RE Commons now, but we need to get some seating for it and make it cool. Screen the movie, The Mask You Live In, at UUCA, and open it to the community – $500 The Mask You Live In follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Experts in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, sports, education, and media weigh in, offering empirical evidence of the “boy crisis” and tactics to combat it. The Mask You Live In ultimately illustrates how we, as a society, can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men. We think it’s an important movie for both our UUCA and greater community. Install LED lights in Sandburg Hall – $1,000 more! Who could object to brighter, dimmable lighting in Sandburg Hall? We’ll change out those 30-some-year old fluorescent fixtures. This project will cost $2,000 but Ken Brame and Judy Mattox have offered a $1,000 match, so all YOU need to do is come up with $1,000 more. We can do it! Compost Now – $1300 Between bear raids and the fact that getting food waste out of the landfill is environmentally correct, we’ll be using Compost Now to collect our food waste every week from the main building and 23 Edwin Place. This service will cost $2500 a year but I’ll manage to get it officially into the budget next fiscal year. This will pay for the unbudgeted amount this fiscal year. Pavers from lower parking lot to Memorial Garden – $4,000 Instead of pouring concrete, we want to use pavers like the ones on our front patio to make a handicap-accessible path to the Memorial Garden. This is another part of the Main Building Backyard Project.