Purpose and Possibility

It’s been 17 years since our congregation last searched for a called minister. That means many of us have never engaged in the work of a ministerial search, and for others it’s been a while. So now is a good time to reflect on what the search process is all about and what role we all play in finding our new minister.

First, know that the process is well underway. We’ve chosen a committee to help guide us through the search process, but you may be surprised to learn that the committee’s job is not to decide who the next minister should be. Rather their task is to find the minister who can help us realize our vision for UU Asheville.

We all have a role to play and the committee can’t play their part if we don’t play ours. Our committee needs to know what we want “church” to look like, what role we want to play in our community, the concerns we have, and what we see as UU Asheville’s purpose. In other words, we tell the committee where we want to go, and they find a faith leader who can take us there.

The committee is not looking for their minister, they’re looking for our minister, so they need to hear from us. To make that easy, they’ve laid out two tasks for everyone in the congregation. Let’s do both.

First, complete the congregational survey. This is your first opportunity to tell the committee your hopes for UU Asheville. Admittedly, the survey is a little long so set aside some time to give it some real thought. You’ll find that the survey will not only help the committee get a picture of who we are, it’s also designed to help you envision what we could be. It’s well worth the time investment.

Second, attend a cottage meeting. In these small group meetings, you’ll once again be thinking about the purpose of UU Asheville, but unlike the survey, you’ll be sharing your ideas with and listening to those of fellow congregants. It’s an opportunity to begin building the community you want to be a part of.

Those are the two tasks we can all do to help. Complete the survey and come to a cottage meeting. Pretty simple.

While the search process is a time for reflection about who we are, it’s also a time filled with possibility. May we approach the search process with excitement, curiosity, and openness to the possibilities a new minister can bring.

Gina Phairas, Ministerial Search Committee Chair

 

 

 

 

Magical Moments and Grief’s Strange Journey

karen dill“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.”  Joan Didion
Death is inevitable and an undeniable fact.  Yet the grief that follows death can challenge facts.  In her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion chronicles her first year alone after the sudden death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. She questions reality and her own sanity in the aftermath of John’s death. Embarking upon a surreal and dark journey, Joan struggles to understand the death of her beloved husband and the sudden end of their remarkable partnership.
In the days, weeks, months after my husband’s death in April (and the subsequent deaths of a college friend, a beloved 95 year old aunt, and our own Mark Ward), like Joan Didion, I also questioned reality. The order of the universe is shuffled. Life changes in an instant and the rational mind searches for an explanation…a meaning to the madness. Magical thinking becomes a survival tool.  It is a way to navigate the unthinkable and is a beautiful diversion from the agony of living without the life partner who has anchored your life for so many years.
And the strange journey of grief begins.  Perhaps, in this world of magical thinking, my husband of 35 years will return.  Magical thoughts, though illogical, can be comforting.  My husband’s shoes are left by the bed. The hair brush he owned since childhood stays by the bathroom sink along with the toothbrush. His favorite coffee cup with Thomas etched on the side waits in the kitchen cupboard. None of this makes sense but neither does his absence.
This strange journey of grief continues with magical thoughts that he’s out there somewhere. Maybe he is in the wind chimes that move without a breeze at the same time every evening.  Or is he the sweet wren that appears on the deck railing every morning at 6 AM with the same lyrical song?  The bedroom lamp that blinks at odd times must be a message.  Surely those are signs that he is present, still lingering in this hopelessly imperfect world. But are they just desperate and magical illusions in this insane world of grief?
“Grief is the price we pay for love”, said Queen Elizabeth II after the September 11th terrorist attacks. Grief is the inevitable price for loving our partners, our families, our friends, our anchors. In this imperfect world, we love and we lose that love.
Joan Didion says that we keep the dead alive in order to keep them with us. And magical thinking temporarily makes the pain manageable. But slowly, in time, the human spirit rallies.  And magic of a different sort materializes.
For me, these are brief and unexpected magical moments. Sunday’s service when the beautiful music filled my soul was a magic moment. The lit candles that created a brief moment of light in the darkness. The kind word and the smile from a congregant that fostered a sense of belonging. All magical moments.
Occasionally the tentacles of fear and sorrow that have entrapped my battered heart loosen  and I take a deep breath.  My soul lightens for an instant and my mind is gifted with the beautiful clarity that I have loved and have been loved.
Love is not lost. And knowing that love is not lost…that is the magical moment that gives meaning to his strange journey of grief.
Karen Dill, UU Asheville Board of Trustees

A New Church Year!

Dear ones,

It is a busy and exciting time as we begin the new church year and our second year of the interim process. Your seven-member Search Committee met with Keith Kron in August following the Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop, and they met last weekend with their UUA coach for a retreat. Watch for invitations to join them for Cottage Meetings and other events that will assist them in their task of choosing your new settled minister. These meetings will be your opportunity to share your hopes and dreams for the future.

The UU Asheville staff had a wonderful retreat at the beautiful Montreat Conference Center in early August for teambuilding/brainstorming, and we spent time discussing UU Asheville’s assets and how they might be used to fulfill the mission of the congregation.  It is no surprise that aside from having a talented and dedicated staff, you have much to be thankful for!

YOU HAVE: a beautiful sanctuary with great acoustics, natural light, and a wonderful piano, a great location with beautiful outdoor spaces, a stone patio, a fire pit, a lovely Memorial Garden, and Sandburg Hall is a great place to gather. There are many Religious Exploration rooms, Les brings in wonderful guest musicians, you have a great choir, and you have Les J. Asheville is a beautiful place to live, and UU Asheville is connected to and benefits from and many non-profits and social justice organizations such as Beloved, CoThink, Planned Parenthood, Faith4Justice, Mother Read, the Arboretum, and so many more. UUCA has its fun annual Mountain Retreat, a rich and vibrant Religious Exploration Program that is under the creative and competent leadership of Rev. Claudia, Jen, and Kim J This includes the OWL Program, the Coming of Age Program, and the children’s religious exploration classes being this Sunday! OMG, we are so lucky to have our house band, the Sandburgers, the Soul Matters curriculum enriches our lives with Small Groups, Creativity Matters, UU Writers, and so much more. There is a new Buddhist Sangha that meets twice a month, and the 8th Principle/Anti-Racism work happening. The Wednesday night Vespers and programming are starting up this week, and the choir will be singing twice a month beginning on September 18th.  And then there is YOU!

Yes, your presence matters!

Don’t miss the fun and our Opportunity Fair on Sunday, September 18th.  Maria is bringing her food truck, the Sandburgers will serenade us while we eat tacos and explore opportunities to get involved in the shared work of creating beloved community.

Unitarian theologian, James Luther Adams, once said that church is where we get to practice what it means to be human. Being human, with all its ups and downs, is so much better in a community where you are loved for who you are, where you are safe and can grow and learn, share your gifts, and receive the gifts of others while working together to make the world a better place.  We look forward to seeing you in church!

In faith,

Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Communication Leads to Community”-Rollo May

Many of you shared your frustrations with receiving too many regular emails from UU Asheville, and that’s a fair frustration. I know when I receive too many emails from any organization, I tend to skip reading all of them. I also find myself aggravated when I want to go back and reread something and can’t remember which of the multiple emails I found the information. We’ve heard you, and we understand.

We also want to keep you informed of what’s happening at UU Asheville. One of the joys about a community rich with programs and offerings is that it’s challenging to communicate it all effectively. So, we’re trying something new. This week we’re launching our reimagined Weekly eNews! Instead of receiving an email on Monday morning about worship, Tuesday afternoon with TLC news, Thursday’s eNews, and then Sunday’s worship link, you’ll now receive one regular email on Wednesdays (special topic emails will still happen periodically in addition to this weekly email). This Wednesday email will still be called our Weekly eNews and will include: worship information for Sundays and Wednesday Vespers, This Loving Community (TLC) news, the weekly blog (now called the weekly message), and all the information you’ve come to expect from the Weekly eNews.

While we’ve combined all the information into one email, it also means that it will be longer than usual. However, it will be a one-stop-shop which means you’ll know where to go when you are looking for information. We know not everyone will have the time to read it all, but we encourage you to scan through it each week to stay informed. We’ve broken the email into subject headers such as “Wednesday Vespers,” “Sunday Worship,” “This Loving Community,” and “News & Events.” Our hope is that you’ll be able to digest the information with a bit more ease. Of course, we still encourage you to submit your eNews items! Our deadline is now on Wednesdays at 10am, 150 words or less, and please use standard capitalization practices and a 12-point font.

Lastly, we’re changing how we share our virtual Sunday services. Instead of receiving a unique link each Sunday morning, you can now watch on our website. You can also subscribe to our YouTube Channel. (and click the red “Subscribe” button).

As with all new communications practices, we ask for your patience as we roll out the new format (and work out the problems). We’ve listened to your feedback, and we hope our response meets our shared need for effective communications.

Brittany Crawford, Director of Administration

Invitation to Share the Journey

We are excited to start the 2022-23 year with all of our Religious Exploration groups meeting in person this fall, starting Sunday, September 11. We have been imagining and planning a robust program with 4 different *OWL classes, a PreK and Kindergarten class, 2 groups for elementary aged children, a world religions class with field trips for middle grades, high school youth group, and (NEW!) some all ages – that’s ALL ages, young to elder – spiritual practice and religious exploration opportunities, and family ministry events! We are enthusiastic to try some new things with y’all this year and to host some vibrant, enriching, faith deepening and justice oriented experiences at UU Asheville.

Our goals this year are to develop in all of our children and youth a strong sense of UU identity, an understanding of our principles and sources, a sense of belonging and being held by our congregation, and the understanding of why it’s important to organize and act for the rights of all marginalized peoples. Our curricular choices reflect that, with our elementary choices coming from the UUA’s Tapestry of Faith curricula, as well as a new (to us) World Religions curriculum, Crossing Paths, from Soul Matters. Our YRUU (high school) youth group will explore a combination of youth group theme materials from Soul Matters, OWL, justice learning and projects, planning and executing our beloved YRUU worship service, some fun traditions and new experiences, and a summer youth trip.

*OWL = Our Whole Lives, a comprehensive, faith based sexuality education program that was largely and unfortunately suspended for 2 years due to the pandemic preventing consistent in person gatherings. (We did offer a virtual parent/caregiver support group and a few high school OWL sessions in person.) We know that it is important, lifesaving information and are dedicated to getting the curricula to as many children and youth as possible this year. We are able to offer OWL to 7th-9th graders (2 different year-long classes!), 4th/5th grade, and 10th-12th graders. Leading OWL requires an intensive offsite weekend training, and we are grateful to the volunteers committed to this valuable program.

Please register your children and youth to stay in the loop about all the happenings in RE and Family Ministry at UU Asheville. This also provides us with important information to best support your child(ren)/family.

Serve in Religious Exploration! Our children and youth need a village of caring adults to know them and to help guide their faith exploration. Kids thrive by growing up in a loving community of adults who pay attention, laugh, create, listen, play, teach and learn alongside them. Young adults to elders are encouraged to join our amazing team of volunteers; this is not just a job for parents. No expertise needed; open minds, loving hearts and helping hands are the name of the game. We will train and help you, and the lesson/game plans are provided! Will you join our younger generation and explore Unitarian Universalism with them? We’re especially seeking some more people to care for babies in the nursery, assist our PreK-K staff, and lead/assist in our elementary aged groups (younger and older elementary). It is transformative work that can nurture your own spirit. In order to sustain the program we envision and our families desire, we need your support! Please contact us — and come to the RE volunteer training this Saturday, August 27 (begins at 9:45 in Sandburg Hall).

Religious Exploration will launch on Sunday, September 11. On that date, we will happily return to our pre-pandemic ritual of everyone gathering together in the Sanctuary each Sunday for the chalice lighting, opening, music, and wisdom story. Children, youth, and RE volunteers will be sung out to their classes following that Time for All Ages.

Note: we will also have periodic 9:30 RE for all ages and 11:00 all ages worship. Watch for those announcements in the Weekly eNews.

Still have questions? Contact us! If your child is Nursery-8th grade, please email Kim. If your youth is in 9th-12th grade, please email Jen.

Jen Johnson and Kim Collins, Religious Educators

Generosity & Meaning-Making

“Generosity costs us something–and it is because it costs us something that generosity is actually meaningful.” –Steve Lawson

The question of what makes a meaningful life is one we’ve all explored. It’s at the heart of every religious and philosophical tradition. Of course, that question contains a multitude of responses. We’re born into families and identities that shape how we make meaning in and of our lives, and our experiences along the way may redefine for us what is meaningful.

When I saw Steve Lawson’s email in my inbox, the subject line read, “The Ultimate Gift Is a Life of Meaning.” It was intriguing enough to open his monthly blog post, but I did not expect his first sentence to read, “Generosity is directly connected to meaning.” He argues that every choice we make comes at a cost in our lives, and because generosity costs us something, it inherently holds meaning.

If we follow Lawson’s premise, and what we give is an avenue to meaning-making, then the reverse may also be true. Perhaps we discern what is meaningful to us by examining where/what/who we are generous towards. We might examine questions that ask us how we spend our time, where we give our money, and who receives our gifts as a way to understand what gives our lives meaning. And in this examination, we might find a discrepancy between what we believe is meaningful and how we spend our days.

Often when we talk about generosity in congregational life, we’re almost exclusively referring to money. And yes, money matters—how we do our work depends on it. However, generosity in congregational life also involves the giving of our time. What we give our time to is not just what interests us but what we find meaningful. Whether it’s weeding the grounds, filling the BeLoved pantry, joining a committee, or serving as a worship associate, we bring meaning to our common life by sharing generously of our time, talent, and money.

As we begin this new program year, we invite you to explore meaning-making in the life of our congregation through generosity. We’ll have several opportunities for you to learn how to get involved. We’re also bringing back tabling on Sundays during after-service coffee starting this weekend. More information about opportunities will be available in future eNews editions.

 

Brittany Crawford, Director of Administration

A Church Year Like No Other

            It’s happening. School supply sales. September and October calendar pages filling up. In the midst of thunder storms and heat, we can’t help but think about cooler nights, autumnal colors, and campfires.

And your Board of Trustees has more than that on its mind. It will be a church year like no other. Just as we begin our search for a new Lead Minister, we lose the man who brought us to this point. We are bereft. We look back and feel emptiness. Ahead is murkiness, obscuring the figure who will join us as we move purposefully into our future.

At the end of the 2020-21 church year, everyone in the congregation was phoned to help identify seven committed individuals, representing some of the variety in our membership, to be our Ministerial Search Committee (MSC). They’ve been studying the UUA guidelines for accomplishing this daunting task. On August 20, we are all invited to join them at a workshop with Rev. Keith Kron, the person at the UUA who helps ministers and congregations find and fall in love with each other. After that workshop, the MSC will never be far from our thoughts as they conduct surveys and conduct small group gatherings to ascertain both who we are and what we’re looking for in terms of our next faith leader. In other words, the MSC is charged with clearing away the fog and bringing into focus the right person for UUCA.

Something else that will be engaging our energies this year is racial justice. The Racial Justice Advisory Council (RJAC) submitted its Summary Report to the Board late last spring. At its August 9 meeting, the Board voted to “accept all the recommendations from the RJAC as submitted” in that report. The Board also committed to “offer guidance/direction” for realizing those 18 Recommendations. One major activity will be studying an 8th Principle to be added to the current 7 Principles of Unitarian Universalism. An 8th Principle Task Force is forming to guide our congregation to “affirming and promoting” this Principle in the covenant between us and all the other congregations in the UUA.

This year is so full of promise, y’all! But promises are empty without actions to move from fine words to meaningful achievements. Each of us is called upon to create the UUCA of radical love and justice for all. We are who we’ve been waiting for to make a better world. Roll up your sleeves!

Mary Alm, UU Asheville Board of Trustees

 

Transition Year Two: What’s Ahead?

Photo of Rev. Dr. Cathy HarringtonDear ones,
As we begin our second year of interim ministry, I wanted to give you a brief overview of what to expect. The Ministerial Search Committee (MSC) has been assigned a Transitions coach with whom they will meet regularly. They will create a congregational survey and hold focus group meetings and cottage meetings so that your voices can be heard as they put together the congregational record that must be completed by late November. In early December, searching ministers will be able to review congregational packets to discern their next steps. Search Committees will receive names of ministers who have expressed interest in early January. They will review the interested ministers’ packets and schedule interviews to discern which of the ministers will become pre-candidates. From the pool of precandidates, the MSC will select one candidate and schedule Candidating Week sometime in April or May. This will be an 8-day week; the candidate will preach the first Sunday, spend the week meeting with committees, staff, congregants, etc. and preach again on the next Sunday. Following the service, the candidate departs, and the congregation votes to call (or not) this candidate as their next settled minister!

This will be a busy and exciting year for UU Asheville, and your participation is critical to the process. The first important event that we invite you to participate in is the Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop scheduled for Saturday, August 20, from 9 am – 12noon. Rev. Keith Kron, the UUA Director of Transitions, will be here to facilitate that workshop, meet with the Search Committee, and preach a sermon that you won’t want to miss on Sunday. (You can read Keith’s bio and a description of the workshop below).

Sunday, August 21, Worship Service with Rev. Keith Kron: “The Future of Religion and Unitarian Universalism.”

Religion, including Unitarian Universalism, is at a moment in time. Can it survive? And what must it do in order to survive? What must we do? We’ll explore our place in today’s world, and why it’s metaphorical meteorites and not a comet that could wipe us out.

Beyond Categorical Thinking Workshop (Saturday, August 20, 9am–1pm Sandburg Hall)

THINK OF A MINISTER. DON’T THINK OF AN ELEPHANT.

Chances are, you thought of both. And distinct images perhaps came to mind. In terms of a minister, what images came to mind? Was it a person of a particular gender, race, or age?

Beyond Categorical Thinking is a highly recommended part of the search process for our congregation. In finding the person who would be the best match for our minister, we could potentially overlook or even let biases keep us from knowing that a particular person would be the best match for us.

Other congregations have assumed that their ideal minister looks a certain way, and often ministers who are not white or male or heterosexual or able-bodied, or of a particular age or class are discounted and seen as “less than” in some ways.

Credentialed ministers in our faith who are People of Color, LGBTQ+, disabled, young, old, working class, etc. still face discrimination as part of the ministerial search process.

In our efforts to find the best match, our congregation will host a Beyond Categorical Thinking worship service and workshop on Saturday, August 20, from 9 am – 12 pm. UUA Director of Transitions, Rev. Keith Kron will meet with our Search Committee, lead the Sunday service, and facilitate a three-hour conversation where will have a chance to examine how we can avoid letting prejudice become a part of our search process. This is yet another way for us to put our faith into lived experience and improve the odds that, regardless of identity, we will find the minister who is the best match for us and who will serve us well.

This opportunity allows the entire congregation fuller participation in the search process. It will allow us to explore our hopes and concerns for a new minister, learn more about the search process, and see how our own history (both personal and congregational) might interfere with our efforts in this search.

So, come on Saturday, August 20, to participate in this service provided by the UUA. Our trainer will be Rev. Keith Kron.

About Rev. Keith Kron

Rev. Keith Kron is the Director of the Transitions Office for the UUA, helping congregations and ministers as they navigate the ministerial search process.
He is the former Director of the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns for the Unitarian Universalist Association. He held that position for over 14 years, from 1996-2010.
He has visited over 450 UU congregations across the continent, helping them in Welcoming Congregation work, Beyond Categorical Thinking workshops, and public witness.
A former elementary school teacher, Keith, also taught an online class for Starr King School for the Ministry, our UU seminary in Berkeley, on children’s literature. He also leads workshops on the enneagram, plays and teaches tennis, and collects children’s books in his spare time (he has over 9,000 of them).
He currently lives in Providence, RI.

Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

An Opportunity for Expanding Our “OWL” Ministry

rev Claudia JiménezIn these post-Roe times, the importance of medically accurate, comprehensive sexuality education cannot be understated.  Access for all to sexuality education is a component of reproductive justice alongside access to healthcare, living wages, safe neighborhoods, abortion healthcare, and other factors that allow women, trans, and non-binary people who can give birth the ability to decide when they are ready to be parents. And to be clear, men also need comprehensive sexuality education to prevent disease, protect their partners, and make responsible decisions about their behavior and paternity.

The opportunity to support families as primary sexuality educators and their children in developing a sex-positive, consent-based, value-centered, and justice-aware understanding of sexuality is something that happens in many UU congregations that use the Our Whole Lives Program, known as OWL. When I was planning for the Justice Ministry Council retreat a few months ago, I reached out to one of our congregational life staff with concerns about how difficult it is to determine which causes to pursue as a congregation. One of her comments was that there are many opportunities for interfaith work or to take the lead of community organizations that already lead in justice work. She invited me to explore what UU Asheville had to offer the community that was unique. OWL immediately came to mind.

OWL was developed in partnership with the United Church of Christ. It offers life-span programs (K-adult) that engage key issues of self-worth, sexual health, responsibility, justice, and inclusivity. Facilitators are trained and undergo a background check. I am grateful for all the trained, active OWL volunteers in our UU Asheville community. Your commitment is needed now more than ever!

When I served the UU congregation in Vero Beach, FL, as Director of Religious Education (DRE) our program was open to the community and word got around as parents shared with friends. These non-UU families often made sure all children in their family participated in the program. Parents from diverse religious backgrounds understood how comprehensive sexual education was crucial for their children. I established a relationship with the local health department and worked to expand the presence of OWL in the community. Such partnerships with UU congregations that benefit the larger community should be more common.

One reason I said “yes” to becoming your Minister of Faith Development four years ago was your strong commitment to religious exploration that offers OWL to children and youth. I have often thought that if I had sufficient resources, I would start an OWL Institute. I believe OWL saves lives. Education about healthy sexuality helps improve decision-making about relationships and sexual behavior. It can help avoid unhealthy relationships, misunderstanding about gender identity and expression, and minimize unintended pregnancy. In these times when federal dollars are still used to fund abstinence-only programs and states are passing laws such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, sexuality education is crucial. Only 11 states mandate sexuality education that is medically accurate. We cannot leave it to government or social media (!) to educate our children about sexuality.

I may not have the funds to begin an OWL institute, but I wonder if OWL could be a ministry that reaches beyond our walls. What is the state of sexuality education in Asheville and Buncombe County? Can we build relationships in our community and through those relationships, explore wider implementation of OWL programs? What grants or partnerships might be available to finance community OWL programs and train facilitators? I’d love to hear your thoughts and invite you to consider becoming a trained OWL facilitator. Post-Roe, that would be an excellent way to serve our community.

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

 

Radical Hospitality as Welcome

When I began this blog as part of our yearly conversation around welcoming, we had not yet heard the news of Rev. Mark Ward’s passing. In the days that followed, I have witnessed your love and compassion for each other. I have watched you create spaces for grief and comfort. Together, you have embodied what it means to be a community, especially when life unfolds in unexpected ways. Together, you have practiced radical hospitality for each other and those who loved Mark. May we continue to care for each other as we travel these days together.

“Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world.” –St. Benedict

To be hospitable is a radical act, according to Benedict, whose rule of radical hospitality has been adapted by communities for centuries. Even for Unitarian Universalists, the concept of radical hospitality as welcome lies at the heart of our congregational life.

When new people arrive at our doors on Sunday, we have greeters who welcome them into our sanctuary, offer them coffee after the service, and introduce them to people who can connect them with our many community offerings. We wear name tags so they can identify us. We engage in a conversation so we may know and be known.

But welcoming doesn’t stop after your first visit.

Radical hospitality as welcome is also how we choose to live into our covenantal faith. As Unitarian Universalists, we are not bound by creeds–beliefs you must hold to join us–but by covenant. Covenant, as Rev. Alicia Forde says, is how “we attend deeply to the question, ‘How are we together?’ Our willingness to extend welcome–seeing the humanity and divinity in another, honoring their culture, identities, stories, and deeply held truths–is part of what it means to embody this faith.”

Welcoming is the first act and the ongoing work for belonging. It is impossible to belong in a place where you don’t feel welcomed. Yes, we welcome first-time visitors, we learn their names, and we invite them for coffee and conversation. And we keep inviting the fellow member we’ve known for five months, five years, five decades into the conversation, into deeper engagement, and to share a cup of coffee. To welcome over and over again is to extend the invitation of belonging.

Welcoming takes many forms, and it takes all of us. It is saying “hello,” and it is volunteering. It is seeing a stranger on Sunday morning and introducing yourself. It is weeding our grounds on Saturday morning with fellow members. It is listening to the story of a long-time member and meeting something new in them and possibly yourself. Radical welcome is the first and constant step we take to become a place of belonging.

Brittany Crawford, Director of Administration

Breathe. Just Breathe.

adam griffithLike you, I sat in disbelief at the title of the email in my inbox yesterday.  Rev. Mark Ward, our previous minister of 17 years, who taught so many of us to breathe was no longer alive.  I couldn’t wrap my head around the loss for his family; his daughters; his grandchildren.  I called my dad and told him how much I loved him.  I couldn’t sleep last night.  My experience was not unique, but Mark certainly was.

His teachings on humanism stuck with me along with his broad and infectious smile, his perpetual energy to do the next right thing, and his comforting words during challenging political times after the 2016 election.  Like many parents in the congregation, he dedicated our children and held our baby in his arms, touching her head with a rose and water.  He called us to action, to stand up for what was right, and not to get too comfortable in our habits and ways of thinking.  Collectively, we have much of his knowledge, wisdom, and spirit and my belief system tells me he is with us when we gather through these shared experiences.  Another aspect of Mark I deeply appreciated was his understanding that our beliefs change over time.  Our personal faith journeys are not static.

I recently spent a beautiful day on the river rafting with a YRUU friend from high school and two of her three children.  My friend lost her father to cancer when she was 18 and her husband to cancer when she was 41.  We grew up together in the UU church.  We went to cons.  We were the face of young, liberal, religious individuals.  But her experiences shaped and molded her belief system and now she is drawn to Christianity (and I must tell you, it is a very attractive proposal right now, with the promise of heaven).  At previous points in my life, I was very judgmental about Christianity, but Mark’s wisdom and the UU principles have taught me to embrace those differences and those people as my own family.

I can understand and appreciate people of different faith traditions as expressions of their life experiences.  Mark taught us so much and I do wish he were here, but I am grateful for the time we had with him.  In the meantime, as we try to make sense of the world, we simply need to breathe.

Just breathe.  Isn’t that what Mark would tell us to do at such a time?

Adam Griffith, Vice President, UU Asheville Board of Directors

Summer 2022

Photo of Rev. Dr. Cathy HarringtonDear Ones,

Rev. Claudia and I are on vacation, but I hope you won’t miss July worship at UU Asheville–the upcoming services will be inspiring, fun, and educational!

On July 10, Roger Jones will share insights about money and relationships. Lea Morris will be joining you straight from SUUSI on July 17, and on July 24, Tobias Van Buren, also straight from SUUSI, will share his insights about learning to practice self-love. On July 31, Sequoyah Rich will focus on Buddhism and will be joined by other members of the UU Asheville Buddhist group.

During our absence, emergency pastoral care will be provided by Rev. Michael Carter from the UU Congregation of the Swannanoa Valley. Please call our pastoral emergency line at 828-771-6279.

I am grateful that I took the time to attend the UUA General Assembly virtually this year–with the state of our nation and the Supreme Court, I found much-needed inspiration. There were two important events not requiring registration that I hope you will watch: The service of the Living Tradition (https://www.uua.org/ga/off-site/2022/slt). I hope we have some in-depth conversations when I return about the future direction of our Unitarian Universalist movement. Susan Frederick Gray’s statement about reproductive justice (https://www.uua.org/pressroom/press-releases/committed-reproductive-justice) is also a must-read and https://www.uua.org/pressroom/press-releases/raffirm-justice-ga.

Also, I hope you will mark your calendars for these upcoming events:

August 20, 9am-12n for the Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop led by UUA Transitions Director Keith Kron. More information to come…

August 28 Water Ceremony

September 7 for an in-person Candlelight Peace Vespers at 7pm that will be preceded by a simple meal of vegetarian soup and bread at 6 pm in Sandburg Hall.

Also, Rev. Claudia and I will be leading book study groups in the coming year, beginning with our selection by Native American author Tommy Orange called There There. The second book is by African American author Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing. Novels for Feb and April will be announced in early January.

Finally, I am leaving tomorrow for a combination two-week vacation/spiritual retreat in England, beginning with cycling in the Cotswolds’ countryside, followed by a week-long canal boat retreat with a UU colleague. It is a bit of a daring adventure since we will be navigating the canal boat and the locks on our own, but it will likely generate some sermon fodder.

I hope you have a safe and enjoyable summer!

In Faith,
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

Our Invitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

———

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

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

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

What Can We Do? 

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

Basic Script:

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

Abortion Clinics in North Carolina 

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

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

Brittany Crawford, Director of Administration

 

A Growth Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do not be alone right now. Gather together.

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

“Love boldly and always speak the truth”

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

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

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

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

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

Doing Church

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

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

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

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

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

Clyde Hardin, President, Uu Asheville Board of Trustees

Blessing the World

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

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

How can we transform violence?

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

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

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

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

In faith,
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

Not Again

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

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

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

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

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

Work on the Vision

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

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

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

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

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

Or two descriptions from the handy internet of ideas:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

UU Asheville + BeLoved Asheville = Making a Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading,
Margaret McAlister, Board Member

Welcome, Brittany Crawford!

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

 

Hello, fellow Unitarian Universalists at UU Asheville!

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

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

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

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

In faith,
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

 

 

Celebremos!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re Open, Open, Open! Come On Down!

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Reaching Out

karen dill

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen Dill, UU Asheville Board of Trustees

 

The Eternal Immigrant

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Budgeting in a Time of High Uncertainty

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

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

Things we know:

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

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

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

Here are some of our choices:

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

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

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In faith,
Rev. Claudia, Minister of Faith Development

How Budgeting Works at UU Asheville

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

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

How is the budget created?

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

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

To estimate expenses, we

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

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

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

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

 

 

 

 

 

Pandemic Living Endures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Stoffels
Member, UU Asheville Board of Trustees