photo of Ryan WilliamsIt was roughly 4 years ago when a major turning point occured in my relationship with UUCA. It was on one random Sunday afternoon in Sandburg Hall that James Casarra and Rev. Mark Ward approached me about stepping in to fill the spot of a Board member who was unable to complete their term. Though I had been a member for quite some time, I had always kept a very low profile and my service to the congregation had largely been played out as a volunteer for “Room in the Inn” or as a RE teacher. Both roles involved work that I truly loved doing even though it meant I often spent more of my “church” time downstairs or at “the Inn” rather than in the Sanctuary. This was a deal that worked well for me as it kept me within my own comfort zone while also keeping me at a comfortable arm’s distance from “other people”. Though James’ and Mark’s request didn’t really feel like my cup of tea, after some thought, I went on and said yes, figuring that I would quietly slip in, fill the spot, and then slip back out a year later.

The following year however, just when I was about to head back out into the shadows, James and Mark came at me again, this time with an even wilder cup of tea than before, requesting that I not only start a new 3 year term but that I also consider assuming the role of Board President. If you think my hesitance was present when asked to join the Board in general, then you can only imagine how unprepared and uncomfortable I was with assuming an actual leadership role! It did not match any of my skill sets nor my personality in general. The arm’s distance would be gone. I imagined this instead to be more like a long awkward full body hug. Yikes.

But I said yes. 

In and of itself, the time commitment and work that came with being the Board chair quickly brought about a big shift in both my personal life as well as in my church life. And just as I was getting settled into the new role, Mark announced his retirement and I soon found myself working as Chair of the Interim Search Committee (not only for one year but for two consecutive years due to Covid. It was a lot. A LOT. But have you ever jumped into a cool swimming hole on a hot summer day? You feel incredibly nervous about what the water will feel like but you eventually jump off the rock anyway, you sink into the deep water, feel a bit of shock at first, and then quickly discover that the water feels great! That’s how I found the experience of jumping into deeper church work. It was a shock at first. And then it felt great. 

For the last several years, the experience serving with the Board as President as well as with the Search Committee has served to push me deep out of my comfort zone and have challenged me and strengthened me in ways that I believe have made me a better person who holds a more well-stocked toolkit than I did prior. It also

resulted in me learning so many new things about how UUAsheville works and how I relate to it that strangely enough, “church talk” has become one of my favorite topics of conversation! It has also introduced me to so many people that I might not have ever had the opportunity to know and love. Overall, serving in this role these last few years has strengthened my connections and deepened my love for this place. For these reasons, I will forever hold this time as an important and powerfully rewarding period of my life.

However, the return to school this year has been an experience like none I have experienced in 20 years in schools. There is hardly a box in my brain in which I can fit in and process the daily traumas and stresses I am witnessing in my students, all of which have only been compounded by the sudden lack of resources our school district has to offer in both money and staff. (While the needs of our students are unprecedented, we still currently have 60 positions that are vacant across our district!) 

And perhaps because I am crazy, I have somehow managed to decide that this already surreal educational moment is the perfect time for me to begin the process of pursuing my National Boards. The National Boards program is a teaching certification process that might take me up to two years and will require tremendous amounts of additional time and energy. 

So though my work with the Board over the last 3 and ½ years has strengthened my relationship with the church in profound and positive ways, I have come to the decision that I need to step down from the Board so that I can maintain a balance, both spiritually and mentally, in order to jump into this new and unfamiliar pool of cold water.  Over the last 6 weeks, I have been in conversation with the amazing Board Council team, Rev. Cathy, and Rev. Claudia about this decision and I am overwhelmingly grateful for the compassion and kindness and care that they have offered me as I contemplated my decision to step down. They really are the most top notch of people and have become not only friends but heroes and role models of a sort to me as well and it has been an honor and privilege and even a blessing (can I say that word as a UU?! ha!) to serve in this role. I am excited to say that the amazing Clyde Hardin will be stepping into the role of President moving forward. I am proud of not only the work that we have done together as a Board but even more so of the work that I have done on myself in the process. And though I will miss the work that happens around the Board table, I also plan to continue to be involved as an active participant in the work of the congregation. I guess there is no heading back into arm’s distance and the full body hugs are here to stay. After all, the congregation needs each one of us, now more than ever. So though I am leaving one role, I plan fully to step into other ones. I plan to continue to be here on Sundays be it virtually or face to face. I plan to pitch in when asked with odd jobs as they come up. And yep, I plan to look for other UUAsheville groups in action that I can join forces with to do the good work of this community. If I have learned anything in the last 2 and ½ years as Board President, it’s just how important it is that EVERYONE find a way to pitch in and participate and if I truly love this place, then Board or no Board, I will have to keep doing my part in helping hold the ship together so that we can all stay afloat. 

Big hugs and love to you all and thanks for everything you all not only do for UUAsheville and the larger community but what yall have done for me and my family.  

Ryan WIlliams