Q’ Pasa? What’s Happening?

rev Claudia JiménezWhat’s happening with our goal of working to become an anti-racist congregation? The Racial Justice Advisory Council (RJAC) has been meeting twice a month since the board’s invitation to the congregation to work toward this goal. Our team members are Noah Hall, Eleanor Lane, Melissa Murphy, Ed Prestemon and Missy Read. I serve as staff liaison. Initially, we focused on identifying a tool to assess where we are as a congregation on the journey to becoming anti-racist, and to set a timeline for collecting feedback, organizing focus groups and providing a report with recommendations to the board. Whew! We also discussed the importance of having an external accountability partner with equity training and leadership experience to support the council’s work. As I interviewed possible partners, I learned a lot from our conversations. It became apparent that we were trying to rush into creating a timeline without laying the groundwork for the committee to do this work. Each person I spoke to emphasized the importance of the council doing their own work to develop a shared analysis of what we mean by anti-racism, multiculturalism, diversity and racial justice, and how these concepts relate to our goal of an anti-racist congregation. As a result of these conversations, our meetings now include grounding work as well as preparations for rolling out an assessment tool. We have also created a communication plan to keep you informed of our progress through the e-News, website, Facebook and worship during “The Work of the Congregation.” All of this will be launched with a congregational letter that will be shared in March. I am grateful and excited to be on this journey with such a committed team. As we prepare to transition to interim ministry, exploring what kind of congregation we want to be when we emerge from pandemic isolation will support the work of the interim minister we will welcome in August. Along the way, your feedback and questions are welcome.

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Almost Time for the Annual Budget Drive

young boy and girl pulling on rope on one side of tug-a-warLike everything else, the Annual Budget Drive looks a little different this year.  No parties, no receptions, no Zoom events; you’ll just receive a few reminders (how many is a “few” anyway?) that we need your annual commitment for next year to make everything UUCA does possible ­– oh, and you might see a fun video clip or two.

While the budget drive is a little more low-key than usual, your commitment is as important as ever. The commitments of our members sustain UUCA and the work we do in our community. While COVID has closed our campus, our work continues. Here are just a few of the ways UUCA has continued to connect and engage members and carry love into our community.

  • Our kids are still attending RE sessions, with the RE staff doing their best to offer interesting, fun Zoom lessons, opportunities for safe in-person gatherings, and sending out RE “care” packages called Church in a Box
  • Our adults are engaged in covenant groups, adult faith development classes, and even the ongoing work of the church as “normal” meetings continue as Zoom affairs
  • Somehow, we never missed a Sunday of worship services as we flipped overnight from in-person to pre-recorded and live Zoom services
  • Injustice in the world doesn’t stop and our justice ministry actions haven’t either as we had plenty of congregants involved in get-out-the-vote activities and have seriously begun a congregation-wide effort (that will last a lifetime) to confront our own complicity in white supremacy culture
  • UUCA has provided direct financial contributions to CoThinkk, Homeward Bound, and UU Forward Together (the NC UU justice consortium) outside of our Community Plate donations

In a year when our key words are BE FLEXIBLE, we have been graced with a whole new set of UUCA members who have stepped in to lead when others could not (because we’re stronger together).  Our congregants continue to be generous with their time and their financial commitment. So thank you…let’s continue the work.

We’re keeping the Annual Budget Drive simple this year. Here are four easy ways you can make your commitment. They all work, but you only need to choose one:

  1. Super easy, click this link and fill out the form.
  2. Send in the commitment form you will receive in the mail in a week or so.
  3. Write an email to Tish Murphy with the dollar amount you’re committing to this year.
  4. Make your commitment in Realm.

Or if you want an excuse to talk with someone who doesn’t live in your house, skip all of the above and just call Tish Murphy at church on Mondays or Tuesdays (828.254.6001), or Linda Topp (919.593.0340) any old time.

One more thing, we really need your commitment by April 1st (seriously, no fooling) so we can get our budget put together for next year.

Show your love and appreciation for UUCA by giving generously this year.  We can turn our dreams into reality because we are stronger together—even when we’re not …well…together.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration


Resuming the Search For An Interim

With the coming 1 year anniversary of covid into our world, I have found myself thinking about memories of the things I was doing just before the world suddenly shifted. There have been several moments where I find myself recalling the events and activities from last Spring as Just Before or Suddenly After. For example:

  • As a teacher just before the covid shut-down, I was helping organize our big Spring field trip to a VIrginia science camp. Suddenly after, the trip was cancelled. 
  • As a parent just before, my family was starting to talk about Spring Break travel plans. Suddenly after, we rarely traveled out of our yard. 
  • And as the President of the UUCA Board just before, I was working on the Interim Search Committee to begin preparing for the transition of Reverend Mark’s retirement. Suddenly after, Mark made the incredibly gracious offer to postpone his retirement for a year and the Interim search was halted. For that generous offer, we will always be grateful.

And here we are, almost a year later, and Spring field trips are online and my family will be enjoying a lovely vacation…at home. But one thing that is not still on hold or being called off is Mark’s greatly deserved retirement this coming Summer. And though I personally will be sad to see him go, I think I speak for all when I say that we are excited and happy for him and the adventure (or lack thereof) ahead of him. 

Over the last few weeks, groups and individuals across our congregation have started to resume the work they had put on pause last year and have begun creating opportunities for us to share our gratitude and say our goodbyes to Mark as our Reverend. Meanwhile, the Board of Trustees and the Interim Search Committee have begun their work to begin searching and preparing for the 2-year Interim who will lead us through the ministerial transition. The Interim Search Committee is a 4 person team that is made up by myself and returning members Tory Schmitz and Charlie Marks. And though we are incredibly grateful to the time and energy put in last year by former Search Committee member Liz Rumbaugh, we are also very excited to welcome Iris Hardin to the team to serve in Liz’s place. Thankfully, the timeline for this search process is very specific and laid out for us by the greater UUA Transitions Office and as a result of the preparation work that was done last Spring by the Search Committee, we are on or even ahead of schedule when it comes to the Interim Search timeline. That is a very good thing!

As for the path forward over the next few months, here are the primary steps we will be taking:

  • February-April: In preparation for the interim search, UUA requires that the search committee complete an informational packet by providing overviews on everything from our congregational governance rules to our fiscal health to programs offered and even general area information. Much of this information was entered into the database last year and currently the committee members are working to complete any unfinished overviews and update them with any relevant “suddenly after” information. Though it is not due until April, it is our goal to have it completed and submitted early to the Transition Office by March so that they have time to review it and provide us with any potential corrective feedback. The official due date for the Interim Search Packet is April 23rd. During this time, Board members, Search Committee members, and UCAA staff will be in conversation with the UUA Transition Office to develop the interview questions and evaluative criteria to be used when candidates are identified.
  • May 4th  UUA will provide the Interim Search Committee with a list of up to 8 Interim candidates.
  • May 5th – May 17th Interim Search Committee will review applicant packets and interview selected candidates. Whew! That is going to be a busy time! 😉
  • May 18th: The Interim Search Committee will submit a list of yes/no/maybes to the Transition Office. The selected minister(s) will then be contacted in order to determine if they are still interested and willing however this will not be when we make an offer. 
  • May 20th (noon!): Interim Search Committee extends offer to selected Interim Minister. The offer may only be made at noon eastern time on May 20th.

 In the coming months, members of the Board as well as the Interim Search Committee will be checking in across various formats to update everyone with the status of our search. We will also be providing ongoing information regarding Interim Ministry itself and what we might expect and experience during the 2-year interim process. In addition to the e-news, we will be communicating via remote Sunday and vespers services, via Facebook posts, and on the UUCA website. We know that there are unique challenges to getting the information to everyone during this physically separated time and so we welcome suggestions as to how we can spread the word and answer questions. 

There will be lots of love and sadness and celebration as we prepare for Reverend Mark’s departure but there is also an incredibly exciting time ahead as well as we begin this new adventure. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me or to any of us on the Board or Search Committee with questions or concerns. My email address with the Board is board@uuasheville.org or you can call me at 919-619-7298.

I miss seeing you all and I hope you are all hanging in there. 

Much love and distant hugs to you all.
Ryan Williams, Board of Trustees

Widening the Lens

Last month I told you about a project I have set for us over the next several months to explore different dimensions of liberal or progressive theology. What at the most basic level distinguishes us as a religious movement?

 We began in January with an exploration of how we might describe our “eschatology”–our understanding of the beginning and end of all things. In early March we’ll move on to consider our “ecclesiology,” or our theory of the nature of the church, the institution that gathers us. More will follow.

But before we get there, I want to take a detour to consider another aspect of the religious search, one that doesn’t always get much attention but that strongly influences our religious lives: our racial identity.

Theology is presented as a kind of abstract discipline regarding universal principles that soar high above the particulars of our daily life. But that’s inauthentic. Our lived experience has a lot to do with how we organize our thoughts around our religious lives.

Review the roster of great theological thinkers and you find mostly a list of white, European men whose perspective has dominated religious thought. That means that in any theological conversation their thinking, their perspectives lie at the center. That puts the thinking of others – non-white writers and thinkers, not to mention non-Europeans, and for that matter non-male writers and thinkers – on the periphery.

Bypassing those voices tends not only to impoverish our understanding but also to invalidate those voices, to make them appear inconsequential. But as Unitarian Universalists we affirm that all people have inherent worth and dignity and a voice worth attending to.

To open the way for the larger multiplicity of voices, our challenge is to find ways to de-center the predominant white, male perspective. That’s not to say that their perspective isn’t worth knowing – it is – but it’s only part of the picture.

One way to correct for past practices of shutting people out is to make a new practice of inviting them in. My goal is to take a step in that direction in a series of two services in February. Given all the work we are doing around racial justice, I have chosen as a focus the work of the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, one of the most important Black religious writers and thinkers of the 20th century.

 I’m framing these services as opportunities to “encounter” Thurman as a unique, progressive voice. What I present will, of course, come through the lens of my own perspective, but my goal will be to “center” his perspective for a moment as we work through our religious understanding. I make no claim to a unique way of thinking about his work, but while we are doing this theological digging, I think you will find him a voice worth attending to.

In March, my colleague, Minister of Faith Development Rev. Claudia Jiménez, will take a similar tack, leading a service focusing on another figure, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz. Sor Juana was a writer living in 17th century Mexico who used poetry and drama to develop a kind of public theology, but who was marginalized at the time as a woman born outside of Europe.

These two figures are but a sampling of the wealth of voices who might inform our religious understanding if we would de-center our thinking and widen the lens of our view.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister


What could they possibly be doing in Religious Education this year?   

Does UUCA still have children and families? YES! Are they being served in our virtual church world? YES! UUCA’s core values of Connection, Inspiration, Compassion, and Justice still drive our programming and yes, although not our preferred in-person weekly church gatherings, we are enjoying our time learning and growing together in Religious Education this year! Take a little tour with us as we share some highlights of this year’s RE program in this strange COVID landscape.

Sunday RE

In Spirit Play (preK-3rd grade) we shared the story, All the Colors We Are / Todos Los Colores de Mi de nuestra piel: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color by Katie Kissinger, talked about our identities, and created self-portraits.

Spirit Play serves PreKindergarten-3rd grade families this year. It is a joy to gather to feed our spirits as we share our rituals, joys and sorrows, and move, create art, and hear stories that ground us in our liberal religion – all via Zoom! We have explored grief, gratitude, mindfulness, emotions, and identity through our monthly congregational themes and have incorporated a racial justice lens more intentionally this year. We have imagined a better world together – using Legos! In Spirit Play, we are growing compassionate, thoughtful, equity minded UUs — and they inspire us! Bonus this year: because many parents are “in the room where it (RE) happens,” the whole family is growing their UU faith together! 

4th-6th Grade Group began the year by deciding how to be together, discussing and creating a covenant just as we would any year. That’s where the similarities to a “normal” RE year ended. Instead of using a traditional curriculum, we forged a new path by using the Soul Matters themes and materials to apply a UU lens to a variety of topics. We have done a lot of learning together, using videos, readings, poems and discussion to explore topics like the true story of thanksgiving celebrations in America and lesser known activists of the Civil Rights Movement. We also enjoy the time together being silly and laughing and playing games like “Would you rather?” We also had a successful in person, safe gathering in the fall where we enjoyed boxed lunches and played Pandemic Pictionary together outside on the grounds of UUCA.

Some of our junior youth group families on a masked hike.

Jr Youth Group is where our 7th-9th grade youth gather 1-2 times a month on Zoom to create sacred space together. Much like the younger 4th-6th grade group, we examine social justice issues and the monthly theme, we also make sure that we have time for checking in, venting about pandemic life, and learning new mindfulness strategies like deep listening and meditation. We also take time to discuss big issues, like the election in the fall and our relationships with friends and family. We recently spent a session imagining what life will be like when the pandemic is over and had a good time taking a little break from reality. Several members of the group met up for a socially distanced hike in the fall, and we plan more of that when the weather is better in the spring.

Some UUCA youth joined forces with Asheville Greenworks for a community litter clean-up on Halloween 2020.

YRUU – our Young Religious Unitarian Universalists 10th-12th graders have been connecting both through “Masked Meet-ups” (when deemed safe enough to gather outdoors, socially distant, with masks) and virtual hangouts via Zoom. Living out UUCA’s core values, our teens joined Asheville Greenworks for a litter clean-up this Fall; made care packages for our UUCA college students; had discussions and activities about identity, the elections, stress; and they have baked, hiked, played, competed in a friendly “UU Olympics,” and more! Always a chalice. Always a check-in. Currently some of our teens are planning a worship service. We hope you tune in to the YRUU-led worship February 28! 

Some comments from a few of youth:

  • “…The connections and friendships we have made in YRUU are perhaps more valuable than ever before….We’ve had zooms meetings where we’ve learned more about each other and have further kindled friendships through discussion, reflection, and of course, games. But we’ve also had the opportunity to be together in person through safe and socially distanced meet ups such as movies, hikes, Olympic Games, and community clean ups.” – Nick
  • “This year…YRUU has been a great way to connect with my UUCA peers. The corona virus has seriously impacted the way we go about our days and church has given me a sense of normalcy. I’m so grateful to have gotten to this opportunity to see people and make memories in person, not just online. We’ve been able to do things such as going a hike, have a bonfire, and watch a movie. It’s been a super fun experience!” – May

Family Ministry

Faith development at home: our Religious Education program includes some home deliveries this year to nurture the spirits of our children and youth! This family set up their own sacred space from materials they received in their “UU in a box” gift from UUCA!
  • UU in a Box: faith development at home! Our religious education program includes some home deliveries this year to nurture the spirits of our children and youth. We provide enriching activities and materials to support families to live their UU values throughout the week (not just on Sunday)!
  • Whole Church Halloween celebration: masked and distant costume parade and our friends Maria and Esteban’s taco truck!
  • Family Ministry blog on our website is updated at least monthly with ideas for exploring our monthly themes at home as a family. These are also shared on Facebook.
  • Weekly emails to parents include online events and learning opportunities, as well as links to some of the resources that we are using in RE and beyond.
  • Time for All Ages every Sunday as well as regular multigenerational online Sunday services designed for the whole family to enjoy together.
  • Parent groups
    • The anti-racism parenting group began as a summer book study on race-conscious parenting, has continued with monthly conversations, and soon will be forming covenant group(s) to continue the collective work of raising and growing alongside the next generation of brave, compassionate, and racially just UUs.
    • OWL parent group: a covenant style group that uses the Parents and Caregivers as Sexuality Educators program from the UUA to lean into the commitment to provide children and youth with comprehensive sexual education. Parents get the chance to learn new skills and information around talking about sex with their families with the benefit of talking it out with other parents.

We are grateful for the volunteers who directly support our RE families this year. Thanks especially to our leaders: Laurel Cadwallader Stolte, Jennifer Oversmith, Iris Hardin, Brett Johnson, Langdon Martin, Kimberly Mason, Anna Martin, Kay Aler Maida, Wendy Fletcher, Gina Phairas, and Jon Miles. And to the RE Council: April DeLac, Margaret McAllister, Jennifer Gorman, Kay Aler Maida and Amy Moore.

Kim Collins, RE Coordinator
Jen Johnson, RE Coordinator

Wondering about a Post-COVID UUCA

Sooner or later we will be meeting in person again.  This has been the topic of many, many articles in the church world.  What will it look like?  Who will come?  What does the near-future hold?  Let’s use this month’s worship theme, imagination, to look ahead.

In this article, which is the basis for a conversation the Leadership Development Committee is leading on Monday night at 7pm (contact James Cassara for the Zoom link), there are 5 predictions that many people are making about that future:

  1. In person doesn’t necessarily mean in our building(s).
  2. In-person attendance in the building will be a [lower] percentage of your real church.
  3. You’ll use the building to reach people online, not use online to get people in the building.
  4. In-person attendance will probably become more infrequent church attendance.
  5. Digital church will be more of a front door and a side door than a back door.

A different, short article makes similar points:

  1. Many people may not come back to Sunday morning services. In fact, plan on attendance dropping by at least half of what it was before COVID in many places. That’s ok, but it will require a new imagination about what sustainable ministry looks like going forward. Online church is here to stay. Sunday morning is not the end-all and be-all. Now you can be a seven-day-a-week church, a community unleashed in the world to reweave the generative relationships that hold us together as neighbors and friends.
  2. Belonging is being redefined beyond membership. Given that we can now participate in seemingly countless ways, membership is a less useful concept to describe how one belongs to a community. It’s helpful only in describing governance and voting. It’s less meaningful as a descriptor of the scale of people aligned around your church’s mission. Words like “participants,” “partners,” and “investors” may prove more productive.
  3. We will need new organizational and staffing structures. Most churches were staffed for a time that is not coming back. We will need to reimagine our staffing needs, capacities, and goals. For many, this will not lead to massive layoffs but rather a redefinition of roles that more authentically aligns with the work to be done.

So what does this mean for UUCA?  We already know for sure that we will possibly livestream but for sure video-record our worship services. What equipment and staffing do we need for that?  Will we still hold 2 services on Sunday mornings?  Will RE look the same on Sunday mornings?  Will people be willing to attend if they still have to wear masks and social distance (though with vaccines around, things should be safer—but safe enough to resume life as it was?)  Will people be willing to attend coffee hour outside?  (We tried this right when the Welcome Project finished (when we got the new front patio) and no one went out there.)  If we do decide that we will be doing way more meeting outside, what infrastructure do we need to support that (i.e., shade coverings, seating)?  How might we choose to use our buildings differently?  Can we/should we offer programming for people who will NEVER become “members?”

And all this happens WHILE we have a new minister AND we apply ourselves to the work of anti-racism.  Sheesh!  Exciting. Scary. Intimidating. Energizing.

I’m sure there are more questions (questions are easy, answers are harder).  But for right now, I want UUCA to THINK BIG!!!!  Imagine!  Dream!  Go beyond what’s “possible.”  Who do we want to be next?

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

The Sacred Work of Grief

Though I make my living in part through writing, I find elusive the words to convey the insanity we are living through now. Just a week ago, we witnessed a violent attempt, incited by a sitting president, to topple U.S. democracy. Meanwhile, we are in month 11 of pandemic which continues to kill multiple thousands of Americans each day, my beloved brother among them.

Grief, great grief, is everywhere. Each of us carries some of it around as a result of these and other losses, large and small. A friend recently loaned me a book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, by Francis Weller. It has been helpful to put a framework around some of these mystifying, challenging, ever-shifting feelings. Weller writes that

Sorrow is a sustained note in the song of being alive. To be human is to know loss in its many forms. This should not be seen as a depressing truth. Acknowledging this reality enables us to find our way into the grace that lies hidden in sorrow. We are most alive at the threshold between loss and revelation; every loss ultimately opens the way for a new encounter.

In my case, one of those new encounters was an invitation to join UUCA’s Good Grief monthly support group. Through vulnerable sharing and deep listening, the group witnesses and holds a container for each other’s sorrow. It was an experience of connecting and healing in community that I didn’t know how much I needed until I received it.

 “We are remade in times of grief, broken apart and reassembled,” Weller writes, a statement that resonated deeply with me. What will my life be like as I get used to my brother’s absence? What will our country look like in another six months, a year, a decade? How will we come back together when the pandemic is over? Lots of questions, few answers. But we can be assured that reassembling is already taking place. The task seems to be to reassemble ourselves in a way that honors what really matters –we can look to our UU principles for inspiration here if we like – thereby contributing to the healing of ourselves, others, and the world.

Louise Anderson, Board of Trustees

Deja Vu All Over Again

I had a chuckle recently when, just out of curiosity, I took a look at the eNews column I wrote at this time last year. In that column, I took note of the fact of how rare it was to be looking ahead to a double year–2020–remarking that it had been a century since the last one–1919. I did take note of the war that consumed the world in 1919, which thankfully we have managed to avoid a century later. But little did I anticipate that the two years would share a different notorious commonality – massive pandemics that sickened and, in our case continues to kill, millions world-wide.

I did wonder if 2020 might be “an epoch-making” year and guessed that if we did it might have something to do with the upcoming election.  Well, I got that one right, but I could never have guessed how.

I said I expected the year would also be important to UUCA, with my planned retirement, which, of course, was delayed – see paragraph 1. And I said that to prepare us for the transition I would devote some time in worship to “the basics of our religion,” choosing as a way to do that a series of services about our 7 principles. I did that and found it a helpful discipline for us, even if it turned out I was sticking around. This year as, once again, I look forward to my retirement I want to attempt a similar project, and we’ll see where this takes us.

 Our religious lives are challenged in so many ways by all that we’re living through that I thought it would be worthwhile to look at our grounding. To do that, I’m going to use as a prompt a book called A House for Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion in the 21st Century. Its authors are two respected leaders in our movement; Rev. Rebecca Ann Parker and Rev. John Buehrens.

 The book uses the metaphor of a house to describe the basic theological premises of our tradition. In a series of services, we’ll work our way up from the ground we build on to the foundation, the walls, the roof, the welcoming rooms and the threshold. And we’ll touch on such subjects as what we understand to be the beginning and end of all things, what religious community looks like, how we cope with evil, how we understand God or ultimacy, what it is to be human, and what the mission of liberal or progressive community is.

It’s a lot, and needless to say what I have to offer will give you only a tasting of a very rich feast. But I hope it will be enough to get you reflecting more deeply on who we are, what we have to do, and where you situate yourself in this hopeful tradition. We begin this Sunday in The Garden. See you there.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

The Meaning of the Season

Photo of Minister Claudia JiménezThis year our winter holiday observances are unlike those of previous years. Most of us will be at home with immediate family or alone. Many yearly holiday trips have been reluctantly cancelled as, weary of the pandemic, we wait for vaccines to reach our communities. Some of us have been healthy, others have become sick and recuperated. Still others are struggling with recovery. We all mourn the loss of over 300,000 Americans and millions worldwide to COVID-19 even though we may not know how to mourn such an event. That is what is on most of our minds as we prepare to observe the winter holidays. It has been a difficult year. A year of grieving lives lost, grieving cancelled gatherings with family and friends, grieving the loss of the illusion that we live in an ideal democracy, and so much more.

We grieve our losses as we also acknowledge this was also a time of celebration. There were graduations, weddings, births, and other milestones among the members in our communities. UUCA members and friends worked on getting out the vote. We anticipate the inauguration of a president who promises to work to bring our nation together and the first woman of the Global Majority to serve as US vice president. UUCA’s online programs, worship, and projects including “Church in a Box” and masked meet-ups for youth and adults have helped keep our community present to each other. Our board is challenging us to become an anti-racist congregation and a committee is working to explore what that entails.

What can you add to the list? What joys have you experienced alongside the grief, sadness, and frustration that you have experienced this year?  I invite you to take a moment to reflect on the many causes for gratitude in your life. And, in the spirit of the generosity that is part of the season, I invite you to consider what you can offer others. Monika Grasley, who facilitates Assets Based Community Development, invites us to think of sharing the gifts of our talents and skills this holiday season. I wonder which speak to you.

  1. Gifts of the HEAD– things people know about (What special knowledge, expertise, and/or life experience do you have that can be shared with others?)
  2. Gifts of the HEART– things people care about (What things are really important to you, that you deeply care about and would like to share with others?)
  3. Gifts of the HANDS – skills and talents people have (What practical skill do you bring with you, that you are good at, proud of and you wish to share with others?)
  4. Gifts of the HEEL– things people do to stay grounded (What spiritual practices do you do and are willing to share with others?)
  5. Gifts of HUMAN Connection – things people do to stay connected (What ways do you build community for yourself and others?)

Lastly, I invite you to listen to the holiday message from our denominational president, Susan Frederick Gray https://www.uua.org/pressroom/press-releases/may-we-simply-be

May we observe the winter holidays in a way that resonates with our values
and may we act in the spirit of giving and generosity that permeates the season.

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development


Be Like Grinch: Expand Your Spirit

It’s the season of giving, right?  So maybe it’s a good time to spend some time considering what generosity means.  I’ve recently read two pieces that have made me think about that—again.  The first is from essays in the book, Turning Point: Essays on a New Unitarian Universalism, a book that will be used as a source of discussion in an upcoming offering from the Leadership Development Committee.

In the essays by past UUA President Peter Morales and Fredric Muir (the book’s editor), I am reminded that generosity is not just about money.  Just like the word stewardship, generosity covers a much larger territory.  Rev. Muir says that, “Unitarian Universalism generosity is the core value in our civic and faith life.  In our foundational documents, themes of generosity radiate.  We are a people of a generous spirit.” Rev. Morales notes, “A true generosity of spirit is eager to share—and that means Unitarian Universalists sharing ourselves and our communities as well as our treasure.”

This leads us to ask ourselves, “How can UUCA prove its generous spirit to the greater world?”  (That’s your homework assignment.)

The second piece is part of an email from the UU Church of the Larger Fellowship. Aisha Hauser, part of the CLF Lead Ministry Team, writes about UU congregations, noting that the core value of generosity is not always evident.

…This scarcity mentality extends to money and resources. While there is the desire to share money and resources, it is not a given. Each year, every UU entity asks for money.

What if we started from a place of abundance? …What if we made it a practice to tithe generously to our UU faith communities rather than have them ask each year during a pledge drive or a service auction? If all the effort put in the ask and putting on these events went to community organizing and other forms of community care? [From Linda:  I ask myself this all the time. At least the auction provides fellowship opportunities.]

Is that a way we can prove UUCA’s generous spirit to the greater world?  (A little homework hint.)

Peace and blessings for a way better year—all around,
Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Hope is Found in Our Network of Mutuality

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote these words:
We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
There are some things in our social system to which all of us ought to be maladjusted.
Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear, only love can do that.
We must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation.
The foundation of such a method is love.
Before it is too late, we must narrow the gaping chasm between our proclamations of peace and our lowly deeds which precipitate and perpetuate war.
One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal.
We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.
We shall hew out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.

In reflecting on MLK’s wise insights, I can visualize the “mountain of despair” that so many people in this country have been experiencing since early in the year. Despair is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the utter loss of hope.” The year 2020 seems to feel that way to many of us.

While circumstances vary for each individual, collectively we have experienced anxiety about a pandemic that is on a ravaging path throughout our country and the world. We have witnessed the injustice of racial inequities and violence in our communities and the devastation of wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding leaving people without homes and possessions. We feel the interpersonal strain and alienation fueled by the bitter political divide of the times. The mountain of despair has grown enormous and the needs are great. But peace and love and hope are still present–ever abiding, though sometimes we must look hard to find them through the haze.

Even in our virtual, distanced state, this Unitarian Universalist community offers each of us a network of mutuality from which we can draw support, love and caring, encouragement and hope, even peace. We are fortunate to have weekly opportunities to share worship, learn and grow as Unitarian Universalists, pursue justice, and practice generosity. Your UUCA leaders are working diligently to provide these opportunities now, with an eye for a bright and fulfilling future for this congregation and the wider community.

Thank you for being a part of this vital network of mutuality, through which we find hope and bring about the change we visualize. May it be so.

Laurel Amabile, Board of Trustees

Making Good Soil

In this tumultuous time, when our rising anxiety over the intensifying COVID pandemic is only matched by our exhaustion with political turmoil, I have been on the look-out for sources of calm and consolation. And I am happy to report I have found one.

It came in comments I read the other day from Robin Wall Kimmerer. You may be familiar with her as an accomplished botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation who is author of the bestselling “Braiding Sweetgrass.” If you haven’t had a chance to read the book, I strongly commend it to you for how it beautifully winds together wisdom from native traditions and from the scientific world.

In a recent interview, Kimmerer said that, “when we’re looking at things we cherish falling apart, when inequities and injustices are so apparent, people are looking for another way that we can be living. We need interdependence rather than independence.”

She added that the other day she was at her home raking leaves into a compost pile when it got her thinking: “This is our work as humans in this time,” she said. “To build good soil in our gardens, to build good soil culturally and socially, and to create potential for the for the future. What will endure through almost any kind of change? The regenerative capacity of the earth. We can help create conditions for renewal.”

Precisely! We walked away from the last election both gladdened and troubled: we got some of the change we wanted, but not all. It’s up to us, then, to keep on working the change, brick by brick, step by step, and not get discouraged when the going gets hard. If we can’t create renewal directly, then we can bring about the conditions for renewal. That means living by our values, reaching out, cultivating both kindness and resilience.

We may need to put our garden to bed for the winter, but if we make good soil, we can create the conditions for the change to come.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister


Gratitude & Song

Photo of Minister Claudia JiménezTomorrow, many of us will observe a multi-dimensional holiday in a complicated year wrapped in an epic election and tied up with a pandemic bow. What a year this will have been! For many, the Thanksgiving mythology was replaced by recognition of the genocide and displacement in the foundation of this country even as we embrace a secular celebration of gratitude for family, friends, and the joys they bring. This year the pandemic complicates our gatherings. For virtual connections with loved ones – those tantalizing, frustrating screen sessions that leave us partially sated but nevertheless must sustain us through this strange time – are the only option. I ache to hug my daughters even as I’m glad they are behaving rationally and staying in their homes. This is a difficult, lonely time heightened by our inability to embrace each other. So please know that your UUCA family is here. Rev. Mark, pastoral visitors, and I are available for a phone call or a porch visit.

Even in this weird, seemingly apocalyptic time, there are many opportunities for gratitude, for the simple gifts we receive each day: birds at the feeder, a beautiful sunrise, squirrels on a fence post, kindness from a neighbor or friend. What else can you add to the list?

I am deeply grateful for our UUCA staff who create virtual spaces to connect with those of you who have the bandwidth to join a Zoom program, watch a service recording, make phone calls or write notes to fellow congregants, participate in spiritual deepening groups, engage in committee meetings or attend an in-person, masked, physically distant gathering. I am grateful to serve a community that holds each other in spirit and care. UUCA is not the building, it is each of you, engaged as you are able in this difficult moment. Your efforts and stalwart support are so reassuring that we will survive this time with energy and a renewed purpose.

Thank you for being part of this loving, evolving, community. I invite you to listen to three musical pieces that speak to me at this time. I hope you enjoy them. I also invite you to share on our Facebook pages or via email your reactions and music that fills your spirit this time of year.

Gracias a la Vida
This song written by Chilean Violetta Parra and sung by Argentinian social activist Mercedes Sosa is on my inspiration playlist. I listen to it often.


Grateful: A Love Song to the World
Musicians Nimo Patel and Daniel Nahmond produced this uplifting song of gratitude with participation from people from all over the world. I wonder what your gratitude words/phrases would be if you could put them on the “gratitude tree.”

Reflection on Healing
This video was produced by the Asheville Symphony in partnership with the Asheville Museum of Art. Art and music create a space for reflection on the healing that our country desperately needs. Grateful for the creativity and talent in our Asheville community.

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Donation Sunday is December 6!

christmas tree with ornamentsDon’t look now but we’re rounding the corner to “the holiday season.” Of course, it’s a COVID holiday season so there’s no telling how things will go but we can assume there will be a high premium for creative celebration ideas.

UUCA Wish List
Usually I write a blog around now that provides information about “things” that UUCA needs that can be funded through our “wish list.” UUCA’s operating budget (general fund) handles our usual expenses, but often we need things, like an upgrade to our “backyards” or video equipment, for which we ask for money. This year I could mention that we’re planning to complete a seating area outside of Sandburg Hall, so if you’re inclined to designate “Wish List” for a donation, that’s where we’ll spend it.

Donation Sunday Is December 6
UUCA is in good financial condition considering the circumstances. Consequently, we’d be happy if you chose to make holiday donations to charitable organizations that you respect. For this season, UUCA is encouraging donations to several organizations.

  • Unitarian Universalist Service Committee through the Guest at Your Table program. You can pick up boxes and information at UUCA on December 6, 1-4pm. NOTE: RE families will receive their boxes in the Dec. “Church in a Box.”
  • Beloved Asheville – donations of money are always needed(!), but UUCA is also collecting a variety of winter gear for those experiencing homelessness. Drop of your donations December 6.
    • Tents  ###  coats  ###  blankets  ###  gloves  ###   hot hands  ###   sleeping bags
  • Tree of Happiness & Hope – Through a UUCA member who works as an assistant principal at Sand Hill-Venable Elementary School, we have offered bring some holiday joy to their students and families, many of whom are struggling financially this year. Pick up a tag for a specific recipient on Donation Sunday or click here to find out more and donate online.

Year-end Giving from IRAs
Normally, individuals who turn age 70-1/2 in the previous year are required to take a minimum amount out of their IRA each year. Because of this, many folks make a direct donation from their IRAs to UUCA to avoid paying taxes on that amount. However, in 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, waives required minimum distributions during 2020 for IRAs and retirement plans, including beneficiaries with inherited accounts. This waiver includes RMDs for individuals who turned age 70 ½ in 2019 and took their first RMD in 2020. We are still happy to take donations for your own tax reasons, though.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Annus Horribilis

2020 in the United States is undoubtedly a year “which will live in infamy.” This “annus horribilis,” to quote her majesty Queen Elizabeth II, certainly echoes events in the life of the British queen, as her children’s marriages began to fall apart and Windsor Castle merrily burned. The parallels would be entertaining if not so tragic.

As I began thinking about this blog, the election was a couple of days in the future. Yesterday, I spent my day as an election official in Crabtree Township in Yancey County. Things went very smoothly – no rudeness, no electioneering of any kind except for signage appropriately placed outside, no flag waving pickup trucks roaring up and down the hill, as they have been doing for weeks now in this county – just a steady flow of friends and neighbors coming to their appointed place to cast their votes. My fellow election officials, who undoubtedly voted in different ways, all worked together in harmony to get the job done. Someday (and I hope to live to see it), when our federal government begins to once again function in a like manner, we will have turned a corner in the incessant political hostilities and intractable divisions that have become a hallmark of partisan politics in this country. One can hope.

As I sit here contemplating and watching the rather astonishing returns come in, however, my heart has to sink a bit. Even after the last four truly unbelievable years, marked by unnecessary illness and death and an apparent failure of responsibility from the very top echelons of our government, an astonishing number of our fellow Americans obviously want four more years of division, rancor and whistling in the wind rather than facing harsh realities and the inevitability of change, very like objecting to plate tectonics, all the while being spun off into different land masses, with widening oceans.

So….no matter who sits in the White House in 2021, we all know that we have our work cut out for us as Unitarian Universalists. Not in partisan politics, but in kindness, polite discourse, patience, and hard work, doing the very hard work of listening and friendly persuasion, two things I have yet to even begin to master.

Maya Angelou said, “If you’re not angry, you’re either a stone, or you’re too sick to be angry. You SHOULD be angry. You must NOT be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So, use that anger, yes. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You do everything about it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.”

Yesterday was long and exhausting for me, but I am proud to have participated. I hope someday to be able to say that about my government.

Judy Harper, Board of Trustees


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