Are We All Zoomed Out Yet?

Minister Claudia

Last night thirty UUCA members gathered via Zoom for an Animal Blessing Vespers. We met pets, remembered past pets, introduced stuffed pet avatars and even took time to consider animals endangered by human greed and carelessness. We listened to music, with Les, our music director, playing piano. Vespers leader MaryAnn Somervill shared poetry and inspiring words. We lit chalices and shared joys and sorrow via “chat.” I found it to be a meaningful way to connect when analog gatherings pose a risk of contagion.

Our UUCA family continues to thrive in virtual gatherings of covenant groups and other spiritual deepening groups. Whether lay-led or minister-led, we are all seeking ways to ground ourselves spiritually in these unprecedented times and to stay connected to each other. I hope we are providing substance that meets, however incompletely, some part of your need to feel connected to our community. Daily, I wonder, worry, debate, and puzzle about how this can best be done by taking advantage of the opportunities inherent in communication technology while recognizing its deficiencies. A major concern is how we can best reach those who are not comfortable with technology or do not have access or just plain don’t like video-conferencing. I certainly get tired of seeing myself on the screen! Phone calls and old-fashioned snail mail are an option.

I have heard people say that observing social distancing and wearing a mask express our care and respect for others. That care also includes deciding if and when to gather. It is complicated. Public institutions, businesses, churches, and other organizations are threatened by closures. Last Sunday, as I delivered roses to two of our bridging seniors wearing a mask and keeping adequate physical distance, I realized how much I miss seeing each of you in person. How much I miss our being together. More than anything, I miss giving and receiving your hugs. I wonder how long Zoom or other platforms are going to be our main vehicle for connection. I am trying to be mindful of how many video meetings I attend each day. There are many opportunities for connecting with family, friends, and other professionals. It can be overwhelming! How are you dealing with this sudden technology overload?

It is particularly challenging for families juggling work and parenting. Screen time for children has inevitably increased during this time. That is to be expected with school online and parents working from home (if they have that privilege). What to do? How can families realistically regulate online and offline experiences? While planning for our parent check-in group, I came across what pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky calls the “Three C’s Framework.” Parents can approach media use considering their child: who they are; content: what they are watching, and context: how you are interacting with them. My own children are young adults and I can’t imagine having to write this blog while also having to keep track of them while my partner is upstairs preparing breakfast, or he might be trying to get them to help out. What if I were on my own? Whatever permutation, it is complicated. Technology is part of our lives now, and this pandemic has deepened our dependency on it.

So, am I Zoomed out? Not quite yet. The computer has become an essential tool for many, including ministers. To compensate, I try to engage in more offline experiences. More walks, phone calls, letter-writing, and the occasional outdoor, properly distanced gathering with 2 or maybe 4 friends from deck chairs or driveways. What is helping you avoid Zoom-out?

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

EVERYONE Can Come to General Assembly This Year

You don’t have many excuses now.  The Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly will be online, making it accessible and affordable to all.  Dates are June 24-28.  UUCA has funds, so we will definitely pay the full registration ($150) for all 12 of our delegates, and we’ll keep paying registrations (or partial registrations if you don’t need the full $150) for non-delegates until the money runs out.  First come, first serve.  Contact Ryan Williams, Board President, to be a delegate.  Contact Linda Topp to get in line for registrations without delegate status.

Why do this?  Because it’s interesting!  It’s educational!  It’s exciting!  It’s a convenient way to take workshops from other UUs who are doing what you’re doing!  It’s encouraging/heartwarming/amazing to discover all those UUs from all over the world! There is special programming for youth and young adults! You can time-delay the workshops as they will be accessible to registrants later!  You can sing in the choir! (Sign up fast—the choir will fill up quickly.) Hear amazing, inspirational speakers! (Naomi Klein, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Dina Gilia-Whitaker, Jean Mendoza, Natalie Martinez, Howard Bryant, Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, Rosemary Bray McNatt, Elías Ortega, John Buehrens)

Don’t have the time?  How about sampling the free stuff?  Without registration, you can attend:

  • General Sessions – in which the business of the Association is conducted.
  • Synergy Bridging Worship – a celebration of treasured worship elements, rites of passage, and brilliant contemporary musical performances.​
  • Service of the Living Tradition – a worship service that honors fellowshipped and credentialed religious leaders; remembering those who have died, recognizing those who have completed active service, and welcoming those who have received fellowship or credentialed status in the past year.
  • Sunday Morning Worship – the largest annual gathering of UUs joining in worship

By the way, that Sunday Morning Worship service will be UUCA’s worship service on Sunday, June 28 at 10:00am.  It’s the perfect win-win—give our worship service team a break and join thousands for a UU worship service!

All the information there is can be found on the UUA’s website.  Go for it!

Linda Topp
Director of Administration

I’m a Planner

I am a planning addict. I have my desk calendar, the fridge calendar, the calendar app on my phone, the weekly calendar sheet that I carry in my bag. And then there is the “bible.” The giant, hardback, yearly planner that goes with me EVERYWHERE. “If it isn’t in the bible, then it isn’t happening.”

Mariah Board

This planner lists our entire lives. Birthdays, vacations, meetings, doctor’s appointments, bills that are due, chores that need doing, and meal plans. Everyone in the family has a different color assigned to them and everything is color-coded. I have spent hours of my life filling these planners with things to remember, places to go, activities to do. I can comb over my old planners and recollect everything we were doing. They are like windows into our past years.

But now….

These days, the white-out is getting used more than the fancy-colored pens. Now the blank pages of the calendar are glaringly white. Every day I get another email that requires me to get out the white-out and flip further and further through the book. All that organizing, budgeting and dreaming–crossed out. My plans deleted.

The erasing breaks my heart. The eighth-grade trip. Two proms. Mountain CON. Teaching in RE. Church auction events. A cruise. LEAF festival. The eighth-grade dance. OWL class. Graduations. A trip to New York City. Each time I scratch out these words, I realize how important these things were to us. Sometimes it seemed like we were too busy and had too much going on. But they were GOOD things. They were valuable to us, so we gave our time and money towards them. And now they are just gone….

But there is something valuable about these blank pages, too. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, we are connecting more as a family. Instead of running around all over town on the weekends, we watch documentaries and play board games. My teens are home with me and there are no arguments about curfews or friends coming over or me dragging them to do things they don’t feel like doing. Life has become simple.  My meditation practice exists again. My husband is working on a project in the yard. I’ve baked desserts and read whole books. The boys play basketball together every evening.

We have been given a chance to live in the present instead of planning out the future. I know I will be scribbling away in my planner again one day, filling up all these calendars with a million places to go. For now, I’ll hang out with my kids, do some jigsaw puzzles, and deep-clean my house. I will try to see the gift in the grief. There are spiritual lessons everywhere. It’s nice to have a chance to slow down enough to find them.

Mariah Wright, Board of Trustees

How Are We A Congregation When We Don’t Congregate?

It’s something like a koan that we have been living for almost two months. Ever since it became clear back in March that the novel coronavirus made it unsafe for us to gather as a community, we have distanced ourselves from our campus at Edwin Place on Asheville’s north side.

Worship, religious education, covenant groups, committees, spiritual groups, staff meetings – everything we do we are learning to do while peering at small screens, bathed in blue light, navigating unfamiliar software. For some of us this was a pretty quick transition. After all, we were already spending a lot of our lives online, and so shifting more of what we do onto our devices was not a big deal. Others of us have been wading into a not-so-brave new world that is disorienting and frustrating.

We’re far enough into this new world that it’s starting to lose its novelty. Sure, it was fun for a while catching up the Berlin Philharmonic for free or binge-watching Friends, but we miss good old face-to-face conversations, not to speak of hugs and handshakes. What if we are weeks, months . . . who know how long? . . . from being in each other’s company again?

In such stressful times, we need more than ever the support of a community that affirms us for who we are, that points us toward higher values, that demands justice for all – for the oppressed and marginalized, but also the vast number of people who have seen their lives tipped into chaos.

Whether we congregate or not, the work remains: the drive to find inspiration, to facilitate connection, to build community, to uphold the common good. So, all of us – staff, lay leaders, facilitators – are keeping at it: mostly at home, often on Zoom calls or by telephone. We are learning new skills but also sticking with the tried and true – check-in calls, meal trains, singing, laughing, talking over whatever medium we have available to us.

Worship, my chief responsibility, has changed radically. Everything we do is much more a “production” than it ever was. The writing is different, and we’re more conscious of how we integrate images into all that we do. We’re still reaching some 250 to 300 people a week, but video is a more intimate medium than presenting to a sanctuary full of people. What’s nice is that it’s enabled us to invite lots of different people into worship. For example, we’re involving families and children more than we have before.

As we look ahead to the summer, we want to do more of this. Claudia and I will be asking around, but don’t wait for our call. If you have something to offer or if you just are willing to be a video worship participant, please let us know. As disorienting as this time is, it also presents us with all kinds of opportunities to try new things. We have continued to follow something like what had been our regular order of worship. It is, after all, a tested container that we’re familiar with. But I envision us exploring some other options as this medium evolves. We still want music, meditation, stories and inspiring words, but what form they take may shift. Come help us figure out what this might look like.

And the same applies to our Wednesday Vespers, offered weekly at 6:30 p.m. It is the part of what had been our Wednesday Thing that still continues, and we would like to stick with it, if we can. We see Vespers as a moment to pause midweek for a kind of spiritual tune-up. Unlike the weekly worship service, it is presented live on Zoom, which gives us a chance to see each other. Presenters offer a story, reflection, meditation for 15 minutes. Then, we take another 15 minutes to share, either together or in Zoom break-out rooms if the gathering is more than 10 to 15 people. Please check in with Rev. Claudia if this sounds interesting, or even better: join her planning team. We could use some more help right now.

The biggest lift of all has been learning to interface with the daunting array of technology to produce all of this. It is bright and shiny, but also often a real puzzle to sort through. The technologies we’re using are new to many of us and often take enormous amounts of time to figure out. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. We’re learning.

One decision we made around Sunday worship early on to was record the elements of the service in advance, then combine them into a package that can be viewed on Sunday. That way we can present a relatively finished presentation. But, of course, what’s missing from all this is you. So, we’re beginning to talk about what it would look like to offer a live, rather than recorded Sunday service. The downside is it would take away the flexibility that you have to watch the service whenever you want, but it would also enable us to truly “congregate” and more easily welcome visitors into our services.

There has been lots of speculation on when people will feel comfortable gathering again. We staff are operating on the assumption that we will be worshipping online at least until early September, and, depending on how well we navigate the COVID pandemic in North Carolina, it could be much longer. One thing I feel confident in saying is that the way we “do church” is changing. But if we do this thoughtfully, compassionately and with an eye to our values and mission in the world, it can be for the good. And throughout all this it will be good to have you along for the ride.

Be well. Stay in touch. Hold onto hope.

Lead Minister Rev. Mark Ward












What’s Going to Happen Next at UUCA and How You Can Help Determine That

Photo of Linda Topp, author

Now that things have somewhat normalized to the current “normal,” we’ve been able to take a minute to think further than one week ahead. We now know that North Carolina has a three-phase plan to re-open and that the timer for Phase 1 won’t even start until illnesses, positive lab tests, and hospitalizations are all decreasing across the state. As always, we don’t really have any idea when this might happen, but let’s say Phase 1 starts on May 15.  At Phase 2, gatherings at “reduced capacity” will be allowed. Assume Phase 2 can start three weeks after Phase 1.  That would be June 5.

Now I don’t know about you (although I think I can guess), but just because you CAN go out doesn’t mean you will.  And you sure won’t go into a space where a good-sized group is gathering.  So, with that in mind, the Executive (Lead Minister) and senior staff members have chosen to keep UUCA closed until September 13, our first two-service Sunday (or, more accurately, the day we traditionally resumed two services).  This is not to say that we will definitely open then, but that September 13 is the first possible moment we will consider doing so.  Even then, procedures for gatherings will be VERY different.  But that’s a discussion for a different day.

In the meantime, here’s how you can help. When there is no way for staff members to “ask around” and “chat up” folks to get feedback, we suffer from a lack of information about our congregants. I normally don’t think surveys are all that helpful, but right now, in abnormal times, maybe a survey is just the thing. We do need to know how the UUCA staff (and volunteers) can best serve our religious community.

So please take 2 minutes to complete this eight-question survey (and one question just asks for your name so you can see it’s not going to be time-consuming).

And as a thank you, here’s a lovely quote from David Brubaker, a well-known church consultant:

Perhaps the greatest takeaway from our current virtual reality is that we were never meant primarily to attend a congregation, but to be a congregation. In this crisis time, we can explore more deeply what it means to be a congregation. After all, what is a “congregation” but a group of human beings who “congregate” periodically, to connect with and encourage one another—and then to scatter once again…to love and to serve. 

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Muchas gracias!

Minister Claudia

This week is “National Volunteer Appreciation Week.” As I think about how we are “doing church” during this time of social distancing, it is important to thank, agradecer, all the volunteers working behind the scenes to support the ministries of the church and our staff. They help keep us connected and support our spiritual deepening. I will not type a list of names because it is inevitable that at least one person will be inadvertently overlooked- perfection is an illusion. However, I do want to share with you a snapshot of what is happening in Faith Development while our brick and mortar congregational home is closed.

Children and youth continue to gather on-line Sunday mornings and afternoons. Volunteers are recording stories for the Spirit Play program for our youngest UUs. The Coming of Age program advisors continue to meet on-line with Coming of Age youth to plan one of the most inspiring services of the year, “Credo Sunday” to be offered May 17. Mark your calendar and be sure to view this beautiful gift from our youth. The Neighboring Faiths program advisors are also meeting with youth on-line. This Sunday they will have a guest from the Muslim community as they continue their study of world religions. Youth group advisors and youth are exploring ways to stay connected. The Religious Education Council continues to meet on-line to explore ways to support RE staff. These are just a few of the more than 75 volunteers who have supported Religious Education this past year either in person (pre-Corona) or on-line.
Thank you! Muchas gracias!

UUCA volunteerism is also crucial for the continuation of on-line Adult Faith Development Programs. Volunteers lead and coordinate our Small Group Ministry covenant groups. Many are meeting on-line and have started to meet twice a month instead of monthly. Peacemakers, Buddhist Fellowship and CUUPS-Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans are also meeting on-line and keeping our faith community connected. Classes such as “UU History 101” are also volunteer led and encourage us to keep learning and growing together. Church is happening in all of these gatherings. They are the new iteration of congregational life as we transition into a new way of doing church. We may be apart but the spirit of our community prevails. We are grateful, agradecidos, for all the volunteers that are keeping Faith Development alive and vibrant during this time.

Lastly, because Faith Development also happens in worship and in the work of congregational care, we are grateful, agradecidos, for our worship associates who are now recording their contributions to service and continue to share their insights with us. We are also grateful, agradecidos, for our pastoral visitors, meal train coordinators and meal providers who continue to care of our members in need. And a very special thank you, un reconocimiento muy especial, to all of those making phone calls to each of our congregants to say hello and check-in.  What an amazing bouquet of people we are! 

With gratitude, con gratitud,

Rev Claudia

Good News for UUCA!

In 2015-16, our congregation made a fabulous decision to upgrade the main floor of the main building to be much more accessible.  We hired a landscape architect and an architect, made plans, bid the project at a rather unhelpful moment (eight hotels were going up in Asheville at the time) and built what you see today with our general contractors, Patton Construction with the amazing guidance of UUCA member Bob Roepnack.  We also raised nearly $800,000 thanks to the leadership of member Larry Wheeler.  Unfortunately, timing is everything in the construction business, so the actual cost exceeded the money raised by tens of thousands of dollars.  That’s when we applied for our mortgage.  Up until then, this congregation had remained debt-free.Project Description of mortgage of $145,112.60The mortgage was a balloon mortgage, financed for a 20-year period but requiring either a final “balloon payment” on August 25, 2020 or refinancing on that date.  Since then, the UUA Legacy Challenge program, Awake Now Our Vision, came into being.  Our beyond-fabulous Legacy Circle Team, at the time lead by the equally beyond-fabulous Beverly Cutter, with members Mike Horak, Myrtle Bennett and Mara Sprain, signed on more bequests (legacy gifts) than any other participating organization and earned us a matching gift of $138,516.77!!!!!!!

We are receiving this essentially free money in four installments and the first three installments have been applied to the principal of our mortgage.  Because we’d been making payments all along, the third payment that we made last week PAID OFF THE MORTGAGE!!!!!  Congratulations, UUCA!Linda Topp, Director of Administration

A Pandemic Consolation Prize?

We already had a dog. That was my take on the situation.

Well, we sort-of already had a dog. For 10 years now, we have been the second family for a sweet, mid-sized mutt named Trouser (yes, as in a single pant leg). Her parents drop her off at our house nearly every weekday so she can hang out with me while I work from home, and she has sleepovers here when they go out of town.

It’s been the perfect arrangement as far as I’m concerned. We don’t hold the title, so we aren’t ultimately responsible for her care and well-being (vet bills), and we don’t have to make arrangements for care when we go out of town. Typically no last-thing-at-night and first-thing-in-the-morning walks.

But ol’ Trousie and her family are practicing social distancing, so we haven’t seen her in nearly a month. And I haven’t mentioned yet that we have a 15-year-old daughter for whom a part-time dog has never been quite adequate. Enter Slinky.

Slinky came to live with us on Tuesday, via Brother Wolf and a foster family. She is a 22-pound, seven-month-old hound mix who is still learning not to eliminate in the house. She is sweet, energetic (goes without saying) and eager to please.

I’ve observed that we’re not the only family that has decided to add a four-legged friend in the midst of a pandemic. Anecdotally, it looks like a fair number of formerly homeless animals are finding (hopefully) forever families among those who are stuck at home and have the time to integrate them into their lives. Certainly in no other circumstance would our daughter have so much time to spend helping Slinky learn to pee in the right place.

And…it might be obvious by now that I have been reluctant to commit to full-time dog ownership. I didn’t really have a good reason to put the kibosh on my family’s wishes; only that I don’t love change and new commitments. It has been tempting to think of Slinky as our daughter’s consolation prize for, well, life at the moment. She was crushed when the Senior High Con at the Mountain was cancelled and is already mourning the possibility that Mountain Camp could be cancelled (among the many other ways in which normal teen life has been disrupted). But bringing Slinky home wasn’t an impulsive decision. We’d been discussing this for, literally, years; it just turned out that a pandemic was perfect timing.

So welcome, Slinky, to our household, and here’s to the non-socially distanced times that are sure to come.   

Louise Anderson, Board of Trustees






Choosing To Stay

It came to me one morning about a month ago as I was making my way through the newspapers. No one was using the word “pandemic” yet, but story after story was making it clear what a cataclysm the COVID-19 coronavirus would be for us all. Then, suddenly it popped in my head: what an insane time this would be for this congregation to change lead ministers!

Yes, UUCA had an Interim Search Committee diligently planning for the change, and I was well into planning for retirement. But, oh my gosh, every sign was that about the time I was slated to leave was also when health experts were predicting the infection would be peaking. In the midst of all this trauma, I couldn’t imagine walking away from this congregation.

So, when Debbie got up, I told her I thought I needed to stay. I told her that I wanted to offer to delay my retirement. She nodded and said it was a good idea. The next day I had a Zoom conference scheduled with Board President Ryan Williams. He told me that he had a few things to run by me, and I said I had something to run by him, too, but I thought I should go first, since it would probably affect the subjects he wanted to talk about.

I was right. Ryan was a little stunned at first – after all he was hard at work on the interim process – but he quickly agreed and said he was grateful for the offer. Over the next day or so he polled the board and the consensus was quick: yes, please stay!

It is heartening and humbling to receive notes of thanks from many of you. It will be a challenging year for us all, but I can’t think any others who I’d like to have as company on the ride.

Now that I know that I’ll be sticking around, I’ve begun thinking about how we’re going to negotiate the year ahead. We don’t know exactly how it’s going to be, but it’s definitely going to be different.

For likely the next several months what had been our weekly gathering of some 300 of us for worship will continue as a prerecorded link that you receive on Sunday mornings to watch when you choose. Religious education classes, the Wednesday Thing, committee & staff meetings, covenant groups – all the various ways that we gather outside of Sunday will devolve into Zoom calls or some other meeting app.

Meanwhile, as we stay in with groceries and other needs delivered to our homes, we will need to be more attentive to each other than ever. People are finding all sorts of creative ways to stay in touch – Debbie and I are using Zoom calls to our daughter in Wisconsin to play Scrabble. But the old-fashioned ways work, too. Thank you to those of you who have responded to our invitation to join a group to make calls to members of our conversation.

But don’t wait for our invitation. I’m finding it rewarding to call around in the congregation just to check in. It’s a great way of building relationships. Also, please keep me, Claudia or pastoral visitors apprised of people you know who are having a hard time or may be in need of support in some way. And, as you hunker down, look for ways that you can reach out to the larger community providing money or support. There are many people who are struggling to get by.

As we negotiate all these changes, it’s occurred to me that it would be useful for us to use this time to reflect on some larger questions. I’ve told Ryan that I’d like to invite the Board into a conversation on this topic, but I welcome you into the conversation, too:

What is needed of us, what is called from us as a congregation at this time? What do you need, what does your family need, what does this community, heck, what does the world need of us now?

And, once you’re done binge-watching everything you’ve been saving in your online queue, give some thought to what you think this congregation will need to be when we get to the other side of this crisis. Once we can gather and hug and march and dream together, what is your vision of us then?

Give it some thought and send me a line here. I’d love to know what you’re thinking.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Live Bravely, Give Generously

Sure, that’s the theme of this year’s Annual Budget Drive.  But it’s so much more than that.  It’s really my mantra for living right now.  (Which is why I start the worship services with it.)  Who knew back in September that this would be such a timely phrase?  When the Annual Budget Drive team (Gina Phairas, Will Jernigan, and Wes Miller) came up with it, we were thinking more about ministerial transitions and the general political climate.  Little did we know….

For me, Living Bravely means a lot of things, but first and foremost it means lowering anxiety WITHOUT doing crazy things: wash those hands, try to remember that 6-foot rule, walk the dog, reduce trips to the grocery store, stock a few items in case we get sick but mostly buy what we need without hoarding, wipe down doorknobs and copy machine interfaces at work a lot, breathe deeply, listen to music.  It also means learning vast amounts of new things:  Ta-da! I’m now a video editor. Who knew? And Zoom?  Never hosted a meeting before. Never actually ate a take-out meal at home before because why would we?  Just go to the restaurant, silly.

And Giving Generously?  It’s way too easy to “hunker down” and protect and connect our nuclear families and close friends.  Looking outward is just not natural.  Yet as the Annual Budget Drive team wrote, “We are called to live bravely across the wide spectrum of life.”  We are called to be generous. Learning technology to connect with others is a generous act.  Baking bread and leaving it at a neighbor’s doorstep is a generous act.  Giving money to help local small businesses is a generous act.  Giving to local nonprofits that are providing services right now is a generous act.

Here’s a request we have received from AHOPE/Homeward Bound (sponsors of Room in the Inn) who also work with Haywood Street Church and Rescue Mission:

There is one thing you could consider – and it doesn’t put you in danger. We really need good adult socks, gloves, blankets, and such. We also could use easy-to-hand-out food like peanut butter crackers, bananas. easy-to-open cans of veggies or fruit or canned tuna or spaghetti.

Drop supplies off at our AHOPE Day Center on 19 N. Ann Street downtown. Just pull up in front and start unloading. People will quickly be there to help when staff is onsite (8am-12n, 7 days a week). Or I can come to wherever and pick them up if you don’t want to be in that setting. Contact Joe Hoffman for more information.

Here’s another example of generosity.  I know a lot of you are trying to connect through video–but it can be intimidating.  So, we have 5 congregants who are willing to host a meeting for you.  Whether you want to connect with fellow UUCAers or family members or friends, contact one of these people who will either help you figure out how to host a meeting or actually host it for you, so all you have to do is click in to join.

Many thanks to these volunteers.  Look up their contact info on REALM or email Tish for that info.

Evelyn Becker
Virginia Bower
Rebekkah Hilgraves
Jeff Jones
Kelly Wedell

PS  I would be totally remiss in not mentioning that references to the Annual Budget Drive might be very good cues for you to make sure that you’ve sent in a commitment for the fiscal year starting on July 1.  I know it’s clearly impossible to know your financial status for next year right now, but we’re operating on the assumption that “normal” is the only way to plan.  We’ll flex and accommodate and adjust when we need to. Thanks!

Linda Topp, Director of Administration


So What Happens At GA?

I invite you to think about how it is that you show up for Unitarian Universalism. Think of the ways, large and small, that you come back to this place, that you do the work, that you share the good word. Now think about what it would be like to do that in the company of thousands of other UU’s. 

I attended my first GA in 2017 when it was held in New Orleans, LA. It was hot, crowded, and involved lots of walking. I hate being hot, get anxious in crowds, and have chronic foot pain. And I loved it. 

So what happens at GA? Well, if you think the committee meetings that we have here are exciting, just wait until you experience your first general session! Seriously though, GA is where a lot of the work of our faith happens. Sometimes it happens on a large scale in a big hall filled with congregational delegates who are voting on items like making the language of our bylaws more inclusive, or giving religious educators the right to automatically be voting delegates at GA just as ministers are. It’s also happening on a smaller scale through workshops and lectures. Sometimes it is happening in a very public way through our demonstrations of public witness.

Last year in Spokane, the public witness was a demonstration to show support for ending cash bail and putting a stop to building more jails in Spokane. The youth are there working, too. They are delegates and they help determine which Actions of Immediate Witness are voted on. They caucus together and do a lot of other activities together as well. There is also a middle school day camp that goes on expeditions in the host city, and child care for younger kids as well. There is even a child-friendly area in the main hall where all of the big events take place. There are workshops and lectures galore, for every different interest. The worship services are plentiful and diverse. The best part though, the best part is being together with so many other people who are showing up in all sorts of ways for Unitarian Universalism.
Kim Collins, Lifespan Religious Education Coordinator

UUCA Exists!

During times of change and uncertainty, when there are strange political realities, weather, and viruses, it can be easy to overlook and take for granted the things that we are used to and which are relatively unchanged.  With the backdrop of the coming minister change at UUCA and in the midst of the annual budget drive, it is a good time to remember that the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville does not have to exist.  

UUCA does exist because we want it to exist and beyond that we make it exist.  If you are reading this, I feel comfortable assuming you have at least some level of involvement with UUCA.  I encourage you to think about how you are engaged with UUCA and how engaging in more or different ways will benefit both you, UUCA, and the greater community.  

We are all so privileged and benefited by what we do and stand for at UUCA.  While it indeed does take considerable effort and determination to keep UUCA moving forward, when we all take part the the weight becomes light and I truly believe we get back so much more than what we put in.

James “Buck” Schall, Board of Trustees

Staying Safe, Supporting Community

With the increasing spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, we at UUCA are exploring ways to keep our people safe while also continuing the care and connection that is so important to our community.

So much remains uncertain about the nature of the virus and how it spreads, but there are some basic practices that we can promote that public health authorities tell us can make a difference in reducing the spread of the disease.

 Since the virus appears to be airborne, it is most easily spread when people infected with the virus cough or sneeze openly and don’t wash their hands. So, we can each help assure that the virus isn’t spread that if we cover our coughs and wash our hands frequently.

At church, this means that at least for now we should generally avoid shaking, holding or touching each other’s hands. Or at a minimum washing our hands or using hand sanitizers after we do. We have hand sanitizers in prominent places and boxes of tissues in the Sanctuary and elsewhere in our buildings. Don’t hesitate to use them. (Note that hand sanitizer supplies are low, as in we can’t buy any. Please be aware that hand-washing for 20 seconds is a very effective means of cleaning.)

This can be hard in our community, where hand-shakes and hugs are part of how we show care for each other. But in such a time we actually do more to show our caring by avoiding the touch and instead offering a smile and a few warm words.

While the corona virus remains a threat, we are encouraging staff at UUCA to avoid hand-touching. Our ushers will greet you when you arrive, but we’re discouraging handshakes, and when our weekly services close we invite you to offer an “elbow bump,” a bow and a “Namaste” to your neighbor, or just a smile. At least for now we will discontinue our traditional hand-holding.

If you’re not feeling well – especially if it’s a respiratory illness – it would be better not to come to church, but don’t hesitate to call a pastoral visitor for support. And if you need one, we’d be happy to arrange a meal train. Pastoral Visitors are Karin Eckert, Iris Hardin, Myrtle Staples, Carol Taylor, Christine Van Wandelan, and Dale Wachowiak.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

UUCA Youth Leading the Way

Last weekend we had two events that highlighted the importance of Faith Development and parent engagement in the lives of our youth. On Sunday, the Young Religious Unitarian Universalist (YRUU) youth group crafted and presented a service on the importance of friendship. They shared how their relationships deepened after the Coming of Age (CoA) trip to the Farm Sanctuary in Ithaca, NY last year. The creativity and thoughtfulness shared by the youth provided inspiration and food for thought.

We are grateful to the youth: Cameron, Ella, Fiona, Nora, Nick and Sydney for sharing their time and talent. And, for modeling what multigenerational worship can be like. A shout out to youth advisors, Langdon Martin, Sarah Hargrove, Steven Reines and Steve Lapointe for their guidance and support.

On Saturday, our Coming of Age group hosted their Trivia Night to raise money for their end-of-year trip. It was a great way for participants to get to know the youth better through the slideshow and touching introductions of each other.  The CoA event on Saturday was not only an important fundraiser for the trip, but also a chance for CoA families and youth to build stronger connections as they worked together to host a community-building event for the congregation.

A special thank you to all the parents and youth for a fun and delicious evening.  Great work!   An updated fundraising report will be available later next week. This congregation’s generosity and support of CoA is greatly appreciated. We thank Brett Johnson for his help in providing the trivia for the evening and Mary Alm for donating her winnings from the 50-50 raffle back to the CoA trip fund (more generosity on display!).

So, where are the CoA youth going this year?One of our parents shared the following information about the trip:

They are participating in a trip offered through the UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ) and their partner, Southern Appalachian Labor School (SALS). The mission of SALS is to “provide education, research, and linkages for working class and disenfranchised peoples in order to promote understanding, empowerment, and change. SALS is committed to developing a real comprehension of the social, economic, and legal structures which affect the lives of the Appalachian People.’”

We’re excited for our CoA youth to be the first group from UUCA to participate in a UUCSJ program. Their WV program is an immersive learning experience. Our youth will travel deep into Fayette County to have a first-hand experience working and learning alongside community members with diverse perspectives on West Virginia’s past, present, and future.  It is a chance to put UU values into action, confronting the environmental, social, and economic injustices that revolve around coal mining. UUCSJ describes this program as immersion learning instead of service because it emphasizes the equal relationships and expertise among all community members and partners.  There will be some fun, too, as the youth also explore a beautiful region of WV together!

Our youth are leading the way by providing multigenerational worship that brings all ages together and engaging in justice work. They are supported by their parents, youth advisors, and the congregation in these endeavors. We look forward to hearing about the CoA group’s experiences in the fall. It does take a village to raise engaged UUs!

Faith Development work continues during The Wednesday Thing:

March 25 – The Hidden History of Asheville.
Some of Asheville’s racial history is hidden in plain sight; Patton, Vance, Merrimon, Dickson. Who were the people behind the names? Join local educator, Betsi Conti, in a discussion about how we as a community are affected by who and what we choose to remember. (Middle and High School youth are welcome!)

April 15 – Tech Talk
Join fellow parents in discussing challenges and strategies for handling teen use of technology. Facilitated by Kristi Miller.

Rev. Claudia Jimenez, Minister of Faith Development

Church or Cafeteria?

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

This past Sunday, UUCA Board President Ryan Williams spoke about his membership path at UUCA, where he arrived as a consumer (look at all the cool things I can get from this!) to his current position much further down that path as a supporter (what can I do to keep this congregation alive and vibrant?).

As luck would have it, Rev. Claudia ran across an article that speaks to this same idea but in a somewhat humorous (and yet telling) fashion.  The original author is Thom S. Rainer.  I have de-Christianized the language a bit and made it UUCA-specific in a couple of cases.  You’ll see.

Seven Differences Between Your Church and a Cafeteria

The article starts with a reminiscence of a first visit to a commercial cafeteria.  Mr. Rainer wrote, “For a small-town kid who had never seen such a feast, I was amazed.  The concept was basic.  If you paid your money, you could choose whatever you wanted.  Your preferences were paramount.  It was all about you.”  But a church is NOT a cafeteria.  And here’s why.

In a cafeteria, you pay for your preferences.
In a church, you give abundantly and joyfully without expecting anything in return.
If you ever hear someone say, “We pay the bills in this church,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.

In a cafeteria, the focus is on you.
In a church, the focus is on others.
If you ever hear someone say, “I’m not getting my needs met in this church,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.

In a cafeteria, you can expect to have things your way.
In a church, you should sacrifice your own needs for others.
If you ever hear someone say, “I want the order of service to be the way it’s always been,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.

In a cafeteria, the business must continue to make things more appealing and attractive for you to return.
In a church, you should not expect to be entertained to get you to come back.
If you ever hear someone say, “I’m going to a church where the preacher is more exciting,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.

In a cafeteria, if the customer does not get their way, the business must make every effort to address and remedy the complaint.
In a church, we should be so busy doing for others that we don’t have time or the desire to whine or complain.
If you ever hear someone say, “People are saying…,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.

In a cafeteria, you have a full staff serving you behind the glass partitions, indulging your every desire.
In a church, you should not expect the staff to do all or most of the ministry or service.  Instead, the members are to do the work of ministry.
If you ever hear someone say, “Rev. Claudia, you should….,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.

In a cafeteria, you will likely complain to others in person or on social media if you are not fully satisfied.
In a church, you should not have a gossiping or complaining spirit in public.  Complaints get directly communicated to the person with whom you are aggrieved.
If you ever hear or see public complaints, you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.

And a bonus one from me:

In a cafeteria, you will not return if your needs or expectations are not met.
In a church, you should (and I’m quoting from our covenant) attend to our differences with openness, compassion and trust; create healing by listening and speaking in the spirit of love; and be steadfast in support of our community in times of disagreement.
If you ever hear someone say, “I don’t like the decision that was made so I’m leaving,” you know they act like the church is a cafeteria.

Have any you want to add?  Send ‘em along.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

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