UUCA Blog

Transition, Transition, Transition

Clyde Board

As almost all are well aware by now, our minister of 16 years is retiring in just a few months.  I myself have been here less than three years, but that too-short time at UUCA, with Rev. Mark in the pulpit, has left me wishing that I’d moved to Asheville much earlier!

Although I’m a newbie to UUCA, I’m an oldie to UUism.  I was raised as a UU, and before moving to Asheville, I spent 32 years at another UU congregation (I’ll call it UUCx).  During most of that time, I served in various leadership positions.  During those 32 years, my congregation went through three ministerial transitions.  Yes, three.  Since I saw those transitions “up close and personal,” I’m brazenly declaring myself “experienced” in ministerial transitions, at least from a congregant’s point of view.

I’d like to share a few thoughts about UUCA’s upcoming 2-year transition period, during which time we’ll be served by a professional Interim Minister.  We’ll be doing many things, the capstone of which is the selection of our permanent, “called,” or “settled” minister to start serving us after the transition period.  The Interim Minister comes “pre-fired” as they say, and is here specifically to help us through this period, and then move on.

Mainly what I want to tell you is that even though UUCx’s ministerial transitions presented many challenges, they all provided tremendous opportunities for growth, for both the congregants individually and the congregation at large.  I expect this will be the case for UUCA as well.  I expect we’ll come out of this process even stronger than we are now.

Back to UUCx:  Of those three transitions, two were departures of long-time, beloved ministers, both moving on to new experiences (which they certainly get to do, and in many cases should do).  UUCx was in pretty good shape when they left.  The other was a transition from a negotiated resignation, and the congregation had lots of issues centering around that minister.  We were a polarized community, and we needed healing.  In all three cases, however, we went through the same process; and in all three cases, the consensus was that UUCx came out better and stronger having gone through it.

As I mentioned, the Interim Minister is here specifically to help us navigate the transition.  Fortunately, the Interim we’ll hire will almost certainly be an Accredited Interim Minister (AIM).  AIMs have all received training targeted at transition work and common transition issues.  They come with the education, tools, and experience to guide us.  The ones I’ve experienced have focused on helping us recognize and understand ourselves as a congregation, largely independent of the minister:  What is our past – our conflicts and griefs as well as our joys and successes?  What is our identity now – our strengths, challenges, needs?  Where could we go in the future, and where do we actually want to go in the future – and from that, what sort of minister do we need to help us do that?

Referring to a congregation in conversation, I’ve often heard people say (and have even said myself) something like “that’s Rev. So-and-So’s church.”  That’s not really correct.  UUCA is not Mark’s church, even though I firmly believe his presence was absolutely central in making UUCA a truly great place. When our settled minister arrives, it won’t be his, hers, or their church.  It’s ours.  The congregation’s church.  The interim period allows us to recognize and internalize that ownership, take hold of it, and start planning the future for this gem we call UUCA.

I personally will miss Rev. Mark profoundly.  Full stop.  But I believe the upcoming years will be really good for us.  Lots of interesting things are in store.  So buckle up, and get ready to do the work we need to do as we usher in a new and exciting era at our beloved UUCA and, hopefully, have a little fun in the process!

Clyde Hardin, Board of Trustees

Bending the Arc Toward Better Elections

When I mention to people that before entering the ministry I spent 25 years in newspaper journalism, they often ask what I miss from that former life. The truth is: not much. At about the time I was leaving for ministry, the newspaper world was changing dramatically. Newspapers were shrinking, the demands on reporters were exploding, and compensation was falling. There is still good work to do in journalism, but it’s a rougher go these days than it was.

Still, there is one recurring moment when, even now, 15 years after leaving the field, I feel the old tug of newspaper life. And that’s on Election Day. It was always an electric moment. As reporters, we were among the first to get the election returns, and the adrenaline was pumping as we called in to the candidates for their responses and then banged out our stories as fast as we could for a deadline that was always NOW.

I had those same feelings watching the returns from the Iowa caucuses the other night. I sympathized with the beleaguered newsfolk, who I’m sure were tearing their hair out as the caucus machinery fell apart and they were left with nothing to report. But it also reminded me that for the quirks, faults and frustrations with our electoral system, it is in the end a marvel of sorts.

That for over 200 years we have managed to maintain a system that at least in concept and over the years increasing in fact assures every citizen a say in their government is kind of amazing. Yes, there have been setbacks: the Supreme Court has hobbled the franchise through the Citizens United decision, which put moneyed interests in the driver’s seat in campaigns in an unprecedented way, and by shrinking the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act, once again endangering representation of minority voices. But the bones of a good system are in place and are waiting to be built on.

This is all a way of calling attention to the importance of the UU the Vote campaign that our congregation has joined in. Our country may be consumed in partisanship these days, but UU the Vote goes deeper. It takes us to the heart of trying to make our democracy truly representational. Look at the bulletin board in Sandburg Hall and you’ll find many things that we can all do to help assure that every person, especially people in marginalized communities, have a voice in our elections.

We can’t know how this work will impact the ultimate results in the election, but we can help bend the arc of justice toward a fairer and more equitable system of government.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead  Minister

Testing, Testing 1-2-3

Minister Claudia

One of the qualities of our congregation I admire is your willingness to experiment. We have been experimenting with The Wednesday Thing (this is year three!) and with multigenerational worship. These are two of the programs that generated excitement when I interviewed for my job with UUCA almost two years ago. I have updates on both.

Wednesday Thing

The purpose of The Wednesday Thing has been to create a midweek opportunity for multigenerational community-building and spiritual growth through a shared meal, worship and engaging programs. Much staff time and resources are allocated to making this midweek gathering possible. This year the planning team (Kim Collins, John Bloomer, Elizabeth Schell, Linda Topp, Winslow Tuttle, and me) has worked hard to diversify our programs with a focus on engaging multigenerational programs such as storytelling with David Novak, Fiber Friends knitting circle, Spiritual Experiences with Nancy Bragg, and drumming with Will Jernigan. We are grateful for all the volunteers who offer programs and preside at Vespers.

We have a small group of attendees each Wednesday and struggle to find hosts for the communal meal. At the last planning team meeting we discussed the value of this midweek program and the challenges of sustaining it. And….here it comes….we decided it is time to try something new! Starting in March—not February—in March we will offer only Vespers and Programs—no meal. Folks are welcome to bring their own food and eat in Sandburg Hall before Vespers. We will observe how this works as we continue to explore ways to create spaces for fellowship, fun, learning, and worship beyond Sunday mornings. Your thoughts and feedback are enthusiastically welcomed and encouraged. We are proud of our programming and hope that some or all of these will entice you to attend:

  • February 5: Storytelling with David Novak; Earth Community Circle’s Invitation to Green Sanctuary Projects
  • February 12:  Peacemakers’ Book Study – An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar- Ortiz
  • February 19: The Story of the UU Chalice Design with Jerry McLellan and Chris VanWandelen
  • February 26:  Black History Trivia with Brett Johnson
  • March 25:  Hidden Faces of Asheville: Exploring Asheville’s Hidden and Not So Hidden Racial History with local educator Betts Conti
  • April 29: Odyssey Interview: Rev. Ward

Multigenerational Worship

Multigenerational worship is another area of experimentation. I appreciate serving a congregation that understands participation in worship to be an important part of faith formation for our children. It allows them to learn to be part of our faith community and learn the songs, rituals, and cadences of worship. Multigenerational worship is an invitation for us to honor our differences and support our children in developing their “worship skills.”

I also acknowledge that crafting a multigenerational service is challenging. How does one craft worship that nourishes the spiritual needs of all ages? It isn’t easy, but it IS doable. I have received feedback about the things that work and those that don’t. I am reaching out to colleagues to discuss best practices and will be visiting our congregation in Oakridge, TN to observe one of their Whole Church services.

After meeting with RE staff and listening to your feedback (This is an ad: There will be more opportunities for feedback at the RE Town Hall after both services February 2nd!), we will experiment with offering Multigenerational Services for children in grades 3 and above with extended childcare. Whole Church services with childcare for PreK and younger will be crafted to be shorter, with more music and embodiment as well as content that appeals to adults and children.

So we begin experimenting!  For the remainder of the year we will have two Multigenerational worship opportunities (3rd grade and above) on February 23, our YRUU Service led by our youth group and May 17, the service where our Coming of Age youth share their credos. There will also be two Whole Church services (childcare for preK and younger) on March 8 for Celebration Sunday and April 19 for Earth Day/Flower Communion.

Mark your calendars and join us in this ongoing experiment in Faith Development.

Rev. Claudia Jimenez, Minister of Faith Development

UUCA Is S-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g!

Minister ClaudiaLast Sunday after Melissa Murphy’s call to action to get out the vote and advocate for electoral justice, the congregation joined in “Social Justice Stretching.” We touched our toes reaching down to get the power of the grassroots. We reached our arms up to the sky for inspiration. We stomped our feet on the ground to stomp out injustice and used our hands to wipe out white supremacy. Finally, we raised our arms swaying side to side to move in the winds of change. That quick energy break during the service reminded us that we each should find our way of contributing to positive change this election year. Your participation matters.

This election year the Justice Ministry Council is encouraging all of us to participate in our denominations #UUtheVote campaign. The bulletin board in Sandburg Hall is continually being updated with ways we can each participate. You are invited to share your commitment on one of the forms on the bulletin board. So far, we have 39 commitments out of a possible 558 members & friends. I hope we have at least 100. Will you be one of those hundred?

To follow up that call to action, Melissa will be offering two workshops:

“Voting Essentials” January 29, 7PM; a Wednesday Thing program. Join us for dinner and Vespers if you can.  You would leave knowing:

1. How to look up your own voter info in the public voter search
2. Leave with your sample ballot on your phone
3. Leave with a good nonpartisan resource to use for candidate info
4. Leave with the early voting schedule in hand
5. Leave knowing the importance of sharing with all your friends as a voter turn-out strategy

There will also be a TED Talk “How to Revive Your Belief in Democracy” and discussion.

“Engaging Voters” February 11; 6:30 PM, Sandburg Hall. This training is for people who want to be active in educating voters in the spaces where they volunteer or work. It will provide more in-depth information on: voter registration; what’s on the ballot and the influence of those races on issues that align with our UU values; and how to show voters where to find essential voting information.

Lastly, there is one more opportunity to get involved. On February 23rd there is an opportunity to get “Souls to the Polls” after the YRUU (Young Religious Unitarian Universalists) youth-led service. Folks could carpool to the North Asheville library to vote early in the primary election. Why? Because NC could lose Sunday voting in any given year.  To keep it we need to show that it is needed. One thing faith communities can do is organize group voting on the Sunday of early voting to keep the numbers up, demonstrating to our government leaders that Sunday voting is used. If you are interested, please let me know at FaithDev@UUAsheville.org.

How will you s-t-r-e-t-c-h this year and make a commitment beyond your vote?

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Happy 2020, friends! I hope that your new year is off to a wonderful beginning. If, though, like me, you’re already feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything only ten days into the new year, I invite you to use this season of new beginnings and new approaches to try a maybe new-for-you approach: cut yourself some slack. Not a natural slack-cutter?  Yeah, me neither. As I type this, I’m feeling all the guilt: guilt for not finishing all the work I had scheduled for this week; guilt for this post being late due to aforementioned work; guilt for not helping my husband get my three kids to sleep, due to this post needing to get sent in ASAP. Etc. Etc.

I recently read Kate Northrup’s Do Less: A Revolutionary Approach to Time and Energy Management for Busy Moms. (Although the title specifies mothers, the book is suited for anyone in a caregiving role, and I think that’s pretty much everyone.) Anyway, the premise seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? How can we do less right now? Besides what’s going on in our personal lives, our country’s politics are in disarray; bigotry and hate crimes continue to occur daily; and the world is literally on fire. Where do we even begin, let alone stop?

While I’m not in complete agreement with every point in Northrup’s book, she does make a number of good ones, and one of them is that we simply cannot do (and hold) everything alone. We are a species built for community, despite the fact that many aspects of our modern lives leave us in isolation.

Here’s where I bring it back to UUCA. (You were wondering, weren’t you?) We begin with each other. With our community. When things are scary or overwhelming or just too darn much despite outward appearances maybe looking like you’ve got it all together (*raises hand sheepishly), we can always begin at UUCA. Our community uplifts (and challenges) its members. Our community has created social justice action plans. Our community offers hope. And the more we engage with that community, the more supported we can feel.  

This new year, I invite you to engage in some new-to-you ways. Perhaps join the Peach March and Rally on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, offer to lead a Wednesday Thing activity, or maybe sign up for a covenant group. Or, even simpler but perhaps more profound, make a point to connect with people you don’t know well at church coffee hour. Ask how they are and really listen. You can change the world more than you’ll ever know by these tiny seeds of kindness.

And yeah, we’ll make mistakes and missteps. We might occasionally miss deadlines (sorry, Tish!) and leave our spouses to do bedtime solo (sorry, Josh!) But if we put ourselves out there, the connections we make can relieve so much of the fretting, self-guilt-tripping, and despairing. And that can open up more time for the actual doing of the important work we all have before us.  

Nora Carpenter, Board of Trustees

Spirituality of Congregations

I’ve been looking at Susan Beaumont’s book, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, again. This time I’ve been reading more about the soul of an institution.  As part of that discussion, Beaumont talks about the spirituality of an institution (pp. 57-59).  She first quotes Mary Ann Huddleston, who defines spirituality as “the manner, mode, or way in which an individual or group lives out its doctrines, ideas, values, hopes, traditions and habits of faith.” Then she presents Corrine Ware’s four styles of spirituality: thinking, feeling, being, doing.

Ware explains that each faith community has its own preferred type of spirituality, represented by some blending of the four basic types.  Most congregations express a strong preference for one or two types of spirituality and a lesser attachment to the other styles.  (Note that in these Beaumont excerpts, I have used “holy,” where Beaumont is  using “God.”  I figured it might be easier for you to read if I made the switch for you.

Congregations that favor a head, or “thinking,” spirituality are attracted to sermons, lectures, and study as a way of experiencing the holy. These congregations value understanding ideas about the holy….  They demonstrate a love of order and desire for things to be rational and logical.

 When I first read this, I stopped right here and said, YES, this is UUCA.  But then I kept reading.

Congregations with a heart spirituality know the holy by “feeling” the holy’s presence.  A congregation that favors this spirituality type over the others will experience highs and lows in religious feelings….  Heart spirituality is most often engaged through spontaneous experiences, through music, testimony, and more informal worship styles.

 Hmmmm…probably not us.

 A  congregation with a “being” spirituality values the journey.  In fact, the quest is more important than an arrival.  Being is more important than doing.  This spiritual type values a mystical approach to the holy.  They enjoy pausing to listen for the holy….  This congregation enjoys contemplation, wordless prayer, and experiences of silence and stillness.

 I thought the line about the journey was going to be us.  But turns out the journey is a bit more mystical than I was thinking so I would say that this definitely describes some of us, but we don’t practice it very much as a whole congregation. Although we are better than most UU congregations at holding a several-minute silence during the meditative part of our worship services.

 Finally, some congregations embrace a spirituality of “doing.”  These congregations experience the holy best when they are actively working to advance a cause for which they are passionate.  They are rooted in social concerns and are often impatient with the passivity of the other types.

 I know this is true of some of us, probably more of us than the “being” group, but again, is it the spirituality of the congregation as a whole?

 I am sure that every congregation does have its own recipe for spirituality, just like every classroom has its own “personality.”  But it’s not so easy to discern.  Here’s my guess.  Send me yours!

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Back to Basics

If numbers stir your curiosity, then it’s a good bet that this new year has you wondering. 2020 – it’s been a century since we had a double year like this, and the last time we did – 1919 – was monumental, marking as it did the Versailles Treaty that ended the First World War.

Can we expect an event as epoch-making this year? Well, the potential is certainly there. And if I had to guess, I’d wager it could have something to do with the election in November. We UUs hope to have something to say in that, which is why we’re hopping on board the national initiative from UUA headquarters called #UUtheVote. Look for more details in coming weeks.

2020 will also be important for this congregation, marking with my departure in June the first turnover in the position of Lead Minister here in almost two decades. You will be learning more from your Board of Trustees about what that transition will look like.

Meanwhile, I’ve been giving thought to how our worship life might prepare us for this change. The way I’ve chosen to do this is to take some time reflecting on some of the basics of our religious tradition.

So, beginning this Sunday and continuing periodically over the next six months I intend to focus our worship on each of the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism. These principles were adopted 35 years ago in a major revision of the bylaws of the Unitarian Universalist Association as a way of describing what unites us as a community of faith. They are framed as elements of a covenant that all member congregations of the association agree to “affirm and promote.” And they are joined by a statement of first five, and now six sources that inform our living tradition.

These are the foundation stones of contemporary Unitarian Universalism. So, I thought that as you begin thinking about what you want for the next ministry here it might be worthwhile taking some time to examine them and consider what they call for from each of you and this congregation.

I look forward to the year ahead with you.

 Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister.

‘Tis the Season for Giving

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

xmas-gift-uucaSurprise! This is NOT about asking for donations. Though that’s not a bad idea. In fact, why don’t you just keep that idea in the back of your head while you keep reading? This IS about the many ways we accept donations. We aim to please so we try to make it as simple as possible for you to support UUCA. Here we go:

Sign up for a regularly scheduled ACH transfer from your bank account to ours. (This is our favorite–you don’t forget and we are charged lower fees than if you use a credit card.)

Sign up for a regularly scheduled donation by credit card. (Same as above but has higher fees. Does solve the forgetful problem.)

Write a check. Drop it in the Sunday collection, bring it to church and hand it to us or drop it in the black lock box outside my office, mail it. All good.

Use the Donate link on our website to make a one-time or recurring gift.

Text to give. Use that little computer in your pocket to send this message to 77977: UUAVL GIVE. Once you input your credit card info the first time, it’s easy-peasy after that.

Transfer stock shares to us. You give us stock shares and we sell them and keep the money. This has some tax advantages. (Check with your financial folks–we are NOT financial advisors.)

Set up a donor-advised fund and direct that the fund make donation(s) to UUCA. Donor-advised funds are like mini-grant foundations with you as the grantor. You get a tax deduction when you put money into your fund, not when it gets doled out by your directives. This has a tax advantage for some folks. (Same caveat about financial advisors.)

If you are 70-1/2 years old, you are required to withdraw a certain amount of money from your IRA each year (not Roth IRAs). The amount is defined by the IRS. Go look it up. If you send the money from your IRA directly to UUCA, you pay no income taxes on that contribution. (Still not financial advisors.)

If you want to leave money to UUCA upon your demise, we have our Legacy Circle Committee ready to sign you up. This does NOT have to be a large amount. And it can be as easy as making UUCA one of the beneficiaries of an insurance plan, a bank account, or investments. Contact Mike Horak.

Setting Our Priorities for a Happy New Year!

IMG_0386It’s that time of year for many of us when, in addition to thinking about holiday festivities, we are also beginning to think of resolutions for the coming year. Well, the Board is no different and this past Tuesday night, we sat around the table and started a conversation around changes we wanted to make for our board and how we do our work. The idea of change had actually begun a few months prior as we were going through the 1st module of a board training series offered by the UUA. In it, Unitarian Universalist minister Dan Hotchkiss shared his vision of how UU Boards of Trustees might construct their agendas led by values rather than policy. After all, board work, he suggested, can and even should be something that at its core is spiritual work.

I bet that if I were to ask people in our congregation what they think of when they hear the words “Policy Governance,” many would quickly conjure up ideas centered around bylaws and procedures and checklists regarding less-than-spiritual topics such as facility repair and staff contracts. And while these things are crucial in keeping our UUCA boat afloat, these are not the work of the Board.  Hotchkiss reminded us that policy governance is actually intended to make space for more lofty matters. “The purpose of good governance,” he says, “is to free the Board to spend more time on thinking about the future of the congregation itself in relation to a deeper and better understanding of the congregation’s mission.” Hotchkiss went on to describe his idea of how to do this, in what he called “An Annual Vision of Ministry” that would set three “Priorities” for the Board as well as an “Open Question.” The priorities guide the work of the year. The open question starts a conversation around the years to come. Though this would not limit the Board in regards to addressing other issues as they arise, it would establish a core focus for the Board’s annual work in a way that would allow for a more “values-driven” agenda. It would also provide for a common language which we could use to communicate the big picture of our work with the congregation. So this past Tuesday, we set out to decide which big priorities would guide our board work through the end of the church year.

The priorities chosen to guide our work for the current year are as follows:

Finding the Right Interim: This might seem like an obvious priority, but as you can imagine it will require everything from establishing a search committee that can navigate the paperwork and procedures required by the UUA to working within the Board as well as the greater congregational community to collect and communicate what people are feeling in regards to the interim process.

Widening Our Welcome: All members of our congregation’s leadership recently participated in a series of surveys, interviews, and training in a process called the IDI or Intercultural Development Inventory, which measures cross-cultural competency and suggests ways of broadening our goal of creating a more inclusive space for all. By setting these ideals into our agendas, we hope to explore ways as a Board to share some of our learning with the congregation as well as to make space for reflection on our practices and places that might lead a more welcoming environment and experience for all.

Building Board Visibility: As we enter in a time of transition/departure in leadership, we felt that greater Board visibility could help provide an aspect of stability during the change. In addition, as the Board is ultimately responsible for making the hire of the interim minister, it serves us all that the congregation better know who we are, what we are doing, and how to comfortably communicate with us their feelings around the transition.

In addition, we agreed on one Open Question:

How Will Transformation Be a Part of Our Coming Transition? Though this does not guide our action steps for the current year, this question will be a recurring theme regarding conversation and outreach with the congregation as we begin to think about the bigger picture of UUCA after Mark. Mark has led this community through many transformative changes over the last 15 years. The question for us now will be what transformations might we want to communicate and create in time when a new minister is called?

In the coming months, the Board will be using these priorities and questions to guide what we do both during our monthly meetings as well as outside of them. We will be communicating and reaching out to you as the congregation to help us in this work as well as for us to make sure that this work is helping you. Be on the lookout for information in the newsletter, on the Board of Trustees bulletin board in Sandburg Hall, on Facebook, in order of service inserts, and in conversations over coffee, just to name a few. And feel free to reach out to me or any member of the Board if you have questions or comments regarding this work ahead. (I have a new email address at board@uuasheville.org)

This coming New Year, I am making the usual resolutions to curb some of the bad habits and strengthen some of the good ones. But perhaps one of my biggest goals for the coming year is that I do my part to help our congregation move into 2020 celebrating what HAS BEEN while also building something NEW together! Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you all!

Ryan Williams, President, Board of Trustees

Why Christmas?

It’s a question I’ve heard over the years:

“Now, you Unitarian Universalists don’t identify as Christian, is that right?”

“Well, there are certainly people in our congregations who are drawn to the teachings of Jesus and identify as Christian in some way. But, yes, I would say that as a denomination we are outside what I would call the Christian consensus. We respect Jesus, as we respect other prophets and teachers, but we don’t accord him special status or put him or his teachings at the center of our worship life.”

“OK. But then I see that you still make a big deal about Christmas. Why is that?”

It’s a good question, and answering it requires taking stock of a few points in our history and theology. The two historic movements that led to the religion we are today – Unitarianism and Universalism – both arose as Christian churches. But over the years for many historic reasons, both drifted outside of the Christian orbit.

We still honor that past, as you can see in the list of sources that we proclaim inform our living tradition, including among them “Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.” The ethic of love set out in those scriptures remains a strong grounding for our spiritual life, but we don’t necessarily buy into what the Christian church has made of it over the years.

Christmas itself can be problematic. Scholars have observed that many of the stories surrounding the holiday, from its timing at the end of the year, to the traveling Magi and Herod’s campaign of infanticide, have little foundation in truth beyond serving as political expediency for one group or another.

That said though, there is also something beautifully true about the Christmas story.  The Unitarian religious educator Sofia Lyon Fahs touched on it when she wrote, “Each night a child is born is a holy night.”

The Christmas story reminds us that each human life holds within it the potential for beautiful and amazing things. Each person is born fully worthy, fully whole, and new birth is cause for celebration. The rough manger, surrounded by curious visitors humble and great, over which joyous parents certainly hear hosannas of some sort, is a lovely image representing the kind of hope we all seek at the darkest moment of the year.

Christmas Eve is one of my favorite moments in our worship year. Our early service at 4 p.m. is full of story-telling, music, and fun with players of all ages in full costume. Our later service, beginning at 8:30 p.m. with a half-hour of wonderful music from our choir, moves on at 9 p.m. with a quieter, more meditative vibe. Gathered together with the midwinter dark and cold outside, we are given to reflect on the blessings of our lives, not least the community surrounding us that we continually create and sustain.

Of all that I will leave behind when I retire next June, I think that our Christmas Eve services are among those things that I will miss most. They have always served for me as a kind of hinge in the year, a moment when I feel most acutely how precious and precarious our brief lives are. But it is also a moment filled with deep gratitude for those I love and love me, for this congregation, for all the forces of hope and renewal that persist among us whatever the adversity.

Rev.. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Justice Ministry Update: Room at the Inn, #UUthevote and A Yellow-Shirt-Brigade Event Coming In January

The UUCA Justice Ministry Council is meeting monthly and hearing the many ways in which members of UUCA are engaged in the larger community.  As representatives of the different areas: Racial, Economic, Environmental and Gender & Sexuality Justice as well as Faith Development share their updates, I appreciate the importance of providing a space for connection and conversation about the successes, challenges and possibilities of justice work. As staff liaison I am able to provide support to members of the different areas who are organizing and promoting opportunities for service, education, advocacy and witness. 

At our last meeting we heard about the ongoing work of UUCA volunteers participating in Room in the Inn, the interfaith shelter for women living with homelessness. This month extra volunteers and resources were needed because the cold weather brought 20 instead of the 12 expected women to the shelter at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. Paula Massey, the UUCA coordinator thanked all last minute volunteers in a recent e-news. She and her team: Allison Jordan and Martha Shephard have been coordinating this effort for the last 17 years, yes, 17 years!
The next RITI is February 9-15, 2020. What does it entail? Hosting starts on Sunday afternoon (Feb. 9) and overnight folks are needed for the 7 nights, two UUs per night -Grace Covenant provides two as well. Volunteers provide all 7 days of lunches plus 3 dinners.  They also pick up women at 5:45 pm at AHOPE and then in the morning they get dropped off at various places.  It takes about 50 UU and 50 GCPC volunteers to make it work.  And since it is at GCPC they have to break down a Sunday school room to make into a dorm and stock the kitchen plus make sure there are enough blankets and pillows.  And then early the next Sunday morning, after the women leave, that same room has to be cleaned and set back up for Sunday School at 9:30 am.  Yes, it is a big effort and an important commitment. Were you aware of this life affirming interfaith effort? If you are interested in being a February volunteer, contact Paula at massey.paula@gmail.com

Room in the Inn, is one of many outreach projects in which members of UUCA engage. On January 19 we will be launching the “#UU the Vote Challenge” organized by the Unitarian Universalist Association to encourage congregations to partner with local electoral justice partners to mobilize voters, combat voter suppression and leverage our resources to #VoteLove and #DefeatHate. The official launch is January 12 if you are interested in learning more before we make it a congregational project. The Justice Ministry Council will be sharing ways of getting our congregation involved and further supporting those among us who are involved in electoral justice work. The organizers of   #UUtheVote remind us that all the issues we care deeply about – climate, immigration, LGBTQ, racial, economic justice and so on are at stake in the 2020 election.  They state this campaign isn’t about “another thing to work on” or abandoning the work we passionately engage in; it is about incorporating an electoral lens into our strategies. You’ll hear more about that at our launch January 19 during Sunday worship which will also be a Yellow Shirt Brigade event. That means you are invited to wear the yellow “Side with Love” t-shirt to show solidarity and witness for love. Of course, you will want to avoid spilling coffee on your t-shirt so you can wear it January 20 when we march in the 2020 Martin Luther King Rally. Don’t have a t-shirt? You can order one at  https://www.uuabookstore.org/Side-with-Love-C1401.aspx

Be on the look out for other Yellow Shirt Brigade events in the e-News.  In the meanwhile, check out the Justice Ministry bulletin board in Sandburg Hall. To receive the UUCA Faith in Action e-News or share information contact Elizabeth Schell elizabeth@lainschell.com  The deadline for the next issue is December 4 by 5pm.

Holiday Generosity

This time of year, non-profits the world over notice an impulse to give generously during the holiday season.  They are asking you to think of them when your generosity gene gets activated.  They’re sending out pleas for end-of-year donations that might help tax situations (less likely these days now that the standard deduction has been raised).  So here we are!  YES!  UUCA would love to be a recipient of your generosity!  (Just sayin’.)

And to that end, here is the official UUCA 2019 Wish List….. 

Um, except here’s the thing.  You know how it’s hard to buy stuff for family members because they buy all the inexpensive things for themselves when they need them and there’s no way you can afford the expensive things?  Well, same thing here.  If it’s something that a congregant might consider buying for us, it’s probably inexpensive enough to be funded by our budget.  And our very successful wish lists of the past three years have allowed us to buy the off-budget items we need.  So here we are, hoping you’ll fund something for us, but what can that be?

Here’s an idea I’m stealing from the Annual Budget Drive team.  How about if we join up together so that we can buy a couple of high-value items?  I’m thinking about a couple of building upgrades for the main building.

Fund this: A New Closet (!) and Energy-Efficient Windows for Sandburg Hall

We’ve been dreaming of a place to put stuff like the extra Sanctuary chairs, and even large TV screens, “away.”  But right now, there is no “away” to be had.  

Sandburg

We’d like to build a room-size closet (similar to the handicap restroom) where the library is currently located.  We’d downsize (but not eliminate) the library, add our closet, and then re-work that highly leaky and insecure “window-wall-with-sliding-doors” so that it is less window, more wall, with an easy-to-open door so that we make better use of our deck.  We could even buy sensible, commercial-grade furniture for the deck.  Wouldn’t that be something?

This one ought to be an easy group effort because we’ve already had a generous donor who has given us a great head start on fully funding this project.  Designate your gift to the Capital Fund and we’ll know just what to do with your donation.

And if we have extra, there’s another part to improving the deck area we’d like to complete.  We want to pave the area UNDER the deck to make it into another gathering area as we continue improvements to the yard area between the deck and the Memorial Garden.  (You can see we’ve sort of gotten started.)

IMG_0356 (1)

I’ll have cost estimates for these projects after Thanksgiving but in the meantime, you can challenge your circle of friends to group up together for a larger donation than any of you could give by yourselves.  We’ve got this—together!

Preparing for Change

TransitionIn the months that have passed since Mark announced his retirement, I have experienced feelings of both sadness and perhaps even a little denial. I can definitely say that for my family, Mark has been a comfort, a supporter, and an inspiration through both good times and bad since my husband and I first became members of UUCA in 2008. As we approach Thanksgiving, Mark Ward is high on our thankfulness list indeed!

However, in addition to this nostalgia and gratitude, I am sure that I am not alone in wondering what his departure will mean for us as a congregation. What will happen once he moves on?

Ministerial transitions, by nature, are periods of change filled with nervousness for congregations, but I believe we can also look at this upcoming transition as a time of excitement and energy as we map out a new future for the UUCA.

In the coming months, there will be much to talk about. We will share information and updates as well as opportunities to support and guide this transition. The bulk of this work won’t really begin until after the coming of the new year, but I figured that now would be a good time to begin to share some basic information and the timeline on our road ahead together.

There are two types of ministers with whom we will be involved in the coming years. First of all, beginning in January, we will begin the process of seeking out a “Transition Minister” (also called an Interim Minister). These ministers have special training to help guide congregations in transition through a series of tasks that help them prepare for their next permanent, or “Called Minister.” Mark has served as our “Called Minister” for the past 15 years.

Once we have a “Transition Minister” in place, we will work with them for 24 months to find our “Called Minister.” Why two years?! The UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association) Transition Office suggests that congregations that work successfully with their “Transition Minister” for two years have a much greater success (90%) of finding a “Called Minister” who matches their needs, while congregations working with their “Transition Minister” for 12 months or less have a lower (56%). success rate. The mantra of the UUA Transition Office is “Doing it well beats doing it quickly.”

Therefore based on this guidance, it is the intention of the Board of Trustees to begin the search for our two-year “Transition Minister” in the months ahead. This is how that process will work:

With guidance from the UUA Transition office, the Board will begin seeking congregational members to form the Transition Minister Search Committee. This committee will consist of 5 members who will lead the search process. The selection of this committee will be finalized in the early months of 2020.

Once the committee has been selected, they will begin preparing and completing an Interim Search Packet and submitting it to the UUA for publication and promotion. The earliest submission date for this information is April 9th, 2020.

On May 2nd, 2020, the UUA will release the names of all interested applicants to us. Committee members will sort through these applicants and conduct interviews. A few weeks later on May 18th, the board will finalize the committee’s recommendations to the UUA Transition Office. On May 20th at noon, offers will be extended to the desired “Transition Minister”.

It is important to note that several people have asked me if Rev. Claudia would be able to apply to be our “Called Minister,” but the UUA does not recommend that a Minister of Faith Development become a “Called Minister” in the same congregation. The board intends to follow that recommendation. Also, Rev. Claudia has told us that she is not interested in applying for the Lead position. Rev. Claudia will continue to be fully present and serve our community with her passion, love, and joy during this time of transition.

At times our work together will be filled with trepidation and uncertainty, but as a Board we will strive to be as transparent about the process as possible. To this end, the board will host a series of information Q&A’s in December to provide more detailed information and to answer questions about our upcoming work. We will widely publicize dates and times as soon as they are confirmed.

In addition, any Board member is also available individually to answer your questions, take your comments, and just listen to your thoughts about this process. As Board President, I am committed to this as well. You can email me, call me at (919) 619-7298, or simply grab me by the arm when you see me at services.

We are all incredibly grateful for all that Mark has done to serve us as individuals, as a congregation, and as a part of our larger community in Asheville. In the coming months, we will share that gratitude with him as we prepare for a new “Called Minister.”

I am thankful for this congregation as a whole. We are healthy and caring and creative. That will serve us well as we move into this transition and new future together!

Ryan Williams
Board of Trustees – President

Using Our Resources For the Greater Good


Why does this congregation exist?  Who are we supposed to be serving?  These are basic questions that we should know the answers to when we make a decision to donate our time, talent and money to UUCA.  I can’t answer those questions for you, but I can make a case that we are not just here to serve our own members (though we kind of have to do that at some level, right?) but to serve “our neighbors.”

One way that we serve our neighbors is to share our resources with them.  As a faith community, we have chosen to collect money every month and donate it to a local non-profit organization, often becoming one of a very small non-profit’s biggest donors.  So we share our wealth with our neighbors.

We have members who have 1) recently drummed up our support for the Blue Ridge Pride Procession and Festival, 2) assisted in offering a very well-attended, public workshop addressing the opportunity gap in our area schools, and 3) are planning a public program to reclaim Armistice Day, which was designated as “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated on November 11.”  That event will be here on 11/11 at 11am in our Sanctuary. So we share our talents with our neighbors.

And speaking of our Sanctuary, we have a campus which we support and maintain through your generosity during our annual budget drive.  We pass your generosity on by offering our spaces to a wide variety of charitable organizations at low or no cost.  Just in the past month we’ve hosted meetings or events for: Narcotics Anonymous; a young men’s mentoring group; Guardian ad Litem; Buncombe County Department of Health; HelpMate and Our Voice; a support group for people with ALS and caregivers; Just Economics; and the cooperative preschool that meets for a half-day every school day.  So we share our buildings with our neighbors.  In fact, about 1/3 of the time, our building is used by outside groups.  That is really good sharing!

So look at that.  You contribute your time, talent and money to UUCA.  Then, our congregation not only provides the support and experiences one can expect from a faith community but also acts as a base to improve the lives of those beyond our faith community.  That ought to give you something to mull over as you think about those beginning questions: Why does this congregation exist?  Who are we supposed to be serving? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday Connections

I just returned from a two-week break from routines, work and the news. I feel refreshed and re-energized. As much as I enjoy the challenges and joys of ministry a pause from it all helps me regain perspective. And so does the midweek experience of The Wednesday Thing. Thanks to the shared ministry efforts of lay leaders, volunteers and staff all are welcomed to participate in a time of fun, fellowship, worship and learning every Wednesday evening at UUCA. When was the last time you participated in this growing and nurturing faith development program?

Some join us for the meal at 5:45 pm, usually soup and salad (pizza and salad on 4th Wednesday). Others join us for dinner and Vespers, a short, reflective, evening gathering in the Sanctuary at 6:30. Some just come for programs at 7:00. Regardless of whether you come for one, two or three of the offerings you will experience the synergy resulting from the creation of a space that comes alive with your presence. During the past year I have watched as relationships across the ages develop over shared meals. I think that is how our sense of belonging to each other develops. We feel seen and known as we engage in conversation and get to know people outside our familiar circle of friends.

Last night, Brett Johnson and The Sandburgers offered an embodied, musical evensong service created for our multigenerational Wednesday Thing community. My day had been full and busy, and I was looking forward to a time of reflection and slowing down before heading home. The opportunity to sing, reflect and even move a little in community was just what I needed.  Vespers leaders and approaches vary every Wednesday.  Members are welcome to share their spiritual practices and creativity with us.  There is always a spiritual experience that uplifts and challenges us to go deeper mid-week. Please contact me if you are interested in being a Vespers leader. We have guidelines and resources to support your effort.

After Vespers, I found myself with a multi-age group of dancers laughing and responding to the rhythms and facilitation offered by local dance instructor Lisa Zahiya. Dancing with some of our youngest UUs, experiencing their energy, laughter, and enthusiasm was delightful. Lisa Z will be back November 20 offering a Zumba-style program with Latin rhythms and simple choreography. While we danced, another group was in the Sanctuary listening to a TED talk about the power of vulnerability by Brené Brown. We are grateful for Noel Yovovich’s organizing this year’s TED talk series. Thank you, Noel!

This year we are offering on average two programs each Wednesday.  On October 30 there will be Mask-Making Fun for all ages in Sandburg Hall. In the Sanctuary, the Odyssey program resumes with Gina Phairas interviewing long-time member and former Deputy Director of the Asheville Housing Authority, Larry Holt, about his life and UU experiences. He proudly identifies as a Unicorn. If you do not know what this is, well, join us and find out! 

The goal of the Odyssey program is to invite the elders in our community to share their stories; the experiences that have made them who they are that are often unknown to many in the congregation. Too often we learn the most amazing things about people at their memorial services.  We think that is too late! If you have any candidates you would like us to invite to share their stories, please let me know. Your suggestions and feedback for how we can continue to improve The Wednesday Thing are welcome. See you on the 30th!

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
faithdev@uuasheville.org

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