UUCA Blog

Work on the Vision

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

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

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

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

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

Or two descriptions from the handy internet of ideas:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

UU Asheville + BeLoved Asheville = Making a Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading,
Margaret McAlister, Board Member

Welcome, Brittany Crawford!

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

 

Hello, fellow Unitarian Universalists at UU Asheville!

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

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

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

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

In faith,
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

 

 

Celebremos!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re Open, Open, Open! Come On Down!

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Reaching Out

karen dill

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen Dill, UU Asheville Board of Trustees

 

The Eternal Immigrant

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Budgeting in a Time of High Uncertainty

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

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

Things we know:

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

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

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

Here are some of our choices:

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

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

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In faith,
Rev. Claudia, Minister of Faith Development

How Budgeting Works at UU Asheville

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

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

How is the budget created?

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

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

To estimate expenses, we

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

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

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

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

 

 

 

 

 

Pandemic Living Endures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Stoffels
Member, UU Asheville Board of Trustees

 

A Faith That Troubles the World

“Beware the faith that does not trouble the world.”
Steve Garnass- Holmes

rev Claudia JiménezWelcome to the month of renewing faith. There are many ways to define faith beyond the traditional idea of trusting in a deity or higher power. For me, one understanding of faith is trusting in the capacity for human goodness and the work we can do together. Despite violence and injustice in the world, there are people doing good. I see good happening in our faith community not only in the Welcome Circle that supports an Afghan family, in the generosity of those committed to restocking the BeLoved Pantry or those volunteering with UU the Vote, but also those who give of their time and talent to work with children and youth or participate in committees that do the work of the congregation. There are also many of you engaged in the community, living out your values there. It is a both/and engagement. We are grounded in this UU community, held in love and challenged to deepen our spirituality so that we can engage beyond our four walls or zoom boxes.

Renewing faith. What an appropriate theme for the month when we launch the Annual Giving Campaign to support and deepen the work of this congregation. As we begin to gather in person and continue our virtual gatherings, it is a good time to wonder what this faith community means to you; to consider how you renew your commitment to the possibilities that await this congregation as you call a new minister and revisit your mission. What an exciting time! I invite you to consider these questions (or create your own) to explore your engagement with this congregation.

Why did you decide to attend the first time, in person or on-line?

What do you value most about this congregation?

Think of a time when your engagement with this congregation made you feel alive, vibrant and engaged? What were the circumstances? What was your role?

How has this congregation made a difference in your life?

What is this congregation known for in the community?

When has this congregation let you down (because we’re human)?

What 3 wishes for the future of this congregation do you have?

As you reflect on what this faith community means to you, I invite you to consider how your time, talent, presence and resources can contribute to joyfully imagining what the role of UU Asheville is in this pandemic time. We have a learned a lot these last two years about what matters and what isn’t working in our society. Many of us were finally jolted into understanding the true and insidious depth of white supremacy and racism with the death of George Floyd and so many others. We were called to work for racial justice. We became more aware of the glaring inequities when the pandemic disproportionately affected Black and other marginalized communities. Opportunities are knocking at our door. Who do we want to be? Can we be audacious and creative in exploring what our call is in 2022?

Are we called to trouble the world, in a good way? I hope so,

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

 

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

Our hearts and minds weigh heavy with the people of Ukraine as we watch the news of the Russian invasion and listen to the dire warnings from leaders around the world. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s advisor, Mykhailo Podolyak, said: “A full-scale war in Europe has begun. … Russia is not only attacking Ukraine, but the rules of normal life in the modern world.”

After a restless night, I woke up this morning with this song written by Ed McCurdy in 1950, in the middle of the Joseph McCarthy Red Scare when the threat of war cast its dark shadow over the world, in my head. Pete Seeger was the first to record Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream that never made the top forty but was translated into several languages as it spread around the world.

Feeling helpless and depressed, I was reminded of this wonderful story that I read recently on Facebook about singer/songwriter and activist Pete Seeger who devoted his life to working for change. This story helped lift me out of despair and reminded me that we are not helpless. As the author of the Facebook post said, it matters who we are in the world. Here’s a link to a UU World article called, “Singing for Humanity” about Pete Seeger. A UU at heart, Pete officially became a UU later in his life and his story is inspiring and hopeful.

THIS IS JUST ONE OF MANY GREAT STORIES – WHO WE ARE IN THE WORLD MATTERS – WORDS HAVE POWER

“In the 1970s, Pete Seeger was invited to sing in Barcelona, Spain. Francisco Franco’s fascist government, the last of the dictatorships that started World War II, was still in power but declining. A pro-democracy movement was gaining strength, and to prove it they invited America’s best-known freedom singer to Spain. More than a hundred thousand people were in the stadium, where rock bands had played all day. But the crowd had come for Seeger.

As Pete prepared to go on, government officials handed him a list of songs he was not allowed to sing. Pete studied it mournfully, saying it looked an awful lot like his setlist. But they insisted: he must not sing any of these songs. He took the government’s list of banned songs and strolled on stage. He held up the paper and said, “I’ve been told that I’m not allowed to sing these songs.” He grinned at the crowd and said, “So, I’ll just play the chords; maybe you know the words. They didn’t say anything about *you* singing them.”

He strummed his banjo to one song after another, and they all sang. A hundred thousand defiant freedom singers broke the law with Pete Seeger, filling the stadium with words their government did not want them to hear, words they all knew and had sung together, in secret circles, for years. What could the government do? Arrest a hundred thousand singers? It had been beaten by a few banjo chords and the fame of a man whose songs were on the lips of the whole world.”

In faith and love, Cathy
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

 

 

 

Future Thinking – How Brave Are You?

fantasy picture of white staircase ascending left to right with a turquoise figure on a landing in the middle of the staircase, gazing out to a night skyI’m not sure you know it, but your staff is exceptionally creative.  Sometimes we’re so creative we’re afraid to try an idea because it’s “too radical.”  For instance, Rev. Claudia and I had several ideas to completely change our Sunday morning worship once we fully resumed after COVID.  What if we used up three hours on Sunday mornings by having faith development activities for one hour (for all—some age-appropriate, some mixed ages), a snack/social time for some time period, and a gathering time that would be worship?  Or, what if we changed worship so that it was an abbreviated service followed by breakout sessions of art, discussion, videos, etc.?  Or what if we just used one Sunday morning a month and called it Potpourri Sunday, and you wouldn’t know what was happening until you got here (and it would definitely be a happening!)?

In the UU seminar I attended at the start of the month, I listened to Dr. Anthony Pinn, a professor of religion at Rice University, as he spoke about going so far beyond “outside the box” thinking that it borders on fantasy.  The two facts that practically had me jump out of my chair were 1) UUism is wildly diverse in its religious underpinnings but always includes a strong justice element and 2) our church services look just like Christian worship (same form, different content).

He went on from there but I’m pretty sure the following idea is a blend of what he said and what I was thinking about when he was talking. You can give him full credit though.

What if our gatherings were designed to support individual justice work?  We could gather to examine our values and our feelings as we work for justice in whatever manner we choose (in our paid work, in our volunteerism, in our families).  We would not necessarily have a church-wide justice initiative, though we could. We could establish a reflective practice with other UU Ashevilleans and be accountable to/with our friends.  The time together could start with a worship form (or forms) that makes sense for this—inspiring words and music perhaps, a conversation-starting video, a drumming practice…. 

And why Sunday mornings?  Could this happen multiple times per week?  Weekdays, evenings, weekends?  What kind of building might we need?  Would we need a worship space with pews?  Would we need a space to hold hundreds of people? Would we still want to hold RE classes for school-age children and youth on Sunday mornings because it is probably culturally easier?  Is it?

This is fantastical future thinking, and it’s these kinds of ideas we hope you are thinking about, too! 

Here’s your assignment:  Who will we be and how will we act as a congregation once the critical phase of the pandemic ends and a new ministry begins?

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

 

 

On the Journey Towards Racial Justice

laurel amabileYour UUAsheville Board identified the work of Racial Justice as one of our priority goals during the summer of 2020, working with our Minister of Faith Development, Rev. Claudia Jiménez to assemble and empower the Racial Justice Advisory Council (RJAC), made up of an amazing group of insightful and talented leaders dedicated to help our congregation navigate this important work.

The RJAC has worked with a consultant over the last few months to gather information about our UUAsheville system and sought feedback from our congregation. This initial process has resulted in a Draft Assessment Report which Rev. Claudia shared with us all via email on January 26. She and the RJAC are hosting a series of Listening Circles to engage us in conversation about the assessment findings. Your UUAsheville Board met last Sunday for a Listening Circle session and found it to be a great forum for sharing our thoughts and getting clarification for greater understanding.

Please join one of the upcoming Racial Justice Advisory Council Listening Circles if you have not already. We plan to have at least one member of the Board at each one. We want to hear your thoughts!

Three decades ago, one of our much beloved and influential Unitarian Universalist ministers, The Reverend Melvin Hoover, shared a piece he wrote in a meditation manual entitled Been in the Storm So Long. This brilliant compilation features the writings of 29 African Americans, from 19th-century poets to the thinkers of the time, the early 1990s. Mel’s piece, Spirit of the Pioneer, speaks to me as I embark on the next part of my journey toward Racial Justice and as I dare to explore what I must do to truly be an antiracist person. This is not a new journey, for me, UUAsheville, and for Unitarian Universalism, but a continuing and challenging one begun many decades ago.

 I will share these wise words with you as inspiration and an invitation to join me and our congregation on this journey toward Racial Justice:

    We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it and build on it.

    We can’t control the future, but we can shape it and enhance the possibilities for our children and grandchildren.

    We can’t discern in the present the fullness of our actions and their impact, but we can be pioneers in our time, exploring fully the crevices and cracks where knowledge and new insights might be found.

    We can explore our spectrum of relationships and confront our complacency and certainty about the way things are.

    We can dare to face ourselves in our entirety,

                  To understand our pain,
                  To feel the tears,
                 To listen to our frustration and confusion, and to discover new capacities and capabilities that will empower and                         transform us.
                 In the spirit of the pioneer, let us now go forth.

Blessed be and may it be so.

Laural Amabile, Clerk, UUAsheville Board of Trustees

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