I sometimes think that the people who know me well often can get frustrated and confused by my distractability and forgetfulness. Or perhaps more specifically, by the inconsistency of these traits in me. One day, I am extremely organized and on top of things and the next day I seem to have forgotten everything. One day, I am thoughtful and appreciative of important events and moments, the next day I forget to say things like thank you or Happy Birthday.
Thinking of Mark’s retirement has been no different. In many ways, as a member of the Interim Search Committee I have been thinking of his retirement for a couple of years now. As a member of the Board, I have met with him monthly or more and we have talked about his departure and the transition and changes ahead. I watched his last service a few weeks ago and was all weepy at the end. And yet here we are at the end of June, Mark is (almost) retired and I am looking around like “Where the hell did the time go?! I thought we still had another year ahead! After all, doesn’t the church need to be reopened before he can actually leave it?!” I had all intention to proactively reflect on what Mark has meant to me and yet it seems as if I blinked and his time with us is pretty much over and I am kind of looking around with one big “d’oh” expression on my face. But if you are prone to run behind like I do, then the words “Better Late than Never” can be a mantra and the time to reflect can happen even in the last seconds of the shot clock.
Neither Will nor myself had a background or knowledge of Unitarian Universalism as a denomination; however we just so happened to get married by a UU minister in Durham and decided that once we moved to Asheville we would make a point to stop into one and check it out. After a summer of settling in, we finally walked through the doors in the fall of 2006. Fortunately for us, Mark was at the pulpit. I wish I could remember the topic he spoke to that day but instead all I remember was the inclusion of poetry. I could be totally wrong but for some reason Emily Dickinson and Audre Lorde come to mind. I remember we smiled at one another as we listened to him talk and after we left, we spoke about how comforting the experience was and how we almost wished we had had a notebook to take notes in so that we could reflect back upon them later. We decided to come back the next Sunday and then we just kept coming back. Mark had hooked us both with his words.
Over the first few years, we were pretty quiet and kind of stuck to ourselves and our direct interactions with Mark were typically brief and infrequent. Will and I found ourselves both feeling connected to this strange sense of Mark as a father figure of sorts but aside from always giving him big hugs in the foyer as we exited the sanctuary, we didn’t really speak often. When I finally started to reach out to Mark more directly, he probably would have preferred that I hadn’t. I embarrassingly remember sending him emails about the name change from church to congregation as well as my thoughts regarding when exactly “Joys and Sorrows” should take place in the order of service. Despite my uncomfortably long hugs and my entitlement emails, he always seemed to be genuinely happy to see me. We kept coming back.
I think perhaps a big shift in how I saw Mark came in May of 2009 when my brother tragically died in a car accident. Returning to be with my family in Eastern North Carolina, I was struggling to find a spiritual space for grieving amidst the evangelical voices all around me and found myself wanting to reach out to Mark for some kind of framework or anchor or, hell, maybe an answer to what had happened to my brother and why. Though I was an official “member” of UUCA and was down with hugs and emails, I am not sure if I truly felt a sense of belonging or of actual relationship until that moment. It might just be my faulty memory but I actually think that when I sent Mark that email, I prefaced it with an introduction/reminder of who I was as I figured that he might not really be sure. His response however was as kind and strong and genuine as his embrace always was in the foyer. He responded with heartfelt words of condolences and he shared poems and reflections that I was able to use for my own processing. I had never really felt that I would want or need a “minister” to help me make sense of my own life and yet there I was.
Over the years, Mark would go on to be involved in more important moments in our lives. When Rainier was born and still just a babe, Mark blessed him in front of the congregation, doing that magical thing with water and fire and flower and if I remember correctly, he blew into Rainier’s face. Ha! Can you imagine that now?! For part of the dedication, Mark held our son in his arms briefly before Rainier began to wiggle and lean his way back to us. It somehow seemed like an actual blessing having Mark dedicate our son in front of and with our congregation. A few years later, when marriage equality was finally realized, Will and I knew that although we had in our own minds been married years before in 2005, we needed to “get married” again. On October 22nd, 2015, with our 5-year-old son serving as our Best Man, Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper recording and volunteers from the Book Sale serving as witnesses, Mark “officially” married us in the UUCA Sanctuary. It was on the same day as our 10th wedding anniversary.
Over the last few years, my relationship with Mark has continued to change.
As president of the Board, I have met with him at least 2 times a month and gotten to know him better as a minister, as a caring part of the congregation, and as an individual. I have to admit that it was a strange shift in relationship at first (maybe still) as I have had to learn to work WITH Mark rather than under him. After all, when someone feels a bit like a father figure of sorts, it can be strange to start having to think of them as your colleague instead. Rather than talk down or to me or attempt to “direct” me, he has consistently simply encouraged me to have some faith in myself, to get comfortable with my own voice, and figure out what leadership looked like for me. He has listened while I ranted and raved in frustration, while I cried dramatically with self-doubt, and supported and cheered me on when I needed it.
When I think back on our last 16 years here at UUCA, I am overwhelmed with awareness and gratitude for the changes that have taken place within me, within our family, and within this larger congregational community. I think of so many incredible, inspirational, and deeply wise people that I have gotten to know as part of this community including Rev. Claudia and Rev. Lisa as well as a crackerjack staff that includes/has included Linda, Tish, Jen, Kim, Susan, Benette, Taryn, Les, Milt, Lenora, as well as every member of the Board that I have worked with. But if I want to look for an origin story for how my family found ourselves here, it would be the day that we walked in and Mark was standing at the pulpit and how he made us feel right at home. I was 31 back then. I am 47 now and the man I have become has been largely influenced by Mark Ward. I will forever be grateful for that day and all the days since during which I have been fortunate to have been able to call him my minister and my friend. Thank you, Mark.
So what are your memories of Mark? What are you grateful for? What would you want him to know about how he has been a part of your life here at UUCA?
On Saturday, July 10th from 2:00-4:00, there will be a Retirement Celebration for him at the E.W. Grove Park (just a block past the church). Please come out and join us to celebrate his ministry and to wish him well as he moves into his next chapter! And perhaps consider writing down some of your own thoughts about what Mark has meant to you so that we can collect them all and share them with him to keep. The times ahead are ripe with excitement, possibility and change for both Mark as well as our entire congregation. Let’s celebrate this transition by honoring all that Mark has shared with us and who we have been together these last 17 years before we all collectively step into our bright futures.
Ryan Williams, President
UUCA Board of Trustees
This month, we had the first in-person staff meeting in over a year. It was wonderful to see each other, reconnect and share a potluck lunch after our meeting. It was also Rev. Mark’s last meeting. We shared stories and laughter reminiscing about our work together. That meeting felt like a first step in re-constituting community after a year of mostly virtual engagement with each other. No masks. No physical distancing. Just a small group of colleagues reconnecting and continuing the work of the congregation in Sandburg Hall.
Many of us have been vaccinated. We are feeling more comfortable socializing and traveling to visit family and friends. It is wonderful to see people’s smiles and not have to maintain physical distance from each other. It is heartwarming to hear people sharing about trips to see grandchildren and family, to comfort friends grieving the loss of a loved one or those caring for someone who is ill. There is so much joy in reconnecting with each other, even if it is to grieve or lament. Being present to each other is a blessing. My daughter, who I haven’t seen in over a year, arrived yesterday. It was emotional and reassuring to be able to hold her in my arms. We are re-constituting community, one person at a time. Who have you been reconnecting with during this time of re-emergence?
It feels a little awkward not knowing when to wear a mask. Some places require it still. And, even if they don’t, I wonder about those who are immune-compromised or too young to be vaccinated. How do they or their parents feel about going out when most people are no longer masked and they or their loved ones are still vulnerable? What should our priorities be as we return to in-person gatherings and worship at UUCA? I am grateful for the Reopening Task Force that will explore best practices for safely re-constituting (and perhaps expanding) our community. How do we adjust after months of limited personal interactions outside our pods or solitude?
Many of us anticipate the day when we can worship in our beautiful Sanctuary. We don’t have a date yet. Our Faith Development programs for children, youth, and adults will begin in October to give staff time to finalize program plans during August and September after a much-deserved break in July. It will also allow us to incorporate recommendations of the Reopening Task Force.
Until then, may we each find ways to begin the process of re-constituting our UUCA community. Who have you missed seeing in person? Maybe you can reach out and check in with them. Maybe your covenant group or committee can consider gathering in person to celebrate the work you have done this pandemic year? What insights have you gained during this time apart? What are you looking forward to when we gather again? It will be a joyous time for our community when we can be together. I look forward to celebrating our collective joy when we return to gathering at UUCA. I’m particularly excited to start an exploration of our aspirations and dreams for the next phase of UUCA in partnership with our interim minister, Rev. Cathy Harrington. So, rest up and recharge! I look forward to being with you again for our live-on-Zoom August 1 Poetry Sunday service. Have a great summer!
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
We have a Reopening Task Force put together and you will soon be getting a survey that will provide us with information we will be needing to make some decisions about how we will proceed. With your input and the wisdom of the Task Force, we will come up with the “rules of engagement.”
Right now, I want to explain MY thinking. This is NOT an opinion of the Task Force and I expect the Task Force to give this opinion no more consideration than that of any other Task Force member. (That’s why we have committees, doncha know.)
These are the facts I am working with:
- Vaccinated people will very rarely get sick and will not get sick enough to be hospitalized even if they have a breakthrough infection. These vaccines are by far the most effective ones ever created.
- Vaccinated people do not pass along “silent” infections.
- Everyone over the age of 11 can be vaccinated.
- A very small proportion of the population cannot be vaccinated for MEDICAL reasons.
- People who are immune-compromised have lots more to worry about than COVID-19 viral infections and therefore would not normally be attending indoor public gatherings of any sort.
- All of our worship services and some of our adult programs will be available online, both live and recorded (worship services only).
- UUCA’s air-handling equipment in all three buildings will be modified to include UV-C light treatment and more air filtering.
- The world is NEVER a safe place, viruses and bacteria are around all the time, people drive and ride in cars, go up ladders, etc.
With that set of facts, MY conclusion is that we can resume normal activities RIGHT NOW (though I’d rather wait for the HVAC upgrades). I know it feels uncomfortable, but a vaccinated person can sit in a room full of singing people and be fine. The vaccinated person does not need to have the other people be vaccinated.
So, what about the younger kids? In this case, I think it will be up to parents to decide how they feel about it all. The teachers in the room will be vaccinated, so they are safe. I’ll leave it to our survey and the Task Force to decide if we will require younger kids to be masked or socially distanced.
I also want to point out, in case it’s not obvious, that this is a response to conditions as they are now. Should other evidence present itself, such as fading vaccination protection or variants that elude the immunity of the vaccines, we will be FLEXIBLE! We know how to lock down. What we seem to have forgotten is how to resume normal life.
Linda Topp, Director of Administration
I hear that news of who will be serving UUCA as interim minister will be going out soon. What an exciting time! As it happens, I’ve already spoken a little with your person, as they called me ahead of the interview with our search committee to scope out this place and get my impression on leaving.
I sang your praises but also acknowledged some of the challenges that you face in the coming days. The one thing I particularly wanted to share with you is that I told them that this fall you need to find lots of ways to gather – formal and informal, fun and serious. Many of us are only now creeping out from behind our Zoom screens to experience people in person again. And I think we’re all hungry for real face time.
We as a congregation are an institution, of course, and we stand for many important principles, but most of all we are a people place. This reminds me of a talk I gave a couple of years ago to kick off one of our fund drives.
“Each Sunday,” I wrote, “I stand by our door, and I watch as the most amazing stories walk by me – some tall and moving fast, some small with wide eyes, some laughing in clusters, some moving slowly. Some of them I know something about, and we catch up as they pass. Some are total mysteries, and I wonder what is behind that shy smile. Some are smiling and talkative. Some are withdrawn, or just enigmatic. It is the most amazing part of my week, when I watch us inhabit this place, when we fill this space and give it life, when we venture out from our cozy homes, navigate city streets, scramble, sometimes, for parking, and find our way here.
“Walking up the sidewalk, we look around and see some people ahead of us, others behind. We come to the door, a hand reaches to welcome us, the busy stir of mixed voices washes over us and we are back, back to a place like nothing else in our lives, a place where our stories join a common story.”
This, I think, is what so many of us miss: the sense of connection and community that comes of our spending time together. And that is what you must find ways to create as you restart. I know you can because you have. In my experience, this has always been a warm, welcoming community, and it’s what everyone wants to have back again. Now, go and make it so!
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
We are going to need you. Yes, you!
As I’m writing this, it’s been two days since our Religious Education Celebration service. I’ve been reflecting on the service and thinking about how all the pieces and participants were what made it so special. It felt like the perfect culmination of this strange and extraordinary year in RE. Some of us cried, all of us laughed, and everyone gave what they could. We are extremely grateful not only to the volunteers who helped make it happen, but also to the children and youth of this congregation who participated in RE in whatever way felt right to them this year.
When Jen Johnson and I were planning for RE last summer, we must have scrapped our plans at least three times to start over. When things began to shut down in March, we already had the 2020-21 RE year planned. We were just about to start recruiting volunteers. Obviously that went right out the window when the seriousness of the situation became apparent. Things were changing so fast and the timeline for when we might reopen kept getting pushed further back. We knew that we had to offer a program that would meet as many needs as possible, but also that we would need help. Once we decided what to do, we started looking for the helpers. We were blessed to have so many folks step up to help with everything from leading online sessions to stuffing and delivering our “church in box”.
We don’t know quite what we’ll be up to in RE next year yet, but we’re working on it. Jen and I will be spending the next few weeks planning for the fall and beyond, and we’d love to hear from parents and kids about what you want to do in RE next year. We’ve been thinking about it over the last few months, but now is the time to make decisions and put things in motion. It’s definitely still going to look different than what we did pre-pandemic, but I think that’s a good thing. We’ve learned a lot about doing this work in a different way this year, and it has only made our program stronger and more committed to the faith development of children, youth, and adults at UUCA.
Not only do we need input on what our program should include, we will need folks to make it happen. We’ll need people to teach in RE, help out with family ministry outside of Sunday mornings, and help behind the scenes. If cleaning and organizing is your thing, we’ll definitely need you in August. Many of our rooms haven’t been inhabited in over a year and could use some love and attention. Please reach out to us if you know how you’d like to pitch in or what age group you’d like to work with. Being able to offer our program is largely dependent on having dedicated volunteers. Teacher training is on the schedule for Saturday, August 28, so mark your calendars! We are going to need you.
Kim Collins, Lifespan Religious Education Coordinator
By the time you read this, the Interim Search Committee will be in negotiations with our new interim minister. The work of an interim minister is different from the work of a called minister and therefore will be different than what we have been used to as Rev. Mark Ward has served us.
Yes, the interim minister will act as the Executive in our governance structure, and be responsible for (but not necessarily lead) all Sunday worship service, and act as lead for pastoral care, just as Rev. Mark has. But the activities below are actually the heart of their work at UUCA and are literally part of the agreement that our interim minister will enter into with our Board of Trustees. The interim minister will address:
Heritage: Review how UUCA has been shaped and formed by encouraging and hearing all the stories about the Congregation’s past as the foundation upon which the present rests, and embracing the rich variety that makes up the Congregation.
Leadership: Review the membership needs and its ways of organizing and developing new and effective leadership by providing opportunities to examine the types of leadership needed for new leaders to emerge, and for seasoned leaders to recommit or to refocus their gifts.
Mission: Guide us in redefining UUCA’s sense of purpose and direction by revisiting the faith community’s identity and core values; working to develop, update, and revitalize mission and vision statements; and reviewing strategic and tactical plans including stewardship and the financial health of the congregation.
Connections: Revitalize or develop the association, interfaith, and community relationships a congregation builds outside of itself.
Future: Develop congregational and pastoral profiles that position the congregation for its next ministry, including a healthy and honest assessment of focus points so that the congregation can turn its energy toward proactive decision-making for the future.
Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression and Multicultural Awareness: The Congregation and the Interim Minister are committed to understanding the ways systems of oppression within and beyond our Congregation are perpetuated and agree to collaborate on the development of a joint process of reflection and growth to ensure progress. This includes, but is not limited to, the ways in which the characteristics of dominant cultures live in our practices, systems, procedures, and our very lives.
This is an incredibly exciting and a little bit scary time filled with possibility and change. As far as I’m concerned, “possibility” is super-energizing while “change” has that shadow side of loss. Whenever a person or institution changes (and it is almost always intended to be a “good change”), something is lost. Here’s hoping we have the resilience and grace to leave room for the grieving as we invite everyone to head for new territories.
Linda Topp, Director of Administration
Wow! For a while, under the cloud of Covid, it seemed like everything moved so slowly that I often wasn’t even sure what day it was. January alone I think lasted 500 years.
Now, however, though the cloud isn’t gone just yet, the fog has somewhat cleared and suddenly the last month has shifted into high gear and feels as if it is moving 500 miles per hour instead!
So what does that mean? It means that the blog that I intended to write in advance is instead being pumped out on Thursday morning with only moments to spare. It means a few more hairs in my beard turned to grey. It means that Tish in the office once again deserves a gold medal for dealing with me. It also means that for this blog entry, you can expect fewer flowery words and more straight to the point words instead! (I am sure that there are at least a few of you out there breathing a sigh of relief upon reading that one, right?) Yep, this month, though I have a lot to share, I only have a short time to share it and heck, on top of that, I figure getting straight to the point might be the best way for people to actually remember it. Know that as you go along, keep track of any questions or comments and bundle them all together and let’s talk.
Here we go….
- A week ago this past Monday, the UUA released a list of 7 interim ministry candidates. These candidates had been pre-screened in order to look for aligned skill sets and values. They represented locations ranging from Florida all the way to Michigan.
- We spent the first few days reviewing their extensive packets and viewing their ministerial websites before narrowing down our decision to 5.
- Between last Friday and this past Tuesday, we completed reference checks and held 90 minute interviews with each of the 5 candidates.
- Since finishing the last interview, we have continued to meet as a committee to discuss what we saw as the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates and look for further alignment between each candidate and our congregation. We have currently narrowed the selection to 3 candidates.
- In the coming days, we will be working independently and collectively as we dig in a little deeper into each candidate’s history and worship style before making a final determination for ranking these 3 candidates.
- By this coming Monday, we will have submitted to the UUA Transitions Office the names of the top 3 candidates ranked in preferential order. Once the submission date has closed, the UUA office will then work to connect the ranking preferences of candidates and congregations. (Remember, it is not just UUCA making a decision about interim ministers but also a decision that interim ministers are making about congregations! Ex. one of our candidates was deciding between 9 different congregations!)
- No matter which of the 3 candidates ends up becoming our interim, we are confident that they will do an excellent job. As a committee, we have discussed repeatedly about the high caliber of candidates we have spoken with, all being incredibly thoughtful, intelligent, and skilled. I also would like to note that the three candidates in this final round have all deeply impressed us with their experience and their passion and their vision for how anti-oppression work can and should be a part of the interim process before us!
- Stay tuned for more!
As many of you will recall from last year, restrictions and limitations due to Covid resulted in a shift in how we conduct our Annual Meeting. Unfortunately, though things have improved greatly, it has been decided that the current reality does not yet support a physical gathering for the Annual Meeting. More information will be shared in the coming week but for now, the general basics are as follows:
- In lieu of our Annual Meeting, this year’s vote will instead take place via online or mail-in ballots.
- Issues and actions on the agenda will include approving the meetings and notes from last year’s process and vote, voting on the proposed budget for the coming year, voting on new members for the Board of Trustees and the Leadership Development Committee, and voting on a temporary change to the by-laws.
- Information on each of these issues will be shared via an Annual Meeting webpage, via Facebook updates and links, UUCA email, and via paper copies formats for those not using internet formats as frequently.
- Of course, any questions and comments people have are gladly received at the board email, email@example.com or via phone call or text at 919-619-7298. However, we are working to finalize an alternative and additional communication outlet so that you may reach out and record your thoughts directly through the Annual Meeting webpage. It will be our hope that this format will allow not only for individuals to share their own thoughts but for fellow congregants to see and consider them as well. This information will be part of the information shared in the coming week.
- Once the voting period is open in early June, it will remain open for approximately 2 weeks to allow for a greater opportunity to participate.
- Stay tuned for more!
- Much like our own Annual Meeting, the UUA’s General Assembly (GA) will again take place virtually just as it did last year. For those who are unclear about GA, it is the annual meeting for the entire Unitarian Universalist Association during which participants worship, witness, learn, connect, and make policy for the Association via the democratic process.
- Congregants are welcome to participate as individual participants or as delegates. Delegates have the opportunity to vote on behalf of UUCA which is an exciting and important way for having your voice heard in shaping the process and priorities of our denomination!
- The dates are scheduled for June 23rd-27th.
- Registration for the event is $200. There are funds available for supporting those who would like to attend and participate in GA.
- A tremendous amount of information can be found at www.uua.org/ga including schedules, routines, issues, workshops, and speakers. (Stacy Abrams is the Ware lecturer! Woop Woop!)
- So I know that attending a virtual General Assembly might sound a little boring. I thought the same thing myself last year prior to attending myself. Luckily, I was totally surprised and excited by how inspiring, informative, and powerful it felt to be a part of this virtual experience! And the music…..Wow! If you have any questions about the experience, the roles of attendees versus delegates, or would like to inquire about the financial support available, please reach out to me via phone or email!
- Stay tuned for more!
So despite having stripped down my typical writing style from a meandering Kerouac-like ramble to a more direct, to the point bullet approach, this has still gone on too long! I say it over and over but if while reading through all of this, you have anything you want to say or share or inquire about, I am here! 919-619-7298 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hope you are all well and I look forward to the day when I see you all again!
Ryan Williams, President, Board of Trustees
These days I feel like one of those sidewalk prophets carrying the sign,
“The End is Near.” Ain’t it the truth! In a little more than a month, my 17-year ministry with this congregation will be over.
It feels a little unreal to imagine not being a part of this community. Debbie and I will still be living in Asheville, but after June you won’t see me here anymore. I’ll step aside to make room for an interim minister who will guide you through the next two years while you prepare for your next settled minister. Yes, we’ll bump into each other in the supermarket or elsewhere in town, and I will always be happy to greet you. But we won’t talk about what’s happening at this place.
People have told me that this practice seems strange – shutting myself off from people and an institution I have come to love. And, in a sense, it is. But I freely agree to it because I want to do my best to assure a smooth transition to my successor. And my presence would only disrupt that.
Many of you have asked about my plans, and my short answer is that at least for a little while I plan to press the pause button in my life. I’ll find things to do, but I plan to keep my commitments to a minimum. Ministry is an all-consuming calling and, like you, I need to give myself some space before I jump into the next thing.
There’s something serendipitous about you entering search at a time when there is so much change in the world. With so much in play, it gives you time and space to reflect deeply on the gift this congregation has to give to the world, what kind of leadership you need to bring it about, and what parts you are willing to play to make it happen.
As I make my way out the door, I want you to know that you have a good foundation to build on: a proud and momentous history, strong lay leadership, and many creative and engaged people involved in making ministry happen here, supported by an accomplished, devoted and compassionate staff.
Whatever sadness I feel leaving my work here, it is exceeded by a deep sense of gratitude. Ministry is life-changing work, and you have changed me in all the best ways. It has been my great joy to serve you. Know that you have my blessing to realize the best that you are, to serve each other well, and let the light of the beloved community, the beacon that guides our faith, shine within, among and beyond you, making love, peace and justice your work in the world.
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
Although plans are not fully finalized for this year’s UUCA Annual Meeting, we know for sure it will be happening in one form or another. No matter how the vote occurs, all UUCA Members (in good standing having made their 2020-21 commitments and paid some or all of it) will be asked to vote on next year’s budget.
To give folks time to fully review the budget, I’ve produced a slide presentation that you can view from the comfort of your own home. The slide deck covers the details that are included in next year’s budget and presents important information about our Capital Budget.
Speaking of which, a special shout out goes to John Bates who led a team to create UUCA’s first Capital Budget. The entire report, UUCA Capital Facilities Assessment, can be viewed here.
Here’s a brief summary of the proposed operating budget for July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022:
- We expect Commitment Income of $670,000, same as last year.
- Total income is projected to be $813,800.
- Total expenses will be 1.1% higher than total income, at $823,250. The difference will be covered by our splendidly full Contingency Fund.
There’s a lot more detail in the slide presentation so head over there for the full story.
Here’s a table that shows the projected final numbers for the current fiscal year and the proposed budget for next year.Budget Projection 2104
One of the things that attracted me to UUCA when I interviewed three years ago was your willingness to experiment. During that time I had gone before the Religious Education Credentialing Committee (RECC). I offered a presentation on “Reframing Religious Education.” The work UUCA has been doing appealed to me and embodied ideas I shared with the RECC to move toward multigenerational worship, family ministry, increased theological reflection, deepened spiritual practice, building a welcoming community, and disrupting the upstairs adults/downstairs children and family silo. I looked forward to learning more about The Wednesday Thing, spiritual deepening groups, and UUCA’s awesome religious education program.
During the last three years, I witnessed successful and failed attempts to move towards these practices, demonstrating that UUCA is willing to try new things and learn from both hits and misses. For example, The Wednesday Thing started with a multigenerational focus and community-building over a shared meal. Over time, the planning team observed that neither the meal nor the multigenerational focus was feasible. There weren’t volunteers to coordinate the meals and we weren’t attracting families to the multigenerational programs. So, we shifted. Meals were eliminated and adult programming was emphasized. That was moving forward until COVID-19. “Now what?!”, we wondered. We figured out how to offer Vespers via Zoom and one program following Vespers. Volunteers stepped up to lead Vespers and programs even though the on-line format can be awkward. I was grateful for your gracious forbearance when trying to share my screen or video that didn’t work as intended. Participants have been patient and gracious as we figured things out empirically.
This openness to new ways of doing things will be an asset to UUCA as we work towards a post-pandemic reset. Our staff is organizing a Re-Opening Task Force to discuss scenarios, criteria, and protocols. We are leaning toward offering just one worship service on Sundays as we anticipate lower in-person attendance after re-opening.
Faith Development staff and planning teams are exploring what children, youth, and adult programming might be. One thought is to have an hour of Faith Development for children, youth, and adults before or after that one worship service. What would that look like?
We are also discussing mixed-platform faith development for children, youth, and adults with some in-person classes and others on-line. What would that be like? What are the pros and cons?
I don’t know where we will be a year from now, but I do know that thanks to your willingness to experiment, we will discover ways to recapture the loving and supportive congregation I was so grateful to meet three years ago, that gathers in search of community, spiritual exploration and mutual encouragement as we face diverse personal and societal challenges. How exciting!
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
Now that the COVID situation is changing with the vaccine rollout, it’s possible to imagine what re-opening UUCA might be like. But imagining needs to be a congregation-wide activity. In the not-too-distant future we will be asking you questions that will help a Re-opening Task Force do their work.
At the moment, the UUCA staff is looking at September as a “seems like it’s possible” re-opening date. Of course, anything can change regarding this crazy virus, but we have to start planning some time, and now looks like a good time.
There are two different areas of investigation that a congregation ought to be pursuing. One is more philosophical and one is much more practical. For the philosophical side, the UUA has suggested answering four key questions before reopening:
What did we learn this past year?
What is at the center of your congregation? What challenges did you overcome? What do you understand about yourselves now that you may not have understood before?
What needs to change?
Did you discover something important that wasn’t being given enough time, attention, or other resources? Did you find a new path to connection that you want to keep? How will your congregation be transformed by your learnings?
What needs to return to the way it was?
Did you find that there are spaces, methods, and ways of being that are essential to who you are as a congregation? What did you truly miss the most? What does your heart hunger for?
What are your needs during this transition back to reopening?
The more practical questions center on safety considerations. This would include questions like ones that the UU congregation in Brookfield, WI is asking of their congregants:
“Our worship and activities have been offered as inclusively as possible – offered to members, friends, youth, and children, but also to anyone who wishes to attend or visit. Given this history of inclusion, please indicate below your thoughts about returning to “in-person church.”
- I will return to in-person, indoor worship only when ALL of us (adults, youth, children, and visitors) are able to return.
- I hope our congregation will offer in-person, indoor worship as soon as possible for those who are willing to take the risk.
- I don’t want to return until we can sing together and/or have live music by the choir or band.
- I don’t want to return until children can return to worship and religious education.
When guidelines allow for resuming LARGE-group, in-person, indoor activities, which of the following would need to be present for you to feel comfortable attending?
Temperature taken at door
Enforced social distancing
Optimal ventilation/air exchange
Disinfecting wipes/supplies available in restrooms
Proof of vaccination by attendees
Mandatory sign-in sheet for contact tracing
None of the above; I will attend outdoor events only for now
None of the above; I will attend virtual/online events only for now
None of the above – I’m confident our congregants are “safe” to be around”
It turns out that, just like everything else about this pandemic, re-opening is going to be complicated—the decisions on when to do it and how to do it are difficult and possibly volunteer-intensive—not to mention expensive—and can still be overthrown as infection rates go up and down.
We have five months to figure this out and we need all of us working together. On your mark…..
Linda Topp, Director of Administration
In last month’s blog, I tried to share an informative overview of the interim search process we are currently involved in and provide updates and a timeline so that congregants would know what we had done so far and what we needed to do next in order to locate and secure an interim minister to work with us for the 2 year interim between Rev. Mark’s retirement and the hiring of our next official called minister. I will continue to try and keep people updated with this process but for this blog, I felt that rather than focus on the “how do we get an interim?” aspect of the process that I would instead shift to talk a little about “what do we do once we have one?”
The UU Reverend Margaret Keip who has served as both a long-time called minister as well as a 6-time interim minister has described the interim period as a “bridge connecting what was to what will be.” So whose job will it be to build our bridge? Who will design it? Who will determine which spot we start from on this side of the divide and where we will aim to land on the other side? Who helps ensure that the bridge being designed is safe to cross? With so much attention being directed towards the bridge building, who is going to keep an eye out for the equally important non-bridge-related work? I swear, couldn’t we just call in The Judds?!
The Role of the Interim
So the first thing we want to be clear on is knowing the actual role of the interim. Though there may be a lot of things we “want” them to do or to focus on, their work is actually quite specific. In fact, you can find the job description laid out pretty clearly in the pages of the Janus Workbook, UUA’s guidebook to the Interim Ministry. In simple bullet form, it lays out the 5 major areas in which the interim will focus their energy. These are:
- Helping the congregations claim and honor its past while also helping heal its griefs and conflicts.
- Illuminating the congregation’s unique identity, its strengths, its needs, and its challenges.
- Clarifying the multiple dimensions of leadership, both ordained and lay, and navigating the shifts in leadership that accompany times of transition.
- Renewing connections with available resources within and beyond the UUA.
- Enabling the congregation to renew its vision, strengthen its stewardship, prepare for new professional leadership, and engage its future with anticipation and zest.
This doesn’t exactly mean that the interim can’t do anything else ever but I do think it is important that we step into this interim period with the understanding that their primary work is contained within those 5 bullets and does not automatically include them taking on the work we may have come to appreciate from Mark or expecting them to assume or initiate the outward work we might want to see in our future called minister. For example, Mark has served in the role of a community leader regarding issues from Marriage Equality to Sanctuary. Furthermore, we can all pretty much say that leadership in social justice and social action will be a quality that we will be looking for in our future called minister. Though these are great things to value in our past, present, and our hopeful future ministry, it is not the work of the interim minister. In fact, the interim minister’s role specifically requires that they focus inward on the congregation rather than looking outward to the community at large. On the flip side, we may place a high value on our ministerial leadership’s investment in pastoral care and we will want to see that focus in the future. But again, though the interim will likely be connected to the continuation of pastoral care, it is not part of the job’s primary responsibilities. Being clear and explicit about what is and isn’t the work of the interim will help prevent the potential hurt feelings, disappointment, and conflicts that can come from false expectations. Judith Walker-Riggs describes the work of the interim and the shifting of congregational responsibilities this way:
“The interim minister’s attention will be fully engaged in having the congregation address interim tasks such as coming to terms with its history and being able to articulate its present identity. In addition, the interim minister will help the congregation prepare for change, decide what direction to take for the future, work together in a common purpose, and heal and develop trust if necessary. The interim time also provides an invitation to the congregation to decide how the members themselves will do the work of the church in the world.” In a way, this leaves me thinking of the interim minister as the bridge-building consultant; the one who knows a lot about different types of bridges, the one who knows how to help us figure out which 2 points we want to connect, the one that can help us locate and identify the bridge builders within so that the work of UUCA can continue while the bridge gets built.
The Role of Us
So if the interim is the consultant possessing a lot of bridge-building facts and formulas, then it kind of looks like the actual people who will be building the bridge will be…..us! That sure leaves us with a lot of work to do in order for a safe and strong bridge to get built, right? How will we do it? Well, don’t worry. Most of us here at UUCA has been building bridges in some way or another for quite some time now. And one of the easiest ways to begin preparing for the construction process ahead of us is by simply and informally asking ourselves some questions. Questions like:
- What kind of church are we?
- What do we want to change and what do we want to stay the same?
- What do we want to look like in the foreseeable future?
- What kind of activities have we engaged in, and what do we wish to do in the future?
- What has our structure been, and do we want to change it?
- What do we want to prioritize during the interim in regards to programs, care, and connection?
- How might we, individually as well as in groups, step up our involvement so that the things that matter to us continue to move forward both during the interim as well as beyond?
Fortunately, as a congregation, there are also a number of actions and initiatives that we have recently undertaken that will align well with the bridge-building work of the interim. For example, the Racial Justice Advisory Council is working to help us evaluate our present practice with the goal of helping us establish future plans and actions for moving us towards becoming a more anti-racist congregation. Elsewhere, an amazing team of congregants has recently completed an assessment of current and future maintenance needs for our various campus properties. This assessment ultimately provides us with important information that will be crucial to our interim conversation about our future, not just in regards to what we “do” and “how we do it” but even “where we do it.” And recently Reverend Claudia has begun pushing us to look more deeply at what we value in regards to the work of Community and how we might participate in it. Heck, even the recent sharing of Teresa Honey Youngblood’s blessing on Becoming seems to practically have been written for the interim moment before us.
“What is becoming of us, beloved? We ask this again and again, with care and curiosity: what is becoming of us?
As we change–inevitably, sometimes uncomfortably–may we choose dynamism over stubbornness, transformation over safe sameness, possibility over status-quo.
May we flow instead of calcify, remembering there are paths away from mistakes, and we can always make more room for those joining the current.
May we reach toward one another and toward interdependence. May we seek and make contact and community as if our lives depend on it, which of course, they do.”
The Bridge We Build
I recently saw a picture of a bridge built over a canal in Venice. I smiled at its beauty and then of course, quickly forgot all about it. However, as I reflected on the bridge building work of the interim period before us and about Youngblood’s instruction that we reach toward one another, the image of the bridge returned to my mind. The hands reaching out and connecting two sides. Our past and our present reaching out to connect to our future. The bridge we will build will be a strong one. Just like The Judds said it would.
After enduring a year of hunkering down to avoid COVID 19, we are finally nearing a moment when we can begin planning for how we will be back together again. But there is one big if that will guide how soon we get there: if we all make every effort to get ourselves vaccinated.
Governor Roy Cooper announced last week that North Carolina has accelerated the timeline guiding who can be vaccinated when to the point that as of April 7, next Wednesday, all state residents who are at least 16 years old will qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine.
That is such good news. But it means that now the onus for ending the pandemic shifts from the state to its residents. So, I urge every one of you, if you have not yet been vaccinated, please make that appointment now.
If you’ve been hesitating, here are some important things to know:
- The three most widely used vaccines, made by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, are 90% or more effective not only in preventing you from being infected with the virus, but also, scientists have recently learned, at preventing you from carrying the virus undetected. That means that your vaccination prevents you from being infected with the virus and from transmitting it to anyone else. Vaccines stop it short.
- Vanishingly small numbers of people experience side effects from receiving the vaccine.
- Vaccines can reduce long-term side-effects among those who tested positive for the virus. So, even if you were infected, you should get the vaccine.
Even if you are young or in some other demographic group considered to be at low risk, don’t presume that you are protected. In various spots around the country, there are signs of a fourth wave of COVID infections taking shape, and the greatest number of people affected are those in their 30s and 40s. We can halt another wave of illness, hospitalizations, and death if all of us are diligent about getting vaccinated.
Perhaps the greatest risk we face is the emergence of new variants of the virus. COVID-19 is one of a group of viruses whose genetic make-up is extremely unstable and can change quickly. We are already seeing this happening.
Luckily, so far the vaccines in circulation still work well against the variants, but it’s possible that a variant could appear that is unaffected by the vaccine. As long as strains of the virus are in the general population, even they aren’t actively causing disease, they can continue to evolve variants. Only vaccines can shut down this process and provide the protections we need.
So, friends, it’s time: time to act so that we protect ourselves and each other. It’s the way forward to defeating this menace. For all of our sakes, I urge you: do it now!
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
Earlier this month you received an action alert inviting you to consider the role of UUCA in funding Room in the Inn and supporting BeLoved Villages. I appreciate the emails with your feedback and those who offered to volunteer.
A few people inquired about the expectations for coordinating Room in the Inn volunteers. Although the program is radically changing and will no longer need volunteer support, in the past, we had two coordinators who recruited over fifty volunteers three times a year to support Room in the Inn (a program of Homeward Bound https://homewardboundwnc.org). Volunteers provided meals, shelter, and other support for women living in homelessness. Our partner church, Grace Baptist Presbyterian, hosted the program and we both provided volunteers. We also provided a donation to Homeward Bound to support the program.
As noted, the nature of that program will change as we emerge from the restrictions of COVID-19 in the months ahead. Volunteers to host women in local churches will no longer be needed. Therefore, we will not allocate funds for this program in our budget. However, Homeward Bound can be a Community Plate recipient. Through our Community Plate Program and your generosity, UUCA shares financial resources with local groups engaged in justice work.
Regarding BeLoved Villages https://belovedasheville.com, Rev. Amy Cantrell emailed the following:
“How many UU’s does it take to help build home and community in the BeLoved Village?
At least 5 multiplied by many more as you all start to share the good word!!!”
Five of our members and I met with Rev. Amy on March 23. Rev. Amy shared general information about BeLoved’s work in the community with an emphasis on the BeLoved Village Project. Their goal is to build twelve tiny houses on a lot donated by Land of the Sky United Church of Christ providing deeply affordable housing to serve those who don’t qualify for affordable housing.
The most exciting part of this opportunity is that it is not a transactional approach to justice (e.g., write a check, drop things off, etc.) but a transformative community approach. Volunteers will work side-by-side with other community/church volunteers as well as with those being served by the project. And, within the congregation there will also be opportunities for strengthening relationships as folks work together toward a common goal. Nancy Ackerman from All Souls Cathedral shared how this project has engaged and transformed her congregation throughout the pandemic.
To our question: Where do UUCAs gifts fit in? I heard Rev. Amy say that by linking to current projects and brainstorming together this team can imagine and create ways to invite UUCA participation. So, if you hear from Margaret McAllister, Anita Feldman, Mariah Wright, Nancy Gamble or James Gamble, I hope you consider how you might be able to support this important community project.
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
I don’t suppose it’s surprising, but people who work in churches think a lot about “church.” Here are some things our staff members have been thinking about, in no order, and none of them have been decided but they are ALL related to returning to “normal” after this l-o-n-g time away.
We know for sure that we will livestream (to a closed link due to copyright issues) and record our worship service. We are in the process of finding a vendor to provide the equipment we need to do that. While doing that we also learned that ALL of our microphones need to be replaced because they work on a frequency that Verizon now owns and that makes them illegal for us. Oops.
Every single thing that is published in church-oriented literature from all denominations surmises that in-person attendance on Sunday mornings will drop quite far below the old norm. So, does that mean that we re-start with just a single service?
And if we do that, can we/should we shake things up by re-formatting Sunday morning entirely? Many Protestant churches hold faith development classes for children and adults before worship, and then they have their worship services. The littlest kids get dismissed to activities like we were doing BC, but older children and youth are welcome at church. And the worship services are not adjusted to account for this wider age range. Should we try that? How great would it be if we could incorporate many more children and youth into our worship? We can’t do that now because they are “in class.” Imagine adult faith development groups of various sorts meeting before worship. Is that exciting or terrifying?
This is one big area of unknowns. It turns out to be much easier to make a decision about resuming Sunday worship since anyone who might feel nervous about being in the Sanctuary with others (with whatever restrictions might still be in place) still has an option of attending or watching virtually. That’s not really possible with RE. Right now, virtual RE classes meet every other week. Should we keep doing that even when things are in person to reduce the class sizes? Kids are in school. Do we want our RE classes to resume as we had them before? Our classrooms are pretty small, and we have adults of all ages leading them. Will people feel safe enough to do that? And WHEN will we start recruiting the adult leaders?
This is just another big unknown. It’s pretty complicated to think about opening, let’s call it in September just for this conversation’s sake, when a new minister doesn’t arrive until August 1. That’s not much time to plan a massive change. (Although what am I saying? We changed from in-person to virtual within 4 days. I still can’t believe it myself.)
What’s a “member” anyway? Now that we have some virtual participants who do not live in the area, can they be members? Legally, the institution needs official members, a board of trustees, and an annual meeting where official members vote. But lots of folks can be connected to UUCA in a number of ways without being an official member. Does that matter? How do we count our membership?
There are other issues, of course. When we add video to the work of our Sunday A/V techs, will we have to add a second tech person each Sunday? How do we pay for that? We’ll need childcare workers again and we have none at the moment. When do we start the hiring process? And lots more.
Just thought I’d share a little since these are big issues that your staff is working on now and that you will be hearing more about in the coming months. Please answer our calls or complete any surveys you get. It’s hard to get feedback these days when we don’t have much casual, in-person time with each other.
Linda Topp, Director of Administration