UUCA Blog

Taking Risks: Who, Me?

This weekend I did something completely out of my comfort zone. I packed my paniers and bicycled with Steve to Hot Springs, NC for a bit of relaxation. It was a big deal for me! Unlike Steve, I did not grow up riding a bicycle. Mastering an e-bike added an unexpected twist. Nevertheless, despite my hesitation and fear of riding in traffic (Hwy 25 has minimal shoulder) I decided to give it a try. I prepared over the last two months by riding this new contraption to the office and around town on errands to conquer my fear. It paid off! Our ride through Alexander, Marshall, Walnut and over the hill into Hot Springs  in spectacular weather was more fun than I had imagined. When we returned home I was proud of myself for taking that risk. It was scary at times when big trucks drove by or a few drivers (two to be precise) chose to be rude and honk or get unnecessarily close.  But we made it and I was elated at doing something I had never tried or even thought about attempting.

It isn’t easy going outside of one’s comfort zone and feeling vulnerable. Although my weekend, at times, was one of physical vulnerability, I perceive a similarity with the emotional vulnerability that comes with doing the work of exploring white supremacy culture and complicity in that culture, even if unintentional. It has been important to me to learn about the history, writings and legacies of people ignored in history and the literature of my educational experiences. I have gained a greater understanding of systems created in the US and beyond to uphold hierarchies based on skin color and power that favor White males. But reading is not enough. The hard work has been asking myself, “How did I learn to be anti-Black, to be racist?” and, “What will I do differently now that I recognize my biases?”

I once read that marginalized People of the Global Majority cannot be racist because they do not have power. That made sense to me. Furthermore, I thought that I could not a be racist given my life experiences. I have learned otherwise. I have a greater understanding of how I learned to be anti-Black, both in Colombia where I was born and here in the U.S. Because I recognize that reality in me, I catch myself being judgmental and racist. Last week when I was recording the Time for All Ages “Antiracist Baby” by Ibram Kendi, the section that said, “Confess to being racist. Nothing disrupts racism more than when we confess the racist ideas we sometimes express” resonated with me. I am being more mindful of racist ideas that go through my mind. I don’t confess them publicly (although in this blog I am), but I do pay attention, and interrogate where those attitudes are coming from. What socialization and conditioning led me to the attitudes that I am embarrassed to acknowledge?

Of course, I am not always as self-aware as I would like. I sometimes unintentionally offend. I am striving to engage people without making assumptions based on perceived identity. Doing that allows me to listen and be present at times when assumptions would have been a barrier. The gift has been a greater understanding of other perspectives and in some cases the beginning of new relationships. Awareness for how my biases affect my interactions motivates me to be more mindful. I’ve had a lifetime to learn how to be a racist, unlearning it won’t be easy, but I will keep trying.

This year we begin what I hope will be a multi-year focus on antiracism in Faith Development at UUCA. Our recent history and the pandemic have made it impossible to ignore the tragic impacts of racism on our community and nation. I invite you to consider how you will engage, re-engage or deepen your work in becoming an anti-racist. The work involves acknowledging and learning about the effect of White supremacy/racism in our lives and society and mobilizing to pursue justice and equity. What questions do you have?  How can we support you? Starting Oct. 8 at 7PM, Rev. Ward will facilitate a second Thursday conversation, “White People Wondering”, to create space for reflection about where you are on the journey of disrupting racism in your life. Various lay leaders are facilitating the UUA adult curriculum, “Building the World We Dream About” as part of the Wednesday Thing programs. And, there are also discussion groups delving into the work of Ibram Kendi and Layla Saad. I welcome your feedback on the programs we are offering and your suggestions for future programs.

Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Why Bother With the Auction?

Yes, you should donate and participate and there’s a very good reason below.  But first, let me just get the ad portion of this blog out of the way. 

Yes, we are holding our auction–but in 2 parts.  Part 1 is a Silent Auction and it lasts for a week, starting November 11 and ending November 18.  (That’s the part where back in the day we walked around the room—either before auction day at UUCA or on the night of the auction—and wrote our bids on bidding sheets.) Part 2 is a LIVE Zoom Auction on November 14 where about 10 items will be auctioned. (That’s the part where our auctioneer works hard to get prices up for what we hope are desirable items and where back in the day we ate, visited, enjoyed The Sandburgers, and danced.)

The auction committee has been working on this for several months now.  They have attended a variety of other online auctions to see how it’s done and are sure we can come up with an auction that will actually be fun to experience online. I believe them. (I know they’re working on some very clever add-ons for the LIVE Zoom auction.)

But really, why bother this year?  The most obvious answer is that the auction most assuredly raises more money than any other fundraiser for the congregation (about $35,000).  And this is money that makes a huge difference in what we fund.  But with our budget skewed this year in every direction, we don’t have any idea if this money is critical or not.  And believe me, running an auction, especially one like never before, is a LOT of work.

Here’s a better answer though, which I re-learned on Sunday.  It is literally all about connections!  At last year’s auction, UUCA members Mike Closson and Jill Overholt donated 100 Frozen Monkey* ices for a gathering of the buyer’s choice.  Without having any plan for it, the McLellans bought that item.  Fast forward to about 2 weeks ago.  I’m having a casual conversation with the McLellans about how I’m trying to figure out how to offer some kind of outdoor gathering for UUCA and they offer their auction win (honestly, I didn’t even remember they had bought that!).  And next thing you know, 75 or so of us enjoyed a beautiful late afternoon at UUCA, SEEING each other!!!

Frozen Monkey gathering on September 13

We had younger members (down to about 2), older members (up to about, well, never mind), and everyone in between.  Nothing warms the heart of a UUCA staff member more than seeing a multigenerational gathering!

This, of course, is not the only auction item that works this way, although the scale is larger than normal.  Any time you donate an item that gathers people together, you are creating micro “small-group” ministries.  It really doesn’t matter if you are one of the amazing dinner providers or someone who has a few people over to bake bread.  These gatherings make connections and these connections are what makes UUCA important in the lives of its congregants.

So, bottom line, the auction is an important part of our congregation’s year and through your generous participation–by donating items and buying items (we ask for donations at all price points)–you support the church through your time, talent, and treasure.  It’s real stewardship; taking care of this congregation!

*Just because it’s interesting to know, Mike created this business himself and got a designer to create all his graphics on the trailer.  It is not a franchise.  (UUs can be so creative!) 

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

We Gather Again

By the calendar I have followed in my head for the past 16 years, this coming Sunday – the week after Labor Day – should be Ingathering Sunday, the day when we return from the slower pace of our summer services and start our fall worship schedule. We should be resuming two weekly Sunday services, dedicating our teachers, restarting our Religious Education program, and in general just celebrating this community.

But as with so many things, the novel coronavirus has disrupted our plans. We won’t be gathering at 1 Edwin Place. Worship and religious education are online. And we’re all trying to get our heads around how the work we do as a congregation translates into a socially-distanced world.

It’s disorienting, but really we’ve been at this now for about six months and there’s no sign it’s going to end any time soon. And more importantly, the work we do as a liberal religious voice, as a gathered people seeking connection, inspiration, compassion, and justice is as essential as ever.

So, we’re staying the course. We won’t falter in our commitments, and as we adjust to all the technological and other challenges of this time we’ll be looking for how we can leverage what we are learning and experiencing to grow this congregation, this faith in a world still thirsty for what we have to give.

We’ll begin this Sunday with a different kind of Ingathering that will be a live Zoom service at 11am. We will, once again, be dedicating our teachers for a new year of religious education, and we’ll be using the time to explore who we are in this new age and what we need from each other.

Of course, we’re not alone in this situation. Church consultants have pointed out all kinds of ways that the pandemic has forced congregations of all denominations to think differently. I was intrigued this past week with a posting by Susan Beaumont, a consultant who has worked with us in the past. She wrote that there are several myths about congregations that COVID days have exploded.

Traditionally, she said, churches defined the communities they served by people in their geographical area. Well, when worship and other church programs are online, there are no geographical bounds. People can tune in from far away.

That’s certainly been our experience. There are a number of people formerly connected with UUCA who are tuning into worship and other events as well as many others with no formal connection to the congregation who are checking us out. Before COVID, we had an average Sunday attendance of around 300 or so with a membership of around 500. These days we send the link for Sunday services to a mailing list of around 1,425 people and roughly 450 open it each Sunday; others open later in the week.

But even then, Beaumont reports, worship attendance may not be the best measure of participation. Some people connect with a congregation’s social justice work or small group ministry more than worship and may check in Sunday only occasionally.

Also, even though we feel that the best connections happen in person, there are some deep and meaningful interactions that can happen online. For that to happen, though, it requires us to adjust how we plan our gatherings and discover and then build confidence in the technologies that work best for those settings.

So, yes, all these changes are a big lift for us all, but they also offer new opportunities that help keep us relevant and keep our ministries vital. Our staff at UUCA are in conversation about how we tweak what we do here to stay on task and help our people stay engaged. But we’d like your help, too. Keep us posted on what’s on your mind and we’ll get through this time together.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

 

No,”We Are Not in a Handbasket.” Together, We Can Decide Where We Want to Go.

Over the last few years, I have heard a number of people in my life express a wide range of feelings at the sudden insertion of words like White Supremacy, White Privilege, Systemic Racism, and Black Lives Matter into their daily lives. It is important to note that the awareness of the sudden increase in these words has been noted by both black friends and white friends alike. After all, the mainstream introduction of a set of vocabulary words and frameworks previously reserved for more academic settings is honestly new for everyone. What has been more interesting and impactful for me in hearing the various responses however has been the underlying experiences and understandings of what these words mean to different people. Many of my white friends and family, when talking about this new vocabulary, have expressed such feelings as confusion, anger, sadness, guilt, denial, enlightenment, and inspiration. The response of the majority of my black friends and family however has been much more consistent. “Aha,” they basically have said. “So that’s what it’s called. So that’s the word for describing what we already knew was real.”

So let me speak to my fellow white UUs. It is my belief that however you or I have personally experienced or responded to this new vocabulary and framework is valid. It’s real. It’s honest. In my opinion, the immediate experience of complex emotions is part of that whole inherent worth and dignity of every individual. It’s what we proclaim when we speak of our First Principle. So please don’t judge others for where their hearts and minds are located when confronted with “new” ideas. Please don’t judge me. Don’t judge yourself.

But please don’t stay there. Don’t sit passively by while others stay there. After all, though the First Principle might allow us a space to be seen and respected for our immediate emotional and intellectual responses, there are other principles we have to listen to as well. Other Principles to help move us forward.

Personally, I would argue that once we recognize where we are in one principle, we might listen to and be moved by some of the others. For example, our 2nd Principle calls for equity and compassion in human relations. Our 3rd Principle calls for acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. Our 5th affirms our belief in the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. Our 6th Principle proclaims a goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

One might even draw inspiration from the recently proposed 8th Principle that calls UUs to “affirm and promote a journey toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by actions that dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.” In other words, regardless of where you find yourself  within the 1st Principle, you are also called on to move yourself by the others.

Motivated by this past summer’s explosion of anger and action around racial injustice, the Board of Trustees here at UUCA has felt the call to respond to the reality of White Supremacy in the world around us near and far, as well as to the reality of White Supremacy in the world within us. We have felt called to move ourselves. We have felt hopeful and inspired by the idea of the movement of our congregation. In that vein, we have been engaged in conversations around how we might craft a statement in support of Black lives and opposed to White Supremacy. Further, we have been engaged in discussion on how we might move beyond a statement as well to help strengthen the momentum already occurring within UUCA towards the goal of racial justice.

These are ideas that we all agree on. Yet despite our shared values, as it is in our larger lives, simply agreeing does not always result in “Agreement”. This conversation, be it taking place among the Board members or taking place around the dinner table, is not an easy one. It takes patience, love, flexibility, and steadfastness. It takes buy-in. It takes covenant. It takes time. It’s hard work.

In the coming weeks and months, the Board will be continuing to center our Annual Vision of Ministry discussion around the work of anti-racism and Beloved Community. As we work out the meaning and the methods of this annual vision of ministry, know that the larger goal will not be based necessarily on the offering of more workshops or book studies. Know that the larger goal will not be based necessarily on the sharing out of websites and worship services. After all, we as a Board know that there are so many incredible individuals who have already been and continue to do these things and who have been leading this work on so many levels for years and we want them to know that their work is deeply appreciated and honored.

However, rather than fine tune our vision on the involvement of individuals, it is our hope instead to focus on the UUCA as a whole and on empowering and fostering a UUCA that not only believes in the goal of racial justice but systemically provides the spiritual nourishment and environment for that work to fully happen.

So how do we get there? Well, that brings me back to us all sharing and honoring where we as a congregation came from and where we find ourselves now, to letting our principles guide us forward. And know that as we move forward in this conversation, we the Board will be leaning on the input and experience of those UUCA individuals already so actively engaged. We know also however that each and every congregant here can contribute a wide range of inspirations and ideas to help shape or influence the direction in which we will embark. We know that there are Black and Brown neighbors and friends in our community who stand outside of the UUCA walls (that’s figurative of course since, thanks to COVID, we are all standing outside of UUCA walls…) that can offer the truth of personal experience and who can hold up guidepost and caution signs as we make our way towards this new horizon.

In the coming weeks and months, know that we might come to you and ask for your input as well as your action to help this vision take shape. Know that we will want you to come to us and share with us your ideas on how this vision takes form. This work will require the COLLECTIVE participation of us all as we work to envision what it means for UUCA to help build and become the Beloved Community our Principles call us to be. Are you ready to get moving?!

Ryan William, President, Board of Trustees

 

We have Religious Education this year?!? YES! And…

Did you know?  Religious Education at UUCA is still a thing! We already have 53 kids/youth registered for the 2020-21 year. We are excited to offer religious education and family ministry in a different way this year. Due to the pandemic that must not be named (for you Harry Potter fans), we have made an effort to simplify our programs but still have fun connecting points with the faith development you want from your UU congregation! These relationships and the spiritual support are still accessible to you.

Why would I want this?  I’m so busy and more screen time is not what my kids need.  Remember this cheer: “We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit, how about you?”  Do a body check. How are you feeling? How about your kids? Your UUCA congregation is here to support your family’s spirit right now. Read more reasons to stay connected to UUCA this year at the bottom of this blog.

What will RE look like this year?

Religious education for children and youth has been divided into 4 groups:

  • PreK-3rd grade
  • 4th-6th grade
  • 7th-9th grade
  • 10th-12th grade

Groups will typically meet 2 Sundays/month via Zoom: PreK-3rd & 10th-12th grades will meet on the first and third Sundays of the month and 4th-6th & 7th-9th grades will meet on the second and fourth Sundays of the month.

Note: Due to the nature of these unique programs, Coming of Age and OWL (Our Whole Lives) will not be offered until we are regularly meeting in person again.  Look for a parent OWL group later in the year!  We hope to offer both CoA and OWL later for those youth who normally would’ve taken them this year.  Contact Kim or Jen if you’d like some personal support or resources.

Will this be like the typical (curricula based) RE classes that we normally have?

There will be spiritual elements to our virtual gatherings to help foster UU faith development and personal growth.  There will also be an intentional focus on FUN, social and supportive connections, compassion, inspiration and justice – our UUCA core values.

BONUS

In addition to classic (mostly virtual) RE, we will have other opportunities as well, some online and possibly some occasional small, safer in person gatherings for youth or adults:

  • Family Fun Nights for fellowship and fun
  • “UU in a box” for at home fun and faith development
  • Socially distant youth group “masked meet-ups”
  • Parent/caregiver groups and adult UU and social justice offerings
  • Time for All Ages during worship, family led Vespers, and multigenerational services

What if my kids don’t plan to participate Sunday mornings very often?

Even though this year will look different, we encourage your family to stay involved for some needed spiritual grounding and social connection.  We would love to see you whenever you can make it.

Do I need to register?

YES!  This is how we know you still want to stay connected to UUCA this year and beyond.  We use our registration list to communicate about both current and future offerings, including OWL and Coming of Age (once we can offer those programs again), youth group, parent groups, and home deliveries (a special feature we have planned this year).

Please register here, and we’ll see you in September (or before)!

  • September 13 – RE launch date for 4th-9th grade groups
  • September 20 – RE launch date for PreK-3rd and YRUU: 10th-12th grades

Why does this matter again? 

  • Relationships! We’re bonding peers and multigenerational connections in a supportive UU community.
  • Our core values: Connection, Inspiration, Compassion, Justice are still our core values. Our mission:…
  • We still have UU values to learn, to embrace, to live.
  • We need to harness this moment to gather, to learn, to strive to be bolder, to act, individually and collectively, for justice in our city, county and our world. Social justice will be an integral part of our programming this year.
  • People still need our love – within our own UUCA community and reaching far beyond our walls. Kids and youth need to both receive and give love and support.
  • Nurturing the spirits of our kids, teens, and their parents.
  • Playful and calming spiritual engagement with ritual elements.
  • A sacred place your kids can call home now and throughout their whole lives.

A recent blog from UUA’s Southern Region (that includes us) August newsletter, by Natalie Briscoe, spells out some of the stressors parents are experiencing.  She notes that church can be a positive “release valve” for families during this particularly difficult time.  Read her blog here.

Behind the Scenes

Everything seems disconnected these days, with all of us feeling a bit “left out,” so I thought I’d tell you a little about what has been going on with the UUCA staff this summer.  I’ve also added a few other things we want you to know about.

RE for Children & Youth
The RE staff has worked mightily to contact our families by phone and survey to determine what might be useful to our kids during this semester (and probably year) of no in-person gatherings.  The result is a plan for the fall that includes online “classes” for four age groups. The “youngers” will meet at 10 every Sunday.  The others will meet every other Sunday. We are also focusing on providing resources for Family Ministry on the website, offering “Church in a Box” in partnership with the RE Council, and holding monthly Fun Days (Zoom) with options for safe, physically distanced gatherings (we hope).

Money!
Oh no!  Not that word!  Everyone knows that UUs are way more comfortable talking about sex than money.  But YOU are an owner of UUCA so you ought to know what’s going on.  I am loath to say this out loud, but we are doing fine financially speaking.  Now just because I said that out loud does not mean you can stop donating to us.  What it means is that we had a substantial surplus from the 19-20 fiscal year which we have held in our Contingency Fund, AND we applied for and received about $90,000 from the federal Payroll Protection Program.   Right now, we are experiencing a loss in income of about 30% per month.  But our spending is wildly different than budgeted, too (for example, more money being used for worship service guests, less money for the Wednesday Thing, more money being used for our video editors and Zoom hosts and less for childcare, etc.).  So, here’s the message I want to send.  If you are able to keep making donations, please do.  If you are unable to do that, it’s OK, don’t worry. We’re in this together.

Zoom Can Be Your Friend two people at church pulpit with computer set up to record
Do you remember that Sunday in March when we sent you the link to our first recorded service?  Here’s a photo of what we rigged up. A computer on a footstool on the pulpit.  A music stand on a table for the script. And the most amazing part of it was we recorded on Saturday and somehow put together a service for Sunday morning with a person who had never used video-editing software before.  Sheesh!  (Fun (unbelievable) fact:  our last in-person service was Celebration Sunday!)

But now we have a rhythm–and better equipment.  And it includes a video deadline of Thursday at noon.  (How relaxing.)  And we’ve also been producing live Zoom services, which we plan to continue once a month.  These live services are very different, but we like them because our congregants get to see each other.  Which reminds me….. 

I am very aware that it is great fun to watch a worship service on Sunday morning in your pajamas.  Or while you are eating breakfast.  Or while you are puttering around.  But one of the great pleasures of these live Zoom services is that you get to see your fellow congregants.  This is a comment we get at every live event: “It is SO nice to see everyone again.”  So, if it is at all feasible, please let us see you.  We think pajamas can be cute.  And there’s no shame in eating—we all do it.

Anti-racism and Get Out the Vote Work
It’s been a summer, right?  But if you’ve been paying attention at all, you know our congregation is actively doing anti-racism work (book groups, small groups, Justice Ministry Council) which is only just getting started.  And we’ve been doing what we can, individually and part of UUCA, to get out the vote and get our favored candidates elected (whoever they may be.)

Adult Spiritual Development and the Wednesday Thing
Unlike previous years, we kept our Wednesday Thing vespers services going all summer.  Well, almost all summer.  We did take 2 weeks off for the survival of our ministers.  But I digress….

Starting in September, most Wednesdays will feature a vespers service AND a program that will last no more than an hour.  For the fall, we’ll feature anti-racism work and opportunities to explore our spiritual selves.  And the groups that we had going before the “pandemic break” are still meeting, talking, connecting.

Staying Connected
As a staff, we believe our biggest challenge is to make sure that you know that you are still a valued part of UUCA, that we haven’t forgotten you, and that your friends haven’t forgotten you either.  It’s a big reason we offer live Zoom programs.  We’ve also conducted 2 rounds of calling all of our members, and we’ll be starting a third round soon.  We’ve sent you all postcards. We’re also interested in coming to see you!  Stay tuned for that announcement.

Anything Else?
Probably.  But this is long enough and you get the idea.  Your staff is working hard to help you keep UUCA an important part of your life—even now.  Or especially now.  If you have any needs that we can help with, please contact me, or Rev. Ward, or Rev. Claudia, or your favorite UUCA staff person, and let us know.  We’re here for you!

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

These Dogs Days Are Different

So here we are in August, in the dog days. Usually I would be deeply involved in gathering of family and friends celebrating almost any occasion we could have thought of, camping, fishing, walking Natty the dog all over the place, dinners and lunches in the gastronomic wonderland of Asheville, and especially walking in the National Forests. But this is a year unlike any other we have faced in most of our lifetimes.

Most of us have been shut in since April or before, isolating, waiting for the return of something approaching the old normal, waiting for that magic elixir from the labs of hard-working scientists, hoping to hold onto hope. For those of us with extra health concerns, or like myself with my newly-minted knee, we are restricted even further, as any trip into the unknown could lead to the virus and worse health issues.

But in our time of isolation the world has not stood still.  It has ferociously moved along.  Great events have happened while we have been observing through our windows and from our porches. A lucky few of us are able to selectively engage in these events in person, and the rest of us try as best we can to Zoom our way into participation–even for worship.

But the world IS changed and hopefully we are about to walk through the doorway to a new existence. I for one will never be able to forget the image of George Floyd under the knee of the officer as his life ebbs away, and even more seared into my mind are the other images by the bystander videoing the event of the EMS workers arriving and treating George Floyd’s body like a limp side of beef as his body is lifted onto the plastic sheet and gurney. A quote from the past raced into my mind, “Oh, the Humanity of it all” or in this case “Oh, the total lack of humanity of it.”

Now, the evidence of the long history of racism, abuse, and death at the hands of police has once more smacked us in our faces along with the realization that we are headed toward a white supremacy future if we don’t stop it now.  We cannot allow it to fade back into the woodwork again.

In response, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are in the streets demanding that the country, and even the world, live up to its promises and change to fulfill the aspirations of our America, all are created equal. In general, White people have been there walking alongside, listening and following the voices of the new movements, and not inserting our voices in leadership. Let’s keep it that way.

Then in the midst of this crisis we lose one of the true giants of the decades-long fight for voting and equal rights, and see that historic group of leaders shrink once again.  John Lewis will never be replaced, but there will rise in a younger cohort new leadership to walk to the front of the line.  We should celebrate that the movement will never die, that we will continue to stand and walk “forward together, not one step back.”

As Unitarian Universalists we are a people who covenant that all people have value and worth and we are once again given the opportunity to live our values. Find a way, in isolation or not, to show your values and support The Black Live Matter movement.

Michael Beech, Board of Trustees

A Different Story

The story once told of Asheville was that heritage of slavery, so important across most of North Carolina, was never really much of an issue here. Compared with the plantations of the Piedmont, it was said, there was very little in the way of slavery in the mountains. But the deeper we dig into history, the more we learn of how little of the real story is told.

 Attention lately has been focused on Vance Monument, the 65-foot obelisk downtown built a century ago to celebrate to the memory of Zebulon Vance, one-time Confederate officer, governor and then US senator of North Carolina. Vance not only owned slaves but was a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Questioning such a prominent monument celebrating a slave owner, city officials had the monument shrouded as a committee is being chosen to decide what will be done with it.

But Vance, of course, was not alone. Just about every famous name memorialized in Asheville’s streets, villages and neighborhoods was also a slave owner, from James Patton to Augustus Merrimon, Nicholas Woodfin, Samuel Chunn, Michael Weaver, and Leonard Henderson. So was the city’s and county’s namesakes: Samuel Ashe and Edward Buncombe.

(For a fuller treatment of Asheville’s slave history and its legacy check out this recent video: produced by Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church:

All of this is simply evidence of how deeply the legacy of racial oppression is interwoven into our lives in ways that are not immediately apparent to most of us. The fog of history clouds uncomfortable truths, and most of us go on with our lives without giving the past a second thought. But the consequences of that oppression remain in the white supremacy culture we live with today. And without deliberate action to dismantle it, it will remain, continuing the violence it has done to generations of Black people.

It’s been said that the killing of George Floyd and the renewal of the Black Lives Matter movement have offered Americans a “Moment” when real transformation – accountability of the damage done and debt owed to African-Americans – is possible, and room can be made for racial healing.

Our hope as a congregation is that we can be agents of that healing. In the coming year, we plan to offer many ways to help you get engaged in this work, from conversations that ground us, to advocacy for the work before us locally, to connections with others joined in the struggle. Look for opportunities to get involved, to learn and grow and to make your voice heard.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

 

 

 

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps

Right now, this very second, UUCA has three recent graduates of Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Training.  Wink Zachritz, Ed Prestemon, and I will be receiving our Green Ring pins in the mail soon to indicate our accomplishments.  We join Sally Beth Shore who completed her training in 2015!

In this time of “everything virtual” we have the bad news of being sick and tired of staring at computer screens (funny how I don’t mind watching TV after I get done with zooming—why is that?) countered by the good news of the many, many opportunities that are being offered for free as online experiences.

This particular training was global and free, with the cost paid in screen time.  It ran over 9 days and included 14 hours of zoom and video watching along with several written assignments.  About 10,000 people from all over the world participated, nearly doubling the number of active Climate Leaders.  We are all committed to taking action on climate change in a variety of ways.  We have access to the infamous Al Gore slide deck, so any trained Climate Reality Leader can give presentations. To anyone. That means that if you’re looking for a climate speaker, you can contact Wink, Ed, Sally Beth, or me! Other Acts of Leadership include contacting elected officials; leading climate events; writing blogs, social media posts, or op-ed pieces; or partnering with other local groups for climate actions.

One fun outcome is that I now have a Climate Accountability Partner in New Delhi, India named Gitanjali Sreedhar.  We’ll check in with each other periodically to make sure we’re on track to perform the 10 Acts of Climate Leadership we committed to do in the next year.  Turns out that my writing this blog gets me one act closer to my goal.  (As in any group, there are super-performers.  I don’t think I’ll end up in the big leagues where Climate Leaders are accomplishing many 100s of Acts of Leadership a year.)

But I digress in a major way.  I wanted you to know about the Climate Reality Leadership Training (another virtual training is being planned for August 28-September 3) but I HAVE to tell you about Climate Change!!!!

The whole point of the Climate Reality Project is to continue to get the word out that the need for DOING SOMETHING is urgent.  The tide seems to have turned in people “believing” that climate change is happening.  Mother Nature has a very convincing repertoire of actions.  However, it is not at all a commonly held belief that a 2-degree rise is a big deal and that changes have to happen now.

Here’s a graph that shows the urgent nature of the situation.

 

 

Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Annual Assessment Report, 2014

The thermometer on the left shows the rise in Celsius degrees using a slightly different baseline than the thermometer on the right.  Each bar shows how risks increase as the global mean temperature rises.  It’s probably important to point out that in 2019 the mean global average temperature was 1.15C degrees on the right-hand thermometer.  Note that the highest risks are to unique and threatened ecosystems.  One of these ecosystems is the southern Appalachian Mountains.  Just sayin’.

The basic questions, to which the Climate Reality Project answers yes, are:

Must we change? (the science is clear, although the weather effects are getting pretty clear, too)
Can we change? (there turns out to be a LOT of good news on this front—just not quite enough yet)
Will we change? (This part is our job. And when I say “our,” I mean all of us!)

Linda Topp
Director of Administration

Finding Hope: What Is Your Call?

Minister ClaudiaOur seemingly endless physical distancing, the dilemma of how to provide safe schooling, federal interference with peaceful protests, political intransigence on all fronts – there are moments when hope eludes me. But I’m reminded daily that we live in a world of ambiguity where hate, violence and inequity coexist with love, generosity and compassion. Many have suffered, many still suffer AND many are working to alleviate suffering. In recent months, we have witnessed nationwide protests speaking out against racism and police brutality even as we mourn the losses of so many lives to COVID19 and racism. There seems to be an awakening to the reality of the brokenness of our nation, a society that has ignored how white supremacy and racism leave so many black and brown people vulnerable and under-resourced during this pandemic. That awakening calls to mind the words of UU minister Victoria Safford who in the essay, “The Small Work in the Great Work” wrote:

          “Once you have glimpsed the world as it might be, as it ought to be, as it’s going to be, (however that vision appears to you),            it is impossible to live compliant and complacent anymore in the world as it is….and so you come out and march, the way a              flower comes out and blooms, because it has no other calling. It has no other work.”

It is impossible to live compliant and complacent!  What are each of us called to do in this moment when police brutality and injustice can no longer be ignored?

With elections almost three months away, what are we each able to do to make sure all votes are counted and that our UU values are represented in the public square?

Our denomination and congregations have a history of advocacy. Hope is grounded in memory and it is important to know what we have done, successful or not. Changing hearts and attitudes takes time. We are in this for the long haul. And that gives me hope. I return to Safford’s essay, which offers a thoughtful reflection on what our mission is during these anxious times, 

“Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope —
not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower;
nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through);
nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right.”
But a very different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling….
And we stand there, beckoning and calling,
telling people what we are seeing,
asking people what they see.”

      What do you see?

     Who are you asking?

     What is your call?

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Living At the Speed of Change

So, welcome to our 2020-’21 church year!

If you thought last year was crazy and disruptive, get ready for the one ahead, what with an escalating COVID pandemic, an epochal election season, extraordinary economic turmoil, and social upheaval as Americans begin to come to terms with the consequences of our longstanding national sin of racism.

And all that has consequences for us as a people of faith. Kept from meeting at our beautiful campus, we are turning to technology to continue the transformative work of connecting hearts, challenging minds, nurturing spirits as we seek to serve and transform our community and the world. We’re still in the middle of figuring out what that looks like, even as we do it: as they say, building the plane as we fly it.

It is in many ways frightening, stressful, and disorienting to be caught in the middle of this. But in truth, it is also an amazing time to be alive, to be present to all of this. We remember that it is at times of turmoil that transformational change, long-overdue change is possible, and we hope to be part of that change. To do that, though, each of us needs to find a way to name and affirm what gives us hope and brings us wholeness and to be in its service.

A couple of weeks ago in worship, I invited you to consider these words of the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was duty. I worked – and behold, duty was joy.” What is the duty that brings you joy? And how can you enlist yourself in its service?

I can see different ways that these words apply to my life, but lately I’ve found a way that it applies to how I engage in the challenging work of coming to terms with race. Like many of you, my heart aches at all the ways that I see racism tearing at the lives of Black people, those I know and those I don’t. The outpouring of support in recent months for the Black Lives Matter movement encourages me. And yet, given what I know of America’s intransigence at ever confronting the legacy of racism, the path to meaningful change feels awfully steep. Other than simply stewing over this, what do I do?

I recognize the fraught place in which I stand: an older, cis-gendered white male heaped with privilege. I could comfortably turn aside from this challenge: many do. But it is plain to me that I could never be at peace with that choice. My heart won’t let me. So, again, what do I do?

We know that many white people, awakened to this injustice are quick to waltz in and offer a solution. It’s what we do, infused as we are with a culture of white supremacy. We’re the ones in charge, right? We can fix this. Actually, no. We are, in fact, clueless: too preoccupied with ourselves to be of much use to anyone. Until we’re ready to listen.

And it’s here that Tagore’s words come back to me: It comes to understanding our duty. To be of service, to be of use to the movement of Black Lives Matter, we need to be present to receive, then to accept what we receive and let it work on us, let it change us. This is a duty that no one imposed on me; it is a duty that my heart declares, that is core to my identity. And a way I can frame it is with our first principle: I affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

If I hold to that principle, I need to learn to get over myself and attend to the other, listen to those under the knee of oppression, and commit myself to helping to undo that oppression. As Mohandas Gandhi put it, we must be, we must embody the change we want to see in the world.

In recent weeks, I’ve been working at listening, receiving so that when I act it will be from a place of greater understanding. And it does give me hope, and not only hope but joy, joy in the conviction that I am living aligned with my values, living fully, authentically. I have no expectation that change will come tomorrow, but I do trust that I am walking the path to real change, and in the company of those committed to this change. Each step takes me a little further. I look forward to walking with you.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

A View On Change

Cecil BoardThe definition of change is: Make or become different; The act or instance of making or becoming different.

Has change affected you and how you are doing things today compared to a month, six months, or even a year ago? Throughout our lives we have been faced with changes almost constantly; celebrating various events–birthdays, births, deaths, meeting new people, or losing old friends. These are some of the changes brought into our lives. The challenge of learning new things also changes us–learning and succeeding to ride a bike or to skate or starting a new hobby or skill. As we let our memory float to the past, we can remember so many changes we have faced in our lives. Some of these changes brought us joy, some great sorrow, and others led to different lifestyles. We try to accept these changes as they occurred.

Our church has seen many changes as it has grown from its inception in the 1950s. It moved from a small group of similarly focused people meeting in small groups in a house in West Asheville that was converted into a meeting house for the UU fellowship. Later they moved from there to its current location at 1 Edwin Street. Over a period of time, the church was able to purchase the two houses at 21 and 23 Edwin as well as change the church building to its present configuration. (If you are wanting more history, look on UUCA’s website where you can find additional information.)

Last year we learned that Rev. Mark planned to retire at the end of June 2020 so we needed to start the process of finding a replacement. After 16 years of serving as minister to this congregation, we would be undergoing a big change. Unknown to all was that another change was coming down the pike. COVID-19 occurred and has affected us in so many ways. When Rev. Mark realized the severity of this, he made the decision to postpone his retirement until June 2021. This was a big change for him and his family and was a welcome change for the congregation.

In March the decision was made to stop having face-to-face services and meetings. The staff and Board made the decision to go virtual. Wow! Talk about change! One change was how to conduct Sunday services, meetings, and other church business. The decision was made to use a restricted YouTube link to broadcast the Sunday services to lessen the church’s exposure to copyright violations. Many meetings, including the church service and coffee hour, have shifted to using Zoom. One potential problem was how to conduct the annual meeting. The decision was made to allow mail-in ballots or email votes. The congregation voted on new board members, last year’s minutes, a bylaw change, LDC members, and the proposed budget. The congregation accepted this change and it went very well.

Social media has become our way of life whether it is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Zoom, or one of the many others. I am sure that many of our seniors, myself included, have had a learning curve to try to learn and understand how to work the systems. Most of us have conquered the basics so we can keep up with most UUCA events. (Some of us are lucky to find a teenager or another person we can ask for help.)

Yes, not only have we had to change our UUCA ways, but our personal lives have drastically changed also. We cannot go to theaters, concerts, gatherings, parties, and the list goes on. So, we have been and still are faced with more changes. Most of us have adapted to the new standards. With extra time at home, we have rekindled old hobbies we had put aside some time ago. Perhaps we are painting, reading, gardening, doing jobs around the house, or contacting people we haven’t been in touch with via phone, email, or social media. We might even start something new.

Let us not forget the many changes made by the health care workers, store employees, truck drivers, farmers etc. They, too, have made changes in their lives. We need to tell them just how much they are appreciated.

Most of us are aware of the many changes I have mentioned. I have only touched the surface for the many changes people are experiencing during this time. We all have undergone some drastic changes. I am sure we will have more changes to face in the future. Sometimes we cannot do anything about these changes but must just accept them. Other times we can work to make the changes easier.

A Greek philosopher ( Heraclitus) was given credit for saying “THE ONLY CONSTANT IN LIFE IS CHANGE.” Everything is changing constantly whether it’s the weather or the flowing water of a river. Change is all around us. During this change, the church staff has had to modify how to do the daily work of the church. They have done a wonderful job and deserve our thanks and appreciation.

Cecil Bennett, Board of Trustees

Living At the Speed of Change

So, welcome to our 2020-’21 church year!

If you thought last year was crazy and disruptive, get ready for the one ahead, what with an escalating COVID pandemic, an epochal election season, extraordinary economic turmoil, and social upheaval as Americans begin to come to terms with the consequences of our longstanding national sin of racism.

And all that has consequences for us as a people of faith. Kept from meeting at our beautiful campus, we are turning to technology to continue the transformative work of connecting hearts, challenging minds, nurturing spirits as we seek to serve and transform our community and the world. We’re still in the middle of figuring out what that looks like, even as we do it: as they say, building the plane as we fly it.

It is in many ways frightening, stressful, and disorienting to be caught in the middle of this. But in truth, it is also an amazing time to be alive, to be present to all of this. We remember that it is at times of turmoil that transformational change, long-overdue change is possible, and we hope to be part of that change. To do that, though, each of us needs to find a way to name and affirm what gives us hope and brings us wholeness and to be in its service.

A couple of weeks ago in worship, I invited you to consider these words of the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was duty. I worked – and behold, duty was joy.” What is the duty that brings you joy? And how can you enlist yourself in its service?

I can see different ways that these words apply to my life, but lately I’ve found a way that it applies to how I engage in the challenging work of coming to terms with race. Like many of you, my heart aches at all the ways that I see racism tearing at the lives of Black people, those I know and those I don’t. The outpouring of support in recent months for the Black Lives Matter movement encourages me. And yet, given what I know of America’s intransigence at ever confronting the legacy of racism, the path to meaningful change feels awfully steep. Other than simply stewing over this, what do I do?

I recognize the fraught place in which I stand: an older, cis-gendered white male heaped with privilege. I could comfortably turn aside from this challenge: many do. But it is plain to me that I could never be at peace with that choice. My heart won’t let me. So, again, what do I do?

We know that many white people, awakened to this injustice are quick to waltz in and offer a solution. It’s what we do, infused as we are with a culture of white supremacy. We’re the ones in charge, right? We can fix this. Actually, no. We are, in fact, clueless: too preoccupied with ourselves to be of much use to anyone. Until we’re ready to listen.

And it’s here that Tagore’s words come back to me: It comes to understanding our duty. To be of service, to be of use to the movement of Black Lives Matter, we need to be present to receive, then to accept what we receive and let it work on us, let it change us. This is a duty that no one imposed on me; it is a duty that my heart declares, that is core to my identity. And a way I can frame it is with our first principle: I affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

If I hold to that principle, I need to learn to get over myself and attend to the other, listen to those under the knee of oppression, and commit myself to helping to undo that oppression. As Mohandas Gandhi put it, we must be, we must embody the change we want to see in the world.

In recent weeks, I’ve been working at listening, receiving so that when I act it will be from a place of greater understanding. And it does give me hope, and not only hope but joy, joy in the conviction that I am living aligned with my values, living fully, authentically. I have no expectation that change will come tomorrow, but I do trust that I am walking the path to real change, and in the company of those committed to this change. Each step takes me a little further. I look forward to walking with you.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Rooted, Inspired, and Ready

Sunday, June 28, 2020 – a LIVE service at 10am
–A program of the UUA General Assembly

We join thousands of UUs across the country in online worship prepared by leaders of the Unitarian Universalist Association and presented live at 10am. Click here to watch.

Greetings From General Assembly

Minister ClaudiaI had been looking forward to being in Providence, Rhode Island, this week to reconnect with UU friends and colleagues at the UU General Assembly (GA) and explore Providence. Instead, I have a full week of online sessions queued up for viewing from my home office. This is not at all what I expected, and like so many of us, after three months of hand-washing, mask-wearing, and physical distancing, online platforms are what keep me connected. As do e-mails and phone calls. The irony is that I was trying to reduce my screen time with the help of the app on my phone that tracks use in categories such as social networking, productivity, entertainment, and creativity. My screen time has gone up tremendously these last three months–just a reality that I have to accept. Not only am I online more for work, but I spend time connecting with family and friends via Zoom or FaceTime because I want to (need to!) see their faces. My GA experience will be defined by how much time I am able to sit or stand in front of a computer.

GA is about to begin as I write. I have participated in the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA) pre-GA workshop, “Threading the Needle: Practices for Centering Love and Liberation in Faith Formation.” As I listened and discussed this topic with colleagues in breakout sessions, I identified a few key takeaways:

1. The work of liberation is done in relationship. It isn’t just an intellectual exercise, although studying history, especially the history that has been ignored, is necessary but insufficient to affect meaningful progress. Relationships allow us to engage in the deeper conversations that establish pathways for working together for change. In America, that requires disrupting the culture of rugged individualism. What if we prioritized relationship over ego? What if, when covenants are broken, we were able to choose ways to re-covenant instead of allowing the relationship to disintegrate? What if we were willing to work collaboratively to disrupt repressive hierarchical structures that promote power-over rather than power-within our relationships? This work begins in the predominantly white spaces many of us inhabit and prepares us to establish relationships beyond our comfort zones.

2. The work of liberation requires accountability. It is not merely performative. How can it be transformational? We have experienced much sorrow, anger, and frustration in the face of police brutality in America and continuing anti-black racism. Many have protested and marched for justice. That is only the beginning. How will we show our marginalized siblings that we are in this together? How will we each be transformed by working for liberation for all? Are we willing to do the work for structural change that moves us closer to an equitable society? How do we hold ourselves accountable to the work of disrupting oppressive systems in our midst? What if accountability wasn’t scary?

3. Practicing liberation requires moral imagination. We cannot achieve what we cannot imagine. As we imagine an equitable world, the Beloved Community we often talk about, the question for each of us becomes what will we do with our time, talent, and treasure to make it happen? What is our commitment to justice-centered love?

Those are my takeaways and questions after 5-1/2 hours of Zoom sessions. I will be reflecting on them as I work with staff and volunteers to plan Faith Development and Justice Ministry for the 2020-21 congregational year. I wonder what these thoughts bring to mind for you? Let me know!

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

 

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