One of the more important parts of my job involves risk management. That’s why so often I end up looking like a blocker instead of a promoter. It’s not me, honest! It’s the job. “Will that be a trip hazard? Are all volunteers who work with kids background-checked? You want to build a campfire where? Is cash being handled properly? Does our insurance coverage adequately address sexual abuse? Are the fire extinguishers checked regularly? Copyright permission? Do people know not to use cell phones while driving (in general, but certainly while driving for a church errand)? Are our hiring policies up-to-date? Did I just accidentally download a computer virus? What can we lose if we get attacked by ransomware?” And on it goes. One of the ways we manage risk is to create policies (which are all on our website, off of the Board of Trustees page). Although some of our policies are designed to help people figure out how things are done around here (examples include “Inclement Weather,” “Gift Acceptance,” “New Social Groups”), many of them are created to help manage risk. Some of these include “Cell Phone Use,” “Childcare at UUCA,” and “Financial Policy and Procedures.” Probably the most important “risk management” policy is the one entitled, “Healthy Congregation.” This policy lays out the whys and wherefores of being in healthy relationship with one another. To help with risk management, it also lists the steps that can be taken when an individual acts in a way that is offensive or disruptive. It is especially attentive to adult-child relationships. As a best practice for churches, this document describes behaviors that are considered unhealthy or inappropriate, along with alternative appropriate behaviors. It addresses physical and verbal interactions and describes various forms of bullying that will not be tolerated. It is extremely detailed in addressing sexual abuse. This policy requires training in recognizing and preventing sexual abuse for all of our religious education teachers, with formal training programs required of all staff members. The training that staff members have participated in this year comes from a group called Darkness2Light and is called “Stewards of Children.” There is an online version of this course that anyone can take for $10. It is also occasionally available as a live course in Asheville through the Buncombe Partnership for Children. The policy also is very specific about the actions we take to safeguard our children and youth in other ways, too. All in all, this is probably the most important policy we have. I hope you take time to read it. Linda Topp, Director of Administration
“All forms of spiritual practice share one fundamental quality; they bring upon the practitioner a sense of peace. This peace does not come from mastery of the practices; a focus on Mastery (while it can be very interesting) is counterproductive (to spirituality). I think of it (fly fishing) as putting ourselves into the way of the world; in the Tao of Life. Not the busy mechanical, technological (electronic) world but the Natural world of which we are a part, the earth that was here before we came and hopefully, will be here after we are gone.” Rev. Jennifer Brooks, Unitarian Universalist Minister, 4/19/09
Early on you have to make a simple choice: Are you a fly fisherman or a fish catcher. What is important to you, catching fish or fly fishing.
If you choose to become a fish catcher, you become a head hunter, someone looking to catch the most fish, or the biggest fish of the day if that is your preference. Your focus narrows to your fly and the immediate area surrounding it so that you are ready for the “take” and the landing. Your reason for being there is to catch fish and nothing less will do. All that is important is landing the fish. If you don’t plan to eat the fish you throw it back without care to the condition of the fish; you need to catch the next one. You can have a “bad day.” You have missed everything.
If you choose to be a fly fisherman you, above all else, slow down and become naturally more in-tune with the environment, and especially the river. The river is everything, the flow of the currents, the clarity and temperature, the fish you see and don’t see, the shadows that can hold fish, the trees and shrubs lining the bank, the downfalls in the river, the ducks and birds, the position of the sunlight on the water. You watch the fly drift into the feeding lane of the trout and wait to see if you have convinced the fish that the hook with the string, feathers and “dubbing” will look enough like a tasty morsel and that the trout is hungry enough to take it. You may cast many times before it is all just right. And then “the take.”
When the take happens, you now have a direct line to the fish and the natural living world; you are holding the thin, fine line and the electric shocks come right up from the water and into your fingers and hands. There are so many things that can go wrong and lead you to lose the fish that you must now put all of your focus and concentration on that line and point where it joins the water; the movement of fish and the river.
When you have brought all of it together in that moment in time, the absolute spirituality of that moment is clear.
In the beginning, it’s all about the fish, how many, how big and where. But there is so much more to this fly fishing stuff.
One early fall afternoon I was walking back up the river after a day with zero fish, bummed because all I caught all day were twigs and leaves moving just under the surface. The sky was bright and the sun had warmed me to the point of sweating as I walked up the stones and over the stumps and deadfalls on my way to my car.
My legs felt filled with failure, failures filled my waders and dragged me down as surely as if it were water. Although I was not a stranger to being “skunked,” I still took it personally. I had about 3/4 of a mile to walk back up the free stone river to my car and the long drive home in a car filled with the stench of failure. I found myself going deeply into myself and not really paying attention to the river, the sky, the valley, the birds or anything else. I was in a funk!
I knew this piece of river pretty well and knew that I was about halfway back to the Steel Bridge and the two German shepherds that wait to greet you, hoping for a small treat. I sat on the rock beside the river, overdressed, sweaty and hot in the midday sun on a day that was supposed to be cool-to-cold.
I had known this large rock was a nice place to sit and I just eased myself onto its bright sun-warmed surface. Took a deep breath and waited to cool down a bit before I finished the walk, falling deeper and into those old messages I tell myself about my failures.
At first, I didn’t notice them, turned as inwardly as I was. Then there was just the realization of movement nearby, but turning right I just looked down the river and didn’t focus on anything. Then I noticed movement on the left and then the right again and then right in front of me. Finally, the moving object in front of me came into focus. It was a black-winged butterfly with deep purple highlights on the wing. “Oh, how pretty,” I thought. And just then I realized that these were the movements on each side, above and even behind me that I had felt but did not see.
Then there were twenty or so butterflies and then thirty or so and then I couldn’t count them as they flitted around me. Black and purple floating bits of color. And then they started to land on my hands and arms. They would land then take back off almost immediately.
Then as I quieted myself and sat still, they started to land one-by-one and stay, first for a second or two, then as they folded their wings, for longer and longer. Then opening and closing their wings and tickling my arms, hands, and face they walked, exploring and tasting my sweat only then to lift off in the breeze. I sat with these butterflies for some time although I really have no idea how long it was, and then they left as quickly and quietly as they came.
Today my prize was butterflies!
Tomorrow is another day and there will be some prize for me on the river, and it may or may not be a fish. It will, however, be the time alone in the wild country, listening intently for the sip of the trout taking the fly, for the clacking call of the kingfisher patrolling the river for a meal, watching intently as fish silent slip along through the water. And in that world is the essence of spirituality and the Seventh Principle.
Michael Beech, Board of Trustees
Some of the hardest work in the quest for racial justice is truth-telling: telling the truth about the sea of racial oppression that we live in, where it came from, how it is perpetuated, and how each of us can find ourselves complicit in it, often in ways we are unaware of. So, part of our justice work in this congregation is about making ourselves aware of all this and acting where we can to dismantle it.
There’s an exciting project underway in Asheville that we at UUCA are looking to connect with that is seeking to correct the record and bring a measure of justice to people who suffered as a result of this oppression. It’s linked to a nation-wide effort led by the Equal Justice Institute based in Montgomery, Alabama.
This is the organization started by Bryan Stevenson that has sought to document the thousands of lynchings of African-Americans that occurred in America from 1877 to 1950. A year and a half ago the institute opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, where some 800 lynchings are documented on hanging steel monuments. Buncombe County’s plate is inscribed with the names of three men who were lynched here in the 1890s.
Here in Asheville last May, a coalition of community groups joined to form the Buncombe County Community Remembrance Project. Its goal is to raise awareness of racial violence in our area and plan for the creation of a historical monument here that will tell that story.
UUCA member Mary Alm has been attending the group’s meetings on our behalf, and I have offered to have our congregation join a group of what are called “community stakeholders” who support the effort. The group already includes 10 other congregations and community groups.
You will be hearing more about this as the project gets underway. For now, as a way to get into this work of truth-telling, Mary and I would like to invite you to consider joining us on a UUCA group trip to visit the memorial in Montgomery next spring.
Our idea is that this would be a three-day trip – leaving one day to drive to Montgomery, spending a day at the Memorial, and then driving home the next day. Mary is researching hotels where we could reserve a block of rooms together. For transportation, we’re thinking of making it simple – a caravan of cars, car-pooling where we can. As for timing, we’re thinking of spring break week – April 6 – 10 – so families could make time to come. Scholarships will be available for people who need them.
Look for more details to come and please contact Mary Alm if you’re willing to help organize or are interested in coming. I would welcome your company as we dig into the work of taking ownership for our own journeys of awakening and truth-telling.
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
On September 14, UUCA welcomed the community and hosted four African American scholars Dr. Summer Carrol (Lenoir-Rhyne University), Dr. Brandi Hinnant-Crawford (Western Carolina University), Dr. Tiece Ruffin (UNCA) and Dr. Darrius Stanley (WCU) who spoke to an audience of over 100 about best practices to close the opportunity gap for Black youth in our public schools. I sat in the audience, grateful that UUCA opened its doors to such a diverse group of community members and that some of our members ensured that all were welcome, fed (lunch was provided) and children taken care of in our beautiful RE spaces. Thank you, to members of Recommitting to Black Lives Matter who shared of their time, talent and treasure to support this gathering.
The presenters began with an overview of the history of slavery and discrimination that ignored the richness and resilience of Black culture and resistance. They explained how the system of white supremacy at the root of the American project made it difficult for black children to integrate in the 1960s. Prof. Stanley quoted Rev. Martin Luther King’s analysis that black children were being integrated into a “burning house.” So what can be done in a culture that is still “on fire” with racism and white nationalist fervor?
The speakers provided examples of how teacher training can shape classroom practices that provide culturally relevant instruction that disrupts white supremacy culture. Culturally relevant instruction validates the identity of black children who are often seen as deficient and expected to conform to white middle class norms. The speakers also emphasized the importance of critically conscious educational leaders who disrupt the systemic practices and policies that disproportionately impact black children. We learned about black history and educational possibilities for supporting positive academic outcomes for black youth. Two youth shared their experiences navigating a system that is often hostile to them. They asked: Can you see us? Why don’t you know us? I wonder, how do we get to know the youth in our community?
Most importantly, Dr Carrol spoke about the need for a revolutionary love that treats all youth like human beings, loves them and is radical enough to bring about change. Her message spoke to that doctrine of love we embrace as UUs. What does that love look like in practice when black youth in our community are being left behind? What can our community do so that the differential funding and wealth gap that favor white over black students are diminished? To reduce the prison-to-school pipeline? The challenge of closing the opportunity gap is a challenge for ALL of us.
With that in mind, the second part of the presentation challenged the audience to explore how to leverage community assets to affect change. The audience counted off to form ten groups. Each group discussed and recorded ideas for how to leverage resources from: churches; libraries & research; community organizations, universities & community colleges; common/shared school spaces; elders; businesses & professionals; neighborhood associations, community centers & parks; food access organizations and community gardens; and community organizers and activists. Just hearing the list of all the assets in our community gave me tremendous hope. Wow! I wondered what would happen if these assets were vigorously engaged in closing the opportunity gap for black children?
I don’t know the plans are for next steps are after these engaging presentations and group conversations. I hope to hear from the organizers soon. Until then, I share the ideas from two groups about how churches and elders can be involved. Let me know what you think. Contact me at email@example.com if you want to explore possibilities. As you read over these suggestions, I invite you to reflect on how these can be carried out with input from those they are intended to uplift. The challenge in justice work is to be allies of those marginalized versus doing for them and seeing ourselves as saviors. We were reminded that “nothing about us (i.e. our black siblings) without us if for us.”
Things churches can do:
- Offer summer camps
- Increase leader visibility and advocacy in community e.g. PTA/PTO meetings
- Use of space on non-Sundays for forums and lectures (black history, community racial history, state of education, arts, etc.)
- Members can be reading buddies or lunch buddies in schools
- Adopt a school or classroom
- Provide scholarships for educational programs, enrichment activities
- Offer career readiness/Counseling offered at church
- Provide space and activities during school suspension for nurture/healing/justice
- Provide after school homework support/participate in existing after school programs
- Run food pantries
- Provide transportation using church vans (to parent/teacher meetings, arts events, etc.)
- Build relationship with the Latinx community /provide a safe zone/ language justice
- Create and participate in interfaith projects
Things elders can do:
- Receive training in reading and math strategies
- Share living history
- Connect elders with parents for support
- Provide revolutionary love…engage children & families at church, in neighborhood
- Disrupt complacency…speak up
- Alumnae of Stevens Lee can share historical & institutional knowledge
- Tap into Olli elders that may want to be involved in closing the gap
- Engage with the schools through conversations, mentoring
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
Picture this: Someone just walked into a public place where they are hoping to (eventually) know some people. They figure out how to get to a seat but they didn’t make a name tag for themselves because, well, that would be too scary. They certainly didn’t introduce themselves during the event (Egads! Way too scary!) but they do make their way to the very-crowded place where people gather after the event because really, they DO want to meet some people. Now what?
It is YOUR job (yes, you!) to do something about this! Here’s your line: “Hi! My name is _____________. Welcome! This is a big congregation so I’m not sure if we’ve met. Have we?” (Not a great idea to ask, “Are you new?” to a person who’s been a member for the past 30 years.) And if you discover that they are new, your next line could be: “What brought you here today?” Or, “How did you like the service?” Etc.
We on staff are noticing painfully-alone people standing around at Coffee Hour. This is not good. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if the person IS a 30-year member or brand-spanking new, if they are standing alone (or just with their buddy), go up and speak to them. Yes, YOU!
This can be hard, I know. But everyone who is here is a guest of this congregation. Guests (here or at your house) are looking for connection, kindness, and acceptance. They want to be personally recognized and welcomed. You can do this!
Here are helpful hints for being welcoming:
• Start slow. You don’t need to obtain 30 years of backstory in one conversation or invite them over on the first visit.
• Listen well. You will be able to tell if something makes them uncomfortable. You will also learn things that you can mention in future conversations.
• Introduce them to someone else in the church. Think of a member who has something in common with the visitor but be VERY careful about making assumptions.
• Ask a question that doesn’t have a yes or no answer.
Here are some other possible questions to ask of newcomers:
• How did you discover our church?
• Is this your first visit or have you been coming for a while?
• Have you ever been to a UU church before?
Let’s see how you do.
Linda Topp, Director of Administration
Wait. Before you start to wonder how I could be insinuating that it’s the 1st of January when the temperatures outside are hitting 90 degrees, hear me out. You see, as an elementary special education teacher who is married to a high school English and speech teacher and as a parent of a brand new fourth-grader (WHOA! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!), there is nothing that says New Year more than heading back to school! That means that in my household, we have spent time reflecting on the past year, set resolutions for the coming year, and have already begun the hard work of making our new year goals come true!
And if you think the party vibe is strong on December 31st, you have no idea what kind of energy will permeate our household come late May!
But before you start to feel left out of this off-timed celebration, know that I’m not leaving you out! You see, it’s actually a New Year for all of us here at UUCA! Two-Service Sundays have begun, RE classes are freshly full with students and teachers, and the Wednesday Thing is back in full effect! Yep. It turns out that its a fresh new start for all of us!
So like I said, Happy New Year Everyone!
For me personally, this new beginning is marked by one particularly new type of challenge. Back in early June, I became the new President of the Board of Trustees. Shortly thereafter, I took off with my family on a summer-long, 8000+ mile road trip that took me away from the work of the congregation and instead into the homes of countless friends and family members as well beautiful places around the country. It was a great time indeed and while I was gone Cecil Bennett and the rest of the UU Board ran the board flawlessly and for that I am incredibly grateful. But now, with my summer adventure over, my new adventure has begun…as an actual acting Board President. (Does this count as “adulting?”)
So let me start by saying that if there is anything I can confidently proclaim about my new role it is that I AM A NOVICE! Don’t get me wrong. I say that without any self-deprecation or shame. I am just putting it out there that though I can write a mean reading or math lesson and I can create an Individualized Education Plan with my eyes closed, I am not someone who can lay claim to having a 100% clear understanding of how Boards and Self-Governance work. But just like my students, I am eager and ready to learn!
So far, my learning process has included drawing from some of the various roles I have played here at UUCA since joining back in 2006, such as RE teacher, Room in the Inn volunteer, Coming of Age mentor, occasional usher, Sanctuary volunteer, and Book Sale box unpacker as well as Newbie Board Member last year. My homework has also included webinars put on by regional UU leaders as well as personal conversations with Mark and various members of our UUCA community.
One of the major lessons I have been studying in preparation for the year ahead involves Ministerial Transition. As most everyone knows by now, Mark has announced his retirement come next summer. This leaves the Board and me to begin the congregation’s work of seeking out and selecting an interim minister as well as an eventual called minister. Fortunately, much of this process is laid out by the UUA and in the coming months, we will be sharing more details of when and how this process will work and how you can play a role in it. In the meantime, I would recommend that we all really focus on and appreciate the words, wisdom, and way of Mark Ward. Take some time to show him gratitude. Heck, treat him like a great teacher and don’t be afraid to leave an apple on his desk (pulpit?)!
As for me, please feel free in this coming year to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, to call me at 919-619-7298, or simply to grab me by the arm in Sandburg Hall whenever you have a question or concern or suggestion. One thing I am learning about this role is that that is what I am here for.
The year has begun. And just like I have told my students back at Isaac Dickson, I believe it is going to be a great one! We will face new challenges. We will make mistakes. We will find reasons to celebrate. We will continue to build community. And we will definitely learn a lot!
Happy New Year indeed!
Ryan Williams, President, Board of Trustees
In these last few days before we jump into our fall season there’s a kind of wistfulness that it’s been easy for me to slip into. Having announced that this will be my last year at UUCA, I find myself ticking things off – my last this, my last that. But of course, I soon won’t have the luxury for any of that. We have a terrific array of programs, services and events planned that will keep us all hopping. And more than that, rarely has there been a time when passion and commitment for the work of liberal religion was more needed.
Having spent a good third of my life in journalism before entering the ministry, I’ve made a practice of subscribing to my local paper and the New York Times and each morning spending some time poring through them.
I have friends who shrink at the idea and say, “How can you begin your day with such depressing stuff?” I get that. I see more than enough that drags me down, but I stay with it. Part of the reason is I just want to be in the know, plugged into what’s happening to the world, and random bulletins on my cell phone are not enough.
I want to take time with people – reporters and editors – who have spent time and energy to track down the closest thing they can find to the truth. Seeing the news media under greater assault than at any moment in my lifetime reminds me what a precious gift it is.
A similar sort of feeling comes to me when I think about this religious tradition where I’ve made my home, that is the center of my calling. We determined truth-tellers, when it comes to the life of the spirit, can find ourselves embattled, too. The bullying and shaming that we see in the public sphere has its analog in the religious world, and we desperately need communities like this one that can provide a home for the doubters, for those seeking to make their own path religiously, who cling to their own integrity like a life raft.
I want to take time with people who are struggling to figure it out, who dig deep into their own epiphanies, hopes and fears, who get real with each other and find joy in the journey together. It’s often challenging work that pushes us all outside of our comfort zones, but it is also deeply satisfying to be supported in our struggles and to be part of a community that nudges us to put the values that guide us to work in the larger world.
This, too, is a precious gift. I’m grateful to have been a part of all this with you and look forward to an eventful year together.
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
Interesting question, isn’t it? Because all of a sudden you’re asking yourself, “What do you mean by leader?” Imagine sitting on a committee and trying to answer that question. That’s part of the job of the Leadership Development Committee (LDC). I can’t say that we’ve come up with a definitive answer, but we have been coming up with a list of information that UUCA leaders say they need.
After sitting in on a UUCA workshop for church leaders last spring, and then interviewing current Board members, the members of the LDC (James Cassara-chair, Susan Andrew, Bill Kleiber, Natale Polinko, Bob Wilson) concluded that congregants really want a better understanding of how things get decided around here. They also want to know where to find information, how to purchase something and get reimbursed, or maybe even how to run a new fundraiser. If you’re one of these inquiring folks, plan to attend a 2-hour workshop on Saturday, September 28, 9:30-11:30, that will reveal all! Reserve your spot by contacting Bill Kleiber.
The LDC also knows that some folks haven’t explored their own leadership qualities lately, so we’d like to give you a chance to do that. Consequently, you’re invited to attend a different 2-hour workshop on Saturday, November 9, 9:30-11:30 that will explore leadership styles. At this event, workshop participants will gain a better understanding of the primary styles of leadership and how they affect the decisions we make and processes we employ. What’s our natural leadership style (we each have one) and how do we know when it’s best suited for one task but not another? When do we lead and when do we stay back and allow others to do so? This fast-paced, discussion-centered workshop is well suited for anyone who is on any committee, focus group, problem-solving task force, or covenant group at UUCA or for anyone who simply wants to become a more confident and assured leader. Reserve your spot by contacting Natale Polinko.
So who can be a leader at UUCA? Get it out of your head that all leaders have to be chairs of something. That’s so 1990s. Nowadays, anyone who works with others in devoting time and energy to making UUCA a better place is a leader. Yes, indeedy. We need introverts! Extroverts. Idea people. Organizers. Techie people. Luddites. Older people. Younger people. Numbers people. Word people. Brainy people. Brawny people. Get it? Do NOT sell yourself short. Because we don’t! Volunteer to share your time and talents at UUCA today!
Linda Topp, Director of Administration
The Earth and Environmental Justice Ministry team is now the Justice Ministry Team in recognition of the interconnectedness and complexity of the work of justice. The Justice Ministry Council has held two organizational meetings to prepare ourselves to support and bring together the different justice projects and action groups in our congregation. Our goals are to:
- Facilitate connection and communication between the groups and the congregation
- Provide spiritual grounding and educational opportunities to inform and sustain the justice work of the congregation
- Create a vision for Justice Ministry aligned with the theme of “Sanctuary Everywhere”
- Facilitate budgeting and a reporting process so there is accountability to the congregation
The Council includes representatives from each of the following areas:
Racial Justice – Eleanor Lane
Environmental Justice – Wink Zachritz
Economic Justice – Joyce Birkenholz
LBGTQ+/Gender Justice – Shawn Landreth
Denominational Action – Deb Holden
Faith Development – Martha Kiger, Melissa Murphy
Community Plate – Linda Kookier
Spiritual Grounding – Nancy Bragg
Whew! What an awesome group. You will be hearing about our work through the Justice Ministry eNews (contact Elizabeth Schell email@example.com to register), the Justice Ministry Table on Sunday mornings and the soon-to-be-updated bulletin board in Sandburg Hall. Opportunities for engagement will be announced in the Sunday insert and the Weekly eNews.
Yes, this is a lot of information. It takes teamwork and collaboration to stay connected and informed about the work of putting our faith into action. Each of our individual yeses contributes to being part of creating the inclusive, welcoming Beloved Community we talk about.
I am excited to work with the Justice Ministry team this year. I look forward to learning together, engaging together, and laughing together as this ministry transforms us, strengthens our connection to each other, and challenges us to learn from our inevitable mistakes. As UU Rev. Mark Morrison Reed reminds us,
“It is the church that assures us that we are not struggling for justice on our own, but as members of a larger community. The religious community is essential, for alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be seen, and our strength too limited to do all that must be done. Together, our vision widens and our strength is renewed.”
Below are a few opportunities to join others in the work of justice in the coming month. Visit the Justice Ministry Table in Sandburg Hall Sunday morning for details.
Sept 5 Voter Registration Training sponsored by the League of Women Voters; 6PM; North Buncombe Library. It will be led by UUCA member, Melissa Murphy.
Sept 13 Anti-Racism & Sanctuary Training hosted by UUCA sponsored by CIMA and Faith Communities Organizing for Sanctuary; 9:30-4:00 PM, sliding scale $35-$65 includes lunch. Register here.
Sept 22 Mary Katherine Morn preaching at UUCA . She will share information about the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). Deb Holden is leading the effort to bring back the UUSC Guest at Your Table Program to UUCA. Thank you, Deb!
Sept 28 Blue Ridge Pride. UUCA participation being organized by Universal Rainbow Unity (URU); 11:00 AM- 7:00 PM; Pack Square. URU encourages multigenerational participation.
“Don’t be afraid of some change, don’t be afraid of some change;
Today will be a joyful day, Enter, rejoice and come in.”
We sing this hymn on a regular basis – this is my favorite stanza. Those in our congregation who have come to know me as a fairly extroverted blabbermouth will be shocked to learn that I was once a painfully shy nonentity who regarded change as anathema. My father was a contract engineer in the aerospace industry in the 50s and 60s. Among other projects involved with rocketing folks into space, he worked on the Mercury program in Huntsville, AL, on the Redstone Arsenal with no less a personage than Wernher von Braun. I took dance lessons when I was five with his daughter Margrit.
All this “glory” was totally lost on me. I attended four elementary schools, one junior high and two high schools. I did not enjoy being uprooted so often, and when I landed in my second high school, I chose to fold my social tents and abstain. Change had just gotten too hard for me to bear. I attended my 10-year high school reunion in 1980 but still felt like such an unwanted fifth wheel in the tiny little town of Marion, VA that I have never gone back.
I married into a very loud family and had to get loud or die, which was very good for me!
Thirty -five years later, I moved to western North Carolina soon after my husband’s unexpected death at the age of 58. Now THAT was a change – and a painful one, but so much joy has come from it. I would not be a member of this congregation, nor would I have even discovered Unitarian Universalism, in all likelihood, were I still living in Baton Rouge with my husband. I have an adult daughter and a granddaughter living with me now, and I have the great privilege of helping to rear four-year-old Allita, who would almost certainly not even exist if our family had not been convulsed with my husband’s death.
I no longer regard change as an unmitigated evil but as an opportunity and an entrance to something good just around the corner and out of sight. Even if it doesn’t feel good initially, change is essential to the progress of life, as anyone familiar with the theory of evolution well knows.
Change drives discovery; discovery brings growth and, sometimes, I would say often, great joy and spiritual growth. People, singly and in groups, need to fully embrace change when it comes, as it always does, even when change is initially upsetting and seems to be a cause for unmitigated grief. Change, approached constructively, can be used to discover new insights, new people and more joy.
Don’t be afraid of some change!
Judy Harper, Board of Trustees
Change is the river we swim in, friends, and the change I want to talk about this month has to do with me. As I announced on Sunday, this current church year will be my last at UUCA. I will retire as your lead minister as of June 30, 2020.
It’s a big change for all of us. For me, it will end my tenure here and open a new chapter in my life; for you, it will be a moment of taking stock, then starting the exciting process of self-reflection and search for the next person to serve as your lead minister.
I am happy to say that there is nothing particular driving this decision. My health is good, and I enjoy the work with you. For those reasons, though, this is also a good time to leave. Moving into what for many is retirement age, I find myself ready for a change, and you are a strong and vital congregation that has the resources and good leadership to get through a major transition like this and come out stronger.
Indeed, that is my hope for you. Change in leadership can be an occasion to challenge old assumptions or ways of doing things and open the door to newer, fresher ways living into the faith that you here embody. You are a happening congregation, and I feel certain that great things await you. I am making this announcement now, some 10 months before I actually leave, to give you the space to work through how you want this transition to go. I am already in conversation with the Board about how to structure that conversation. You will be hearing more from them soon about their plans.
What can you look forward to? I can tell you that people who work with churches recommend that congregations who are concluding a long-term ministry bring on an interim minister to work with them for one to two years. This gives the congregation time to get a strong sense of itself and gain clarity on the qualities of leadership they seek.
For many of you, I know, this process is new, but you have people in leadership and on staff who have been through ministerial transitions before and can help you navigate this. Also there are resources at the Unitarian Universalist Association to help coach you on this transition. In this next year, I promise to do what I can to help make this a successful transition.
In the midst of this, though, I have to own the sadness I feel to think about leaving this place. The nearly 16 years I have been here have changed me in the best possible ways. I love you, and I am so grateful for all that you have given me.
That said, you need to know that, while Debbie and I will remain in Asheville, once I leave in June you won’t be seeing me at church for at least a couple of years. It’s part of the commitment that we UU ministers ask of each other: to put distance between ourselves and the congregation we had been serving so that the congregation and the colleague who follows us can make their own covenants and find their own way together without our interference. Out of respect for you and whoever succeeds me I affirm that practice and consider it wise.
As for my own future, I am mulling lots of things. For a time, though, I plan to press the pause button and settle into this new life. But I know that there is too much in the world that calls to me to sit on the sidelines for long.
Meanwhile, we have a great year coming up, and I’m looking forward to my part in it. Please keep an eye out for our weekly enews and other announcements on what to expect. And do look for ways to dive in and take part. It is by participating that you get the greatest benefit of this community.
From June 19-23, I was a delegate from UUCA for the 2019 General Assembly (GA) in Spokane, WA.
What is General Assembly (GA)? GA is the annual gathering of UUs to deal with the business of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), worship together, and attend workshops. Worship was lively and multicultural including music such as “There is More Love (Somewhere)” and “Keep On Moving Forward.” The workshops ranged from those with broad appeal such as: “Strategies for Community Organizing,” “Faithing Family,” and “Achieving Our 6th Principle Goal of World Community” to specific “role-based programming” for specific positions in UU congregations (e.g., musicians, treasurers, religious educators). One of my favorite sessions was an interview with Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, where she examined “whiteness” and how it shapes interracial interactions. See her work here.
One of the most beloved GA rituals, the “banner parade,” occurs at the Opening Ceremony. Each attending congregation marches into the convention hall with their unique congregational banner. It feels quite unusual and amazing to be surrounded by thousands of UUs. See the UUCA banner and our representatives from last year’s Banner Parade here.
I encourage you to watch the entire Sunday worship especially Reverend Marta Valentín’s powerful message about the need for full inclusion within Unitarian Universalism.
What is a delegate?
As a UUCA delegate you attend the General Sessions and vote your conscience on matters that affect the Unitarian Universalist Association.
What matters were voted on?
Every year “Actions of Immediate Witness” (AIWs) are selected by the body to “express the conscience of the delegates.” This year’s AIWs addressed: “Immigration and Asylum,” “Building the Movement for a Green New Deal,” and “Supporting Our First Amendment Right to Boycott” (related to Israel/Palestine).
Based on three years of congregational study, delegates also passed a Statement of Conscience titled “Our Democracy Uncorrupted.” While the statement passed by a large margin, there was a lively debate regarding the statement’s charge to “repeal the electoral college.”
Although UUs love to debate, a number of non-controversial issues quickly passed. There was a very close yet successful vote to make it more difficult to be a petition candidate for a UUA position (e.g. President). The most controversial thing that happened at GA was when a UU minister handed out a self-authored pamphlet that criticized, as overly “PC,” the UUA’s campaign to “dismantle white supremacy” within UUism. Read more here.
GA is a great way to meet UUs from around the country and to seek inspiration. If you are interested in being a delegate in the future speak to the Board of Trustees (and they might even help offset the cost of registration). Upcoming General Assemblies include Providence, RI (2020) and Milwaukee, WI (2021). Contact me, Mary Alm (“UUCA Queen of GA” [my term]), or Linda Topp for more info.
On behalf of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville and this year’s Coming of Age Class, I want to thank you for your generous contribution to our Coming of Age program’s trip to the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. Your contribution made possible a week-long learning adventure for nine teens and four chaperones. Traveling in two vans, covering over 700 miles each way, there were visits to three different UU congregations, a tour of Cornell University and the Entomology Department, time for hiking and swimming and several days of service projects at the Farm Sanctuary.
During the trip, the Coming of Age participants got to put their UU values into action. They experienced each other’s support on the emotional ups and downs of a very active trip in close quarters, explored the interconnectedness of all beings, and gained insight into the food production system that feeds us. They also experienced some added independence in being responsible for their daily budgets and schedules.
Here are some quotes from the COA teens:
“I became responsible with money and eating wisely on the COA trip.”
“This trip was such a unique experience. I learned a lot of information at Farm Sanctuary that was heartbreaking but was really a wake-up call for how I can make a difference. I am really grateful to the donors for making it possible for us to go on this exciting trip!”
“The trip was wonderful and the Farm Sanctuary was enlightening.”
“One of the best experiences of my life. A true bonding trip. The animals were cute. It made me think about becoming vegan.”
And from their chaperones:
“I am grateful to have been part of this trip. It was incredibly rewarding to get to know the teens a little better as they learn about their UU values and how to live them. “
“I volunteered to chaperone so I could get to know the CoA youth. I can report complete success on that front! I particularly enjoyed discussing current events, the Democratic debates, and a couple of philosophical conundrums that helped to pass time during the long drives. I’m curious to know if our visit to the Farm Sanctuary changed any attitudes towards their dietary choices. I look forward to exploring that and other topics with them during the coming year.”
“This trip was the culmination of a year-long experience in which participants explored their own understanding of spirituality, God, the inherent worth of each individual, and their interconnectedness to the world around them. At the end of the year, the youth presented their credos to the congregation in a service that they planned and delivered.”
“I know that when I thought about my children coming to UUCA, I envisioned that my kids would have a community of peers, outside of school, that shared their values and were supportive. This CoA group gave me faith that that is possible. Each of these students had different personalities and yet they have a strong bond and truly supported each other during the trip. Their connection was strong, but even got stronger through spending time together on the trip learning, working, having fun and exploring their UU identity.”
Again, thank you for your support and for making this invaluable experience possible.
Tom Dessereau, on behalf of the parents of this Coming of Age class.
If you have ever wondered what benefit we receive from our financial contribution to the UUA in Boston, this blog is for you! Last month three of the UUA Congregational Life Staff facilitated a workshop for UUCA staff, board members and lay leaders to reflect through candid conversation on the first year of my ministry with you. This gathering brought together approximately 25 individuals on a beautiful May weekend when many would have preferred to be enjoying time with their families. I am grateful for each one of them and their commitment to supporting my ministry with you.
Our gathering involved a lot of storytelling. The story of the position I hold, the story of policy governance at UUCA, the story of the journey that led me to you and the story of this past year. Last month, Mark’s blog described the story of my position. This month I will reflect on the time I have spent with you and the takeaways from this gathering.
However, I will begin with a brief summary of why I chose this position. When I read the job description I felt it was tailor-made for me. Faith development was my ministry as a seventeen-year religious educator and I had always dreamed of serving a large congregation with a thriving religious education program. Check. I also wondered what it would be like to serve a congregation that offered midweek worship, fellowship, and programs. UUCA has The Wednesday Thing. Check. I also wanted a position that would allow me to develop my pastoral care and worship skills. Check. I applied with excitement and apprehension…. and was offered the job!
During these ten months, my ministry with you has been rewarding and challenging. Just what I expected it to be in a position that is “experimental” because two positions, religious education director and minister, were combined into one. I have spent time getting to know the congregation and the systems at work within it. I have also worked with committed individuals who serve on the RE Council, Congregational Care Team, The Wednesday Thing Planning Team, and the Committee on the Ministry whose time and talents ensure that the ministry of Faith Development thrives at UUCA. I cannot do the work delineated in my job description alone. We share the ministry at UUCA. During one of my first sermons with you, I used this anonymous quote to describe my view of ministry. It is worth repeating:
“Ministry is the act of ministering to. It is the way we are mindful and nurturing of each other. Ministry is not something only ordained ministers do. When we care with someone, when we stand with them through struggle, when we help them learn and grow, we are engaging in ministry. When we offer programs that engage the heart, the mind or the spirit we are engaging in ministry.”
Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas of challenge and improvement. Those surfaced during our conversations, as well as other important learnings. I have summarized them into five takeaways that I will continue to explore in the coming year.
- Covenant is central to our work together. We make agreements as staff or members of UUCA about how we are going to be with each other. My ministry relies on upholding the covenants made among staff, ministers and the congregation so that together we can fulfill the purpose of this church, which is ultimately to transform lives by connecting hearts, challenging minds, nurturing spirits and serving the community. With covenant also comes the reality of fallible humans breaking covenant. How do we re-covenant when we inevitably miss the mark? How many of us are familiar with our congregational covenants (Yes, there is more than one)?
- Communication is crucial to our work together. One of the challenges I have faced is the assumption that I am the director of religious education. While I supervise and provide leadership to our adult and children’s RE programs, I have other responsibilities which make it unrealistic for me to function in that capacity. I wonder how I can better communicate this to the congregation? Also, in providing leadership for The Wednesday Thing and Congregational Care, how do we effectively communicate what we are doing and what congregational support is needed?
- Recruiting individuals to support the ministries of UUCA is vital. Right now, RE is recruiting facilitators for next year’s RE program. Last year we had 75 individuals willing to serve as facilitators. (Thank you!!) It was affirming to honor them during the Teacher Dedication on the first day of RE. I am optimistic by the end of the summer our teaching teams will be complete. And yet, we have other areas of ministry that require individuals willing to serve, too. When volunteers are lacking, people are paid to do tasks such as preparing the coffee after Sunday service and cleaning up afterward, or weeding and raking leaves. However, that approach is not the best way to use our precious financial resources. How do we encourage greater service and participation? Are we trying to do too much?
- We are understaffed. OR Is there a body missing? When I started my ministry with you, our religious educators, Jen Johnson and Kim Collins, took on the role of DRE and had everything ready for the new RE year. I wish I could say I came in and took back many of those roles. But the reality is that my other job responsibilities have made that difficult. Their job descriptions say they are coordinators, but they do more than that. We are spread thin and can’t do it all. Our children and youth programs are rich and diverse. What do we let go of? What can we let die so something else can be born? How can we work realistic hours and provide the excellence in religious education that the congregation expects? Is there a body missing?
- Policy governance is an imperfect model, as are all governance models. My understanding is that it delegates authority with accountability within the parameters of the mission and vision of UUCA. However, during the gathering it became apparent that there was a disconnect between the board and the ministry of faith development. It led to the question: Where does the vision for Faith Development reside? If the work of the church is transformation as participants develop a UU identity, deepen their spirituality, and put their faith into action, what is the board’s role in strategizing how this will happen? How do they stay connected with the ministry of Faith Development while avoiding micromanaging staff and programs?
These are my takeaways and the questions that arose during our time together. What is missing is that as a result of my conversations with Mark about my work so far, we decided to switch portfolios. He will lead pastoral care and I will lead social justice. That is part of the “experimental” nature of the position I described earlier. That is content for a future blog.
It is done. I have shared my learnings and assure you that I continue to be excited about my work with you. I am committed to continue to collaboratively work with staff, lay leadership, Mark and you, the congregation, to explore answers to these questions. I welcome and encourage your feedback and thoughts as I continue this sacred work of ministry into a promising, exciting second year.
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
One of the things that church staff members do is spend way more time than you do reading, learning, thinking, and talking about churches. Right now, I am precisely 31 pages into a very thoughtful book about churches called Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World by long-time church consultant, Gil Rendle. At the start he is describing the scene that underlies the many changes (it didn’t used to be this way) that churches are struggling to find “answers” for, including decreasing membership, decreasing income, and decreasing volunteer time. Here are some quotes from the book that I just can’t keep to myself.
…we need to understand that the losses we have incurred and the challenges that we face are shared by other membership-based organizations that have had similar experiences of loss and aging since the 1960s. The story of loss and age can also be told by organizations and activities from Kiwanis, Rotary, Masons, Elks, Eastern Star, bowling teams, and bridge parties. (p.22)
Rendle claims that the period of growth that all these organizations experienced during the first two-thirds of the twentieth century was an “aberrant time.” He references work by Yuval Levin (The Fractured Republic, 2016):
[Yuval] describes the first half of the twentieth century as an age of growing consolidation and cohesion. It was a time of massive growth of economic industrialization and centralization of government. A fifteen-year period of challenge and sacrifice through the Great Depression and World War II bonded the American people into a cohesive force built on a consensual national and global agenda. It was a time in which people “agreed to agree” and sublimated their differences in order to work together on a great common agenda. It was particularly in this time of consensus and cohesion that the American culture pushed people toward membership in congregations and a legion of other membership organizations. The United States exited World War II as the only global economy not devastated by the war; and for a period it held its remarkable position of producing a full half of all global manufacturing and production. We were a unified people with resources at hand. The widely shared story among many organizations was strength and growth.
Levin then goes on to describe the second half of the twentieth century as an age of growing deconsolidation and decentralization in which our economy diversified and deregulated in energizing ways. This second half of the century produced a sustained pushback against the uniformity and cohesion that marked the first half…. An upsurge of individualism and the need for personal identity began to rise, supported by newfound interests in psychology and tied to the economy through advertising and technology. It was an energizing and vibrant age as people and institutions rode a heady wave of progressivism.
Levin captures the aberrant moment, saying, “Keeping one foot in each of these two distinguishable eras, midcentury America combined cohesion and dynamism to an exceptional degree.” It was in this mid-twentieth-century time that the mainline church, like so many other institutions and organizations, aggressively pursued growth, bureaucratic structure and strength, and resource and property development. We became large, strong, and institutional in a cultural moment that favored large, strong, and institutional.
The age of large and consolidated strength, however, has waned, and “micropowers,” decentralized organizations, and small expressions of community are now taking the global stage. Ours is not a turnaround situation in which we can recapture the size and strength of a large institutional system once sustained and nourished by a culturally aberrant time…. We are now living in this current aftermath that is defined by micropowers and small communities but are still dependent on our memories of size and strength and still constrained by the polity, policies, and practices once effective in large institutions. (pp.23-24)
So, things have got to change, right? There really is no long-term way to keep things going the way they always have with reduced resources. But what should change? I know that no one has figured out any definitive solution to this adaptive problem, but we’re adrift in this boat with LOTS of other folks. Watch this blog for further Rendle updates!
Linda Topp, Director of Administration