UU Asheville Weekly Message

Transition Year Two: What’s Ahead?

Photo of Rev. Dr. Cathy HarringtonDear ones,
As we begin our second year of interim ministry, I wanted to give you a brief overview of what to expect. The Ministerial Search Committee (MSC) has been assigned a Transitions coach with whom they will meet regularly. They will create a congregational survey and hold focus group meetings and cottage meetings so that your voices can be heard as they put together the congregational record that must be completed by late November. In early December, searching ministers will be able to review congregational packets to discern their next steps. Search Committees will receive names of ministers who have expressed interest in early January. They will review the interested ministers’ packets and schedule interviews to discern which of the ministers will become pre-candidates. From the pool of precandidates, the MSC will select one candidate and schedule Candidating Week sometime in April or May. This will be an 8-day week; the candidate will preach the first Sunday, spend the week meeting with committees, staff, congregants, etc. and preach again on the next Sunday. Following the service, the candidate departs, and the congregation votes to call (or not) this candidate as their next settled minister!

This will be a busy and exciting year for UU Asheville, and your participation is critical to the process. The first important event that we invite you to participate in is the Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop scheduled for Saturday, August 20, from 9 am – 12noon. Rev. Keith Kron, the UUA Director of Transitions, will be here to facilitate that workshop, meet with the Search Committee, and preach a sermon that you won’t want to miss on Sunday. (You can read Keith’s bio and a description of the workshop below).

Sunday, August 21, Worship Service with Rev. Keith Kron: “The Future of Religion and Unitarian Universalism.”

Religion, including Unitarian Universalism, is at a moment in time. Can it survive? And what must it do in order to survive? What must we do? We’ll explore our place in today’s world, and why it’s metaphorical meteorites and not a comet that could wipe us out.

Beyond Categorical Thinking Workshop (Saturday, August 20, 9am–1pm Sandburg Hall)

THINK OF A MINISTER. DON’T THINK OF AN ELEPHANT.

Chances are, you thought of both. And distinct images perhaps came to mind. In terms of a minister, what images came to mind? Was it a person of a particular gender, race, or age?

Beyond Categorical Thinking is a highly recommended part of the search process for our congregation. In finding the person who would be the best match for our minister, we could potentially overlook or even let biases keep us from knowing that a particular person would be the best match for us.

Other congregations have assumed that their ideal minister looks a certain way, and often ministers who are not white or male or heterosexual or able-bodied, or of a particular age or class are discounted and seen as “less than” in some ways.

Credentialed ministers in our faith who are People of Color, LGBTQ+, disabled, young, old, working class, etc. still face discrimination as part of the ministerial search process.

In our efforts to find the best match, our congregation will host a Beyond Categorical Thinking worship service and workshop on Saturday, August 20, from 9 am – 12 pm. UUA Director of Transitions, Rev. Keith Kron will meet with our Search Committee, lead the Sunday service, and facilitate a three-hour conversation where will have a chance to examine how we can avoid letting prejudice become a part of our search process. This is yet another way for us to put our faith into lived experience and improve the odds that, regardless of identity, we will find the minister who is the best match for us and who will serve us well.

This opportunity allows the entire congregation fuller participation in the search process. It will allow us to explore our hopes and concerns for a new minister, learn more about the search process, and see how our own history (both personal and congregational) might interfere with our efforts in this search.

So, come on Saturday, August 20, to participate in this service provided by the UUA. Our trainer will be Rev. Keith Kron.

About Rev. Keith Kron

Rev. Keith Kron is the Director of the Transitions Office for the UUA, helping congregations and ministers as they navigate the ministerial search process.
He is the former Director of the Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns for the Unitarian Universalist Association. He held that position for over 14 years, from 1996-2010.
He has visited over 450 UU congregations across the continent, helping them in Welcoming Congregation work, Beyond Categorical Thinking workshops, and public witness.
A former elementary school teacher, Keith, also taught an online class for Starr King School for the Ministry, our UU seminary in Berkeley, on children’s literature. He also leads workshops on the enneagram, plays and teaches tennis, and collects children’s books in his spare time (he has over 9,000 of them).
He currently lives in Providence, RI.

Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

An Opportunity for Expanding Our “OWL” Ministry

rev Claudia JiménezIn these post-Roe times, the importance of medically accurate, comprehensive sexuality education cannot be understated.  Access for all to sexuality education is a component of reproductive justice alongside access to healthcare, living wages, safe neighborhoods, abortion healthcare, and other factors that allow women, trans, and non-binary people who can give birth the ability to decide when they are ready to be parents. And to be clear, men also need comprehensive sexuality education to prevent disease, protect their partners, and make responsible decisions about their behavior and paternity.

The opportunity to support families as primary sexuality educators and their children in developing a sex-positive, consent-based, value-centered, and justice-aware understanding of sexuality is something that happens in many UU congregations that use the Our Whole Lives Program, known as OWL. When I was planning for the Justice Ministry Council retreat a few months ago, I reached out to one of our congregational life staff with concerns about how difficult it is to determine which causes to pursue as a congregation. One of her comments was that there are many opportunities for interfaith work or to take the lead of community organizations that already lead in justice work. She invited me to explore what UU Asheville had to offer the community that was unique. OWL immediately came to mind.

OWL was developed in partnership with the United Church of Christ. It offers life-span programs (K-adult) that engage key issues of self-worth, sexual health, responsibility, justice, and inclusivity. Facilitators are trained and undergo a background check. I am grateful for all the trained, active OWL volunteers in our UU Asheville community. Your commitment is needed now more than ever!

When I served the UU congregation in Vero Beach, FL, as Director of Religious Education (DRE) our program was open to the community and word got around as parents shared with friends. These non-UU families often made sure all children in their family participated in the program. Parents from diverse religious backgrounds understood how comprehensive sexual education was crucial for their children. I established a relationship with the local health department and worked to expand the presence of OWL in the community. Such partnerships with UU congregations that benefit the larger community should be more common.

One reason I said “yes” to becoming your Minister of Faith Development four years ago was your strong commitment to religious exploration that offers OWL to children and youth. I have often thought that if I had sufficient resources, I would start an OWL Institute. I believe OWL saves lives. Education about healthy sexuality helps improve decision-making about relationships and sexual behavior. It can help avoid unhealthy relationships, misunderstanding about gender identity and expression, and minimize unintended pregnancy. In these times when federal dollars are still used to fund abstinence-only programs and states are passing laws such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, sexuality education is crucial. Only 11 states mandate sexuality education that is medically accurate. We cannot leave it to government or social media (!) to educate our children about sexuality.

I may not have the funds to begin an OWL institute, but I wonder if OWL could be a ministry that reaches beyond our walls. What is the state of sexuality education in Asheville and Buncombe County? Can we build relationships in our community and through those relationships, explore wider implementation of OWL programs? What grants or partnerships might be available to finance community OWL programs and train facilitators? I’d love to hear your thoughts and invite you to consider becoming a trained OWL facilitator. Post-Roe, that would be an excellent way to serve our community.

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

 

Radical Hospitality as Welcome

When I began this blog as part of our yearly conversation around welcoming, we had not yet heard the news of Rev. Mark Ward’s passing. In the days that followed, I have witnessed your love and compassion for each other. I have watched you create spaces for grief and comfort. Together, you have embodied what it means to be a community, especially when life unfolds in unexpected ways. Together, you have practiced radical hospitality for each other and those who loved Mark. May we continue to care for each other as we travel these days together.

“Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world.” –St. Benedict

To be hospitable is a radical act, according to Benedict, whose rule of radical hospitality has been adapted by communities for centuries. Even for Unitarian Universalists, the concept of radical hospitality as welcome lies at the heart of our congregational life.

When new people arrive at our doors on Sunday, we have greeters who welcome them into our sanctuary, offer them coffee after the service, and introduce them to people who can connect them with our many community offerings. We wear name tags so they can identify us. We engage in a conversation so we may know and be known.

But welcoming doesn’t stop after your first visit.

Radical hospitality as welcome is also how we choose to live into our covenantal faith. As Unitarian Universalists, we are not bound by creeds–beliefs you must hold to join us–but by covenant. Covenant, as Rev. Alicia Forde says, is how “we attend deeply to the question, ‘How are we together?’ Our willingness to extend welcome–seeing the humanity and divinity in another, honoring their culture, identities, stories, and deeply held truths–is part of what it means to embody this faith.”

Welcoming is the first act and the ongoing work for belonging. It is impossible to belong in a place where you don’t feel welcomed. Yes, we welcome first-time visitors, we learn their names, and we invite them for coffee and conversation. And we keep inviting the fellow member we’ve known for five months, five years, five decades into the conversation, into deeper engagement, and to share a cup of coffee. To welcome over and over again is to extend the invitation of belonging.

Welcoming takes many forms, and it takes all of us. It is saying “hello,” and it is volunteering. It is seeing a stranger on Sunday morning and introducing yourself. It is weeding our grounds on Saturday morning with fellow members. It is listening to the story of a long-time member and meeting something new in them and possibly yourself. Radical welcome is the first and constant step we take to become a place of belonging.

Brittany Crawford, Director of Administration

Breathe. Just Breathe.

adam griffithLike you, I sat in disbelief at the title of the email in my inbox yesterday.  Rev. Mark Ward, our previous minister of 17 years, who taught so many of us to breathe was no longer alive.  I couldn’t wrap my head around the loss for his family; his daughters; his grandchildren.  I called my dad and told him how much I loved him.  I couldn’t sleep last night.  My experience was not unique, but Mark certainly was.

His teachings on humanism stuck with me along with his broad and infectious smile, his perpetual energy to do the next right thing, and his comforting words during challenging political times after the 2016 election.  Like many parents in the congregation, he dedicated our children and held our baby in his arms, touching her head with a rose and water.  He called us to action, to stand up for what was right, and not to get too comfortable in our habits and ways of thinking.  Collectively, we have much of his knowledge, wisdom, and spirit and my belief system tells me he is with us when we gather through these shared experiences.  Another aspect of Mark I deeply appreciated was his understanding that our beliefs change over time.  Our personal faith journeys are not static.

I recently spent a beautiful day on the river rafting with a YRUU friend from high school and two of her three children.  My friend lost her father to cancer when she was 18 and her husband to cancer when she was 41.  We grew up together in the UU church.  We went to cons.  We were the face of young, liberal, religious individuals.  But her experiences shaped and molded her belief system and now she is drawn to Christianity (and I must tell you, it is a very attractive proposal right now, with the promise of heaven).  At previous points in my life, I was very judgmental about Christianity, but Mark’s wisdom and the UU principles have taught me to embrace those differences and those people as my own family.

I can understand and appreciate people of different faith traditions as expressions of their life experiences.  Mark taught us so much and I do wish he were here, but I am grateful for the time we had with him.  In the meantime, as we try to make sense of the world, we simply need to breathe.

Just breathe.  Isn’t that what Mark would tell us to do at such a time?

Adam Griffith, Vice President, UU Asheville Board of Directors

Summer 2022

Photo of Rev. Dr. Cathy HarringtonDear Ones,

Rev. Claudia and I are on vacation, but I hope you won’t miss July worship at UU Asheville–the upcoming services will be inspiring, fun, and educational!

On July 10, Roger Jones will share insights about money and relationships. Lea Morris will be joining you straight from SUUSI on July 17, and on July 24, Tobias Van Buren, also straight from SUUSI, will share his insights about learning to practice self-love. On July 31, Sequoyah Rich will focus on Buddhism and will be joined by other members of the UU Asheville Buddhist group.

During our absence, emergency pastoral care will be provided by Rev. Michael Carter from the UU Congregation of the Swannanoa Valley. Please call our pastoral emergency line at 828-771-6279.

I am grateful that I took the time to attend the UUA General Assembly virtually this year–with the state of our nation and the Supreme Court, I found much-needed inspiration. There were two important events not requiring registration that I hope you will watch: The service of the Living Tradition (https://www.uua.org/ga/off-site/2022/slt). I hope we have some in-depth conversations when I return about the future direction of our Unitarian Universalist movement. Susan Frederick Gray’s statement about reproductive justice (https://www.uua.org/pressroom/press-releases/committed-reproductive-justice) is also a must-read and https://www.uua.org/pressroom/press-releases/raffirm-justice-ga.

Also, I hope you will mark your calendars for these upcoming events:

August 20, 9am-12n for the Beyond Categorical Thinking workshop led by UUA Transitions Director Keith Kron. More information to come…

August 28 Water Ceremony

September 7 for an in-person Candlelight Peace Vespers at 7pm that will be preceded by a simple meal of vegetarian soup and bread at 6 pm in Sandburg Hall.

Also, Rev. Claudia and I will be leading book study groups in the coming year, beginning with our selection by Native American author Tommy Orange called There There. The second book is by African American author Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing. Novels for Feb and April will be announced in early January.

Finally, I am leaving tomorrow for a combination two-week vacation/spiritual retreat in England, beginning with cycling in the Cotswolds’ countryside, followed by a week-long canal boat retreat with a UU colleague. It is a bit of a daring adventure since we will be navigating the canal boat and the locks on our own, but it will likely generate some sermon fodder.

I hope you have a safe and enjoyable summer!

In Faith,
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

Our Invitation

June happens to be one of those rare months when I have an opportunity to write to you twice. Given the recent news about Roe, my blog this week reflects on how we might respond as Unitarian Universalists.

Glennon Doyle writes, “there is no one-way liberation.” Equally, we might say there is no one-way oppression. We know the Supreme Court’s decision to end Roe is intricately tied to the history of slavery, violence against LGBTQ+ people, barriers to accessibility, and the impact of poverty. We know a ripple effect will emerge from this decision in ways we will never fully comprehend.

When the announcement about Roe made the news, I wanted our faith to speak comfort as fear began to take hold. Yet, words failed in the hours following the Supreme Court decision. While out for a walk to clear my mind, this stanza from a David Whyte poem came to mind:

“Sometimes you need your God
to be a simple invitation
not a telling word of wisdom.”

On Friday, I understood this poetic truth in a new way. Our Unitarian Universalist tradition extends to us a simple invitation. It invites us to action. It invites us to protect. It invites us to be in the world differently. Unitarian Universalism extends an invitation to work for liberation–to expand what it means to live faithfully, to see justice as both what we do and who we are.

Our work continues, the invitation awaits our reply, and together we fight for love and dignity. Please read the message below from Forward Together: The UU Justice Ministry of NC on how we can engage with the invitation Unitarian Universalism is extending to us.

———

Thankfully, North Carolina is not one of the 13 states with a “trigger law” that would automatically make an abortion ban go into effect. As of now, it is still legal to get an abortion in North Carolina, but we recognize the uncertain future of reproductive rights in our state. And currently, only nine out of 100 North Carolina counties have abortion clinics.

We grieve for all those in states more directly impacted by this decision. We are now preparing for a massive increase in people traveling to NC to seek an abortion–as we will now be one of the only places in the south where abortion is legal. We know that many will experience extreme financial barriers and other challenges to getting the care they need, and we must have their backs.

At this moment, we must affirm our right to agency over our own sacred bodies. And as our Side With Love leadership has powerfully stated, “When disparities in resources or freedoms make it more difficult for certain groups of people to exercise autonomy over their own bodies, our faith compels us to take liberatory action.”

What Can We Do? 

  • Donate to our trusted partner the Carolina Abortion Fundto help reduce financial burdens for North Carolinians accessing abortion and for people who have to travel to NC to access abortion: https://www.carolinaabortionfund.org/donate.
  • We encourage UUs to also donate Pro-Choice NC, our trusted state leader in protecting and advancing reproductive rights for North Carolinians — and sign-up for their listservto stay informed about upcoming events & calls to action.
  • Join Side With Love’s UPLIFT Action campaign for their upcoming three-part Reproductive Justice Congregational Organizing series. In congregational cohorts and a large group, we will explore the role of congregations in a post-Roe world (Session 1), spend time discerning risk and accessing courage (Session 2), and make an organizing plan (Session 3).
  • Call your members of the NC General Assembly and tell them to pass HB 1119 and SB 888 – bills currently in the NC House & Senate respectively that would codify abortion rights in our state. It is critical that right now our elected officials hear from constituents who want them to protect reproductive rights. Find your State Representative and State Senator’s contact information here: https://ncleg.gov/FindYourLegislators

Basic Script:

  • Hello, My name is _________, I live in _______ and one of [NAME OF LEGISLATOR]’s constituents
  • Following this week’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, I join others across the state in calling on you and the state legislature to take immediate action to codify abortion access in North Carolina!
  • As a person of faith, I believe that we are each endowed with both agency and conscience. Each of us should have the power to decide what happens to our bodies because consent and bodily autonomy are holy.

Abortion Clinics in North Carolina 

Our partners at Pro-Choice NC want to remind us that while misleading, fake women’s health centers operate all over the state, abortion providers are only located in a few key cities. There are currently 14 abortion clinics in the state, located in 9 different counties.

Asheville
– Planned Parenthood Asheville (68 McDowell St. Asheville, NC 28801)
Charlotte
– A Preferred Women’s Health of Charlotte (3220 Latrobe Drive, Charlotte)
– A Woman’s Choice of Charlotte (421 Wendover Rd. Charlotte)
– Planned Parenthood Charlotte (700 South Torrence Street, Charlotte)
Winston-Salem
– Planned Parenthood Winston-Salem (3000 Maplewood Ave Suite 112 Winston Salem)
– Hallmark Women’s Clinic (491 Cleveland Ave Winston Salem)
Greensboro
– A Woman’s Choice of Greensboro (2425 Randleman Rd. Greensboro)
The Triangle
– Planned Parenthood Chapel Hill (1765 Dobbins Dr. Chapel Hill)
– North Durham Women’s Health (400-B Crutchfield St. Durham)
– A Woman’s Choice of Raleigh (3305 Drake Circle. Raleigh)
– A Preferred Women’s Health of Raleigh (1604 Jones Franklin Rd, Raleigh)
Fayetteville
– Planned Parenthood Fayetteville (4551 Yadkin Rd. Fayetteville)
– Hallmark Women’s Clinic (1919 Gillespie St. Fayetteville)
Wilmington
– Planned Parenthood Wilmington (1925 Tradd Court, Wilmington)

Brittany Crawford, Director of Administration

 

A Growth Opportunity

rev Claudia JiménezEarlier this month, a small group from our congregation attended Jubilee Training, a 20-hour weekend remote workshop led by UUs Paula Cole Jones and Lutricia Callair. One of the purposes of the workshop was to challenge congregations through the participation of their members to move toward greater engagement with anti-racism work. We are moving in that direction at UU Asheville, and we are hoping you will join us and/or continue on the journey of collective liberation.

Exploring anti-racism is part of the work of collective liberation that recognizes that we are not just learning about and discussing anti-racism for our own understanding and liberation. It is also about being aware that we are called to work to dismantle oppressive structures so that all of us are free to thrive.

A consistent concern in the Racial Justice Advisory Council report released this year was that there are so few people “doing the work.” What is the “work”? For me, it is decolonizing myself, freeing myself from cultural expectations, and thereby recognizing and using my own particular voice and gifts. Only then can I leverage them to work with others for a society in which all can flourish. Each of us has our own gifts – what are yours? What is “the work” for you?

Confronting biases, gaps in the understanding of history, and complicity with White Supremacy is not easy. It means engaging vulnerably in personal and group learning and reflecting on how we have been socialized into anti-blackness and the white status quo. It is uncomfortable work. One facilitator called being uncomfortable “a growth opportunity.” It has been that for me.

I appreciated centering the voices of People of the Global Majority during training. We were invited to share experiences and explore what solidarity and allyship look like for us in our congregations. Although there are trainings in Asheville like Racial Equity Institute (REI) Workshops and Building Bridges that connect us to community, Jubilee uniquely frames liberation work in a UU context. There will be another training the weekend of August 19. Details will be forthcoming. If interested, I invite you to reach out to Nancy Bragg, Jensen Gelfond, Mary Alm, Jen Johnson, or me to learn more.

I know there are many issues weighing on our hearts these days. As you consider your commitments, I invite you to reflect on these words from Rev. Karen Johnston:

“Do not be alone right now. Gather together.

Gathering together grows courage: in ourselves and in others who see the numbers swelling. It is a small thing, but right now it is an important thing.

Great sources of wisdom remind us: just because you cannot stem the tide of all hate, it is still right to do the thing you can do. These things add up: your one thing and my one thing; his one thing and their one thing and her one thing. Together, it becomes a BIG thing.

Do not be alone right now. Any liberation—all liberation—is collective liberation. My freedom is bound with yours and yours with mine. Inextricably.

Let us together cast our lots doing this BIG thing: bending the moral arc of the universe towards justice.”

Have a wonderful summer. I am attending General Assembly this week and look forward to sharing with you what I learn when I return to the pulpit in August.

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

“Love boldly and always speak the truth”

I am grateful to have officially joined you here at UU Asheville. I met many of you at our Annual Meeting last Sunday, and I look forward to meeting more of you this summer. Your ministers and staff have welcomed me, and my gratitude extends to Linda Topp for her willingness to continue teaching me even after her official retirement. For this first posting, I want to share more about how I see my role here as your Director of Administration.

I enter this role with a slightly different background than you might expect. My undergraduate and graduate degrees are in religion and gender studies. From a young age, I was steeped in congregational life and the transformational work of religious communities. I worked in higher education and a large non-profit before returning to congregational life as the Communications Director at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, Wisconsin. I share this background with you because a theological perspective is how I enter into the conversation about the administrative and business aspects of UU Asheville. I see this work as an extension of our larger ministry.

I believe the local congregation must balance the call to live out its values in the context of a society that doesn’t hold those same values. This balance requires constant calibration, and for me, this is acutely present in congregational business operations. Budgets, databases, and facilities work are often seen as the necessary tasks churches must undertake rather than an extension of the ministry we offer the world. For me, the question is always, “how can we embody our values in our everyday operations?”

My final thought for this introductory posting centers on the quote at the top, “Love boldly and always speak the truth.” I keep this quote on my desk both at work and at home. It is my reminder of how I strive to be in the world. I believe honesty can be a form of kindness. I will endeavor to be appropriately transparent with you about the state of our community, and I ask that you also share in the work of honest dialogue in return. I ask for your grace and patience as I grow in my relationship with you, the congregation, and this new role.

It is a joy to be with you, and I look forward to our work together.

Doing Church

The last couple of months have been busy for me.  The Board has had a lot going on lately, what with the development of our Ministerial Search Committee, the retirement of our administrator (Linda Topp), the hiring of our new administrator (Brittany Crawford), and the return to an in-person Annual Meeting, all on top of the usual Board duties.  During this time, my own personal life has been filled with the joy of friends, family, travel, and some service to others; but the cost of those joys – which I willingly paid – was time usage in an already overloaded schedule.

I’m not complaining, though, even if it may sound like it.  Well, maybe I am complaining just a little bit; but I do derive a certain joy in being busy and productive, even when it is somewhat stressful.  My work with UU Asheville of late has mainly involved interacting with other Board members, our staff, and other congregants – not on spiritual matters, but mainly on matters of church business and operations.  I’ve often heard these kinds of activities and interactions referred to as “doing church.”  So, I’m spending all this time doing church, and one might think that it’s just a lot of stressful work, with frustrations galore, and with none of the reflective or community-building sorts of features that make church meaningful and fun for many of us.

Well, that would be partly true – I have felt stresses or frustrations, especially of late.  But what I find interesting is that it’s pretty far from being completely true for me.  All those “doing church” interactions are in fact personal interactions, even if the subject is a budget or a bylaw change.  It’s always a pleasure getting to know my fellow congregants or a staff members better; and that can happen dealing with even the least spiritual of matters.  There is community-building going on there.  And there is the personal reward of knowing that my “doing church” serves our mission, that it is an integral part of our collective ministry, and that it thus helps build something important to both our inner souls and the wider world.

I hope each and every one of you can find a way of doing church that brings you closer to our church family, and that brings you joy and meaning.  Your way almost certainly won’t be the same as my way.  But my many years of doing church has taught me that it takes actual work to realize the payback of those deeper meanings and deeper connections.  It cannot be done passively.  You might have to take a plunge into some activity at UU Asheville that piques your interest, even if you’re not really sure you want to.  This is especially true in these pandemic times, when many of us have, understandably, pulled away from church.  Had I not wandered into this job of Board president, I might well have pulled away some myself.

I guess I’m advocating for us all to avoid pulling back.  Rather, I’m hoping that each of us can find our own way of doing church that re-engages and that suits the soul.  I seem to have found a little bit of that for myself in a too-busy couple of months recently.  Take a plunge, even if you’re a little hesitant.  There are some great things going on at UU Asheville, and there are some great people doing those things.  Let’s work together to realize the true value of our church home.

Clyde Hardin, President, Uu Asheville Board of Trustees

Blessing the World

There is a reality in blessing…it doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it. ⎯Marilynne Robinson

Photo of Rev. Dr. Cathy HarringtonAfter the horrific and senseless mass shooting last week where 19 children and 2 teachers were murdered just days after ten people were shot and killed in a Buffalo supermarket, I started rereading two books from my studies at Meadville Lombard Theological School where I earned my Doctor of Ministry degree. They are, Violence; Reflections on a National Epidemic by James Gilligan, M.D. and From Violence to Blessing by Vern Neufeld Redekop.  I began my studies at MLTS because I wanted to understand the structures of violence and the roots of “deep-rooted conflict that has humankind in its grasp” (Redekop).  In this year alone, there have been over 222 shootings in our country. I think we can all agree that this senseless killing has to stop.

How can we transform violence?

Vern Redekop explains what he calls “the structures of violence” by using case studies and wisdom from multiple sources including the Bible and the Quran. Intrigued by something he read that claimed it takes ten positive articles about a person to counter one negative article, Redekop was reminded that “within Islam one good deed counts for ten. A bad deed is counted at par.” I took this to mean that the orientation of violence in our world has become so structurally entrenched that violence has become the norm or “par for the course.”  Blessing is the word chosen by Redekop when he searched for a word to express a correspondingly positive impulse to the negative force of violence.  Blessing, he says, is so overshadowed by violence that it is expected, but it doesn’t have to be inevitable. Years of extensive experience and research led Redekop to the powerful conclusion that if structures of violence are our reality, then structures of blessing are possible.  Structures of Blessing can become our reality instead of constant violence, but it is up to us to build them. What would “structures of blessing” look like?  How do we build structures of blessing when violence has become an everyday occurrence?

Redekop writes that in deep-rooted conflict and scapegoating, people can become united around violence. “Imagine a situation in which people are united instead of working for the well-being of others…when people are united around a positive-centered practice, they can experience the same exhilaration around the shared experience as in the violent scenario.”

In general, mimetic structures of blessing are open and life-oriented, involving creativity and generosity. Mimetic structures of blessing result in trust, love, and joy, which are their driving dynamic.  Emotions associated with mimetic structures of violence –anger, fear, hatred, resentment, envy, and shame. These occur from interpreting events as a threat resulting in an emotional response.  

The Soul Matters theme for June is Celebrating Blessing.  Contact me at minister@uuasheville.org to receive a copy of the small group packet filled with readings, quotes, activities, and resources to help you explore the meaning and practice of blessing.  If you are interested in joining me for a conversation and deeper exploration of how we might help move our world from violence to blessing, email me at minister@uuasheville.org.  It feels overwhelming right now, but if we work together we can make a difference.

In faith,
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

Not Again

rev Claudia JiménezMy plans for today’s blog changed. Like many of you, I feel anger, frustration, and heartbreak (and so many other feelings) after the latest school shooting. I feel a deep sadness to live in a country where guns are more important than children’s lives, where a government refuses to protect its citizens, where legislators accept cash in exchange for thousands of innocent lives – over and over and over again. I take deep breaths as I type because my body is tense and constricted at the thought of so many lives lost, grieving families, and a nation, once again, evading its obligation to pass legislation on sensible gun control. I take deep breaths. I cannot look at the front page of today’s paper. Yesterday, my daughter, a teacher, reached out to let us know she was OK. On the last day of the semester, they were on lockdown because of a shooting outside their school. I have no. more. words.

These are the times when we need each other to acknowledge our sorrow, care for each other, and reaffirm the values we hold that will help us decide how we can respond to such horror.  Rev. Cathy and I will be holding a vigil tonight at 7PM in Sandburg Hall to provide a space for grieving and lamentation. I will open a Zoom space for those of you unable to join in person. Please contact me for the link. Join us if you are able.

I share below a reading from a colleague, Rev. Derrick Jackson, that invites us into reflection about what these times ask of us. If you have children in your life this resource might be helpful as you consider how to address their questions.
https://draliza.bulletin.com/what-to-say-when-the-words-escape-us-all

We Are Called
In these times, we are called:
Called to step into the mess and murk of life
Called to be strong and vulnerable
Called to console and to challenge
Called to be grounded, and hold lofty ideals
Called to love in the face of hate
We are called
And it is not easy
And we will not always agree
And we will yell, and scream and cry
And we will laugh and smile and sing
We are called to be together
There is so much work to do
And we cannot do it alone
We need one another
Holding each other accountable to our covenants, to the holy, to love and justice.
In these times, we are called.

In love and sadness,
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Work on the Vision

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

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

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

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

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

Or two descriptions from the handy internet of ideas:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

UU Asheville + BeLoved Asheville = Making a Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading,
Margaret McAlister, Board Member

Welcome, Brittany Crawford!

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

 

Hello, fellow Unitarian Universalists at UU Asheville!

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

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

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

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

In faith,
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

 

 

Connect with us on Facebook

We are solar powered