Time to Review Next Year’s Budget Prior to the June 6 Annual Meeting

Although plans are not fully finalized for this year’s UUCA Annual Meeting, we know for sure it will be happening in one form or another.  No matter how the vote occurs, all UUCA Members (in good standing having made their 2020-21 commitments and paid some or all of it) will be asked to vote on next year’s budget.

To give folks time to fully review the budget, I’ve produced a slide presentation that you can view from the comfort of your own home.  The slide deck covers the details that are included in next year’s budget and presents important information about our Capital Budget.

Speaking of which, a special shout out goes to John Bates who led a team to create UUCA’s first Capital Budget.  The entire report, UUCA Capital Facilities Assessment, can be viewed here.

Here’s a brief summary of the proposed operating budget for July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022:

  • We expect Commitment Income of $670,000, same as last year.
  • Total income is projected to be $813,800.
  • Total expenses will be 1.1% higher than total income, at $823,250. The difference will be covered by our splendidly full Contingency Fund.

There’s a lot more detail in the slide presentation so head over there for the full story.

Here’s a table that shows the projected final numbers for the current fiscal year and the proposed budget for next year.

Budget Projection 2104



Experimentation and Grace

rev Claudia JiménezOne of the things that attracted me to UUCA when I interviewed three years ago was your willingness to experiment. During that time I had gone before the Religious Education Credentialing Committee (RECC). I offered a presentation on “Reframing Religious Education.” The work UUCA has been doing appealed to me and embodied ideas I shared with the RECC to move toward multigenerational worship, family ministry, increased theological reflection, deepened spiritual practice, building a welcoming community, and disrupting the upstairs adults/downstairs children and family silo. I looked forward to learning more about The Wednesday Thing, spiritual deepening groups, and UUCA’s awesome religious education program.

During the last three years, I witnessed successful and failed attempts to move towards these practices, demonstrating that UUCA is willing to try new things and learn from both hits and misses. For example, The Wednesday Thing started with a multigenerational focus and community-building over a shared meal. Over time, the planning team observed that neither the meal nor the multigenerational focus was feasible. There weren’t volunteers to coordinate the meals and we weren’t attracting families to the multigenerational programs. So, we shifted. Meals were eliminated and adult programming was emphasized. That was moving forward until COVID-19. “Now what?!”, we wondered. We figured out how to offer Vespers via Zoom and one program following Vespers. Volunteers stepped up to lead Vespers and programs even though the on-line format can be awkward. I was grateful for your gracious forbearance when trying to share my screen or video that didn’t work as intended. Participants have been patient and gracious as we figured things out empirically.

This openness to new ways of doing things will be an asset to UUCA as we work towards a post-pandemic reset. Our staff is organizing a Re-Opening Task Force to discuss scenarios, criteria, and protocols. We are leaning toward offering just one worship service on Sundays as we anticipate lower in-person attendance after re-opening.

Faith Development staff and planning teams are exploring what children, youth, and adult programming might be. One thought is to have an hour of Faith Development for children, youth, and adults before or after that one worship service. What would that look like?

We are also discussing mixed-platform faith development for children, youth, and adults with some in-person classes and others on-line. What would that be like? What are the pros and cons?

I don’t know where we will be a year from now, but I do know that thanks to your willingness to experiment, we will discover ways to recapture the loving and supportive congregation I was so grateful to meet three years ago, that gathers in search of community, spiritual exploration and mutual encouragement as we face diverse personal and societal challenges. How exciting!

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development


About Re-opening

 mcmurryjulie from Pixabay

Photo credit: mcmurryjulie from Pixabay

Now that the COVID situation is changing with the vaccine rollout, it’s possible to imagine what re-opening UUCA might be like.  But imagining needs to be a congregation-wide activity.  In the not-too-distant future we will be asking you questions that will help a Re-opening Task Force do their work.

At the moment, the UUCA staff is looking at September as a “seems like it’s possible” re-opening date.  Of course, anything can change regarding this crazy virus, but we have to start planning some time, and now looks like a good time.

There are two different areas of investigation that a congregation ought to be pursuing.  One is more philosophical and one is much more practical.  For the philosophical side, the UUA has suggested answering four key questions before reopening: 

What did we learn this past year?

What is at the center of your congregation? What challenges did you overcome? What do you understand about yourselves now that you may not have understood before?

What needs to change?

Did you discover something important that wasn’t being given enough time, attention, or other resources? Did you find a new path to connection that you want to keep? How will your congregation be transformed by your learnings?

What needs to return to the way it was?

Did you find that there are spaces, methods, and ways of being that are essential to who you are as a congregation? What did you truly miss the most? What does your heart hunger for?

What are your needs during this transition back to reopening?

The more practical questions center on safety considerations.  This would include questions like ones that the UU congregation in Brookfield, WI is asking of their congregants:

“Our worship and activities have been offered as inclusively as possible – offered to members, friends, youth, and children, but also to anyone who wishes to attend or visit. Given this history of inclusion, please indicate below your thoughts about returning to “in-person church.”

    • I will return to in-person, indoor worship only when ALL of us (adults, youth, children, and visitors) are able to return.
    • I hope our congregation will offer in-person, indoor worship as soon as possible for those who are willing to take the risk.
    • I don’t want to return until we can sing together and/or have live music by the choir or band.
    • I don’t want to return until children can return to worship and religious education.

When guidelines allow for resuming LARGE-group, in-person, indoor activities, which of the following would need to be present for you to feel comfortable attending? 

Temperature taken at door
Mandatory masks
Enforced social distancing
Optimal ventilation/air exchange
Disinfecting wipes/supplies available in restrooms
Hand-sanitizing stations
Proof of vaccination by attendees
Mandatory sign-in sheet for contact tracing
None of the above; I will attend outdoor events only for now
None of the above; I will attend virtual/online events only for now
None of the above – I’m confident our congregants are “safe” to be around”

It turns out that, just like everything else about this pandemic, re-opening is going to be complicated—the decisions on when to do it and how to do it are difficult and possibly volunteer-intensive—not to mention expensive—and can still be overthrown as infection rates go up and down.

We have five months to figure this out and we need all of us working together.  On your mark…..

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Love Can Build An Interim Bridge

In last month’s blog, I tried to share an informative overview of the interim search process we are currently involved in and provide updates and a timeline so that congregants would know what we had done so far and what we needed to do next in order to locate and secure an interim minister to work with us for the 2 year interim between Rev. Mark’s retirement and the hiring of our next official called minister. I will continue to try and keep people updated with this process but for this blog, I felt that rather than focus on the “how do we get an interim?” aspect of the process that I would instead shift to talk a little about “what do we do once we have one?” 

The Bridge

The UU Reverend Margaret Keip who has served as both a long-time called minister as well as a 6-time interim minister has described the interim period as a “bridge connecting what was to what will be.” So whose job will it be to build our bridge? Who will design it? Who will determine which spot we start from on this side of the divide and where we will aim to land on the other side? Who helps ensure that the bridge being designed is safe to cross? With so much attention being directed towards the bridge building, who is going to keep an eye out for the equally important non-bridge-related work? I swear, couldn’t we just call in The Judds?!

The Role of the Interim

So the first thing we want to be clear on is knowing the actual role of the interim. Though there may be a lot of things we “want” them to do or to focus on, their work is actually quite specific. In fact, you can find the job description laid out pretty clearly in the pages of the Janus Workbook, UUA’s guidebook to the Interim Ministry. In simple bullet form, it lays out the 5 major areas in which the interim will focus their energy. These are:

  • Helping the congregations claim and honor its past while also helping heal its griefs and conflicts. 
  • Illuminating the congregation’s unique identity, its strengths, its needs, and its challenges. 
  • Clarifying the multiple dimensions of leadership, both ordained and lay, and navigating the shifts in leadership that accompany times of transition. 
  • Renewing connections with available resources within and beyond the UUA.
  • Enabling the congregation to renew its vision, strengthen its stewardship, prepare for new professional leadership, and engage its future with anticipation and zest. 

This doesn’t exactly mean that the interim can’t do anything else ever but I do think it is important that we step into this interim period with the understanding that their primary work is contained within those 5 bullets and does not automatically include them taking on the work we may have come to appreciate from Mark or expecting them to assume or initiate the outward work we might want to see in our future called minister. For example, Mark has served in the role of a community leader regarding issues from Marriage Equality to Sanctuary. Furthermore, we can all pretty much say that leadership in social justice and social action will be a quality that we will be looking for in our future called minister. Though these are great things to value in our past, present, and our hopeful future ministry, it is not the work of the interim minister. In fact, the interim minister’s role specifically requires that they focus inward on the congregation rather than looking outward to the community at large. On the flip side, we may place a high value on our ministerial leadership’s investment in pastoral care and we will want to see that focus in the future. But again, though the interim will likely be connected to the continuation of pastoral care, it is not part of the job’s primary responsibilities. Being clear and explicit about what is and isn’t the work of the interim will help prevent the potential hurt feelings, disappointment, and conflicts that can come from false expectations. Judith Walker-Riggs describes the work of the interim and the shifting of congregational responsibilities this way:
The interim minister’s attention will be fully engaged in having the congregation address interim tasks such as coming to terms with its history and being able to articulate its present identity. In addition, the interim minister will help the congregation prepare for change, decide what direction to take for the future, work together in a common purpose, and heal and develop trust if necessary. The interim time also provides an invitation to the congregation to decide how the members themselves will do the work of the church in the world.” In a way, this leaves me thinking of the interim minister as the bridge-building consultant; the one who knows a lot about different types of bridges, the one who knows how to help us figure out which 2 points we want to connect, the one that can help us locate and identify the bridge builders within so that the work of UUCA can continue while the bridge gets built.

The Role of Us

So if the interim is the consultant possessing a lot of bridge-building facts and formulas, then it kind of looks like the actual people who will be building the bridge will be…..us! That sure leaves us with a lot of work to do in order for a safe and strong bridge to get built, right? How will we do it? Well, don’t worry. Most of us here at UUCA has been building bridges in some way or another for quite some time now. And one of the easiest ways to begin preparing for the construction process ahead of us is by simply and informally asking ourselves some questions. Questions like:

  • What kind of church are we?
  • What do we want to change and what do we want to stay the same?
  • What do we want to look like in the foreseeable future?
  • What kind of activities have we engaged in, and what do we wish to do in the future?
  • What has our structure been, and do we want to change it?
  • What do we want to prioritize during the interim in regards to programs, care, and connection?
  • How might we, individually as well as in groups, step up our involvement so that the things that matter to us continue to move forward both during the interim as well as beyond?

Fortunately, as a congregation, there are also a number of actions and initiatives that we have recently undertaken that will align well with the bridge-building work of the interim. For example, the Racial Justice Advisory Council is working to help us evaluate our present practice with the goal of helping us establish future plans and actions for moving us towards becoming a more anti-racist congregation. Elsewhere, an amazing team of congregants has recently completed an assessment of current and future maintenance needs for our various campus properties. This assessment ultimately provides us with important information that will be crucial to our interim conversation about our future, not just in regards to what we “do” and “how we do it” but even “where we do it.” And recently Reverend Claudia has begun pushing us to look more deeply at what we value in regards to the work of Community and how we might participate in it. Heck, even the recent sharing of Teresa Honey Youngblood’s blessing on Becoming seems to practically have been written for the interim moment before us.

“What is becoming of us, beloved? We ask this again and again, with care and curiosity: what is becoming of us?

As we change–inevitably, sometimes uncomfortably–may we choose dynamism over stubbornness, transformation over safe sameness, possibility over status-quo.

May we flow instead of calcify, remembering there are paths away from mistakes, and we can always make more room for those joining the current.

May we reach toward one another and toward interdependence. May we seek and make contact and community as if our lives depend on it, which of course, they do.”

The Bridge We Build

I recently saw a picture of a bridge built over a canal in Venice. I smiled at its beauty and then of course, quickly forgot all about it. However, as I reflected on the bridge building work of the interim period before us and about Youngblood’s instruction that we reach toward one another, the image of the bridge returned to my mind. The hands reaching out and connecting two sides. Our past and our present reaching out to connect to our future. The bridge we will build will be a strong one. Just like The Judds said it would.


It’s Time!

After enduring a year of hunkering down to avoid COVID 19, we are finally nearing a moment when we can begin planning for how we will be back together again. But there is one big if that will guide how soon we get there: if we all make every effort to get ourselves vaccinated.

Governor Roy Cooper announced last week that North Carolina has accelerated the timeline guiding who can be vaccinated when to the point that as of April 7, next Wednesday, all state residents who are at least 16 years old will qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine.

That is such good news. But it means that now the onus for ending the pandemic shifts from the state to its residents. So, I urge every one of you, if you have not yet been vaccinated, please make that appointment now.

If you’ve been hesitating, here are some important things to know:

  • The three most widely used vaccines, made by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, are 90% or more effective not only in preventing you from being infected with the virus, but also, scientists have recently learned, at preventing you from carrying the virus undetected. That means that your vaccination prevents you from being infected with the virus and from transmitting it to anyone else. Vaccines stop it short.
  • Vanishingly small numbers of people experience side effects from receiving the vaccine.
  • Vaccines can reduce long-term side-effects among those who tested positive for the virus. So, even if you were infected, you should get the vaccine.

Even if you are young or in some other demographic group considered to be at low risk, don’t presume that you are protected. In various spots around the country, there are signs of a fourth wave of COVID infections taking shape, and the greatest number of people affected are those in their 30s and 40s. We can halt another wave of illness, hospitalizations, and death if all of us are diligent about getting vaccinated.

Perhaps the greatest risk we face is the emergence of new variants of the virus. COVID-19 is one of a group of viruses whose genetic make-up is extremely unstable and can change quickly. We are already seeing this happening.

 Luckily, so far the vaccines in circulation still work well against the variants, but it’s possible that a variant could appear that is unaffected by the vaccine. As long as strains of the virus are in the general population, even they aren’t actively causing disease, they can continue to evolve variants. Only vaccines can shut down this process and provide the protections we need.

So, friends, it’s time: time to act so that we protect ourselves and each other. It’s the way forward to defeating this menace. For all of our sakes, I urge you: do it now!

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister



How Many UUs Does It Take

rev Claudia JiménezEarlier this month you received an action alert inviting you to consider the role of UUCA in funding Room in the Inn and supporting BeLoved Villages. I appreciate the emails with your feedback and those who offered to volunteer.

A few people inquired about the expectations for coordinating Room in the Inn volunteers. Although the program is radically changing and will no longer need volunteer support, in the past, we had two coordinators who recruited over fifty volunteers three times a year to support Room in the Inn (a program of Homeward Bound https://homewardboundwnc.org).  Volunteers provided meals, shelter, and other support for women living in homelessness. Our partner church, Grace Baptist Presbyterian, hosted the program and we both provided volunteers. We also provided a donation to Homeward Bound to support the program.

As noted, the nature of that program will change as we emerge from the restrictions of COVID-19 in the months ahead. Volunteers to host women in local churches will no longer be needed. Therefore, we will not allocate funds for this program in our budget. However, Homeward Bound can be a Community Plate recipient.  Through our Community Plate Program and your generosity, UUCA shares financial resources with local groups engaged in justice work.

Regarding BeLoved Villages https://belovedasheville.com, Rev. Amy Cantrell emailed the following:
“How many UU’s does it take to help build home and community in the BeLoved Village? 
At least 5 multiplied by many more as you all start to share the good word!!!”

Five of our members and I met with Rev. Amy on March 23. Rev. Amy shared general information about BeLoved’s work in the community with an emphasis on the BeLoved Village Project. Their goal is to build twelve tiny houses on a lot donated by Land of the Sky United Church of Christ providing deeply affordable housing to serve those who don’t qualify for affordable housing.

The most exciting part of this opportunity is that it is not a transactional approach to justice (e.g., write a check, drop things off, etc.) but a transformative community approach. Volunteers will work side-by-side with other community/church volunteers as well as with those being served by the project. And, within the congregation there will also be opportunities for strengthening relationships as folks work together toward a common goal. Nancy Ackerman from All Souls Cathedral shared how this project has engaged and transformed her congregation throughout the pandemic. 

To our question: Where do UUCAs gifts fit in? I heard Rev. Amy say that by linking to current projects and brainstorming together this team can imagine and create ways to invite UUCA participation. So, if you hear from Margaret McAllister, Anita Feldman, Mariah Wright, Nancy Gamble or James Gamble, I hope you consider how you might be able to support this important community project.

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development


We’ve Been Thinking….

I don’t suppose it’s surprising, but people who work in churches think a lot about “church.” Here are some things our staff members have been thinking about, in no order, and none of them have been decided but they are ALL related to returning to “normal” after this l-o-n-g time away.

We know for sure that we will livestream (to a closed link due to copyright issues) and record our worship service. We are in the process of finding a vendor to provide the equipment we need to do that. While doing that we also learned that ALL of our microphones need to be replaced because they work on a frequency that Verizon now owns and that makes them illegal for us. Oops.

Every single thing that is published in church-oriented literature from all denominations surmises that in-person attendance on Sunday mornings will drop quite far below the old norm. So, does that mean that we re-start with just a single service?

And if we do that, can we/should we shake things up by re-formatting Sunday morning entirely? Many Protestant churches hold faith development classes for children and adults before worship, and then they have their worship services. The littlest kids get dismissed to activities like we were doing BC, but older children and youth are welcome at church. And the worship services are not adjusted to account for this wider age range. Should we try that? How great would it be if we could incorporate many more children and youth into our worship? We can’t do that now because they are “in class.” Imagine adult faith development groups of various sorts meeting before worship. Is that exciting or terrifying?

Sunday RE
This is one big area of unknowns. It turns out to be much easier to make a decision about resuming Sunday worship since anyone who might feel nervous about being in the Sanctuary with others (with whatever restrictions might still be in place) still has an option of attending or watching virtually. That’s not really possible with RE. Right now, virtual RE classes meet every other week. Should we keep doing that even when things are in person to reduce the class sizes? Kids are in school. Do we want our RE classes to resume as we had them before? Our classrooms are pretty small, and we have adults of all ages leading them. Will people feel safe enough to do that? And WHEN will we start recruiting the adult leaders?

Interim Minister
This is just another big unknown. It’s pretty complicated to think about opening, let’s call it in September just for this conversation’s sake, when a new minister doesn’t arrive until August 1. That’s not much time to plan a massive change. (Although what am I saying? We changed from in-person to virtual within 4 days. I still can’t believe it myself.)

What’s a “member” anyway? Now that we have some virtual participants who do not live in the area, can they be members? Legally, the institution needs official members, a board of trustees, and an annual meeting where official members vote. But lots of folks can be connected to UUCA in a number of ways without being an official member. Does that matter? How do we count our membership?

There are other issues, of course. When we add video to the work of our Sunday A/V techs, will we have to add a second tech person each Sunday? How do we pay for that? We’ll need childcare workers again and we have none at the moment. When do we start the hiring process? And lots more.

Just thought I’d share a little since these are big issues that your staff is working on now and that you will be hearing more about in the coming months. Please answer our calls or complete any surveys you get. It’s hard to get feedback these days when we don’t have much casual, in-person time with each other.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration



Just the Facts Ma’am (About Interim Ministry)

Typically when it is my time to write the blog, I like to start by thinking of a topic, question, or conversation that has come up in my work with the Board. I then spend a little time thinking about what it is I want to say and how I might wax poetic when saying it. After all, isn’t that kind of what blogs are for? Waxing poetic with a point? Take the topic of “Transition”. If these were typical blog writing days, I might spend a little time reflecting on what the word “transition” means, how it feels, what it looks like, and then maybe try to toss in a couple of juicy metaphors. I would imagine people reading it while silently nodding along before looking up and away with an unfocused yet thoughtful gaze. “He sure does make a strong yet eloquent point.” the readers would think to themselves. Or even better, they would smile and softly say words like “Whoa. ‘Spring is Transition.’ Dude, that’s really deep…”

The key word however is typically and these are not typical days. It seems like lately everything in my life is “in transition.” Ministerial transition. Political leadership transition. (Sudden) Educational Setting transition. The Return to Little League transition. There is kind of so much transition happening in my life right now that I have pretty much decided that the last thing I need right is a waxing poetic blog or the pondering gazes that go with it. What I kind of need right now is someone to simply look at me and say: 

     “Here is what’s happening. Here is your list of things to do. Get Ready. Do them.” 

And so with that in mind, I have decided to take a slightly different approach to the Board blog for the next couple of months and focus my words more directly on providing basic, straightforward information about the ministerial transition into which we are entering. So aside from this overly worded prologue, it will be my intention over the course of my next few blogs to simply answer the following questions:

  • Question Set 1: What work is happening to find us an interim minister? Who is the Search Committee and what are they doing? Why aren’t we all doing the work together?
  • Question Set 2: What can we expect once we have an interim minister? How will the interim minister experience differ from the called minister? How will we all do the work together?

In other words, it will be with my best intention and completely against my actual nature to answer these (and other) questions for you directly. No poetics. No metaphors. No deep thoughts. 

In other words, just the facts ma’am. Bullet style.

So here we go with Question Set 1.

What work is happening to find us an interim minister? 

The work of preparing for the interim search began (resumed) back in December. Since then, Members of the Board have: 

  • spent time monthly in guided reflections centered on identifying our congregation’s mission, strengths, values, challenges, and future goals. 
  • We have met with transition coordinators from the UUA Transition Office to talk about the nuts and bolts of the transition process. 
  • We started conversations about what kind of structural preparations might be needed for leadership shifts. 
  • We confirmed an Interim Search Committee to lead the search process
  • We created a Farewell Committee to begin the work of saying our goodbyes to our beloved current lead minister, Rev. Mark Ward.

Who is the Search Committee and what are they doing?

The Interim Search Committee consists of Tory Schmitz, Iris Hardin, Charlie Marks, and myself (Ryan Williams). Aside from the Williams fellow, the rest of this crew are incredibly smart, thoughtful, and highly organized! This committee meets every other week and so far, their work has included:

  • Preparing the Interim Search Packet. This packet includes information ranging from membership numbers to financial information to congregational history to programs and purposes. It asks about staff relationships and congregational governance. It asks for examples of how we live our values and what momentum we would like to keep moving forward. The answers to these questions have been gathered through basic records investigations as well as conversations with Rev. Mark, Rev. Claudia, Linda Topp, and Les Downs. (Venny I will talk with you yet!) The packet will be submitted by March 23rd to the UUA Transition Office who will then review it and return with any possible corrective suggestions and we will then officially submit it by the Search Timeline date of April 23rd.
  • Generating and collecting questions from staff and congregants to be used once we receive the list of potential candidates from the UUA Transition Office on May 4th. We are also working to create a set of questions to be used for Reference Checks as well as evaluative criteria for helping us rate candidates using a shared vocabulary and reference point. In addition to the general question topics, we have also been specifically thinking and talking with others about interview questions about how Covid/Post-Covid life might color our congregational life during the interim. If you find yourself with a question you would like us to consider for our final interview set, please feel free to email it to me at board@uuasheville.org. Interviews of candidates and reference checks will take place between May 4th and May 18th with official offers extended on May 20th.

Why aren’t we all doing the work together?

  • This perhaps is one of the biggest questions and concerns that have been expressed to those of us on the Board as well as on the Search Committee. The most basic response would be “because this is how the UUA Transition Office says we should do it and we are following their recommendation” however I know that for many at UUCA, “Because they told us to” is not the most satisfying answer. I realize that there is validity in thinking that entering into transition and bringing in new leadership would be something that would benefit from the work of ALL of us. However, the role of Interim and the search for finding one are different processes. 
  • I will go into the work of the Interim next month but for now, perhaps you can think of it as a facilitator, a guide, a “systems observer.” Though we are obviously going to be looking for someone who we “like”, who can “preach”, and whose central values “align” with our own, the reality is that no matter how much we connect with our future interim minister, they will still only be, well, interim. For this reason, the UUA has streamlined the search process and procedures for finding an interim minister so that there is space when the time comes for the WHOLE congregation to do the work (under the guidance of the interim) of choosing a Called Minister. It will be during the Called Minister Search that EVERYONE will be asked to participate and for all voices to be heard. Don’t worry. I promise, YOU will get your chance to hold the mic repeatedly once that work begins. 🙂

I hope that in this time of both change AND distance, the information in this March blog helps give people some kind of comforting framework for “What is happening prior to the interim?” Rest assured, next month I will sideline the long, poetically-waxed intro so that I can more quickly get to addressing and sharing information related to the Set 2 Questions regarding “What happens once we are in the interim?” Until then, continue to do your best to stay connected in these disconnected times, to appreciate the past and present that we have shared with Mark Ward, and to imagine the next chapter of our UUCA future. 

“Yo dude, that’s deep.”

Ryan Williams, Board of Trustees


That Old Lizard

You’ve probably heard it said – maybe said it yourself – when some spell of anger comes across you or someone you love: “Oh, it’s just the lizard part of my (or her) brain acting up.” Most of us have been taught at one time or another that our brain is comprised of different parts reflecting different stages of how humans evolved over millennia.

The oldest, we are told, is something we inherited from our reptile ancestors driving all kinds of instinctive behavior. The middle, or limbic system holds all the shades of emotions we inherited from our mammal ancestors. And there on top, ta-da! Our crowning glory, the neocortex, seat of human intelligence.

Turns out, though, that that picture is a myth. Neurologists now tell us that our brains didn’t evolve and don’t operate in layers. Early brain scans seemed to suggest that certain activities are restricted to certain parts of the brain since those were the ones that lit up on scanners. It seems, though, that these low-power scans failed to pick up activity in much of the rest of the brain. More sophisticated scanners now show that most of what your brain does, from registering sensations like sight and sound to complex thought and emotion, involve your whole brain.

OK, so why should we care? Well, when we feel comfortable blaming our inner lizard for our behavior, it becomes a way of absolving ourselves of deeds that we’re not especially proud of, a variation on “the devil made me do it.” If we accept that every part of our brain is at play in all we do, even that bright and shiny neocortex, it might just prompt a little more humility and remorse for our behavior, truly a more highly evolved response that holds hope for our endurance as a people, as a species.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Almost Time for the Annual Budget Drive

young boy and girl pulling on rope on one side of tug-a-warLike everything else, the Annual Budget Drive looks a little different this year.  No parties, no receptions, no Zoom events; you’ll just receive a few reminders (how many is a “few” anyway?) that we need your annual commitment for next year to make everything UUCA does possible ­– oh, and you might see a fun video clip or two.

While the budget drive is a little more low-key than usual, your commitment is as important as ever. The commitments of our members sustain UUCA and the work we do in our community. While COVID has closed our campus, our work continues. Here are just a few of the ways UUCA has continued to connect and engage members and carry love into our community.

  • Our kids are still attending RE sessions, with the RE staff doing their best to offer interesting, fun Zoom lessons, opportunities for safe in-person gatherings, and sending out RE “care” packages called Church in a Box
  • Our adults are engaged in covenant groups, adult faith development classes, and even the ongoing work of the church as “normal” meetings continue as Zoom affairs
  • Somehow, we never missed a Sunday of worship services as we flipped overnight from in-person to pre-recorded and live Zoom services
  • Injustice in the world doesn’t stop and our justice ministry actions haven’t either as we had plenty of congregants involved in get-out-the-vote activities and have seriously begun a congregation-wide effort (that will last a lifetime) to confront our own complicity in white supremacy culture
  • UUCA has provided direct financial contributions to CoThinkk, Homeward Bound, and UU Forward Together (the NC UU justice consortium) outside of our Community Plate donations

In a year when our key words are BE FLEXIBLE, we have been graced with a whole new set of UUCA members who have stepped in to lead when others could not (because we’re stronger together).  Our congregants continue to be generous with their time and their financial commitment. So thank you…let’s continue the work.

We’re keeping the Annual Budget Drive simple this year. Here are four easy ways you can make your commitment. They all work, but you only need to choose one:

  1. Super easy, click this link and fill out the form.
  2. Send in the commitment form you will receive in the mail in a week or so.
  3. Write an email to Tish Murphy with the dollar amount you’re committing to this year.
  4. Make your commitment in Realm.

Or if you want an excuse to talk with someone who doesn’t live in your house, skip all of the above and just call Tish Murphy at church on Mondays or Tuesdays (828.254.6001), or Linda Topp (919.593.0340) any old time.

One more thing, we really need your commitment by April 1st (seriously, no fooling) so we can get our budget put together for next year.

Show your love and appreciation for UUCA by giving generously this year.  We can turn our dreams into reality because we are stronger together—even when we’re not …well…together.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration


Resuming the Search For An Interim

With the coming 1 year anniversary of covid into our world, I have found myself thinking about memories of the things I was doing just before the world suddenly shifted. There have been several moments where I find myself recalling the events and activities from last Spring as Just Before or Suddenly After. For example:

  • As a teacher just before the covid shut-down, I was helping organize our big Spring field trip to a VIrginia science camp. Suddenly after, the trip was cancelled. 
  • As a parent just before, my family was starting to talk about Spring Break travel plans. Suddenly after, we rarely traveled out of our yard. 
  • And as the President of the UUCA Board just before, I was working on the Interim Search Committee to begin preparing for the transition of Reverend Mark’s retirement. Suddenly after, Mark made the incredibly gracious offer to postpone his retirement for a year and the Interim search was halted. For that generous offer, we will always be grateful.

And here we are, almost a year later, and Spring field trips are online and my family will be enjoying a lovely vacation…at home. But one thing that is not still on hold or being called off is Mark’s greatly deserved retirement this coming Summer. And though I personally will be sad to see him go, I think I speak for all when I say that we are excited and happy for him and the adventure (or lack thereof) ahead of him. 

Over the last few weeks, groups and individuals across our congregation have started to resume the work they had put on pause last year and have begun creating opportunities for us to share our gratitude and say our goodbyes to Mark as our Reverend. Meanwhile, the Board of Trustees and the Interim Search Committee have begun their work to begin searching and preparing for the 2-year Interim who will lead us through the ministerial transition. The Interim Search Committee is a 4 person team that is made up by myself and returning members Tory Schmitz and Charlie Marks. And though we are incredibly grateful to the time and energy put in last year by former Search Committee member Liz Rumbaugh, we are also very excited to welcome Iris Hardin to the team to serve in Liz’s place. Thankfully, the timeline for this search process is very specific and laid out for us by the greater UUA Transitions Office and as a result of the preparation work that was done last Spring by the Search Committee, we are on or even ahead of schedule when it comes to the Interim Search timeline. That is a very good thing!

As for the path forward over the next few months, here are the primary steps we will be taking:

  • February-April: In preparation for the interim search, UUA requires that the search committee complete an informational packet by providing overviews on everything from our congregational governance rules to our fiscal health to programs offered and even general area information. Much of this information was entered into the database last year and currently the committee members are working to complete any unfinished overviews and update them with any relevant “suddenly after” information. Though it is not due until April, it is our goal to have it completed and submitted early to the Transition Office by March so that they have time to review it and provide us with any potential corrective feedback. The official due date for the Interim Search Packet is April 23rd. During this time, Board members, Search Committee members, and UCAA staff will be in conversation with the UUA Transition Office to develop the interview questions and evaluative criteria to be used when candidates are identified.
  • May 4th  UUA will provide the Interim Search Committee with a list of up to 8 Interim candidates.
  • May 5th – May 17th Interim Search Committee will review applicant packets and interview selected candidates. Whew! That is going to be a busy time! 😉
  • May 18th: The Interim Search Committee will submit a list of yes/no/maybes to the Transition Office. The selected minister(s) will then be contacted in order to determine if they are still interested and willing however this will not be when we make an offer. 
  • May 20th (noon!): Interim Search Committee extends offer to selected Interim Minister. The offer may only be made at noon eastern time on May 20th.

 In the coming months, members of the Board as well as the Interim Search Committee will be checking in across various formats to update everyone with the status of our search. We will also be providing ongoing information regarding Interim Ministry itself and what we might expect and experience during the 2-year interim process. In addition to the e-news, we will be communicating via remote Sunday and vespers services, via Facebook posts, and on the UUCA website. We know that there are unique challenges to getting the information to everyone during this physically separated time and so we welcome suggestions as to how we can spread the word and answer questions. 

There will be lots of love and sadness and celebration as we prepare for Reverend Mark’s departure but there is also an incredibly exciting time ahead as well as we begin this new adventure. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me or to any of us on the Board or Search Committee with questions or concerns. My email address with the Board is board@uuasheville.org or you can call me at 919-619-7298.

I miss seeing you all and I hope you are all hanging in there. 

Much love and distant hugs to you all.
Ryan Williams, Board of Trustees

Widening the Lens

Last month I told you about a project I have set for us over the next several months to explore different dimensions of liberal or progressive theology. What at the most basic level distinguishes us as a religious movement?

 We began in January with an exploration of how we might describe our “eschatology”–our understanding of the beginning and end of all things. In early March we’ll move on to consider our “ecclesiology,” or our theory of the nature of the church, the institution that gathers us. More will follow.

But before we get there, I want to take a detour to consider another aspect of the religious search, one that doesn’t always get much attention but that strongly influences our religious lives: our racial identity.

Theology is presented as a kind of abstract discipline regarding universal principles that soar high above the particulars of our daily life. But that’s inauthentic. Our lived experience has a lot to do with how we organize our thoughts around our religious lives.

Review the roster of great theological thinkers and you find mostly a list of white, European men whose perspective has dominated religious thought. That means that in any theological conversation their thinking, their perspectives lie at the center. That puts the thinking of others – non-white writers and thinkers, not to mention non-Europeans, and for that matter non-male writers and thinkers – on the periphery.

Bypassing those voices tends not only to impoverish our understanding but also to invalidate those voices, to make them appear inconsequential. But as Unitarian Universalists we affirm that all people have inherent worth and dignity and a voice worth attending to.

To open the way for the larger multiplicity of voices, our challenge is to find ways to de-center the predominant white, male perspective. That’s not to say that their perspective isn’t worth knowing – it is – but it’s only part of the picture.

One way to correct for past practices of shutting people out is to make a new practice of inviting them in. My goal is to take a step in that direction in a series of two services in February. Given all the work we are doing around racial justice, I have chosen as a focus the work of the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, one of the most important Black religious writers and thinkers of the 20th century.

 I’m framing these services as opportunities to “encounter” Thurman as a unique, progressive voice. What I present will, of course, come through the lens of my own perspective, but my goal will be to “center” his perspective for a moment as we work through our religious understanding. I make no claim to a unique way of thinking about his work, but while we are doing this theological digging, I think you will find him a voice worth attending to.

In March, my colleague, Minister of Faith Development Rev. Claudia Jiménez, will take a similar tack, leading a service focusing on another figure, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz. Sor Juana was a writer living in 17th century Mexico who used poetry and drama to develop a kind of public theology, but who was marginalized at the time as a woman born outside of Europe.

These two figures are but a sampling of the wealth of voices who might inform our religious understanding if we would de-center our thinking and widen the lens of our view.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister


What could they possibly be doing in Religious Education this year?   

Does UUCA still have children and families? YES! Are they being served in our virtual church world? YES! UUCA’s core values of Connection, Inspiration, Compassion, and Justice still drive our programming and yes, although not our preferred in-person weekly church gatherings, we are enjoying our time learning and growing together in Religious Education this year! Take a little tour with us as we share some highlights of this year’s RE program in this strange COVID landscape.

Sunday RE

In Spirit Play (preK-3rd grade) we shared the story, All the Colors We Are / Todos Los Colores de Mi de nuestra piel: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color by Katie Kissinger, talked about our identities, and created self-portraits.

Spirit Play serves PreKindergarten-3rd grade families this year. It is a joy to gather to feed our spirits as we share our rituals, joys and sorrows, and move, create art, and hear stories that ground us in our liberal religion – all via Zoom! We have explored grief, gratitude, mindfulness, emotions, and identity through our monthly congregational themes and have incorporated a racial justice lens more intentionally this year. We have imagined a better world together – using Legos! In Spirit Play, we are growing compassionate, thoughtful, equity minded UUs — and they inspire us! Bonus this year: because many parents are “in the room where it (RE) happens,” the whole family is growing their UU faith together! 

4th-6th Grade Group began the year by deciding how to be together, discussing and creating a covenant just as we would any year. That’s where the similarities to a “normal” RE year ended. Instead of using a traditional curriculum, we forged a new path by using the Soul Matters themes and materials to apply a UU lens to a variety of topics. We have done a lot of learning together, using videos, readings, poems and discussion to explore topics like the true story of thanksgiving celebrations in America and lesser known activists of the Civil Rights Movement. We also enjoy the time together being silly and laughing and playing games like “Would you rather?” We also had a successful in person, safe gathering in the fall where we enjoyed boxed lunches and played Pandemic Pictionary together outside on the grounds of UUCA.

Some of our junior youth group families on a masked hike.

Jr Youth Group is where our 7th-9th grade youth gather 1-2 times a month on Zoom to create sacred space together. Much like the younger 4th-6th grade group, we examine social justice issues and the monthly theme, we also make sure that we have time for checking in, venting about pandemic life, and learning new mindfulness strategies like deep listening and meditation. We also take time to discuss big issues, like the election in the fall and our relationships with friends and family. We recently spent a session imagining what life will be like when the pandemic is over and had a good time taking a little break from reality. Several members of the group met up for a socially distanced hike in the fall, and we plan more of that when the weather is better in the spring.

Some UUCA youth joined forces with Asheville Greenworks for a community litter clean-up on Halloween 2020.

YRUU – our Young Religious Unitarian Universalists 10th-12th graders have been connecting both through “Masked Meet-ups” (when deemed safe enough to gather outdoors, socially distant, with masks) and virtual hangouts via Zoom. Living out UUCA’s core values, our teens joined Asheville Greenworks for a litter clean-up this Fall; made care packages for our UUCA college students; had discussions and activities about identity, the elections, stress; and they have baked, hiked, played, competed in a friendly “UU Olympics,” and more! Always a chalice. Always a check-in. Currently some of our teens are planning a worship service. We hope you tune in to the YRUU-led worship February 28! 

Some comments from a few of youth:

  • “…The connections and friendships we have made in YRUU are perhaps more valuable than ever before….We’ve had zooms meetings where we’ve learned more about each other and have further kindled friendships through discussion, reflection, and of course, games. But we’ve also had the opportunity to be together in person through safe and socially distanced meet ups such as movies, hikes, Olympic Games, and community clean ups.” – Nick
  • “This year…YRUU has been a great way to connect with my UUCA peers. The corona virus has seriously impacted the way we go about our days and church has given me a sense of normalcy. I’m so grateful to have gotten to this opportunity to see people and make memories in person, not just online. We’ve been able to do things such as going a hike, have a bonfire, and watch a movie. It’s been a super fun experience!” – May

Family Ministry

Faith development at home: our Religious Education program includes some home deliveries this year to nurture the spirits of our children and youth! This family set up their own sacred space from materials they received in their “UU in a box” gift from UUCA!
  • UU in a Box: faith development at home! Our religious education program includes some home deliveries this year to nurture the spirits of our children and youth. We provide enriching activities and materials to support families to live their UU values throughout the week (not just on Sunday)!
  • Whole Church Halloween celebration: masked and distant costume parade and our friends Maria and Esteban’s taco truck!
  • Family Ministry blog on our website is updated at least monthly with ideas for exploring our monthly themes at home as a family. These are also shared on Facebook.
  • Weekly emails to parents include online events and learning opportunities, as well as links to some of the resources that we are using in RE and beyond.
  • Time for All Ages every Sunday as well as regular multigenerational online Sunday services designed for the whole family to enjoy together.
  • Parent groups
    • The anti-racism parenting group began as a summer book study on race-conscious parenting, has continued with monthly conversations, and soon will be forming covenant group(s) to continue the collective work of raising and growing alongside the next generation of brave, compassionate, and racially just UUs.
    • OWL parent group: a covenant style group that uses the Parents and Caregivers as Sexuality Educators program from the UUA to lean into the commitment to provide children and youth with comprehensive sexual education. Parents get the chance to learn new skills and information around talking about sex with their families with the benefit of talking it out with other parents.

We are grateful for the volunteers who directly support our RE families this year. Thanks especially to our leaders: Laurel Cadwallader Stolte, Jennifer Oversmith, Iris Hardin, Brett Johnson, Langdon Martin, Kimberly Mason, Anna Martin, Kay Aler Maida, Wendy Fletcher, Gina Phairas, and Jon Miles. And to the RE Council: April DeLac, Margaret McAllister, Jennifer Gorman, Kay Aler Maida and Amy Moore.

Kim Collins, RE Coordinator
Jen Johnson, RE Coordinator

Wondering about a Post-COVID UUCA

Sooner or later we will be meeting in person again.  This has been the topic of many, many articles in the church world.  What will it look like?  Who will come?  What does the near-future hold?  Let’s use this month’s worship theme, imagination, to look ahead.

In this article, which is the basis for a conversation the Leadership Development Committee is leading on Monday night at 7pm (contact James Cassara for the Zoom link), there are 5 predictions that many people are making about that future:

  1. In person doesn’t necessarily mean in our building(s).
  2. In-person attendance in the building will be a [lower] percentage of your real church.
  3. You’ll use the building to reach people online, not use online to get people in the building.
  4. In-person attendance will probably become more infrequent church attendance.
  5. Digital church will be more of a front door and a side door than a back door.

A different, short article makes similar points:

  1. Many people may not come back to Sunday morning services. In fact, plan on attendance dropping by at least half of what it was before COVID in many places. That’s ok, but it will require a new imagination about what sustainable ministry looks like going forward. Online church is here to stay. Sunday morning is not the end-all and be-all. Now you can be a seven-day-a-week church, a community unleashed in the world to reweave the generative relationships that hold us together as neighbors and friends.
  2. Belonging is being redefined beyond membership. Given that we can now participate in seemingly countless ways, membership is a less useful concept to describe how one belongs to a community. It’s helpful only in describing governance and voting. It’s less meaningful as a descriptor of the scale of people aligned around your church’s mission. Words like “participants,” “partners,” and “investors” may prove more productive.
  3. We will need new organizational and staffing structures. Most churches were staffed for a time that is not coming back. We will need to reimagine our staffing needs, capacities, and goals. For many, this will not lead to massive layoffs but rather a redefinition of roles that more authentically aligns with the work to be done.

So what does this mean for UUCA?  We already know for sure that we will possibly livestream but for sure video-record our worship services. What equipment and staffing do we need for that?  Will we still hold 2 services on Sunday mornings?  Will RE look the same on Sunday mornings?  Will people be willing to attend if they still have to wear masks and social distance (though with vaccines around, things should be safer—but safe enough to resume life as it was?)  Will people be willing to attend coffee hour outside?  (We tried this right when the Welcome Project finished (when we got the new front patio) and no one went out there.)  If we do decide that we will be doing way more meeting outside, what infrastructure do we need to support that (i.e., shade coverings, seating)?  How might we choose to use our buildings differently?  Can we/should we offer programming for people who will NEVER become “members?”

And all this happens WHILE we have a new minister AND we apply ourselves to the work of anti-racism.  Sheesh!  Exciting. Scary. Intimidating. Energizing.

I’m sure there are more questions (questions are easy, answers are harder).  But for right now, I want UUCA to THINK BIG!!!!  Imagine!  Dream!  Go beyond what’s “possible.”  Who do we want to be next?

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

The Sacred Work of Grief

Though I make my living in part through writing, I find elusive the words to convey the insanity we are living through now. Just a week ago, we witnessed a violent attempt, incited by a sitting president, to topple U.S. democracy. Meanwhile, we are in month 11 of pandemic which continues to kill multiple thousands of Americans each day, my beloved brother among them.

Grief, great grief, is everywhere. Each of us carries some of it around as a result of these and other losses, large and small. A friend recently loaned me a book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, by Francis Weller. It has been helpful to put a framework around some of these mystifying, challenging, ever-shifting feelings. Weller writes that

Sorrow is a sustained note in the song of being alive. To be human is to know loss in its many forms. This should not be seen as a depressing truth. Acknowledging this reality enables us to find our way into the grace that lies hidden in sorrow. We are most alive at the threshold between loss and revelation; every loss ultimately opens the way for a new encounter.

In my case, one of those new encounters was an invitation to join UUCA’s Good Grief monthly support group. Through vulnerable sharing and deep listening, the group witnesses and holds a container for each other’s sorrow. It was an experience of connecting and healing in community that I didn’t know how much I needed until I received it.

 “We are remade in times of grief, broken apart and reassembled,” Weller writes, a statement that resonated deeply with me. What will my life be like as I get used to my brother’s absence? What will our country look like in another six months, a year, a decade? How will we come back together when the pandemic is over? Lots of questions, few answers. But we can be assured that reassembling is already taking place. The task seems to be to reassemble ourselves in a way that honors what really matters –we can look to our UU principles for inspiration here if we like – thereby contributing to the healing of ourselves, others, and the world.

Louise Anderson, Board of Trustees

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