It’s that time of year for many of us when, in addition to thinking about holiday festivities, we are also beginning to think of resolutions for the coming year. Well, the Board is no different and this past Tuesday night, we sat around the table and started a conversation around changes we wanted to make for our board and how we do our work. The idea of change had actually begun a few months prior as we were going through the 1st module of a board training series offered by the UUA. In it, Unitarian Universalist minister Dan Hotchkiss shared his vision of how UU Boards of Trustees might construct their agendas led by values rather than policy. After all, board work, he suggested, can and even should be something that at its core is spiritual work.
I bet that if I were to ask people in our congregation what they think of when they hear the words “Policy Governance,” many would quickly conjure up ideas centered around bylaws and procedures and checklists regarding less-than-spiritual topics such as facility repair and staff contracts. And while these things are crucial in keeping our UUCA boat afloat, these are not the work of the Board. Hotchkiss reminded us that policy governance is actually intended to make space for more lofty matters. “The purpose of good governance,” he says, “is to free the Board to spend more time on thinking about the future of the congregation itself in relation to a deeper and better understanding of the congregation’s mission.” Hotchkiss went on to describe his idea of how to do this, in what he called “An Annual Vision of Ministry” that would set three “Priorities” for the Board as well as an “Open Question.” The priorities guide the work of the year. The open question starts a conversation around the years to come. Though this would not limit the Board in regards to addressing other issues as they arise, it would establish a core focus for the Board’s annual work in a way that would allow for a more “values-driven” agenda. It would also provide for a common language which we could use to communicate the big picture of our work with the congregation. So this past Tuesday, we set out to decide which big priorities would guide our board work through the end of the church year.
The priorities chosen to guide our work for the current year are as follows:
Finding the Right Interim: This might seem like an obvious priority, but as you can imagine it will require everything from establishing a search committee that can navigate the paperwork and procedures required by the UUA to working within the Board as well as the greater congregational community to collect and communicate what people are feeling in regards to the interim process.
Widening Our Welcome: All members of our congregation’s leadership recently participated in a series of surveys, interviews, and training in a process called the IDI or Intercultural Development Inventory, which measures cross-cultural competency and suggests ways of broadening our goal of creating a more inclusive space for all. By setting these ideals into our agendas, we hope to explore ways as a Board to share some of our learning with the congregation as well as to make space for reflection on our practices and places that might lead a more welcoming environment and experience for all.
Building Board Visibility: As we enter in a time of transition/departure in leadership, we felt that greater Board visibility could help provide an aspect of stability during the change. In addition, as the Board is ultimately responsible for making the hire of the interim minister, it serves us all that the congregation better know who we are, what we are doing, and how to comfortably communicate with us their feelings around the transition.
In addition, we agreed on one Open Question:
How Will Transformation Be a Part of Our Coming Transition? Though this does not guide our action steps for the current year, this question will be a recurring theme regarding conversation and outreach with the congregation as we begin to think about the bigger picture of UUCA after Mark. Mark has led this community through many transformative changes over the last 15 years. The question for us now will be what transformations might we want to communicate and create in time when a new minister is called?
In the coming months, the Board will be using these priorities and questions to guide what we do both during our monthly meetings as well as outside of them. We will be communicating and reaching out to you as the congregation to help us in this work as well as for us to make sure that this work is helping you. Be on the lookout for information in the newsletter, on the Board of Trustees bulletin board in Sandburg Hall, on Facebook, in order of service inserts, and in conversations over coffee, just to name a few. And feel free to reach out to me or any member of the Board if you have questions or comments regarding this work ahead. (I have a new email address at email@example.com)
This coming New Year, I am making the usual resolutions to curb some of the bad habits and strengthen some of the good ones. But perhaps one of my biggest goals for the coming year is that I do my part to help our congregation move into 2020 celebrating what HAS BEEN while also building something NEW together! Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you all!
Ryan Williams, President, Board of Trustees
“Now, you Unitarian Universalists don’t identify as Christian, is that right?”
“Well, there are certainly people in our congregations who are drawn to the teachings of Jesus and identify as Christian in some way. But, yes, I would say that as a denomination we are outside what I would call the Christian consensus. We respect Jesus, as we respect other prophets and teachers, but we don’t accord him special status or put him or his teachings at the center of our worship life.”
“OK. But then I see that you still make a big deal about Christmas. Why is that?”
It’s a good question, and answering it requires taking stock of a few points in our history and theology. The two historic movements that led to the religion we are today – Unitarianism and Universalism – both arose as Christian churches. But over the years for many historic reasons, both drifted outside of the Christian orbit.
We still honor that past, as you can see in the list of sources that we proclaim inform our living tradition, including among them “Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.” The ethic of love set out in those scriptures remains a strong grounding for our spiritual life, but we don’t necessarily buy into what the Christian church has made of it over the years.
Christmas itself can be problematic. Scholars have observed that many of the stories surrounding the holiday, from its timing at the end of the year, to the traveling Magi and Herod’s campaign of infanticide, have little foundation in truth beyond serving as political expediency for one group or another.
That said though, there is also something beautifully true about the Christmas story. The Unitarian religious educator Sofia Lyon Fahs touched on it when she wrote, “Each night a child is born is a holy night.”
The Christmas story reminds us that each human life holds within it the potential for beautiful and amazing things. Each person is born fully worthy, fully whole, and new birth is cause for celebration. The rough manger, surrounded by curious visitors humble and great, over which joyous parents certainly hear hosannas of some sort, is a lovely image representing the kind of hope we all seek at the darkest moment of the year.
Christmas Eve is one of my favorite moments in our worship year. Our early service at 4 p.m. is full of story-telling, music, and fun with players of all ages in full costume. Our later service, beginning at 8:30 p.m. with a half-hour of wonderful music from our choir, moves on at 9 p.m. with a quieter, more meditative vibe. Gathered together with the midwinter dark and cold outside, we are given to reflect on the blessings of our lives, not least the community surrounding us that we continually create and sustain.
Of all that I will leave behind when I retire next June, I think that our Christmas Eve services are among those things that I will miss most. They have always served for me as a kind of hinge in the year, a moment when I feel most acutely how precious and precarious our brief lives are. But it is also a moment filled with deep gratitude for those I love and love me, for this congregation, for all the forces of hope and renewal that persist among us whatever the adversity.
Rev.. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
Justice Ministry Update: Room at the Inn, #UUthevote and A Yellow-Shirt-Brigade Event Coming In January
The UUCA Justice Ministry Council is meeting monthly and hearing the many ways in which members of UUCA are engaged in the larger community. As representatives of the different areas: Racial, Economic, Environmental and Gender & Sexuality Justice as well as Faith Development share their updates, I appreciate the importance of providing a space for connection and conversation about the successes, challenges and possibilities of justice work. As staff liaison I am able to provide support to members of the different areas who are organizing and promoting opportunities for service, education, advocacy and witness.
At our last meeting we heard about the ongoing work of UUCA volunteers participating in Room in the Inn, the interfaith shelter for women living with homelessness. This month extra volunteers and resources were needed because the cold weather brought 20 instead of the 12 expected women to the shelter at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. Paula Massey, the UUCA coordinator thanked all last minute volunteers in a recent e-news. She and her team: Allison Jordan and Martha Shephard have been coordinating this effort for the last 17 years, yes, 17 years!
The next RITI is February 9-15, 2020. What does it entail? Hosting starts on Sunday afternoon (Feb. 9) and overnight folks are needed for the 7 nights, two UUs per night -Grace Covenant provides two as well. Volunteers provide all 7 days of lunches plus 3 dinners. They also pick up women at 5:45 pm at AHOPE and then in the morning they get dropped off at various places. It takes about 50 UU and 50 GCPC volunteers to make it work. And since it is at GCPC they have to break down a Sunday school room to make into a dorm and stock the kitchen plus make sure there are enough blankets and pillows. And then early the next Sunday morning, after the women leave, that same room has to be cleaned and set back up for Sunday School at 9:30 am. Yes, it is a big effort and an important commitment. Were you aware of this life affirming interfaith effort? If you are interested in being a February volunteer, contact Paula at firstname.lastname@example.org
Room in the Inn, is one of many outreach projects in which members of UUCA engage. On January 19 we will be launching the “#UU the Vote Challenge” organized by the Unitarian Universalist Association to encourage congregations to partner with local electoral justice partners to mobilize voters, combat voter suppression and leverage our resources to #VoteLove and #DefeatHate. The official launch is January 12 if you are interested in learning more before we make it a congregational project. The Justice Ministry Council will be sharing ways of getting our congregation involved and further supporting those among us who are involved in electoral justice work. The organizers of #UUtheVote remind us that all the issues we care deeply about – climate, immigration, LGBTQ, racial, economic justice and so on are at stake in the 2020 election. They state this campaign isn’t about “another thing to work on” or abandoning the work we passionately engage in; it is about incorporating an electoral lens into our strategies. You’ll hear more about that at our launch January 19 during Sunday worship which will also be a Yellow Shirt Brigade event. That means you are invited to wear the yellow “Side with Love” t-shirt to show solidarity and witness for love. Of course, you will want to avoid spilling coffee on your t-shirt so you can wear it January 20 when we march in the 2020 Martin Luther King Rally. Don’t have a t-shirt? You can order one at https://www.uuabookstore.org/Side-with-Love-C1401.aspx
Be on the look out for other Yellow Shirt Brigade events in the e-News. In the meanwhile, check out the Justice Ministry bulletin board in Sandburg Hall. To receive the UUCA Faith in Action e-News or share information contact Elizabeth Schell email@example.com The deadline for the next issue is December 4 by 5pm.
This time of year, non-profits the world over notice an impulse to give generously during the holiday season. They are asking you to think of them when your generosity gene gets activated. They’re sending out pleas for end-of-year donations that might help tax situations (less likely these days now that the standard deduction has been raised). So here we are! YES! UUCA would love to be a recipient of your generosity! (Just sayin’.)
And to that end, here is the official UUCA 2019 Wish List…..
Um, except here’s the thing. You know how it’s hard to buy stuff for family members because they buy all the inexpensive things for themselves when they need them and there’s no way you can afford the expensive things? Well, same thing here. If it’s something that a congregant might consider buying for us, it’s probably inexpensive enough to be funded by our budget. And our very successful wish lists of the past three years have allowed us to buy the off-budget items we need. So here we are, hoping you’ll fund something for us, but what can that be?
Here’s an idea I’m stealing from the Annual Budget Drive team. How about if we join up together so that we can buy a couple of high-value items? I’m thinking about a couple of building upgrades for the main building.
Fund this: A New Closet (!) and Energy-Efficient Windows for Sandburg Hall
We’ve been dreaming of a place to put stuff like the extra Sanctuary chairs, and even large TV screens, “away.” But right now, there is no “away” to be had.
We’d like to build a room-size closet (similar to the handicap restroom) where the library is currently located. We’d downsize (but not eliminate) the library, add our closet, and then re-work that highly leaky and insecure “window-wall-with-sliding-doors” so that it is less window, more wall, with an easy-to-open door so that we make better use of our deck. We could even buy sensible, commercial-grade furniture for the deck. Wouldn’t that be something?
This one ought to be an easy group effort because we’ve already had a generous donor who has given us a great head start on fully funding this project. Designate your gift to the Capital Fund and we’ll know just what to do with your donation.
And if we have extra, there’s another part to improving the deck area we’d like to complete. We want to pave the area UNDER the deck to make it into another gathering area as we continue improvements to the yard area between the deck and the Memorial Garden. (You can see we’ve sort of gotten started.)
I’ll have cost estimates for these projects after Thanksgiving but in the meantime, you can challenge your circle of friends to group up together for a larger donation than any of you could give by yourselves. We’ve got this—together!
In the months that have passed since Mark announced his retirement, I have experienced feelings of both sadness and perhaps even a little denial. I can definitely say that for my family, Mark has been a comfort, a supporter, and an inspiration through both good times and bad since my husband and I first became members of UUCA in 2008. As we approach Thanksgiving, Mark Ward is high on our thankfulness list indeed!
However, in addition to this nostalgia and gratitude, I am sure that I am not alone in wondering what his departure will mean for us as a congregation. What will happen once he moves on?
Ministerial transitions, by nature, are periods of change filled with nervousness for congregations, but I believe we can also look at this upcoming transition as a time of excitement and energy as we map out a new future for the UUCA.
In the coming months, there will be much to talk about. We will share information and updates as well as opportunities to support and guide this transition. The bulk of this work won’t really begin until after the coming of the new year, but I figured that now would be a good time to begin to share some basic information and the timeline on our road ahead together.
There are two types of ministers with whom we will be involved in the coming years. First of all, beginning in January, we will begin the process of seeking out a “Transition Minister” (also called an Interim Minister). These ministers have special training to help guide congregations in transition through a series of tasks that help them prepare for their next permanent, or “Called Minister.” Mark has served as our “Called Minister” for the past 15 years.
Once we have a “Transition Minister” in place, we will work with them for 24 months to find our “Called Minister.” Why two years?! The UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association) Transition Office suggests that congregations that work successfully with their “Transition Minister” for two years have a much greater success (90%) of finding a “Called Minister” who matches their needs, while congregations working with their “Transition Minister” for 12 months or less have a lower (56%). success rate. The mantra of the UUA Transition Office is “Doing it well beats doing it quickly.”
Therefore based on this guidance, it is the intention of the Board of Trustees to begin the search for our two-year “Transition Minister” in the months ahead. This is how that process will work:
With guidance from the UUA Transition office, the Board will begin seeking congregational members to form the Transition Minister Search Committee. This committee will consist of 5 members who will lead the search process. The selection of this committee will be finalized in the early months of 2020.
Once the committee has been selected, they will begin preparing and completing an Interim Search Packet and submitting it to the UUA for publication and promotion. The earliest submission date for this information is April 9th, 2020.
On May 2nd, 2020, the UUA will release the names of all interested applicants to us. Committee members will sort through these applicants and conduct interviews. A few weeks later on May 18th, the board will finalize the committee’s recommendations to the UUA Transition Office. On May 20th at noon, offers will be extended to the desired “Transition Minister”.
It is important to note that several people have asked me if Rev. Claudia would be able to apply to be our “Called Minister,” but the UUA does not recommend that a Minister of Faith Development become a “Called Minister” in the same congregation. The board intends to follow that recommendation. Also, Rev. Claudia has told us that she is not interested in applying for the Lead position. Rev. Claudia will continue to be fully present and serve our community with her passion, love, and joy during this time of transition.
At times our work together will be filled with trepidation and uncertainty, but as a Board we will strive to be as transparent about the process as possible. To this end, the board will host a series of information Q&A’s in December to provide more detailed information and to answer questions about our upcoming work. We will widely publicize dates and times as soon as they are confirmed.
In addition, any Board member is also available individually to answer your questions, take your comments, and just listen to your thoughts about this process. As Board President, I am committed to this as well. You can email me, call me at (919) 619-7298, or simply grab me by the arm when you see me at services.
We are all incredibly grateful for all that Mark has done to serve us as individuals, as a congregation, and as a part of our larger community in Asheville. In the coming months, we will share that gratitude with him as we prepare for a new “Called Minister.”
I am thankful for this congregation as a whole. We are healthy and caring and creative. That will serve us well as we move into this transition and new future together!
Board of Trustees – President
Why does this congregation exist? Who are we supposed to be serving? These are basic questions that we should know the answers to when we make a decision to donate our time, talent and money to UUCA. I can’t answer those questions for you, but I can make a case that we are not just here to serve our own members (though we kind of have to do that at some level, right?) but to serve “our neighbors.”
One way that we serve our neighbors is to share our resources with them. As a faith community, we have chosen to collect money every month and donate it to a local non-profit organization, often becoming one of a very small non-profit’s biggest donors. So we share our wealth with our neighbors.
We have members who have 1) recently drummed up our support for the Blue Ridge Pride Procession and Festival, 2) assisted in offering a very well-attended, public workshop addressing the opportunity gap in our area schools, and 3) are planning a public program to reclaim Armistice Day, which was designated as “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated on November 11.” That event will be here on 11/11 at 11am in our Sanctuary. So we share our talents with our neighbors.
And speaking of our Sanctuary, we have a campus which we support and maintain through your generosity during our annual budget drive. We pass your generosity on by offering our spaces to a wide variety of charitable organizations at low or no cost. Just in the past month we’ve hosted meetings or events for: Narcotics Anonymous; a young men’s mentoring group; Guardian ad Litem; Buncombe County Department of Health; HelpMate and Our Voice; a support group for people with ALS and caregivers; Just Economics; and the cooperative preschool that meets for a half-day every school day. So we share our buildings with our neighbors. In fact, about 1/3 of the time, our building is used by outside groups. That is really good sharing!
So look at that. You contribute your time, talent and money to UUCA. Then, our congregation not only provides the support and experiences one can expect from a faith community but also acts as a base to improve the lives of those beyond our faith community. That ought to give you something to mull over as you think about those beginning questions: Why does this congregation exist? Who are we supposed to be serving?
I just returned from a two-week break from routines, work and the news. I feel refreshed and re-energized. As much as I enjoy the challenges and joys of ministry a pause from it all helps me regain perspective. And so does the midweek experience of The Wednesday Thing. Thanks to the shared ministry efforts of lay leaders, volunteers and staff all are welcomed to participate in a time of fun, fellowship, worship and learning every Wednesday evening at UUCA. When was the last time you participated in this growing and nurturing faith development program?
Some join us for the meal at 5:45 pm, usually soup and salad (pizza and salad on 4th Wednesday). Others join us for dinner and Vespers, a short, reflective, evening gathering in the Sanctuary at 6:30. Some just come for programs at 7:00. Regardless of whether you come for one, two or three of the offerings you will experience the synergy resulting from the creation of a space that comes alive with your presence. During the past year I have watched as relationships across the ages develop over shared meals. I think that is how our sense of belonging to each other develops. We feel seen and known as we engage in conversation and get to know people outside our familiar circle of friends.
Last night, Brett Johnson and The Sandburgers offered an embodied, musical evensong service created for our multigenerational Wednesday Thing community. My day had been full and busy, and I was looking forward to a time of reflection and slowing down before heading home. The opportunity to sing, reflect and even move a little in community was just what I needed. Vespers leaders and approaches vary every Wednesday. Members are welcome to share their spiritual practices and creativity with us. There is always a spiritual experience that uplifts and challenges us to go deeper mid-week. Please contact me if you are interested in being a Vespers leader. We have guidelines and resources to support your effort.
After Vespers, I found myself with a multi-age group of dancers laughing and responding to the rhythms and facilitation offered by local dance instructor Lisa Zahiya. Dancing with some of our youngest UUs, experiencing their energy, laughter, and enthusiasm was delightful. Lisa Z will be back November 20 offering a Zumba-style program with Latin rhythms and simple choreography. While we danced, another group was in the Sanctuary listening to a TED talk about the power of vulnerability by Brené Brown. We are grateful for Noel Yovovich’s organizing this year’s TED talk series. Thank you, Noel!
This year we are offering on average two programs each Wednesday. On October 30 there will be Mask-Making Fun for all ages in Sandburg Hall. In the Sanctuary, the Odyssey program resumes with Gina Phairas interviewing long-time member and former Deputy Director of the Asheville Housing Authority, Larry Holt, about his life and UU experiences. He proudly identifies as a Unicorn. If you do not know what this is, well, join us and find out!
The goal of the Odyssey program is to invite the elders in our community to share their stories; the experiences that have made them who they are that are often unknown to many in the congregation. Too often we learn the most amazing things about people at their memorial services. We think that is too late! If you have any candidates you would like us to invite to share their stories, please let me know. Your suggestions and feedback for how we can continue to improve The Wednesday Thing are welcome. See you on the 30th!
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
One of the more important parts of my job involves risk management. That’s why so often I end up looking like a blocker instead of a promoter. It’s not me, honest! It’s the job. “Will that be a trip hazard? Are all volunteers who work with kids background-checked? You want to build a campfire where? Is cash being handled properly? Does our insurance coverage adequately address sexual abuse? Are the fire extinguishers checked regularly? Copyright permission? Do people know not to use cell phones while driving (in general, but certainly while driving for a church errand)? Are our hiring policies up-to-date? Did I just accidentally download a computer virus? What can we lose if we get attacked by ransomware?” And on it goes. One of the ways we manage risk is to create policies (which are all on our website, off of the Board of Trustees page). Although some of our policies are designed to help people figure out how things are done around here (examples include “Inclement Weather,” “Gift Acceptance,” “New Social Groups”), many of them are created to help manage risk. Some of these include “Cell Phone Use,” “Childcare at UUCA,” and “Financial Policy and Procedures.” Probably the most important “risk management” policy is the one entitled, “Healthy Congregation.” This policy lays out the whys and wherefores of being in healthy relationship with one another. To help with risk management, it also lists the steps that can be taken when an individual acts in a way that is offensive or disruptive. It is especially attentive to adult-child relationships. As a best practice for churches, this document describes behaviors that are considered unhealthy or inappropriate, along with alternative appropriate behaviors. It addresses physical and verbal interactions and describes various forms of bullying that will not be tolerated. It is extremely detailed in addressing sexual abuse. This policy requires training in recognizing and preventing sexual abuse for all of our religious education teachers, with formal training programs required of all staff members. The training that staff members have participated in this year comes from a group called Darkness2Light and is called “Stewards of Children.” There is an online version of this course that anyone can take for $10. It is also occasionally available as a live course in Asheville through the Buncombe Partnership for Children. The policy also is very specific about the actions we take to safeguard our children and youth in other ways, too. All in all, this is probably the most important policy we have. I hope you take time to read it. Linda Topp, Director of Administration
“All forms of spiritual practice share one fundamental quality; they bring upon the practitioner a sense of peace. This peace does not come from mastery of the practices; a focus on Mastery (while it can be very interesting) is counterproductive (to spirituality). I think of it (fly fishing) as putting ourselves into the way of the world; in the Tao of Life. Not the busy mechanical, technological (electronic) world but the Natural world of which we are a part, the earth that was here before we came and hopefully, will be here after we are gone.” Rev. Jennifer Brooks, Unitarian Universalist Minister, 4/19/09
Early on you have to make a simple choice: Are you a fly fisherman or a fish catcher. What is important to you, catching fish or fly fishing.
If you choose to become a fish catcher, you become a head hunter, someone looking to catch the most fish, or the biggest fish of the day if that is your preference. Your focus narrows to your fly and the immediate area surrounding it so that you are ready for the “take” and the landing. Your reason for being there is to catch fish and nothing less will do. All that is important is landing the fish. If you don’t plan to eat the fish you throw it back without care to the condition of the fish; you need to catch the next one. You can have a “bad day.” You have missed everything.
If you choose to be a fly fisherman you, above all else, slow down and become naturally more in-tune with the environment, and especially the river. The river is everything, the flow of the currents, the clarity and temperature, the fish you see and don’t see, the shadows that can hold fish, the trees and shrubs lining the bank, the downfalls in the river, the ducks and birds, the position of the sunlight on the water. You watch the fly drift into the feeding lane of the trout and wait to see if you have convinced the fish that the hook with the string, feathers and “dubbing” will look enough like a tasty morsel and that the trout is hungry enough to take it. You may cast many times before it is all just right. And then “the take.”
When the take happens, you now have a direct line to the fish and the natural living world; you are holding the thin, fine line and the electric shocks come right up from the water and into your fingers and hands. There are so many things that can go wrong and lead you to lose the fish that you must now put all of your focus and concentration on that line and point where it joins the water; the movement of fish and the river.
When you have brought all of it together in that moment in time, the absolute spirituality of that moment is clear.
In the beginning, it’s all about the fish, how many, how big and where. But there is so much more to this fly fishing stuff.
One early fall afternoon I was walking back up the river after a day with zero fish, bummed because all I caught all day were twigs and leaves moving just under the surface. The sky was bright and the sun had warmed me to the point of sweating as I walked up the stones and over the stumps and deadfalls on my way to my car.
My legs felt filled with failure, failures filled my waders and dragged me down as surely as if it were water. Although I was not a stranger to being “skunked,” I still took it personally. I had about 3/4 of a mile to walk back up the free stone river to my car and the long drive home in a car filled with the stench of failure. I found myself going deeply into myself and not really paying attention to the river, the sky, the valley, the birds or anything else. I was in a funk!
I knew this piece of river pretty well and knew that I was about halfway back to the Steel Bridge and the two German shepherds that wait to greet you, hoping for a small treat. I sat on the rock beside the river, overdressed, sweaty and hot in the midday sun on a day that was supposed to be cool-to-cold.
I had known this large rock was a nice place to sit and I just eased myself onto its bright sun-warmed surface. Took a deep breath and waited to cool down a bit before I finished the walk, falling deeper and into those old messages I tell myself about my failures.
At first, I didn’t notice them, turned as inwardly as I was. Then there was just the realization of movement nearby, but turning right I just looked down the river and didn’t focus on anything. Then I noticed movement on the left and then the right again and then right in front of me. Finally, the moving object in front of me came into focus. It was a black-winged butterfly with deep purple highlights on the wing. “Oh, how pretty,” I thought. And just then I realized that these were the movements on each side, above and even behind me that I had felt but did not see.
Then there were twenty or so butterflies and then thirty or so and then I couldn’t count them as they flitted around me. Black and purple floating bits of color. And then they started to land on my hands and arms. They would land then take back off almost immediately.
Then as I quieted myself and sat still, they started to land one-by-one and stay, first for a second or two, then as they folded their wings, for longer and longer. Then opening and closing their wings and tickling my arms, hands, and face they walked, exploring and tasting my sweat only then to lift off in the breeze. I sat with these butterflies for some time although I really have no idea how long it was, and then they left as quickly and quietly as they came.
Today my prize was butterflies!
Tomorrow is another day and there will be some prize for me on the river, and it may or may not be a fish. It will, however, be the time alone in the wild country, listening intently for the sip of the trout taking the fly, for the clacking call of the kingfisher patrolling the river for a meal, watching intently as fish silent slip along through the water. And in that world is the essence of spirituality and the Seventh Principle.
Michael Beech, Board of Trustees
Some of the hardest work in the quest for racial justice is truth-telling: telling the truth about the sea of racial oppression that we live in, where it came from, how it is perpetuated, and how each of us can find ourselves complicit in it, often in ways we are unaware of. So, part of our justice work in this congregation is about making ourselves aware of all this and acting where we can to dismantle it.
There’s an exciting project underway in Asheville that we at UUCA are looking to connect with that is seeking to correct the record and bring a measure of justice to people who suffered as a result of this oppression. It’s linked to a nation-wide effort led by the Equal Justice Institute based in Montgomery, Alabama.
This is the organization started by Bryan Stevenson that has sought to document the thousands of lynchings of African-Americans that occurred in America from 1877 to 1950. A year and a half ago the institute opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, where some 800 lynchings are documented on hanging steel monuments. Buncombe County’s plate is inscribed with the names of three men who were lynched here in the 1890s.
Here in Asheville last May, a coalition of community groups joined to form the Buncombe County Community Remembrance Project. Its goal is to raise awareness of racial violence in our area and plan for the creation of a historical monument here that will tell that story.
UUCA member Mary Alm has been attending the group’s meetings on our behalf, and I have offered to have our congregation join a group of what are called “community stakeholders” who support the effort. The group already includes 10 other congregations and community groups.
You will be hearing more about this as the project gets underway. For now, as a way to get into this work of truth-telling, Mary and I would like to invite you to consider joining us on a UUCA group trip to visit the memorial in Montgomery next spring.
Our idea is that this would be a three-day trip – leaving one day to drive to Montgomery, spending a day at the Memorial, and then driving home the next day. Mary is researching hotels where we could reserve a block of rooms together. For transportation, we’re thinking of making it simple – a caravan of cars, car-pooling where we can. As for timing, we’re thinking of spring break week – April 6 – 10 – so families could make time to come. Scholarships will be available for people who need them.
Look for more details to come and please contact Mary Alm if you’re willing to help organize or are interested in coming. I would welcome your company as we dig into the work of taking ownership for our own journeys of awakening and truth-telling.
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
On September 14, UUCA welcomed the community and hosted four African American scholars Dr. Summer Carrol (Lenoir-Rhyne University), Dr. Brandi Hinnant-Crawford (Western Carolina University), Dr. Tiece Ruffin (UNCA) and Dr. Darrius Stanley (WCU) who spoke to an audience of over 100 about best practices to close the opportunity gap for Black youth in our public schools. I sat in the audience, grateful that UUCA opened its doors to such a diverse group of community members and that some of our members ensured that all were welcome, fed (lunch was provided) and children taken care of in our beautiful RE spaces. Thank you, to members of Recommitting to Black Lives Matter who shared of their time, talent and treasure to support this gathering.
The presenters began with an overview of the history of slavery and discrimination that ignored the richness and resilience of Black culture and resistance. They explained how the system of white supremacy at the root of the American project made it difficult for black children to integrate in the 1960s. Prof. Stanley quoted Rev. Martin Luther King’s analysis that black children were being integrated into a “burning house.” So what can be done in a culture that is still “on fire” with racism and white nationalist fervor?
The speakers provided examples of how teacher training can shape classroom practices that provide culturally relevant instruction that disrupts white supremacy culture. Culturally relevant instruction validates the identity of black children who are often seen as deficient and expected to conform to white middle class norms. The speakers also emphasized the importance of critically conscious educational leaders who disrupt the systemic practices and policies that disproportionately impact black children. We learned about black history and educational possibilities for supporting positive academic outcomes for black youth. Two youth shared their experiences navigating a system that is often hostile to them. They asked: Can you see us? Why don’t you know us? I wonder, how do we get to know the youth in our community?
Most importantly, Dr Carrol spoke about the need for a revolutionary love that treats all youth like human beings, loves them and is radical enough to bring about change. Her message spoke to that doctrine of love we embrace as UUs. What does that love look like in practice when black youth in our community are being left behind? What can our community do so that the differential funding and wealth gap that favor white over black students are diminished? To reduce the prison-to-school pipeline? The challenge of closing the opportunity gap is a challenge for ALL of us.
With that in mind, the second part of the presentation challenged the audience to explore how to leverage community assets to affect change. The audience counted off to form ten groups. Each group discussed and recorded ideas for how to leverage resources from: churches; libraries & research; community organizations, universities & community colleges; common/shared school spaces; elders; businesses & professionals; neighborhood associations, community centers & parks; food access organizations and community gardens; and community organizers and activists. Just hearing the list of all the assets in our community gave me tremendous hope. Wow! I wondered what would happen if these assets were vigorously engaged in closing the opportunity gap for black children?
I don’t know the plans are for next steps are after these engaging presentations and group conversations. I hope to hear from the organizers soon. Until then, I share the ideas from two groups about how churches and elders can be involved. Let me know what you think. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to explore possibilities. As you read over these suggestions, I invite you to reflect on how these can be carried out with input from those they are intended to uplift. The challenge in justice work is to be allies of those marginalized versus doing for them and seeing ourselves as saviors. We were reminded that “nothing about us (i.e. our black siblings) without us if for us.”
Things churches can do:
- Offer summer camps
- Increase leader visibility and advocacy in community e.g. PTA/PTO meetings
- Use of space on non-Sundays for forums and lectures (black history, community racial history, state of education, arts, etc.)
- Members can be reading buddies or lunch buddies in schools
- Adopt a school or classroom
- Provide scholarships for educational programs, enrichment activities
- Offer career readiness/Counseling offered at church
- Provide space and activities during school suspension for nurture/healing/justice
- Provide after school homework support/participate in existing after school programs
- Run food pantries
- Provide transportation using church vans (to parent/teacher meetings, arts events, etc.)
- Build relationship with the Latinx community /provide a safe zone/ language justice
- Create and participate in interfaith projects
Things elders can do:
- Receive training in reading and math strategies
- Share living history
- Connect elders with parents for support
- Provide revolutionary love…engage children & families at church, in neighborhood
- Disrupt complacency…speak up
- Alumnae of Stevens Lee can share historical & institutional knowledge
- Tap into Olli elders that may want to be involved in closing the gap
- Engage with the schools through conversations, mentoring
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
Picture this: Someone just walked into a public place where they are hoping to (eventually) know some people. They figure out how to get to a seat but they didn’t make a name tag for themselves because, well, that would be too scary. They certainly didn’t introduce themselves during the event (Egads! Way too scary!) but they do make their way to the very-crowded place where people gather after the event because really, they DO want to meet some people. Now what?
It is YOUR job (yes, you!) to do something about this! Here’s your line: “Hi! My name is _____________. Welcome! This is a big congregation so I’m not sure if we’ve met. Have we?” (Not a great idea to ask, “Are you new?” to a person who’s been a member for the past 30 years.) And if you discover that they are new, your next line could be: “What brought you here today?” Or, “How did you like the service?” Etc.
We on staff are noticing painfully-alone people standing around at Coffee Hour. This is not good. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if the person IS a 30-year member or brand-spanking new, if they are standing alone (or just with their buddy), go up and speak to them. Yes, YOU!
This can be hard, I know. But everyone who is here is a guest of this congregation. Guests (here or at your house) are looking for connection, kindness, and acceptance. They want to be personally recognized and welcomed. You can do this!
Here are helpful hints for being welcoming:
• Start slow. You don’t need to obtain 30 years of backstory in one conversation or invite them over on the first visit.
• Listen well. You will be able to tell if something makes them uncomfortable. You will also learn things that you can mention in future conversations.
• Introduce them to someone else in the church. Think of a member who has something in common with the visitor but be VERY careful about making assumptions.
• Ask a question that doesn’t have a yes or no answer.
Here are some other possible questions to ask of newcomers:
• How did you discover our church?
• Is this your first visit or have you been coming for a while?
• Have you ever been to a UU church before?
Let’s see how you do.
Linda Topp, Director of Administration
Wait. Before you start to wonder how I could be insinuating that it’s the 1st of January when the temperatures outside are hitting 90 degrees, hear me out. You see, as an elementary special education teacher who is married to a high school English and speech teacher and as a parent of a brand new fourth-grader (WHOA! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!), there is nothing that says New Year more than heading back to school! That means that in my household, we have spent time reflecting on the past year, set resolutions for the coming year, and have already begun the hard work of making our new year goals come true!
And if you think the party vibe is strong on December 31st, you have no idea what kind of energy will permeate our household come late May!
But before you start to feel left out of this off-timed celebration, know that I’m not leaving you out! You see, it’s actually a New Year for all of us here at UUCA! Two-Service Sundays have begun, RE classes are freshly full with students and teachers, and the Wednesday Thing is back in full effect! Yep. It turns out that its a fresh new start for all of us!
So like I said, Happy New Year Everyone!
For me personally, this new beginning is marked by one particularly new type of challenge. Back in early June, I became the new President of the Board of Trustees. Shortly thereafter, I took off with my family on a summer-long, 8000+ mile road trip that took me away from the work of the congregation and instead into the homes of countless friends and family members as well beautiful places around the country. It was a great time indeed and while I was gone Cecil Bennett and the rest of the UU Board ran the board flawlessly and for that I am incredibly grateful. But now, with my summer adventure over, my new adventure has begun…as an actual acting Board President. (Does this count as “adulting?”)
So let me start by saying that if there is anything I can confidently proclaim about my new role it is that I AM A NOVICE! Don’t get me wrong. I say that without any self-deprecation or shame. I am just putting it out there that though I can write a mean reading or math lesson and I can create an Individualized Education Plan with my eyes closed, I am not someone who can lay claim to having a 100% clear understanding of how Boards and Self-Governance work. But just like my students, I am eager and ready to learn!
So far, my learning process has included drawing from some of the various roles I have played here at UUCA since joining back in 2006, such as RE teacher, Room in the Inn volunteer, Coming of Age mentor, occasional usher, Sanctuary volunteer, and Book Sale box unpacker as well as Newbie Board Member last year. My homework has also included webinars put on by regional UU leaders as well as personal conversations with Mark and various members of our UUCA community.
One of the major lessons I have been studying in preparation for the year ahead involves Ministerial Transition. As most everyone knows by now, Mark has announced his retirement come next summer. This leaves the Board and me to begin the congregation’s work of seeking out and selecting an interim minister as well as an eventual called minister. Fortunately, much of this process is laid out by the UUA and in the coming months, we will be sharing more details of when and how this process will work and how you can play a role in it. In the meantime, I would recommend that we all really focus on and appreciate the words, wisdom, and way of Mark Ward. Take some time to show him gratitude. Heck, treat him like a great teacher and don’t be afraid to leave an apple on his desk (pulpit?)!
As for me, please feel free in this coming year to email me at email@example.com, to call me at 919-619-7298, or simply to grab me by the arm in Sandburg Hall whenever you have a question or concern or suggestion. One thing I am learning about this role is that that is what I am here for.
The year has begun. And just like I have told my students back at Isaac Dickson, I believe it is going to be a great one! We will face new challenges. We will make mistakes. We will find reasons to celebrate. We will continue to build community. And we will definitely learn a lot!
Happy New Year indeed!
Ryan Williams, President, Board of Trustees
In these last few days before we jump into our fall season there’s a kind of wistfulness that it’s been easy for me to slip into. Having announced that this will be my last year at UUCA, I find myself ticking things off – my last this, my last that. But of course, I soon won’t have the luxury for any of that. We have a terrific array of programs, services and events planned that will keep us all hopping. And more than that, rarely has there been a time when passion and commitment for the work of liberal religion was more needed.
Having spent a good third of my life in journalism before entering the ministry, I’ve made a practice of subscribing to my local paper and the New York Times and each morning spending some time poring through them.
I have friends who shrink at the idea and say, “How can you begin your day with such depressing stuff?” I get that. I see more than enough that drags me down, but I stay with it. Part of the reason is I just want to be in the know, plugged into what’s happening to the world, and random bulletins on my cell phone are not enough.
I want to take time with people – reporters and editors – who have spent time and energy to track down the closest thing they can find to the truth. Seeing the news media under greater assault than at any moment in my lifetime reminds me what a precious gift it is.
A similar sort of feeling comes to me when I think about this religious tradition where I’ve made my home, that is the center of my calling. We determined truth-tellers, when it comes to the life of the spirit, can find ourselves embattled, too. The bullying and shaming that we see in the public sphere has its analog in the religious world, and we desperately need communities like this one that can provide a home for the doubters, for those seeking to make their own path religiously, who cling to their own integrity like a life raft.
I want to take time with people who are struggling to figure it out, who dig deep into their own epiphanies, hopes and fears, who get real with each other and find joy in the journey together. It’s often challenging work that pushes us all outside of our comfort zones, but it is also deeply satisfying to be supported in our struggles and to be part of a community that nudges us to put the values that guide us to work in the larger world.
This, too, is a precious gift. I’m grateful to have been a part of all this with you and look forward to an eventful year together.
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
Interesting question, isn’t it? Because all of a sudden you’re asking yourself, “What do you mean by leader?” Imagine sitting on a committee and trying to answer that question. That’s part of the job of the Leadership Development Committee (LDC). I can’t say that we’ve come up with a definitive answer, but we have been coming up with a list of information that UUCA leaders say they need.
After sitting in on a UUCA workshop for church leaders last spring, and then interviewing current Board members, the members of the LDC (James Cassara-chair, Susan Andrew, Bill Kleiber, Natale Polinko, Bob Wilson) concluded that congregants really want a better understanding of how things get decided around here. They also want to know where to find information, how to purchase something and get reimbursed, or maybe even how to run a new fundraiser. If you’re one of these inquiring folks, plan to attend a 2-hour workshop on Saturday, September 28, 9:30-11:30, that will reveal all! Reserve your spot by contacting Bill Kleiber.
The LDC also knows that some folks haven’t explored their own leadership qualities lately, so we’d like to give you a chance to do that. Consequently, you’re invited to attend a different 2-hour workshop on Saturday, November 9, 9:30-11:30 that will explore leadership styles. At this event, workshop participants will gain a better understanding of the primary styles of leadership and how they affect the decisions we make and processes we employ. What’s our natural leadership style (we each have one) and how do we know when it’s best suited for one task but not another? When do we lead and when do we stay back and allow others to do so? This fast-paced, discussion-centered workshop is well suited for anyone who is on any committee, focus group, problem-solving task force, or covenant group at UUCA or for anyone who simply wants to become a more confident and assured leader. Reserve your spot by contacting Natale Polinko.
So who can be a leader at UUCA? Get it out of your head that all leaders have to be chairs of something. That’s so 1990s. Nowadays, anyone who works with others in devoting time and energy to making UUCA a better place is a leader. Yes, indeedy. We need introverts! Extroverts. Idea people. Organizers. Techie people. Luddites. Older people. Younger people. Numbers people. Word people. Brainy people. Brawny people. Get it? Do NOT sell yourself short. Because we don’t! Volunteer to share your time and talents at UUCA today!
Linda Topp, Director of Administration