Maybe not the most exciting headline I’ve ever written, but definitely information that congregants—you, the owners of the congregation—ought to know. Every year in March the Administrator, in conjunction with the Executive (the policy governance role of the Lead Minister) and the Finance Advisory Committee, produce an operating budget for the next church year. Then,
- That budget is reviewed by the Board of Trustees at their April meeting.
- Revisions are made if needed.
- The revised budget is presented to the congregation online as a slide deck and in person at a Budget Town Hall for review by interested congregants. That meeting will occur on April 24 following the worship service.
- Revisions are made if needed.
- The final proposed budget is accepted by the Board of Trustees to be presented at the Annual Meeting on the first Sunday in June for the congregation’s members to approve by vote.
How is the budget created?
We need to estimate both income and expenses for the next church year (July 1-June 30).
To estimate income, we look at all income sources and try to make sensible projections for them. Since payments on commitments make up about 85% of our income, the closer we can predict that, the more realistic the proposed budget will be. THAT’S WHY WE WANT YOU TO GIVE US YOUR COMMITMENT NOW!
To estimate expenses, we
- Produce a worksheet that compiles all of our personnel expenses from wages and salaries, to hours worked, to tax payments, retirement benefits, and more.
- Use those personnel figures in a “master budget sheet” that lists all the expense line items we use and their estimated totals for the coming church year (things like utilities, cleaning services, all building and office administration costs).
- Send out budget requests to all leaders of programs of the congregation. These include program areas like faith development, justice ministry, worship, music, etc.
- Input all the estimates and requests (projected expense lines and all budget requests) in the master budget sheet.
- Confer with the Executive and the Finance Advisory Committee on how to make adjustments if expenses on this first look exceed income. The Executive may consult with anyone else she desires to help with this decision-making.
- If adjustments are needed for program areas, discussion is initiated with the affected program leaders.
By the time of the April Board meeting, the proposed budget will either be balanced (income = expenses) or we will identify ways to make up the difference (we never come out with too much income!). This could happen by asking congregants to reconsider their commitments, or by intentionally including a transfer from our Contingency Fund, or both. At the present time our Contingency Fund holds a little more than $200,000.
So that’s the way it goes. You’ll get more information about that Budget Town Hall Meeting in April. In the meantime, if you want to see how we’re doing compared to our budget for this year, here’s a link to the Operating and Expense portion of the Finance Report as of January 2022.
Linda Topp, Director of Administration
From the time the pandemic locked us down in mid-March 2020 until the present, there has been an endless flow of well-intentioned advice by experts about how to live with isolation and not languish:
- Do whatever you can to connect with people. Zoom. Write. Telephone. Email.
- Create/sustain meaningful group connections: church groups, book club, children, grandchildren, friends, siblings.
- Grieve your losses, no matter how small.
- Keep a journal.
- Listen to music: dance, sing, and write with it.
- Find joy in everyday routines.
- Engage with nature.
Now that we are, cautiously, beginning to emerge from the isolation, COVID has clarified my priorities. I find that there are ways of being, from among these and a myriad of other suggestions, that I wish to maintain.
The thrill of seeing a friend’s or loved one’s unmasked face, and observing their body language, leads me to a sense of warmth and engagement I have truly missed. Technology is a valuable tool in many contexts, but it is not a replacement for human contact. Social interaction is a sensory experience that enables our brains and bodies to feel safe, comfortable, and to explore authentic relationships. I intend to appreciate that with every human encounter.
Books can become a salvation. The luxury of time to read books was a gift that has led me to more deeply consider their importance in my life. I value being with a book; it is not a passive activity. I consider its weight, the paper’s texture, the beauty of the illustrations. I can curl up with it, escape through it, be consoled by it.
We missed the high school graduations of both of our grandsons and our granddaughter’s performance in her high school play. We postponed travel. A special event to celebrate my husband’s 80th birthday with friends and family was canceled. However, now that we can see our children and grandchildren, engagement has been more deeply satisfying and celebratory. We relish more the ability to see a live play and attend the symphony in person.
While I am usually one who desires to optimize every hour, I have discovered during this period of isolation that life is richer if I routinely meditate, go outside to observe nature, wake up with no plans for the day.
We monthly Zoom with friends from our days at Northwestern, over 50 years ago. The group members reside all over the country. We now communicate more often and more meaningfully than we would when traveling with one another every year or so before the pandemic. We plan and then actively explore, learn about, and discuss a chosen topic, teaching one another at our next meeting.
I have maintained a journal since fifth grade. My journals served as diaries in my younger years; as I matured, they were a place to record and reflect upon my inner thoughts and feelings. Journaling has become a resource to clarify my decisions, to ascertain patterns of my behavior, and to discover how my thinking has evolved over time. During the pandemic, I have paid more attention to my anxieties and have imagined ways to remain resilient. I now write about my experience with the pandemic, creating a history of what aspects of my life are changing because of it.
In reviewing my journal entries I have discovered that I am more willing to accept not being in control of many aspects of my life. Living with the pandemic over the past two years I have adapted to the unknown future, accepted the possibility of more variants to come, learned to embrace solitude, practiced better listening, invented coping statements, engaged in new hobbies, acknowledged the importance of my inner life, and found meaning in the midst of loss.
Today, I am unwilling to postpone the experiences in my life that I love the most. I am maintaining a routine, staying active in a natural space. And I am nurturing a network of family and friends through love and attention. The past two years have taught me how better to accept uncertainty while living my life.
Member, UU Asheville Board of Trustees
“Beware the faith that does not trouble the world.”
Steve Garnass- Holmes
Welcome to the month of renewing faith. There are many ways to define faith beyond the traditional idea of trusting in a deity or higher power. For me, one understanding of faith is trusting in the capacity for human goodness and the work we can do together. Despite violence and injustice in the world, there are people doing good. I see good happening in our faith community not only in the Welcome Circle that supports an Afghan family, in the generosity of those committed to restocking the BeLoved Pantry or those volunteering with UU the Vote, but also those who give of their time and talent to work with children and youth or participate in committees that do the work of the congregation. There are also many of you engaged in the community, living out your values there. It is a both/and engagement. We are grounded in this UU community, held in love and challenged to deepen our spirituality so that we can engage beyond our four walls or zoom boxes.
Renewing faith. What an appropriate theme for the month when we launch the Annual Giving Campaign to support and deepen the work of this congregation. As we begin to gather in person and continue our virtual gatherings, it is a good time to wonder what this faith community means to you; to consider how you renew your commitment to the possibilities that await this congregation as you call a new minister and revisit your mission. What an exciting time! I invite you to consider these questions (or create your own) to explore your engagement with this congregation.
Why did you decide to attend the first time, in person or on-line?
What do you value most about this congregation?
Think of a time when your engagement with this congregation made you feel alive, vibrant and engaged? What were the circumstances? What was your role?
How has this congregation made a difference in your life?
What is this congregation known for in the community?
When has this congregation let you down (because we’re human)?
What 3 wishes for the future of this congregation do you have?
As you reflect on what this faith community means to you, I invite you to consider how your time, talent, presence and resources can contribute to joyfully imagining what the role of UU Asheville is in this pandemic time. We have a learned a lot these last two years about what matters and what isn’t working in our society. Many of us were finally jolted into understanding the true and insidious depth of white supremacy and racism with the death of George Floyd and so many others. We were called to work for racial justice. We became more aware of the glaring inequities when the pandemic disproportionately affected Black and other marginalized communities. Opportunities are knocking at our door. Who do we want to be? Can we be audacious and creative in exploring what our call is in 2022?
Are we called to trouble the world, in a good way? I hope so,
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
Our hearts and minds weigh heavy with the people of Ukraine as we watch the news of the Russian invasion and listen to the dire warnings from leaders around the world. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s advisor, Mykhailo Podolyak, said: “A full-scale war in Europe has begun. … Russia is not only attacking Ukraine, but the rules of normal life in the modern world.”
After a restless night, I woke up this morning with this song written by Ed McCurdy in 1950, in the middle of the Joseph McCarthy Red Scare when the threat of war cast its dark shadow over the world, in my head. Pete Seeger was the first to record Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream that never made the top forty but was translated into several languages as it spread around the world.
Feeling helpless and depressed, I was reminded of this wonderful story that I read recently on Facebook about singer/songwriter and activist Pete Seeger who devoted his life to working for change. This story helped lift me out of despair and reminded me that we are not helpless. As the author of the Facebook post said, it matters who we are in the world. Here’s a link to a UU World article called, “Singing for Humanity” about Pete Seeger. A UU at heart, Pete officially became a UU later in his life and his story is inspiring and hopeful.
THIS IS JUST ONE OF MANY GREAT STORIES – WHO WE ARE IN THE WORLD MATTERS – WORDS HAVE POWER
“In the 1970s, Pete Seeger was invited to sing in Barcelona, Spain. Francisco Franco’s fascist government, the last of the dictatorships that started World War II, was still in power but declining. A pro-democracy movement was gaining strength, and to prove it they invited America’s best-known freedom singer to Spain. More than a hundred thousand people were in the stadium, where rock bands had played all day. But the crowd had come for Seeger.
As Pete prepared to go on, government officials handed him a list of songs he was not allowed to sing. Pete studied it mournfully, saying it looked an awful lot like his setlist. But they insisted: he must not sing any of these songs. He took the government’s list of banned songs and strolled on stage. He held up the paper and said, “I’ve been told that I’m not allowed to sing these songs.” He grinned at the crowd and said, “So, I’ll just play the chords; maybe you know the words. They didn’t say anything about *you* singing them.”
He strummed his banjo to one song after another, and they all sang. A hundred thousand defiant freedom singers broke the law with Pete Seeger, filling the stadium with words their government did not want them to hear, words they all knew and had sung together, in secret circles, for years. What could the government do? Arrest a hundred thousand singers? It had been beaten by a few banjo chords and the fame of a man whose songs were on the lips of the whole world.”
In faith and love, Cathy
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister
I’m not sure you know it, but your staff is exceptionally creative. Sometimes we’re so creative we’re afraid to try an idea because it’s “too radical.” For instance, Rev. Claudia and I had several ideas to completely change our Sunday morning worship once we fully resumed after COVID. What if we used up three hours on Sunday mornings by having faith development activities for one hour (for all—some age-appropriate, some mixed ages), a snack/social time for some time period, and a gathering time that would be worship? Or, what if we changed worship so that it was an abbreviated service followed by breakout sessions of art, discussion, videos, etc.? Or what if we just used one Sunday morning a month and called it Potpourri Sunday, and you wouldn’t know what was happening until you got here (and it would definitely be a happening!)?
In the UU seminar I attended at the start of the month, I listened to Dr. Anthony Pinn, a professor of religion at Rice University, as he spoke about going so far beyond “outside the box” thinking that it borders on fantasy. The two facts that practically had me jump out of my chair were 1) UUism is wildly diverse in its religious underpinnings but always includes a strong justice element and 2) our church services look just like Christian worship (same form, different content).
He went on from there but I’m pretty sure the following idea is a blend of what he said and what I was thinking about when he was talking. You can give him full credit though.
What if our gatherings were designed to support individual justice work? We could gather to examine our values and our feelings as we work for justice in whatever manner we choose (in our paid work, in our volunteerism, in our families). We would not necessarily have a church-wide justice initiative, though we could. We could establish a reflective practice with other UU Ashevilleans and be accountable to/with our friends. The time together could start with a worship form (or forms) that makes sense for this—inspiring words and music perhaps, a conversation-starting video, a drumming practice….
And why Sunday mornings? Could this happen multiple times per week? Weekdays, evenings, weekends? What kind of building might we need? Would we need a worship space with pews? Would we need a space to hold hundreds of people? Would we still want to hold RE classes for school-age children and youth on Sunday mornings because it is probably culturally easier? Is it?
This is fantastical future thinking, and it’s these kinds of ideas we hope you are thinking about, too!
Here’s your assignment: Who will we be and how will we act as a congregation once the critical phase of the pandemic ends and a new ministry begins?
Linda Topp, Director of Administration
Your UUAsheville Board identified the work of Racial Justice as one of our priority goals during the summer of 2020, working with our Minister of Faith Development, Rev. Claudia Jiménez to assemble and empower the Racial Justice Advisory Council (RJAC), made up of an amazing group of insightful and talented leaders dedicated to help our congregation navigate this important work.
The RJAC has worked with a consultant over the last few months to gather information about our UUAsheville system and sought feedback from our congregation. This initial process has resulted in a Draft Assessment Report which Rev. Claudia shared with us all via email on January 26. She and the RJAC are hosting a series of Listening Circles to engage us in conversation about the assessment findings. Your UUAsheville Board met last Sunday for a Listening Circle session and found it to be a great forum for sharing our thoughts and getting clarification for greater understanding.
Please join one of the upcoming Racial Justice Advisory Council Listening Circles if you have not already. We plan to have at least one member of the Board at each one. We want to hear your thoughts!
Three decades ago, one of our much beloved and influential Unitarian Universalist ministers, The Reverend Melvin Hoover, shared a piece he wrote in a meditation manual entitled Been in the Storm So Long. This brilliant compilation features the writings of 29 African Americans, from 19th-century poets to the thinkers of the time, the early 1990s. Mel’s piece, Spirit of the Pioneer, speaks to me as I embark on the next part of my journey toward Racial Justice and as I dare to explore what I must do to truly be an antiracist person. This is not a new journey, for me, UUAsheville, and for Unitarian Universalism, but a continuing and challenging one begun many decades ago.
I will share these wise words with you as inspiration and an invitation to join me and our congregation on this journey toward Racial Justice:
We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it and build on it.
We can’t control the future, but we can shape it and enhance the possibilities for our children and grandchildren.
We can’t discern in the present the fullness of our actions and their impact, but we can be pioneers in our time, exploring fully the crevices and cracks where knowledge and new insights might be found.
We can explore our spectrum of relationships and confront our complacency and certainty about the way things are.
We can dare to face ourselves in our entirety,
To understand our pain,
To feel the tears,
To listen to our frustration and confusion, and to discover new capacities and capabilities that will empower and transform us.
In the spirit of the pioneer, let us now go forth.
Blessed be and may it be so.
Laural Amabile, Clerk, UUAsheville Board of Trustees
This week I attended “SACReD Faith Communities: Reclaiming Reproductive Dignity and Autonomy,” an energizing Zoom gathering of ministers and lay people. More than 30 faith traditions (Unitarian Universalist congregations were well represented!) gathered to discuss reproductive justice and freedom as we face the reality that Roe v. Wade will likely be overturned. Twenty-six states are prepared to limit abortion access when it happens.
Discussing abortion is a provocative, uncomfortable, and sacred conversation. It is a sacred responsibility to have the ability to bring forth life and nurture that child into adulthood. Because faith communities and religious beliefs shape congregants’ understanding of sexuality, faith communities have a role to play in advocating for reproductive justice and body autonomy. It is part of the commitment to building the Beloved Community where all have dignity, freedom and the potential to thrive.
Our denomination recognizes the sacredness of sexuality. It acknowledges its importance to our thriving as human beings by promoting comprehensive sexuality education. The Our Whole Lives (OWL) program equips participants throughout the lifespan and in developmentally appropriate ways to understand sexuality and to engage in healthy, responsible decision-making. OWL is grounded in the values of self-worth, sexual health, responsibility, justice, and inclusivity. One of the reasons I converted to Unitarian Universalism, yes converted, meaning I embraced it as my religion and one of my identities, is because of my involvement in OWL as a facilitator for 8 years. I did not grow up in a sex-positive environment and belonging to a religion that promotes healthy sexuality, welcoming the whole self, helped me to heal and embrace the totality of who I am. I see no conflict between celebrating the right of a person who can get pregnant to choose if and when to give birth and celebrating the joy and sacred responsibility of childbirth. Our commitment to humanity as humanists, deists, Christians – indeed, all denominations – must include a commitment to providing for the coming generations while leaving choice in the hands of the future caregivers of those generations. Provisions for postnatal services, child care, affordable housing, a living wage, comprehensive and equal educational opportunities and other basic human needs – these merit passionate support alongside the issue of abortion rights. It is a “yes, and” situation! Justice work is multi-dimensional.
An extension of embracing the values of justice and inclusivity is recognizing that people who can get pregnant have a right to make choices about their pregnancies without decisions being made for them by the government. Choosing to become a parent and carry a pregnancy to term is a private decision. Although subjected to restrictions, Roe v. Wade supports autonomy for people who can get pregnant in the face of patriarchy, religious dogma, and political manipulation. Limiting their autonomy denies them the right to make decisions for themselves.
As I said earlier, abortion is a provocative, uncomfortable and sacred conversation. The purpose of this blog is to acknowledge that some of us are concerned about the increasing likelihood that people who can get pregnant will not have safe, accessible options to full-term pregnancies regardless of the circumstances. If you share this concern and would like to explore ways we can speak up for reproductive justice, please reach out to me.
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
Do you know how UU Asheville supports itself? We don’t charge for participating in our worship and programs, so where do we get money? I know you know the answer to this: people give us money. Sure we raise a little bit of money through rentals and interest, but the vast majority comes from you.
Do you know why we annoyingly ask you EVERY year to please consider increasing your commitment? I bet you know the answer to that one, too: prices rise (inflation). That doesn’t even take into account new ideas that might take more resources. Even in the best of low-inflation years costs go up 1 or 2 percent. That means at the very least our salaries go up (and don’t even get me started on health insurance costs). And salaries make up 60-65 percent of our budget.
As the most obvious example of rising costs, we pay our childcare workers (they are the only “minimum wage” workers we have) the Asheville Living Wage. Between 2019 and today, that hourly rate went from $13.00/hour to $17.70/hour (a whopping 36 percent increase over 3 years). Believe me that no other employee got anywhere near that size increase in that same period. But still, we do keep up with the cost-of-living increases published by the Social Security Administration and that still means our costs go up every year. For our 2022-23 budget, the cost-of-living increase that will impact salaries is 5.9 percent.
So far, this lovely congregation—YOU!—has managed to keep donations pretty steady so that we are not seeing any dramatic drop-off in giving. But we sure don’t expect that our giving will increase, either. But if our costs keep going up, even marginally, and our income does not go up, or worse goes down, then something’s gotta give. Due to the nature of our budget, what usually “gives” in that situation is employee hours.
UU Asheville’s 2021-22 budget splits out this way:
Personnel – 62%
Administrative costs – 27%
Program costs – 7%
UUA GIFT – 4%
Personnel costs can be decreased by reducing employee hours. This has most recently been done by letting employees go, but it can also be done by hoping an employee is willing to drop some duties in order to work fewer hours. Either way it results in staff doing fewer things than they do now.
Administrative costs cannot be decreased. These are the costs for insurance, computers, software (much software!), supplies, copier leases, cleaning, mowing/snowplowing, facility repairs, banking fees that we pay for the wonderful luxury of accepting payments other than checks, and fundraising costs.
Program costs include the costs for RE supplies, volunteer background checks, our amazing Coming of Age program, membership, worship (occasional guest worship leaders and supplies we need), music, justice ministry, and congregational events (don’t we all love Halloween treats, hot cocoa bars, flower communions, and more?) I frankly don’t have the heart to cut any of these costs, and since that little 7 percent is spread across all these items, it would take a lot of cutting to make an impact on the budget.
UUA GIFT is our donation to our denomination. Our Interim Lead Minister points out that ministers in search often look for congregations that provide the support that the UUA asks from each congregation. That would be 6.5 percent of our budget. Right now, we donate 4 percent ($31,600) so it’s unlikely this can go down. (Nicely understated, don’t you think?)
I know that the best fundraising happens when I can tell you all the wonderful things that this organization does to “change the world,” which includes directly impacting the lives of our congregants. That kind of messaging will happen when the annual budget drive starts. But I also think it’s important for you to know how the numbers will work.
The congregation is in no danger of going under because we have a decent amount of savings. Still, deficit spending is not a long-term solution. This interim period will be a good time to talk about the future of UU Asheville, including its long-term financial sustainability.
Linda Topp, Director of Administration
Thing 1 – Our New Board President
If you’ve read Ryan Williams’ blog from November, you already know that he has left the Board of Trustees and that we have a new president filling his vacancy; and you would also know that that new guy is…er…gulp…, me! While our Bylaws mandate that the Board pick its own officers each year, our Governance Document declares that the vice president automatically assumes the presidency when it is vacated. And I thought that I would just serve out the last year of my Board term as VP!
I’m a tad nervous about taking on this job, not so much because I don’t have the time or basic skills needed, but more so because, as a more recent member (I joined in late 2017), my knowledge of the people, culture, and history of UU Asheville is not as deep as I believe a good president should have. Of course, of my four-plus years here, having two of them in “pandemic mode” has not helped that situation at all. But I will also admit – and please excuse the chest-thumping here – that I have been a UU since age four, was a deeply-committed congregant at my previous church for more than 30 years, and served that congregation as Board president for five years, over two terms. This means that I’ve already made most of my “rookie mistakes” that a new guy might make, and I hope it indicates to you that I take this job very seriously.
But I need the help of the rest of the Board, the staff, and the congregation in general, to help fill in that missing knowledge about UU Asheville. So, I’m putting out a general plea for folks to give me a call or write me a note (my contact info is on Realm) and let me know how our Board can be more responsive to the needs and mission of this congregation. What are we doing right, what are we doing wrong? During the pandemic, this question takes on an expanded meaning because we are wrestling with how to be the church that folks need in the middle of a crisis that so significantly alters how we are used to being together. I would appreciate any input you feel like giving.
One last thing about the Board presidency: I want to publicly thank Ryan Williams for all he has done for the Board and for our church. He took on a hard job – one that was out of his comfort zone, at least initially – and gave it his all for 2½ years – this while handling the demands of a full-time teaching job during COVID and a young family. So, thanks, Ryan – enjoy your new life at UU Asheville!
Thing 2: Finding Our New Lead Minister
I just wanted to give you a heads-up regarding what I believe will be happening, largely from the Board perspective, over the next few months as we begin our search for a new lead minister.
Governance-wise, our Bylaws don’t say too much about how we find a new minister. In fact, here’s the whole of it: “In the case of a vacancy for Lead Minister the Board of Trustees shall initiate the search for a new minister and may appoint an Interim Minister as needed. The Board may be guided by the comprehensive selection process recommended by the UUA for Called Minister searches.”
So, the details of the selection process are formally left up to the Board. Thankfully, the UUA does indeed provide not only a time-tested selection process, but help from UUA staff trained in that process. While the Board does indeed have the freedom to define our own process, I can’t imagine that we won’t follow the UUA process closely. I believe we would be foolish not to.
We have already accomplished the first major step of that recommended process: we have concluded the previous ministry well (thank you, Rev. Mark) and we have hired a wonderful Interim Lead Minister to guide us through our transition (thank you, Rev. Cathy). We’re now ready for the second major step of the process, which in essence is “choose the search committee.” Again, the Board could just choose some folks on their own, but this is an area where the UUA has lots of experience and associated data on search committee selection processes and final outcomes.
The UUA-recommended process (which I believe we will follow) is a time-intensive one, with the following major steps:
- The Board and the Leadership Development Committee divide up all the households in the congregation and place a call to every single household, asking them for recommendations for Ministerial Search Committee (MSC) members. (The callers have a list of attributes that make for a good MSC candidate which they share with each household in the discussion.)
- One Board member, acting as the “data manager” collects and records all of the names suggested in these calls and the number of times each was mentioned. At the end of all the calling, the data manager reports to the entire Board the 12 to 14 names that were mentioned the most.
- Board members then call everyone on this short list, asking if they are interested in being an MSC candidate, if they agree to give up any other leadership position they hold if chosen for the MSC, and if they are available for all key portions of the rigorous schedule the MSC plans to maintain. The ones that answer in the affirmative to these questions become MSC candidates.
- At a congregational meeting (most likely our regular May/June annual meeting), we hold a vote to determine the congregation’s rank order of preference of these candidates. (Each candidate will have filled out a bio, written a “reason for running” and submitted a picture, all of which are published/posted in advance of the meeting so the congregation can familiarize themselves with the candidates.)
- The Board then meets in executive session to count ballots and determine MSC members. For a congregation of our size, seven is the recommended MSC size. The full seven can come from the seven getting the most votes in the election, but they don’t have to. The option exists for the Board to take the top n candidates (where n is less than 7) and appoint the remaining 7 – n from the remaining candidates. The reason for this is to balance and diversify the committee in terms of age, gender, race/ethnicity, or sexual orientation. The Board would also want to make sure the MSC has people that are tuned in to major aspects of church life, such as RE, worship, music, justice work, governance, etc.
- Finally, the Board announces the MSC members, never telling anyone – including the selected search committee members themselves – who was elected and who was appointed.
The MSC then gets to work. The UUA provides a well-defined set of tasks and milestones which will keep them busy right up until they present us with a candidate at the end of April 2023.
Don’t expect to receive a call asking about your suggestions for MSC members for a month or more; but do be thinking about who might represent UU Asheville well to our next minister. This is a really important step in the process.
Clyde Hardin, President, Board of Trustees
Intentionality is our Soul Matters theme for January. As we move into the second phase of our interim work together, I am struggling with the reality of our situation. It feels slower than usual because I came to you in the middle of an unprecedented lockdown due to COVID that made it much more difficult for me to foster relationships and build trust with you, but the truth is that we are right on schedule. The second phase of this interim time involves education and preparation as we move into the process for selecting a search team. The next few months will be exciting and very busy.
As I was sharing my thoughts with Les, he reminded me that we are all exhausted from the last two years and said, “Cathy, now is not the time for overachieving.” Wow, I thanked him because he is so right. We cannot accomplish our tasks by overachieving. We can, however, do what we need to do with intentionality. Soul Matters Director of Religious Education Katie Covey writes, “To set intentions, we must listen to our inner voice which tells us who we truly are.” It is essential for a congregation to determine who they are before choosing their new minister.
I know a little bit about the futility of overachieving. When I was in my twenties, a young single mother struggling to survive financially, emotionally, and physically, it seemed I couldn’t manage to be a wonderful mother, a good housekeeper, a great worker, and a good provider all at the same time. I felt like a failure which made me want to overachieve so people wouldn’t judge me harshly. One day, I looked around at my messy lived-in house and thought, “When I’m dead, I don’t want the only thing people can say about me is, ‘she kept a clean house.’” I knew then that “good housekeeper” would not be my highest goal.
My children are long grown, and those responsibilities are behind me, but it seems I developed a liking for chaos because I continue to overload my schedule. My father used to accuse me of being addicted to the adrenalin that accompanies stress. Could that be it?
When I was working on my Doctor of Ministry degree while serving a congregation full time, I was living in Michigan but had to travel to Meadville Lombard in Chicago twice a year for intensive classes. I remember one January when it was time for me to travel to Chicago for my DMin class on Evil, Trauma, and Ambiguity. I was completely overwhelmed and hopelessly behind in my preparation for the class. I knew that it was too much, but I desperately wanted to take this class and ignored my inner wisdom to pare down my schedule. Sure, my life was crammed full of wonderfully interesting events, but I literally couldn’t breathe. My counselor explained it this way, “Cathy, music is made up of notes and spaces. Without the spaces, the notes are simply noise.”
NOISE? My interesting, full, rich life is noise? I thought I was composing a work of art, a symphony. I thought that I was building a repertoire that would inform the rest of my life and give me the tools to be a better person, a better minister, and have a successful future. It was disheartening to think that my efforts, as sincere and dedicated as they were, would in the end be just noise.
Space. Between. The. Notes.
I had a good friend at the time and as I relaxed in his comfortable, minimalist home it occurred to me that a collection of colorful Fiestaware would look great on the space above his cabinets in the kitchen. When I suggested it to him, he sighed and said, “Cathy, you need to learn to appreciate the peace in open spaces.”
Space. I Googled, “space as peace.” The founder of a concept called “open space technology,” wrote, “Destructive conflict occurs when you run out of room — physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. And the answer would seem to be — open more space.” Obviously, this wasn’t a new concept to me because it instantly reminded me of a poem that I once used in a sermon to teach what I’d learned about the need for space. It has been said that ministers preach what we need to learn the most. Here’s that poem, and I hope it speaks to you in whatever you need to learn most.
FIRE by Judy Brown
What makes a fire burn
is the space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs packed in too tight
can squelch a fire,
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pan of water can.
So building a fire
requires tending in a special way,
attention to the wood
as well as to the spaces in between,
so the fire can catch, can grow, can breathe,
can build energy and warmth
which we need in order
to survive the cold.
We need to practice building open spaces
just as clearly as we learn
to pile on the logs.
It’s fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that makes fire possible,
let it develop in a way that’s possible
when we lay the logs in just the way
the fire wants to go.
Then we can watch as it leaps and plays.
burns down and then flames up in unexpected ways.
Then we need only lay a log on it from time to time.
then it has a life all of its own,
a beauty that emerges
not where the logs are but where spaces invite the flames
to burn, to form exquisite
patterns of their own,
their beauty possible
simply because the space is there,
an opening in which flame
that knows just how it wants
to burn can find its way.
Dear ones, now is not the time for overachieving, it is the time to practice self-care and be gentle with ourselves and one another. We cannot creatively face the future if we are exhausted. I hope you will join me in building the space that will sustain and create a path forward.
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister
This year again we approach the holidays with caution as the pandemic persists and COVID variants arise. Many have been vaccinated and boosted; some have not, for a variety of reasons. They too, have worth and dignity. We are still masking at UUAvl and figuring out how to gather safely. We continue to grieve COVID losses having surpassed 800,000 deaths in our country and countless more worldwide. We grieve for our planet and a nation whose leadership is unable to unite and pass a bill to alleviate the hardship this pandemic has caused to so many. We are tired and traumatized. In the words of Maya Angelou in her poem “Amazing Peace”
“Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.”
Take a moment to breathe and acknowledge your feelings, your bodily sensations as you think about this reality. And take another deep breath. Think of the moments of joy and delight you have also experienced this past year. What manifestations of beauty and compassion have made you smile? What friendships have sustained you? What have you done to bring joy or delight to another?
I have found delight in the continued engagement of our UUAvl community. Our buildings may have been closed but our congregation has always been open. You have participated as you are able given all the challenges of this past year. The Christmas Caroling and Cookie Exchange & Tree Decorating gatherings this month filled our campus with joy and connection. It was delightful and heartwarming to see many of you again. Our community remains vibrant. On-line or in-person, we continue to show up for each other. Programs for all ages continue to be offered, in person or on-line for you to participate as you are able. Committees continue to meet to do the work of the congregation. We have not been idle! Staff will be taking a much-deserved break after the Christmas Eve service. We will spend time with our families and friends and recharge our batteries. We hope this holiday season, whatever your practices, you have an opportunity to celebrate, rest and reflect as you prepare to welcome a new year.
May we observe the winter holidays in a way that resonates with our UU values.
May we act in the spirit of giving and generosity that permeates the season.
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
The November report by the Reopening Task Force is available on our website. Consequently, we have a few questions that have come to us regarding that report. Since others may be interested in the same things, here’s a follow-up for all.
Who is making our re-opening decisions?
Why the Reopening Task Force, of course (catchy name, right?). Their names lead the November report but to save you a click, here they are again: Kay Aler-Maida, Michael Beech, John Bloomer, Kim Collins, Amy Moore, Gina Phairas, Venny Zachritz and additional participants Rev. Cathy Harrington, Clyde Hardin, Iris Hardin, Adam Griffith. And as an FYI, although there was a request for volunteers for this Task Force in the Weekly eNews last spring, all of these people graciously said yes when recruited since no one volunteered themselves.
If you have questions or concerns about our reopening, please ask anyone on the Reopening Task Force, the Board, or any staff member (email addresses are on the website). If they don’t know an answer, they’ll find out and get back to you.
Are we following State, County, and City COVID protocols?
Definitely for Sunday services. Can’t do much more than require vaccines, wear masks, and pay attention to some distancing. We’re doing front-to-back distancing but not enforcing side-to-side distancing although 75 people in the Sanctuary seem to do it naturally. However, for smaller meetings at church we are not requiring masking, even though these would be indoors. Because Sandburg Hall is so big and gatherings of less than 15 have plenty of air volume and space to work in, we are allowing those groups to agree to the rules they want to follow as a group. That means they may choose, as a group, to not wear masks while in a meeting. We do trust that UUs understand their own risk tolerance as well as the power of covenants, consensus, and right relationships to make the right decision for the group.
Does the UUA issue re-opening guidelines? If so, are we following them?
Yes, they do. No, we don’t. Because we are very concerned that we are losing our sense of community with each other, and have some congregants who are extremely eager to worship in person, we have chosen to meet in person even though UUA guidelines would have us remain closed as long as Buncombe County infection rates are very high, which they currently are (and have been since early fall). We believe that people always live in a state of risk and know their own levels of risk-taking. They can choose to attend in person, watch the live stream synchronously or asynchronously, or do none of it. We are desperately trying to keep people engaged with the congregation in any way they feel comfortable.
Do we have a way of doing hybrid Zoom/in-person meetings in Sandburg Hall?
Mostly, yes. The same tech folks who are working hard to perfect our new A/V equipment will get that system up and running soon, with instructions for all. (In fact, we’ve already done that a couple of times so if you’re technically capable, you can do it yourself.) However, we cannot afford to pay tech people to work extra meetings so only people who are capable of setting up computers, a speaker, and latching onto Zoom will be able to run meetings that way.
When do we expect to be fully re-opened?
No idea. As long as there is a large pool of unvaccinated people somewhere on the planet, mutations will keep occurring.
Why does the report mention reopening with a maximum number of 50 people when, less than 1 month later, that number increased to 75?
Turns out that in July the Reopening Task Force produced a report that we did not release because Delta became rampant at that point. In that report, we had this to say:
Rather than use volunteer time to plan for a variety of scenarios “just in case,” the Task Force agrees that UUCA staff will be charged with adjusting these recommendations as things change. This might mean loosening recommendations, tightening masking requirements, or shutting down again. Just as we were in March 2020, we will be light on our feet and FLEXIBLE!!!!
That paragraph was accidentally omitted in the November version but still applies. When we saw the level of emptiness in the room with 50 people (several available rows were completely empty), we realized that we could still fit in 75 and have a safe environment.
With infection rates likely to rise as people choose to gather indoors together for the holidays, why DID staff decide to increase the number for indoor worship services?
On the first Sunday that we tried it, we took a look at the space that 50 people used in the Sanctuary and felt that spacing would still be adequate at 75. Aside from the fact that it is extremely likely that a larger percentage of congregants are triple-vaccinated than the general population in Buncombe County, we are also requiring vaccinations, masks, and front-to-back distancing. Further, since we know that people can certainly still be uncomfortable with that, our services are now always available online. (Closed link that everyone receives on Sunday mornings.)
Why does the report state under the heading “Masks” that “Masks will be required for now,” yet in the last paragraph of the report, it states “Groups below 15 may make their own rules for meeting (e.g., no masks while indoors).”
As noted, there are rules for large worship services and separate suggestions for meetings of 15 and under. For large meetings we feel that requiring masks is essential at this time, no matter vaccination status, although as the report notes we are also requiring vaccinations for all eligible participants. Should people be uncomfortable with any of the prevailing conditions, our services are now always available online. (Closed link that everyone receives on Sunday mornings.)
However, when it comes to smaller meetings, we believe that UUs understand covenants and right-relationships, so we ask that each group that meets arrives at a consensus set of rules for that group. We have small groups choosing to meet online, choosing to meet at church, choosing to meet in people’s homes, choosing to meet outside when weather permits. These are all determined by the groups themselves. Further, when people meet at the church, they are meeting in Sandburg Hall, which is a large space with enhanced air purifying equipment.
At this time, all Religious Exploration classes for children and youth are required to wear masks at all times while inside buildings, no matter the size of the group.
When will the Reopening Task Force meet again?
This group is convened when conditions change dramatically enough to warrant another group discussion (via Zoom). A meeting can be called by any member of the Task Force. What we’re seeing on Sunday mornings is that people are definitely making their own decisions about how and where they spend their time. For the two Sundays that we have had more open registration, Sunday #1 had a full 50 in attendance. Sunday #2, open to 75, had 38 in attendance. So far for this coming Sunday (Sunday #3) our registrations are still under 40 with 75 available.
Linda Topp, DIrector of Administration
I recently had the occasion to re-read the Ware Lecture by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered in 1966. The struggles Dr. King saw in liberal religious institutions are reflected in our congregation‘s current internal audit of our own white supremacist history and culture. As a society, all these many years later, we continue to struggle with the truth of the damage done to black and indigenous people, even as we are determined to put our congregation on solid footing as ally and accomplice. The lecture is as cogent today as when it was delivered. Especially so if we replace the word “segregation” with “white supremacist philosophy.”
Dr. King‘s lecture provokes us as practitioners of a liberal religious tradition to examine our commitment to the meaning and application of our calling to social justice. In many ways we are struggling to rise up from the past and to live to the standards Dr. King set for all of religion. UU Asheville is about to undergo a process of discovery that will illuminate for us how far we have come—and how far we have to go—toward equality, equity, and true fellowship. The process will help us define if we are sleeping through the current revolution or are accomplices in that revolution. Here are excerpts from that lecture that struck me as especially relevant to today’s world.
I’m sure that each of you has read that arresting little story from the pen of Washington Irving entitled Rip Van Winkle. One thing that we usually remember about the story of Rip Van Winkle is that he slept twenty years. But there is another point in that story which is almost always completely overlooked; it is the sign on the inn of the little town on the Hudson from which Rip went up into the mountains for his long sleep. When he went up, the sign had a picture of King George III of England. When he came down, the sign had a picture of George Washington, the first president of the United States. When Rip Van Winkle looked up at the picture of George Washington he was amazed, he was completely lost. He knew not who he was. This incident reveals to us that the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that he slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up in the mountains a revolution was taking place in the world that would alter the face of human history. Yet Rip knew nothing about it; he was asleep. One of the great misfortunes of history is that all too many individuals and institutions find themselves in a great period of change and yet fail to achieve the new attitudes and outlooks that the new situation demands.
There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution. And there can be no gainsaying of the fact that a social revolution is taking place in our world today. We see it in other nations in the demise of colonialism. We see it in our own nation, in the struggle against racial segregation and discrimination, and as we notice this struggle we are aware of the fact that a social revolution is taking place in our midst. Victor Hugo once said that there is nothing more powerful in all the world than an idea whose time has come. The idea whose time has come today is the idea of freedom and human dignity, and so all over the world we see something of a freedom explosion, and this reveals to us that we are in the midst of revolutionary times. An older order is passing away and a new order is coming into being.
Secondly, it is necessary for the church to reaffirm over and over again the essential immorality of racial segregation. Any church which affirms the morality of segregation is sleeping through the revolution. We must make it clear that segregation, whether it’s in the public schools, in housing, or in recreational facilities, or in the church itself, is morally wrong and sinful. It is not only sociologically untenable, or politically unsound, or merely economically unwise, it is morally wrong and sinful.
There are many insights in all of the major religious faiths which bring this out. Segregation is evil, to use the thinking of the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, because it substitutes an “I-It” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, segregation is wrong because it is based on human laws, which are out of harmony with the moral, the natural, the eternal laws of the universe. Paul Tillich, great Protestant theologian who died some months ago, said that sin is separation. What is segregation but an affirmation of man’s tragic estrangement, his terrible separation, his awful sinfulness? So, over and over again, we must make it clear that we are through with this unjust system now, henceforth, and forever more.
All I’m saying is this: that all life is interrelated, and somehow we are all tied together. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of all reality.
MIchael Beech, UUAsheville Board of Directors
Beyond the historical context of the holiday, the act of thanksgiving unlinked from false narratives is a practice that enriches our lives. Gratitude for the big things and the little things in life invites us to maintain perspective in the face of so much brokenness in the world. It is something we should do on a regular basis, not just on one day.
Nevertheless, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. There is no need to worry about gifts or decorations. For me, it is a time to gather with family (natural or chosen) and/or friends (a Friendsgiving). It is a time of re-connecting, sharing favorite recipes, relaxing together and for most, time off from work routines. I know that the political divide in our country has further complicated this holiday. That messiness is undeniable, but I believe we can still find ways to gather and be grateful with those we love.
During this time of COVID isolation followed by a slow return to in-person gatherings after vaccines were made available, many of us have thought deeply about what our priorities are, including relationships: which ones are life-giving? Which are toxic? How do we move forward with this awareness?
We have deeply missed being in community. Last year many Thanksgiving meals were shared outdoors with blankets and outdoor heaters. However we observe this holiday, it reminds us of the need for gratitude and a recognition of the true history of a holiday that is a Day of Mourning for Native People and their allies. Maybe it could be called a Family Day, as suggested by Zenobia Jeffries Warfield in her essay “Don’t Trash Thanksgiving. Decolonize It.” A Family Day with an expansive understanding of what family means to each of us.
As I prepare to welcome my older daughter and sister-in-law for Thanksgiving dinner, along with brief visits from neighbors and friends, I recognize I have a lot of gratitude in my heart. A few things that inspire gratitude today are:
- Knowing my family has been healthy during COVID and for over a year continues to have open Zoom room every Sunday evening for those who can gather;
- Engaging in ministry with you that continues to be fulfilling and challenging. It invites me to continually reflect on why UUism matters in the world today. Those of you who engage in the life of the congregation and are putting your faith in action through your work and volunteerism inspire me.
- Exploring the NC mountains that continue to offer solace and delight. Those of you who follow me on social media know they result in #gratitude posts of photos celebrating the beauty that I see around me.
As you gather with friends and family, I invite you to reflect on gratitude by exploring these questions offered by Diana Butler Bass in her essay, “The Turkey Hostage Situation.”
- To whom or what are you grateful?
- What challenges have you been grateful through?
- Have you been grateful with others?
- Where have you discovered gratitude within?
- Has something in your life been changed by being grateful?
- In what circumstances have you experienced thankfulness?
May gratitude be a regular practice in your life.
Rev. Claudia, Minister of Faith Development
Natalie Briscoe, the Lead of the UUA Southern Region’s Congregational Live staff team wrote those words. I wish I could take credit. Her entire article is so good I just have to share it. Here it is:
There are a couple of things that have been on my heart lately. I’ve been saying them to each of you in every phone call, every board retreat, every staff start up I’ve been doing, but I feel the need to say it broadly, to all of you. Here are the truths I wish to give you right now:
- This sucks. Flat-out. We are dealing with a situation we didn’t sign up for. We are forced to solve problems that no one prepared us for. We live in a constant state of unease and disruption. It’s terrible. The last time we felt optimistic about the possibility of gathering again, our hopes were dashed with rising rates. As cases are on the decline once again, it is very natural to feel apprehension. That is the trauma surfacing in our bodies, and it’s going to keep us on edge for a long while. I just want to take a moment to recognize how much it all just…sucks.
- There is nothing wrong with you. I know it feels like everything is wrong with you, but I assure you, it isn’t YOU who is wrong, it is the world. You are not fundamentally broken, and we are all stumbling our way through each day. Everyone is having a hard time right now, and no one is doing it better than you are. We need to stop behaving as if everything is normal and we should be able to go about our functioning as if everything is fine.
- Since there is nothing wrong with you, nothing will fix you. There is no workshop, training, or webinar that is going to take the anxiety out of your congregation. People are short, on edge, and easily hurt. I know that you want anything to take the pain away, but that is mere distraction. All feelings are for feeling, and right now, this is difficult. We will find our way through together.
- Don’t turn on each other, turn to each other. We’re all we’ve got. Give everyone else the grace you need. Everyone experiences hurt, but trauma is only caused when we experience hurt alone. The anxiety and unease we feel makes us short with one another, and we look to conflict to release the pressure that we feel. But if we resist this urge, we can lean into one another and become communities of support and resilience.
- You don’t have to do anything. Nothing is required. The ONLY thing we have to do right now is take care of one another, and the ONLY decisions we need to make deal with how we best do that. Our only obligation is to love one another. An easy escape from the pain we feel is to take on a bunch of projects and to attempt to plan a large slate of programming. You’ll soon find that you are halfway into the plan and cannot maintain it, which may cause your congregation to see itself as having failed, thus creating more overwhelm. You don’t have to do ANYTHING. You don’t have to worship, have RE, meet as a board, or ANYTHING.
- We love you, and we’re sorry. Your Southern Region Staff is here for you. We love each one of you, and we are in the mess with you. Please call us often. We are your partners.
Same goes for the staff here at UU Asheville. We love each one of you, and we are in the mess with you. Please stay in touch with us. We are part of your faith community.
Linda Topp, Director of Administration