UUCA Blog

Don’t Be Afraid of Change

“Don’t be afraid of some change, don’t be afraid of some change;
Today will be a joyful day, Enter, rejoice and come in.”

We sing this hymn on a regular basis – this is my favorite stanza.  Those in our congregation who have come to know me as a fairly extroverted blabbermouth will be shocked to learn that I was once a painfully shy nonentity who regarded change as anathema.  My father was a contract engineer in the aerospace industry in the 50s and 60s. Among other projects involved with rocketing folks into space, he worked on the Mercury program in Huntsville, AL, on the Redstone Arsenal with no less a personage than Wernher von Braun. I took dance lessons when I was five with his daughter Margrit.

All this “glory” was totally lost on me.  I attended four elementary schools, one junior high and two high schools. I did not enjoy being uprooted so often, and when I landed in my second high school, I chose to fold my social tents and abstain. Change had just gotten too hard for me to bear.  I attended my 10-year high school reunion in 1980 but still felt like such an unwanted fifth wheel in the tiny little town of Marion, VA that I have never gone back.

I married into a very loud family and had to get loud or die, which was very good for me!  
Thirty -five years later, I moved to western North Carolina soon after my husband’s unexpected death at the age of 58.  Now THAT was a change – and a painful one, but so much joy has come from it.  I would not be a member of this congregation, nor would I have even discovered Unitarian Universalism, in all likelihood, were I still living in Baton Rouge with my husband. I have an adult daughter and a granddaughter living with me now, and I have the great privilege of helping to rear four-year-old Allita, who would almost certainly not even exist if our family had not been convulsed with my husband’s death.

I no longer regard change as an unmitigated evil but as an opportunity and an entrance to something good just around the corner and out of sight. Even if it doesn’t feel good initially, change is essential to the progress of life, as anyone familiar with the theory of evolution well knows. 

Change drives discovery; discovery brings growth and, sometimes, I would say often, great joy and spiritual growth.  People, singly and in groups, need to fully embrace change when it comes, as it always does, even when change is initially upsetting and seems to be a cause for unmitigated grief. Change, approached constructively, can be used to discover new insights, new people and more joy.

Don’t be afraid of some change!

Judy Harper, Board of Trustees

 

 

A New Page for You, for Me

Change is the river we swim in, friends, and the change I want to talk about this month has to do with me. As I announced on Sunday, this current church year will be my last at UUCA. I will retire as your lead minister as of June 30, 2020.

It’s a big change for all of us. For me, it will end my tenure here and open a new chapter in my life; for you, it will be a moment of taking stock, then starting the exciting process of self-reflection and search for the next person to serve as your lead minister.

I am happy to say that there is nothing particular driving this decision. My health is good, and I enjoy the work with you. For those reasons, though, this is also a good time to leave. Moving into what for many is retirement age,  I find myself ready for a change, and you are a strong and vital congregation that has the resources and good leadership to get through a major transition like this and come out stronger.

Indeed, that is my hope for you. Change in leadership can be an occasion to challenge old assumptions or ways of doing things and open the door to newer, fresher ways living into the faith that you here embody. You are a happening congregation, and I feel certain that great things await you. I am making this announcement now, some 10 months before I actually leave, to give you the space to work through how you want this transition to go. I am already in conversation with the Board about how to structure that conversation. You will be hearing more from them soon about their plans.

What can you look forward to? I can tell you that people who work with churches recommend that congregations who are concluding a long-term ministry bring on an interim minister to work with them for one to two years. This gives the congregation time to get a strong sense of itself and gain clarity on the qualities of leadership they seek.

For many of you, I know, this process is new, but you have people in leadership and on staff who have been through ministerial transitions before and can help you navigate this. Also there are resources at the Unitarian Universalist Association to help coach you on this transition. In this next year, I promise to do what I can to help make this a successful transition.

In the midst of this, though, I have to own the sadness I feel to think about leaving this place. The nearly 16 years I have been here have changed me in the best possible ways. I love you, and I am so grateful for all that you have given me.

That said, you need to know that, while Debbie and I will remain in Asheville, once I leave in June you won’t be seeing me at church for at least a couple of years. It’s part of the commitment that we UU ministers ask of each other: to put distance between ourselves and the congregation we had been serving so that the congregation and the colleague who follows us can make their own covenants and find their own way together without our interference. Out of respect for you and whoever succeeds me I affirm that practice and consider it wise.

As for my own future, I am mulling lots of things. For a time, though, I plan to press the pause button and settle into this new life. But I know that there is too much in the world that calls to me to sit on the sidelines for long.

Meanwhile, we have a great year coming up, and I’m looking forward to my part in it. Please keep an eye out for our weekly enews and other announcements on what to expect. And do look for ways to dive in and take part. It is by participating that you get the greatest benefit of this community.

In peace,

Mark

 

Report From General Assembly

From June 19-23, I was a delegate from UUCA for the 2019 General Assembly (GA) in Spokane, WA.
What is General Assembly (GA)? GA is the annual gathering of UUs to deal with the business of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), worship together, and attend workshops. Worship was lively and multicultural including music such as “There is More Love (Somewhere)” and “Keep On Moving Forward.” The workshops ranged from those with broad appeal such as: “Strategies for Community Organizing,” “Faithing Family,” and “Achieving Our 6th Principle Goal of World Community” to specific “role-based programming” for specific positions in UU congregations (e.g., musicians, treasurers, religious educators). One of my favorite sessions was an interview with Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, where she examined “whiteness” and how it shapes interracial interactions.  See her work here.

One of the most beloved GA rituals, the “banner parade,” occurs at the Opening Ceremony. Each attending congregation marches into the convention hall with their unique congregational banner. It feels quite unusual and amazing to be surrounded by thousands of UUs. See the UUCA banner and our representatives from last year’s Banner Parade here.

I encourage you to watch the entire Sunday worship especially Reverend Marta Valentín’s powerful message about the need for full inclusion within Unitarian Universalism.

What is a delegate?

As a UUCA delegate you attend the General Sessions and vote your conscience on matters that affect the Unitarian Universalist Association.

What matters were voted on?

Every year “Actions of Immediate Witness” (AIWs) are selected by the body to “express the conscience of the delegates.” This year’s AIWs addressed: “Immigration and Asylum,” “Building the Movement for a Green New Deal,” and “Supporting Our First Amendment Right to Boycott” (related to Israel/Palestine).

Based on three years of congregational study, delegates also passed a Statement of Conscience titled “Our Democracy Uncorrupted.” While the statement passed by a large margin, there was a lively debate regarding the statement’s charge to “repeal the electoral college.”

Although UUs love to debate, a number of non-controversial issues quickly passed. There was a very close yet successful vote to make it more difficult to be a petition candidate for a UUA position (e.g. President). The most controversial thing that happened at GA was when a UU minister handed out a self-authored pamphlet that criticized, as overly “PC,” the UUA’s campaign to “dismantle white supremacy” within UUism. Read more here.

GA is a great way to meet UUs from around the country and to seek inspiration. If you are interested in being a delegate in the future speak to the Board of Trustees (and they might even help offset the cost of registration). Upcoming General Assemblies include Providence, RI (2020) and Milwaukee, WI (2021). Contact me, Mary Alm (“UUCA Queen of GA” [my term]), or Linda Topp for more info.

Brett Johnson

Coming of Age Youth Thanks UUCA

On behalf of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville and this year’s Coming of Age Class, I want to thank you for your generous contribution to our Coming of Age program’s trip to the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York.  Your contribution made possible a week-long learning adventure for nine teens and four chaperones.  Traveling in two vans, covering over 700 miles each way, there were visits to three different UU congregations, a tour of Cornell University and the Entomology Department, time for hiking and swimming and several days of service projects at the Farm Sanctuary.  

During the trip, the Coming of Age participants got to put their UU values into action.  They experienced each other’s support on the emotional ups and downs of a very active trip in close quarters, explored the interconnectedness of all beings, and gained insight into the food production system that feeds us.  They also experienced some added independence in being responsible for their daily budgets and schedules.

Here are some quotes from the COA teens:

“I became responsible with money and eating wisely on the COA trip.”

“This trip was such a unique experience.  I learned a lot of information at Farm Sanctuary that was heartbreaking but was really a wake-up call for how I can make a difference.  I am really grateful to the donors for making it possible for us to go on this exciting trip!”

“The trip was wonderful and the Farm Sanctuary was enlightening.”

“One of the best experiences of my life.  A true bonding trip. The animals were cute.  It made me think about becoming vegan.”

And from their chaperones:

“I am grateful to have been part of this trip. It was incredibly rewarding to get to know the teens a little better as they learn about their UU values and how to live them. “

“I volunteered to chaperone so I could get to know the CoA youth. I can report complete success on that front! I particularly enjoyed discussing current events, the Democratic debates, and a couple of philosophical conundrums that helped to pass time during the long drives. I’m curious to know if our visit to the Farm Sanctuary changed any attitudes towards their dietary choices. I look forward to exploring that and other topics with them during the coming year.”

“This trip was the culmination of a year-long experience in which participants explored their own understanding of spirituality, God, the inherent worth of each individual, and their interconnectedness to the world around them.  At the end of the year, the youth presented their credos to the congregation in a service that they planned and delivered.”

“I know that when I thought about my children coming to UUCA, I envisioned that my kids would have a community of peers, outside of school, that shared their values and were supportive.  This CoA group gave me faith that that is possible. Each of these students had different personalities and yet they have a strong bond and truly supported each other during the trip. Their connection was strong, but even got stronger through spending time together on the trip learning, working, having fun and exploring their UU identity.”

Again, thank you for your support and for making this invaluable experience possible.

Sincerely,
Tom Dessereau, on behalf of the parents of this Coming of Age class.

 

 

Has It Been A Year?!

If you have ever wondered what benefit we receive from our financial contribution to the UUA in Boston, this blog is for you! Last month three of the UUA Congregational Life Staff facilitated a workshop for UUCA staff, board members and lay leaders to reflect through candid conversation on the first year of my ministry with you. This gathering brought together approximately 25 individuals on a beautiful May weekend when many would have preferred to be enjoying time with their families. I am grateful for each one of them and their commitment to supporting my ministry with you.

Our gathering involved a lot of storytelling. The story of the position I hold, the story of policy governance at UUCA, the story of the journey that led me to you and the story of this past year. Last month, Mark’s blog described the story of my position. This month I will reflect on the time I have spent with you and the takeaways from this gathering.

However, I will begin with a brief summary of why I chose this position. When I read the job description I felt it was tailor-made for me. Faith development was my ministry as a seventeen-year religious educator and I had always dreamed of serving a large congregation with a thriving religious education program. Check. I also wondered what it would be like to serve a congregation that offered midweek worship, fellowship, and programs. UUCA has The Wednesday Thing. Check. I also wanted a position that would allow me to develop my pastoral care and worship skills. Check. I applied with excitement and apprehension…. and was offered the job!

During these ten months, my ministry with you has been rewarding and challenging. Just what I expected it to be in a position that is “experimental” because two positions, religious education director and minister, were combined into one. I have spent time getting to know the congregation and the systems at work within it. I have also worked with committed individuals who serve on the RE Council, Congregational Care Team, The Wednesday Thing Planning Team, and the Committee on the Ministry whose time and talents ensure that the ministry of Faith Development thrives at UUCA. I cannot do the work delineated in my job description alone. We share the ministry at UUCA. During one of my first sermons with you, I used this anonymous quote to describe my view of ministry.  It is worth repeating:

“Ministry is the act of ministering to. It is the way we are mindful and nurturing of each other. Ministry is not something only ordained ministers do. When we care with someone, when we stand with them through struggle, when we help them learn and grow, we are engaging in ministry. When we offer programs that engage the heart, the mind or the spirit we are engaging in ministry.”

Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas of challenge and improvement. Those surfaced during our conversations, as well as other important learnings. I have summarized them into five takeaways that I will continue to explore in the coming year.

  1. Covenant is central to our work together. We make agreements as staff or members of UUCA about how we are going to be with each other. My ministry relies on upholding the covenants made among staff, ministers and the congregation so that together we can fulfill the purpose of this church, which is ultimately to transform lives by connecting hearts, challenging minds, nurturing spirits and serving the community. With covenant also comes the reality of fallible humans breaking covenant. How do we re-covenant when we inevitably miss the mark? How many of us are familiar with our congregational covenants (Yes, there is more than one)?
  2. Communication is crucial to our work together. One of the challenges I have faced is the assumption that I am the director of religious education. While I supervise and provide leadership to our adult and children’s RE programs, I have other responsibilities which make it unrealistic for me to function in that capacity. I wonder how I can better communicate this to the congregation? Also, in providing leadership for The Wednesday Thing and Congregational Care, how do we effectively communicate what we are doing and what congregational support is needed?
  3. Recruiting individuals to support the ministries of UUCA is vital. Right now, RE is recruiting facilitators for next year’s RE program. Last year we had 75 individuals willing to serve as facilitators. (Thank you!!) It was affirming to honor them during the Teacher Dedication on the first day of RE. I am optimistic by the end of the summer our teaching teams will be complete. And yet, we have other areas of ministry that require individuals willing to serve, too. When volunteers are lacking, people are paid to do tasks such as preparing the coffee after Sunday service and cleaning up afterward, or weeding and raking leaves. However, that approach is not the best way to use our precious financial resources. How do we encourage greater service and participation? Are we trying to do too much?
  4. We are understaffed. OR Is there a body missing? When I started my ministry with you, our religious educators, Jen Johnson and Kim Collins, took on the role of DRE and had everything ready for the new RE year. I wish I could say I came in and took back many of those roles. But the reality is that my other job responsibilities have made that difficult. Their job descriptions say they are coordinators, but they do more than that. We are spread thin and can’t do it all. Our children and youth programs are rich and diverse. What do we let go of?  What can we let die so something else can be born? How can we work realistic hours and provide the excellence in religious education that the congregation expects? Is there a body missing?
  5. Policy governance is an imperfect model, as are all governance models. My understanding is that it delegates authority with accountability within the parameters of the mission and vision of UUCA. However, during the gathering it became apparent that there was a disconnect between the board and the ministry of faith development. It led to the question: Where does the vision for Faith Development reside? If the work of the church is transformation as participants develop a UU identity, deepen their spirituality, and put their faith into action, what is the board’s role in strategizing how this will happen? How do they stay connected with the ministry of Faith Development while avoiding micromanaging staff and programs?

These are my takeaways and the questions that arose during our time together. What is missing is that as a result of my conversations with Mark about my work so far, we decided to switch portfolios. He will lead pastoral care and I will lead social justice. That is part of the “experimental” nature of the position I described earlier. That is content for a future blog.

It is done. I have shared my learnings and assure you that I continue to be excited about my work with you. I am committed to continue to collaboratively work with staff, lay leadership, Mark and you, the congregation, to explore answers to these questions. I welcome and encourage your feedback and thoughts as I continue this sacred work of ministry into a promising, exciting second year.

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

There’s No Going Back, and Here’s Why

One of the things that church staff members do is spend way more time than you do reading, learning, thinking, and talking about churches.  Right now, I am precisely 31 pages into a very thoughtful book about churches called Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World by long-time church consultant, Gil Rendle.  At the start he is describing the scene that underlies the many changes (it didn’t used to be this way) that churches are struggling to find “answers” for, including decreasing membership, decreasing income, and decreasing volunteer time. Here are some quotes from the book that I just can’t keep to myself.

…we need to understand that the losses we have incurred and the challenges that we face are shared by other membership-based organizations that have had similar experiences of loss and aging since the 1960s.  The story of loss and age can also be told by organizations and activities from Kiwanis, Rotary, Masons, Elks, Eastern Star, bowling teams, and bridge parties. (p.22)

Rendle claims that the period of growth that all these organizations experienced during the first two-thirds of the twentieth century was an “aberrant time.”  He references work by Yuval Levin (The Fractured Republic, 2016):

    [Yuval] describes the first half of the twentieth century as an age of growing consolidation and cohesion.  It was a time of massive growth of economic industrialization and centralization of government.  A fifteen-year period of challenge and sacrifice through the Great Depression and World War II bonded the American people into a cohesive force built on a consensual national and global agenda.  It was a time in which people “agreed to agree” and sublimated their differences in order to work together on a great common agenda.  It was particularly in this time of consensus and cohesion that the American culture pushed people toward membership in congregations and a legion of other membership organizations.  The United States exited World War II as the only global economy not devastated by the war; and for a period it held its remarkable position of producing a full half of all global manufacturing and production.  We were a unified people with resources at hand.  The widely shared story among many organizations was strength and growth.

            Levin then goes on to describe the second half of the twentieth century as an age of growing deconsolidation and decentralization in which our economy diversified and deregulated in energizing ways.  This second half of the century produced a sustained pushback against the uniformity and cohesion that marked the first half….  An upsurge of individualism and the need for personal identity began to rise, supported by newfound interests in psychology and tied to the economy through advertising and technology.  It was an energizing and vibrant age as people and institutions rode a heady wave of progressivism.

            Levin captures the aberrant moment, saying, “Keeping one foot in each of these two distinguishable eras, midcentury America combined cohesion and dynamism to an exceptional degree.”  It was in this mid-twentieth-century time that the mainline church, like so many other institutions and organizations, aggressively pursued growth, bureaucratic structure and strength, and resource and property development.  We became large, strong, and institutional in a cultural moment that favored large, strong, and institutional.

            The age of large and consolidated strength, however, has waned, and “micropowers,” decentralized organizations, and small expressions of community are now taking the global stage.  Ours is not a turnaround situation in which we can recapture the size and strength of a large institutional system once sustained and nourished by a culturally aberrant time….  We are now living in this current aftermath that is defined by micropowers and small communities but are still dependent on our memories of size and strength and still constrained by the polity, policies, and practices once effective in large institutions. (pp.23-24)

So, things have got to change, right?  There really is no long-term way to keep things going the way they always have with reduced resources. But what should change?  I know that no one has figured out any definitive solution to this adaptive problem, but we’re adrift in this boat with LOTS of other folks.  Watch this blog for further Rendle updates!

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

 

Both yin AND yang

Lately I have found myself saying to myself and others “Be the change you want to see in the world.“  I believe it to be a great and eloquent quote. However, I believe it can be overdone.  Go, go, go. Do, do, do. There is so much to do and so much to improve.

How do we allow ourselves to be satisfied while also pushing for betterment and change?  Ultimately, how do we stay engaged in a world filled with so much pain, frustration, and unfairness while still allowing ourselves to be silly, joyful, and grateful?

There is a picture of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X during their only meeting.  It is impressive to me that they are laughing.  One might assume that those two people with so many heavy issues on their minds during their only meeting might have had a conversation that was only serious.  It is a testament to their wisdom and effectiveness that they were able to laugh during such fraught times.

It is not selfish to take care of yourself. It is not excusing the negative behavior to acknowledge the positive actions of a person who does a lot of harmful things.  It does not mean you cannot take things seriously if you can also laugh during trying times.

You may have picked up that I am someone who sees a lot of gray area in life.  While that is indeed true, I really also appreciate the nonverbal simplicity of the Yin – Yang symbol.  It shows us that rather than judging things and people on a linear continuum of polar opposites, life and people are more like a swirling mix of things that defy absolutes. 

So regarding my question of:
How do we stay engaged in a world filled with so much pain, frustration, and unfairness while still being silly, joyful, and grateful?

My answer is:
We can stay engaged in a world filled with pain, frustration, and unfairness BY still being silly, joyful, and grateful.

Buck Schall, Board of Trustees

A Story of Beginnings

It is such a gift to be doing this work of ministry in collaboration with a colleague. I know because in my time here it wasn’t always so. When I arrived at UUCA in the summer of 2004, I was the sole minister to handle all the work of this congregation. I did my best to get by, but it quickly became clear that I needed help. At a recent Start-Up Workshop for our Minister of Faith Development Rev. Claudia Jiménez facilitated of staff by the UUA Southern Region, I told the story of how the position of a second minister at UUCA evolved, and now I want to share it with the rest of you.

It began in the summer of 2006 when I got in touch with the Rev. Sarah York, who was finishing up an interim ministry at the Eno River UU Fellowship in Durham, NC. I asked her if she would be willing to serve during the next year as a part-time consultant to help me organize our pastoral care program. Sarah was a great candidate since she knew the congregation – she had been a member before entering the ministry and was planning to move back to a home she still owned in Asheville – and she was accomplished in the area of pastoral care.

It was a such a great year that at the end I asked her to stay on in a one-third-time staff position as Assistant Minister for Pastoral Care. She would manage our Pastoral Visitors, staff a newly formed Congregational Care Council, and preach once a quarter.

In the fall of 2010, Sarah told me that at the end of that church year she intended to retire from ministry. So, I met with the board to talk over how we would handle that opening. I reported at the time that we had more than enough work for a full-time second minister, but we couldn’t support one in the budget.

Board President Kay Aler-Maida said this seemed like a moment to invest in our staff. We had only recently received a sizeable bequest from the estate of UUCA member Marian Elmslie, and Kay proposed that we use part of that bequest to supplement our budget for up to five years until our pledge base grew enough to fully pay for the position. It seemed like a reasonable bet because in recent years our pledge base had been growing steadily.

So, the Board convened a Town Hall meeting where we asked for feedback on what the focus of this second minister should be. As a result of that meeting, we decided to focus the position on pastoral care, social justice, preaching once a month, and what we called “shared ministry,” which included supervising small groups and our membership program.

A search committee was appointed and in the spring of 2011 we hired the Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper as Assistant Minister, leaving open the possibility that she could later ask the congregation to formally call her to an upgraded position of Associate Minister. Lisa did terrific work for the congregation, and in 2014 was formally called as Associate Minister.

Meanwhile though, the bet we made to fully support the second position by the pledge base didn’t pan out. Whether it was the result of the recession or other factors, contributions leveled off. We did our best to cut costs – a portion of money we set aside to last us 5 years in fact lasted almost 10. We will finally exhaust that fund in the coming year’s budget. But meanwhile, some staff positions were eliminated (membership coordinator, communications specialist), program expenses were held to a minimum, salaries for exempt staff were frozen and money for professional expenses was trimmed year after year.

It became clear that we couldn’t sustain all the staff that we had. So, I began to explore options. As it happens, about the same time as this, our then-Director of Religious Education Joy Berry announced that she would leave. We investigated finding an interim, but in the end Director of Administration Linda Topp said that with the help of RE Coordinators Kim Collins and Jen Johnson she could manage the congregation’s RE program for the next year. Linda had prior experience as a DRE and had reduced her own work time from 40 to 30 hours a week to save money. So, she had room in her schedule to take on the RE duties.

After discussions with colleagues I learned that some congregations had created ministerial positions that combined supervision of religious education with other ministry duties. So, I proposed to the board that this was a way we could solve our budget needs: find a minister who could combine supervision of children’s, youth and adult RE with pastoral care, supervision of small group ministry and the Wednesday Thing and preaching once a month. I suggested the title of Minister of Faith Development.

Rev. Lisa was clear that she was not interested in this position, but also she was ready to seek out a church where she could serve as lead minister. So, while Rev. Lisa entered search, we did, too.  A search committee interviewed a number of candidates, and in April 2018 recommended Rev. Claudia for the job. Meanwhile, Lisa found a position as minister of the Greenville, SC Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

It’s been a great first year. Rev. Claudia has more than exceeded our hopes and expectations. But during this year she and I have also remained in conversation about how well this combination of duties worked in general and how well it worked for her. From early in her time here, she found herself increasingly drawn to social justice. And the more we talked about our hopes for adult faith development here the clearer it became that it often dove-tailed into justice work.

So, we have decided that in the coming year she and I will shift our portfolios a bit: Rev. Claudia will take over leadership of social justice, and to give her room to do that, I will take over leadership of our pastoral care program. We will spend the summer figuring out how to accomplish this shift, but I think you will find it a positive change that will serve our hopes for this congregation.

 

I Didn’t Even Know That Was Going On

THIS is the bane of every organization in America–heck probably the world.  How do we get our congregants, customers, clients, constituents, stakeholders, etc. to pay attention to US?  I was just in a meeting this week and the otherwise helpful, lovely folks there mentioned more than once that if only we did a better job of communicating about events, more people would attend.
That sounds right, doesn’t it?  And so we publish three (3!) weekly e-newsletters (worship, TLC and upcoming events), we repeat the upcoming events in an insert on Sundays, we post items to our Facebook groups, we hang posters, we print additional inserts, and we interrupt worship services with special announcements.  And still, no one knows what’s going on.
Because one of my roles on the staff is to oversee communications, I think about this a lot.  There is, of course, no answer as the phenomenon afflicts all sorts of organizations, including all churches.  And the more things that go on in a church the worse the problem gets.
Last year we upgraded our calendar so more information is available on it with a click on the event title.  The events are also sortable by subject.  We’re about to update our website (where there is a LOT of information that no one knows is there–sigh…..) and create a smartphone app that will also help us highlight events.
But like I said, I’ve been thinking about this and I’m not at all sure the original premise is accurate.  I don’t think it’s necessarily true that if we did a better job of communicating about events, more people would attend.  (Ignore the fact that I cannot think of how to do the job “better.”)  People make decisions to attend events for untold number of reasons, and although it’s true that you’d have to KNOW about something to choose it, “knowing” is necessary but not sufficient.  There’s interest, desire, time availability, health, and an entire flock of things that make people choose NOT to attend. Turns out “no” is much easier than “yes.”
So, two things: 1) If you have any ideas on how to communicate “better,” let me know (it cannot involve much staff time) and 2) Whenever you see an event that interests you, whether or not you are personally choosing to go, let your friends know about it.  YOU are a reader (because here you are) and your friends may not be!

Wow!

That was my response when I heard how many volunteers were participating in the Religious Education (RE) teacher dedication ceremony at UUCA during one of my first worship services last year. Over seventy-five individuals volunteered to support the faith development of our children. Wow! I have been serving as Minister of Faith Development for almost a year and am grateful to know that children and youth programs are so important to UUCA. As the year draws to a close and Summer Magic Sundays begin (Yay, Hogwarts!) we continue our efforts to recruit volunteers for next RE year. I invite you to consider joining one of our teaching teams. What? You have questions about what that means? Read on….

Questions, Myths and Facts about Volunteering in Religious Education at UUCA
Compiled by Jen Johnson and Kim Collins

Question: How will I know what to do?

Fact:  You are provided a scripted curriculum (for most classes), plus other ideas, tools, and support from the RE staff and your team.

“Thank you for making my first teaching experience such a positive one. You made it so easy. The resources you provided for activities and discussion questions were simple, creative and fun – it was hard to choose just one. At first I was a bit apprehensive about volunteering. I don’t have any teaching experience and I wouldn’t call myself artistic, but I’m so glad I did. Listening to the RE stories and watching the children engage with the lessons has deepened my own understanding of our heritage. It was a gift to be able to explore our UU principles through the eyes of our kids. Thank you for the opportunity.”
                                                                                                   — Gina Phairas

Myth: I don’t need to volunteer in RE because that’s a job for the parents.

Fact: We need all sorts of people of all ages and all life experiences to volunteer in RE. In order to become a truly multigenerational congregation, we must get to know each other and develop relationships across all ages. We take care of each other better when we have deep connections with each other.

“For my children, the adults who teach them are the adults they know. I am happy that my children get to form relationships with a variety of adults in this intergenerational community- not only with the parents of their peers, but with the elders in our community as well. In today’s world, you cannot have enough adult mentors in your corner!”
                                                                                                  — Melissa Murphy

Myth: Volunteering in RE is just busy work or babysitting and isn’t spiritually fulfilling for me at all.

Fact: Many of our volunteers report that serving in Religious Education is extremely spiritually fulfilling. Our volunteers also learn a lot from both the curriculum and our kids.

“…Because it is what we do in RE, I end up taking a deeper look at myself and my own beliefs and discussing meaningful ideas with adults and youth than I would otherwise.  And the kids themselves have literally taught me things that have changed the way I live my life.  I’d be a poorer soul for having missed all those experiences!”
                                                                                            – Coming of Age teacher

Myth: If I volunteer for RE, I will never get to go to the service.

Fact: You will still be able to attend services! Most of our volunteer positions have a commitment of serving in RE 1-2 times per month in rotation with your teaching team. Some folks even come for the early service on days they are volunteering at 11:15, or vice versa.

Myth: Sometimes attendance is inconsistent, and I would be wasting my time teaching just 3-4 kids on a given Sunday.

Fact: Time that kids spend with adults in an RE setting is valuable for those kids. Think of the impact you can have with a small class!

“Religious Education is a ministry of loving children and youth.  The curricula are clear and easy to follow.  You as a teacher may learn a great deal about UU history and beliefs.  You will certainly have fun with our children who are without a doubt “above average.”  The greatest qualification you need is to be able to love.  These bright young people may not remember all of our excellent lessons about what our great historical UU’s have done or when we merged from two religious branches or the teaching from other world religions.  They will always remember that here in our UU faith they were loved, they were appreciated for the unique individual that they are and the incredible potential that they bring to this world.  We are growing UUs in the love of this community.  There is no better feeling for me than to come on Sunday and love these students.  Just like a hug, we both benefit.”                                                                   — Long-time RE teacher

Question: So I have to love being with children if I volunteer in RE, right?

Fact: We have several volunteer positions available that allow you to serve without interacting with children or even having to be present in RE on Sundays. You know those awesome activity packs and coloring materials we have available for all ages Sundays in the Sanctuary? Someone has to replenish those, which can be done on your own time.  Same for organizing rooms and closets!

“Our youth need a religious foundation so that they can explore their own beliefs.  RE curricula provide that foundation. Learning about our UU tradition, our UU principles, and other religious traditions helps lay this foundation, helps foster respect and understanding for others in our community and our world, and helps create the responsibility we have to making our world a better place.  What is more important than that?”
                                                                                  – RE Parent and Teacher

Contact Kim at LREC@UUasheville.org or Jen at LREasst@UUasheville.org with questions or interest. We look forward to having you be part of our team.

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Being Open and Inclusive Means Being Thoughtful

UU churches are a place of diversity (which we already know) and a church that is visited by folks that are either disillusioned by their previous religious background or un-churched. We often have newcomers coming to us in search of “something different.” And the “something different” definition can be an entirely different thing for each and every one of us. So how do we meet and greet newcomers in a sensitive and inclusive manner?

I recently attended a UUAMP (UU Association for Membership Professionals) conference where we spent a great deal of time discussing hospitality and how to meet and greet our newcomers when they stop in for a look-see. By practicing hospitality we are modeling our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of each person. When we pre-judge a newcomer by our standards we miss out on the richness and depth of the individual. So let me share some ways to meet and greet our newcomers when they have opened themselves up to us.

Say this “Hi. I don’t think I’ve met you. My name is ….”

Instead of “Hi! You must be new.”

Say this “Is there any kind of group I can connect you to? We have a huge variety.”

Instead of “Come meet our other transgender (or LGBTQ+, black, German, young adult, etc.) person!”

Say this “What lovely children. Let me introduce you to our RE staff.”

Instead of “Your children don’t look like you – are they adopted or foster children? We have several parents in the same boat.”

Some other tips on welcoming would include being an intentional listener. By intentionally listening we can enjoy the gifts our newcomers bring to us. Be sure to greet everyone that comes through our doors, not just the new people. Ask open-ended questions and respect people for choosing not to answer. Refrain from asking personal questions, including theology. People will share when they are ready. Or start a conversation from a shared experience like the morning’s service. Remember that our newcomers made an intentional decision to come and visit our “home,” let’s be sure to welcome them in an open and inclusive manner.

Brave Wings

Somehow, it’s May already. The beautiful weather, bursting flower blossoms, and baby bird chirps make this month—in my opinion—the springiest of Spring months.

 Recently, I’ve started consciously tuning into the energy of the seasons. All of us do this to some extent, whether we think about it or not. Have you ever felt the urge to spring clean or perhaps begin a new springtime project that you didn’t have the energy for previously? Those activities reflect nature’s rhythm of awakening. In spring, we’re coming out of winter sleepiness; our energy levels are usually higher; we have the urge to create, to tidy, to make new.

This is all well and good, but in the context of UUism, I think spring can give us energy (and bravery) to do a bit more. May’s theme is Curiosity, and UU minister Victoria Safford explores it in terms of perception. She says:

“To see, simply to look and to see, is an ethical act and intentional choice; to see, with open eyes, is a spiritual practice and thus a risk, for it can open you to ways of knowing the world and loving it that will lead to inevitable consequences.  The awakened eye is a conscious eye, a willful eye, and brave, because to see things as they are, each in its own truth, will make you very vulnerable.”

To say there is a lot going on in the world is a laughable understatement. And it is easy—too easy, sometimes—to look away and think: that doesn’t affect me personally; I don’t have time for that; or there’s nothing anyone can do.

Similarly, there’s a lot going on in each of us personally, and sometimes it can be easier to ignore sources of discomfort instead of facing them head on and challenging them. 

One of my favorite quotes hangs on my office wall. Below a butterfly, it reads, “put on your brave girl wings.” I rely on this concept often, from writing to parenting to dealing with irksome, unexpected, everyday situations. But it seems apropos of Spring’s energy, too. Sure we can use forces of rebirth and renewal to tidy our homes and workspaces. But might we also pull some of its strength to give us courage to see the world, to really see it, in Safford’s use of the term? What kinds of things might we discover? What might we do about them?

This month, I wish you all the wonderfulness and joy that Spring has to offer. And I invite you to pull on your own brave wings, and in doing so, to help others slip into their own. After all, bravery, much like fear, is contagious.  

Norah Shalaway Carpenter, Board of Trustees

 

 

Planting the Garden

It was love at first sight and probably not the wisest move. But I went for it anyway. A couple of weeks ago at the North Asheville tailgate market I spotted the most alluring heirloom tomato and basil plants. “No, no!” my sensible inner gardener shouted at me. “Too early!” But did I listen? Well, no. I bought them anyway, even knowing how often the freakish weather of these mountains breaks the hearts of intrepid gardeners.

I planted them in porch pots with casters on them so I could roll them in and out of our screened porch several chilly evenings last week. But they’re out there in the weather now, and I hope they make it. In fact, last week I even doubled down and bought kale and squash seedlings for my raised bed in the garden.

Each spring it’s the same: my hands itch to get back in the dirt. Though, I don’t think I’ve ever planted quite so early before. But I realize it’s not just my longing for the soil that’s working on me. Spring temperatures these days are warmer than they’ve been in the past, part of the overall warming trend that we’re seeing across the globe.

It’s a troubling trend. Several weeks ago in worship I described how science is showing that warming from human-induced carbon dioxide is accelerating, with fearful potential consequences for all life. The issue is, though, that the problem is so big that it’s hard to imagine what we might do to combat it.

The short answer, I said, is that it will take many things, among them big initiatives like reducing the use of coal and increasing the use of renewable energy. But there are also small things available to individuals that can make a difference. And here’s where gardeners can make a difference.

Plants of all kinds pull carbon dioxide out of the air. Trees are especially good at this, and we as a congregation have been doing our part in recent years. About five years ago as part of the Welcome Project remodeling of our campus, we undertook a major effort to plant our campus more responsibly. We replaced areas of lawn with two rain gardens – one in front of the main building on Edwin Place, the other behind 21 Edwin – and we planted many trees and shrubs, all of them native to this region. The mini-meadow beside the entry way from the parking lot and the pollinator plants that I introduced you to on Sunday are all part of that continuing effort. Hardy indigenous plants last better than exotics, and they provide good pollen and food sources for birds, butterflies and bees.

And the gardens in our playground and the blueberry bushes beside it also remind us of the pleasures and convenience of growing some of our own food. Meanwhile, local tailgate and farmer’s markets offer places where we can support local growers and reduce demand for food shipped over long distances.

Bit by bit, we can each be players in the campaign to preserve this beautiful garden Earth that is our home.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead  Minister

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faith Development Update

Spring is here and I am so grateful to be in Asheville. It has been awesome to witness the vibrant colors and hues of green of the plants and trees in our neighborhood and lining the roads I drive to get to UUCA each morning.  Spring also means our programs begin to wind down as we celebrate transitions (check out the calendar below) and launch our summer program:

Summer Magic – Hogwarts Summer Sunday School

June 9-July 11, 2019

Explore the 7 principles of Unitarian Universalism through the lens of the Harry Potter Universe. Leaders and assistants still need! Contact Kim Collins if you can help out lrec@uuasheville.org

We also begin preparations for the 2019-2020 Faith Development programs for children and youth. That means it is recruitment time! Our program is a cooperative program relying on parents and non-parents alike to nurture and accompany our children and youth as they explore spirituality while developing their UU identity. On Sunday, April 28 and each Sunday in May we invite volunteers to sign up in Sandburg Hall to join a teaching team, mentor or support the program in other roles (visit our table for details). This is an opportunity for faith development for the adults as well as a way of building inter-generational community. We have integrated numerous social justice activities for different class levels and the whole congregation.  We welcome those of you engaged in social justice to share your passion with our youth. It takes the whole community to nurture future UU adults. As one of our volunteers wrote:
           

“Teaching our youth draws me into the life of UUCA in a way that nothing else does. It reminds me of what it is like to be a kid—both remembering my own experiences and seeing the new experiences of kids today.  I marvel at the strengths of my fellow teachers, and the special fellowship that occurs among us.  Because it is what we do in our program, I end up taking a deeper look at myself and my beliefs, and discussing meaningful ideas with adults and youth… And the kids themselves have literally taught me things that have changed the way I live my life.  I’d be a poorer soul for having missed all those experiences!” 

– Coming of Age Teacher

           You Are Invited…

May 5 Coming of Age Credo Service. Led by our youth featuring their “credos” or statements of belief.  One of my favorite services!
May 15 Wednesday Thing Parent Support Group, 7PM; Facilitator: Jill Preyer
May 19 Senior Bridging Ceremony during Time for All Ages. An opportunity to recognize an important life transition for this year’s high school graduates.
May 21 Workshop: Racial Equity Engagement and Language- advocate Marta Alcalá Williams will discuss asset-based community development and language to equip participants to engage diverse communities with respect for the assets and ideas as they support and partner to reduce inequity. Details forthcoming.
November 2 Workshop: Mental Health First Aid. Sponsored by the Pastoral Care Team. Training to help participants identify, understand and respond to signs of addiction and mental illness. Contact Rev. Claudia for details faithdev@uuasheville.org

 

 

 

2019-20 Budget Hearing Coming Up on May 5 (following the second service)

Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z….NO!  No snoring!  This is NOT going to be a boring presentation.  There will be slides with cute cartoons! There will be interesting information! Well, yeah, there will be numbers, too, but you’ll actually learn stuff about this congregation.

See?

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Follow the money?” Turns out that people in the know have figured out that if they understand how an organization gets and spends money, they understand quite a bit about that organization.  That’s the reason there are people who WANT to be part of the Finance Advisory Committee.

But I digress….. 

At the budget hearing you will be privileged to receive the detailed budget of the congregation.  A one-page summary budget with notes is distributed for the annual meeting, but budget-hearing attendees get “the big one!”  I’ll go over the details of our income projections and expense expectations, and then I’ll give you a little more information on what we’re planning to do with the money we will be receiving from the UUA Legacy Challenge program (Wake Now My Vision) that our Legacy Circle Committee was so successful at executing (yay team!!).  The entire meeting takes less than an hour (I think I remember that correctly) so you might want to make sure you have a snack so you can last until 1:30. 

I admit that there are no surprises in this budget, but still, it would sure be nice to see you there.  We usually have 40-50 attendees, but that’s just 10% of our membership.  How about if we try for 25%?  See you there!?!

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

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