UU Asheville Weekly Message

Our Invitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

———

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

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

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

What Can We Do? 

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

Basic Script:

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

Abortion Clinics in North Carolina 

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

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

Brittany Crawford, Director of Administration

 

A Growth Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do not be alone right now. Gather together.

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

“Love boldly and always speak the truth”

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

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

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

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

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

Doing Church

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

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

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

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

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

Clyde Hardin, President, Uu Asheville Board of Trustees

Blessing the World

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

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

How can we transform violence?

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

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

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

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

In faith,
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

Not Again

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

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

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

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

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

Work on the Vision

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

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

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

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

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

Or two descriptions from the handy internet of ideas:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

UU Asheville + BeLoved Asheville = Making a Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading,
Margaret McAlister, Board Member

Welcome, Brittany Crawford!

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

 

Hello, fellow Unitarian Universalists at UU Asheville!

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

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

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

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

In faith,
Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

 

 

Celebremos!

rev Claudia JiménezThis Sunday is Celebration Sunday at UU Asheville, an opportunity to reflect on abundance–the generosity of time, talent, presence and resources in our faith community. I won’t be joining you because I will be supporting the planning for the May 15 Coming of Age youth service, one of the most meaningful, moving services of the year and one you really don’t want to miss! The commitment to supporting our youth on their spiritual journey is one of the many gifts this congregation offers our faith community. This year ten mentors, four facilitators and our Religious Educator Jen Johnson, with the support of the youths’ families, have provided a meaningful experience of reflection, community building, and spiritual deepening for our youth. Celebremos!

Last night I led the final Vespers and Program for this year focusing on Beauty, Justice, and Eco-theology. Wednesday Vespers will resume in September. We gathered online to reflect, listen to music, share joys and sorrows, build community, and explore our relationship with the Earth. This was just one of our many Wednesday gatherings offered online for the past two years and led by creative, committed volunteers. This wouldn’t happen without your support and participation. Celebremos!

I could go on and on sharing my appreciation for all that is happening at UU Asheville despite the trauma and losses of the pandemic. In October of last year, Adam Griffith invited staff to document all who serve in leadership roles on boards, committees, and taskforces. We documented over 80 people, and that list doesn’t include the over 50 people who support the BeLoved pantry, more than 30 who are part of the Circle of Welcome for an Afghan family as well as all the volunteers for Religious Exploration, participants in Soul Matters Groups, Wednesday program facilitators and so forth. You get the idea! There is mucho que celebrar!

 I see my role as Minister of Faith Development to serve as a catalyst to invite you to explore theology, spiritual practices, and community as you discern how to use your gifts, presence, and resources to put your UU faith in action. Many of you are doing that, and for that I say Celebremos!

A more personal celebración this month was a trip to Long Beach, California to attend the Finding Our Way Home retreat for religious professionals of the Global Majority sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association. That is one of many activities the UUA organizes and finances to support congregations and religious professionals. I gathered with colleagues from all over the country: ministers, religious educators, music directors, administrators, membership coordinators, and lay leaders to heal, mourn colleagues who died during the past year, to worship, to learn, and relish each other’s company. We hadn’t been able to meet during the past two years, so this retreat was truly a homecoming. I share this because our congregation is not a Fair Share congregation in the UUA, which means we do not pay our complete dues (6.5% of our budget) to the UUA. I hope one day we will be able to fulfill our obligation. The UUA supports congregations in ways we are often unaware of. Interim minister training and support is provided by the UUA. My journey to full fellowship as a UU minister was supported by UUA staff. Training for our religious educators and consultants who we reach out to support Faith Development are provided by the UUA. In such a privileged congregation, this feels like a shortcoming we should be aware of.

Beloveds, tenemos mucho que celebrar, we have much to celebrate! This journey of ministry enriches my life because working with you, getting to know you, and learning together how to put our faith in action continues to be challenging, transformative, and a blessing, una benedición. May you also feel blessed, challenged, and transformed by your connection with this faith community.

Un abrazo,
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

We’re Open, Open, Open! Come On Down!

We’ve actually never been “closed,” but now we’ve really got things cooking! (Please send this blog to people you haven’t seen for a while and invite them to meet you at church on Sunday! I’m betting they’ve given up reading the eNews by now.)

Back to what’s happening….
Sunday worship services at 11 are fully in person, masks optional, and hymn-singing has resumed. Children and youth have been learning and connecting safely in person all year. Committees are meeting in person (or on Zoom if they prefer—sometimes it’s just more convenient). I’ve been to in-person Board and auction meetings, will be meeting with the Leadership Development Committee in person at our next meeting, but still meet with the Finance Advisory Committee over Zoom because it’s just plain easier for our two full-time workers to do it that way. The choir has been practicing, masks optional. (Hey! EVERYTHING is mask-optional. If you want to wear one, we want you to!)

I think everyone who joins a religious group does it for two reasons. They are seeking some sort of spiritual deepening AND they are seeking meaningful connections with other people. As a staff we have been working like crazy this past two years to provide experiences that do that, but we all know that Zoom is an imperfect medium AND there is totally something called Zoom fatigue. Yes, many of us are all Zoomed out.

As we adjust to a less restricted lifestyle, I invite you back to UU Asheville! (And I’m not just saying that because I’m giving the presentation for next year’s budget this Sunday after the worship service and we’re talking about running a very large deficit next year.) Yes, we have added alternative ways to “attend” without being in person, so you will always have the option to watch worship services and participate in many faith development activities virtually. You can even attend the budget meeting through YouTube. However there really is no better way to connect with people than seeing them in person. I think we’ve learned that by now.

So, come, come whoever you are! If you are comfortable being out and about, we invite you to return in person. If you are uncomfortable or unable to be out and about, attend worship virtually and participate in online programming when you can. It’s time to see you again!

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Reaching Out

karen dill

The second week of March turned colder.  My husband became dangerously ill with a ruptured gallbladder and after a harrowing two week stay in the hospital, was transferred to a nursing facility to recover. I was immobilized by fear and doubts. Reaching out for help was harder than calling fellow congregants. I was raised to be independent, self sufficient, and secretive.  I told no one for several days.  Finally, I reached out to family, a few friends and my fellow UU Asheville Board members and staff. What did I say?  I wanted to say:  “Help. I think I’m drowning.” 

The last week of March brought rain.  And on the last Sunday of the month, a long time friend and former colleague from Jackson County tragically lost her two young sons in an accidental shooting at her home. What could I possibly say?  Every sentence seemed inadequate. When I did reach out to my friend, the best I could do was listen, say her sons’ names, and help her remember their love for her.  Saying: “I’m here in body and in spirit for you”. 

Just as I was reaching out to initiate conversation with members of our congregation, I also needed to reach out to UU Asheville for help. Just as the congregation was reaching out to me, I was also reaching out to my friend in need. This was a lot of reaching out for one month.  

Reaching out takes courage. A leap of faith is required to put aside old fears of rejection. Reaching out for feedback, for support, or for a friend in desperate need is hard work indeed. Yet, reaching out to others allows them the opportunity to reach back in that same spirit of love.

Reaching out to the members of the congregation through those phone calls brought connections I might have otherwise missed.  As we move forward in selecting a settled minister, I heard constructive ideas, helpful insights, and optimism for our congregation. Reaching out to my UUCA family in my personal time of need brought emails, letters, beautiful cards with healing words, a bouquet of spring flowers.  My spirit soared on those hard days.  Reaching out to my friend who lost her boys brought simple connection and the realization that words won’t fix a broken heart but friends will hold you close in those dark hours.  And each day, my friend was able to reach out in tiny ways to her friends who had opened that door.

Today I am sitting on my deck. The April sun is shining brightly as the cardinals sing crazy love songs.  As dogwood trees awake from their winter sleep, I watch their brown limbs with tiny green leaves stretch and reach for the sun. By reaching out, those leaves will grow with the sun’s warmth.  May we, as well, continue to reach, to grow, and to heal with the warmth of the sun and the power of human love.

Karen Dill, UU Asheville Board of Trustees

 

The Eternal Immigrant

Photo of Rev. Dr. Cathy HarringtonThis Sunday, April 10, Dr. Edwin Murillo will speak to us about the importance of understanding our United States history if we hope to accomplish the goal of becoming anti-racist and dismantling white supremacy. Dr. Murillo is a professor at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, an author of two books, a poet, and a husband and father of two daughters. He will join us after the service via Zoom for conversation and questions facilitated by Rev. Claudia. (See his bio below)

I was fortunate to take two classes with Dr. Murillo over the past two years, a Spanish language class and a World Cinema class that introduced me to the history of Hispanic Americans. Our first assignment was to view the first episode of that PBS series, Latino Americans, Foreigners in their Own Land.  Over the semester, we viewed most of the episodes of the PBS series as well as many movies, Carandirú, Cesar Chavez, La misma luna, Mi familia, Machuca, The Mission, The Official Story, The Secret in Their Eyes, After the Rain, and more. The power of film to educate and challenge our erroneous assumptions cannot be overstated. The films we viewed and studied opened my eyes to the courage, integrity, sacrifice, endurance, and suffering immigrants to the U.S. endure not only in the arduous journey but also in what happens to them after they arrive. The truth is that many Hispanic Americans are here because they were always here. As one scholar pointed out, “they didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them.”

Professor Susan Drake compared the immigrant’s journey to Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey”; the three stages, departure, initiation, and return. She says that the immigrant’s journey follows Campbell’s outline in the departure and initiation phases, but that’s where it stops because the immigrant cannot return home and is forced to straddle two worlds and is never being fully at home in either. She writes, “The heroic journey of the undocumented immigrant experience remains somewhat incomplete—the treasure that the immigrants seek is out of reach or not quite what they imagined—yet they persevere, sharing what they gain with family and community.”

One day, I pray we will be able to experience fully the rich gifts an equal society has to offer that will benefit everyone. The greatest gift, the gift that Paulo Freire outlined in his scholarship over fifty years ago, is the gift of restoring humanity.

Join Rev. Claudia and Dr. Murillo this Sunday to reflect on the importance of knowing the complete history of our country and explore opportunities for religious communities to challenge bigotry based on lies and affirm the value of diversity and radical welcome.

Rev. Cathy Harrington, Interim Lead Minister

Dr. Edwin Murillo is an Associate Professor in the Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures Department at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. He received his doctorate in Romance Studies from the University of Miami. Dr. Murillo is a second-generation US Hispanic and the first person in his family to attend college. His articles have appeared in HispanófilaCrítica hispánica, and Hispanic Journal, among others. His poetry, written in Spanglish and Portuñol, has appeared in various international academic journals. His short-story collection Midnight Vallenato was published by Floricanto Press in 2019. His book Latin America and Existentialism is under contract with the University of Wales Press. At UTC, he teaches Spanish language, composition, and literature courses, as well as creative writing in Spanish. He loves music, travel, and the noise his daughters make in the morning.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Edwin Murillo is an Associate Professor in the Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures Department at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. He received his doctorate in Romance Studies from the University of Miami.  Dr. Murillo is a second-generation US Hispanic and the first person in his family to attend college. His articles have appeared in HispanófilaCrítica hispánica, and Hispanic Journal, among others. His poetry, written in Spanglish and Portuñol, has appeared in various international academic journals. His short-story collection Midnight Vallenato was published by Floricanto Press in 2019. His book Latin America and Existentialism is under contract with the University of Wales Press. At UTC, he teaches Spanish language, composition, and literature courses, as well as creative writing in Spanish. He loves music, travel, and the noise his daughters make in the morning.

 

 

Budgeting in a Time of High Uncertainty

feet at bottom of picture, standing on pavement marked with three arrows; left, straight, rightThings we don’t know about UU Asheville in the next two years:

  • What is the state of the congregation? How many members will we have once the pandemic settles down and we have a new minister?
  • What kind of ministry do we want? It’s possible to change our structure to include just one minister (this would be dictated by giving levels), or a lead minister with an assistant minister like we have now, or co-ministers.
  • What income can we work with? Remember that we get no funds from anyone but us. If there are a lot of us and we give 3-5% of our incomes, we can do a lot.  If there are fewer of us and we are less able/willing to give generously, that’s different.
  • Some of our staff members are at retirement age. How might that affect staff structure and accompanying costs?

Things we know:

  • Re-visioning and getting new ministerial leadership will re-energize the congregation. From other congregations, we note that a transition like this usually results in a significant uptick in giving and volunteerism.
  • We need a half-time A/V Coordinator now to make sure our video capabilities are dependably available and that some of the website and graphics work done by the Director of Administration is moved out of that job.
  • We are benefiting from the fact that our RE Coordinators are functioning at a level defined as “Religious Educators” by the UUA, but we are paying them at the lower “RE Coordinators” level.
  • The inflation rate for goods and services in the US is significantly higher than it has been for the past 40 years.
  • For the past nine years we have made sure that all employees received the SSN cost of living increase. This year that increase is 5.9%.
  • Years ago, the Board of Trustees declared that we would always pay our minimum wage employees (exclusively our childcare workers) at the Asheville Living Wage rate. This year that rate is $17.70/hour.
  • The UUA asks congregations to donate 6.5% of their expenses to support their work on our behalf. Historically we have managed 4%.

If you were paying attention to that last list, you will have figured out that the budget pressures are HUGE this year.  I hinted in my January blog that this was going to be a rough year and that deficit spending could be on the table.  If we choose to pay for all the items in the “things we know” list, we will create a budget deficit of a little less than $90,000 if early returns from our Annual Giving Drive are any indication of our income for 22-23.

Right now, as the Executive, Finance Advisory Committee, and Board of Trustees wrestle with the 2022-23 budget, they are faced with some tough decisions.  Nearly all decisions are made with “too little” information, but as you can imagine, making budget decisions in an environment where expenses are going up, income is not meeting it, and future income and expenses are hidden in a fog of uncertainty is crazy-making.

Here are some of our choices:

  • Create a balanced budget right now! Because it looks like our income will not be much higher than it was last year, that would mean not doing any of the things listed in the “things we know” list: no new A/V position, no raises for the RE Coordinators, no cost-of-living increases, maybe a decrease instead of an increase in UUA giving. And even then, other cuts might need to be made.
  • Create a balanced budget right now! Since personnel costs are always our largest expense area, we could lose staff members as we have had to do in the past.
  • Deficit spend. We have about $203,000 in our Contingency Fund.  Let’s try to raise more money but then use the Contingency Fund this year and next year to tide us over until we have less uncertainty and can make smarter long-term decisions.
  • Deficit spend, but choose which of the things in the “things we know” list we can drop for now so the deficit isn’t quite so large.

Thank your congregational leaders for this work.  It is NOT for the faint of heart.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

 

 

 

 

“Theology Ablaze” and “Haunting Church” at UU Asheville

rev Claudia JiménezWhat a juxtaposition of programs! Let’s begin with Theology Ablaze. Last night a group gathered via Zoom after Vespers for theological reflection on the topic of forgiveness. We explored questions such as:

  • Is forgiveness an opportunity? An obligation? A necessity?
  • What stories of forgiveness in the media or in our lives surprise us and why?
  • Are there times to be a moral unforgiver?
  • How does our Unitarian Universalist faith inform our understanding of forgiveness?

There was deep listening, questioning, and vulnerability in the search for understanding of forgiveness in our lives and the larger world.  This communal inquiry is a reminder that we do not build our theology alone. It is done in community. As we share insights, experiences, and beliefs, we learn from each other. Sometimes our beliefs are challenged in the process.  Ultimately, our connection to each other is strengthened as we recognize shared values as well as differences of opinion.

This fourth Wednesday Zoom gathering is part of the Theology Series that was started last year to invite us to consider theology in a broad sense: examining our understanding of what is of ultimate significance in our lives, and as UU theologian Paul Razor wrote, “examining our actions in the world and our justifications for them.” We have been using “Theology Ablaze” by Tom Owen-Towle for background and discussion questions on a variety of theological topics.

Next week, March 30, is a fifth Wednesday so we will have an additional Theology Ablaze session. Our theme will be covenant, a central tenet in our non-creedal faith. We will explore the types of covenants we have and how our covenants can be more inclusive. Before the program, there will be a Vespers celebrating Transgender Day of Visibility co-led by Ruth Christie and me. I hope you join us.

Finally, if you are struggling with the concept of faith, theology, worship, and other religious words, I invite you to consider attending next month’s Adult Faith Development Program “The Haunting Church: Owning Your Religious Past” which invites participants to reflect on their religious journey. What do you leave behind? What do you bring to the present? What do you redefine? We will meet via Zoom, Monday evenings 7-8:30 pm, April 11, 18, 25, and March 2. Contact me to register.

My ministry with you is rooted in supporting you on your faith development journey. It is a journey of accompaniment as we find meaning and are held accountable in community. Whether you are new to UU Asheville or a long-time member, I encourage you to engage in our programs and be part of this caring community supporting each other as we figure out how to create a more loving world in the midst of so much grief, loss, and violence.

In faith,
Rev. Claudia, Minister of Faith Development

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