Identifying Our Core Values

A comprehensive process culminated in identifying our congregation’s core values of connection, inspiration, compassion and justice. In November, the Board of Trustees hosted a series of events for congregants to participate in a values conversation workshop. Our congregation gathered together to explore our most fundamental values as a religious community and began the process of renewing our covenant together. Our religious faith community is built on our commitment to covenant;  we promise to work together to make our shared values come to life in our religious community and beyond. This process allowed us the opportunity to have an explicit conversation together about the values that drive everything we do in the congregation.

From those workshops, the Board of Trustees then engaged in a discernment process facilitated by Laura Park from Unity Consulting. We considered and deliberated the values that came about from the congregations’s discussions and aimed to find the center. The words, connection, inspiration, compassion and justice are expansive and include multiple themes and ideas from the values conversations. They are powerful words that embody who we are as a congregation and will guide our actions and decisions. These values will also help inform our planning for the future.

We are now asking you to tell us how you can imagine the congregation living into those values more fully and faithfully. We want to know how these values authenticate who we are as a gathered community. For the following two Sundays, we invite you to identify a value that resonates with you and to share how that value expresses who our congregation is and how it guides what we do. You are also welcome to share your stories about how you are connected to these values on this blog by entering a comment below.

Kate Hartnett
UUCA Board Vice President


Ministerial Sabbatical Planned

A sabbatical is a period of special leave granted for professional development in a manner not possible during the typical press of activity. The demanding ministerial work schedule provides little opportunity for the thoughtful enrichment, analysis, and study that a sabbatical leave allows. For these reasons, the Board of Trustees has granted a request for sabbatical leave from Lead Minister, Mark Ward.

His leave will run from April 17 (right after Easter) until June 18 (back in time to get on the GA bus). Although Mark’s last sabbatical was longer (January to June 2012), he felt this time a two-month period would provide sufficient time for the study he has in mind. Mark will be sharing his specific plans in his April column.

Whether a sabbatical is long or short, we need to plan for how to attend to the minister’s many duties and responsibilities. In planning for this leave we’ve used the very successful template that was developed for Mark’s prior sabbatical.

Major among Mark’s responsibilities is worship and the schedule for this has been set for the remainder of the year. Sundays will include a mix of services – some led by Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper, some with guest speakers and a couple of special programs such as Earth Day and Coming of Age. All will be supported by our talented Worship Associates.

As Executive, Mark is the glue that connects, coordinates and convenes. And for this sabbatical, as we did for the prior one, there will be a Sabbatical Convener. The Convener will coordinate among staff, liaison with the board, prepare monthly monitoring reports, clear Mark’s email and phone messages and so on. A Big Job.

Last time this role was ably filled by Stephen Jones. For this sabbatical, we are very fortunate to have John Bates filling the role of Convener. With John’s experience as immediate past president and as well as his many other contributions to UUCA – how lucky can we get?

The rest of our very capable staff will all be in place and attentive to any area where they can bridge any gap that may arise. So, all in all, it looks like we’ve got all the bases covered and all that remains is to extend our best wishes to Mark for a fruitful sabbatical.

Kay Aler-Maida, UUCA Board President

Acting in Life

Mark-office-2016The star magnolia in our backyard is blooming, and I’m not happy about it. Don’t get me wrong: I love the silky, sparkling white blossoms, one of the true wonders of spring. But there’s no way that delicate shrub should be blooming in February. The daffodils that have popped up around our yard will survive a freeze or even a light snow, but the star magnolia blooms will shrivel into something like brown used Kleenex if the temperatures get down to the low 30s. And given the quirky weather of the mountains, that’s likely any day now.

I can hardly blame the poor plant. The crazy warm weather we’ve had recently tugs at me, too, to get out in the garden. But other than random clean-up I don’t dare attempt anything yet. All of us living things are learning to struggle with the change in climate that is coming upon us.

NASA tells us that January 2017 was the third-warmest on record, just 0.2 degrees Celsius cooler than the hottest January on record: that of 2016. Meanwhile, scientists are reporting that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has now reached what they call a “global minimum” of 400 parts per million. That means that’s 400 ppm is as low as concentrations get during the year. For most of the year, it is higher than that and pushing higher still.

It’s easy for our eyes to glaze over these numbers and scientific terms, but the upshot is that we humans are entering new territory, seeing atmospheric conditions that we as a species have never experienced. And the effects are more than just early-blooming plants. They include the spread of invasive species, rising ocean levels, collapsing ice sheets, wildly varying weather extremes, and so much more.

It’s ironic that just as the effects of climate change become increasingly alarming a new administration is settling into Washington that dismisses them and issues plans to dismantle efforts to slow the pace of change. As people who cherish the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, we are called to attend to this: To use our voices and gather with others in common cause to shape an emerging movement to preserve life as we know it.

Earth’s history teaches that life can endure much, but we humans and the web of higher living things we depend on are more fragile. The forces that drive global change are immense and not always immediately apparent, yet once rolling are they hard to stop. We must join the work now.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
Thursday, March 2, 2017

What Does It Mean to Be a Sanctuary?

Lately, I have gotten many requests from members of our community regarding whether UUCA is a Sanctuary church, or has any plans to declare itself as such. We currently have made no such declaration, but we do have a history of supporting undocumented and other immigrants through our social justice programs. I have seen a number of you at the community conversations on Sanctuary in Asheville over the past two months. Unitarian Universalists also have a history of support and engagement with immigrant communities. UUA President Peter Morales calls UUs to action in this video:

As you know, the raids and targeting of immigrants and other marginalized groups have escalated since that statement was made, even in the past week or two. So, what does that mean for UUCA? I am working on getting as much information as possible about our options for response so that I can pass it along to you. I also need to know who among you are interested in this work. If we were to declare this community a Sanctuary (or a Congregation Supporting Sanctuary) we would need to have broad buy in and support from the whole congregation. It would be a choice we would make together. And so, as we continue our information gathering, please let me know if you are interested in being part of the conversation. And stay tuned for upcoming opportunities for information and dialogue.

There are many resources out there if you are interested in learning more, or you can join the work ongoing here in Asheville. The UUA has a toolkit for congregations. Standing on the Side of Love has created a google doc with lots of useful information.  and the UU College of Social Justice has tools and resources as well.

We are in a time of rapid change and challenge. Immigrants are not the only marginalized group that will need our help and support. Transgender and gender nonconforming people, the disabled, women, people of color, and so many more. Of course, a sanctuary is defined as a place of refuge or safety – and also a sacred or holy place.  My hope is that whether or not we make the decision to formally become a Sanctuary Congregation, this community will always be a sanctuary for all who seek refuge among us, or who seek a sacred place, or who need help and safety in these difficult times. Who are we called to be together? How will we help our neighbors?


You Are Invited! RE Celebration Service: Sunday February 19

By now I hope everyone knows that you are invited to a very special service this Sunday. Our children, youth, and teachers will be sharing and showing the work and learning they do in religious education classes.

Come and see what is happening in faith development here in our congregation! Hear how this faith community is changing lives, building UU identity, supporting families in teaching their children, and helping to strengthen the voices of our youngest UUs, to be the social justice and equality advocates of the future.

After each service, please plan to come downstairs, for our first ever RE Open House. The RE Council, church leaders, and RE staff will show you around our amazing spaces and bring you into the story of our innovative, exciting RE program. Don’t miss the chalkboard walls where our children/youth’s answers to some important questions on display: What is CHURCH For?  What is the best thing about this church?

One thing to share that surprised and inspired me: When asked, “What would you change about church?” children had one answer that was by far the most popular: MORE TIME. We have created a program here that children are excited to attend, and bug their parents to take them to church–and they leave wishing they had been able to spend more time there each Sunday.  You can see the word cloud created from these answers above. The bigger the word, the more times that word (or phrase, in the case of “more time”) appeared. As you can see, MORE, also appears alone–because so many children also wanted more art. more stories, more singing, more opportunities to be with their family upstairs. In a time when we hear how few families attend church regularly, it’s a blessing to know that UUCA has created a faith development program that leaves our youngest wanting MORE.

I hope you want to see and hear more too, about what we are ding and how we are doing it–and ways you can get involved, as a learner or a leader, in our classes and activities. Been thinking of taking up yoga? Wishing you had more singing in your life but can’t make Thursday night choir rehearsal? Want to have a chance to do art, or to have a contemplative hour with kids and adults (yes, it’s possible!) on Sunday? Make sure you attend this Sunday’s service and join us downstairs afterward, to learn more.

Not able to attend? Check out this slideshow, showing some our projects and activities this year! And please consider joining us in RE soon–as a participant or a leader in Yoga, Hymn Sing, Contemplation, social justice activities, building Little Free Libraries, gardening, MakerSpace Summer program, storytelling, OWL for adults, and so much MORE.

Joy Berry, Director of Religious Education

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Marching Forward

As my family and a few close friends marched on the streets of Washington D.C. a few weekends ago, my three-year-old son’s protest sign read, “I am kind. I am strong. I am brave. I am helpful. I am a problem solver. I am Jack.” This is a mantra we say often together to encourage him to be a good friend, to be confident and to be certain in the choices he makes. Now, more than ever, I also have to practice these same expectations, to be intentional in my thoughts and actions, to be loving to one another and to not give up.
While at the march I was overcome with a sense of awe, a healing of sorts. I witnessed thousands of women, men and children standing together in peaceful protest. It was powerful, it was peaceful, and it was inspiring. As I read the news stories the days following the march and learned of the vast support across the country and world I was motivated to continue this important work.
Now, as we move forward in this resistance we each do our part to make progress. As I entered back into my beloved community after this history making event, I am reminded of the power that happens right here at home. The community that surrounds and holds us with open arms is nourishing and supportive. I find the need to take time and to replenish, to connect with my friends and family on a deeper level and to acknowledge all the greatness in my life.

Kate Hartnett, Vice President, UUCA Board



Proclaiming the Possible

Mark-office-2016It is plain that we are living in a contentious and defining moment in American history. Just a couple of weeks into a new administration it’s hard to be sure just what is at risk, but we have seen enough to be concerned that fundamental rights and liberties long protected by our nation’s laws are under threat. Perhaps in time the heat of this political transition will settle down and wiser heads in courts or legislatures will prevail and preserve the freedoms and protections that we cherish. But we cannot presume that will happen. As Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey in the Rock wrote in “Ella’s Song,” “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” That’s us, friends. Freedom is at the heart of who we are as a religious people: freedom to believe or not to believe, to associate, to speak, to think, to proclaim the identity that we assert is ours without restriction, to travel, to learn, to challenge, to question, to love and be loved. And in our tradition this freedom is paired with equality, the fundamental idea that all persons are inherently worthy in and of themselves. And, as the UU theologian Paul Rasor puts it, that means that “all human beings have a right to a meaningful and fulfilling life” and requires that “communities be based on justice, respect and mutuality.” As we launch with new will into the work of social justice, it’s important that we be clear that that work is grounded in a rich and powerful tradition of faith that has been a source of hope for generations and for tens of thousands of people today. It’s a hope centered not in the blithe belief that things are bound to get better, but in that phrase I offered from the philosopher Maimonides on January 15: the plausibility of the possible. Social justice work is never centered in the certain, always in the possible. And what makes the possible real is the determination, the commitment, the love of those who aspire to make it so. As my colleague Lisa told you in December we need to acknowledge that there are going to be rough patches in the days ahead, and when those times come, when our children see our frustration or our tears, this is what we will tell them: “We will fight. We will hold onto each other through the despair, and we will lean on each other when we lose the battle, And love, fierce as a mother bear protecting her cubs, will never die.” That’s what I pledge to you, friends: to stay in it and be in it with you, to hold onto compassion and hope, to enlist and join allies when I can and act where I must, to challenge us to join the work and live into our heritage and to celebrate the community we build together. Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister