The Sunday Religious Education Program is Almost Ready to Go!

As you learned in yesterday’s email from the RE Council, things are moving right along in RE-Land.  The classes are set (yes, we’re offering Our Whole Lives for 7th and 8th graders and Coming of Age for 9th graders due to popular demand) and nearly all the teachers are recruited.  Good work, everyone!

We have just a few more spots to fill before September and one of them could be yours!  We are actually trying to “over-recruit” classes so that everyone has a bit fewer Sundays to be on duty.  So, pick one!  Then contact Kim Collins to sign up.

  • Let’s say you really don’t want to teach but you wouldn’t mind being “the second adult in the room” about once a month.  We have 4 slots for you at 9:15 and 4 slots for you 11:15ers, too.
  • Or, you like to sing but can’t make our weekly choir rehearsals.  How about a once-a-month gig leading easy hymn-singing for a small kids+adults class at 9:15?  You’d be great at it!  (C’mon, this place is filled with musicians!)
  • How about hands-on stuff, like building or painting or sculpting or creating just about anything?  We have 2 slots for the Art/Maker Space Activity Group after the Spirit Play story at 11:15.
  • Do you just want to come in on your own time to re-organize those cool art kits the kids get on Sunday mornings?  We need 4 of you (unless someone wants to do this more than once a month) because we clean them up every week.
  • This one is mostly just for parents.  We need  greeters both downstairs and upstairs before the services.  There are 4 slots waiting for you but it’s best if you know the lay of the land in RE in order to help newcomers.
  • Food! We all love it, but SOMEONE has to help get it, set up the event and clean up afterward.  We usually have helpers on the “day of” but still need some organizers.  We could use 4 more hospitality folks to share the work.

And last, but perhaps most importantly, we need 2 or more YRUU (senior high youth group) advisors. We have a core group of youth from last year’s Coming of Age class who are actually excited about continuing their UUCA experience and we really don’t want to disappoint them.  This group’s activities follow a 4-Sunday cycle.  Last year they rotated among attending worship, cooking, participating in a small group experience and working with the Spirit Play kids on a social justice project.  This year’s leaders will be involved in setting the rotation for this year.  YRUU will be leading a worship service on Earth Day which will require planning, and we are also encouraging this group to plan and organize a “mission trip” of some sort for themselves.  If you are interested in exploring this special volunteer work, contact Kim Collins for information or an application.  Advisors will need to get some training on working with youth, which will be accomplished on site this year.

As you know, our RE program is growing and kids actually love it. Newcomers are particularly impressed.  This is one of the ways that UUCA changes lives.  Be a part of it.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

 

 

Change is the Only Constant

Change is the only constant.
A time of change is a time of opportunity.

Blah, blah, blah.

So much talk these days. In our congregation, locally, nationally, globally.

I sense there is some change fatigue that people are feeling here and everywhere.  It is true that change can be hard and tiring. It can cause us to react rather than live purposefully.  It can stretch and stress our patience and our caring. Many of us don’t want to feel this way but we do. We go through various stages in various orders: motivation, anger, discouragement, hope.  Sometimes we just put our heads down and try to get through it. Sometimes we hope things will work themselves out on their own or someone else will figure them out.

All of this behavior is normal and expected and can be helpful, even necessary, parts of the process of change.  If you have thoughts or feelings about change in our congregation or in the greater world, I encourage you to share them. Sometimes we shy away from sharing uncomfortable thoughts and feelings because we worry they could be a burden to others or even ourselves, or we want to be “polite.”  However, taking the risk of putting our thoughts and feelings out there, while also importantly being receptive to others’ responses, helps us validate and educate each other.  Doing so can help us live connection, inspiration, compassion, and justice.

Let’s live our emotions, let’s explore our thoughts and feelings.  We can and will get through these and future changes.  Just because a time of change can feel unsettling does not mean it has to end in a place that is worse than where we started.

James Schall, Board of Trustees

 

It’s All About Connections!

The work of shifting our commitment from meeting the needs of the individual to claiming our core values and living them as a community is the path that will lead us to stronger, deeper, and more engaged faith.

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Knowing that there has been some conversation over the past few weeks regarding membership numbers, attrition, and tracking of such, I thought it would be helpful to share some details about the path to and from membership here at UUCA. The data we have suggests that we tend to gain approximately the same number of new members as we lose each year. Here is some of the larger context in which this data exists.

The numbers reported track with my experience over the past few years, which is that once you adjust for deaths, moves, and people who were not particularly engaged in congregational life, we know why the remaining members are leaving. That awareness is the best any congregation can hope for, because there will always be people whose needs change, or for whom the congregation is not a good fit, or who get upset about a specific situation or person. In most cases, we are not surprised that a person leaves – we know that they are experiencing a life change, or have had some upset or conflict regarding the congregation. Whenever possible, Mark or I contact anyone who resigns their membership and we don’t know why.

When I arrived in 2011, one of the main concerns regarding membership was retention, including the proverbial back door. Over the past 6 years, I have worked with Mark and the Connections Coordinator (Linda Kooiker, Christine Ray, and now Venny Zachritz) to improve the efficiency and content of our path to membership. Linda and I focused mostly on the structure of the new member class cycle. Christine and I launched the Connector Program, which, in tandem with the Luminary Program, is intended to provide support and connection to new members, maximizing both their engagement in programs and their access to information and relationships within the congregation. Knowing that the first three years are essential to retention of individuals and families caused us to focus on years zero to three of membership in Phase 1 of the program, which is fully implemented at this time. Phase 2 will include years four to death/move, and is in the beginning stages of planning at this time.

Membership development programs are not the only variable that impacts retention. This congregation is in the midst of an ongoing discernment process in which change is happening rapidly. The shift to family ministry beginning in the fall of 2016 is part of this change, as is the Board’s work on clarifying core values, mission, and ends. This ongoing work, while it may appear that it is happening in separate areas of congregational life, has the effect of narrowing and focusing what it is that we do as a congregation. As a result, people who do not share that more specific vision will go elsewhere, at the same time more new people will be attracted to the clear and focused articulation of who we are as a community. Therefore, we expect that eventually the attrition numbers will stabilize and the new member numbers will increase.

This work of shifting our commitment from meeting the needs of the individual to claiming our core values and living them as a community is the path that will lead us to stronger, deeper, and more engaged faith.

 

RE and Me and Kim and Jen

Since the timeline doesn’t quite allow us to get an interim director of religious education on board before Joy’s departure, the oversight of that area of church life has been assigned to me as of today, June 15. Kim and Jen and the RE Council are more than terrific so I’m hoping that there won’t be “way too much” for me to do, but I will be involved in decision-making and guidance for sure. Joy will be around through June 30.

This is not an entirely new area for me as I’ve been a director of religious education in three different UU congregations. For 5 years I was the DRE and program director for a congregation in Cleveland, OH, starting at half time and ending as full time, serving a congregation of about 200.

I followed that with an interim DRE position in Shaker Heights, OH, serving a congregation of about 400. And then, in what even seems amazing to me, I served as a 2-year interim DRE in Arlington, VA, which was a congregation of about 1,000 and had an RE program of about 200 along with a very robust adult education program.

However, that was a while back, and I was no Joy Berry, so my point is that I’m pretty OK at this and we’ll figure it all out together, but my grand hope is that we’ll have considerable help from congregants to keep everything going smoothly until (and after!) we get our own interim DRE.

In the meantime, I want to give a major shout out to Kim Collins, Lifespan Religious Education Coordinator, and Jen Johnson, Lifespan Religious Education Assistant. Both of them are over-qualified for their positions (as are all staff persons at UUCA–we’re really good at hiring!) and are highly dedicated to the work of UUCA’s religious education program.

I’ve had a chance to review their job descriptions and I can tell you that the knowledge they have of our programming and the work that they have normally accomplished for us will go a very long way in getting us through the summer and on a great path for the rest of the year.

Here’s my request to you. Please be generous of your time and talent, patient as we work together to do our very best for our UUCA kids, and kind when we miss something. We all have the same goal: great RE for our kids and loving support for our families.

Dr. Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Creating Our Future Together

The future opens.
Many possibilities,
Choices to be made.

This past Sunday, the 4th, our congregation held its annual meeting. (Our next annual meeting will be held on Sunday, June 3rd, 2018—please put it on your calendar and plan to attend.) During that meeting we learned from John Bates, our Sabbatical Convener, a bit more about the evolving plans for our religious education program now that our Director of Lifespan Religious Education, Joy Berry, has taken a position with the Fahs Collaborative Center for Innovative Learning at the Meadville Lombard Theological School. She will continue to be with us until the middle of July.
We also learned about the state of our congregation from our president, Kay Aler-Maida, and vice president, Kate Hartnett. (Rev. Mark Ward, our Lead Minister who is on sabbatical, usually makes this presentation.) The state of our congregation is good, in fact very good. We are an active congregation with an expanding program. You can learn much about it in our 2016-2017 Annual Report.
We do, however, have choices to make as our congregational reach seems to exceed our grasp. That said, are we reaching for what speaks most deeply to us? That is where the importance of a regular, systematic exploration of our congregational values, mission, and ends comes into relief. During 2016-17 we explored our congregational values and identified connection, inspiration, compassion, and justice as the values that spoke most deeply to us. During fall 2017 we will explore our congregational mission and ends. By becoming clearer about what we value, what our mission is, and what our ends are, we will be better able to create our future, together.
As a result of our annual meeting we have a new board of trustees. Its members are: Nora Carpenter, Michele Gregory, Kate Harnett (president), Judy Hunter, Bruce Larson (vice president), Diane Martin, James Schall, Dale Wachowiak (clerk), and Mariah Wright. These are the people who, along with consultant Laura Park for Unity Consulting of Unity Church-Unitarian of St. Paul, Minnesota, will be guiding our discernment of mission and ends. Many opportunities will be provided for small-group meetings during late September and early October for congregants to participate. Please follow the UUCA Weekly eNews and postings in Sandburg Hall for information on the process and engage fully.
Truly the future—our future—is open and there are many possibilities. During this congregational year, let us work with the creative tension between our aspirations and our abilities to create our future, together. I can’t wait to see what we will do!

Bruce Larson, Board of Trustees

 

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Stories of Us

Meme-JoyBlogHello, friends.

I’m writing with mixed feelings, to share with you some news: I will resign as your Director of Lifespan Religious Education, effective July 15. I will remain a religious educator, joining the Fahs Collaborative Center for Innovative Learning at the Meadville Lombard Theological School this fall.  My family and I will remain in Asheville while I work remotely most of the time.

While I am glad for the opportunity to serve the wider faith that role will provide, it is not what I had hoped for or expected.  This job was a perfect mix of challenge and fun and success for most of the last three years. I love Asheville, and I loved my role and my work.

The last year has been challenging for all of us. We offered a new approach to faith development from ideas and commitments that emerged from our congregational visioning process in the spring of 2016. That required more time and energy from both staff and volunteers, just as we lost staff hours and recruitment levels waned. We rallied; the RE staff, Council and a core group of dedicated volunteers from all walks of life in the congregation helped make our new program a success anyway. RE attendance increased dramatically, even before the election, and was double last year’s average for much of 2016-17. This created its own issues, with regard to recruitment needs and class size. As this April rolled around, and we began recruitment for fall, we recognized our challenges remained. We are now matching the commitments for leadership to a down-sized, sustainable RE program for 2017-18.

The challenges we faced together called us toward big ideas and deeply creative solutions. Although we did not fully solve them, I do not think them insurmountable. You have the tools and resources to continue the work. Like our affirmation of covenant, it is not perfect fulfillment, but the ongoing work of commitment and collaboration that builds healthy change. I believe I fulfilled my role as a temporary shepherd here, guiding and nurturing. And I believe I have done the work I could, as a temporary gardener, planning and planting, tending and harvesting…and saving seeds for next season’s gardeners. I stood on the shoulders of those who came before me; their work paved the way for what we could accomplish together. It is my sincerest hope that I have helped build something of lasting value, too, to support the work of my successors and this congregation, as you take up the work with them that is yours to do.

One of my roles in this community has been as a storyteller.  I have often asked you, as my tale ended, “I wonder where you are in this story?” As in Spirit Play with our youngest children, I hoped to support you in thinking deeply about how stories shape us… encouraging the emergence of both an identity as a person of faith, and the work we are called to do, as a result.

So let me tell you a story. I once said, only half-joking, that you may have begun to suspect I only ever told you one story, in many forms. This, too, is really a single tale, told over the course of three years, through which a single thread runs.  It is the thread that connects the eldest among you to the newest arrival, and everyone in between. It is the ribbons you tied in one unbroken loop around the Sanctuary last spring and that the children turned into a weaving; it is the story of the covenant that connects UUs, rather than any creed. It is the story of who we are, and what we are for. And it is your story to continue telling.

I hope you feel as proud as I do, of the story Mark and I told, about the value of our children and families’ presence in this church. And that we began worshipping together every Sunday, welcoming our children and youth into our ceremony and song, so that they might begin to find themselves in your congregation’s story. We held the largest CoA and OWL classes ever in this congregation’s history. And we found ways to creatively respond to challenges, that strengthened our connections across generations—like having high school youth lead K-3 kids in building Little Free Libraries, when we lacked leaders for both. Like offering UUCA’s first-ever All Ages RE program, at 9:15, giving adults and children a chance to learn and grow together.

You may not have heard this part of your story…that your RE programming was nationally acclaimed, and became models for many other UU churches: the four Sundays, out-of-the-classroom approach to YRUU; your Little Free Library and Little Free Blessing Bags social action projects for children; your hybrid Spirit Play program, with the first-of-their-kind Contemplation and MakerSpace centers in addition to Art, Drama, and Nature.

And this story should make us all proud: this year, you offered the first ever congregation-wide trip to General Assembly. A chartered bus was paid for by you. Some riders bought their own seats and others sponsored seats for CoA youth and chaperones in support of their efforts to get to GA. I want you to know the impact you had in making such an innovative opportunity possible, serving the whole congregation, CoA teens, and multigenerational faith development.

We have done so much good work here together. I believe that is a long story, still unfolding. It began before I joined you and it will continue when I am gone. Your faith community has a strong foundation of excellence in RE, including a core group of committed parents and non-parents who have consistently devoted their time and energy to help it succeed, and deepened their own faith in the process. Even those of you who did not actively lead RE, but helped support the work of this church through financial pledges, should know you had a hand in shaping these stories. And your shared decision to embrace a vision of integrated faith development is a course-altering event in the story of this church’s life. It may take time to become deeply rooted, but it cannot be erased by this year’s difficulties. It is a continuation of the thread of hope and commitment that links these snapshots of your community; I have borne witness to them, and told you about them, but they are your story.

I hope you will continue telling each other of the impact all these efforts made. These are stories that matter: who this faith community is, and what you are for. And I trust you will shape and tell more of this story, going forward, reflecting the values and goals of a gathered people, dedicated to growing in faith.

Faith development is all we do.  Unitarian Universalism is all we teach.
The congregation is the curriculum.
–Maria Harris and Connie Goodbread, religious educators

Warmly, and in faith,
Joy

Written by Joy Berry, Director of Lifespan Religious Education

When to Call the Minister

As the church year and the school year wind down, as things get somewhat less busy (I know, it’s wishful thinking!), it seemed like a good time to post my annual reminder of When to Call the Minister — or when to contact a Pastoral Visitor. There is a Pastoral Visitor on call every week, and that information is posted in the order of service and our This Loving Community (TLC) email blast. Also, stop by the Congregational Care table on Sundays and you’ll find cards to sign for congregants who may be experiencing a crisis or hospitalization.

  • When you don’t know your minister, but would like to…
  • When you are facing a problem with your job, children, parents or anything or anyone else where a sympathetic conversation might be helpful…
  • When you’ve lost your job…
  • When you’re considering a new career…
  • When you’re having trouble in your relationship or marriage…
  • When someone you know is interested in the church…
  • When you’d like to invite a friend to church but you’re not sure how to go about it…
  • When there is illness or hospitalization. Remember that hospitals can no longer legally notify a church when you are in the hospital. We won’t be able to visit and offer support if you don’t let us know you’ve been hospitalized…
  • When someone close to you has died, is critically ill, is struggling or is facing an operation…
  • When there is a wedding planned…
  • When you are considering a divorce…
  • When you must make an important decision…
  • When you are pregnant and glad you are or wish you weren’t. When you would like to have children but can’t.
  • When you feel ready to join UUCA…
  • When you are unhappy about UUCA…
  • When you are delighted with UUCA…
  • When you need someone to talk with in confidence…
  • When you are facing a religious struggle…
  • When you have religious questions…
  • When you want to have your child dedicated…
  • When you are feeling joyful and want to share your joy…

Remember, we are a congregation that cares for one another, and these are some of the ways we do that.

See you on Sunday!

Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper, Associate Minister