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Giving Tuesday

I’m quite certain you did not miss that Tuesday was dubbed “Giving Tuesday” by the non-profit sector of our economy.  How many emails or direct mail pieces did you get from charities you support (or have EVER supported) about making a donation on that day?  Did you give money?

This is the world of non-profit fundraising.  To get money from donors, you need to ask.  You ask frequently—very frequently.  You use every medium you can.  You target your messages to donors by their stage of life, their interests, the size of their previous gifts, their potential for sizable gifts.  You set up matching gifts.  You organize “giving competitions.” Whenever it’s possible you use the gold standard of fundraising: one-on-one conversations.  Your CEO’s number one job is fundraising.  As soon as you can afford it, you hire a development director.  You also write grant applications—many, many grant applications. 

Back in the day, churches were a breed apart as far as fundraising went.  People donated the majority of their year’s charitable giving dollars to their churches first, and then divvied up the rest to other organizations.  Church members automatically gave in support of their church.  Well, friends, times have changed. 

Today, churches are discovering that they have joined the ranks of non-profits in the eyes of their donors.  No more “first giving” for the churches and no more “majority giving” to churches.  We’re now in the hunt for those charitable dollars along with all those other non-profits.  So far, research says that churches are losing, partly because they didn’t realize that this was happening.  That’s why we know that UUCA, nearly all UU churches and the UUA are not alone in the world of shrinking church budgets.

In some ways, churches are currently at a disadvantage.  We really can’t let our CEO (our minister) be our chief fundraiser.  We have no grants for which we can apply. We have members who are very sensitive to being asked for money.  And yet, the rule remains “to get money you have to ask for it.”

There is one place where churches DO have the advantage.  We know our donors as individuals and friends and we can use that gold standard of fund-raising: one-on-one conversations.  That’s what the Visiting Steward program of the Annual Budget Drive is all about.  But even then, because we’re a church, and our donors ARE our friends, our one-on-one conversations are about a lot more than money.  These are also times to have conversations about the value of UUCA in our lives, how we might envision an even stronger congregation and to have genuine conversations with congregants we may not know very well—yet.

But to sustain this congregation with staff members who can help us organize and move forward in the ways that demonstrate our congregation’s values, and with buildings that welcome us, and with programs that feed us, we (and really all religious bodies with buildings) need to find a new model of financial support or a new model for religious gathering.  We have The Dream Team exploring this new world. Stay tuned.

Linda, Topp, Director of Administration

 

What’s Next?

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As I walk through my daily routine these days, the shifting haze of smoke obscures the landscape and clogs my nostrils. It feels in some way appropriate, as we continue to learn more about what the landscape of our country looks like, how it will change and how it will stay the same in the years to come.

Of course, what is most prominent in my mind and on my heart these days is what the post-election political and social landscape looks like, and the dramatic changes that we will likely see, changes that will make the most vulnerable among us more vulnerable. We are already seeing these changes in spikes of racist and bigoted harassment and bullying. We are already seeing the terror experienced by already marginalized groups. Many of us experience grief and fear at changes we did not believe were possible. And this community is here for you if you need support or want to engage in conversation about what’s next.

This is not about a partisan agenda or a particular candidate. There is a moral imperative at stake here, and as a people of faith, we are called to stand up and fight for our values. Unitarian Universalists have long stood for the rights of the marginalized, for the health of the environment, and for a more inclusive society. We have also always stood for community, for making connections, and for honoring the dignity and worth of all beings. These values have not changed, and our response to the world around us continues to be led by our commitment to who we are as a religious people.  There is now an open assault on all these things that we hold so dear, and we must fight for ourselves and for the world around us.

So, how will we do this?

First and foremost, we will continue to do what we have been doing. We will build relationships in the community. We will engage in anti-racism/anti-oppression work and support efforts for racial justice. We will feed people at Room in the Inn and MANNA. We will continue to claim our identity as a congregation and as individuals who choose to work toward a better world. If you haven’t engaged with our Earth & Social Justice Ministry, now’s a great time to seek out a new volunteer opportunity. This will be a marathon, not a sprint, and so we will need all hands on deck.

And at the same time, we are looking to the long game. What tools do we need to provide for our people and our community at large so that we can survive what is coming? In December, I’m working on offering de-escalation and anti-bullying training. It has become clear to me that the most important thing we can do is be prepared to interrupt harassment and bullying when we see it in our community. This is not something we can expect to do without training and intentionality – it could put us in danger. But mitigating the “bystander effect” is essential. We must not stand by and allow harassment to occur. So, look for that coming up in your Weekly eNews.

I am also looking at the word “sanctuary” and what it means, both in a concrete sense and in an abstract sense. How is this community a sanctuary for ourselves, and for others? Are there concrete things we can do to provide sanctuary when it is needed? Please let me know if you want to be a part of this conversation.

There’s more. There is no way to know for certain what this new administration will actually do, and how it will impact us, until it happens, but we can be honest and clear-eyed about what we see is possible. Now is the time, more than ever, to be grounded in our UU values and work hard to create the world we dream. Someone told me today that they think I’m more optimistic about all this than I should be. I replied that pessimism is not a luxury we can afford. There is too much work to be done.

Join me.

Written by Associate Minister Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper.

Standing on the Side of Love: Sidewalk Edition

img_5047“Open minds, loving hearts, and helping hands.” Our youngest children learn this simple statement of faith, their first introduction to the idea of a shared Unitarian Universalist identity. As often as possible in our faith development activities, we go beyond thinking and feeling to embody the work that only our “helping hands” can accomplish.

UUs have a long legacy of being called beyond their church walls, to stand on the side of love where injustice occurs. From the Call to Selma, to the UUSC’s long history of work, to Standing Rock, UUs have consistently shown up to support, defend and advocate for the rights of the most vulnerable.img_5064Last Sunday, our children and youth took part in a kind of public witness: writing messages of love, inclusion, advocacy, and solidarity on the sidewalks near our church.

Remember, in times of challenge and uncertainty, our kids need to know that they are safe. But that isn’t enough. They also need to be assured that we can help make sure others are safe too. As UUs, we are committed to act on our faith values: speaking out and standing up for those who are most in need of support…whether in our church, in our community, or beyond.

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None of us are free until all of us are free.

We have many children, youth, and families at UUCA who are members of marginalized groups. They are feeling extra fearful and anxious right now as reports of bullying (and worse) come in from across America. Even more of our kids know and love someone who claims such an identity; nearly all of our kids are feeling the general anxiety, sadness, confusion, and frustration in the atmosphere.
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So we owe it to them to work on this, now. What better place than at church? That’s why we made space on Sunday to allow young people to process, share, and take action. How? We had a short chat with K-3rd graders, before they moved into their regular work, and then they joined the sidewalk chalk activity at the end of class. 4th-12th grade took a break from their regular lesson plans, and instead used this resource from the UUA.
(I encourage families to continue the post-election conversation using this guide. It can help you prepare yourself for that conversation, and help youth–to both name their hopes and fears, and be assured that we are committed as a faith to working for justice and equality. A sample suggestion: talking with your kids and grandkids about how your faith values give you moral courage and hope now, and discussing the history of how UUs have shown up to stand on the side of love as an expression of our faith.)

img_5038After having a chance to share and engage using the resources above, kids and youth went out to chalk our sidewalk with messages of love, unity, diversity, and solidarity meant to let those in our neighborhood know who we are and what we stand for as a congregation. Check out the pics in this article (and the full slideshow, below) to see what our UU kids are learning  (and teaching!) about our UU values. 

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Want to get involved? Perhaps you’d like to leave some “neighborhood love notes” of your own at UUCA this Sunday, or take on this activity as a family project!
Consider sharing such positive messages in your own neighborhood or in public places. It’s a great way to practice your faith as a family. Just pick up a box of sidewalk chalk, gather some quotes that inspire you, and start chalking those sidewalks.You can share your pictures and words to the neighborhood love notes facebook group. You can also see examples of many church, individual, and community sidewalk projects there (including our own!)
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This is a great way to show our kids (in an age-appropriate, fun, embodied way!) how we stand on the side of love, show up in the face of injustice. I look forward to hearing how you and your kids and youth are living our faith values to create a more inclusive community for all.
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Want to go further? You may wish to visit STANDING ON THE SIDE OF LOVE, aimed at helping UUs mobilize support in their communities for marginalized groups.It offers photos and videos, extensive resources for organizers, social networking tools, inspirational stories, and guidelines with best practices.

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Stepping Off the Edge

What timeless, transcendent qualities of our religious community will we embody in all that we do?  – Experience of the Holy

Over the next several weeks I expect there will be a good deal commentary about this election. About how the territory has changed and all the why’s for this and that and what is the real message and meaning of the election. And we’ll probably need decades to understand its true historic importance.

In his sermon, The Mightiest Word, Mark Ward quoted from the African American poet Elizabeth Alexander. In her words from the first Obama inauguration, she admonished us “Say it plain: that many have died for this day” and also to praise people who have the courage to “walk into that which we cannot see.”

Post-election as we “walk into that which we cannot see” what can we do with all of the feelings, emotions, passions that the election has stirred up?

First, we remember our values and double down on them. Equally important to doubling  down on our values is acting on them. Our Mission calls upon us to “work together for freedom, justice, and love.” Each week our E-News offers many opportunities, large and small, for us to live out our Mission. Living out our Mission, a simple answer but one that is not at all easy.

And perhaps it is no accident that the Board of Trustees is currently engaging the congregation in the Experience of the Holy process to articulate our congregation’s core values. It has never been more important to be clear about what we hold most dear.

Kay Aler-Maida, UUCA Board President

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It Takes a Village

Pulling together all the pieces that make an organization as large as the UU Congregation of Asheville function is challenging work, and it depends on a high-functioning group of staff to do it.

Some are people with high profile roles, while others work behind the scenes. For example, on Sundays you’re aware of me, Associate Minister Lisa Bovee-Kemper, Director of Lifespan Religious Education Joy Berry, and Music Director Les Downs because we have roles leading worship. If you have children in Religious Education you probably know Lifespan Religious Education Coordinator Kim Collins and RE Program Assistant Jen Johnson. Newcomers and visitors may be coming to know our Connections Coordinator Venny Zachritz. But unless you’re involved in leadership you may not have had a chance to meet Director of Administration Linda Topp, Data Administrator Tish Murphy or Bookkeeper Becky Donald. Yet, each of these people carries out functions that are crucial to our operations. We also have help on Sundays from our Audio Techs John Schuerman, Stephen Carter and Wendy Motz as well as staff from our cleaning service, Organic Planet Cleaners, who spiff things up, maintain supplies, get our coffee started and keep the kitchen in shape.

It is a village of sorts, and we actually work together extraordinarily well. But of course, with any group of people, there are always bumps and confusions and misfires. So, I wanted to make sure you know that, just as the congregation has a covenant to guide us in how we seek to be with each other, the staff has written its own covenant to keep us working together and with the congregation in right relationship.

We say in that document that we created it “to forge and maintain strong positive relationships among each other and with the congregation,” and that our goal is “to promote healthy behaviors and sustainable work practices in support of the congregation’s intent to create a caring community, inspire spiritual growth, and encourage lives of service, integrity, and joy.”

In it we agree to be “respectful, forthright and direct” with each other, to “affirm each other’s professional expertise and personal gifts,” “to respect each other’s work schedules and the rhythms of our work life” and to “express and maintain clear personal and professional boundaries, while respecting the boundaries of others.”

It’s challenging, after all, juggling the many demands that we face, knowing also that of our 10 regular staff, 7 work part time. So, we need to be careful in setting expectations of each other. And in turn, we ask you, too, to be aware of these constraints that we work under.

We also know that conflict or disagreement is something that comes up in any organization, so it’s also important for you to know how we have agreed to respond to complaints or concerns that we receive from a fellow staff member or member of the congregation.

Our first hope is that if you have a concern, you will approach that person directly, or if you hear a complaint about a staff member you will ask that person to bring it directly to that person. If that doesn’t feel comfortable, options include offering to go with the person to speak to the staff member or offering to speak with the staff member using the name of the person who brought the concern. We will not pursue anonymous complaints.

Village life, after all, is about living in relationship, a growing, evolving relationship of care and respect and we are committed to doing our part to creating that.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Call the Minister(s) When…

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As a follow up to my recent sermon on grief, I wanted to give a reminder that major crisis or loss is not the only time you can seek pastoral care from the congregation. We are here to care for one another. The Pastoral Visitors and the ministers are available to you when you need us. Check your enews or order of service to find the On Call Pastoral Visitor for the week, or contact one of the ministers directly. You may wonder what is “worthy” of such a call. And so I share this list, written many years ago by UU minister Peter Lee Scott. It is called “When to Call the Minister,” and has been adapted, edited, and added to by others. Here’s a version:

CALL THE MINISTER WHEN…

When you don’t know me, but would like to.

When you have problems you would like to discuss with your job, children, marriage, or anything else where a sympathetic ear might help.

When you are going to the hospital or know of someone else in the congregation who is.

When someone close to you has died or is critically ill or you’re dealing with a significant loss of some kind.

When you are planning to be married or divorced.

When you would like your child dedicated.

When you are pregnant and glad you are or wish you weren’t, also if you want to be pregnant but aren’t.

When you feel ready to join the congregation.

When you have concerns or suggestions.

When you have religious or spiritual questions.

When you are seeking to deepen your spiritual life.

When you are upset with me or would like to express appreciation.

When you have won the lottery and want to make a large donation to the church.

To add a little humor, Rev. Marilyn Sewell (retired minister who was with the First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon) added several reasons NOT to call the minister:

Don’t call the minister when:

You want to give her “the real scoop” on another member.

You want to explain that you’ll have to cut your pledge in half because you are spending the summer in the south of France.

You want to tell her you didn’t like what she wore in the pulpit last Sunday.

You want to tell her that one of the reasons you are a UU is that you have always distrusted organized religion. (Our church is, after all, a part of organized religion).

The UU Congregation of Asheville is a community that cares for one another. Your ministers and pastoral care team are here for you. And you are hear for each other, too.

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Experience the Holy

exp-the-holyThere is no power equal to a community discovering what it cares about . . .

  • Margaret Wheatley

EXPERIENCE OF THE HOLY

During November the Board of Trustees will be holding a series of workshops asking –

What timeless, transcendent qualities of our religious community will we embody in all we do?

Our goal is to identify our congregation’s core values – what Mark often refers to as the burning ember at our center. Having that conversation is a process we are calling Experience of the Holy – holy as what we value most.

Values are the foundation of our covenant, of the promises we make to each other. Our shared values are what we endeavor to make real in our congregation and in the world.

We have a strong mission and Ends, a strong sense of what difference we’re in the world to make and for which people, but we’ve never had an explicit conversation together about the values that inform our sense of purpose, the values that provide the underpinning to everything we do in the congregation.

The Board felt it was time to explore and articulate the values that provide the touchstone for everything we do together as a congregation.

The workshop process will tap into people’s real, lived experiences and uncover the values embedded in those experiences and how they connect us as a community. From the information shared in the workshops, the board will discern and articulate no more than five words or very short phrases that capture what timeless, transcendent qualities embody all we do. And, of course, share the results with the congregation.

Attend any of the one-hour workshops and shape our future.

by Kay Aler-Maida, UUCA Board President