Both yin AND yang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buck Schall, Board of Trustees

A Story of Beginnings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I Didn’t Even Know That Was Going On

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

Wow!

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

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

Question: How will I know what to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Being Open and Inclusive Means Being Thoughtful

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

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

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

Instead of “Hi! You must be new.”

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

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

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

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

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

Brave Wings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norah Shalaway Carpenter, Board of Trustees

 

 

Planting the Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead  Minister