Your Congregation

As you probably know, the UU Asheville membership and Board of Trustees reviewed the congregation‘s overall purpose and reason for being over the last year. The result of this effort was a set of updates to the Mission, Core Values, and Ends Statements.
One of the things that we as a Board wanted to reinforce and which came up organically and repeatedly was that the congregation was a living community that needs your input and energy.  It is not something that can be only passively enjoyed if we want to thrive (or even ultimately survive long term).
From what I can see, this refocusing on the active aspect of engagement with each other in the congregation is making positive change. With the annual budget drive being only the latest example, there seems to be more engagement in all aspects of our congregation. We have added the Wednesday Thing, the preparations for offering sanctuary are progressing, and people are taking part in a variety of roles who have never done so before. 
I acknowledge that one of the challenges of our current society is being “too busy“ all the time. There are countless tasks and superficially interesting things constantly competing for our attention. However, when we can accomplish the feat of finding purpose rather than just being busy we can experience that paradoxical magic that happens where we come out of giving more energized than when we went in.
I thank you and the congregation thanks you for everything that you have done, are doing, and will do. As it has been said:
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
James Schall, Board of Trustees

We’re Not Finished

Do not think we are finished.

Oh no, we will never be finished, never just done

 until the light of justice is lit behind every eye.

I was thinking of those words from my colleague the Rev. Audrey Fulbright this past week as I read coverage in the Asheville Citizen-Times of the assault of Johnnie Jermaine Rush last August by a City of Asheville police officer. Even though the city reported Rush’s injuries as resulting of an arrest, videotape from the officer’s body camera make clear that it was nothing less than an assault of a black man by a white officer.

That’s not an especially new story. In fact, it’s a very old story arising from the legacy of white supremacy in this country, this city that is visited upon people with black or brown bodies. Day by day more details emerge about that encounter – what Mr. Rush is said to have done, what various officers are said to have done, how the chief, district attorney, and various city officials responded. The details matter, in the sense that they help people investigating this incident figure out how to respond. But in important ways, the details don’t really matter. They are just variations on a theme: how the pervasive poison of racism continues to tear at the fabric of civil society.

And each time we see it we are forced to confront again the racism that resides in our own hearts, in the interstices of our daily lives, in the institutions we take part in, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and, yes, our churches, too. As people of faith who affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we disavow any way of thinking or feeling that diminishes any person or people. And yet, as people living in a deeply racist country it’s hard to avoid having it color our perspective. That means that if we are to be true to our values we need to be vigilant about examining our own thinking and about organizing our lives in such a way that contradicts what racism teaches.

A couple of years ago we as a congregation affirmed where we stand on this by adopting a resolution declaring “Black Lives Matter” and committing ourselves to “educating ourselves about and deepening our understanding of white privilege and oppressive systems” and to partner with local organizations “to harness the power of love to combat racism and oppression at all levels within our communities.”

 As a reminder, here’s a link to that resolution.At the time we also put together resource packages including inspiring readings and tips for getting involved. Here are links to a couple of those.

We have made some headway in these goals. Members of our congregation have become active in groups advancing this work – including NAACP, ASURJ, Building Bridges and trainings by the Racial Equity Institute. But attending a meeting or training is only the start. The harder part comes with putting ourselves in places where we can take part in the concrete work of dismantling racism.

Some of us joined in the Hillcrest Motheread Program, where they meet weekly with women in Hillcrest Apartments to talk over stressors in their lives and offer support. Others are taking part in tutoring in public schools. If that sounds interesting, you might look into a new program called the Marvelous Math Club. Here’s a YouTube video about it.

At a recent Wednesday Thing, we heard about a program with the Asheville Housing Authority inviting people to own rental property to make apartments available for Section 8 housing. Here’s a link about that.

And that’s just a start. Others are at work elsewhere, and there’s more to do. Where will you find your work? Because, friends, we’re not finished!

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister


When We Say “Yes”

stories of us

Sunday, the Rev. Mary Katherine Morn said we’ve already had a successful Annual Budget Drive (boy, we hope she’s right).  In truth, Dan and I are not experts on what makes a successful Annual Budget Drive (ABD). Still, we have figured out that one key ingredient is the willingness of people to say “yes.”

A successful Annual Budget Drive happens when the minister and administrator ask you to co-chair the ABD, even though you’ve never done one before, and then say “yes” when you ask to try something new (or several somethings).

It happens when talented people who have managed fundraising efforts for years say “yes” and “we’ll help” when you tell them you’re going to try something “a little different.”

It happens when an Annual Budget Drive Team (Iris Hardin, Anne Harper, Judy Harper, Jerry McLellan, Kristi Miller, Linda Topp, and Larry Wheeler) says “yes, we’ll come to meetings, do the behind-the-scenes work, and put in the long hours to ensure the drive is successful.”

It happens when you go to Les and say, “we have this idea,” which of course means more work for him and he says “yes” and also finds you a drummer.

It happens when you tell “the band” you want the Sunday service to feel like a celebration and they say “yes” and take it all the way and then some.

It happens when an RE staff who could complain that you’re adding to their work, taking away valuable class time, or are making things harder to manage instead say, “yes, we’d love to have the children and youth be a part of Celebration Sunday, how can we help?” (And they help you decorate the Sanctuary on their own time.)

It happens when you ask Tish for reports that the new database isn’t able to run and she says “yes” to spending hours and hours updating the database so we can get the information we need to keep the drive running smoothly.

It happens when members say “yes” to an automated call asking them to attend a stewardship Sunday and they show up to support the community and give joyfully.

It’s a little early to determine if we will hit our financial goal, we still have a number of commitment forms that have yet to be turned in, but we have reason to be optimistic. So far, you’ve said “yes” to giving generously and many of you have said “yes” to being a Plus One by increasing your giving.

Regardless of how the numbers turn out, Dan and I believe that Rev. Mary Katherine Morn is right, UUCA has had a successful drive because so many of you have said “yes” to committing your time, talent and your treasure to UUCA.

Gina and Dan Phairas, Annual Budget Drive Co-Chairs

PS.  There’s a rumor that being the Annual Budget Drive chair is a thankless job, but we can honestly tell you nothing could be further from the truth. You’ve graciously shared your gratitude for our work on the ABD this year and that has touched us deeply.

Wait, Vespers, What?


Have you had a chance to attend Vespers at the Wednesday Thing? If not, have you wondered about the word “vespers” and why we would have such a service at a UU congregation? The overarching goal of the Wednesday Thing is to bring together all ages for fun, fellowship, spiritual growth, and community. Toward that end, we want to create a worship experience that feels different from Sunday mornings and creates space for many more voices to be heard. Every vespers includes music, as well as a chalice lighting, candles of joy & sorrow, and the closing song, but otherwise the services vary.

In any case, a number of you have asked what vespers means, or why we would do a service that “sounds so Catholic.” It’s pretty simple, actually! The ever-helpful Internet (via tells us:

vesper is an evening song. It also refers to evening prayers, and then it’s usually plural as vespers. Whether it’s a church service or a jazz band at sunset, if it’s in the evening, it’s a vesperVesper hasn’t changed much over the years, in Latin it means “evening star,” and in Old English it’s æfen-sang, which sounds a little like “evening song.”

So, basically, we decided to call it Vespers because it’s a worship experience that happens in the evening. It’s a great opportunity to take a pause in the middle of the week, to start to wind down and reflect at the end of the day, and to be in beloved community.

One of the main purposes of this new service here at UUCA is to engage more voices in worship. Les and I are currently looking for people of all ages who are interested in leading, providing music for, or participating in a service. If you have an idea, but aren’t sure where to begin, I’m here to help you figure it out. Let’s get together and do this vespers thing!

Looking for Numbers?

spreadsheet-28205_640During an annual budget drive, most people want to know how much is needed (the goal!) and how their money makes it possible to improve their lives and the lives of others.  However, there are some people who just like to know how we spend their money.  This blog is for you.

I’m going to use the current budget since next year’s isn’t prepared yet (waiting for our “final” commitment number).  Here are some facts for you:

This year’s budget totals $727,500.

Commitments made last year totaled $638,000.  (Our goal for this year is $680,000, a 6.6% increase.)

Of that budget total, $505,200 are invested in our employees (69%) and an additional $17,000 (3%) are invested in their training and education.  (It helps staff members answer that question, “What are other congregations doing about this?”)

Here are samplings of other general expenses:

  • We love our campus. It includes 2 acres of land and 3 buildings with the newest one being over 40 years old.  We invest about $70,600 in caring for it all. (10%)
  • We need to keep our congregation and congregants safe. We pay about $15,000 per year for insurance and background checks. (2%)
  • We use all kinds of expendable supplies in the office and in many of our programs. We also pay for food for various events and meetings.  All this comes to about $19,000. (3%)
  • Everyone always refers to “keeping the lights on” as so much of what our budget covers. That, however, is a red herring.  We pay about $24,000 for all utilities and internet. (3%)

The fact is that once you devote 72% of your income to your staff, no matter how else you slice and dice the rest, they all end up being pretty small percentages compared to that.  As far as I can tell, we do not squander money, we do not overspend, we are careful with your money.

The 2018-19 budget will look a bit different from this year’s since we squeezed a lot of line items in order to maintain one more year of paying 3.75 full-time senior staff members (I worked ¾ time last year).  Since our Director of Lifespan Religious Education left late last church year (and we replaced her with me(!)), we really only supported 3 full-time staff members this year.  Consequently, our spending looks pretty good so far this year, even though we increased hours for our RE part-time staff, have me back working full-time, increased a few salaries to address pay-responsibility mismatches and had extra costs due to the illness of our bookkeeper and the initiation of the Wednesday Thing.

Next year’s budget (the one you are making a commitment toward on (or before) February 25) will look a little different because we will actually budget, on purpose, for 3 senior staff members.  This should result in a raise for the Lead Minister (only the second one in his 14-year tenure), and a restoration of many of the line items we reduced for this year’s budget.  Once we manage to get these goals checked off, the sky will be the limit in what we can do next.  My hope is that in the near future we will be able to continue keeping all of our salaries in step with UUA guidelines AND edge our current 4%-of-expenses donation to the Unitarian Universalist Association toward their wish for 6.5%.  We’re on a roll now and I’m happy to encourage continuing success!

Since I’m pretty sure that ONLY numbers people are still reading, I just want to reiterate our annual budget drive’s co-chairs’ message:  Your pledge makes a difference!  We know that each person’s contribution helped get us to last year’s total of $638,000.  By giving just a little bit more this year, we can sure get to $680,000!  We are grateful for all that takes place here at UUCA and for all who commit their time, talent and treasure to our beloved community.

Dr. Linda M. Topp, Director of Administration

PS  Remember to bring your Commitment Form to Celebration Sunday, February 25!

Our Incredible UUCA Family

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about family. Right before the New Year, my nuclear family welcomed our third child, Lyra, to the world. We were thankful to receive tremendous help from our extended family, but Josh and I had no idea we’d feel so much love and support from another family, UUCA. In mid-December, one of my covenant group members offered to start a meal train. I imagined it would consist mainly of our closest friends, which itself would have been an incredible help. Josh and I never dreamed our fellow congregants would provide an entire month’s worth of meals! And yes, many people who signed up were our good friends, but some we’d only met a few times, and a couple incredibly generous souls Josh and I had never even met previously. (I’m so glad that changed when they dropped off their meals!)

I cannot over-emphasize what a blessing it was—not just the food itself, but the stress it spared me of trying to throw something together while my kindergartener and preschooler sparred for attention and I tried to nurse the baby. Indeed, each day as the meals came, I became more overwhelmed by gratitude and the generousness of fellow congregants. Our hearts were nourished as much as our stomachs.

Whenever someone asks me why I first came to UUCA and why I stay, I invariably answer “community.” This past month, however, as we felt so deeply supported and cared for while adjusting to life as a family of five, I realized that UUCA has become more than a community for us. It’s another family, of which we’re honored to be a part.

One of our congregation’s new ends statements reads, “we create a community where people of all ages and backgrounds experience belonging, and feel loved and needed.” My family certainly felt this over the past month, not just because of the meal train, but also from much smaller acts of kindness: people reaching out via email or Facebook to check on us; Lyra’s birth announced in church; cards of congratulation. It’s gotten us thinking more than ever about how we can pay it forward.

In this trying political climate, many in our church family are in need of daily heart/soul nourishment. Many in our collective human family as well. We sometimes forget that the simplest, smallest acknowledgment can make a huge difference to another person, making them feel like a truly loved and needed member of a larger family.

It’s easy to get lost in our individual crazy-busy lives. Inspired by our incredible UUCA family, I’ve been challenging myself to increase my offerings of daily small kindnesses: more smiles at strangers, letting someone ahead of me in traffic, taking an extra minute to talk to a fellow frazzled parent and really listen. And if you’re up for it, I challenge you to do the same. It might not seem like much to you, but it just might be the thing that keeps someone else going.

Nora Carpenter, Board of Trustees

We Are Already Succeeding

This past weekend was a deep dive into UUCA activities for me, from being on the Search Committee for our new Minister of Faith Development, to the leadership event for this year’s annual budget drive. And sandwiched in between was a day of workshops focusing on faith development as a multigenerational endeavor facilitated by Connie Goodbread, Co-Lead of the UUA Southern Region. We had a terrific time working with the question, “How do our children and adults really get to know each other?”

The morning workshop was for RE Council. The faces were familiar, dedicated volunteers who have been serving together due to our vested interest in religious education programming at UUCA. The afternoon workshop consisted of approximately 25 congregants, about half of whom are actively parenting children and half are either non-parents or parents of grown children. Being a part of this diverse group was thrilling.  We were experiencing/creating multigenerational faith development together at that moment just by being present with each other.

Connie focused the group by having us list our desires for the workshop. We wanted to share our ideas, feel heard, know what is working at the multigenerational activities we currently offer at UUCA, what other congregations are doing, what being truly multigenerational would look and feel like, and how do our children and adults really get to know each other?

Connie reminded us that this workshop is covenantal just as creating multigenerational community is covenantal. She explained that covenant means we choose to come together with the commitment of loving one another through the process. As we discussed needs, got curious about possibilities and expressed concerns, our humanness showed up. Some people need more boundaries/clarity around how children will participate within our community while others desire direct support and involvement from our “elders.”  We all agreed that parenting and including children in traditionally adult spaces has changed over the decades. The moments of tension, desires to be heard, were held gracefully within the framework of covenant. It was so clear that everyone in the room cared deeply about understanding one another and creating a collective vision for connecting all generations in our unified faith development.

As the workshop ended there was clarity about a few goals. All voices supported moving forward with making UUCA a multigenerational faith community where adults and children grow in relationship and faith together. There was agreement that protecting the safety of our children is paramount and that the guidelines to provide that safety needs to be a collaborative conversation so that parents and all congregants can support them. There was agreement that this is uncharted territory not only for UUCA but for the UU community as a whole, and that we have taken action, we are experiencing success, we are on the path to worshiping, playing, learning and growing together multigenerationally.

The questions that remain are “how do we do this” and “how does it look and feel” being a multi-generational congregation? My guess is we will only know this as we walk in this process together, in covenant. With multiple generations comes multiple voices, multiple needs, multiple visions, multiple concerns. Some days I get exactly what I want.  Some days a compromise may be more on my shoulders to offer. Some days I may partially have my needs met.  Some days compromise will be for others to offer. Some days I will allow other’s needs to be fully met while I stand by, supporting them. The beauty of covenant is that we all agree to be in it together with love for each other and the process. What a gift to give ourselves, from the youngest to the oldest congregant.

Kelly Wedell, member of UUCA’s Religious Education Council