Why Christmas?

It’s a question I’ve heard over the years:

“Now, you Unitarian Universalists don’t identify as Christian, is that right?”

“Well, there are certainly people in our congregations who are drawn to the teachings of Jesus and identify as Christian in some way. But, yes, I would say that as a denomination we are outside what I would call the Christian consensus. We respect Jesus, as we respect other prophets and teachers, but we don’t accord him special status or put him or his teachings at the center of our worship life.”

“OK. But then I see that you still make a big deal about Christmas. Why is that?”

It’s a good question, and answering it requires taking stock of a few points in our history and theology. The two historic movements that led to the religion we are today – Unitarianism and Universalism – both arose as Christian churches. But over the years for many historic reasons, both drifted outside of the Christian orbit.

We still honor that past, as you can see in the list of sources that we proclaim inform our living tradition, including among them “Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.” The ethic of love set out in those scriptures remains a strong grounding for our spiritual life, but we don’t necessarily buy into what the Christian church has made of it over the years.

Christmas itself can be problematic. Scholars have observed that many of the stories surrounding the holiday, from its timing at the end of the year, to the traveling Magi and Herod’s campaign of infanticide, have little foundation in truth beyond serving as political expediency for one group or another.

That said though, there is also something beautifully true about the Christmas story.  The Unitarian religious educator Sofia Lyon Fahs touched on it when she wrote, “Each night a child is born is a holy night.”

The Christmas story reminds us that each human life holds within it the potential for beautiful and amazing things. Each person is born fully worthy, fully whole, and new birth is cause for celebration. The rough manger, surrounded by curious visitors humble and great, over which joyous parents certainly hear hosannas of some sort, is a lovely image representing the kind of hope we all seek at the darkest moment of the year.

Christmas Eve is one of my favorite moments in our worship year. Our early service at 4 p.m. is full of story-telling, music, and fun with players of all ages in full costume. Our later service, beginning at 8:30 p.m. with a half-hour of wonderful music from our choir, moves on at 9 p.m. with a quieter, more meditative vibe. Gathered together with the midwinter dark and cold outside, we are given to reflect on the blessings of our lives, not least the community surrounding us that we continually create and sustain.

Of all that I will leave behind when I retire next June, I think that our Christmas Eve services are among those things that I will miss most. They have always served for me as a kind of hinge in the year, a moment when I feel most acutely how precious and precarious our brief lives are. But it is also a moment filled with deep gratitude for those I love and love me, for this congregation, for all the forces of hope and renewal that persist among us whatever the adversity.

Rev.. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Justice Ministry Update: Room at the Inn, #UUthevote and A Yellow-Shirt-Brigade Event Coming In January

The UUCA Justice Ministry Council is meeting monthly and hearing the many ways in which members of UUCA are engaged in the larger community.  As representatives of the different areas: Racial, Economic, Environmental and Gender & Sexuality Justice as well as Faith Development share their updates, I appreciate the importance of providing a space for connection and conversation about the successes, challenges and possibilities of justice work. As staff liaison I am able to provide support to members of the different areas who are organizing and promoting opportunities for service, education, advocacy and witness. 

At our last meeting we heard about the ongoing work of UUCA volunteers participating in Room in the Inn, the interfaith shelter for women living with homelessness. This month extra volunteers and resources were needed because the cold weather brought 20 instead of the 12 expected women to the shelter at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. Paula Massey, the UUCA coordinator thanked all last minute volunteers in a recent e-news. She and her team: Allison Jordan and Martha Shephard have been coordinating this effort for the last 17 years, yes, 17 years!
The next RITI is February 9-15, 2020. What does it entail? Hosting starts on Sunday afternoon (Feb. 9) and overnight folks are needed for the 7 nights, two UUs per night -Grace Covenant provides two as well. Volunteers provide all 7 days of lunches plus 3 dinners.  They also pick up women at 5:45 pm at AHOPE and then in the morning they get dropped off at various places.  It takes about 50 UU and 50 GCPC volunteers to make it work.  And since it is at GCPC they have to break down a Sunday school room to make into a dorm and stock the kitchen plus make sure there are enough blankets and pillows.  And then early the next Sunday morning, after the women leave, that same room has to be cleaned and set back up for Sunday School at 9:30 am.  Yes, it is a big effort and an important commitment. Were you aware of this life affirming interfaith effort? If you are interested in being a February volunteer, contact Paula at massey.paula@gmail.com

Room in the Inn, is one of many outreach projects in which members of UUCA engage. On January 19 we will be launching the “#UU the Vote Challenge” organized by the Unitarian Universalist Association to encourage congregations to partner with local electoral justice partners to mobilize voters, combat voter suppression and leverage our resources to #VoteLove and #DefeatHate. The official launch is January 12 if you are interested in learning more before we make it a congregational project. The Justice Ministry Council will be sharing ways of getting our congregation involved and further supporting those among us who are involved in electoral justice work. The organizers of   #UUtheVote remind us that all the issues we care deeply about – climate, immigration, LGBTQ, racial, economic justice and so on are at stake in the 2020 election.  They state this campaign isn’t about “another thing to work on” or abandoning the work we passionately engage in; it is about incorporating an electoral lens into our strategies. You’ll hear more about that at our launch January 19 during Sunday worship which will also be a Yellow Shirt Brigade event. That means you are invited to wear the yellow “Side with Love” t-shirt to show solidarity and witness for love. Of course, you will want to avoid spilling coffee on your t-shirt so you can wear it January 20 when we march in the 2020 Martin Luther King Rally. Don’t have a t-shirt? You can order one at  https://www.uuabookstore.org/Side-with-Love-C1401.aspx

Be on the look out for other Yellow Shirt Brigade events in the e-News.  In the meanwhile, check out the Justice Ministry bulletin board in Sandburg Hall. To receive the UUCA Faith in Action e-News or share information contact Elizabeth Schell elizabeth@lainschell.com  The deadline for the next issue is December 4 by 5pm.

Holiday Generosity

This time of year, non-profits the world over notice an impulse to give generously during the holiday season.  They are asking you to think of them when your generosity gene gets activated.  They’re sending out pleas for end-of-year donations that might help tax situations (less likely these days now that the standard deduction has been raised).  So here we are!  YES!  UUCA would love to be a recipient of your generosity!  (Just sayin’.)

And to that end, here is the official UUCA 2019 Wish List….. 

Um, except here’s the thing.  You know how it’s hard to buy stuff for family members because they buy all the inexpensive things for themselves when they need them and there’s no way you can afford the expensive things?  Well, same thing here.  If it’s something that a congregant might consider buying for us, it’s probably inexpensive enough to be funded by our budget.  And our very successful wish lists of the past three years have allowed us to buy the off-budget items we need.  So here we are, hoping you’ll fund something for us, but what can that be?

Here’s an idea I’m stealing from the Annual Budget Drive team.  How about if we join up together so that we can buy a couple of high-value items?  I’m thinking about a couple of building upgrades for the main building.

Fund this: A New Closet (!) and Energy-Efficient Windows for Sandburg Hall

We’ve been dreaming of a place to put stuff like the extra Sanctuary chairs, and even large TV screens, “away.”  But right now, there is no “away” to be had.  

Sandburg

We’d like to build a room-size closet (similar to the handicap restroom) where the library is currently located.  We’d downsize (but not eliminate) the library, add our closet, and then re-work that highly leaky and insecure “window-wall-with-sliding-doors” so that it is less window, more wall, with an easy-to-open door so that we make better use of our deck.  We could even buy sensible, commercial-grade furniture for the deck.  Wouldn’t that be something?

This one ought to be an easy group effort because we’ve already had a generous donor who has given us a great head start on fully funding this project.  Designate your gift to the Capital Fund and we’ll know just what to do with your donation.

And if we have extra, there’s another part to improving the deck area we’d like to complete.  We want to pave the area UNDER the deck to make it into another gathering area as we continue improvements to the yard area between the deck and the Memorial Garden.  (You can see we’ve sort of gotten started.)

IMG_0356 (1)

I’ll have cost estimates for these projects after Thanksgiving but in the meantime, you can challenge your circle of friends to group up together for a larger donation than any of you could give by yourselves.  We’ve got this—together!

Preparing for Change

TransitionIn the months that have passed since Mark announced his retirement, I have experienced feelings of both sadness and perhaps even a little denial. I can definitely say that for my family, Mark has been a comfort, a supporter, and an inspiration through both good times and bad since my husband and I first became members of UUCA in 2008. As we approach Thanksgiving, Mark Ward is high on our thankfulness list indeed!

However, in addition to this nostalgia and gratitude, I am sure that I am not alone in wondering what his departure will mean for us as a congregation. What will happen once he moves on?

Ministerial transitions, by nature, are periods of change filled with nervousness for congregations, but I believe we can also look at this upcoming transition as a time of excitement and energy as we map out a new future for the UUCA.

In the coming months, there will be much to talk about. We will share information and updates as well as opportunities to support and guide this transition. The bulk of this work won’t really begin until after the coming of the new year, but I figured that now would be a good time to begin to share some basic information and the timeline on our road ahead together.

There are two types of ministers with whom we will be involved in the coming years. First of all, beginning in January, we will begin the process of seeking out a “Transition Minister” (also called an Interim Minister). These ministers have special training to help guide congregations in transition through a series of tasks that help them prepare for their next permanent, or “Called Minister.” Mark has served as our “Called Minister” for the past 15 years.

Once we have a “Transition Minister” in place, we will work with them for 24 months to find our “Called Minister.” Why two years?! The UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association) Transition Office suggests that congregations that work successfully with their “Transition Minister” for two years have a much greater success (90%) of finding a “Called Minister” who matches their needs, while congregations working with their “Transition Minister” for 12 months or less have a lower (56%). success rate. The mantra of the UUA Transition Office is “Doing it well beats doing it quickly.”

Therefore based on this guidance, it is the intention of the Board of Trustees to begin the search for our two-year “Transition Minister” in the months ahead. This is how that process will work:

With guidance from the UUA Transition office, the Board will begin seeking congregational members to form the Transition Minister Search Committee. This committee will consist of 5 members who will lead the search process. The selection of this committee will be finalized in the early months of 2020.

Once the committee has been selected, they will begin preparing and completing an Interim Search Packet and submitting it to the UUA for publication and promotion. The earliest submission date for this information is April 9th, 2020.

On May 2nd, 2020, the UUA will release the names of all interested applicants to us. Committee members will sort through these applicants and conduct interviews. A few weeks later on May 18th, the board will finalize the committee’s recommendations to the UUA Transition Office. On May 20th at noon, offers will be extended to the desired “Transition Minister”.

It is important to note that several people have asked me if Rev. Claudia would be able to apply to be our “Called Minister,” but the UUA does not recommend that a Minister of Faith Development become a “Called Minister” in the same congregation. The board intends to follow that recommendation. Also, Rev. Claudia has told us that she is not interested in applying for the Lead position. Rev. Claudia will continue to be fully present and serve our community with her passion, love, and joy during this time of transition.

At times our work together will be filled with trepidation and uncertainty, but as a Board we will strive to be as transparent about the process as possible. To this end, the board will host a series of information Q&A’s in December to provide more detailed information and to answer questions about our upcoming work. We will widely publicize dates and times as soon as they are confirmed.

In addition, any Board member is also available individually to answer your questions, take your comments, and just listen to your thoughts about this process. As Board President, I am committed to this as well. You can email me, call me at (919) 619-7298, or simply grab me by the arm when you see me at services.

We are all incredibly grateful for all that Mark has done to serve us as individuals, as a congregation, and as a part of our larger community in Asheville. In the coming months, we will share that gratitude with him as we prepare for a new “Called Minister.”

I am thankful for this congregation as a whole. We are healthy and caring and creative. That will serve us well as we move into this transition and new future together!

Ryan Williams
Board of Trustees – President

Using Our Resources For the Greater Good


Why does this congregation exist?  Who are we supposed to be serving?  These are basic questions that we should know the answers to when we make a decision to donate our time, talent and money to UUCA.  I can’t answer those questions for you, but I can make a case that we are not just here to serve our own members (though we kind of have to do that at some level, right?) but to serve “our neighbors.”

One way that we serve our neighbors is to share our resources with them.  As a faith community, we have chosen to collect money every month and donate it to a local non-profit organization, often becoming one of a very small non-profit’s biggest donors.  So we share our wealth with our neighbors.

We have members who have 1) recently drummed up our support for the Blue Ridge Pride Procession and Festival, 2) assisted in offering a very well-attended, public workshop addressing the opportunity gap in our area schools, and 3) are planning a public program to reclaim Armistice Day, which was designated as “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated on November 11.”  That event will be here on 11/11 at 11am in our Sanctuary. So we share our talents with our neighbors.

And speaking of our Sanctuary, we have a campus which we support and maintain through your generosity during our annual budget drive.  We pass your generosity on by offering our spaces to a wide variety of charitable organizations at low or no cost.  Just in the past month we’ve hosted meetings or events for: Narcotics Anonymous; a young men’s mentoring group; Guardian ad Litem; Buncombe County Department of Health; HelpMate and Our Voice; a support group for people with ALS and caregivers; Just Economics; and the cooperative preschool that meets for a half-day every school day.  So we share our buildings with our neighbors.  In fact, about 1/3 of the time, our building is used by outside groups.  That is really good sharing!

So look at that.  You contribute your time, talent and money to UUCA.  Then, our congregation not only provides the support and experiences one can expect from a faith community but also acts as a base to improve the lives of those beyond our faith community.  That ought to give you something to mull over as you think about those beginning questions: Why does this congregation exist?  Who are we supposed to be serving? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday Connections

I just returned from a two-week break from routines, work and the news. I feel refreshed and re-energized. As much as I enjoy the challenges and joys of ministry a pause from it all helps me regain perspective. And so does the midweek experience of The Wednesday Thing. Thanks to the shared ministry efforts of lay leaders, volunteers and staff all are welcomed to participate in a time of fun, fellowship, worship and learning every Wednesday evening at UUCA. When was the last time you participated in this growing and nurturing faith development program?

Some join us for the meal at 5:45 pm, usually soup and salad (pizza and salad on 4th Wednesday). Others join us for dinner and Vespers, a short, reflective, evening gathering in the Sanctuary at 6:30. Some just come for programs at 7:00. Regardless of whether you come for one, two or three of the offerings you will experience the synergy resulting from the creation of a space that comes alive with your presence. During the past year I have watched as relationships across the ages develop over shared meals. I think that is how our sense of belonging to each other develops. We feel seen and known as we engage in conversation and get to know people outside our familiar circle of friends.

Last night, Brett Johnson and The Sandburgers offered an embodied, musical evensong service created for our multigenerational Wednesday Thing community. My day had been full and busy, and I was looking forward to a time of reflection and slowing down before heading home. The opportunity to sing, reflect and even move a little in community was just what I needed.  Vespers leaders and approaches vary every Wednesday.  Members are welcome to share their spiritual practices and creativity with us.  There is always a spiritual experience that uplifts and challenges us to go deeper mid-week. Please contact me if you are interested in being a Vespers leader. We have guidelines and resources to support your effort.

After Vespers, I found myself with a multi-age group of dancers laughing and responding to the rhythms and facilitation offered by local dance instructor Lisa Zahiya. Dancing with some of our youngest UUs, experiencing their energy, laughter, and enthusiasm was delightful. Lisa Z will be back November 20 offering a Zumba-style program with Latin rhythms and simple choreography. While we danced, another group was in the Sanctuary listening to a TED talk about the power of vulnerability by Brené Brown. We are grateful for Noel Yovovich’s organizing this year’s TED talk series. Thank you, Noel!

This year we are offering on average two programs each Wednesday.  On October 30 there will be Mask-Making Fun for all ages in Sandburg Hall. In the Sanctuary, the Odyssey program resumes with Gina Phairas interviewing long-time member and former Deputy Director of the Asheville Housing Authority, Larry Holt, about his life and UU experiences. He proudly identifies as a Unicorn. If you do not know what this is, well, join us and find out! 

The goal of the Odyssey program is to invite the elders in our community to share their stories; the experiences that have made them who they are that are often unknown to many in the congregation. Too often we learn the most amazing things about people at their memorial services.  We think that is too late! If you have any candidates you would like us to invite to share their stories, please let me know. Your suggestions and feedback for how we can continue to improve The Wednesday Thing are welcome. See you on the 30th!

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
faithdev@uuasheville.org

Risky Business

risk-3576044_640One of the more important parts of my job involves risk management.  That’s why so often I end up looking like a blocker instead of a promoter.  It’s not me, honest!  It’s the job.  “Will that be a trip hazard? Are all volunteers who work with kids background-checked? You want to build a campfire where? Is cash being handled properly? Does our insurance coverage adequately address sexual abuse? Are the fire extinguishers checked regularly?  Copyright permission? Do people know not to use cell phones while driving (in general, but certainly while driving for a church errand)?  Are our hiring policies up-to-date?  Did I just accidentally download a computer virus?  What can we lose if we get attacked by ransomware?”  And on it goes.

One of the ways we manage risk is to create policies (which are all on our website, off of the Board of Trustees page).  Although some of our policies are designed to help people figure out how things are done around here (examples include “Inclement Weather,” “Gift Acceptance,” “New Social Groups”), many of them are created to help manage risk.  Some of these include “Cell Phone Use,” “Childcare at UUCA,” and “Financial Policy and Procedures.”

Probably the most important “risk management” policy is the one entitled, “Healthy Congregation.”  This policy lays out the whys and wherefores of being in healthy relationship with one another. To help with risk management, it also lists the steps that can be taken when an individual acts in a way that is offensive or disruptive.  It is especially attentive to adult-child relationships.

As a best practice for churches, this document describes behaviors that are considered unhealthy or inappropriate, along with alternative appropriate behaviors.  It addresses physical and verbal interactions and describes various forms of bullying that will not be tolerated.  It is extremely detailed in addressing sexual abuse.

This policy requires training in recognizing and preventing sexual abuse for all of our religious education teachers, with formal training programs required of all staff members.  The training that staff members have participated in this year comes from a group called Darkness2Light and is called “Stewards of Children.”  There is an online version of this course that anyone can take for $10.  It is also occasionally available as a live course in Asheville through the Buncombe Partnership for Children.

The policy also is very specific about the actions we take to safeguard our children and youth in other ways, too.  All in all, this is probably the most important policy we have.  I hope you take time to read it.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration