Rev. Lisa Bovee Kemper: What I Did This Summer

LBKI’ve always giggled at the idea of that obligatory grammar school essay titled, “What I Did This Summer.” I don’t recall ever being assigned one, but I know that I’ve thought about it, and never was sure what I would say. It feels so navel-gazey and boring. But this summer, while I was on sabbatical, I was able to delve into some learning and reflection, and I thought you might like to know a little bit about what I was up to.

When you tell someone you’re on sabbatical, they invariably get a bit of a glazed over look, wistful, as if they wish they could have three months of paid vacation from work. And I totally get that. In some ways, sabbatical seems like quite a luxury. And it is. But one of the things I realized while I was gone is that there is an impact to being constantly on call. It becomes really difficult to stop and rest, to turn off your work brain. And (act surprised when I say this!) I tend toward over-functioning, so it’s easy for me to “forget” to take all of my vacation time, to work through my days off. And that tendency means that by the time I left for sabbatical I was pretty exhausted and ready for a break.

So, while on sabbatical, I was primarily able to experience life with just a little bit more spaciousness in it. I took more naps, and cooked more complicated recipes. I had the time to take a course through Columbia Seminary in Decatur, GA on “Leading from the Second Chair” (as associate minister, I’m in the second chair) which gave me some good insights into how I execute my job responsibilities, and how I live out my call to ministry in this congregation. Mark and I are slated to have some conversation about what I learned and how it might impact the ways we work together.

And, I attended General Assembly in Columbus, OH. Primarily, my role there was to be the lead Co-Chair of the Right Relationship Team. But I also walked at the Service of the Living Tradition, which honors transitions in ministry – I was able to celebrate attaining Final Fellowship with my family and friends, and a few congregants and staff from UUCA who were in attendance.

The folks from UUCA generously gifted me with a lovely stole in honor of that milestone, for which I am grateful. With that, and another stole given by a friend from seminary, I started reflecting on what the ministerial stole means to me. When I was in Massachusetts serving a more formal congregation, I wore a robe before I was ordained, but the stole was most definitely reserved for after ordination. To me, it symbolizes the weight of the office of minister and the sacredness of what I am doing when I wear it. It has never been a tradition for ministers here at UUCA, and I have followed that tradition since I have been here. And yet, I have missed claiming that marker of my role, and the way it calls me into a head and heart space that is different from my every day work.

Mark and I have since had some conversation about our personal thoughts and feelings about vestments of all kinds, and we know that every minister has different perceptions and needs around this sort of thing. Mark and I don’t land in the same place on this one. But the conversations have been interesting and illuminating. And so, as we begin to mix things up a bit in worship, our attire is going to get mixed up a bit, too. You’ll begin to see me wearing a stole when I am in the pulpit.

These deeper reflections on what ministry looks like, and who we are as individuals and together, are the kinds of things that get pushed to the back burner when I’m in the day to day of managing programs and solving problems. It is good to get to pause and go deeper.

As I said in my first sermon back, it was good to be away, and it is good to be back.
Rev. Lisa
Bovee Kemper is the Associate Minister of UUCA

DLRE Joy Berry: Making More Time for All Ages

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We all joined hands to learn about covenants this Spring. Feeling deeply included in this church is important for people of all ages.

This September, we begin a change in the way we worship together. As Rev. Mark Ward announced in his blog a few weeks ago, we will now begin each Sunday together as a faith community, for the first part of worship. Children and youth, as well as teachers, will now be with the rest of the congregation for the beginning of each worship service. This means they will be present for the chalice lighting (recruiting now for older chalice lighters: 8 and up), a hymn, a story or other element with layered meaning for adults and children alike, and a ceremonial leave taking, including passing the flame from the chalice. Then the RE community will go down for multigenerational classes and activities (at 9:15) and regular, age-separated classes at 11:15.

We believe this special time together, specially constructed to maximize involvement and spiritual development in children, will have many positive effects on the whole community. We also recognize that such a change can be hard to imagine, amd may present challenges for some. Change can feel hard! We will all be learning together how to be together, leaning in to our covenant and growing our sense of who we are, what we are called to do, and how we are, together!

It is in this awareness that I share the following document with you all, to help ease the transition. In it, you will find suggestions for parents and families, children, and others in the congregation, to support and enhance this time together.

We look forward to being “all together now” this Fall!

 

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Kay Aler-Maida: Religion and Politics

voteRELIGION AND POLITICS

I just love presidential campaigns. Months and months of drama. Best of all (IMHO) is the intersection of religion and politics. Fascinating.

There is the BBC News report about the formation of an Amish Pac dedicated to getting the Amish, who have never seen a Trump tweet, to vote for Trump. Amish generally don’t vote preferring to “leave it up to God.” However, they live in substantial numbers in the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. So, I guess God is getting a helping hand.

Here’s a riddle: What do Donald Trump, Tim Kaine, and Pope Francis have in common?

Answer: all three were educated by Jesuits.

Catholics represent about one-fifth of the voters. Generally, 40 percent goes to each party, leaving 20 percent up for grabs. They are heavily concentrated in, oh-oh, the mid-west swing states.

So it has become almost a requirement to have a Catholic running mate. Obama & Joe Biden, Romney & Paul Ryan, Clinton & Tim Kaine (a Pope Francis Catholic) and Donald Trump & Mike Pence (an Evangelical Catholic.)

Be that as it may, let us remember the wise words of Richard Nixon – “The Vice President can’t help you . . . he can only hurt you.” And he would have known.

How are the campaigns doing religion-wise?

During the pope’s visit last February, Trump called him “disgraceful” and a “political pawn” of Mexico. Pope Francis responded, “A person, who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

However, James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, would disagree. He has assured gatherings of Evangelicals that Trump has accepted a “relationship with Christ” and is now “a baby Christian” implying that Trump would grow in this faith.

Meanwhile, Ben Carson is warning about Clinton’s connection with Lucifer. Clinton wrote her 1969 Wellesley undergraduate thesis on Saul Alinsky. Carson pointed out that the dedication in Alinsky’s book Rules for Radicals acknowledges Lucifer as the original radical who gained his own kingdom. Carson asks, “Can you vote for someone whose role model someone who acknowledges Lucifer?” Could be a case of better the devil you know . . . ?

While Trump is dealing with a “Gender Gap,” Clinton is dealing with the “God Gap” – where regular worshipers more often vote for Republican candidates.

In this week’s news, it appears that Mormons, with a history of being an oft-maligned religion and with a commitment to welcoming refugees, are put off by Trump’s stance on Muslims and immigration. Their ambivalence is putting the strongly Republican Southwest into play.

See, I said it was fascinating.

The U.S. Internal Revenue Code limits the political activities of tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, including churches. They can talk about issues but can’t endorse candidates if they wish to retain their tax-exempt status.

A recent Pew Center survey shows that some clergy have been speaking out about at least one or more social or political issues – conservatives on religious liberty & abortion; liberals on immigration & environment; more divided on homosexuality & economic inequality.

The provision of the tax code that prohibits endorsing political candidates was added in something called the (Lyndon) Johnson Amendment. This year’s Republican platform calls for the repeal of the Johnson Amendment as it limits free speech.

Maybe. Is it really a very big step from opinion on issues to opinion on candidates?

On the other hand, candidate yard signs in front of a congregation might not be supportive of congregational harmony.

Which would you prefer?

 

Rev. Mark Ward: We Are One-Coming Changes in Worship


We are One – Coming Changes in Worship

Mark-office-2016Last spring we began some important conversations around who we are and what we do as a truly multigenerational congregation that are opening up some new thinking. Like many churches, the model that we tended to follow divided what happened on Sunday mornings into two areas: “Worship,” an activity that was principally for adults, with occasional visits from children, and “Religious Education,” an activity intended principally for children.

In “Religious Education,” children were assigned to age-specific classes where adult teachers conveyed content of an agreed-upon curriculum. A sort of tacit understanding was that in time children would learn the stories and lessons that arise within our tradition and that would prepare them well for when they headed out into the world on their own.

There is a lot of good in that model – I’m a product of it myself – but in recent years people have been questioning whether it fits us. For one thing, it splits us into separate communities that rarely interact, and that doesn’t feel right. Families especially would like more opportunities to worship together, and both older and younger people would enjoy more chances to get to know each other. For another, we don’t really see our children as containers to be filled. Rather, we see them as curious, questioning souls who we hope grow into spiritually mature human beings. As William Ellery Channing put it nearly 200 years ago, “the great end in religious instruction is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but stir up their own.”

We’ve come to see that what we hope to achieve is not so much “religious education” as “faith development.” We seek to guide and encourage a nascent faith, that locus of trust and love that exists in every person, not so much by conveying information as seeking to awaken and develop a capacity that is already within us. Of course we still have much to convey, but it comes more often in the form of stories than facts and figures. And, more importantly, we remember that this is lifelong work: not just for children but for all of us. Joy Berry and I as well as other staff and lay leaders are still processing all that we learned in those conversations last spring, but expect to see our lifelong learning play out as we enter the year ahead.

One change I want you to know about will begin on September 11, and it’s intended to help break down the boundaries that our Sunday morning structures can create, albeit unintentionally. Beginning September 11, we will begin every Sunday service gathered as a full community with our children present. We will sing together and share a story or ritual together before separating for continued worship in our Sanctuary and Spirit Play and other activities elsewhere. Note that there will be opportunities for adult classes and activities on Sunday mornings outside of worship and more opportunities for older children and youth to participate in worship.

It’s a pretty big change, and I welcome your feedback on how it’s working for you. It will stay in place at least through the fall, and then we’ll assess what tweaks or changes we need to make. In the end, our goals are simple: to increase spiritual depth in each of us, to build a caring community across the congregation and to put that community to the service of freedom, justice and love in the world.

Rev. Mark Ward is the Lead Minister of UUCA.

Joy Berry: On Parenting in Troubled Times

We love to think of childhood as a magical kingdom where nobody dies, as Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote. The reality, as we know, is that many of our own childhoods were fractured and imperfect. And we know, too, that there are many children today–in our community and beyond–whose childhoods have rarely, or never, been so safe or pleasant.

Like many of you, I have struggled in the last few weeks and the last year.  Violence and injustice have become a presence even to my kids, who have been privileged (notice I don’t say blessed) to grow up safe, relatively whole, and healthy.  I became a mother as a teenager, and considered it my responsibility to not only protect my first child from harm, but to also protect him from knowing about the harm and damage in the wider world.

In the 22 years since then, my view of my responsibility as a parent has shifted, in tandem with my growing sense of what I was meant to do and be. As I became a more spiritually mature person, I began to see that protecting my children completely from the heartbreak of the world is no longer a primary goal.  Of course I am focused on making sure my children’s experience of the world is developmentally appropriate. I’m picky about what they see or play on screens, and I still do my best to reduce the risk of trauma and harm in their lives.  But it’s no longer the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay, but the Rev. Fred Rogers, I now lift up as my guiding parenting principle.

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We kid ourselves when we believe that our children, as they grow, don’t hear, see, and know about scary things happening. None of us can keep our four year old from seeing the car wreck as we drive by with no detour possible. None of us can erase the knowledge of the death of someone they love at 6 or 7. And none of us can completely insulate them at 8 or 10 from the news, these days so full of death, guns, and hate. All we can do is to attempt to build resilience, and to make sure they know that helpers are always on their way–to protect, to heal, to repair, to serve. And help them believe that they too, as they grow, are learning how to become a helper.

I had just begun my career as a professional religious educator and was in my home church working with a group of parents and children (including my own) when I received the call that my youngest brother and his partner had been murdered. I was 16 years into my mothering career, and I knew better than to think I could hide what was about to happen in our family. My children saw me grieve and rage. I had to make phone calls to the DA and the police and the news while they were in the car with me at times.There were funerals. Children left without parents. Shock and blame and anger and deep sorrow in every direction. I did the best I could to shield them from gruesome details or my worst reactions, but it wasn’t really possible, and I felt so sorry for that.

Two years later it became even harder to buffer them from painful reality. A member of my immediate family shot and killed his partner in a terrible moment catalyzed by extreme intoxication, but she was gone just the same, and he had pulled the trigger. My parents staggered under the weight of a second violent tragedy, and we all witnessed the anger and blame and shock of an entire community, this time pointed at our family, even as we too grieved her death and tried to come to grips with who we were, what had gone wrong, and so much loss. Then, too, my children saw and heard much more of this than I would have liked. And there was no way to protect them from it.

But in this second, unpreventable experience of exposure to violence and traumatic events, I began to have a different perspective on my responsibility to them, with respect to how I could best “protect and serve” them as a parent. I began to see that for my two younger kids especially, and for millions of others, having a firewall between them and the realities of the world is not an option. When your child’s family, neighborhood, larger community, or the world is beset by violence, it is that world they must find their way in, heartbreak and all.

I don’t normally speak of these very personal things in my professional life. But they came up for me in the last several weeks as I prepared to be with your children, and my own, in religious education activities and especially circle time on Sunday mornings. That special time when we gather and share is often the place where the difficult thoughts and fears they have been carrying get unshouldered and held in sacred space.  This Summer our very theme, Mission: Makers!, has called us to think and talk about how we could work to make change and a positive impact in the world. Especially, they’ve been sharing about big problems they are aware of, and brainstorming the kinds of inventions and changes that could help solve those problems.

Often the problems they mention include things they have seen or heard that they are clearly still needing to process. Sometimes they want to talk about what is on the news. I hold space for that, but guide them away from recounting a litany of scary details by telling them, basically, what Mr. Rogers shared above. That no matter what happens, no matter what scary or troubling thing occurs, help–and helpers–are on the way. We talk about who in our community they know as a helper. We talk about how those people are makers, too, because they help make things better. And then I bring them back to our work at hand, reminding them that THEY are makers, and they can help the world too, even right now. And we go on to discuss our project for the day, and how our mission as UUs calls us to keep striving to do whatever we can to make small changes that add to the net good in the world.

But I wanted to make sure I share with you my complicated, evolving take on what they need most from us right now, in such complicated times. Parents know best how to guide their children during traumatic events. Even for grown-ups, a constant stream of adult-focused news certainly isn’t good for any of us, so I encourage everyone to take in the information they need to be informed, but be sensitive to the need to have balance in their exposure to the news, especially graphic images. But please don’t go so far as to assume you will harm your school-aged child by discussing racism or the realities unfolding on our streets today, disturbing as they are. Your family values can still serve as the container that holds such conversations, and I hope you will remind your kids that there is much good in the world, and it’s that truth that we seek to increase.

But remember that only some of our kids get to be blissfully ignorant of the struggles and truths we often seek to keep from our own. And I wonder: if we want them to change the world, in reflection of our principles that hold up respect for all beings and the democratic process and equality for all people…do we do them any favors by pretending everything is fine? And if we hope they aren’t harmed by the reality we can’t change, doesn’t it help build resilience in them to see us commit ourselves to making things better, more just, more peaceful?

I look forward to talking more with you about how you are managing your children’s and grandchildren’s emotional and spiritual needs right now. And I appreciate the chance to share a bit more deeply about my own experience as a parent, and how it has changed over the years. Know that we are all holding each other in this challenging time, doing the very best we can. Take care of yourselves, and your kids–and stay open to having the difficult conversations that will best help build our children’s confidence, resilience and determination to create the world we dream about, for all children.

 

Kay Aler-Maida: Millennials-Who Are They?

millennialsIf the next generation is the future – What do we know about them? What’s important for them? Who are they?
    Millennials are the young adults who were born beginning around 1980 and who began to come of age around the year 2000. Google “Millennials” and you can find all kinds of fascinating information. Not surprisingly they are of great interest to those who do marketing, to political and tech types and, yes, to religious groups.
    What’s this research have to say for us?
    First, there are lots of Millennials. In 2015 there were more 24-year-olds in the U.S. than people of any other age (Census Bureau data). And more than half (56%) of minorities are Millennials or younger.
    Millennials have fewer attachments to traditional political and religious institutions. They connect to personalized networks of friends, colleagues and affinity groups through social and digital media.
    Overall, 35% of adult Millennials are religiously unaffiliated.
    And Millennials’ opinions of churches and religious organizations have become markedly more negative in the past five years. Since 2010 Millennials’ ratings of churches and religious organizations have dropped 18 percentage points. Five years ago 73% said churches have a positive impact, now 55% say churches have a positive impact.
It is possible that more Millennials will begin to identify with religion as they get older, get married and have children, but previous Pew Research Center studies suggest that generational cohorts typically do not become more religiously affiliated as they get older. And some suggest they become less so.
    We exist in a rapidly changing world environment that is calling into question our traditional modes of operation. How will we respond? Your Board is tasked to think about what our congregation will be like one or two generations from now and this is the main focus of our meetings. Stay tuned. We’ll be having ideas to share.

Kay is the President of the UUCA Board of Trustees

 

Dr. Linda Topp: Why Can’t We Talk About Money?

LindaTopp-2013-web  After attending several workshops on stewardship at General Assembly and being in the room for several very successful “asks” during worship services, here’s what I want to tell you about raising money for our operating fund, our annual budget drive, from my perspective.
    All fundraising is relational. It is about your relationship with the organization and/or the person asking you for a gift. Yes, you read that right–the way this works best is to be asked by a person who truly believes in the worthiness of the institution they are representing. It is also about being able to tell a compelling story that shows the worthiness of the institution in (at least) one particular case.
    At General Assembly’s Service of the Living Tradition (the one where Rev. Lisa was recognized as attaining Final Fellowship), a particular UU minister, Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, told his story of how money from the Living Tradition Fund was vital to saving his family after they were inundated by medical bills after the near-death of his son. At the Saturday morning General Session, Kenny Wiley, a quite amazing black UU, delivered an impassioned appeal about funding a relatively new group, Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism, being fairly specific about using funds for funding UUs of color to attend more UU gatherings such as General Assembly. This appeal resulted in a collection double the average amount collected at a Saturday General Session.
    At a gathering of people who had no prior relationship to Meadville Lombard Theological School but were invited to a breakfast because they had registered for GA, Denny Davidoff described the programs of the school, showed a 7-minute video of a specific student’s financial journey through the school, and then asked for donations. Meadville Lombard left with $101,000 in donations before the end of the breakfast.
    So why can’t we do that? Having been involved now in 4 separate annual fund drives at UUCA, I can tell you what I have seen. I have seen two dysfunctions in the congregation that have negatively impacted our fundraising. One is that many people in the congregation are highly resistant to any reference to money or fundraising at all. We hear, “All we ever talk about is money,” or “the only time I’m contacted is for the annual budget drive,” or “‘they are always asking me for money.” Non-church non-profits ask for support over and over and over. Maybe you won’t give on this ask, but then a different story, a different program, may resonate with you and you give. The organization requires money to operate, we need to ask for it. That’s all there is to it.
    And then there’s that resistance to talking with a visiting steward about money. Yes, it is likely that we can only muster a contact of everyone in the congregation once a year. As we learned during the Combined Capital/Annual Campaign, it is a massive undertaking to organize an every-member campaign. So, we combine our objectives. A single visit incorporates a discussion about your commitment and connection to the congregation, a discussion about the worthiness of this organization (do you believe UUCA should exist? why?), and a request for support—usually an increase in support since our expenses continually rise if for no other reason than modest inflation.
    As long as our church culture resists the “money” word and opportunities to discuss our congregation’s future, I don’t see how we will be able to 1) continue maintaining our current staffing level and 2) find volunteers who are willing to run an annual budget drive when it is such a frustrating endeavor and 3) eventually maintain our campus. I know we are better people than this. We understand that every charitable organization literally runs on money. No money, no organization. Is UUCA worthy of our time and money? Is it actually worth more to you, more to Asheville, more to the region, than you are currently giving? I would love to hear YOUR story of a time when you experienced the worthiness of UUCA. Because this is the conversation we need to be engaged in.

Linda is Director of Administration at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville.