Justice Ministry Update


The Earth and Environmental Justice Ministry team is now the Justice Ministry Team in recognition of the interconnectedness and complexity of the work of justice. The Justice Ministry Council has held two organizational meetings to prepare ourselves to support and bring together the different justice projects and action groups in our congregation. Our goals are to:

  1. Facilitate connection and communication between the groups and the congregation
  2. Provide spiritual grounding and educational opportunities to inform and sustain the justice work of the congregation
  3. Create a vision for Justice Ministry aligned with the theme of “Sanctuary Everywhere”
  4. Facilitate budgeting and a reporting process so there is accountability to the congregation

The Council includes representatives from each of the following areas:

Racial Justice – Eleanor Lane
Environmental Justice –  Wink Zachritz
Economic Justice – Joyce Birkenholz
LBGTQ+/Gender Justice – Shawn Landreth
Denominational Action – Deb Holden
Faith Development –  Martha Kiger, Melissa Murphy
Community Plate – Linda Kookier
Spiritual Grounding – Nancy Bragg

Whew! What an awesome group. You will be hearing about our work through the Justice Ministry eNews (contact Elizabeth Schell elizabeth@lainschell.com to register), the Justice Ministry Table on Sunday mornings and the soon-to-be-updated bulletin board in Sandburg Hall.  Opportunities for engagement will be announced in the Sunday  insert and the Weekly eNews.

Yes, this is a lot of information. It takes teamwork and collaboration to stay connected and informed about the work of putting our faith into action. Each of our individual yeses contributes to being part of creating the inclusive, welcoming Beloved Community we talk about.

I am excited to work with the Justice Ministry team this year.  I look forward to learning together, engaging together, and laughing together as this ministry transforms us, strengthens our connection to each other, and challenges us to learn from our inevitable mistakes. As UU Rev. Mark Morrison Reed reminds us,

“It is the church that assures us that we are not struggling for justice on our own, but as members of a larger community. The religious community is essential, for alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be seen, and our strength too limited to do all that must be done. Together, our vision widens and our strength is renewed.”

Below are a few opportunities to join others in the work of justice in the coming month. Visit the Justice Ministry Table in Sandburg Hall Sunday morning for details.

Sept 5 Voter Registration Training sponsored by the League of Women Voters; 6PM; North Buncombe Library. It will be led by UUCA member, Melissa Murphy.

Sept 13  Anti-Racism & Sanctuary Training hosted by UUCA sponsored by CIMA and Faith Communities Organizing for Sanctuary; 9:30-4:00 PM, sliding scale $35-$65 includes lunch. Register here.

Sept 22 Mary Katherine Morn preaching at UUCA . She will share information about the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). Deb Holden is leading the effort to bring back the UUSC Guest at Your Table Program to UUCA.  Thank you, Deb!

Sept 28 Blue Ridge Pride. UUCA participation being organized by Universal Rainbow Unity (URU); 11:00 AM- 7:00 PM; Pack Square.  URU encourages multigenerational participation.


Don’t Be Afraid of Change

“Don’t be afraid of some change, don’t be afraid of some change;
Today will be a joyful day, Enter, rejoice and come in.”

We sing this hymn on a regular basis – this is my favorite stanza.  Those in our congregation who have come to know me as a fairly extroverted blabbermouth will be shocked to learn that I was once a painfully shy nonentity who regarded change as anathema.  My father was a contract engineer in the aerospace industry in the 50s and 60s. Among other projects involved with rocketing folks into space, he worked on the Mercury program in Huntsville, AL, on the Redstone Arsenal with no less a personage than Wernher von Braun. I took dance lessons when I was five with his daughter Margrit.

All this “glory” was totally lost on me.  I attended four elementary schools, one junior high and two high schools. I did not enjoy being uprooted so often, and when I landed in my second high school, I chose to fold my social tents and abstain. Change had just gotten too hard for me to bear.  I attended my 10-year high school reunion in 1980 but still felt like such an unwanted fifth wheel in the tiny little town of Marion, VA that I have never gone back.

I married into a very loud family and had to get loud or die, which was very good for me!  
Thirty -five years later, I moved to western North Carolina soon after my husband’s unexpected death at the age of 58.  Now THAT was a change – and a painful one, but so much joy has come from it.  I would not be a member of this congregation, nor would I have even discovered Unitarian Universalism, in all likelihood, were I still living in Baton Rouge with my husband. I have an adult daughter and a granddaughter living with me now, and I have the great privilege of helping to rear four-year-old Allita, who would almost certainly not even exist if our family had not been convulsed with my husband’s death.

I no longer regard change as an unmitigated evil but as an opportunity and an entrance to something good just around the corner and out of sight. Even if it doesn’t feel good initially, change is essential to the progress of life, as anyone familiar with the theory of evolution well knows. 

Change drives discovery; discovery brings growth and, sometimes, I would say often, great joy and spiritual growth.  People, singly and in groups, need to fully embrace change when it comes, as it always does, even when change is initially upsetting and seems to be a cause for unmitigated grief. Change, approached constructively, can be used to discover new insights, new people and more joy.

Don’t be afraid of some change!

Judy Harper, Board of Trustees



A New Page for You, for Me

Change is the river we swim in, friends, and the change I want to talk about this month has to do with me. As I announced on Sunday, this current church year will be my last at UUCA. I will retire as your lead minister as of June 30, 2020.

It’s a big change for all of us. For me, it will end my tenure here and open a new chapter in my life; for you, it will be a moment of taking stock, then starting the exciting process of self-reflection and search for the next person to serve as your lead minister.

I am happy to say that there is nothing particular driving this decision. My health is good, and I enjoy the work with you. For those reasons, though, this is also a good time to leave. Moving into what for many is retirement age,  I find myself ready for a change, and you are a strong and vital congregation that has the resources and good leadership to get through a major transition like this and come out stronger.

Indeed, that is my hope for you. Change in leadership can be an occasion to challenge old assumptions or ways of doing things and open the door to newer, fresher ways living into the faith that you here embody. You are a happening congregation, and I feel certain that great things await you. I am making this announcement now, some 10 months before I actually leave, to give you the space to work through how you want this transition to go. I am already in conversation with the Board about how to structure that conversation. You will be hearing more from them soon about their plans.

What can you look forward to? I can tell you that people who work with churches recommend that congregations who are concluding a long-term ministry bring on an interim minister to work with them for one to two years. This gives the congregation time to get a strong sense of itself and gain clarity on the qualities of leadership they seek.

For many of you, I know, this process is new, but you have people in leadership and on staff who have been through ministerial transitions before and can help you navigate this. Also there are resources at the Unitarian Universalist Association to help coach you on this transition. In this next year, I promise to do what I can to help make this a successful transition.

In the midst of this, though, I have to own the sadness I feel to think about leaving this place. The nearly 16 years I have been here have changed me in the best possible ways. I love you, and I am so grateful for all that you have given me.

That said, you need to know that, while Debbie and I will remain in Asheville, once I leave in June you won’t be seeing me at church for at least a couple of years. It’s part of the commitment that we UU ministers ask of each other: to put distance between ourselves and the congregation we had been serving so that the congregation and the colleague who follows us can make their own covenants and find their own way together without our interference. Out of respect for you and whoever succeeds me I affirm that practice and consider it wise.

As for my own future, I am mulling lots of things. For a time, though, I plan to press the pause button and settle into this new life. But I know that there is too much in the world that calls to me to sit on the sidelines for long.

Meanwhile, we have a great year coming up, and I’m looking forward to my part in it. Please keep an eye out for our weekly enews and other announcements on what to expect. And do look for ways to dive in and take part. It is by participating that you get the greatest benefit of this community.

In peace,



Report From General Assembly

From June 19-23, I was a delegate from UUCA for the 2019 General Assembly (GA) in Spokane, WA.
What is General Assembly (GA)? GA is the annual gathering of UUs to deal with the business of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), worship together, and attend workshops. Worship was lively and multicultural including music such as “There is More Love (Somewhere)” and “Keep On Moving Forward.” The workshops ranged from those with broad appeal such as: “Strategies for Community Organizing,” “Faithing Family,” and “Achieving Our 6th Principle Goal of World Community” to specific “role-based programming” for specific positions in UU congregations (e.g., musicians, treasurers, religious educators). One of my favorite sessions was an interview with Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, where she examined “whiteness” and how it shapes interracial interactions.  See her work here.

One of the most beloved GA rituals, the “banner parade,” occurs at the Opening Ceremony. Each attending congregation marches into the convention hall with their unique congregational banner. It feels quite unusual and amazing to be surrounded by thousands of UUs. See the UUCA banner and our representatives from last year’s Banner Parade here.

I encourage you to watch the entire Sunday worship especially Reverend Marta Valentín’s powerful message about the need for full inclusion within Unitarian Universalism.

What is a delegate?

As a UUCA delegate you attend the General Sessions and vote your conscience on matters that affect the Unitarian Universalist Association.

What matters were voted on?

Every year “Actions of Immediate Witness” (AIWs) are selected by the body to “express the conscience of the delegates.” This year’s AIWs addressed: “Immigration and Asylum,” “Building the Movement for a Green New Deal,” and “Supporting Our First Amendment Right to Boycott” (related to Israel/Palestine).

Based on three years of congregational study, delegates also passed a Statement of Conscience titled “Our Democracy Uncorrupted.” While the statement passed by a large margin, there was a lively debate regarding the statement’s charge to “repeal the electoral college.”

Although UUs love to debate, a number of non-controversial issues quickly passed. There was a very close yet successful vote to make it more difficult to be a petition candidate for a UUA position (e.g. President). The most controversial thing that happened at GA was when a UU minister handed out a self-authored pamphlet that criticized, as overly “PC,” the UUA’s campaign to “dismantle white supremacy” within UUism. Read more here.

GA is a great way to meet UUs from around the country and to seek inspiration. If you are interested in being a delegate in the future speak to the Board of Trustees (and they might even help offset the cost of registration). Upcoming General Assemblies include Providence, RI (2020) and Milwaukee, WI (2021). Contact me, Mary Alm (“UUCA Queen of GA” [my term]), or Linda Topp for more info.

Brett Johnson

Coming of Age Youth Thanks UUCA

On behalf of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville and this year’s Coming of Age Class, I want to thank you for your generous contribution to our Coming of Age program’s trip to the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York.  Your contribution made possible a week-long learning adventure for nine teens and four chaperones.  Traveling in two vans, covering over 700 miles each way, there were visits to three different UU congregations, a tour of Cornell University and the Entomology Department, time for hiking and swimming and several days of service projects at the Farm Sanctuary.  

During the trip, the Coming of Age participants got to put their UU values into action.  They experienced each other’s support on the emotional ups and downs of a very active trip in close quarters, explored the interconnectedness of all beings, and gained insight into the food production system that feeds us.  They also experienced some added independence in being responsible for their daily budgets and schedules.

Here are some quotes from the COA teens:

“I became responsible with money and eating wisely on the COA trip.”

“This trip was such a unique experience.  I learned a lot of information at Farm Sanctuary that was heartbreaking but was really a wake-up call for how I can make a difference.  I am really grateful to the donors for making it possible for us to go on this exciting trip!”

“The trip was wonderful and the Farm Sanctuary was enlightening.”

“One of the best experiences of my life.  A true bonding trip. The animals were cute.  It made me think about becoming vegan.”

And from their chaperones:

“I am grateful to have been part of this trip. It was incredibly rewarding to get to know the teens a little better as they learn about their UU values and how to live them. “

“I volunteered to chaperone so I could get to know the CoA youth. I can report complete success on that front! I particularly enjoyed discussing current events, the Democratic debates, and a couple of philosophical conundrums that helped to pass time during the long drives. I’m curious to know if our visit to the Farm Sanctuary changed any attitudes towards their dietary choices. I look forward to exploring that and other topics with them during the coming year.”

“This trip was the culmination of a year-long experience in which participants explored their own understanding of spirituality, God, the inherent worth of each individual, and their interconnectedness to the world around them.  At the end of the year, the youth presented their credos to the congregation in a service that they planned and delivered.”

“I know that when I thought about my children coming to UUCA, I envisioned that my kids would have a community of peers, outside of school, that shared their values and were supportive.  This CoA group gave me faith that that is possible. Each of these students had different personalities and yet they have a strong bond and truly supported each other during the trip. Their connection was strong, but even got stronger through spending time together on the trip learning, working, having fun and exploring their UU identity.”

Again, thank you for your support and for making this invaluable experience possible.

Tom Dessereau, on behalf of the parents of this Coming of Age class.



Has It Been A Year?!

If you have ever wondered what benefit we receive from our financial contribution to the UUA in Boston, this blog is for you! Last month three of the UUA Congregational Life Staff facilitated a workshop for UUCA staff, board members and lay leaders to reflect through candid conversation on the first year of my ministry with you. This gathering brought together approximately 25 individuals on a beautiful May weekend when many would have preferred to be enjoying time with their families. I am grateful for each one of them and their commitment to supporting my ministry with you.

Our gathering involved a lot of storytelling. The story of the position I hold, the story of policy governance at UUCA, the story of the journey that led me to you and the story of this past year. Last month, Mark’s blog described the story of my position. This month I will reflect on the time I have spent with you and the takeaways from this gathering.

However, I will begin with a brief summary of why I chose this position. When I read the job description I felt it was tailor-made for me. Faith development was my ministry as a seventeen-year religious educator and I had always dreamed of serving a large congregation with a thriving religious education program. Check. I also wondered what it would be like to serve a congregation that offered midweek worship, fellowship, and programs. UUCA has The Wednesday Thing. Check. I also wanted a position that would allow me to develop my pastoral care and worship skills. Check. I applied with excitement and apprehension…. and was offered the job!

During these ten months, my ministry with you has been rewarding and challenging. Just what I expected it to be in a position that is “experimental” because two positions, religious education director and minister, were combined into one. I have spent time getting to know the congregation and the systems at work within it. I have also worked with committed individuals who serve on the RE Council, Congregational Care Team, The Wednesday Thing Planning Team, and the Committee on the Ministry whose time and talents ensure that the ministry of Faith Development thrives at UUCA. I cannot do the work delineated in my job description alone. We share the ministry at UUCA. During one of my first sermons with you, I used this anonymous quote to describe my view of ministry.  It is worth repeating:

“Ministry is the act of ministering to. It is the way we are mindful and nurturing of each other. Ministry is not something only ordained ministers do. When we care with someone, when we stand with them through struggle, when we help them learn and grow, we are engaging in ministry. When we offer programs that engage the heart, the mind or the spirit we are engaging in ministry.”

Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas of challenge and improvement. Those surfaced during our conversations, as well as other important learnings. I have summarized them into five takeaways that I will continue to explore in the coming year.

  1. Covenant is central to our work together. We make agreements as staff or members of UUCA about how we are going to be with each other. My ministry relies on upholding the covenants made among staff, ministers and the congregation so that together we can fulfill the purpose of this church, which is ultimately to transform lives by connecting hearts, challenging minds, nurturing spirits and serving the community. With covenant also comes the reality of fallible humans breaking covenant. How do we re-covenant when we inevitably miss the mark? How many of us are familiar with our congregational covenants (Yes, there is more than one)?
  2. Communication is crucial to our work together. One of the challenges I have faced is the assumption that I am the director of religious education. While I supervise and provide leadership to our adult and children’s RE programs, I have other responsibilities which make it unrealistic for me to function in that capacity. I wonder how I can better communicate this to the congregation? Also, in providing leadership for The Wednesday Thing and Congregational Care, how do we effectively communicate what we are doing and what congregational support is needed?
  3. Recruiting individuals to support the ministries of UUCA is vital. Right now, RE is recruiting facilitators for next year’s RE program. Last year we had 75 individuals willing to serve as facilitators. (Thank you!!) It was affirming to honor them during the Teacher Dedication on the first day of RE. I am optimistic by the end of the summer our teaching teams will be complete. And yet, we have other areas of ministry that require individuals willing to serve, too. When volunteers are lacking, people are paid to do tasks such as preparing the coffee after Sunday service and cleaning up afterward, or weeding and raking leaves. However, that approach is not the best way to use our precious financial resources. How do we encourage greater service and participation? Are we trying to do too much?
  4. We are understaffed. OR Is there a body missing? When I started my ministry with you, our religious educators, Jen Johnson and Kim Collins, took on the role of DRE and had everything ready for the new RE year. I wish I could say I came in and took back many of those roles. But the reality is that my other job responsibilities have made that difficult. Their job descriptions say they are coordinators, but they do more than that. We are spread thin and can’t do it all. Our children and youth programs are rich and diverse. What do we let go of?  What can we let die so something else can be born? How can we work realistic hours and provide the excellence in religious education that the congregation expects? Is there a body missing?
  5. Policy governance is an imperfect model, as are all governance models. My understanding is that it delegates authority with accountability within the parameters of the mission and vision of UUCA. However, during the gathering it became apparent that there was a disconnect between the board and the ministry of faith development. It led to the question: Where does the vision for Faith Development reside? If the work of the church is transformation as participants develop a UU identity, deepen their spirituality, and put their faith into action, what is the board’s role in strategizing how this will happen? How do they stay connected with the ministry of Faith Development while avoiding micromanaging staff and programs?

These are my takeaways and the questions that arose during our time together. What is missing is that as a result of my conversations with Mark about my work so far, we decided to switch portfolios. He will lead pastoral care and I will lead social justice. That is part of the “experimental” nature of the position I described earlier. That is content for a future blog.

It is done. I have shared my learnings and assure you that I continue to be excited about my work with you. I am committed to continue to collaboratively work with staff, lay leadership, Mark and you, the congregation, to explore answers to these questions. I welcome and encourage your feedback and thoughts as I continue this sacred work of ministry into a promising, exciting second year.

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

There’s No Going Back, and Here’s Why

One of the things that church staff members do is spend way more time than you do reading, learning, thinking, and talking about churches.  Right now, I am precisely 31 pages into a very thoughtful book about churches called Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World by long-time church consultant, Gil Rendle.  At the start he is describing the scene that underlies the many changes (it didn’t used to be this way) that churches are struggling to find “answers” for, including decreasing membership, decreasing income, and decreasing volunteer time. Here are some quotes from the book that I just can’t keep to myself.

…we need to understand that the losses we have incurred and the challenges that we face are shared by other membership-based organizations that have had similar experiences of loss and aging since the 1960s.  The story of loss and age can also be told by organizations and activities from Kiwanis, Rotary, Masons, Elks, Eastern Star, bowling teams, and bridge parties. (p.22)

Rendle claims that the period of growth that all these organizations experienced during the first two-thirds of the twentieth century was an “aberrant time.”  He references work by Yuval Levin (The Fractured Republic, 2016):

    [Yuval] describes the first half of the twentieth century as an age of growing consolidation and cohesion.  It was a time of massive growth of economic industrialization and centralization of government.  A fifteen-year period of challenge and sacrifice through the Great Depression and World War II bonded the American people into a cohesive force built on a consensual national and global agenda.  It was a time in which people “agreed to agree” and sublimated their differences in order to work together on a great common agenda.  It was particularly in this time of consensus and cohesion that the American culture pushed people toward membership in congregations and a legion of other membership organizations.  The United States exited World War II as the only global economy not devastated by the war; and for a period it held its remarkable position of producing a full half of all global manufacturing and production.  We were a unified people with resources at hand.  The widely shared story among many organizations was strength and growth.

            Levin then goes on to describe the second half of the twentieth century as an age of growing deconsolidation and decentralization in which our economy diversified and deregulated in energizing ways.  This second half of the century produced a sustained pushback against the uniformity and cohesion that marked the first half….  An upsurge of individualism and the need for personal identity began to rise, supported by newfound interests in psychology and tied to the economy through advertising and technology.  It was an energizing and vibrant age as people and institutions rode a heady wave of progressivism.

            Levin captures the aberrant moment, saying, “Keeping one foot in each of these two distinguishable eras, midcentury America combined cohesion and dynamism to an exceptional degree.”  It was in this mid-twentieth-century time that the mainline church, like so many other institutions and organizations, aggressively pursued growth, bureaucratic structure and strength, and resource and property development.  We became large, strong, and institutional in a cultural moment that favored large, strong, and institutional.

            The age of large and consolidated strength, however, has waned, and “micropowers,” decentralized organizations, and small expressions of community are now taking the global stage.  Ours is not a turnaround situation in which we can recapture the size and strength of a large institutional system once sustained and nourished by a culturally aberrant time….  We are now living in this current aftermath that is defined by micropowers and small communities but are still dependent on our memories of size and strength and still constrained by the polity, policies, and practices once effective in large institutions. (pp.23-24)

So, things have got to change, right?  There really is no long-term way to keep things going the way they always have with reduced resources. But what should change?  I know that no one has figured out any definitive solution to this adaptive problem, but we’re adrift in this boat with LOTS of other folks.  Watch this blog for further Rendle updates!

Linda Topp, Director of Administration