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

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

Question: How will I know what to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

2019-20 Budget Hearing Coming Up on May 5 (following the second service)

Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z….NO!  No snoring!  This is NOT going to be a boring presentation.  There will be slides with cute cartoons! There will be interesting information! Well, yeah, there will be numbers, too, but you’ll actually learn stuff about this congregation.


Have you ever heard the phrase, “Follow the money?” Turns out that people in the know have figured out that if they understand how an organization gets and spends money, they understand quite a bit about that organization.  That’s the reason there are people who WANT to be part of the Finance Advisory Committee.

But I digress….. 

At the budget hearing you will be privileged to receive the detailed budget of the congregation.  A one-page summary budget with notes is distributed for the annual meeting, but budget-hearing attendees get “the big one!”  I’ll go over the details of our income projections and expense expectations, and then I’ll give you a little more information on what we’re planning to do with the money we will be receiving from the UUA Legacy Challenge program (Wake Now My Vision) that our Legacy Circle Committee was so successful at executing (yay team!!).  The entire meeting takes less than an hour (I think I remember that correctly) so you might want to make sure you have a snack so you can last until 1:30. 

I admit that there are no surprises in this budget, but still, it would sure be nice to see you there.  We usually have 40-50 attendees, but that’s just 10% of our membership.  How about if we try for 25%?  See you there!?!

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

UUCA’s Message Map

What are the few words you would put in the central core? Keep reading to find out more about message maps.  Then submit your ideas as a comment to this blog or directly to me.  I already have a favorite–let’s see if I like yours better.

Message MapA message map is a tool to accomplish the following:

Provide a prompt for speaking about the organization to others.
Help to align the organization as everyone uses the message map to describe the organization.

It is a radial chart with the organization’s core work listed in the center in about 6 words, with supporting programs around it, and stats or other prompts related to the effects from those programs radiating from those support programs.

The example used in my workshop (Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising) was from one of the instructors who had been a long-time CEO of the United Way of St. Louis, MO.  Interestingly, it even took United Way a while to get that central message down to just a few words.  But those few words ended up being, “We help people.”  (Seems obvious now, doesn’t it?)

As the CEO, he would use the message map to frame all his talks, and because it included important programs and supporting data, he could use it for very short talks, very long ones, and everything in between.  As a speaker, he would start by saying that United Way helps people.  “For example, we help youth strengthen basic life skills by supporting programs like Girls on the Run, the regional Girl Scout Council and the local public school foundation.  In fact, we touched the lives of XX youth in St. Louis in 2017.  United Way also helps children improve their basic academic skills.  For example, our Read to Succeed program meant that XX children had much better access to reading materials and the encouragement to improve.  That will help them throughout their lives.”  Etc.

The message map above is one we’ve been playing with in senior staff and Board meetings.  The closest four blocks are directly from our mission statement.  The radial blocks are examples of work in each of the blocks.  It is obviously not comprehensive right now.  But it DOES give an idea of how this works. So what are the few words you would put in the central core?  It does not have to be unique (“we help people” certainly isn’t) but it does have to match why we exist.  It is, after all, the core of who UUCA is.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Generosity is Getting to be a Habit at UUCA!

girl jumping on the bridge wearing black jacket
Photo by Sebastian Voortman on

Once upon a time not so very long ago, a UU congregation in, well, somewhere near here, did not quite have a culture of generosity when it came to taking care of itself.  The idea that all members need to be, no, ARE stewards of the organization hadn’t quite spread to everyone.  There had always been time-generous people, and skill/talent-generous people, and money-generous people, but many folks were happy that those people were around and didn’t recognize that their own (less, they thought) contributions were important.  I’m here to say that I think those days are behind us, er, them.

Here at UUCA, I am feeling the shift in the practices of generosity and stewardship.  People are beginning to understand that all generous gifts, no matter the actual size, are vital to the health of the congregation, make the congregation vital, and turn out to be healthy for the giver, too.

If stewardship means taking care of UUCA, then we surely need to call out the fabulous fundraising for the solar panels.  Not only was the project itself much more about protecting the environment than saving money on electric bills, but the project was paid for by lots of people giving generously—to the best of their abilities.

And were you here on the Sunday we dedicated this year’s teachers/leaders in religious education?  A LOT of people stood up in front at the second service…we have about 80 adults, mostly active parents but some non-parents, too, acting as teachers, helpers, and mentors in Sunday RE programming. That is time-generosity in action.

We have three active teams planning fundraisers for this year.  The women on these teams (yes, of the more than 20 or more people planning these events, only one is male) are contributing their skills and talents to help support (take care of) UUCA.  This year, the largest of the “special” fundraisers, our annual auction, is scheduled for November 3.  (Please turn in donations this Sunday—the planners are near to having anxiety attacks, afraid we won’t have enough stuff to auction off.)  Another, smaller team will have been working for nearly a year to conduct a gently-worn but “New to U” sale of jewelry, scarves and trinket boxes on March 29.  And of course, the folks that will be leading our annual budget drive (you know, the one that supplies 88 percent of our operating funds) have been gearing up for another Celebration Sunday on March 3.  All of these “back room” planners are demonstrating skill/talent-generosity.

Acts of stewardship are obviously good for UUCA, but are they really healthy for the giver?  Turns out the answer is a scientifically-proven yes.  The science of generosity shows that the more generous people are, the more happiness, health, and purpose in life they enjoy.  There is also reason to believe that generous practices actually create enhanced personal well-being.  There’s an entire book on the science of generosity, cleverly NOT named that.  Look for The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson.  (Use and donate to UUCA if you buy it.)

Linda Topp
Director of Administration

This and That: Auto-debits and Religious Education

OK, I know, auto-debits and religious education are not two topics that go together, but since my job covers both areas AND I have something to ask you in each category AND I only have one blog to do it in, here we are.  Auto-debits first.

ATTENTION!!  We have 60 donors who use bank account or credit card auto-debits whose accounts will not be debited starting in July unless you take ACTION!!!  You have already been individually contacted multiple times.  Now it’s time to go public.  IF your commitment payments happen automatically right now and you have not already acted, they will stop in July unless you either use REALM to change your account information or contact your bank and ask them to make the change through their system.  (Contact Tish Murphy for the UUCA bank routing number that you need.)  Here’s how to use REALM to make the necessary changes.

This action is necessary because REALM uses a different set-up than MY INFO and I decided to stop paying for both systems.  This has caused confusion that I regret, but it won’t help now to reverse that decision because we have about an even distribution of people using the new REALM set-up and those that have not yet changed over.  So please, if you have not yet done so, avoid a phone call from our follow-up team by changing your auto-debit details today.

Next up, religious education.  The soon-to-be-Rev. Claudia (she gets ordained THIS Sunday!) was in Asheville for a few days last week looking for housing and took some time to meet some of us.  She met with me, Rev. Lisa, Kim, Jen and the RE Council and attended a Wednesday Thing.  We all came away feeling like this whole new staffing arrangement might actually work out well, while still admitting that change is definitely uncomfortable. 

Be that as it may, we told her lots of good things about UUCA, one of which is that we are growing our proportion of non-parent RE program contributors.  Now, I sure wouldn’t want to be wrong about that, so I’m asking all of you child-friendly folks to think long and hard about how you can volunteer in our RE program.  We have easy Sunday tasks (classroom assistant for the summer or in Spirit Play), non-Sunday tasks (usually organizing stuff or copying), the stereotypical Sunday task (part of a teaching team for grades 4-8 or leading one summer program) and our most challenging tasks (1) previously trained teachers for Our Whole Lives classes—we pay for your training, 2) Coming of Age teachers, or 3) YRUU advisors.

Pick your interest level, your capabilities, your time commitment and volunteer to work in our program.  For more information or to volunteer, contact Kim Collins (  We need you.  The kids need you.  And what you will learn is that you need our kids for your own faith journey.


So, where do I begin?

I’ve had increasing numbers of people at UUCA ask recently about how they might find a way into social justice work. Justice work has always been a priority for us as a congregation, but at a time when the nation feels so polarized and we’re watching the current administration repudiate long-standing principles and commitments across the board, many are feeling an increasing sense of urgency to act.

As a congregation we offer many opportunities for you to participate, ranging from our congregation’s Sanctuary program in support of immigrant justice to Black Lives Matter, environmental justice, gun control, voting rights and more. You can find congregational leaders in all of these areas in our Weekly eNews and on bulletin boards, and if none of those work, ask any staff member for help.

But I also know that it’s easy to be daunted by all of this. If you’re just finding your way into this, let me urge you to take the time to reflect on what kind of work calls to you and what you feel you can do. It is so rewarding to be working in community for the values that stir your heart. But it can be challenging to take the first step.

With that in mind, let me share with you this poem that Associate Minister Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper shared with our staff meeting this week:

Start Close In  by David Whyte

Start close in,
Don’t take the second step
Or the third,
Start with the first
Close in,
The step you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something,

To find
another’s voice
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
The step you don’t want to take.

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.