Generosity is Getting to be a Habit at UUCA!

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

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 smile.amazon.com 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 (LREC@uuasheville.org).  We need you.  The kids need you.  And what you will learn is that you need our kids for your own faith journey.

Beginnings

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
Thing
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
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something,
simple.

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

Looking for Numbers?

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

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

This year’s budget totals $727,500.

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

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

Here are samplings of other general expenses:

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Linda M. Topp, Director of Administration

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

We Are Already Succeeding

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kelly Wedell, member of UUCA’s Religious Education Council

Living Your Values

chalice w dollarWe all think that living our values is an important part of being a UU.  We all agree that it’s easy to say stuff, but what we DO about it is what counts.  And as we have been learning through the “Stories of Us” series that has been featured one Sunday a month this year, our members say they highly value UUCA.  They have personally been supported, they have witnessed how their fellow congregants have been helped or how they have grown, they have experienced pride in knowing that a UU congregation is visible in Asheville.

The question is, if you say you value something, how do you show it?  What do you DO?  Great active responses include volunteering to do work the congregation needs to have done (membership, event planning, maintenance, singing, teaching, and most especially leading).   But what may be the most helpful act of all is being as generous with your monetary contribution as you can be.  THAT is a concrete and impactful way to live your values.

Every congregation, non-profit organization and for-profit company runs on money.  Without adequate financial resources, organizations wither.  They lose vitality.  They become focused on their own survival rather than enjoying and sharing the abundance that comes with generosity.

Not coincidentally, our annual budget drive is coming up.  It’s the time that we ask you to estimate your giving for the next fiscal year so that we can produce a balanced operating budget for the Board’s review in April, and your voted approval in June.  It is a perfect opportunity to live your values.

On the spending side we have done a lot this year to improve our standing as a good employer.  By losing a senior staff member (Joy Berry left after the budget was approved last June), this year we have been able to increase hours and pay for our RE staff, including the Director of Administration/Acting Director of Lifespan Religious Education. (Whew! What a title.)  Now that Rev. Lisa has made the decision that moving up and out to continue her career climb as a UU minister is right for her, we will hire a Minister of Faith Development to lead pastoral care and faith development for all ages.  (Rev. Mark will lead the Earth and Social Justice Ministry while Linda Topp will work with Venny Zachritz on Membership.)  That will still result in just three senior staff members instead of four, providing room in the budget to pay those senior staff members more equitably.

Everyone is clear that a generous contribution of money from one member will be a completely different amount from another member who may be more or less financially able.  No one is asking you to impoverish yourself to fund UUCA.  What we ARE asking is that you deeply ask yourself if you are being as generous to UUCA as you can be.  You’ll be getting more information about how to make this consideration in a few weeks.  In the meantime, please know that UUCA’s health and vitality depends on the collective energies and resources of all of us.  With everyone’s re-evaluation of their giving levels, both of time and money, UUCA can totally jump to a higher level of commitment and value for its members and the greater community.

By the way, if you would like to explore what money means to you, how it influences your feelings, attitudes and habits, plan to attend this week’s Wednesday Thing.  Laura Amabile will be leading a session called “Financial Sanity: Creating a money plan that works for you.” The session is designed for ages 15 to 100, and will be fun and engaging, not heavy! It contains information for individuals as well as parents interested in helping their children understand money and values, with an emphasis on developing healthy and realistic saving, sharing, and spending practices.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration