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

Image

Stories of Us

Meme-JoyBlogHello, friends.

I’m writing with mixed feelings, to share with you some news: I will resign as your Director of Lifespan Religious Education, effective July 15. I will remain a religious educator, joining the Fahs Collaborative Center for Innovative Learning at the Meadville Lombard Theological School this fall.  My family and I will remain in Asheville while I work remotely most of the time.

While I am glad for the opportunity to serve the wider faith that role will provide, it is not what I had hoped for or expected.  This job was a perfect mix of challenge and fun and success for most of the last three years. I love Asheville, and I loved my role and my work.

The last year has been challenging for all of us. We offered a new approach to faith development from ideas and commitments that emerged from our congregational visioning process in the spring of 2016. That required more time and energy from both staff and volunteers, just as we lost staff hours and recruitment levels waned. We rallied; the RE staff, Council and a core group of dedicated volunteers from all walks of life in the congregation helped make our new program a success anyway. RE attendance increased dramatically, even before the election, and was double last year’s average for much of 2016-17. This created its own issues, with regard to recruitment needs and class size. As this April rolled around, and we began recruitment for fall, we recognized our challenges remained. We are now matching the commitments for leadership to a down-sized, sustainable RE program for 2017-18.

The challenges we faced together called us toward big ideas and deeply creative solutions. Although we did not fully solve them, I do not think them insurmountable. You have the tools and resources to continue the work. Like our affirmation of covenant, it is not perfect fulfillment, but the ongoing work of commitment and collaboration that builds healthy change. I believe I fulfilled my role as a temporary shepherd here, guiding and nurturing. And I believe I have done the work I could, as a temporary gardener, planning and planting, tending and harvesting…and saving seeds for next season’s gardeners. I stood on the shoulders of those who came before me; their work paved the way for what we could accomplish together. It is my sincerest hope that I have helped build something of lasting value, too, to support the work of my successors and this congregation, as you take up the work with them that is yours to do.

One of my roles in this community has been as a storyteller.  I have often asked you, as my tale ended, “I wonder where you are in this story?” As in Spirit Play with our youngest children, I hoped to support you in thinking deeply about how stories shape us… encouraging the emergence of both an identity as a person of faith, and the work we are called to do, as a result.

So let me tell you a story. I once said, only half-joking, that you may have begun to suspect I only ever told you one story, in many forms. This, too, is really a single tale, told over the course of three years, through which a single thread runs.  It is the thread that connects the eldest among you to the newest arrival, and everyone in between. It is the ribbons you tied in one unbroken loop around the Sanctuary last spring and that the children turned into a weaving; it is the story of the covenant that connects UUs, rather than any creed. It is the story of who we are, and what we are for. And it is your story to continue telling.

I hope you feel as proud as I do, of the story Mark and I told, about the value of our children and families’ presence in this church. And that we began worshipping together every Sunday, welcoming our children and youth into our ceremony and song, so that they might begin to find themselves in your congregation’s story. We held the largest CoA and OWL classes ever in this congregation’s history. And we found ways to creatively respond to challenges, that strengthened our connections across generations—like having high school youth lead K-3 kids in building Little Free Libraries, when we lacked leaders for both. Like offering UUCA’s first-ever All Ages RE program, at 9:15, giving adults and children a chance to learn and grow together.

You may not have heard this part of your story…that your RE programming was nationally acclaimed, and became models for many other UU churches: the four Sundays, out-of-the-classroom approach to YRUU; your Little Free Library and Little Free Blessing Bags social action projects for children; your hybrid Spirit Play program, with the first-of-their-kind Contemplation and MakerSpace centers in addition to Art, Drama, and Nature.

And this story should make us all proud: this year, you offered the first ever congregation-wide trip to General Assembly. A chartered bus was paid for by you. Some riders bought their own seats and others sponsored seats for CoA youth and chaperones in support of their efforts to get to GA. I want you to know the impact you had in making such an innovative opportunity possible, serving the whole congregation, CoA teens, and multigenerational faith development.

We have done so much good work here together. I believe that is a long story, still unfolding. It began before I joined you and it will continue when I am gone. Your faith community has a strong foundation of excellence in RE, including a core group of committed parents and non-parents who have consistently devoted their time and energy to help it succeed, and deepened their own faith in the process. Even those of you who did not actively lead RE, but helped support the work of this church through financial pledges, should know you had a hand in shaping these stories. And your shared decision to embrace a vision of integrated faith development is a course-altering event in the story of this church’s life. It may take time to become deeply rooted, but it cannot be erased by this year’s difficulties. It is a continuation of the thread of hope and commitment that links these snapshots of your community; I have borne witness to them, and told you about them, but they are your story.

I hope you will continue telling each other of the impact all these efforts made. These are stories that matter: who this faith community is, and what you are for. And I trust you will shape and tell more of this story, going forward, reflecting the values and goals of a gathered people, dedicated to growing in faith.

Faith development is all we do.  Unitarian Universalism is all we teach.
The congregation is the curriculum.
–Maria Harris and Connie Goodbread, religious educators

Warmly, and in faith,
Joy

Written by Joy Berry, Director of Lifespan Religious Education

Where Do We Come From?

These lines, from one of our most well-known UU hymns, also circumscribe the questions we have explored–and keep asking– about our program of religious education and the wider role of faith development at UUCA. At the end of three years as your Director of Lifespan Religious Education, I believe the work of a shared answer to these questions is the most essential task before you as a congregation.

 

More coming soon from your favorite Director of Lifespan Religious Education!