Racial Justice Focus for Community Plate

racial justice

In June of 2016, this congregation passed a resolution affirming our commitment to working for racial justice in our congregation, community, denomination, and world.

Toward that end, I am happy to announce a new initiative that’s comin’ down the pike: The Community Plate Team has dedicated 2018 Community Plate collections to organizations that are led by or directly serve people of color in our community and beyond. You are invited to submit nominations now to be considered for the 2018 calendar year.

The committee believes that leveraging our own resources to support leadership and empowerment of people of color is an effective way to live into the promise of the racial justice resolution. The percentage of Black owned businesses in Asheville is particularly low, and we know that part of the work of dismantling systemic racism is increasing opportunities and access to leadership roles for people of color. For this initiative, the team is specifically looking for nominations of organizations that directly empower people of color rather than organizations that seek to mitigate secondary “symptoms” of systemic racism.

How can I participate, you ask? Right now, we need your nominations for 2018. Community plate guidelines give precedence to local non-profit organizations, but the team also considers national and international organizations. In rare cases, they also consider for profit organizations that fit all the other selection criteria. We appreciate your generous giving on Community Plate Sundays, and invite you also to notice volunteer opportunities with recipient organizations.

To nominate an organization click here. FMI contact a member of the Community Plate Team (Linda Kooiker, Ben Fleming, Emilie White, Eleanor Lane, Brenda Robinson, and Donna Robinson) or Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper. Further, if you’d like to take concrete action before 2018, the Color of Asheville has a directory of African American owned businesses, professionals, service providers and clubs in Asheville, NC.

The Wednesday Thing

Remember a few weeks ago when I said we were working on launching a new program? I wasn’t kidding! And now I’m quite excited to be able to announce that program!

Coming Soon to UUCA: The Wednesday Thing!

What IS the Wednesday Thing, you ask? It is a weekly event that brings together all ages for fun, fellowship, spiritual growth, and community. For a long time, your staff has wanted to provide a weekly program like this: a third worship service, intentional multigenerational community, opportunities to work together on social justice projects, spiritual practice, and personal growth. More connection. More friendship. Deeper relationships. More fun together.

The RE visioning process suggested it would be a great addition to our faith development program. All the “best practices for congregational life” literature we have seen lately suggests that it would be a great addition to our outreach work. And WAY more important than all that jargony stuff, when I share the vision with folks, y’all say, “That sounds awesome, I want to come!” So we’ve decided to go ALL IN, and here is what we’ve created:

A bold new all-church program that begins September 13 at 5:30PM and will continue every Wednesday. Come share a meal, worship together, and participate in faith development, fellowship, and other opportunities to learn and build community. Childcare for ages 6 and under will be provided beginning at 6:00PM. A homework space for older kids & teens will be available each week as well.

Food from 5:30-6:00PM – It’s NOT a potluck, you don’t have to bring anything. Call it No-Cook Wednesday! All you have to do is show up and eat great food from local businesses! (suggested donation $5/person, no more than $20/family)

Vespers from 6:00-6:30PM – Great music. No sermon. Creative & collaborative worship.

Programs from 6:30-8:30PM – There will be multiple opportunities each Wednesday to engage in activities, small group experiences, and more. If your kids need to go to bed (or if you do!), stay as long as you can, leave when you need to.

Bring yourself. Bring a friend. Bring the whole family. The Wednesday Thing is a weekly event that brings together all ages for fun, fellowship, spiritual growth, and community.

Here are some of the programs that are already on the schedule for this fall: Multigenerational Choir, Drop-In Theme Group, Identifying Your Spiritual Gifts, Sierra Club, Creating Your Credo, Resilience Circle, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and so much more! Plus, we’re looking for more program ideas!

This program will succeed with strong collaboration between staff and lay leadership, and buy-in across all of our existing programs. Do you have something you could offer? Are you a member of a group here at UUCA that wants to host a program? Would you like to volunteer to host, help clean up, tutor kids, and more? Do you have a question about this exciting new program? FMI contact Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper or any member of the Development Team (James Cassara, Brett Johnson, Missy Reed, Joy McConnell, & Julie Stoffels)

We’ll see YOU at the Wednesday Thing!

All are welcome.

Why Sanctuary?

This week’s blog has been generously offered to members of the Sanctuary Working Group to share with you why the concept of Sanctuary is so important to them.

immigrant poster

Gathering for meetings since last spring, members of the Sanctuary Working group have been hard at work collecting information to better enable our congregation to decide whether it is called to offer physical Sanctuary to an individual, couple, or family who is at risk of deportation. In the last 8 months, there has been a great increase in detentions for deportation and thus a growing anxiety within the undocumented community. Many have stopped driving and are fearful of showing up to their ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) appointments. It has been made clear to those of us doing this work that the need for Sanctuary is unquestionable. Obviously the need for physical Sanctuary is just one of many justice-related crises presently facing our local community. Why are the members of UUCA’s Sanctuary Working Group so passionate about this issue?

Cecilia Rawlins, a member of the Sanctuary PR team, has traveled to many parts of the world. Her encounters have convinced her that all people want better lives for our children.  As a former school principal, the needs of children have always been at the top of Cecilia’s personal list. Learning that the children of undocumented immigrants are increasingly terrified of what might happen, refusing free lunches at school so they don’t get their parents in trouble, and having meltdowns if their parents are late picking them up at their bus-stop has tugged on Cecilia and other group member’s hearts. “Contrary to what has been said in Washington, DC, immigrants to this country are not rapists and thieves.  Instead, they are hard workers in this community.” Cecilia speaks of being repulsed by what is happening to the members of this community. She does not feel that she can make changes on a big, national level; however, she feels there is the possibility of making a difference in her small section of the world.  Working on Sanctuary at UUCA is Cecilia’s attempt to make a difference. As the closing quote on the bottom of any email from Cecilia proclaims, she invites all to “Be the change you want to see in this world.”

Sharon LeDuc, who is on the Sanctuary Legal Team, says this work is important to her because she believes in “loving, respecting, and supporting others, especially the weak and marginalized.” For Karin Eckhert, a member of the Sanctuary PR group, this work is extremely personal. Karin experienced the fear and unknown of being a refugee as a child. We hope that Karin will be sharing her story with the congregation at a future Sanctuary Town Hall meeting. Nancy Bragg, member of the Program Team, reflects that she is by her nature, “a doer” and an “early adopter” especially of “ideas that resonate” with her. She says she “jumped onto the Sanctuary bandwagon” because it resonated with her “values and UUCA values and seemed like the right thing to do.”

Katie Winchell, another member of the WNC Sanctuary Liaison Group, also speaks of the worth of members of the immigrant community. Her lifestyle has allowed her to get to know various members of this community.  She is distressed by our broken immigration system which is harming so many who are willing to do the jobs so many of us are unwilling to do.  Members of this community are hard workers who pay into the social security system with no expectation of receiving any benefits from it. Like Cecilia, she is shocked by the characterization of these members of our community as criminals and thinks “we should be wary of this system which is criminalizing them.”  Katie hopes she “would have been the person that helped Jews escape the Nazis, and been part of the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape their oppression.” “Resisting unjust laws and standing up for human rights,” she says, “seems the right thing to do.” She feels this is her “opportunity to take a stand for those who can’t speak up for themselves, but deserve more respect for their life choices.”

Many members of the Sanctuary working group have been regularly attending WNC Sanctuary meetings since the beginning of the year. They have been impressed with how many members of other congregations want to work on this issue. And yet dismayed to find out that no other congregations in our area feel able to offer physical Sanctuary at this time. This reality has made this work all the more important to the group who have also been made aware of the reality that  undocumented immigrants also pay taxes yet are not eligible for Food Stamps, Medicaid, ACA insurance, Disability, or any other public programs paid for by their tax dollars. Immigrants are on their own to make it in our community. So Sanctuary members have wondered, “how can we show solidarity in this moment?”

Other working group members have pointed to words of their fellow congregants that continue to inspire them in pursuing this work. One RE parent proclaimed, “What a good push! I would love to see this come to life.” Other adult members have said that they are “honored to belong to a group who will do this!” and that they are “happy to see that this is being seriously pursued.” A potential new member shared their gratitude for the potential of offering Sanctuary as a meaningful action embodying our UU Principles.

Sanctuary Working group facilitator, Elizabeth Schell, struggled with the decision to take on this project in the midst of the ongoing work she’s been trying to challenge our congregation on in relation to our commitment to the Movement for Black Lives. But the more she reflected on it, the more she realized that voting to provide physical Sanctuary would allow this congregation to truly lean in to the teachings of anti-racism work and the Movement for Black Lives: by following People of Color leadership; by leaning in to discomfort and taking risks; by leveraging our privilege and our resources; by enabling us to get proximate to a need; by allowing us to  answer with hope to a world presently filled with messages of fear and scarcity. Elizabeth’s experience at General Assembly this past June solidified this understanding as she heard many of these practices echoed by Black Lives of UU as they challenged the whole denomination in this intersectional work.

Some have wondered about the sensibility of pursuing providing physical Sanctuary at this time — when our congregation is in the midst of staff transition, financial struggle, and discernment about our Mission. Yet what better time than this? Not only is this an urgent need within our community (locally and beyond), it actually dovetails with all the discernment work of the congregation. Last spring the congregation centered our focus in on four values that we hold dear: Connection, Compassion, Inspiration, and Justice.   Providing sanctuary allows us to put our UUCA values into action as we continue our discernment process.

Providing physical Sanctuary will build Connections: between those stepping up to volunteer; between our faith community and other congregations (of all kinds) who are stepping up to support us in this work; between our congregants and the immigrant community (those who will be in sanctuary as well as coalition partners who we will work with in providing sanctuary). Providing physical Sanctuary is an embodiment of our Compassion towards those in need. It allows us to move outside individual selves and our congregational self to embrace a need within the community we live in. Providing physical Sanctuary can inspire us through the relationships built and the possibilities for future engagement that we imagine through this work. Providing physical Sanctuary is us responding to an injustice and creating space for justice to be made visible. Providing physical Sanctuary enables us to do justice in many of the ways that we are called to.

We encourage you each to look into your hearts and vote accordingly at the upcoming congregational meeting.

Congregants are invited to the Friday night Service & Sanctuary Presentation at Congregation Beth Ha-Tephila this Friday, August 25 at 7:30pm. The evening will include presentations from members of CIMA (The Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción) and Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper.

Also save the date of our next Town Hall on  THURSDAY, SEPT. 28, 6:30pm. As part of this special meeting, we will be welcoming JoAnn Weiss from El Refugio which is a hospitality house and visitation program outside of Stewart Detention Center (SDC) in very remote Lumpkin, GA.  A member of the UU Congregation of Gwinnett in NE Atlanta, JoAnn will share with us about the work of El Refugio and the current climate of immigration detention and deportation in our country. Other potential Sanctuary partners and leaders in the Sanctuary movement may also be present. Please join us for this meaningful conversation towards helping us discern about providing sanctuary. There will be space for further questions about the Sanctuary proposal.

Stop by the Earth and Social Justice table on Sunday with any questions or to learn more about the work of our Sanctuary group. Also keep looking for our regular announcements and updates about Sanctuary in the weekly E-news and the inserts in the Sunday Order of Service.  We hope you have completed the survey which gives you the opportunity to ask any necessary questions and share your support, questions, thoughts or concerns. The Sanctuary survey can be found here.

Members of the Sanctuary Working group include: Ann Perry, Beth Gage, Cecilia Rawlins, Elizabeth Schell, Geri Solomon, Jackie Iskovitz (from Beth Ha-Tephila), Jan Beech, Joe Maio, Julie Stoffels, Karin Eckert, Katie Winchell, Nancy Bragg, Ron Sanga, Sharon LeDuc, Susan Dupree, Venny Zachritz, and Virginia Bower.

 

Just Say No?

heart hands

‘Tis the season… for recruiting volunteers. In congregational life particularly, things slow down a bit in the summer, so we end up with the Official Start of the Church Year when we go back to 2 services the second Sunday in September. And so in August, staff and lay leaders are looking at programs for the year, wrestling the calendar, and looking to fill vacancies in existing volunteer positions as well as launching new programs.

Wait, what? Launching new programs? It’s true. Part of reorganizing and managing the changes in staff hours & encouraging broader lay investment in leadership involves learning to become more efficient and effective with the time we do have. I’ve begun regularly asking myself the question, “What are the things that only you can do in this system? They hired a minister for your position, so what are the specific professional skills that you bring to this organization?”

As volunteers in this organization, your questions to yourself will be different, perhaps something like, “Is this something about which I feel passionate?” and “Do I have skills that would be useful to this initiative?” Whatever your questions are, it’s essential that you consider your commitments carefully. We are living in challenging times, and with the world around us changing rapidly, our stress levels are high. We all have commitments that aren’t negotiable. My hope is always that you will find this community to be a non-negotiable commitment. I want this place to be a sanctuary for all of us, I want it to feed us and inspire us as we continue the daily work of our lives, as well as our work creating just and sustainable community around us.

Even as your participation in this community is non-negotiable, the ways you participate are negotiable. We want you to volunteer, yes. Plain and simple, this place wouldn’t run without volunteers. But we want you to volunteer in ways that are life-giving, inspiring, and fruitful for your own journey. When I ask you to participate in a program or committee, I want you to take some time to consider my request, to think about whether it is something that interests you, whether you have time, and whether it stretches you or challenges you in a positive way. Part of my job is to help you see where your gifts can be put to best use — to pay attention to who you are, where you are in your journey, and notice when I see a place you might be able to serve and grow at the same time.

When I ask you to help me with a program or committee or task, I’ve considered all of these things. I’ve thought about what I know about your journey, and about the balance of skills and energy I am seeking in a group. So I’m asking you to do the same. I’d rather get a well-considered “No” than a guilt-ridden “Yes.” If the only reason you have to say yes to a task is that nobody else is going to do it, well, that’s just not a good enough reason! It’s OK for traditions to pass into history, and programs to end or get reconfigured when they aren’t working anymore. If you’re not sure, let’s talk it through.

Here’s an example: Last year, I was asked to participate in two different UU Ministers’ Association (UUMA) initiatives. The first was the pilot of the Ministerial Formation Network (MFN), which is a mentoring program for seminarians. The second was a Task Force for inclusion of families with children in UUMA retreats and programming. I thought about them both. I had just completed three years of service on the Right Relationship Team, so it was time to think about my next choice for denominational service. I definitely couldn’t do both, though.

The task force, well, it’s something I think is very important, and it certainly affects me. Seemed like a no-brainer. But when I thought more deeply about it, it did not sound interesting to me. I knew I would get bored and resent the time commitment. I didn’t want to give it my energy. The MFN, on the other hand, got me totally jazzed. Mentoring? Organizing an annual retreat? Helping seminarians have easy access to the kind of support that I had to work hard to find and seek out when I was coming up in the profession? This sounded like fun, and interesting, and right where I wanted to put my energy. That was a Sacred Yes.

In the midst of all the necessary conversations about what gets cut as we reconfigure staff and programs, UUCA’s staff has become much more intentional about how we DO spend our time. Turns out, it is much more generative and inspiring to think this way than it is to focus on what we can’t do. And so I invite you into the same work — it is the personal work that runs parallel to the values and visioning work that the board has been working on for the past year, which continues this Fall. Who are we together? What is the fundamental purpose of this community? How will we use our resources, both individual and collective, to embody Compassion, Inspiration, Connection, and Justice: the values that guide who we are and what we do?

Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper, Associate Minister

It’s All About Connections!

The work of shifting our commitment from meeting the needs of the individual to claiming our core values and living them as a community is the path that will lead us to stronger, deeper, and more engaged faith.

pastoral-care-image

Knowing that there has been some conversation over the past few weeks regarding membership numbers, attrition, and tracking of such, I thought it would be helpful to share some details about the path to and from membership here at UUCA. The data we have suggests that we tend to gain approximately the same number of new members as we lose each year. Here is some of the larger context in which this data exists.

The numbers reported track with my experience over the past few years, which is that once you adjust for deaths, moves, and people who were not particularly engaged in congregational life, we know why the remaining members are leaving. That awareness is the best any congregation can hope for, because there will always be people whose needs change, or for whom the congregation is not a good fit, or who get upset about a specific situation or person. In most cases, we are not surprised that a person leaves – we know that they are experiencing a life change, or have had some upset or conflict regarding the congregation. Whenever possible, Mark or I contact anyone who resigns their membership and we don’t know why.

When I arrived in 2011, one of the main concerns regarding membership was retention, including the proverbial back door. Over the past 6 years, I have worked with Mark and the Connections Coordinator (Linda Kooiker, Christine Ray, and now Venny Zachritz) to improve the efficiency and content of our path to membership. Linda and I focused mostly on the structure of the new member class cycle. Christine and I launched the Connector Program, which, in tandem with the Luminary Program, is intended to provide support and connection to new members, maximizing both their engagement in programs and their access to information and relationships within the congregation. Knowing that the first three years are essential to retention of individuals and families caused us to focus on years zero to three of membership in Phase 1 of the program, which is fully implemented at this time. Phase 2 will include years four to death/move, and is in the beginning stages of planning at this time.

Membership development programs are not the only variable that impacts retention. This congregation is in the midst of an ongoing discernment process in which change is happening rapidly. The shift to family ministry beginning in the fall of 2016 is part of this change, as is the Board’s work on clarifying core values, mission, and ends. This ongoing work, while it may appear that it is happening in separate areas of congregational life, has the effect of narrowing and focusing what it is that we do as a congregation. As a result, people who do not share that more specific vision will go elsewhere, at the same time more new people will be attracted to the clear and focused articulation of who we are as a community. Therefore, we expect that eventually the attrition numbers will stabilize and the new member numbers will increase.

This work of shifting our commitment from meeting the needs of the individual to claiming our core values and living them as a community is the path that will lead us to stronger, deeper, and more engaged faith.

 

Words Worth Repeating

Sometimes, someone else says what you want to say so precisely that it isn’t worth trying to reinvent the wheel. I recently came across a terrific article by Erin Wathen about volunteering in church (Joy also posted it in the RE News. It’s that good!).

The article is provocatively titled, Your Church Does Not Need Volunteers. “What??” you say! That’s crazy. That’s not true! It’s not a short article, so I will excerpt some key points in this blog. If you’d prefer to read it start to finish, click on the article title above.

I know I’m not the only one who cringes when someone sees me, without kids in tow, and asks if my husband is “babysitting.” Well, no. I mean, yes, he is at home with the kids tonight. But I do not think you can effectively say “babysitting” when it is your own dang kid. I’d say we could just call that parenting.

I feel the same when people talk about “volunteering” at church. And yes, I know it’s just a word. But it’s the wrong word, for a lot of reasons…

…I balk at the secular nature of what it means to volunteer. To volunteer means that you are an outside resource, stepping in to help an organization in need. Volunteering is what we do when we pick up trash at the park, or build a house with Habitat, or help sort food at the local food pantry. Volunteering is what I do at my kids’ school on Fridays.

In other words, it’s what you do at a place that is important to you–but not at a place that belongs to you…

…You cannot volunteer at your own church, in the same way you cannot babysit your own kid. Because the church belongs to you in the same way your family does. It’s your own place, your own people. So of course you help take care of it. Of course you do yard work and make coffee and teach the kids and sing in the choir and whatever all else it is you do for the home and the people that you love…

…Ultimately, the language of volunteerism is secular, and more to the point, it is corporate. The notion is rooted in consumer culture, in which we can swoop in and give or take a measure that we deem fit, and then dart out again feeling we have done our part. We do a disservice to our faith, and to the gospel itself, when we reduce the work of the church to something you can mark on a time card…

…Call it serving. Call it discipleship. Call it the priesthood of believers, or mission, or the ministry that we all share together. Admittedly, “Priesthood of Believers” does not look great on a t-shirt. And it maybe doesn’t invite visitors to ask you where the bathrooms are… But whatever we do, we should remember that we don’t just belong to the church–it belongs to us.

And we do not babysit that which is ours.

Truly, what more can I say? What a beautiful and powerful way to articulate what the congregation means to us. It is ours. It belongs to us.

May it be ever so.

You’re Not the Only One Who Is Tired.

I have heard from many of you lately that you are feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed when it comes to making choices about how to engage in activism and social justice work. The sense that there is so much to be done and so many different issues and groups and initiatives vying for our attention. I have also heard that some folks are simply stepping back from their activism altogether because it just feels like too much. I understand this impulse. The sheer number of requests for space, speakers, petitions, and programs has skyrocketed.

kid

It’s overwhelming. Truly.

And yet, we know that our faith calls us to respond to the world around us, to continue to work for justice and equity in our community.

When we feel overwhelmed by the state of the world or the state of our everyday life, and then layer on top of that the continuous requests from organizations, it’s easy to say, “Forget this, I can’t possibly help enough to make a difference, I can’t possibly decide which one is most important, and furthermore, I don’t have time to add yet another event.” I’d be lying if I told you I’d never thought these things. You’re not the only one who is tired!

Here’s the thing: You don’t have to solve it all. You are only one person. You don’t have to go to every forum or march or meeting. You just have to decide what is most important to you and focus on that. I have a colleague whose practice it is to choose three issues, and three issues only. She decides where to put her energy, and keeps strong boundaries around her time and energy. I’ve not been very good at emulating this practice personally, but I commend it to you anyway. Think about it! If we all committed to one issue, or two issues, or three issues, there would be a whole congregation of people working to make the world a better place, and fewer people experiencing burnout.

Social justice in congregational life is different from our personal work. It is our work (the Earth  & Social Justice Ministry) to make opportunities for engagement available to the whole congregation. That’s why we don’t pick just one issue. We work on many issues together. But we don’t expect everyone to work on everything! Just Change (the Open Space event we held in September) was a process that allowed us to decide as a group what the primary interests of the congregation are for now. Action Wednesday (ESJM’s evening program on the third Wednesday of the month) was created to help more people engage in social justice activities by concentrating meetings and programs at the same time.

And so I invite you, rather than letting the wide range of challenges overwhelm you, get you down and paralyze you, choose your 2 or 3 issues, and give them your all. We can make a difference together.