Making A Difference $1 at a Time

Did you know that to date in 2018 we have raised $6,800 for organizations that support people of color here in Asheville or within Unitarian Universalism?

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.

In January, we collected $1,554 for the Mel Hetland Scholarship, which is funded entirely by our congregation and offers grants to students of color from Asheville going to college.

In February, we collected $1,693 for Building Bridges to support their work of education around dismantling of systemic racism in Asheville.

In March we collected $1,296 for the Mountain Retreat & Learning Center “Camperships” to go to kids of color attending Mountain Camps this summer.

In April we collected $1,407 to help the YWCA expand their Early Learning program, PLUS over $800 in a one time special collection to support undocumented immigrants detained in the recent ICE raids here in WNC.

For this initiative, the team looked for nominations of organizations that directly empower people of color or work to dismantle systemic racism rather than organizations that seek to mitigate secondary “symptoms” of systemic racism like poverty and hunger. While those are important things to fund, the Community Plate committee saw an opportunity to give more direct support and empowerment to children, youth, and adults of color.

In the months to come, we’ll be collecting funds for more such organizations, including CoThinkk, a giving circle that brings together community leaders who care about the economic and social well-being of communities of color in Asheville & Western NC, and My Sistah Taught Me That, an organization designed for the development, encouragement, inspiration, and education of young girls with a special focus on girls growing up in single parent homes without their father. 

If you’d like to add your personal impact to this congregational commitment by patronizing business owners of color, the Color of Asheville has a directory of African American owned businesses, professionals, service providers and clubs in Asheville, NC.

As the year goes on, the Community Plate Committee’s initiative will continue to honor the commitments to racial justice made by our denomination and congregation:

  • In 2015, UU General Assembly passed an Action of Immediate Witness, “Support the Black Lives Matter Movement,”
  • In 2016, our congregation committed to Black Lives Matter. (I couldn’t find the exact words of this congregational vote—I believe it was in 2016)

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

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.

FMI contact a member of the Community Plate Team (Linda Kooiker,  Emilie White, Eleanor Lane, Brenda Robinson, and Donna Robinson).

 

Good Friday In Simon’s Words

Recently I preached about what Isaac might have said, if his voice had been part of the story of Abraham’s sacrifice. As we approach Easter Sunday, which, of course, focuses so much on Jesus’ voice and story, here is my imagining of how Simon of Cyrene (the bystander who helped Jesus carry the cross on his way to be crucified) might have described his experience on Good Friday.

You may have heard of a man named Jesus who lived almost two thousand years ago. He taught people to love each other and to, and he also said that he was the Son of God. I had heard of him, too, but at that time we only knew that he traveled around the countryside teaching, and that he had a large following. The leaders in Jerusalem thought that his message was very dangerous.

Early in the morning of the day that I arrived in Jerusalem for the holy feast of Passover, there were crowds and shouting, and many Roman guards in the square. I was in a huge and crushing throng of people, pushing and shoving, shouting and waving their fists. There were three criminals being led up the hill to be executed by crucifixion, which was the way they did things in those days—and this man Jesus was one of them. The Roman guards were impatient with him, because he kept stumbling—dropping the huge wooden cross he was carrying. Suddenly, they yelled into the crowd—and pointed right at me—perhaps because I was not from Jerusalem—I looked different than the other folks who were there—they called to me, and made me help Jesus.

I felt awful. I had stumbled upon the crowd—and the taunting and yelling made me uncomfortable in the first place—and now I was being forced to participate in it. There was something about this man named Jesus, though, an energy that radiated from him—a peace that made me feel lighter somehow, even as I trudged up the hill next to him. I still can’t quite find words to explain it. As soon as we reached the top of the hill, I left as quickly as I could—I did not want to participate any further in this violent act—especially during the most holy week of Passover.

I know that Jesus died later that day, and so did the two thieves, but I tried very hard to put the day’s events out of my mind. Sometimes it is just too difficult to think about how much violence and hurt there is in the world. A few days later, as I was leaving the city, I began to hear rumors about Jesus. They said he had been buried in a tomb—a cave outside the city—and a huge stone had been rolled in front of the opening to the tomb. They said that three days after he died, his body was no longer in the tomb—he had disappeared.

It took me a long time to understand what the events of that day meant to me, and even now, it is hard to find words to describe them. I know that Jesus was a great teacher. I know that I can never be sure of what happened in the cave when Jesus disappeared. I know that his followers stayed together and carried on his teachings. Some said it was a miracle—that he came back to life because he truly was God’s son, others said his friends had taken him and buried him somewhere else. There were so many stories, and these things like God and miracles and faith and justice can be confusing to think about. But I kept remembering how I had felt as I walked next to him, and I realized that it didn’t matter exactly what was true about the story—what mattered was that I might have helped a fellow human being as he walked a difficult path.

Wait, Vespers, What?

vesper

Have you had a chance to attend Vespers at the Wednesday Thing? If not, have you wondered about the word “vespers” and why we would have such a service at a UU congregation? The overarching goal of the Wednesday Thing is to bring together all ages for fun, fellowship, spiritual growth, and community. Toward that end, we want to create a worship experience that feels different from Sunday mornings and creates space for many more voices to be heard. Every vespers includes music, as well as a chalice lighting, candles of joy & sorrow, and the closing song, but otherwise the services vary.

In any case, a number of you have asked what vespers means, or why we would do a service that “sounds so Catholic.” It’s pretty simple, actually! The ever-helpful Internet (via vocabulary.com) tells us:

vesper is an evening song. It also refers to evening prayers, and then it’s usually plural as vespers. Whether it’s a church service or a jazz band at sunset, if it’s in the evening, it’s a vesperVesper hasn’t changed much over the years, in Latin it means “evening star,” and in Old English it’s æfen-sang, which sounds a little like “evening song.”

So, basically, we decided to call it Vespers because it’s a worship experience that happens in the evening. It’s a great opportunity to take a pause in the middle of the week, to start to wind down and reflect at the end of the day, and to be in beloved community.

One of the main purposes of this new service here at UUCA is to engage more voices in worship. Les and I are currently looking for people of all ages who are interested in leading, providing music for, or participating in a service. If you have an idea, but aren’t sure where to begin, I’m here to help you figure it out. Let’s get together and do this vespers thing!

Wednesday Thing Kicks Off a New Year!

I think I can officially say that the Wednesday Thing is not a new program anymore! And what a success it has been so far. We’ve done yoga together, and learned about Buddhism, empathy, and nonviolent communication. We’ve eaten delicious food and shared worship together. We’ve discussed the monthly themes, and we’ve made gratitude jars. As the new year begins, the volunteers and staff who make it happen are working on a stupendous line up of classes and activities for the weeks to come.

If you haven’t yet been to the Wednesday Thing, I do hope you’ll venture out and join in! On tap in January are a session called “Save, Share, Spend” on finances & values with Laurel Amabile (Jan 17), a presentation for youth and adults from Helpmate (Jan 31), and more. As we move into the Spring, Mark will be teaching a class on Parker Palmer’s work, and lots more!

The Wednesday Thing brings together all ages for fun, fellowship, spiritual growth, and community. It is a program that was created specifically to meet a number of needs — more faith development opportunities for people of all ages, a short mid-week worship opportunity, and community building.

See you there!

Change Is the Only Constant

change

They say that change is the only constant. (Turns out in this case, “they” is actually Heraclitus!) It’s been a few weeks since the announcement of the restructuring of the second minister position and my departure from UUCA. Change is never easy, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. For some, the news was a shock, for others, it was not.  I want to be sure that all of you know that I am OK. I, too, have seen the budget numbers over the past few years, and knew that this year’s process of congregational visioning and assessment of staffing models would result in some major changes. Now we know what those changes will look like. I believe that the changes in staffing will meet the needs of the congregation, and I look forward to watching y’all succeed from afar.

This final year with you is my seventh year serving as your second minister, which is a good long run. No minister stays at a congregation forever, and I am more than ready to embark on the next phase of my career. You, too, will find gold in the new perspective of a new second minister. I do not yet know where my family will end up, but I will be seeking a new position for summer/fall 2018. Your good thoughts and prayers are welcomed as I enter that liminal space of job searching!

Know also that I will miss you. The ministry we have done together has been powerful and life-giving to me, and I hope to you as well. I am deeply appreciative of the messages of support and gratitude I have received from so many of you over the past few weeks. As we move through the next 8 months together, I look forward to celebrating the work we’ve done together.

With gratitude,

Lisa-signature

Be It Resolved…

 

We are days away from the congregational meeting at which this congregation will vote on whether to become a physical sanctuary. The discernment process has focused largely on logistical issues, which makes sense, because the commitment to provide sanctuary is a big one. At the same time, we have talked about how the Sanctuary Working Group and the leadership of the congregation believes that working on behalf of immigrants in our community by declaring sanctuary fulfills our Unitarian Universalist values. All of that is true, but there is another piece of this decision that I want to be sure is lifted up.

The reason this is coming to a full congregation vote is because it is a big decision, and because, like declaring UUCA a Welcoming Congregation or a Green Sanctuary, will impact our work as a congregation well into the future. Physical sanctuary is only one piece of the resolution. A positive vote for sanctuary on October 29 is a statement of our commitment to the broader issue of immigrant justice in our community.

There are four “be it resolveds” included in the resolution:

  1. Dedicates itself to educate and activate our congregants, to amplify and respond to the voices of immigrant leaders, and to speak out against discrimination.

This means that we will continue to build relationships with immigrant partners here in Asheville and work to be allies and accomplices as they organize for their own liberation. We will speak out when we can, and amplify the voices of the marginalized in our community.

  1. Commits to open our congregational spaces to accommodate those facing deportation, while they pursue a legal appeal.

This is the physical sanctuary bit.

  1. Resists any harmful and unjust policy proposals that further undermine due process and lead to racial profiling and discrimination.

Physical sanctuary is only one piece of this resolution. Legislative advocacy for policies and laws that support the immigrant community, as well as resistance of unjust laws are another important aspect of this resolution.

  1. Commits to work alongside our friends, families, neighbors, and partner organizations to create sacred space of sanctuary.

This statement is fundamentally about continuing the work we already do as a congregation. We have long been seen as a safe place for LGBTQ persons, for people of all religions, and more. We have committed to working toward racial justice. Creating a culture of sanctuary in the community within and outside of this congregation is a continuation of this work.

ballot

Each member of the congregation gets one vote on this important issue. Some of you may be ready to commit to direct engagement with a potential sanctuary recipient, volunteering your time and energy to working with our sanctuary partners in this way. Some of you may not agree with the assertion that becoming a physical sanctuary and working for immigrant justice is something that UUCA should do at all. Some of you may be in support of sanctuary as a concept, but can’t commit to daily support work for physical sanctuary. Some of you may feel that your energy is best used to advocate and organize for legislative and legal change. And, of course, there are many other assessments and positions on this issue among you. Each of these positions has strongly held values behind it, and some will result in a “yes” vote, while others will result in a “no” vote.

When it comes time to vote, all of the statements and questions and answers will have been made, and the most important thing to know is that all of you are called to vote your conscience. That is what democratic leadership and congregational polity mean. See you on Sunday at 4pm.

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.