Two Recent Events

Two recent events, seemingly independent, deeply connected.

Last Saturday I spoke about “Who’s in charge here?” at the Membership Orientation that led to our welcoming of new members to our congregation on Sunday.  I had thirty minutes to talk about our way of being together—governance—a topic, though important, that does not always leave people on the edge of their seats.  My approach to the talk has been to say a bit about myself, then a bit about the history of our congregation, and then take a tour of governance-related documents on our congregation’s website.  This seems to work.

What I have found most meaningful in giving these presentations is reviewing some of the things I’ve accumulated from participating in our congregation since 1983.  Here are three things I found this year.  One, the list of the 11 people who joined UUCA on November 13, 1983; Mary Alm joined that day, as did my wife of 47 years Jean Larson.  Second, a sermon delivered by Mel Hetland, he of the scholarship featured in this month’s Community Plate, in 1997; this sermon is now in the hands of Rev. Ward.  And third, I recaptured the name of Rev. Clarke Dewey Wells who served as our sabbatical minister in 1998 as best I can recall.

This Tuesday our Board of Trustees met for its monthly meeting.  I always ask a question that allows us to get to know one another better.  This month, in light of our sanctuary experience over the last year, I asked about what the experience might mean for our congregation.  Answers varied—what has our experience meant for you?—but I recalled my uncertainty going in.  And I expressed my gratitude that our congregation, working with many other congregations, reached out and worked together to make a difference in the life of one person, one family, ultimately many congregations.

Connecting these events in my mind is a sense of possibility, an openness to something new.  Someone on the brink of joining our congregation has questions and perhaps some uncertainty about the path being embarked upon.  A congregation on the brink of providing sanctuary has questions and perhaps some uncertainty about the path being embarked upon.  And someone on the brink of taking sanctuary has questions and perhaps some uncertainty about the path being embarked upon.  But each of us, individually and collectively, chose to explore possibility rather than rest in certainty.  One definition of courage is “being afraid and doing it anyway.”  We may not always be afraid when we act, but when we are afraid, may we be courageous when the moment comes.

Bruce Larson, Board of Trustees


Step Into the Center

“Step into the center,” writes my colleague Rev. Marta Valentin. “Come in from the margins. I will hold you there.”

We enter the New Year together with much on our hearts and minds. Our busy lives hold many challenges and adventures in 2019. That’s work enough, but we also can’t escape the daily news of a government that seems to be decompensating before our very eyes, and so many people suffering from injustice. In the midst of this, how do we sustain some sense of peace and hope?

Our natural response is protective: to hold back, to pull in, to let fall the fragile threads that connect us and hunker down. Part of what we exist for as a congregation is to persuade each other to stay in the game, to set our gaze higher than the muck of the news cycle, and to reaffirm our life-giving deepest values.

A couple of years ago we concluded a congregational process by centering our understanding of what this congregation is for on four central values: Connection, Inspiration, Compassion, and Justice. Each of these values works to call us from those protective impulses, which are understandable, but in the end only make ourselves shallow, reactive, isolated and alone.

We gather in this place to remind each other that it is in each other’s company that spiritual awakening occurs; that hope comes from opening ourselves to sources of inspiration that open us to new views of our lives, of the world; that each of us and all people deserve love, respect and care; and that it’s not enough to sit on our laurels, rest on our privilege, enjoy our cozy community without making ourselves agents of the change that the world needs to see.

All this can be challenging, of course, which is why I like the way Marta frames it: she’s not writing a prescription or demanding terms. In the center where everything happens, it can be confusing, uncertain, uncomfortable. I think of our eight months as a sanctuary site for our friend Maria. A number of us had significant reservations about whether this even made sense, but in the end, we decided to follow our values. There was a bit of chaos along the way and some gnarly issues to work through, but with the assistance of dozens of people in faith communities surrounding us, we made it happen, and we all were transformed.

I’m not yet sure what awaits us in the coming year, but one way or another we will be at work in the community and also looking for ways to deepen our faith journeys to be better prepared for those challenges. But you have my pledge, and I hope you will join me, that when you enter the center, as Marta writes, “I will hold you here.”

“Don’t look back or around,” she adds, “feel my arms. The water is rising. I will hold you as you tremble. I will warm you. Don’t look out or away life is here between you and me. In this tiny space where I end and you begin hope lives.”

We can create such a space. Let us bring the intention to do so.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister


Rush. Rush. Breathe. Rush. Rush. Breathe.


What I Have Learned About Becoming a UU

Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion characterized by a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”  Unitarian Universalists assert no creed but instead are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth. As such, their congregations include many atheists, agnostics, and theists within their membership. The roots of Unitarian Universalism lie in liberal Christianity.  –Wikipedia

I was raised in a small United Methodist community church west of Asheville. As a young man in my early teens, I started having some questions regarding the Bible and other of the religious teaching. The Sunday school teachers and ministers could not fully answer my questions to my satisfaction. It was in 1979 that I was first introduced to the UU religion.

Here I learned that questioning was an accepted way and I got a variety of answers. Differing beliefs were accepted. In discovering this new religion, I really started looking at the beliefs of my upbringing. I started looking at new answers to my questions. This also brought new questions for me to research for answers.

There is no creed or dogma for us to follow. Instead, we have an inclusive and diverse set of beliefs. We have a shared covenant of the seven principles which are used as a guideline in our religious quest. We also incorporate diverse teachings from Eastern and Western philosophies and religions.

We question and reflect together on subjects of life and death, higher power existence, prayer, spiritual practices, various sacred texts, and other topics of interest. In our search for answers we are sharing our experiences with each other and we are able to learn from each other, thus increasing our understanding and knowledge. We have open and exciting worship services touching on many varied topics; rites of passage ceremonies; sharing expressions of our love; and an RE program that teaches our youth about life and the many differences to be expected and a way of dealing with life’s issues.

We are a religion of various backgrounds and beliefs that we bring together. Our religious backgrounds differ: no religious background; people who believe or not in God; UU’s pagans; agnostics; atheists; humanist; and many other choices.

We promote gay rights. ( UU’s have been active in this area for over 40 years). We welcome people of all ethnicities no matter where they come from and whoever they love.

We come from many backgrounds with many varying beliefs. We are compassionate, deep thinkers, and doers. We work for social justice and community and more love and understanding in our lives. We stand on the side of peace, justice, and love.

We come together under the banner of Unitarian Universalism and together we will continue to grow with help and understanding from each other. These are some of the reasons why I was drawn to this path.

Cecil Bennett, Board of Trustees

The Dark Hours

“I love the dark hours of my being,” writes the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. “My mind deepens into them. There I can find, as in old letters, the days of my life, already lived, and held like a legend and understood. Then the knowing comes: I can open to another life that’s wide and timeless.”

This is a time of year that invites us into the dark hours of our being: not necessarily sorrow or gloom, but a more contemplative, reflective state of mind. Even as our Internet feeds fill with holiday ads, our minds and hearts feel drawn to follow our body’s advice to pull in and nest a bit. The advance of literal darkness, the shortening of days and with it the chill of winter, makes us a little sleepy, a little less sharply focused and invites a longer perspective on our lives.

It’s a good time to take stock and maybe attend to some of the mania that can drive us day to day. In the days of our lives, already lived, what lessons can we find? What is tugging for our attention that merely saps our spirit, that distracts us from that which truly feeds us? How might we organize our lives to better attend to that?

Mine is a job that often demands rapid-fire multitasking – planning worship one moment, arranging a pastoral call next, then completing a board report, or making a connection for a social justice event, and more. It’s important work, but sometimes it pushes me pretty hard. So, I am drawn to questions like: What tasks need my attention now? What can wait and what of this can I share or pass on to others? And on a larger scale, for us as a congregation, what is called of us now? What are we positioned to take on?

In the dark hours of the year it is a good time to create space for these questions as well as for the fallow times in our lives when we need to ease up on the accelerator. This work of ours is something we are in on for the long haul. Let us create space for it so that rested and refreshed we can, as Rilke puts it, open to life that’s wide and timeless.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister


Wishes Met and Wishes Made

It’s holiday time!  Let’s talk turkey…, Wish Lists!  (Still working on leftovers 🦃).  First off, I’d like to report on our amazing generosity from last year.  We were able to buy EVERYTHING on the list!  So thank you, thank you, thank you!  Technically, we haven’t spent all the money from last year because some of it went toward plantings and we’ve been slowly buying new plants all year long.  The final chunk helped buy the plants and mulch for the new pollinator garden.

A funny thing happened to my Wish List this year.  Well, not funny, more like astounding.  I had started my list just when we got a substantial donation from a lovely, generous, long-time member.  So, that donation covered several items that would have been on the list but that we no longer need—because we have them!:  20 new hymnals; the completion of the hearing sound loop in the choir area of the Sanctuary (new technology has allowed us to do something we could not do just 3 years ago); video equipment to be used to record in the Sanctuary; with the remainder being applied to the long-term (i.e., expensive) project we have in mind for the yard between the main building and the Memorial Garden, now to be known as the “Main Building Backyard Project.” (It will be awesome when it’s done, I promise.)

But fear not! (Holiday spirit, right?) I still have a Wish List for this year!  Just like for the solar panel project, you may donate to a particular item in any amount you desire.  However, please designate your donation to the WISH LIST so we can use it for any item on the list if we need to.

The List!

Nursery changing table – $100
     Our hand-me-down table is in sad shape.
Entry sign for the Memorial Garden – $500 
    The current one is peeling AND has “church” instead of “congregation” in the name.
Furnish a designated “teen space” in RE Commons – $500
    Every church needs a hang-out space for teens, and the way we are spread across campus, there is no place in the main building for that.  Our great RE folks have set aside an area in RE Commons now, but we need to get some seating for it and make it cool.
Screen the movie, The Mask You Live In, at UUCA, and open it to the community – $500
    The Mask You Live In follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Experts in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, sports, education, and media weigh in, offering empirical evidence of the “boy crisis” and tactics to combat it. The Mask You Live In ultimately illustrates how we, as a society, can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men.  We think it’s an important movie for both our UUCA and greater community.
Install LED lights in Sandburg Hall – $1,000 more!
    Who could object to brighter, dimmable lighting in Sandburg Hall?  We’ll change out those 30-some-year old fluorescent fixtures.  This project will cost $2,000 but Ken Brame and Judy Mattox have offered a $1,000 match, so all YOU need to do is come up with $1,000 more.  We can do it!
Compost Now – $1300
    Between bear raids and the fact that getting food waste out of the landfill is environmentally correct, we’ll be using Compost Now to collect our food waste every week from the main building and 23 Edwin Place.  This service will cost $2500 a year but I’ll manage to get it officially into the budget next fiscal year.  This will pay for the unbudgeted amount this fiscal year.
Pavers from lower parking lot to Memorial Garden – $4,000
    Instead of pouring concrete, we want to use pavers like the ones on our front patio to make a handicap-accessible path to the Memorial Garden.  This is another part of the Main Building Backyard Project.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Multi-generational What?

Last Sunday a group of adults and children gathered in the RE 4 to continue working on the giant masks for this year’s Christmas pageant. One of our youngest UUs joined an adult in choosing colorful ribbons and gluing them to the horn of the Unicorn mask. At another table, a group of children and adults with the help of local puppeteer Jennifer Murphy created another mask. They used balls of newspaper held together by packing tape to mold the face of an old wise man which they covered with strips of paper saturated in paper maché paste. As I observed everyone creating, laughing and conversing I thought about how what I was witnessing exemplified multigenerational community building. Yes, multi-generational; all ages together. Other activities like the talent show or group singing in the tree house at The Mountain during this year’s October congregational retreat in which all ages gathered, cheered each other on and sang together also contribute to building multigenerational community. They help us get to know each other and appreciate the diverse needs we each have as we participate in the life of our congregation.

We are making progress in working together to dismantle the “upstairs, downstairs divide” between children and adults. I am grateful that UUCA is willing to take on this challenge. This divide meant faith formation for children usually occurred downstairs in the RE Commons. For adults, it happened upstairs in worship or adult programs. More frequent whole congregation services provide opportunities for all ages to engage in faith formation through the practice of communal worship. Children receive the message that worship is for them, too, and they witness the rituals, songs, and rhythms of worship. There may also be more opportunities for all ages movement or clapping to accompany stories, songs or meditations.  I invite you to experiment and “do when the spirit says do.”  

At times the energy level and engagement of our youngest UUs may be distracting. And, yet they are a reminder of the gift of the children’s presence among us. The discomfort we may feel is normal and a reminder that the work of inclusivity calls us to de-center our individual needs so that all of us may share the worship space. This can be challenging and is part of the process of faith formation.

Opportunities for multigenerational connection also occur during weekly Wednesday Thing programming. The planning team is scheduling regular all age events such as story yoga, game nights, creative dance, art projects, and multigen choir. There are many opportunities for multigenerational engagement at UUCA that will let our children know that they are important members of our community and strengthens their UU identity.

During this month of gratitude, I am grateful to be on this journey with you. I hope you will explore how we can continue to build multigenerational community and support lifespan faith development at UUCA. I welcome opportunities to hear your ideas and feedback. I also invite you to participate in future whole congregation worship services and multigenerational programs.

If Thanksgiving is a time for celebration, may it be a joyous, delicious occasion shared with loved ones. If it is a day of mourning a loss or grieving the injustice done to native peoples know that you are held in our hearts. Below is a link to a few conversation starters that may enliven conversation around the dinner table. Enjoy!

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Conversation starters