Take Time To Stop and Smell the Dead Roses

I notice a tendency in myself to “just finish a few more things from my to-do list,” to keep grinding, and “once everything is done“ it will be easy to relax and have fun.  While I believe delayed gratification is an honorable and productive strategy, it can be overused.  We live in a society that is productive and inventive and also, in my opinion, overly focused on doing things.  My children serve as inspiration and motivation to accomplish such hard work. Thankfully they have also been inspiration and motivation to sometimes “just be.”  
   The borders of work and play and public and private are in flux these days.  While not all of this is problematic, I think the increase of purposeful- and mindful-living themes is a reaction to these changes and an indication of the needs we have for awareness in the moment.  This doesn’t only mean awareness of the happy thoughts, the calm, the peace.  It may not be as fun or easy, but it is ultimately helpful to truly feel anger, stress, disappointment.  It means not just smelling the pretty red roses – it means getting a little whiff of everything.
   We often label decay and death as necessarily bad or scary.  However, as the very first signs of Fall have started to appear, here is a reminder that a peace can be found in acknowledging the beauty of endings as well as beginnings.  After all, the dead roses fertilize the next generation.
   “Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”                             ― Rumi
James “Buck” Schall, Board of Trustees

Creating Sanctuary Everywhere

Last July in worship I introduced a notion to guide our social justice work that I said intrigued me – “Sanctuary Everywhere.” What if we as a congregation committed ourselves to the work of creating safe space for all people, perhaps all beings? What would that mean?

In the last four months, we have had a brief glimpse of what it can mean to provide sanctuary for one person facing life-threatening expulsion. With the help of dozens of friends from neighboring faith communities we have seen to her safety and helped meet her most essential needs. It’s been challenging but intensely rewarding work. For, in providing safe space for La Mariposa we have also built bonds of friendship and love. Reaching across boundaries of language, of culture, of ethnicity we have begun to know the rich and complex caring that is possible between and among people.

It’s a good place to start. So, again, how would it be if we extended that commitment, if we dedicated ourselves to the work of keeping all people safe? It’s a big idea but in many ways not a reach for us. It’s integrated into the social justice work we are involved in already, from our commitment to immigrant sanctuary, to Black Lives Matter, to our work to end hunger and homelessness, to support people of all genders and gender expressions and even our work to protect and sustain the Earth, a safe harbor for all life.

But what I especially like about the notion of “Sanctuary Everywhere” is that it gives us a focus that is centered in our faith, a faith that calls us to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people and to work to bring about a beloved community where all are held with compassion and respect. It gives us a grounding for work in many venues.

I look forward to exploring this further in coming months, and I welcome your thoughts around it, too.  But I thought that this month I’d tell you a little bit about where my own thoughts around this are going. I’m thinking that if I’m going to work for sanctuary I need to begin by creating sanctuary in my own mind and heart. That means examining those habits of thinking and feeling within me that hold me back, that keep me from truly extending a sense of sanctuary to others.

I realize that part of this just has to do with my own limited experience of the world and other people. And I’ve come to realize that this lack of experience is actually part of the privilege that I inherited, unknowingly, as a white person in this country. From my earliest days, I was raised in a culture where the white experience was normative – that is, normal, every-day, the regular thing. What I learned of non-white people might have been interesting, even exotic, but it was something out of the ordinary. I know I’m not alone. Perhaps this was your experience, too.

This isn’t anything awful or shameful, but I’ve come to realize that it severely limits me in my efforts to grow as a person and to inhabit a faith I affirm. So, an important part of the work of my own spiritual growth has been to give myself to experiences that will take me outside of that limited context and take in other perspectives.

There are many ways of doing this, and we offer some in this congregation and in the larger Asheville area. These include classes, such as Asheville’s own Building Bridges (the next session runs weekly Sept 10 through November 5, 7-9 pm at Rainbow Community School) or trainings by the Racial Equity Institute. You might also consider sitting in on meetings of Asheville Standing Up for Racial Justice, which are the second Thursday of each month at UUCA. Also, this fall I’ll be leading a discussion of a Beacon Press book by Robin DiAngelo called White Fragility, which explores why white people have such a hard time talking about race.

I’ve also made a point in my private reading of exploring nonwhite authors. Here are some who have produced some amazing works recently. I think of Toni Morrison’s latest novel, Home; Michael Eric Dyson’s powerful essays in Tears We Cannot Stop; Tracy K. Smith’s luminous book of poetry, Wade in the Water, and our own Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed’s astute analysis in Revisiting the Empowerment Controversy.

From the Hispanic perspective, I’d recommend Luis Alberto Urrea’s book of poems, Tijuana Book of the Dead, and his novel, House of Broken Angels. From the Native American perspective, I was impressed by the novel There, There by Tommy Orange and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a renowned biologist and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, on weaving together indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge.

There is such richness out there when we open our lives to diverse perspectives. Let us be about creating sanctuary where we can be in conversation with it all.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister



Taking Care of UUCA: Building and Grounds

We take advantage of summertime when there are fewer people on campus to do lots of repairing and sprucing up around the campus. Since you’re all owners of this place, I’d like to report the following accomplishments this summer:
  • Independent heating/cooling units in the nursery, Rev. Claudia’s office, and the admin office were replaced.  ($5600)
  • Three ash trees were infested with the emerald ash borer.  Two were taken down, one was trimmed and treated. ($2400)
  • Mold remediation in 21 Edwin basement. Will be purchasing a new commercial dehumidifier for that space. ($1500 for remediation, $1000 for dehumidifier)
  • Spot-cleaning of carpets in Sandburg Hall and 21 Edwin (shared with Friends of Mine Preschool).  ($150)
  • Painting Rev. Claudia’s and Rev. Mark’s offices and adjoining hallway.  ($600)
  • Wall-mounted 3 donated TVs in 21 Edwin classrooms. ($120)
  • Wall lights were added in RE Commons. ($450)
It’s also true that things keep breaking, all year long, even in the summer.  We have a fabulous group of Building Managers who are our first line of defense on many of these things.  Occasionally items escalate to professionals, but I can always count on the Building Managers to check things out.  Our Building Managers are: Ian Fischer, Dena Gettleman, Clyde Hardin, Larry Holt, John McGrann, Tony Reed, Bob Roepnack, and Glenn White.  
All of these things (one is not done) are back in working order (or have been replaced):
  • An electrical wire going from a breaker to an RE classroom was compromised, probably by water.  This line ran under the foundation slab of the main building so a new line had to be run through the drop-ceiling space. (no estimate yet–this one will be tackled next week)
  • Lock repair for exterior entry door in the foyer.  ($150)
  • One of the motorized shades in the Sanctuary couldn’t be closed.  ($60)
  • Half of the performance lights in the Sanctuary stopped working.  ($300)
  • The main office computer server partially failed.  ($400)
  • Light bulbs burn out and a lot of little things break.  (Love those Building Managers!)
  • Our folding machine gave up.  ($2000)
Remember at the Annual Meeting (and it doesn’t actually matter which one) when I referred to an extremely minimal fund for “capital” repair and maintenance projects?  Those are projects that cost us more than $500 and improve or save the value of the place. That $60,000 we spent on the new Sandburg Hall roof is an example. So are the heating/cooling units, the mold remediation, the new dehumidifier, and the painting.  We set aside a measly $10,000 each year for these kind of expenditures (note we’ve spent $8700 already not counting the roof), and as soon as that is spent out (and it happens every year) we start drawing from our Contingency Fund (which is how we paid for the roof).  So far we’ve been lucky the source of funding for the Contingency Fund (25% of bequests) has been adequate to pay these expenses, but it’s not a good way to do business.  Especially since the Contingency Fund is technically a reserve fund that should be used to cover 2 or 3 months of full operating expenses in an emergency situation.  None of this is news, but since we haven’t solved the problem yet, figured it was time to name it again.
Mostly the takeaways are 1) we do a lot of caretaking of our campus, 2) we are underfunded for that, and 3)our Building Managers save us money every year by supplying volunteer expertise and labor. 
Linda M. Topp, Ph.D., CCA
Director of Administration

Coming Soon…Wednesday Thing 2.0

As I drove to the office this morning in 60-degree weather, windows rolled down, sun streaming through the tree-lined streets of the roads that lead to UUCA, I felt tremendous gratitude for the opportunity to live in the mountains and for the warm welcome I have received in my new role as Minister of Faith Development. Thank you!

My areas of focus are pastoral care, all-ages faith development, and worship (mainly Wednesday Thing). I have been meeting with the various committees and individuals involved in these areas since I started my work with you August 1.

This week I’ve been working with the planning team for the Wednesday Thing, which launches September 12. All are welcome to share a meal, worship together and participate in faith development. You are encouraged to bring the family, bring a friend and bring an open mind for an evening of connecting, reflecting, learning and fun for all ages. I had the opportunity to attend a vespers service during one of my visits and was excited to experience a service that welcomed children, was brief, and yet provided spiritual nourishment midweek. When applying for the job to serve this congregation, this program intrigued me. I look forward to working with the planning team and other volunteers to make this one of the “must do” faith-development, community-building activities at UUCA.

In order to build community and welcome newcomers, it is important that programs be open to all. UUCA committee meetings and closed groups like Covenant Groups will not gather during Wednesday Thing. You are invited, instead, to join in midweek worship, fellowship, and learning. This year’s schedule includes familiar programs such as Ted Talks with Bill Clontz, Multigenerational Choir, Peacemakers and Drop-In Theme Groups as well as new programs: UU History 101, Caring Community Conversations, The Better World Handbook Study Group and Odyssey (a monthly gathering to honor the life journey of one of our elders. Details coming).

Our schedule this year will be: Dinner 5:30-6:20; Vespers 6:30- 6:50; Programming 7:00-8:00 PM. We’ve built in time between activities for clean-up and transition. We are still working on this year’s calendar and welcome your ideas! Please contact me or a member of the planning team (Kim Collins, Linda Topp, and Jeff Jones) if you 1) have an idea for a program, 2) would like to lead vespers or join the planning team, 3) are part of a group interested in hosting a program, or 4) have questions about the program.

See yoUU September 12 at Wednesday Thing!

Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Membership: New Ideas, New Volunteers

Last year, when we re-imagined our paid staff and decided to create the position of Minister of Faith Development (hi Rev. Claudia!), I was assigned supervision of our membership programs. As Rev. Lisa and I discussed before her departure, we needed to decrease the amount of staff time that we devote in welcoming and nurturing our newcomers while also giving them more opportunities to connect and learn before they decide to become a member.

Venny Zachritz, our 15-hours-per-week Connections Coordinator, and I have been working on that this summer and have a plan. Now all we need are volunteers from our congregation to join in to help make it happen.

Here’s the plan: We want newcomers to get more information about UUCA sooner than was happening with just 3 Beginning Points classes per year. Instead of that, we will offer a monthly “class” for newcomers every 3rd Sunday after both services. We want newcomers to be way more connected to UUCA BEFORE they join. That’s why we suggest that they participate in a wide variety of programs before they attend one of the three Membership Classes we will offer each year (formerly called Connecting Points).

In between the Intro session and the Membership Class, we want our newcomers to experience UUCA. We want them to attend at least four worship services, try to get to a Wednesday Thing, participate in two theme group sessions, take a campus tour, attend one or more Newcomer Potlucks, give their time and talents to UUCA, and generally put themselves in situations to meet fellow UUCAers. (By the way, these are all things that committed members of UUCA do on a more or less regular basis!)

To help our newcomers find these offerings, we tell them to READ THE WEEKLY ENEWS! and we assign them a Connector. Our Connectors will meet with these newcomers, find out what they’re looking for by joining UUCA, and guide them along their way.

Here’s the volunteer help we need:

  • Session leaders to meet with any interested folks at the Intro to UUCA for Newcomers classes on third Sundays following both services.
  • Theme group leaders AND covenant group leaders.
  • Tour guides to provide campus tours on 4th Sundays after services.
  • Office computer help to enter data, send out emails and create nametags.
  • Potluck organizers.
  • Membership class organizers/food helpers.

Please let me or Venny know how you can help!

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Much is Underway

Much is underway,
reach for a star and hold on,
evolve together.

It is hard to believe, but summer is almost over. Not the seasonal summer, of course, as that won’t end until September 22nd, but the psychical summer that ends when the school year is imminent.
    I am feeling that more this year because, on August 20th, I will once more be in the classroom at UNC Asheville. After teaching there for 32 years—I retired from full-time teaching on June 30th, 2015—I didn’t expect to teach again. But soon the curtain will go up and I will be back on stage. But just one course this time (Senior Research in Economics).
Perhaps because of my career, certainly because of my schooling, I have always experienced the fall as a time of rebirth, a time of the new when all things seem possible. There is a lot to like about that!
    As I look forward to our new congregational year—one doesn’t need to look far—there is a lot to like, too! This Sunday, Rev. Claudia Jiménez, our new Minister of Faith Development, will be in the pulpit for the first time speaking on “Transitions and Possibilities.” I am eager to be in her presence and hear her words.
    I am eager, too, to see a solar panel array on the roof of Sandburg Hall. We are effectively halfway toward our goal of 100 panels, as established by congregational vote at our Annual Meeting on June 3rd. Let’s support the efforts of the Earth Community Circle to create a more livable world for our children, grandchildren, and ourselves. How to do that? Talk with someone at the ECC table after a Sunday service or visit the Donate button on the UUCA webpage and designate Campus Dev. Contribution.
    The new, though, is not all that is happening in our congregation. In recent years we have made strong commitments to supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement (June 2016) and being a Sanctuary Congregation (October 2017), and that work continues. And The Wednesday Thing makes its return on September 12th. I will be there.
    So much is underway. I am grateful for all that we will do and be this year, developing in faith, serving and transforming our community and the world.

Bruce Larson, Board of Trustees

Finding Joy in “Yes”

Summer for us at UUCA is a time for planning and preparation. We try to catch up on reading and research and plan for the church year ahead, but we’re also organizing and recruiting. The success and effectiveness of what we as staff do depends strongly on finding people in the congregation who are willing to partner with us in advancing the ministries that help us achieve our mission. As with all great work, it takes a village to make it happen. And with us, it is an essential truth that all the ministry we do is shared.

All of this has me thinking about the challenges of leadership. There is hardly an organization I know of these days that is not struggling to find leaders, and we are among them. I understand why. People’s lives are busy, and the task of leadership often sounds like just one more thing. And even if we’re interested, some of us feel it’s a little immodest, even self-important, to offer ourselves as leaders. Who do we think we are?

Also, some of us inclined to volunteer may be initially wary, having found ourselves roped into leadership jobs in the past where we were lightning rods for criticism and rarely acknowledged for the good work we did. Or we were overburdened with responsibilities for which we were not prepared and for which we received little support.

That’s a way of saying that I get that you might be a little reluctant when “the ask” comes your way from one of us here. Still, I want to urge you to see if you can find a way to say, “Yes.” And here’s why.

The first reason is simple: accepting a role of leadership helps assure that those things that you are passionate about getting attention. In recruiting volunteers we try to make a point of matching people with their areas of interest. Of course, it’s also true that there are times you may be asked to help out with something that you’ve never done before, that’s outside your comfort zone. It can be a great opportunity to experience a beginner’s mind, and sometimes that’s the best formula for growth. We all have growing to do.

The second reason takes us to the covenant that gathers us as a congregation. The last sentence of that covenant sums it up nicely: “Our life together declares that the future of each depends on the good of all, and the future of all depends on the good of each.” Each of us has a role in the success of the whole. We bring our best selves, our best intentions into our work together, giving what we can, sharing in carrying the tasks that make this community go as we also share in the joys that result.

My third point comes from Parker Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak. “If it is true that we are made for community,” he wrote, “then leadership is everyone’s vocation.” No matter how unsuited any of us may feel for leadership, he added, “I lead by word and deed, simply because I am here doing what I do.” None of us is outside the circle; we each influence it profoundly by our very presence.

Then, why not claim that presence, why not own the gifts that you bring and put them to service for this community of memory and hope that carries our hopes and seeks to realize the values that give our lives meaning, a community that touches our hearts, our souls, that abets our awakening?

So, please say, “Yes,” when the call comes, and we, in turn, promise to respect your needs, your limits, and to support you and celebrate you for work that is joyously given and gratefully received.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister