How Am I Doing?

As a former New Yorker this phrase is firmly associated in my mind with Mayor Koch who loved to ask it – particularly when his ratings were favorable. Less so when he wasn’t doing that well. It’s the question many of us encounter in a variety of settings but for sure in our annual employment review process. It’s a particularly tricky one when we consider ministry.

The role of a called minister in a large congregation is complex and multi-faceted. The expectations outlined in the Letter of Call encompass a wide range of responsibilities. Any effective review process for a called minister needs to be broad enough to assure an accurate performance review yet not become daunting or cumbersome. To conduct an ongoing ministerial review process the Board has created the standing Task Force on Ministerial Review.

The Task Force on Ministerial Review is composed of five members of the congregation, serving staggered two-year terms. Members of the current Task Force are Wendy Seligmann, Chair, Nora Carpenter, Laura Hansen, John McGrann, and Amy Moore.

Ministerial reviews will be an ongoing annual process with focus on half of the areas of responsibilities as outlined in the minister’s Letter of Call each year so that all areas of responsibility receive a biennial review. Areas that will be under review this year are: worship, rites of passage, pastoral care, spiritual development, and leading the faith into the future.  After the review process is completed the minister will advise the Board of his/her specific biennial goals for the areas of responsibilities most recently reviewed. These goals will form the basis for the next review of these areas.

It is not the purpose of this Task Force to mediate individual complaints regarding one of the ministers. A congregational member with an issue regarding one of the ministers is encouraged to discuss the matter directly with the minister. If the member feels uncomfortable doing this, they may contact the Board President who will follow the policy regarding complaints to the Board as outlined in the Governance Document Section II Board of Trustees, Policy K.

Kay Aler-Maida, UUCA Board President

Time To Think About What’s Next

What’s next in this work of liberal religion? It’s a question that I have to say is much on my mind these days. We live at a time when, on the one hand, many churches are closing and commentators of all stripes are predicting the demise of religion. At the same time, many people are responding to political and social turmoil by going to church – some renewing old faith connections, others exploring this whole area for the first time.

We see that struggle at UUCA, too. At the same time that we are seeing a huge new influx of people looking to make connections to a progressive community, other people are quietly leaving us, saying they’re not sure this religion thing, or at least the way we’re doing it, is for them. It’s a challenging environment to work in, and it requires some careful discernment. That’s a good part of why the Board of Trustees is inviting you into some deep digging these days. You’ve had a chance to sort out the values that center this community. Next the Board will invite you to revisit our Mission Statement and the Ends that guide our ministries to help decide whether they truly fit the work that you see for this congregation. It’s good work, and I hope you will weigh in.

I have to say that your staff, myself included, is really happy to see you doing this, because the clearer all of us are on what this congregation exists to do, the better we can focus our energies in helping you accomplish it.

As your lead minister, I have an important role in this. My Letter of Agreement with you describes my job as providing “spiritual leadership and initiative,” helping you set and articulate your vision, and providing “professional performance and oversight” of the congregation’s programs in collaboration with the board, the staff and other lay leadership.

It’s challenging and exciting work, a real privilege, to be honest. But an important aspect of that work is finding what we call “a balcony perspective,” moments to step above the crush of the day-to-day and get a sense of the whole. As you can imagine, those moments are often hard to find, which is why I’m planning a brief sabbatical this spring. I’ll be gone just two months – from April 17, the day after Easter, through June 19, the day before I join the Coming of Age class on its trip to General Assembly in New Orleans.

During that time, my duties will be covered by other staff or lay volunteers. Associate Minister Lisa Bovee-Kemper will oversee pastoral care and Sunday worship. She’ll be assisted in the pulpit by some special guests who I’ve invited and who I think you will enjoy. On May 5, we’ll welcome Rev. Guy Sayles, former senior minister of First Baptist Church in Asheville and now a professor of religion at Mars Hill College. On May 28 our guest will be the Rev. Duncan Teague, who is the founder of Abundant LUUv, a new Unitarian Universalist congregation gathered in the African-American community in Atlanta, Ga. And on June 18 we’ll welcome Rabbi Justin Goldstein of Congregation Beth Israel in Asheville.

Director of Administration Linda Topp will be the key contact on administrative matters and UUCA member John Bates will serve as sabbatical convener to gather senior staff and provide a staff liaison to and reports for the Board of Trustees.

And what will I be up to while I’m away? I’m looking forward to participating in an Academy for Leaders run by the Center for Courage and Renewal, a group organized around the work of Quaker author and educator Parker Palmer. I’m also planning to be in touch with and visit a few congregations, ministers and leaders who are wrestling with the questions I posed above. And, yes, I plan a little time to rest and recharge.

I am grateful to you for providing this sabbatical time. It is a great gift to the ministry of this congregation, and I value the opportunity to get a little more of that “balcony perspective” and to check in with others who are struggling with the same questions that we are. I’ll look forward to sharing what I learn.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Identifying Our Core Values

A comprehensive process culminated in identifying our congregation’s core values of connection, inspiration, compassion and justice. In November, the Board of Trustees hosted a series of events for congregants to participate in a values conversation workshop. Our congregation gathered together to explore our most fundamental values as a religious community and began the process of renewing our covenant together. Our religious faith community is built on our commitment to covenant;  we promise to work together to make our shared values come to life in our religious community and beyond. This process allowed us the opportunity to have an explicit conversation together about the values that drive everything we do in the congregation.

From those workshops, the Board of Trustees then engaged in a discernment process facilitated by Laura Park from Unity Consulting. We considered and deliberated the values that came about from the congregations’s discussions and aimed to find the center. The words, connection, inspiration, compassion and justice are expansive and include multiple themes and ideas from the values conversations. They are powerful words that embody who we are as a congregation and will guide our actions and decisions. These values will also help inform our planning for the future.

We are now asking you to tell us how you can imagine the congregation living into those values more fully and faithfully. We want to know how these values authenticate who we are as a gathered community. For the following two Sundays, we invite you to identify a value that resonates with you and to share how that value expresses who our congregation is and how it guides what we do. You are also welcome to share your stories about how you are connected to these values on this blog by entering a comment below.

Kate Hartnett
UUCA Board Vice President


Ministerial Sabbatical Planned

A sabbatical is a period of special leave granted for professional development in a manner not possible during the typical press of activity. The demanding ministerial work schedule provides little opportunity for the thoughtful enrichment, analysis, and study that a sabbatical leave allows. For these reasons, the Board of Trustees has granted a request for sabbatical leave from Lead Minister, Mark Ward.

His leave will run from April 17 (right after Easter) until June 18 (back in time to get on the GA bus). Although Mark’s last sabbatical was longer (January to June 2012), he felt this time a two-month period would provide sufficient time for the study he has in mind. Mark will be sharing his specific plans in his April column.

Whether a sabbatical is long or short, we need to plan for how to attend to the minister’s many duties and responsibilities. In planning for this leave we’ve used the very successful template that was developed for Mark’s prior sabbatical.

Major among Mark’s responsibilities is worship and the schedule for this has been set for the remainder of the year. Sundays will include a mix of services – some led by Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper, some with guest speakers and a couple of special programs such as Earth Day and Coming of Age. All will be supported by our talented Worship Associates.

As Executive, Mark is the glue that connects, coordinates and convenes. And for this sabbatical, as we did for the prior one, there will be a Sabbatical Convener. The Convener will coordinate among staff, liaison with the board, prepare monthly monitoring reports, clear Mark’s email and phone messages and so on. A Big Job.

Last time this role was ably filled by Stephen Jones. For this sabbatical, we are very fortunate to have John Bates filling the role of Convener. With John’s experience as immediate past president and as well as his many other contributions to UUCA – how lucky can we get?

The rest of our very capable staff will all be in place and attentive to any area where they can bridge any gap that may arise. So, all in all, it looks like we’ve got all the bases covered and all that remains is to extend our best wishes to Mark for a fruitful sabbatical.

Kay Aler-Maida, UUCA Board President

Acting in Life

Mark-office-2016The star magnolia in our backyard is blooming, and I’m not happy about it. Don’t get me wrong: I love the silky, sparkling white blossoms, one of the true wonders of spring. But there’s no way that delicate shrub should be blooming in February. The daffodils that have popped up around our yard will survive a freeze or even a light snow, but the star magnolia blooms will shrivel into something like brown used Kleenex if the temperatures get down to the low 30s. And given the quirky weather of the mountains, that’s likely any day now.

I can hardly blame the poor plant. The crazy warm weather we’ve had recently tugs at me, too, to get out in the garden. But other than random clean-up I don’t dare attempt anything yet. All of us living things are learning to struggle with the change in climate that is coming upon us.

NASA tells us that January 2017 was the third-warmest on record, just 0.2 degrees Celsius cooler than the hottest January on record: that of 2016. Meanwhile, scientists are reporting that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has now reached what they call a “global minimum” of 400 parts per million. That means that’s 400 ppm is as low as concentrations get during the year. For most of the year, it is higher than that and pushing higher still.

It’s easy for our eyes to glaze over these numbers and scientific terms, but the upshot is that we humans are entering new territory, seeing atmospheric conditions that we as a species have never experienced. And the effects are more than just early-blooming plants. They include the spread of invasive species, rising ocean levels, collapsing ice sheets, wildly varying weather extremes, and so much more.

It’s ironic that just as the effects of climate change become increasingly alarming a new administration is settling into Washington that dismisses them and issues plans to dismantle efforts to slow the pace of change. As people who cherish the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, we are called to attend to this: To use our voices and gather with others in common cause to shape an emerging movement to preserve life as we know it.

Earth’s history teaches that life can endure much, but we humans and the web of higher living things we depend on are more fragile. The forces that drive global change are immense and not always immediately apparent, yet once rolling are they hard to stop. We must join the work now.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
Thursday, March 2, 2017

Marching Forward

As my family and a few close friends marched on the streets of Washington D.C. a few weekends ago, my three-year-old son’s protest sign read, “I am kind. I am strong. I am brave. I am helpful. I am a problem solver. I am Jack.” This is a mantra we say often together to encourage him to be a good friend, to be confident and to be certain in the choices he makes. Now, more than ever, I also have to practice these same expectations, to be intentional in my thoughts and actions, to be loving to one another and to not give up.
While at the march I was overcome with a sense of awe, a healing of sorts. I witnessed thousands of women, men and children standing together in peaceful protest. It was powerful, it was peaceful, and it was inspiring. As I read the news stories the days following the march and learned of the vast support across the country and world I was motivated to continue this important work.
Now, as we move forward in this resistance we each do our part to make progress. As I entered back into my beloved community after this history making event, I am reminded of the power that happens right here at home. The community that surrounds and holds us with open arms is nourishing and supportive. I find the need to take time and to replenish, to connect with my friends and family on a deeper level and to acknowledge all the greatness in my life.

Kate Hartnett, Vice President, UUCA Board



Proclaiming the Possible

Mark-office-2016It is plain that we are living in a contentious and defining moment in American history. Just a couple of weeks into a new administration it’s hard to be sure just what is at risk, but we have seen enough to be concerned that fundamental rights and liberties long protected by our nation’s laws are under threat. Perhaps in time the heat of this political transition will settle down and wiser heads in courts or legislatures will prevail and preserve the freedoms and protections that we cherish. But we cannot presume that will happen. As Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey in the Rock wrote in “Ella’s Song,” “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” That’s us, friends. Freedom is at the heart of who we are as a religious people: freedom to believe or not to believe, to associate, to speak, to think, to proclaim the identity that we assert is ours without restriction, to travel, to learn, to challenge, to question, to love and be loved. And in our tradition this freedom is paired with equality, the fundamental idea that all persons are inherently worthy in and of themselves. And, as the UU theologian Paul Rasor puts it, that means that “all human beings have a right to a meaningful and fulfilling life” and requires that “communities be based on justice, respect and mutuality.” As we launch with new will into the work of social justice, it’s important that we be clear that that work is grounded in a rich and powerful tradition of faith that has been a source of hope for generations and for tens of thousands of people today. It’s a hope centered not in the blithe belief that things are bound to get better, but in that phrase I offered from the philosopher Maimonides on January 15: the plausibility of the possible. Social justice work is never centered in the certain, always in the possible. And what makes the possible real is the determination, the commitment, the love of those who aspire to make it so. As my colleague Lisa told you in December we need to acknowledge that there are going to be rough patches in the days ahead, and when those times come, when our children see our frustration or our tears, this is what we will tell them: “We will fight. We will hold onto each other through the despair, and we will lean on each other when we lose the battle, And love, fierce as a mother bear protecting her cubs, will never die.” That’s what I pledge to you, friends: to stay in it and be in it with you, to hold onto compassion and hope, to enlist and join allies when I can and act where I must, to challenge us to join the work and live into our heritage and to celebrate the community we build together. Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister