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

Stories of Our Faith

 

kayThe story of our Unitarian Universalist faith is written in our lives and in the lives of our predecessors. It’s what we do, large and small, on a daily basis. A rather challenging task, but one for which there is help at hand. As our congregational covenant states: 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.

Need a boost, a pick-me-up? Check out the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society website – UUHHS.ORG. You’ll find biographies of Unitarian Universalists who have lived our faith.

When it comes to speaking truth to power there is nothing like The Rev. A. Powell Davies for inspiration. In rallying public support against the governmental abuses of the McCarthy era he stated “. . .  I have criticized the untruths and injustices of the investigating committees . . . I am what is called a controversial person; that is . . . one who does not keep quiet in the presence of evil.”

Davies was outspoken against the abuse of police power and judicial authority. He said, “If I believed an injustice was being done I would make whatever protest I believed I should and all the courts in America would not stop me.”

In 1952, Ross Weston, the Unitarian minister in Arlington VA was judged to be in contempt for criticizing a controversial court decision from his pulpit. This contempt citation threatened to gag ministers from speaking out against court abuses. Davies contributed to a successful defense of Weston and freedom of the pulpit. He stated, “The right to criticize is necessary in the case of public servants of every sort. Only so can we insure that evil is not entrenched, and prevent intimidation and tyranny.”

In speaking truth to power some use the arts. Rod Sterling, one of television’s most prolific writers, believed that the role of a writer was to “menace the public conscience.” He saw writing as a “vehicle of social criticism” and with science fiction opened minds to deeper humanity.

When speaking truth to power some organize. Mary White Ovington spent her life combating racism. To do so she became a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. And as she said, “just because no one else sees fit to do anything about it is no reason why I won’t.”

And our predecessors guide us spiritually. May Sarton in her Journal of a Solitude wrote, “There is really only one possible prayer: Give me to do everything I do in the day with a sense of the sacredness of life. Give me to be in Your presence, God, even though I know it only as absence.”

May it be so.

Kay Aler-Maida, UUCA Board President

Better Together

Mark-office-2016Last August I told you that I planned to make a change in our weekly Sunday worship services by inviting our children to join us for the beginning of every service. It’s a pretty common practice among UU congregations, but not something we had done before. Instead, we had made room for a Time for All Ages just once a month, together with fully multigenerational services about four times a year.

The idea arose from feedback we received from the four meetings we had last spring in our RE Visioning process. Parents reported that they’d like more opportunities to be with their children in worship. And we staff, too, concluded that we liked the idea of beginning each service gathered together as one community.

I announced that we would try it through the fall season and then decide whether to continue the practice. I invited your thoughts about what worked and what didn’t about the new format, and I’m grateful that a number of you provided very helpful feedback. You may have noticed that along the way I have made a few tweaks responding to those comments. And we’re not done. I still welcome your thoughts. There are still some pieces that we’re working on.

So, what’s the verdict? Is it working or not? Are we going to continue?

My judgment is that it is working and we ought to continue. Let me share my reasoning. I begin with feedback I’ve received. The response to this change from parents has been uniformly strong and positive. Families welcome the opportunity to begin their Sunday experience together. And we’ve tried hard to make the experience at the start of the service accessible and inviting to children. We provide a story time and sing a hymn from among the songs that children are learning in their gathering time. And we’re experimenting with using pillows in the Sanctuary for some children to sit on during Time for All Ages.

Beyond the comments, though, I measure our success by a significant increase in attendance and participation by young families this fall. We now have 215 children or youth registered for religious education. Average weekly attendance for December was 142, up from 75 in December 2015. This influx is testing our resources, but it’s a nice problem to have.

The continued growth is good news both for the health of our program today and for the future of this congregation. But I also recognize that it’s a change in our culture, and especially for people not used to spending a lot of time around children, it can be a little disorienting. Kids can get squirmy, and the overall level of noise and energy is a little higher.

The situation is a microcosm of the way that diversity of any kind can push us, requiring us to put up with a bit of discomfort for the sake of being together. If you are one who is pushed by these changes, let me suggest that, rather than stepping back, jump in. There are many interesting activities going on in our Religious Education classes, and we’re always looking for storytellers to help with our Time for All Ages. How about volunteering every once in a while? The best part of doing that is you begin to make connections with our children and their parents, all of which will deepen your experience here and your own spiritual life.

I remember that when our daughters were growing up some of the most important adults in their lives in middle school or high school were congregation members who had made a point of getting to know them. Why miss out on the chance to make that kind of connection?

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister