Snow and Heroes

To me, snow is magical. One of my favorite things is a snow day, especially now that I work from home and don’t have to scramble for snow-day child care. While growing up in Asheville, school closed frequently, even being closed for almost the whole month in January of 1978. A pack of a dozen neighborhood kids, including my older sister and me, spent hours outside, sledding on a breathtakingly steep hill and building bonfires to stay warm. Now, as an adult, I still have my breath taken away when I ride up a ski lift, look over the beautiful mountains, and zip down the slope with the wind rushing through my helmet.
    On a recent snow/work day, I was marveling at the falling snow outside my office window when a coworker called me to ask me question.
    “Isn’t the snow beautiful?” I asked him.
    “Ugh, I hate snow” he responded. How could anybody hate snow? “I grew up in Philadelphia, and school never closed. When I see snow, I see oily, gray crust,” he went on to explain.
   This got me to thinking about how experience and perception affect how people can see the same thing in such polarized ways. One person sees a racist and alleged pedophile; another sees a good Christian man with family values.
    Fortunately, my view of snow has not been sullied, but recent events have caused me to rethink whom I respect and admire. A beloved journalist from this state who knew my uncle has been revealed to be a sexual predator. A woman I looked up to at my job with the county is under federal investigation and has made front-page news on a few occasions. From now on, I will only see them as frauds, not as the pristine heroes they once were, and this breaks my heart.

Stay warm!

Michele Gregory, UUCA Board of Trustees


The Gifts We Give and Receive

Abundance was our church theme last month.  We talk about our congregational themes with our Religious Education (RE) kids, too.  Take a listen to what they said about what our church has an abundance of:  chalices, fun, love, stories, kind people… kind people, indeed!  I have been inspired this year to witness an abundance of wonderful gifts shared within our 2017-18 “under construction” Religious Education program. 

We began the year strong with fully recruited teaching teams for our classes.  Then, as Coming of Age mentors were needed or other jobs arose (like needing a rock star handywoman and organizational guru), people flexed and adjusted their commitments as we hoped they would to share their talents to meet the needs of our program and participants.  As the year has progressed, our volunteer leaders have worked together and supported one another and their students beautifully.  Our fabulous RE Council has been providing leadership as well, and is adapting to the evolving vision and work of the church.

A new kind of “call and response” emerged:  when one member of the team had a need and called for help, other members always responded with compassion.  And they have stepped forward with heart and thoughtfulness for parents or kids needing additional care, too.  It has happened time and time again.  We are living out our new mission: Our open and welcoming congregation connects hearts, challenges minds and nurtures spirits, while serving and transforming our community and the world and our core values of connection, inspiration, compassion, and justice.  The support from one to another is a gift within our community.

And we see these gifts in our children and youth also.  At 9:15, we have programming for all ages (kindergarten through adult – you are welcome to join us!), and that allows a special opportunity for multiage interaction and learning.  During one of our stories recently, we had some participants sharing “who they are” in the story of Supriya’s Bowl.  From young to old, there were thoughtful responses and patient listening to what others had to say.  (We have some really cool 6th graders who were attentive to hearing a 5 year-old’s rationale for how the rice bowl got filled, and who shared their own thoughts with us, too.)  When making our blessing bags, the big kids help the little kids with packaging goods and making notes or drawings for our neighbors in need.  The Coming of Age youth volunteered at the church work day outside recently, raking leaves, moving stumps and rocks, etc. to beautify and winterize our campus; our Sunday worship chime ringers and chalice lighters are children and youth; when the multigenerational choir sings, our children and youth are giving to the church.  You’ll soon see the pageant with (hopefully) a good amount of kid participation.  All of those are special gifts to our community.

We are hearing from families that the kids are bringing their parents to church because they want to be here!  And why not?

  • Star Wars or Harry Potter yoga for all ages at 9:15
  • YRUU revitalization for 10th-12th graders
  • Neighboring Faiths curriculum, expanding horizons of 7th-8th graders
  • And so much more… every class has awesome stuff happening!
  • Plus, youth CONference attendance continues to grow

All of that takes volunteers – people who are sharing their time and talent – with UUCA.  Presence is one of the greatest gifts a person can give or receive.  We in RE have received many gifts this year, and we are grateful to all of you in the RE roles and in the many other ways our church is served by all of you.  You are a gift.

And on that note, another important gift we can give and receive is affirmation.  We have created a new bulletin board in Sandburg Hall to share that gift in our community.  Like a little free library, we invite you to take or to leave a gift of affirmation.  This is open to anyone:  member, friend, regular or first-time visitors, youth, adult, or children.  See more at the big GIFT bulletin board near the main office.

Jen Johnson, RE Staff

What Would You Do If You Won the Lottery?

Last month, my nephew, Greg, called from Santa Barbara. “Hey, Uncle Dale,” he exclaimed, “I won the lottery!”

“No way,” I said.

“Way!” he said, “I won big time. No kidding.”

“That’s great. How much did you win?”

“A lot,” he responded… Long pausethen the punch line. “I was born White in America.”

No, Greg isn’t a White Nationalist. Far from it.  Greg realized that he had hit the jackpot by being born White in America.

Greg is a skilled carpenter. Often, he needs to hire an assistant. He drives to the corner in Santa Barbara where day-hires, largely Latino, hang out looking to catch a job. He recognizes that a roll of the dice put him on the hiring end of things, rather than on the street corner hoping to be hired. Greg recognizes the White American privilege that came to him by dint of his birth.

Last year, UUCA named “compassion” and “justice” as core values, and we recently voted to put those words into action by opting in a Special Congregational meeting to become a Physical Sanctuary congregation. We recognized that there are good people in our midst who are in need of temporary protection, and we are lucky enough to have sufficient space in 23 Edwin to host a guest. We collectively announced by that vote: “We can’t turn our backs on those in need, let’s do what our good fortune allows us to do!” I am extremely proud of that congregational decision.

The wheels are rapidly moving in the direction of turning the Sanctuary vision into a reality. Rev. Lisa has recruited a Sanctuary Steering Committee, and they have begun meeting to put together a list of all that must be done to prepare for a sanctuary guest. Lisa and Linda Topp have selected the room and adjoining bath at 23 Edwin that will serve as quarters. A donated washer and dryer have been installed in the basement. Rev. Mark has begun meeting with CIMA (Companeros Immigrantes de las Montanas en Accion), a local action group on behalf of immigrants, to inform them of our Sanctuary program and to learn more about their organization. We have received our first financial contribution from another congregation.

 Soon it will be your, and my, turn to help. Let’s do it. Let’s, like nephew Greg, share our collective lottery winnings by aiding someone not so lucky.          

Dale Wachowiak, Board of Trustees     


Winter: The Season For Slowing Down

Up until now, it’s been an odd autumn for this part of the world, with temperatures hovering around what we’re more accustomed to for September. But in the last week, the early winter grey visited, and daytime highs tumbled to a more seasonal chill. And so it feels like finally, I can settle into the quieter, darker days of this season. As Rebecca Parker puts it, “let us go gently into the night, its dream-drenched, glittering stillness, a haven for our souls.”

 Just as the earth takes its rest at this time of year, we need to give ourselves some space from the hectic, screen-centered lives we’ve built for ourselves. So, isn’t it just like the tone-deaf culture of consumerism that floods our lives to urge us instead in this holiday season to make our lives more frantic with rush to buy presents?

Giving should and can be joyful. It is a wonderful gesture that helps us express our gratitude to people we love or with whom we stand in some relationship. But it becomes less so when it’s driven by a sense of fear or obligation. So, let me urge you to look for ways to turn down the pressure: look for gifts of services, rather than things; agree on limits to your purchases, and stick to them; be creative, have fun, and then be done with it.

Leave space for quietness, long walks, or casual, low-pressure gatherings with family and friends. There is a special beauty in these mountains in the winter time. Take time to get to know it. Maybe it’s time to renew an acquaintance with a friend. Look for that which can reconnect you with your life, with what matters, and attend to it.

One of my favorite hymns for this time of year is “Dark of Winter,” #55 in Singing the Living Tradition, by Shelley Jackson Denham. It closes with these words:

“Darkness, soothe my weary eyes that I may see more clearly.
When my heart with sorrow cries, comfort and caress me.
And then my soul may hear a voice, a still, small voice of love eternal.
Darkness, when my fears arise, let your peace flow through me.”

May you find peace in this holiday season.  

Rev.Mark Ward, Lead Minister

UUCA’s Mission and Your Mission at UUCA

This month, the Board of Trustees has finally wrapped up our LOV (Living Our Values) project. Throughout this year, we worked with many of you in the congregation on this project in order to come up with new Mission and Ends Statements for our community. And I am so proud of what we have come up with, especially our new mission:

Our open and welcoming congregation connects hearts, challenges minds, and nurtures spirits, while serving and transforming our community and the world.

All right! But… what next? What do we do with this? Hopefully, this mission will encourage us to all really live into our values of connection, inspiration, compassion, and justice. As you may notice, this mission is not about what the church does, or the minister, or the staff. This is what the congregation does. Meaning you, and me, and everyone here.

So how do we go about connecting hearts and challenging minds and nurturing spirits? How will we be able to serve and transform? Well, it starts with seeing yourself as a valuable part of this place. Being a leader in church can be such a spiritually rewarding experience. Imagine being able to see yourself in a new way, making a real difference in your life and the lives of others. Stepping up and serving your congregation should not be a chore. It should not be because you have to, or because no one else will. It can be a path on your own spiritual journey, allowing you to dig deeper, form stronger connections, and truly grow as an individual. For many, serving their church IS their experience of the holy.

I think a great example of this is our Sanctuary Working Group. While they got support and resources from the leaders and staff of UUCA, this group was lay led. These members succeeded in seeing their vision through, from conception all the way to getting the majority of the congregation on board with their plan and now it is a reality! They are making a real difference in their own lives and in our community, providing compassion, justice, and hope. And the work continues, now being the work of our whole faith community. How inspiring for the rest of us who have so many ideas on what we want our congregation to be and to do!

So what is it that you envision for our church? What do you want this place to be, and for whom? How can YOU make your UUCA dreams come true?  If you have never served at UUCA, what are you waiting for?! There are so many opportunities to find your place. Not everyone can form a working group and do something as large as Sanctuary. And that’s OK! Whatever your gift or talent or field of expertise, no matter how “small,” we need you at UUCA! There are always calls to serve in the Weekly eNews, the order of service–or just ask. Trust me, someone can always find something for you to do! I really hope our new mission statement inspires you to plug in and connect, finding the true joy of serving a place you love.

Mariah Wright, Board of Trustees

Staff Changes Are Coming

Last June you heard from then-Board President Kay Aler-Maida that for the past several years UUCA has been struggling with a couple of important financial problems: We have been running a budget deficit funded from cash reserves, and we have been unable to compensate key exempt staff at levels that they deserve. She told you that part of what we hoped the LOV (Living Our Values) Project would give us is some good guidance on how to adjust our budget to target personnel resources where they are most needed while at the same time operating within our means.

Now that the LOV Project is completed with newly-defined congregational values, mission, and ends we are ready to take the next step and make plans for changes that will make our personnel structure more sustainable while fitting the work of the congregation.

To accomplish that, last Tuesday I recommended and the Board of Trustees approved the following changes: As of July 1, 2018, the position of called Associate Minister will be replaced by a hired Minister of Faith Development, and the position of Director of Lifespan Religious Education (DLRE) will be eliminated. Essentially, this new position will combine the key duties of both Associate Minister and DLRE, with other duties allocated to current staff.

Specifically, I proposed that the Minister of Faith Development supervise and provide vision for the congregational religious education program for children, youth and adults, direct our pastoral care program and supervise small group ministry and other adult programs. The person holding this position also would lead worship once a month.

Membership programs and supervision of Connections Coordinator Venny Zacritz would move to Director of Administration Linda Topp. Leadership of social action and public ministry would be shifted to me as Lead Minister. To reduce the burden this would place on my position, we are exploring adjusting our governance structure so that Linda Topp and I would serve as co-executives. You’ll be hearing more about how that plays out in the future.

I believe that these changes are in keeping with the focus of our new Mission and Ends. Connecting hearts, challenging minds, and nurturing spirits are all accomplished by faith development that transforms us for service in the larger world. One benefit of this change is that it breaks the old “upstairs/downstairs” division that separates the work of faith development in adults, children, and youth. Locating the work of faith development across the generations in one position should naturally promote multigenerational activities.

I expect that one of your first questions will be how this change affects our current Associate Minister Lisa Bovee-Kemper. Lisa and I have talked this over, and she has told me that this position is not the ministry to which she feels called. So, she will look for another position.

I’m sure that many of you will be sad at the prospect of Lisa leaving us next summer. I’m sad, too. She is both a respected colleague and a friend. In the nearly seven years that she’s been with us she has grown to be an awesome minister and will be a gift to any congregation that calls her.

Our work now turns to search to fill this position. It is a little unusual to combine these two roles in one person, but it’s not unheard of. UU congregations in Atlanta, GA, and Oak Ridge, TN, have similar configurations. I hope that we’ll find some good candidates. I’m also considering whether to extend the search to include people with experience with religious education and pastoral care who are not ordained. This would change the position to Director of Faith Development.

Eliminating a senior staff position – Director of Lifespan Religious Education – will relieve the congregation of financial pressures it’s been straining under for years, though the loss of staff hours will require us to be strategic in how we use our people. In religious education, this new person will receive help from our two support staff – Coordinators Kim Collins and Jen Johnson – but across the board, they will need continuing support from all of you to keep our ministries vital and engaged.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister


Hey Friend, Can You Spare a Dime?

Rumor has it that all we talk about in this congregation is money.  As the staff person who works with fundraising around here, I find that complaint both frustrating and fascinating.  Perhaps a few facts will help.  (Not that facts are fashionable these days, but I can’t stop believing they should work to persuade people.)

Let’s start with the assumption that folks are pretty satisfied with our three buildings, our wifi services, our décor and furnishings (well, they could be better, but…), our staffing decisions, our 2 acres and that the staff has reasonably decent office equipment, electronic equipment, and software to do their jobs.  It follows then that money is needed to pay for these things.  We use our annual budget drive to cover as many of our costs as we can possibly raise.  This past year that covered about 79% of our budgeted expenses.  (We ask how much you will give in February—your commitment—so we can create a balanced budget to vote on in June.  You would be disappointed to learn how hard it is to get everyone to make a commitment in a timely fashion.)

We get some interest income and a draw from our reserve funds (2%), some “unexpected” (but not unbudgeted) donations from visitors and people who feel they can give more to us than they originally committed (9.5%), some income from new members as they join the church each year (1%) and rental income (2.5%).  That adds up to 94%.  Hence, more fundraising is needed.

Enter our 2 largest fundraisers, the used book sale, and the auction.  We just ended up with more books than we can read again (well, I did anyway) and we benefited from yeoman’s work from a small cadre of volunteers throughout the year to gather, sort, and price books.  After 2-1/2 days of sales, we add another 0.5% of income to our bottom line.  (We also sell only about half the books that are received throughout the year.  The rest are donated to Habitat for Humanity.)

Next Saturday night, November 11, we will have a blast at our auction—hope you have your tickets!  This is a giant party, an opportunity to fill out your social calendar, learn stuff, and play throughout the year and, of course, support the congregation.  When it is all said and done, the auction will have contributed another 3% of income.  And other, lesser income sources (e.g., the holiday craft fair and coffee sales) bring in another 2.5%.

That pretty much covers the operating expenses that we include in our annual budget, but we actually have several other funds that we use to help our own members that are not included in the operating budget (because we don’t raise enough from other sources to cover them).  That’s why you will be asked at various times of year to give money to the Ministers’ Discretionary Fund, the Scholarship Fund, and of course the Coming of Age program. 

By the way, the Scholarship Fund was just used to help 11 families or individuals attend UUCA’s Gathering at The Mountain as well as 7 youth (so far) to attend youth conferences at The Mountain.  I know these are greatly appreciated by the recipients.

So, I guess we do ask for money a lot.  My only problem with the whole set-up is that it is the golden rule of fundraising that you will not get it if you don’t ask.  But when we ask, we get pushback from some members.  Some people have even dropped their membership and left the church because of this.  It is a frustrating part of my job.  So, here’s my fondest desire.  If I had a UUCA financial magic lantern, I would wish for a congregation full of people in the full range of socioeconomic statuses (we are actually missing the highest end). Then I would wish that each and every person would believe in the way this place changes their lives.  And finally, I would wish that their belief would compel them to give 3-10 percent of their adjusted income to UUCA.

Linda Topp, PhD., CCA
Director of Administration