Awards and Lists

kayAnnually, around this time of year, there are the lists of the 10 best this and 25 best that. And the awards industry gets into full gear with the year’s best this and best that. We run a little counter to that timing because we do our appraisals of “bests” in June with our annual report.

On the other hand, we’re not a bunch to be limited by conventions so thought we might take a look at some of the good stuff we’ve got going on right now. At #1 would be COMMUNITY, particularly as manifested in our worship.

The cultural, political chaos of this fall has brought home to us daily the relevance of our congregation and our mission to be a Unitarian Universalist faith community. Along with the importance of providing haven for others who are hungry for our message, our Small Group Ministry continues to grow and offers a more intimate setting to be in relationship.

Now for some others, not in any rank order and begging forgiveness for any sins of omission.

Just when we needed it, the Just Change workshop in September identified new priorities for our social justice work. We now have Task Groups for Black Lives Matter, Environment and Sustainability/Carbon Neutral Campus, “Big Stuff/Little Hassle” (providing an outlet for bulky goods), Opening a Dialogue with Muslims, and Educational Inequality. These are in addition to existing action groups, such as Hunger/Homelessness and United to Restore Democracy.

The new All Ages Religious Education at 9:15 is up, running and a success with 39 adults and lots of kids registered. Favorites are the Parent OWL class and All Ages Yoga. It doesn’t stop there. Partnering with Buildings & Grounds there is “Around our Church” which integrates children, teens and adults into fun stewardship activities for our whole church grounds. Watch the RE News to join the fun.

Our mission to  work in community for freedom, justice and love would be just so many words unless there was Stewardship. Recently we’ve had fun group efforts such as the Book Sale and the Auction. The Annual Budget Drive, which makes tangible our commitment, is swinging into action. And if you wish to continue your commitment into the future there is the Legacy Circle which now has 48 members.   Café Press, new this fall, features unique merchandise with the UUCA logo.  Diverse ways to bear witness.

That’s just a little of what’s happening. Would love to know what you would put on your congregational “best list.”

Kay Aler-Maida
UUCA Board President

Keeping Christmas

Mark-office-2016Every Christmas season of my life has had its own vibe, its own feeling to it. This year, it seems, just about every dimension of this season for me has been colored by the knowledge that it will be the last Christmas of my mother’s life. I’m lucky to have her living at a nearby nursing home, where she’s been happy and well cared for, reaching what is for her the unimaginable age of 88. But in the last year or so her health has been deteriorating to the point where doctors now believe she has at best months to live. My siblings and I are grateful for the wonderful care she’s receiving from a team from Care Partners Hospice.

I’ve talked with a number of you who have been through just this transition. And you know how hard it is to contemplate losing your mother, who in this case is also my last surviving parent. After all, we get only one mother, and however complicated that relationship is – and I don’t know a single such relationship that isn’t – there is a soul connection we feel that is like nothing else any of us will ever know. Even though I know an end is coming, I can’t quite fathom how it will be to lose her.

She had a life that was charmed in many ways: mother of five and wife of a psychiatrist, college graduate, who, once the kids were growing up and out, went on to high school teaching, work as a director of religious education and then ordained Unitarian Universalist ministry. It’s been interesting to process this path of ministry with her, and I was proud that she was able to give a prayer at my installation/ordination ceremony here in 2005.

Christmas was always one of her favorite holidays. For a number of years when I was growing up we hosted Christmas caroling parties for great masses of people, a tradition Debbie and I carried on for a few years in Wisconsin. Just this week, I stopped by her room to hang a few ornaments that had come with her to Asheville, playing Christmas CDs, which she haltingly joined in on now and again.

Some years ago I came upon a Christmas sermon that my mother had written back in 1986. Entitled, “O Come Let Us Keep Christmas,” it argues that we must, for “it stirs roots at the core of our being.” Being a good UU, she offers much discussion of the historical roots of the holiday and interpretation of the “miracles” surrounding it, as well as a couple of stories from her childhood. “Keeping Christmas,” she concludes, “is being faithful to the potentiality of light and hope in this universe of ours.”

Let me just close by saying, “Amen.” May this season and this community awaken the light and hope in your lives.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Giving Tuesday

I’m quite certain you did not miss that Tuesday was dubbed “Giving Tuesday” by the non-profit sector of our economy.  How many emails or direct mail pieces did you get from charities you support (or have EVER supported) about making a donation on that day?  Did you give money?

This is the world of non-profit fundraising.  To get money from donors, you need to ask.  You ask frequently—very frequently.  You use every medium you can.  You target your messages to donors by their stage of life, their interests, the size of their previous gifts, their potential for sizable gifts.  You set up matching gifts.  You organize “giving competitions.” Whenever it’s possible you use the gold standard of fundraising: one-on-one conversations.  Your CEO’s number one job is fundraising.  As soon as you can afford it, you hire a development director.  You also write grant applications—many, many grant applications. 

Back in the day, churches were a breed apart as far as fundraising went.  People donated the majority of their year’s charitable giving dollars to their churches first, and then divvied up the rest to other organizations.  Church members automatically gave in support of their church.  Well, friends, times have changed. 

Today, churches are discovering that they have joined the ranks of non-profits in the eyes of their donors.  No more “first giving” for the churches and no more “majority giving” to churches.  We’re now in the hunt for those charitable dollars along with all those other non-profits.  So far, research says that churches are losing, partly because they didn’t realize that this was happening.  That’s why we know that UUCA, nearly all UU churches and the UUA are not alone in the world of shrinking church budgets.

In some ways, churches are currently at a disadvantage.  We really can’t let our CEO (our minister) be our chief fundraiser.  We have no grants for which we can apply. We have members who are very sensitive to being asked for money.  And yet, the rule remains “to get money you have to ask for it.”

There is one place where churches DO have the advantage.  We know our donors as individuals and friends and we can use that gold standard of fund-raising: one-on-one conversations.  That’s what the Visiting Steward program of the Annual Budget Drive is all about.  But even then, because we’re a church, and our donors ARE our friends, our one-on-one conversations are about a lot more than money.  These are also times to have conversations about the value of UUCA in our lives, how we might envision an even stronger congregation and to have genuine conversations with congregants we may not know very well—yet.

But to sustain this congregation with staff members who can help us organize and move forward in the ways that demonstrate our congregation’s values, and with buildings that welcome us, and with programs that feed us, we (and really all religious bodies with buildings) need to find a new model of financial support or a new model for religious gathering.  We have The Dream Team exploring this new world. Stay tuned.

Linda, Topp, Director of Administration


Stepping Off the Edge

What timeless, transcendent qualities of our religious community will we embody in all that we do?  – Experience of the Holy

Over the next several weeks I expect there will be a good deal commentary about this election. About how the territory has changed and all the why’s for this and that and what is the real message and meaning of the election. And we’ll probably need decades to understand its true historic importance.

In his sermon, The Mightiest Word, Mark Ward quoted from the African American poet Elizabeth Alexander. In her words from the first Obama inauguration, she admonished us “Say it plain: that many have died for this day” and also to praise people who have the courage to “walk into that which we cannot see.”

Post-election as we “walk into that which we cannot see” what can we do with all of the feelings, emotions, passions that the election has stirred up?

First, we remember our values and double down on them. Equally important to doubling  down on our values is acting on them. Our Mission calls upon us to “work together for freedom, justice, and love.” Each week our E-News offers many opportunities, large and small, for us to live out our Mission. Living out our Mission, a simple answer but one that is not at all easy.

And perhaps it is no accident that the Board of Trustees is currently engaging the congregation in the Experience of the Holy process to articulate our congregation’s core values. It has never been more important to be clear about what we hold most dear.

Kay Aler-Maida, UUCA Board President

It Takes a Village

Pulling together all the pieces that make an organization as large as the UU Congregation of Asheville function is challenging work, and it depends on a high-functioning group of staff to do it.

Some are people with high profile roles, while others work behind the scenes. For example, on Sundays you’re aware of me, Associate Minister Lisa Bovee-Kemper, Director of Lifespan Religious Education Joy Berry, and Music Director Les Downs because we have roles leading worship. If you have children in Religious Education you probably know Lifespan Religious Education Coordinator Kim Collins and RE Program Assistant Jen Johnson. Newcomers and visitors may be coming to know our Connections Coordinator Venny Zachritz. But unless you’re involved in leadership you may not have had a chance to meet Director of Administration Linda Topp, Data Administrator Tish Murphy or Bookkeeper Becky Donald. Yet, each of these people carries out functions that are crucial to our operations. We also have help on Sundays from our Audio Techs John Schuerman, Stephen Carter and Wendy Motz as well as staff from our cleaning service, Organic Planet Cleaners, who spiff things up, maintain supplies, get our coffee started and keep the kitchen in shape.

It is a village of sorts, and we actually work together extraordinarily well. But of course, with any group of people, there are always bumps and confusions and misfires. So, I wanted to make sure you know that, just as the congregation has a covenant to guide us in how we seek to be with each other, the staff has written its own covenant to keep us working together and with the congregation in right relationship.

We say in that document that we created it “to forge and maintain strong positive relationships among each other and with the congregation,” and that our goal is “to promote healthy behaviors and sustainable work practices in support of the congregation’s intent to create a caring community, inspire spiritual growth, and encourage lives of service, integrity, and joy.”

In it we agree to be “respectful, forthright and direct” with each other, to “affirm each other’s professional expertise and personal gifts,” “to respect each other’s work schedules and the rhythms of our work life” and to “express and maintain clear personal and professional boundaries, while respecting the boundaries of others.”

It’s challenging, after all, juggling the many demands that we face, knowing also that of our 10 regular staff, 7 work part time. So, we need to be careful in setting expectations of each other. And in turn, we ask you, too, to be aware of these constraints that we work under.

We also know that conflict or disagreement is something that comes up in any organization, so it’s also important for you to know how we have agreed to respond to complaints or concerns that we receive from a fellow staff member or member of the congregation.

Our first hope is that if you have a concern, you will approach that person directly, or if you hear a complaint about a staff member you will ask that person to bring it directly to that person. If that doesn’t feel comfortable, options include offering to go with the person to speak to the staff member or offering to speak with the staff member using the name of the person who brought the concern. We will not pursue anonymous complaints.

Village life, after all, is about living in relationship, a growing, evolving relationship of care and respect and we are committed to doing our part to creating that.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister


Experience the Holy

exp-the-holyThere is no power equal to a community discovering what it cares about . . .

  • Margaret Wheatley


During November the Board of Trustees will be holding a series of workshops asking –

What timeless, transcendent qualities of our religious community will we embody in all we do?

Our goal is to identify our congregation’s core values – what Mark often refers to as the burning ember at our center. Having that conversation is a process we are calling Experience of the Holy – holy as what we value most.

Values are the foundation of our covenant, of the promises we make to each other. Our shared values are what we endeavor to make real in our congregation and in the world.

We have a strong mission and Ends, a strong sense of what difference we’re in the world to make and for which people, but we’ve never had an explicit conversation together about the values that inform our sense of purpose, the values that provide the underpinning to everything we do in the congregation.

The Board felt it was time to explore and articulate the values that provide the touchstone for everything we do together as a congregation.

The workshop process will tap into people’s real, lived experiences and uncover the values embedded in those experiences and how they connect us as a community. From the information shared in the workshops, the board will discern and articulate no more than five words or very short phrases that capture what timeless, transcendent qualities embody all we do. And, of course, share the results with the congregation.

Attend any of the one-hour workshops and shape our future.

by Kay Aler-Maida, UUCA Board President

Naming Our Center

One of the things that we celebrate as a congregation and as a religious movement is that we affirm no creed or doctrine that we believe encompasses religious truth. The living tradition in which we stand honors many sources of religious understanding, but we privilege no particular text or teacher as the sole fount of wisdom. Each of us in our own reflections, in conversation with others and through work we are called to in the larger world, develops our own centered sense of where our faith, our sense of that in which we can trust, lies.

That can make it hard, though, when we are asked to name what is core to us. What guides us in deciding what our work as a congregation is? Why would we do one thing instead of another, and to what purpose? The short answer to this line of questioning is that we are centered in values that we affirm as a congregation that speak to our collective understanding of what is true and good, that give our lives meaning and fill us with hope.

I think that if we were to have a conversation, we’d find that we pretty much agree on those values, though we might also hear some different ideas that open up new possibilities. But here’s the interesting thing: to my knowledge we at UUCA have never actually had that conversation – until now!

I’ll get back to the – until now! – in a minute, but first you might ask: how could it be that we’ve never had that conversation? Well, it’s not as if we haven’t done meaningful and wonderful work as a congregation for ourselves and the world, but for some reason we’ve avoided focusing on the values underneath it.

This isn’t to say that we have no words to guide us. Many of us look to our seven Unitarian Universalist principles for that purpose. It’s worth remembering, though, that the principles were not intended as a statement of values. They are framed as terms of a covenant that member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association have with each other. In it, congregations agree to “affirm and promote” such things as “the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” and so on.

The principles are good, but we’re looking for something deeper: basic values that underlie the principles, that speak to our sense of what has greatest meaning in our lives. It’s hard to articulate because we’re really looking at feelings that emerge from our experiences. So, it takes some digging and head scratching, but in the end it can give us the kind of clarity we need to awaken to the work of living our values every day.

It may sound a little daunting, but it actually isn’t so much. In fact, it’s fun. I know because I took part in a meeting your Board of Trustees had with members of the congregation who will be facilitating this conversation with you in several venues in the next month or so. Keep an eye out for their announcements about your opportunity to take part.

Why has it taken us so long to get around to this? Part of it, I think, is that we’ve just kind of assumed we’re all on the same page. And part of it may be that we’re a little bit shy about bringing up this deep stuff with each other. A number of us were raised in or exposed to religious traditions where we felt shamed for bringing up our own ideas of what is good and true, what is sacred or holy, and worry that we might look foolish or that this kind of conversation might stir up dissension.

It is true, of course, that when we open a conversation like this, we can never be sure where it will go, but I believe that rather than stir division, this exercise will energize us and give us the clarity we need to live into the mission that calls us.

Written by Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville, NC