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




UUCA Religious Education Rocks

With my Acting-Director-of-Lifespan-Religious-Education hat on, I can tell you that not only did our planning and lead-up to this church year go well, but the programs are now hitting on just about all cylinders.  Our recruitment went fabulously (we could use a few helper-adults in Spirit Play classes), ALL of our teaching teams are deluxe(!), you heard from Gordon Clark a few weeks ago in this blog space that YRUU (the teens) is energized and well-attended, and Juliana Austin and Melissa Murphy have rounded up a Middle Grades Youth Group that is providing a way for both our middle-schoolers and their parents/guardians to get to better know each other.
Your Religious Education Council* is terrific, too.  They are thoughtful, helpful, and stepping up to take the leadership roles that a volunteer organization so depends on.  In a retreat this summer, the RE Council proposed this mission statement for itself.  (It’s still in draft but close enough.) 

The UUCA Religious Education (RE) Council’s mission is to act on behalf of the congregation in partnership with the Director of Lifespan Religious Education towards well-resourced and integrated faith development. Our dedicated RE Council members connect religious education with congregation members by communicating, inspiring, and supporting all of us as we develop our beliefs and live our UUCA values of connection, inspiration, compassion, and justice.

Practically, they meet once a month to briefly review how things are going in lifespan RE and then to look ahead at programming opportunities for children, youth, and adults.  This month the Council tackled issues like offering a multigenerational activity at the Wednesday Thing, thinking ahead to the Christmas Eve Family Service, and thinking about how we can help parents get to know one another better outside of Sunday mornings.  Next month we will be taking a look at adult religious education.  They also are often part of a teaching team, serve as family greeters on Sunday mornings, and are “on call” downstairs should things go awry.
Our two part-time RE staffers, Jen Johnson and Kim Collins, have stepped up brilliantly in this transition year.  They are, in fact, doing just about everything that needs to be done to support our active, caring Sunday school programs.  They buy and organize supplies, communicate regularly with the teaching teams; spend quite a bit of time helping with the organization of our Coming of Age and Our Whole Lives classes; hire, supervise and schedule our childcare workers; plan and sometimes help lead RE activities, and keep me informed of all that’s happening (well, the big stuff anyway).
And speaking of Coming of Age, that class and their parents and teachers have been doing a whole lot of planning so that we now know that the end-of-year trip for that class of 6 boys will be headed to the UUA General Assembly again (this time in Kansas City), the entire class will attend the Youth Con at The Mountain Retreat Center in late winter, and that you will see them a lot as they fund-raise with “Food Sundays” (it may not always be soup!), food at the Wednesday Thing, and their “big event” in February.
I told you RE rocks!
*Here are UUCA’s RE Council Members: Louise Anderson, chair; Jennifer Gorman, Ann McLellan, Katherine Murphy, Gina Phairas, Missy Reed, Jim Steffe, Kelly Moser-Wedell.  I THANK THEM and YOU SHOULD, TOO!
I don’t want to leave out recent past members who contributed last year and at the RE Council retreat:  Nancy Bragg, Joy McConnell.
Dr. Linda Topp
Director of Administration

Looking Back, Moving Forward

The future beckons.
A backward look will, perhaps,
Clarify the way.

Sunday, October 29 will be an important day in the life of our congregation. On that day, at 4pm in our Sanctuary, we will have a Special Congregational Meeting with two important items: a report on the draft Mission and Ends emerging from The LOV Project and a vote on the Resolution to Become a Sanctuary Congregation growing out of the work of the Sanctuary Working Group. You will want to be there.

In preparation for that event, you can expect to receive materials, by email or traditional mail, which will include the Agenda, the Resolution, a Sanctuary FAQ, an absentee/proxy ballot, and additional information. The materials will be sent to ensure that you have ample time to reflect on them.

As I have thought about that day to come, I have thought about three days that have gone before. On November 13, 1983, my wife Jean and I became members of this congregation. On October 22, 1995, I gave a sermon entitled “On Being and Becoming Welcoming.” And on November 15, 1995, our congregation overwhelmingly decided to become a Welcoming Congregation.

The October 22nd sermon—the only one I have ever given—was deeply meaningful to me. The stakes were high and it definitely took me out of my comfort zone. But I wrote the sermon, delivered it, and it was well received. One definition of courage that I’ve heard is “Being afraid but doing it anyway.” On that day, at least, I was courageous.

Perhaps our congregation, too, was courageous on that November day in 1995 when we voted to become a Welcoming Congregation. I do not know. Twenty-two years later it seems like there would have been little reason to be afraid. I’d like to think that we were just doing the right thing.

What will UUCA congregants in 2039 think about the decisions we make on October 29, 2017? Only time will tell. But I’d like to think that they will think that we were just doing the right thing.

I’m looking forward to our being together on Sunday, October 29 at 4pm!

Bruce Larson, Board of Trustees





Learning While Leading

I’m sorry to be missing our congregational retreat at The Mountain this year toward the end of October. Sadly, it conflicts with another obligation I have that weekend that I want to tell you a little about.

It began with a retreat I took at the beginning of my sabbatical called “An Academy for Leaders” run by the Center for Courage and Renewal. This organization uses principles developed by Parker Palmer to help people, as it says, “find the clarity and courage to bring our true selves to our life’s work.”

In this workshop, the focus was on people who serve as leaders in many different settings. There were about 30 people involved. We met for a long weekend, then broke into groups of five for monthly telephone conferences. The program concludes this month with another weekend retreat in Minneapolis.

In planning out my sabbatical, it seemed to me that it would be valuable to use some of my time away to focus on what my role of leader in this congregation demands of me. And what I like about the approach used by the Center for Courage and Renewal is that their retreats don’t hand you handy mantras or tricks to accomplish your goals. Instead, they invite participants to find their center for acting within themselves.

As they put it, “At the heart of authentic leadership is the courage to be fully human, to take risks, to care deeply, and to take action even in the midst of change and uncertainty.”

So, the time we spent together was involved in reflection and sharing, mediated by a process of asking each other open and honest questions. The process can be challenging because it invites us to ask questions of ourselves that we’re not used to asking. But by the same token, it is also freeing because what we center in on is the truth within us that motivates us in our work.

We were asked to reflect on such things as what energizes us and what depletes us in our work and steps to keep each of us using our strengths in our work.

In my case, for example, I told my group that what energizes me is collaborating with others to create something new that awakens hope and new energy in others, essentially all that’s involved in building community.

What depletes me, on the other hand, is when I feel that I am in trying to organize something or motivate people I am “pushing a string,” finding people are unwilling to take part or engage at a significant level. A learning that emerged for me was to make sure that my efforts stay focused on that which is mine to do, not taking on too much or giving energy to that which doesn’t engage others.

There is more to say and more to come, but I hope that gives you a flavor of the kind work that I’m pursuing in the hope of continuing to grow into a leader who is effective and acts with integrity.