Saying Yes

I’ve been saying yes to a lot of things lately. Things that are outside my normal comfort zone. Things that I would have said no to a year ago. In a way, I have you all to thank for that. With recent staffing changes in the Religious Education department, I have felt that it was important for me to become more visible in the congregation. I have always been comfortable being behind the scenes. I’m not a fan of speaking in front of large groups of people, or being part of a large crowd. Coordinator is part of my job title and that’s what I like to do. I like to make arrangements for other people and make connections with people from the safety of my office in 23 Edwin.

Standing up in front of the congregation for the Time for All Ages part of our service was not something I ever longed to do, but I’ve grown to appreciate that time because it feels good to be a part of welcoming the children in our congregation. It also feels good to stand up there and be seen and to hopefully let you all know that I am here and committed to serving this warm, loving community that has made me feel so welcome. Over and over again this community has held me when I needed to be held. While I may not get to attend services as much as I would like, my spirit is fed by spending time with our children and youth in ways I couldn’t imagine when I started this job.

I am learning to let go of some of the rigidity that I have used to protect myself over my adult life. I am learning to not always worry what “the plan” is and to be flexible and let things fall where they fall. Working here with our children, youth, and adults has helped me immensely in learning to go with the flow.

This past Sunday evening, I said yes to attending the solidarity demonstration held at Pack Square in response to the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend. As I said above, I am not a fan of large crowds. Like many of you, I was left heartbroken by the hate, scare tactics, and violence perpetrated by the white supremacist, KKK, alt-right, and other hate groups in Charlottesville. I cried over the death of Heather Heyer. I needed to go somewhere and say her name. I needed to be with people who understood that this is not normal. It is not normal for white supremacists to be marching through college campuses bearing torches. It is not normal for someone to be so filled with hate that they drive their vehicle into a crowd of peaceful folks who are showing up to speak out against hate.

The demonstration in Asheville on Sunday evening was not perfect. There were different groups of people there with very different ideas about how to fight hate. There has been a lot of focus on that aspect of the demonstration in social media over the last few days. People who can’t bring themselves to condemn racism and white supremacy seem to have no issue with condemning people who go out and publicly stand up for marginalized groups. I have been struggling to reconcile my own thoughts and feelings towards hate groups with my Unitarian Universalist values.

Here’s the thing though, you all said yes too. I saw many of you there. Some of you were there with your young children. You said yes to standing up against hatred, racism, and violence. You said yes to coming together as a community to confront those who think that killing in the name of white supremacy is okay. You say yes over and over again to building a better world. You say yes to fighting climate change and trying make sure that our children have a safe planet. You say yes to making sure that everyone has the right to vote safely and without fear. You say yes to helping others in our community that struggle with food security and homelessness. You say yes to welcoming visitors and new folks to our community, especially in the wake of tragic events. Thank you for saying yes. Thank you in particular for saying yes to me and allowing me to continue saying yes to you.

Kim Collins, Lifespan Religious Education Coordinator

What’s Our Mission? Our Purpose?

I have taped a reminder to the desk in my study at UUCA. Printed in 48-point type, it says:

“Connection, Inspiration, Compassion and Justice
express who we are and guide what we do.”

These are the words that your Board of Trustees settled on earlier this year to describe the values that underlie our work as a congregation. They emerged from an intensive, months-long process that dozens of UUCA members took part in last fall guided by Laura Park from Unity Consulting. It began with an invitation to all of us to describe an experience of the holy. Then, in dyads and then groups of four, people sorted through their experiences to identify the values that those experiences expressed. From those many words the Board distilled the four that you see above.

Yay! We’ve agreed on four powerful and evocative values that guide us as a congregation. That’s good, but four nice words floating in space don’t accomplish much. We need to bring them down to earth. What do those words call us to do and be as a congregation? Starting in September your Board of Trustees will invite you into a process to help answer that question. Like last fall, you’ll be invited into conversations facilitated by trained congregation members. The goal of this process will be to help update what we understand to be our Mission and then what Ends, what specific goals that mission calls us to accomplish. Those Ends will then guide the work of UUCA staff and lay leadership.

This is the kind of good, generative work that will give us a strong foundation for where we go and what we do in the years ahead. I hope you will all find a way to take part. It will be organized around a process intended to help us name what is best in what we do now and how we can build on it to realize our hopes and dreams for this community.

In tumultuous times it is all the more important that those of us seeking Connection, Inspiration, Compassion and Justice be centered, clear and unified that we may be part of the work that makes this congregation a blessing to the world.

Living Our Values

In last month’s blog post, Board Member James Schall invited all of us to share our thoughts and feelings about potential changes in our congregation. We will have an opportunity to do just that this fall through our Living Our Values project. 

Your board is working all summer to organize the next round of small group sessions to identify and put in place our mission and ends, the final two of our three “nested bowls” of policy governance. As you likely know, the biggest, underlying bowl is the values bowl – our “guide star” and primary reference. Last fall’s small groups led us to UUCA’s newly articulated statement of core values: “Connection, inspiration, Compassion and Justice express who we are and guide what we do.”

Our next work is to identify what flows from our values into mission and ends. In defining/refining our mission we need to ask ourselves:  “As we work to embody our values, what over-arching purpose calls to us?” and “What overarching difference are we here to make in the world, and for whom?”  

Nested in the mission bowl is the ends bowl, to which we will add more detail for the near future. We will ask ourselves, “As we work towards advancing our mission, what more specific more measurable differences are we here to make and for whom?” Our ends will become the foundation on which the rest of the work of the congregation is built.

This is a critical juncture for our congregation, as our “mission and ends” are the road map to our congregation’s future direction. We are determined to hear as many congregational voices as possible and to incorporate those voices into this work and into the tough decisions we’ll have to make this fall. So please join us in a small group this fall as we imagine how we will be Living our Values at UUCA.

Diane Martin
Board of Trustees





The Sunday Religious Education Program is Almost Ready to Go!

As you learned in yesterday’s email from the RE Council, things are moving right along in RE-Land.  The classes are set (yes, we’re offering Our Whole Lives for 7th and 8th graders and Coming of Age for 9th graders due to popular demand) and nearly all the teachers are recruited.  Good work, everyone!

We have just a few more spots to fill before September and one of them could be yours!  We are actually trying to “over-recruit” classes so that everyone has a bit fewer Sundays to be on duty.  So, pick one!  Then contact Kim Collins to sign up.

  • Let’s say you really don’t want to teach but you wouldn’t mind being “the second adult in the room” about once a month.  We have 4 slots for you at 9:15 and 4 slots for you 11:15ers, too.
  • Or, you like to sing but can’t make our weekly choir rehearsals.  How about a once-a-month gig leading easy hymn-singing for a small kids+adults class at 9:15?  You’d be great at it!  (C’mon, this place is filled with musicians!)
  • How about hands-on stuff, like building or painting or sculpting or creating just about anything?  We have 2 slots for the Art/Maker Space Activity Group after the Spirit Play story at 11:15.
  • Do you just want to come in on your own time to re-organize those cool art kits the kids get on Sunday mornings?  We need 4 of you (unless someone wants to do this more than once a month) because we clean them up every week.
  • This one is mostly just for parents.  We need  greeters both downstairs and upstairs before the services.  There are 4 slots waiting for you but it’s best if you know the lay of the land in RE in order to help newcomers.
  • Food! We all love it, but SOMEONE has to help get it, set up the event and clean up afterward.  We usually have helpers on the “day of” but still need some organizers.  We could use 4 more hospitality folks to share the work.

And last, but perhaps most importantly, we need 2 or more YRUU (senior high youth group) advisors. We have a core group of youth from last year’s Coming of Age class who are actually excited about continuing their UUCA experience and we really don’t want to disappoint them.  This group’s activities follow a 4-Sunday cycle.  Last year they rotated among attending worship, cooking, participating in a small group experience and working with the Spirit Play kids on a social justice project.  This year’s leaders will be involved in setting the rotation for this year.  YRUU will be leading a worship service on Earth Day which will require planning, and we are also encouraging this group to plan and organize a “mission trip” of some sort for themselves.  If you are interested in exploring this special volunteer work, contact Kim Collins for information or an application.  Advisors will need to get some training on working with youth, which will be accomplished on site this year.

As you know, our RE program is growing and kids actually love it. Newcomers are particularly impressed.  This is one of the ways that UUCA changes lives.  Be a part of it.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration



Change is the Only Constant

Change is the only constant.
A time of change is a time of opportunity.

Blah, blah, blah.

So much talk these days. In our congregation, locally, nationally, globally.

I sense there is some change fatigue that people are feeling here and everywhere.  It is true that change can be hard and tiring. It can cause us to react rather than live purposefully.  It can stretch and stress our patience and our caring. Many of us don’t want to feel this way but we do. We go through various stages in various orders: motivation, anger, discouragement, hope.  Sometimes we just put our heads down and try to get through it. Sometimes we hope things will work themselves out on their own or someone else will figure them out.

All of this behavior is normal and expected and can be helpful, even necessary, parts of the process of change.  If you have thoughts or feelings about change in our congregation or in the greater world, I encourage you to share them. Sometimes we shy away from sharing uncomfortable thoughts and feelings because we worry they could be a burden to others or even ourselves, or we want to be “polite.”  However, taking the risk of putting our thoughts and feelings out there, while also importantly being receptive to others’ responses, helps us validate and educate each other.  Doing so can help us live connection, inspiration, compassion, and justice.

Let’s live our emotions, let’s explore our thoughts and feelings.  We can and will get through these and future changes.  Just because a time of change can feel unsettling does not mean it has to end in a place that is worse than where we started.

James Schall, Board of Trustees


RE and Me and Kim and Jen

Since the timeline doesn’t quite allow us to get an interim director of religious education on board before Joy’s departure, the oversight of that area of church life has been assigned to me as of today, June 15. Kim and Jen and the RE Council are more than terrific so I’m hoping that there won’t be “way too much” for me to do, but I will be involved in decision-making and guidance for sure. Joy will be around through June 30.

This is not an entirely new area for me as I’ve been a director of religious education in three different UU congregations. For 5 years I was the DRE and program director for a congregation in Cleveland, OH, starting at half time and ending as full time, serving a congregation of about 200.

I followed that with an interim DRE position in Shaker Heights, OH, serving a congregation of about 400. And then, in what even seems amazing to me, I served as a 2-year interim DRE in Arlington, VA, which was a congregation of about 1,000 and had an RE program of about 200 along with a very robust adult education program.

However, that was a while back, and I was no Joy Berry, so my point is that I’m pretty OK at this and we’ll figure it all out together, but my grand hope is that we’ll have considerable help from congregants to keep everything going smoothly until (and after!) we get our own interim DRE.

In the meantime, I want to give a major shout out to Kim Collins, Lifespan Religious Education Coordinator, and Jen Johnson, Lifespan Religious Education Assistant. Both of them are over-qualified for their positions (as are all staff persons at UUCA–we’re really good at hiring!) and are highly dedicated to the work of UUCA’s religious education program.

I’ve had a chance to review their job descriptions and I can tell you that the knowledge they have of our programming and the work that they have normally accomplished for us will go a very long way in getting us through the summer and on a great path for the rest of the year.

Here’s my request to you. Please be generous of your time and talent, patient as we work together to do our very best for our UUCA kids, and kind when we miss something. We all have the same goal: great RE for our kids and loving support for our families.

Dr. Linda Topp, Director of Administration

Creating Our Future Together

The future opens.
Many possibilities,
Choices to be made.

This past Sunday, the 4th, our congregation held its annual meeting. (Our next annual meeting will be held on Sunday, June 3rd, 2018—please put it on your calendar and plan to attend.) During that meeting we learned from John Bates, our Sabbatical Convener, a bit more about the evolving plans for our religious education program now that our Director of Lifespan Religious Education, Joy Berry, has taken a position with the Fahs Collaborative Center for Innovative Learning at the Meadville Lombard Theological School. She will continue to be with us until the middle of July.
We also learned about the state of our congregation from our president, Kay Aler-Maida, and vice president, Kate Hartnett. (Rev. Mark Ward, our Lead Minister who is on sabbatical, usually makes this presentation.) The state of our congregation is good, in fact very good. We are an active congregation with an expanding program. You can learn much about it in our 2016-2017 Annual Report.
We do, however, have choices to make as our congregational reach seems to exceed our grasp. That said, are we reaching for what speaks most deeply to us? That is where the importance of a regular, systematic exploration of our congregational values, mission, and ends comes into relief. During 2016-17 we explored our congregational values and identified connection, inspiration, compassion, and justice as the values that spoke most deeply to us. During fall 2017 we will explore our congregational mission and ends. By becoming clearer about what we value, what our mission is, and what our ends are, we will be better able to create our future, together.
As a result of our annual meeting we have a new board of trustees. Its members are: Nora Carpenter, Michele Gregory, Kate Harnett (president), Judy Hunter, Bruce Larson (vice president), Diane Martin, James Schall, Dale Wachowiak (clerk), and Mariah Wright. These are the people who, along with consultant Laura Park for Unity Consulting of Unity Church-Unitarian of St. Paul, Minnesota, will be guiding our discernment of mission and ends. Many opportunities will be provided for small-group meetings during late September and early October for congregants to participate. Please follow the UUCA Weekly eNews and postings in Sandburg Hall for information on the process and engage fully.
Truly the future—our future—is open and there are many possibilities. During this congregational year, let us work with the creative tension between our aspirations and our abilities to create our future, together. I can’t wait to see what we will do!

Bruce Larson, Board of Trustees