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

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