Words Worth Repeating

Sometimes, someone else says what you want to say so precisely that it isn’t worth trying to reinvent the wheel. I recently came across a terrific article by Erin Wathen about volunteering in church (Joy also posted it in the RE News. It’s that good!).

The article is provocatively titled, Your Church Does Not Need Volunteers. “What??” you say! That’s crazy. That’s not true! It’s not a short article, so I will excerpt some key points in this blog. If you’d prefer to read it start to finish, click on the article title above.

I know I’m not the only one who cringes when someone sees me, without kids in tow, and asks if my husband is “babysitting.” Well, no. I mean, yes, he is at home with the kids tonight. But I do not think you can effectively say “babysitting” when it is your own dang kid. I’d say we could just call that parenting.

I feel the same when people talk about “volunteering” at church. And yes, I know it’s just a word. But it’s the wrong word, for a lot of reasons…

…I balk at the secular nature of what it means to volunteer. To volunteer means that you are an outside resource, stepping in to help an organization in need. Volunteering is what we do when we pick up trash at the park, or build a house with Habitat, or help sort food at the local food pantry. Volunteering is what I do at my kids’ school on Fridays.

In other words, it’s what you do at a place that is important to you–but not at a place that belongs to you…

…You cannot volunteer at your own church, in the same way you cannot babysit your own kid. Because the church belongs to you in the same way your family does. It’s your own place, your own people. So of course you help take care of it. Of course you do yard work and make coffee and teach the kids and sing in the choir and whatever all else it is you do for the home and the people that you love…

…Ultimately, the language of volunteerism is secular, and more to the point, it is corporate. The notion is rooted in consumer culture, in which we can swoop in and give or take a measure that we deem fit, and then dart out again feeling we have done our part. We do a disservice to our faith, and to the gospel itself, when we reduce the work of the church to something you can mark on a time card…

…Call it serving. Call it discipleship. Call it the priesthood of believers, or mission, or the ministry that we all share together. Admittedly, “Priesthood of Believers” does not look great on a t-shirt. And it maybe doesn’t invite visitors to ask you where the bathrooms are… But whatever we do, we should remember that we don’t just belong to the church–it belongs to us.

And we do not babysit that which is ours.

Truly, what more can I say? What a beautiful and powerful way to articulate what the congregation means to us. It is ours. It belongs to us.

May it be ever so.

So Many Ways to Show Up for Faith Development

As we move toward the end of the regular church year, the calendar really fills up. We wanted to give you a short list of the special events coming up in RE so you can save the dates! You are invited to show up, share, support and sustain the ministry of faith development at UUCA for any and all of the following:

Gather for our final All Ages Worship, celebrating Earth Day, this Sunday 4/23

Join in witnessing a rite of passage: our graduating seniors’ Bridging ceremony on 5/14

Celebrate our Coming of Age students in a special worship service sharing their credos on 5/21
Plan for and recruit leaders (especially children and youth to share their skills!)
for Mission: Makers, our Summer Sundays programming
Create the teams of helpers and teachers needed for Fall faith development offerings:

9:15 All Ages RE, 11:15 Spirit Play Storytellers/Centers, and 11:15 4th-12th grade classes

Join in considering how we can reduce and limit our religious education offerings so that there is a better match between what is offered and what the congregation can support: look for an opportunity to share in that conversation

Joy Berry, Director of Lifespan Religious Education

How Am I Doing?

As a former New Yorker this phrase is firmly associated in my mind with Mayor Koch who loved to ask it – particularly when his ratings were favorable. Less so when he wasn’t doing that well. It’s the question many of us encounter in a variety of settings but for sure in our annual employment review process. It’s a particularly tricky one when we consider ministry.

The role of a called minister in a large congregation is complex and multi-faceted. The expectations outlined in the Letter of Call encompass a wide range of responsibilities. Any effective review process for a called minister needs to be broad enough to assure an accurate performance review yet not become daunting or cumbersome. To conduct an ongoing ministerial review process the Board has created the standing Task Force on Ministerial Review.

The Task Force on Ministerial Review is composed of five members of the congregation, serving staggered two-year terms. Members of the current Task Force are Wendy Seligmann, Chair, Nora Carpenter, Laura Hansen, John McGrann, and Amy Moore.

Ministerial reviews will be an ongoing annual process with focus on half of the areas of responsibilities as outlined in the minister’s Letter of Call each year so that all areas of responsibility receive a biennial review. Areas that will be under review this year are: worship, rites of passage, pastoral care, spiritual development, and leading the faith into the future.  After the review process is completed the minister will advise the Board of his/her specific biennial goals for the areas of responsibilities most recently reviewed. These goals will form the basis for the next review of these areas.

It is not the purpose of this Task Force to mediate individual complaints regarding one of the ministers. A congregational member with an issue regarding one of the ministers is encouraged to discuss the matter directly with the minister. If the member feels uncomfortable doing this, they may contact the Board President who will follow the policy regarding complaints to the Board as outlined in the Governance Document Section II Board of Trustees, Policy K.

Kay Aler-Maida, UUCA Board President

You’re Not the Only One Who Is Tired.

I have heard from many of you lately that you are feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed when it comes to making choices about how to engage in activism and social justice work. The sense that there is so much to be done and so many different issues and groups and initiatives vying for our attention. I have also heard that some folks are simply stepping back from their activism altogether because it just feels like too much. I understand this impulse. The sheer number of requests for space, speakers, petitions, and programs has skyrocketed.


It’s overwhelming. Truly.

And yet, we know that our faith calls us to respond to the world around us, to continue to work for justice and equity in our community.

When we feel overwhelmed by the state of the world or the state of our everyday life, and then layer on top of that the continuous requests from organizations, it’s easy to say, “Forget this, I can’t possibly help enough to make a difference, I can’t possibly decide which one is most important, and furthermore, I don’t have time to add yet another event.” I’d be lying if I told you I’d never thought these things. You’re not the only one who is tired!

Here’s the thing: You don’t have to solve it all. You are only one person. You don’t have to go to every forum or march or meeting. You just have to decide what is most important to you and focus on that. I have a colleague whose practice it is to choose three issues, and three issues only. She decides where to put her energy, and keeps strong boundaries around her time and energy. I’ve not been very good at emulating this practice personally, but I commend it to you anyway. Think about it! If we all committed to one issue, or two issues, or three issues, there would be a whole congregation of people working to make the world a better place, and fewer people experiencing burnout.

Social justice in congregational life is different from our personal work. It is our work (the Earth  & Social Justice Ministry) to make opportunities for engagement available to the whole congregation. That’s why we don’t pick just one issue. We work on many issues together. But we don’t expect everyone to work on everything! Just Change (the Open Space event we held in September) was a process that allowed us to decide as a group what the primary interests of the congregation are for now. Action Wednesday (ESJM’s evening program on the third Wednesday of the month) was created to help more people engage in social justice activities by concentrating meetings and programs at the same time.

And so I invite you, rather than letting the wide range of challenges overwhelm you, get you down and paralyze you, choose your 2 or 3 issues, and give them your all. We can make a difference together.

Time To Think About What’s Next

What’s next in this work of liberal religion? It’s a question that I have to say is much on my mind these days. We live at a time when, on the one hand, many churches are closing and commentators of all stripes are predicting the demise of religion. At the same time, many people are responding to political and social turmoil by going to church – some renewing old faith connections, others exploring this whole area for the first time.

We see that struggle at UUCA, too. At the same time that we are seeing a huge new influx of people looking to make connections to a progressive community, other people are quietly leaving us, saying they’re not sure this religion thing, or at least the way we’re doing it, is for them. It’s a challenging environment to work in, and it requires some careful discernment. That’s a good part of why the Board of Trustees is inviting you into some deep digging these days. You’ve had a chance to sort out the values that center this community. Next the Board will invite you to revisit our Mission Statement and the Ends that guide our ministries to help decide whether they truly fit the work that you see for this congregation. It’s good work, and I hope you will weigh in.

I have to say that your staff, myself included, is really happy to see you doing this, because the clearer all of us are on what this congregation exists to do, the better we can focus our energies in helping you accomplish it.

As your lead minister, I have an important role in this. My Letter of Agreement with you describes my job as providing “spiritual leadership and initiative,” helping you set and articulate your vision, and providing “professional performance and oversight” of the congregation’s programs in collaboration with the board, the staff and other lay leadership.

It’s challenging and exciting work, a real privilege, to be honest. But an important aspect of that work is finding what we call “a balcony perspective,” moments to step above the crush of the day-to-day and get a sense of the whole. As you can imagine, those moments are often hard to find, which is why I’m planning a brief sabbatical this spring. I’ll be gone just two months – from April 17, the day after Easter, through June 19, the day before I join the Coming of Age class on its trip to General Assembly in New Orleans.

During that time, my duties will be covered by other staff or lay volunteers. Associate Minister Lisa Bovee-Kemper will oversee pastoral care and Sunday worship. She’ll be assisted in the pulpit by some special guests who I’ve invited and who I think you will enjoy. On May 5, we’ll welcome Rev. Guy Sayles, former senior minister of First Baptist Church in Asheville and now a professor of religion at Mars Hill College. On May 28 our guest will be the Rev. Duncan Teague, who is the founder of Abundant LUUv, a new Unitarian Universalist congregation gathered in the African-American community in Atlanta, Ga. And on June 18 we’ll welcome Rabbi Justin Goldstein of Congregation Beth Israel in Asheville.

Director of Administration Linda Topp will be the key contact on administrative matters and UUCA member John Bates will serve as sabbatical convener to gather senior staff and provide a staff liaison to and reports for the Board of Trustees.

And what will I be up to while I’m away? I’m looking forward to participating in an Academy for Leaders run by the Center for Courage and Renewal, a group organized around the work of Quaker author and educator Parker Palmer. I’m also planning to be in touch with and visit a few congregations, ministers and leaders who are wrestling with the questions I posed above. And, yes, I plan a little time to rest and recharge.

I am grateful to you for providing this sabbatical time. It is a great gift to the ministry of this congregation, and I value the opportunity to get a little more of that “balcony perspective” and to check in with others who are struggling with the same questions that we are. I’ll look forward to sharing what I learn.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Identifying Our Core Values

A comprehensive process culminated in identifying our congregation’s core values of connection, inspiration, compassion and justice. In November, the Board of Trustees hosted a series of events for congregants to participate in a values conversation workshop. Our congregation gathered together to explore our most fundamental values as a religious community and began the process of renewing our covenant together. Our religious faith community is built on our commitment to covenant;  we promise to work together to make our shared values come to life in our religious community and beyond. This process allowed us the opportunity to have an explicit conversation together about the values that drive everything we do in the congregation.

From those workshops, the Board of Trustees then engaged in a discernment process facilitated by Laura Park from Unity Consulting. We considered and deliberated the values that came about from the congregations’s discussions and aimed to find the center. The words, connection, inspiration, compassion and justice are expansive and include multiple themes and ideas from the values conversations. They are powerful words that embody who we are as a congregation and will guide our actions and decisions. These values will also help inform our planning for the future.

We are now asking you to tell us how you can imagine the congregation living into those values more fully and faithfully. We want to know how these values authenticate who we are as a gathered community. For the following two Sundays, we invite you to identify a value that resonates with you and to share how that value expresses who our congregation is and how it guides what we do. You are also welcome to share your stories about how you are connected to these values on this blog by entering a comment below.

Kate Hartnett
UUCA Board Vice President


Ministerial Sabbatical Planned

A sabbatical is a period of special leave granted for professional development in a manner not possible during the typical press of activity. The demanding ministerial work schedule provides little opportunity for the thoughtful enrichment, analysis, and study that a sabbatical leave allows. For these reasons, the Board of Trustees has granted a request for sabbatical leave from Lead Minister, Mark Ward.

His leave will run from April 17 (right after Easter) until June 18 (back in time to get on the GA bus). Although Mark’s last sabbatical was longer (January to June 2012), he felt this time a two-month period would provide sufficient time for the study he has in mind. Mark will be sharing his specific plans in his April column.

Whether a sabbatical is long or short, we need to plan for how to attend to the minister’s many duties and responsibilities. In planning for this leave we’ve used the very successful template that was developed for Mark’s prior sabbatical.

Major among Mark’s responsibilities is worship and the schedule for this has been set for the remainder of the year. Sundays will include a mix of services – some led by Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper, some with guest speakers and a couple of special programs such as Earth Day and Coming of Age. All will be supported by our talented Worship Associates.

As Executive, Mark is the glue that connects, coordinates and convenes. And for this sabbatical, as we did for the prior one, there will be a Sabbatical Convener. The Convener will coordinate among staff, liaison with the board, prepare monthly monitoring reports, clear Mark’s email and phone messages and so on. A Big Job.

Last time this role was ably filled by Stephen Jones. For this sabbatical, we are very fortunate to have John Bates filling the role of Convener. With John’s experience as immediate past president and as well as his many other contributions to UUCA – how lucky can we get?

The rest of our very capable staff will all be in place and attentive to any area where they can bridge any gap that may arise. So, all in all, it looks like we’ve got all the bases covered and all that remains is to extend our best wishes to Mark for a fruitful sabbatical.

Kay Aler-Maida, UUCA Board President