Acting in Life

Mark-office-2016The star magnolia in our backyard is blooming, and I’m not happy about it. Don’t get me wrong: I love the silky, sparkling white blossoms, one of the true wonders of spring. But there’s no way that delicate shrub should be blooming in February. The daffodils that have popped up around our yard will survive a freeze or even a light snow, but the star magnolia blooms will shrivel into something like brown used Kleenex if the temperatures get down to the low 30s. And given the quirky weather of the mountains, that’s likely any day now.

I can hardly blame the poor plant. The crazy warm weather we’ve had recently tugs at me, too, to get out in the garden. But other than random clean-up I don’t dare attempt anything yet. All of us living things are learning to struggle with the change in climate that is coming upon us.

NASA tells us that January 2017 was the third-warmest on record, just 0.2 degrees Celsius cooler than the hottest January on record: that of 2016. Meanwhile, scientists are reporting that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has now reached what they call a “global minimum” of 400 parts per million. That means that’s 400 ppm is as low as concentrations get during the year. For most of the year, it is higher than that and pushing higher still.

It’s easy for our eyes to glaze over these numbers and scientific terms, but the upshot is that we humans are entering new territory, seeing atmospheric conditions that we as a species have never experienced. And the effects are more than just early-blooming plants. They include the spread of invasive species, rising ocean levels, collapsing ice sheets, wildly varying weather extremes, and so much more.

It’s ironic that just as the effects of climate change become increasingly alarming a new administration is settling into Washington that dismisses them and issues plans to dismantle efforts to slow the pace of change. As people who cherish the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, we are called to attend to this: To use our voices and gather with others in common cause to shape an emerging movement to preserve life as we know it.

Earth’s history teaches that life can endure much, but we humans and the web of higher living things we depend on are more fragile. The forces that drive global change are immense and not always immediately apparent, yet once rolling are they hard to stop. We must join the work now.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
Thursday, March 2, 2017

What Does It Mean to Be a Sanctuary?

Lately, I have gotten many requests from members of our community regarding whether UUCA is a Sanctuary church, or has any plans to declare itself as such. We currently have made no such declaration, but we do have a history of supporting undocumented and other immigrants through our social justice programs. I have seen a number of you at the community conversations on Sanctuary in Asheville over the past two months. Unitarian Universalists also have a history of support and engagement with immigrant communities. UUA President Peter Morales calls UUs to action in this video:

As you know, the raids and targeting of immigrants and other marginalized groups have escalated since that statement was made, even in the past week or two. So, what does that mean for UUCA? I am working on getting as much information as possible about our options for response so that I can pass it along to you. I also need to know who among you are interested in this work. If we were to declare this community a Sanctuary (or a Congregation Supporting Sanctuary) we would need to have broad buy in and support from the whole congregation. It would be a choice we would make together. And so, as we continue our information gathering, please let me know if you are interested in being part of the conversation. And stay tuned for upcoming opportunities for information and dialogue.

There are many resources out there if you are interested in learning more, or you can join the work ongoing here in Asheville. The UUA has a toolkit for congregations. Standing on the Side of Love has created a google doc with lots of useful information.  and the UU College of Social Justice has tools and resources as well.

We are in a time of rapid change and challenge. Immigrants are not the only marginalized group that will need our help and support. Transgender and gender nonconforming people, the disabled, women, people of color, and so many more. Of course, a sanctuary is defined as a place of refuge or safety – and also a sacred or holy place.  My hope is that whether or not we make the decision to formally become a Sanctuary Congregation, this community will always be a sanctuary for all who seek refuge among us, or who seek a sacred place, or who need help and safety in these difficult times. Who are we called to be together? How will we help our neighbors?

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You Are Invited! RE Celebration Service: Sunday February 19

By now I hope everyone knows that you are invited to a very special service this Sunday. Our children, youth, and teachers will be sharing and showing the work and learning they do in religious education classes.

Come and see what is happening in faith development here in our congregation! Hear how this faith community is changing lives, building UU identity, supporting families in teaching their children, and helping to strengthen the voices of our youngest UUs, to be the social justice and equality advocates of the future.

After each service, please plan to come downstairs, for our first ever RE Open House. The RE Council, church leaders, and RE staff will show you around our amazing spaces and bring you into the story of our innovative, exciting RE program. Don’t miss the chalkboard walls where our children/youth’s answers to some important questions on display: What is CHURCH For?  What is the best thing about this church?

One thing to share that surprised and inspired me: When asked, “What would you change about church?” children had one answer that was by far the most popular: MORE TIME. We have created a program here that children are excited to attend, and bug their parents to take them to church–and they leave wishing they had been able to spend more time there each Sunday.  You can see the word cloud created from these answers above. The bigger the word, the more times that word (or phrase, in the case of “more time”) appeared. As you can see, MORE, also appears alone–because so many children also wanted more art. more stories, more singing, more opportunities to be with their family upstairs. In a time when we hear how few families attend church regularly, it’s a blessing to know that UUCA has created a faith development program that leaves our youngest wanting MORE.

I hope you want to see and hear more too, about what we are ding and how we are doing it–and ways you can get involved, as a learner or a leader, in our classes and activities. Been thinking of taking up yoga? Wishing you had more singing in your life but can’t make Thursday night choir rehearsal? Want to have a chance to do art, or to have a contemplative hour with kids and adults (yes, it’s possible!) on Sunday? Make sure you attend this Sunday’s service and join us downstairs afterward, to learn more.

Not able to attend? Check out this slideshow, showing some our projects and activities this year! And please consider joining us in RE soon–as a participant or a leader in Yoga, Hymn Sing, Contemplation, social justice activities, building Little Free Libraries, gardening, MakerSpace Summer program, storytelling, OWL for adults, and so much MORE.

Joy Berry, Director of Religious Education

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Marching Forward

As my family and a few close friends marched on the streets of Washington D.C. a few weekends ago, my three-year-old son’s protest sign read, “I am kind. I am strong. I am brave. I am helpful. I am a problem solver. I am Jack.” This is a mantra we say often together to encourage him to be a good friend, to be confident and to be certain in the choices he makes. Now, more than ever, I also have to practice these same expectations, to be intentional in my thoughts and actions, to be loving to one another and to not give up.
While at the march I was overcome with a sense of awe, a healing of sorts. I witnessed thousands of women, men and children standing together in peaceful protest. It was powerful, it was peaceful, and it was inspiring. As I read the news stories the days following the march and learned of the vast support across the country and world I was motivated to continue this important work.
Now, as we move forward in this resistance we each do our part to make progress. As I entered back into my beloved community after this history making event, I am reminded of the power that happens right here at home. The community that surrounds and holds us with open arms is nourishing and supportive. I find the need to take time and to replenish, to connect with my friends and family on a deeper level and to acknowledge all the greatness in my life.

Kate Hartnett, Vice President, UUCA Board

 

 

Proclaiming the Possible

Mark-office-2016It is plain that we are living in a contentious and defining moment in American history. Just a couple of weeks into a new administration it’s hard to be sure just what is at risk, but we have seen enough to be concerned that fundamental rights and liberties long protected by our nation’s laws are under threat. Perhaps in time the heat of this political transition will settle down and wiser heads in courts or legislatures will prevail and preserve the freedoms and protections that we cherish. But we cannot presume that will happen. As Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey in the Rock wrote in “Ella’s Song,” “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” That’s us, friends. Freedom is at the heart of who we are as a religious people: freedom to believe or not to believe, to associate, to speak, to think, to proclaim the identity that we assert is ours without restriction, to travel, to learn, to challenge, to question, to love and be loved. And in our tradition this freedom is paired with equality, the fundamental idea that all persons are inherently worthy in and of themselves. And, as the UU theologian Paul Rasor puts it, that means that “all human beings have a right to a meaningful and fulfilling life” and requires that “communities be based on justice, respect and mutuality.” As we launch with new will into the work of social justice, it’s important that we be clear that that work is grounded in a rich and powerful tradition of faith that has been a source of hope for generations and for tens of thousands of people today. It’s a hope centered not in the blithe belief that things are bound to get better, but in that phrase I offered from the philosopher Maimonides on January 15: the plausibility of the possible. Social justice work is never centered in the certain, always in the possible. And what makes the possible real is the determination, the commitment, the love of those who aspire to make it so. As my colleague Lisa told you in December we need to acknowledge that there are going to be rough patches in the days ahead, and when those times come, when our children see our frustration or our tears, this is what we will tell them: “We will fight. We will hold onto each other through the despair, and we will lean on each other when we lose the battle, And love, fierce as a mother bear protecting her cubs, will never die.” That’s what I pledge to you, friends: to stay in it and be in it with you, to hold onto compassion and hope, to enlist and join allies when I can and act where I must, to challenge us to join the work and live into our heritage and to celebrate the community we build together. Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Growing Together in Faith, and a Special RE Sunday, Coming Soon: Joy Berry, DLRE

Almost two years ago, I asked a question, using a traditional Masai greeting: How Are the Children? I described how pleased I was that the UUCA board wanted to “build access” to the whole church community. They were open to my invitation to visit the RE classes and talk to the kids and youth, hearing firsthand how it was with our children. Those conversations were focused on three questions:

What do you love about your church?
What would you like to do more of in church?
What could you imagine doing differently at church?

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Favorite thing ever at church? “My parents were downstairs with me.”

The conversations that arose from that “appreciative inquiry” were surprising, and wonderful. And they stuck with me. Our kids were so thoughtful, so engaged, so creative. And their ideas were excellent. I made a promise to them that day that I would carry their ideas with me, and do my best to bring at least some of them come to life. Today I am excited to report several successes in that effort.

The younger kids wanted more stories, more singing, and more time in worship! And just one more little thing: to have adults join us more downstairs, and for kids to be upstairs with them more. This inspired me. I told them I would do my very best to help make that change, but that I needed their patience. It’s wonderful to say now that we have helped these wishes come true, in a couple of meaningful ways: each Sunday, we now have time in worship together as a community of all ages, as well as the opportunity for adults to take part in RE classes!

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We began a practice of being together for a short time at the beginning of each service, the part called Time for All Ages–the first 15-20 minutes. The majority of feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, although the change has been challenging for some. Especially for those who have gotten used to church without them–understandably so, in this age when fewer young families and their children are joining churches than ever before in our lifetimes.

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And yet, our 3rd Principle calls us to find a way to be together in this sacred time and space. How might we be transformed as a church by this change–now, and in the future?
It’s an opportunity to share our beloved faith with our young people, and an essential part of their faith formation as UUs. With every-Sunday TFAAs, our children get more stories, the number one request in their feedback to the board. But so do the congregation’s adults, including RE teachers, who have never been able to be in worship on a regular basis when teaching! Families, too, report enjoying the special time together in the sanctuary. It’s a beautiful, sacred space and our children and youth want and need to be invited whole-heartedly into the experience of worship: after all, it’s what we mostly do as adult UUs.

 

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Yoga for All Ages at 9:15 has been VERY popular!

Another success has been inviting adults to join in religious education for all ages at 9:15, after TFAA. We have 41 adults who have registered: just under half the total population of students at the early service. In yoga, hymnsing, social justice, and act-it-out sessions, as well as OWL for parents and a multigen class in “Miracles” from the UU perspective, we’ve made real strides in growing our capacity for faith development as shared work–not just for kids! Our Fourth Principle calls us to continue learning and growing in faith, throughout our lives.

I’m excited to share one more new opportunity for integrated worship and faith development of the congregation here at UUCA.

Mark your calendars for Feb 19th: our kids will plan and lead their own special worship service, coming up on Feb 19th, called Growing In Faith.

It will be a special time for our all ages and children/youth classes to show, tell, sing, and share what they have been up to this year in our RE program. We’ll see PreK kids lighting the chalice, and bear witness to the testimonials and talent of Spirit Play kids, the yoga class, drama, and hymnsing . You’ll hear songs and music, reports and snapshots,chosen by 4th-7th graders to bring you into their experience of growing in this faith. Like the CoA and Youth Worship service, seeing the work and creativity of our younger kids, co-led in this special program by senior high youth, should be a highlight of this year’s worship services.

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As UUs, it’s truly a delight to bring our young people into the soul and center of our life as a congregation and to see them growing in faith, right along with us, learning with and from the congregation–and sometimes, having a chance to help adults learn something about this faith, too.  I hope they’ll see you there!

Caring Ministry

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A few weeks ago, I preached about how we are called to community. If you missed the service (there was snow and ice that weekend!) you can read or listen here.  Afterwards, many of you asked how you might get involved in our Caring Ministry. Here is an excerpt from the sermon, and at the end of this blog, you can read more about how to engage in this ministry.

For many years, we have had a special list called the Caring Response Network that allows us to provide rides, food, and other assistance to folks who are in the midst of a medical or other crisis. Despite many attempts over the past few years to add people to this list, we find ourselves unable to meet all the needs that we have – requests to the Caring Response Network go unanswered. I am grateful to those of you, especially the pastoral visitors, who have helped me pick up the slack when this happens.

We are working on finding other ways to meet the need. But the question remains, is it our work to care for one another? In other cases, when a program struggles like this one has, I would let it fall by the wayside. I would say, “this appears to be something that is not important to the congregation, since nobody is stepping forward to meet the need.” And I would let it go. But with this situation, I can’t do that. It is not acceptable to me to say to our elders and others in crisis, “I’m sorry, we can’t help you.” And my hope is that it isn’t acceptable to you, either.

It is all of our work to care for one another. How will you respond when the call comes to help a friend? That one’s easy. When a friend calls, we answer. But what if it is someone we don’t know so well? Our presence in this community calls us to reach out, and it calls us to answer when others reach out, even when we aren’t already friends.

It has been said that in a religious community, we don’t have to like each other, but we do have to love each other – we are, in a way, each other’s anam cara. As a community of faith, as a congregation that chooses association based on relationship rather than creed, we choose to be spiritual friends. We choose this place because it calls us to reach toward our highest aspirations, to create a network of connections that will support us, and that will allow us to support others.

In order to facilitate this essential ministry of the congregation, next week we will launch an email blast called This Loving Community (TLC) coming out at the beginning of the week. TLC has been included in the enews, but will now come in a separate message. In it you will find personal milestones, births, deaths, etc. You will also find requests for meals, rides, cards, etc., which previously were only sent to the 55 people who opted into the Caring Response Network. The weekly On Call Pastoral Visitor will be noted in the message as well.

If you would like to submit information to be shared in the TLC email, you can send it to me, share it with a pastoral visitor, or use this convenient online form. If you are sharing information on behalf of another person, please do make sure you get permission from them first.

This change will, I hope, make it easier for you to keep track of what is happening in our community, and will empower the whole congregation to be involved in the work of caring for one another.