Shall We Be Sanctuary

It was last March that we at UUCA hosted a gathering of hundreds of people who took part in a peaceful march in Asheville in support of undocumented immigrants and in protest of accelerating arrests and deportations that were tearing apart people’s lives. Ever since then many of our members have been in conversation about what part we as a congregation might play in this increasing justice concern.

Last spring a group of our members expressed interest in UUCA joining congregations of different faith traditions across the country in providing physical sanctuary to undocumented immigrants facing deportation. Our Board of Trustees asked those members to research all that making such a commitment might entail and what consequences we might face by taking such an action. The members came together as a Sanctuary Working Group and spent the summer researching those questions, holding Town Hall Meetings and making contacts with immigration advocates and people in the Latinx community as well as members of other churches interested in sanctuary.

Last Tuesday the board reviewed what the Sanctuary Working Group had to report as well as further information that staff had discovered and agreed to convene a congregational meeting at 4 p.m. on Sunday, October 29 where the congregation would be asked to decide if we would provide sanctuary on our campus.

It is an immense step for us to consider, and I’m grateful to the Sanctuary Working Group and my colleague Associate Minister Lisa Bovee-Kemper for doing so much to vet the many complex dimensions of this decision. You will be hearing and reading more about what this decision would mean, its impact on us as a congregation, and what it calls for from us. For now let me share these initial details with you:

  • We expect that any guests we keep in sanctuary would be housed at 23 Edwin. We expect they would occupy an upstairs bedroom and have access to the kitchen and shower downstairs. We have learned from others who have done this that we would not have to segregate space for them. We could share the space, so we would not have to make major changes to the building or interrupt regular church operations, including maintaining offices upstairs and holding meetings downstairs.
  • We would not intentionally violate any laws. We would announce publicly the presence of our guests and, since we would consider this use of the building a form of practicing our faith, we would not violate our zoning as a church. Our insurance agent has assured us this action would have no impact on our insurance.
  • While our community would be called on to assist a person or family in sanctuary, other congregations committed to sanctuary work are volunteering help to reduce the impact on our congregation. By the time of the vote, you will learn more about the nature of the help that has been offered.

Of course, most of these are just logistical considerations. The deeper question for each of us to consider is, “Is this what we are called to do?” Commitment to sanctuary means more than just offering space. It means orienting our social justice work toward building a culture of sanctuary in this part of the world, affirming that these endangered immigrants and other marginalized people are our neighbors who have claim on our attention, on our commitment to justice, on our love, that part of our work as a congregation is to contribute to the building of places of hope and peace.

And wouldn’t you know it, this question comes at a time of great synergy when our Board of Trustees is inviting us to reflect on how we live our values. In the next month or so you’ll have a chance to join facilitated conversations to help us discern what the values that we identified last fall as core to our work as a congregation call us to in the world. Look for the LOV (Living Our Values) announcements and make sure to find a time to join the conversation in one group or another.

Once they gather your thinking on that, the Board will use your thoughts to refocus our Mission Statement and the Ends that drive our work as a congregation. On October 29, before we vote on the sanctuary proposal you will hear what conclusions the board has come to.

This is challenging work at a challenging time, but it is good work, our work, exactly what we should be doing. As the mystic Howard Thurman put it:

How good it is to center down!

To sit quietly and see one’s self pass by!

The streets of our minds seethe with endless traffic;

Our spirits resound with clashings, with noisy silences,

While something deep within hungers and thirsts

 for the still moment and the resting lull.

With full intensity we seek, ere the quiet passes,

A fresh sense of order in our living.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister


The Wednesday Thing

Remember a few weeks ago when I said we were working on launching a new program? I wasn’t kidding! And now I’m quite excited to be able to announce that program!

Coming Soon to UUCA: The Wednesday Thing!

What IS the Wednesday Thing, you ask? It is a weekly event that brings together all ages for fun, fellowship, spiritual growth, and community. For a long time, your staff has wanted to provide a weekly program like this: a third worship service, intentional multigenerational community, opportunities to work together on social justice projects, spiritual practice, and personal growth. More connection. More friendship. Deeper relationships. More fun together.

The RE visioning process suggested it would be a great addition to our faith development program. All the “best practices for congregational life” literature we have seen lately suggests that it would be a great addition to our outreach work. And WAY more important than all that jargony stuff, when I share the vision with folks, y’all say, “That sounds awesome, I want to come!” So we’ve decided to go ALL IN, and here is what we’ve created:

A bold new all-church program that begins September 13 at 5:30PM and will continue every Wednesday. Come share a meal, worship together, and participate in faith development, fellowship, and other opportunities to learn and build community. Childcare for ages 6 and under will be provided beginning at 6:00PM. A homework space for older kids & teens will be available each week as well.

Food from 5:30-6:00PM – It’s NOT a potluck, you don’t have to bring anything. Call it No-Cook Wednesday! All you have to do is show up and eat great food from local businesses! (suggested donation $5/person, no more than $20/family)

Vespers from 6:00-6:30PM – Great music. No sermon. Creative & collaborative worship.

Programs from 6:30-8:30PM – There will be multiple opportunities each Wednesday to engage in activities, small group experiences, and more. If your kids need to go to bed (or if you do!), stay as long as you can, leave when you need to.

Bring yourself. Bring a friend. Bring the whole family. The Wednesday Thing is a weekly event that brings together all ages for fun, fellowship, spiritual growth, and community.

Here are some of the programs that are already on the schedule for this fall: Multigenerational Choir, Drop-In Theme Group, Identifying Your Spiritual Gifts, Sierra Club, Creating Your Credo, Resilience Circle, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and so much more! Plus, we’re looking for more program ideas!

This program will succeed with strong collaboration between staff and lay leadership, and buy-in across all of our existing programs. Do you have something you could offer? Are you a member of a group here at UUCA that wants to host a program? Would you like to volunteer to host, help clean up, tutor kids, and more? Do you have a question about this exciting new program? FMI contact Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper or any member of the Development Team (James Cassara, Brett Johnson, Missy Reed, Joy McConnell, & Julie Stoffels)

We’ll see YOU at the Wednesday Thing!

All are welcome.

Why Sanctuary?

This week’s blog has been generously offered to members of the Sanctuary Working Group to share with you why the concept of Sanctuary is so important to them.

immigrant poster

Gathering for meetings since last spring, members of the Sanctuary Working group have been hard at work collecting information to better enable our congregation to decide whether it is called to offer physical Sanctuary to an individual, couple, or family who is at risk of deportation. In the last 8 months, there has been a great increase in detentions for deportation and thus a growing anxiety within the undocumented community. Many have stopped driving and are fearful of showing up to their ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) appointments. It has been made clear to those of us doing this work that the need for Sanctuary is unquestionable. Obviously the need for physical Sanctuary is just one of many justice-related crises presently facing our local community. Why are the members of UUCA’s Sanctuary Working Group so passionate about this issue?

Cecilia Rawlins, a member of the Sanctuary PR team, has traveled to many parts of the world. Her encounters have convinced her that all people want better lives for our children.  As a former school principal, the needs of children have always been at the top of Cecilia’s personal list. Learning that the children of undocumented immigrants are increasingly terrified of what might happen, refusing free lunches at school so they don’t get their parents in trouble, and having meltdowns if their parents are late picking them up at their bus-stop has tugged on Cecilia and other group member’s hearts. “Contrary to what has been said in Washington, DC, immigrants to this country are not rapists and thieves.  Instead, they are hard workers in this community.” Cecilia speaks of being repulsed by what is happening to the members of this community. She does not feel that she can make changes on a big, national level; however, she feels there is the possibility of making a difference in her small section of the world.  Working on Sanctuary at UUCA is Cecilia’s attempt to make a difference. As the closing quote on the bottom of any email from Cecilia proclaims, she invites all to “Be the change you want to see in this world.”

Sharon LeDuc, who is on the Sanctuary Legal Team, says this work is important to her because she believes in “loving, respecting, and supporting others, especially the weak and marginalized.” For Karin Eckhert, a member of the Sanctuary PR group, this work is extremely personal. Karin experienced the fear and unknown of being a refugee as a child. We hope that Karin will be sharing her story with the congregation at a future Sanctuary Town Hall meeting. Nancy Bragg, member of the Program Team, reflects that she is by her nature, “a doer” and an “early adopter” especially of “ideas that resonate” with her. She says she “jumped onto the Sanctuary bandwagon” because it resonated with her “values and UUCA values and seemed like the right thing to do.”

Katie Winchell, another member of the WNC Sanctuary Liaison Group, also speaks of the worth of members of the immigrant community. Her lifestyle has allowed her to get to know various members of this community.  She is distressed by our broken immigration system which is harming so many who are willing to do the jobs so many of us are unwilling to do.  Members of this community are hard workers who pay into the social security system with no expectation of receiving any benefits from it. Like Cecilia, she is shocked by the characterization of these members of our community as criminals and thinks “we should be wary of this system which is criminalizing them.”  Katie hopes she “would have been the person that helped Jews escape the Nazis, and been part of the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape their oppression.” “Resisting unjust laws and standing up for human rights,” she says, “seems the right thing to do.” She feels this is her “opportunity to take a stand for those who can’t speak up for themselves, but deserve more respect for their life choices.”

Many members of the Sanctuary working group have been regularly attending WNC Sanctuary meetings since the beginning of the year. They have been impressed with how many members of other congregations want to work on this issue. And yet dismayed to find out that no other congregations in our area feel able to offer physical Sanctuary at this time. This reality has made this work all the more important to the group who have also been made aware of the reality that  undocumented immigrants also pay taxes yet are not eligible for Food Stamps, Medicaid, ACA insurance, Disability, or any other public programs paid for by their tax dollars. Immigrants are on their own to make it in our community. So Sanctuary members have wondered, “how can we show solidarity in this moment?”

Other working group members have pointed to words of their fellow congregants that continue to inspire them in pursuing this work. One RE parent proclaimed, “What a good push! I would love to see this come to life.” Other adult members have said that they are “honored to belong to a group who will do this!” and that they are “happy to see that this is being seriously pursued.” A potential new member shared their gratitude for the potential of offering Sanctuary as a meaningful action embodying our UU Principles.

Sanctuary Working group facilitator, Elizabeth Schell, struggled with the decision to take on this project in the midst of the ongoing work she’s been trying to challenge our congregation on in relation to our commitment to the Movement for Black Lives. But the more she reflected on it, the more she realized that voting to provide physical Sanctuary would allow this congregation to truly lean in to the teachings of anti-racism work and the Movement for Black Lives: by following People of Color leadership; by leaning in to discomfort and taking risks; by leveraging our privilege and our resources; by enabling us to get proximate to a need; by allowing us to  answer with hope to a world presently filled with messages of fear and scarcity. Elizabeth’s experience at General Assembly this past June solidified this understanding as she heard many of these practices echoed by Black Lives of UU as they challenged the whole denomination in this intersectional work.

Some have wondered about the sensibility of pursuing providing physical Sanctuary at this time — when our congregation is in the midst of staff transition, financial struggle, and discernment about our Mission. Yet what better time than this? Not only is this an urgent need within our community (locally and beyond), it actually dovetails with all the discernment work of the congregation. Last spring the congregation centered our focus in on four values that we hold dear: Connection, Compassion, Inspiration, and Justice.   Providing sanctuary allows us to put our UUCA values into action as we continue our discernment process.

Providing physical Sanctuary will build Connections: between those stepping up to volunteer; between our faith community and other congregations (of all kinds) who are stepping up to support us in this work; between our congregants and the immigrant community (those who will be in sanctuary as well as coalition partners who we will work with in providing sanctuary). Providing physical Sanctuary is an embodiment of our Compassion towards those in need. It allows us to move outside individual selves and our congregational self to embrace a need within the community we live in. Providing physical Sanctuary can inspire us through the relationships built and the possibilities for future engagement that we imagine through this work. Providing physical Sanctuary is us responding to an injustice and creating space for justice to be made visible. Providing physical Sanctuary enables us to do justice in many of the ways that we are called to.

We encourage you each to look into your hearts and vote accordingly at the upcoming congregational meeting.

Congregants are invited to the Friday night Service & Sanctuary Presentation at Congregation Beth Ha-Tephila this Friday, August 25 at 7:30pm. The evening will include presentations from members of CIMA (The Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción) and Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper.

Also save the date of our next Town Hall on  THURSDAY, SEPT. 28, 6:30pm. As part of this special meeting, we will be welcoming JoAnn Weiss from El Refugio which is a hospitality house and visitation program outside of Stewart Detention Center (SDC) in very remote Lumpkin, GA.  A member of the UU Congregation of Gwinnett in NE Atlanta, JoAnn will share with us about the work of El Refugio and the current climate of immigration detention and deportation in our country. Other potential Sanctuary partners and leaders in the Sanctuary movement may also be present. Please join us for this meaningful conversation towards helping us discern about providing sanctuary. There will be space for further questions about the Sanctuary proposal.

Stop by the Earth and Social Justice table on Sunday with any questions or to learn more about the work of our Sanctuary group. Also keep looking for our regular announcements and updates about Sanctuary in the weekly E-news and the inserts in the Sunday Order of Service.  We hope you have completed the survey which gives you the opportunity to ask any necessary questions and share your support, questions, thoughts or concerns. The Sanctuary survey can be found here.

Members of the Sanctuary Working group include: Ann Perry, Beth Gage, Cecilia Rawlins, Elizabeth Schell, Geri Solomon, Jackie Iskovitz (from Beth Ha-Tephila), Jan Beech, Joe Maio, Julie Stoffels, Karin Eckert, Katie Winchell, Nancy Bragg, Ron Sanga, Sharon LeDuc, Susan Dupree, Venny Zachritz, and Virginia Bower.


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

Just Say No?

heart hands

‘Tis the season… for recruiting volunteers. In congregational life particularly, things slow down a bit in the summer, so we end up with the Official Start of the Church Year when we go back to 2 services the second Sunday in September. And so in August, staff and lay leaders are looking at programs for the year, wrestling the calendar, and looking to fill vacancies in existing volunteer positions as well as launching new programs.

Wait, what? Launching new programs? It’s true. Part of reorganizing and managing the changes in staff hours & encouraging broader lay investment in leadership involves learning to become more efficient and effective with the time we do have. I’ve begun regularly asking myself the question, “What are the things that only you can do in this system? They hired a minister for your position, so what are the specific professional skills that you bring to this organization?”

As volunteers in this organization, your questions to yourself will be different, perhaps something like, “Is this something about which I feel passionate?” and “Do I have skills that would be useful to this initiative?” Whatever your questions are, it’s essential that you consider your commitments carefully. We are living in challenging times, and with the world around us changing rapidly, our stress levels are high. We all have commitments that aren’t negotiable. My hope is always that you will find this community to be a non-negotiable commitment. I want this place to be a sanctuary for all of us, I want it to feed us and inspire us as we continue the daily work of our lives, as well as our work creating just and sustainable community around us.

Even as your participation in this community is non-negotiable, the ways you participate are negotiable. We want you to volunteer, yes. Plain and simple, this place wouldn’t run without volunteers. But we want you to volunteer in ways that are life-giving, inspiring, and fruitful for your own journey. When I ask you to participate in a program or committee, I want you to take some time to consider my request, to think about whether it is something that interests you, whether you have time, and whether it stretches you or challenges you in a positive way. Part of my job is to help you see where your gifts can be put to best use — to pay attention to who you are, where you are in your journey, and notice when I see a place you might be able to serve and grow at the same time.

When I ask you to help me with a program or committee or task, I’ve considered all of these things. I’ve thought about what I know about your journey, and about the balance of skills and energy I am seeking in a group. So I’m asking you to do the same. I’d rather get a well-considered “No” than a guilt-ridden “Yes.” If the only reason you have to say yes to a task is that nobody else is going to do it, well, that’s just not a good enough reason! It’s OK for traditions to pass into history, and programs to end or get reconfigured when they aren’t working anymore. If you’re not sure, let’s talk it through.

Here’s an example: Last year, I was asked to participate in two different UU Ministers’ Association (UUMA) initiatives. The first was the pilot of the Ministerial Formation Network (MFN), which is a mentoring program for seminarians. The second was a Task Force for inclusion of families with children in UUMA retreats and programming. I thought about them both. I had just completed three years of service on the Right Relationship Team, so it was time to think about my next choice for denominational service. I definitely couldn’t do both, though.

The task force, well, it’s something I think is very important, and it certainly affects me. Seemed like a no-brainer. But when I thought more deeply about it, it did not sound interesting to me. I knew I would get bored and resent the time commitment. I didn’t want to give it my energy. The MFN, on the other hand, got me totally jazzed. Mentoring? Organizing an annual retreat? Helping seminarians have easy access to the kind of support that I had to work hard to find and seek out when I was coming up in the profession? This sounded like fun, and interesting, and right where I wanted to put my energy. That was a Sacred Yes.

In the midst of all the necessary conversations about what gets cut as we reconfigure staff and programs, UUCA’s staff has become much more intentional about how we DO spend our time. Turns out, it is much more generative and inspiring to think this way than it is to focus on what we can’t do. And so I invite you into the same work — it is the personal work that runs parallel to the values and visioning work that the board has been working on for the past year, which continues this Fall. Who are we together? What is the fundamental purpose of this community? How will we use our resources, both individual and collective, to embody Compassion, Inspiration, Connection, and Justice: the values that guide who we are and what we do?

Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper, Associate Minister

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