Risk Management and Safety at UUCA

If you are a highly risk-averse person, this blog title has your attention.  If not, you are about to stop reading (if you got this far).  To you I say, keep going!  Your life may depend on it.

At the moment, this congregation has no “active” emergency response plan.  A couple of years ago we got something started and did manage to hold a fire drill during worship services, but the plan was complicated, the volunteers got overwhelmed and everything just kind of faded out of existence. 

So, it’s time to try again.  This time we’ll try to create a less-complicated plan and only address two “emergencies”:  the most likely, fire, and an extremely unlikely but probably scarier, active shooter.  Other things can go wrong, of course, but if we can master these two, we’ll be doing great.

As an aside, all of our RE classes have already practiced a fire drill this year, and one of the strategies to use for an active shooter is to evacuate, just like a fire drill. So they are ahead of the rest of us.

If you are interested in volunteering to help UUCA develop and implement an emergency response plan, please contact me.  This work absolutely requires dedicated volunteers—six or so to create the plan and many more than that to put it in place.  This is NOT a staff job although there will obviously be staff support.

But just as importantly, EVERYONE needs to be educated on what to do, both during a fire and in the event of an active shooter.  To begin that process, we have scheduled a presentation by the Asheville Police Community Resources unit to tell ALL of us what to do during an active shooter incident.  It’s a sad thing to have to do, but here we are.

Please attend this presentation on Sunday afternoon (4pm) on December 2.  We’ll learn the 3 things every person needs to do if in the area of an active shooter: Avoid. Deny. Defend.  Or, saying the same thing a different way: Run. Hide. Fight.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration


Maybe it’s the approach of Thanksgiving, but lately, I find myself experiencing frequent unanticipated spells of gratitude.

Walking up the sloping sidewalk in front of our main building on a recent Sunday, I was struck by the beauty and condition of our UUCA rain garden. My appreciation continued as I stepped onto our open plaza and then entered our expanded and welcoming lobby, designed to promote the connection of those who enter.  Well, that started the gratitude ball rolling.

I thought about how many projects have recently come to fruition because we are blessed with not only a talented and committed professional staff – we have a corps of inspired and dedicated volunteer ‘giants.’  It’s tempting to acknowledge some of them by name, but that’s too risky, as there are many more of them than I even know about.   (And, as they say, you know who you are!)

Just pause for a moment and think about how our UUCA congregation has responded to recognized congregation need.  We have a wonderful piano, enhancing the inspiration of our services (and even making our space more inviting to other groups, some of whom provide significant revenue streams).  It was some of the volunteer ‘giants’ who stepped right up and made that happen. Our congregational response to the successful solar panel project is another example of our congregation being inspired by ‘giants’ to live our values.

How many of the ‘giants’ made the Welcome Project happen?  And remember when 23 Edwin became available and our congregation quickly raised the funds to buy it?  Think about how UUCA responded to the need to provide sanctuary and how that has become a meaningful reality, expressing our values of compassion and justice

There are so many other volunteer ‘giants’ who help us express and live our congregational values: pastoral visitors and worship associates; those devoted to the fiscal success of our congregation through annual campaigns, special events and Legacy work; those who work in RE; organizers and leaders of small groups; committee chairs; social justice leaders; those who water the plants and greet us each week.

So many reasons to be grateful to all the ‘giants’ who enhance our present congregational life and help us live our values – connection, inspiration, compassion and justice – now and into the future.

Diane Martin, Board of Trustees

Together We Share, and From This We Live

Mark-office-2016For a congregation of our size – around 500 adult members – it can be a challenge for people to find that niche where they can connect with others. Sunday mornings are busy times with inspiring worship and religious education. But it is daunting to try to make any meaningful connections with others. And those are the connections that really feed us, that give us the experiences of depth that we hope to find in a religious community.

So, we on staff give quite a bit of thought to helping create opportunities for people to meet, interact and go deep. Around 140 of us just returned from one of the biggest get-togethers that we have each year to do that: our annual weekend congregational gathering at The Mountain in Highlands, NC.

We’ve been organizing gatherings there for several years (thanks to the leadership of Larry Wheeler), and I think this year was the best so far. Not only was our attendance the largest ever, but there was a wonderful energy among us. There were workshops and activities to reflect, create and have fun and lots of opportunities to explore the stunning natural beauty of the place. But best of all it was an occasion to get to know people of all ages in a relaxed, informal setting, Especially for the many who are newer to our congregation, it was a welcome chance to mix, get to know each other’s children and make new connections. Sound good? You bet. So, mark your calendar now for our next congregational gathering: October 11-13, 2019.

In the meantime, many other opportunities here await you, beginning with the UUCA Auction this coming Saturday as well as dinner circles, covenant groups, Wednesday Thing classes and activities, social justice volunteering, and more. If you’re excited about an activity that isn’t going on right now, let us on staff know, and we’ll be happy to work with you to see if we can get a group started.

This is at the heart of what we do. It is also the beginning of all hope, of all joy: coming together with others to know and be known, to give life to our passions and in gathering realize the possibility of a better world, a better life for us all. As the song says, “From you I receive, to you I give. Together we share, and from this we live.”

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister


¿Que pasa? Faith Development Update

I’m three months into my ministry at UUCA and I’m grateful for the warm welcome and support I have received. My transition from living near the ocean to living in the mountains has been exhilarating as I experience the fall colors, bear sightings (three so far!) and awe-inspiring hikes in the mountains around Asheville.

My work with you so far has been challenging and rewarding as I identify priorities in each of my areas of responsibility: pastoral care, faith development and worship. Last month I provided an update on pastoral care. This month I will focus on faith development which includes religious education for children and youth as well as adult programming. But first, an exploration of what faith development is about. I look to the ideas of theologian John Westerhoff summarizing his theory of “how faith happens”[1]. He explains that faith is initially “caught,” like a cold, as children imitate their parents and the adults in church. Children learn: This is what we do. As children grow older, religion is “taught.” Children learn about history, traditions, rituals and other aspects of their faith and the community they are a part of. It is a time of belonging to a group. Children learn: This is what we believe and do.  Later, in adolescence questioning happens, faith is “sought.” It is a time of inquisitiveness and curiosity. Adolescents ask: Is this what I believe? So, faith is first caught, then taught, then sought and, in early adulthood…. faith is “bought.” After much searching and questioning the individual states: This is what I believe. And, throughout our lives that faith is “wrought” as we continue to learn, question and deepen our understanding of what gives meaning to our lives.

Our religious education programs are based on this understanding of faith development. This year K-3rd grades are using stories to explore UU values and sources using wondering questions to engage more deeply with the stories and share their insights in a welcoming space. The activity centers in the rooms around the RE Commons are set up to provide activities that engage multiple learning styles and allow further engagement with the story and their peers. Older elementary youth are using UUA curricula to explore topics such as what it means to be a covenanted community and to develop a greater understanding of right and wrong by answering questions such as, “Why do bad things happen?” or “Is evil or goodness within us?”

Older youth are exploring world religions, learning about healthy sexuality, and articulating their personal credos. High school youth (10-12 grade) are exploring how to bridge from religious education classes to congregational life as they prepare for college or the workforce once they graduate from high school. Whew! There is so much happening at UUCA beyond the faith formation that occurs during worship on Sunday mornings. Faith is being caught, taught and wrought as our youth engage in the programming facilitated by 80 committed volunteers and our RE Coordinators Kim Collins and Jen Johnson. We are grateful for their sharing of their time and talent with our children and youth!

 And adults are also engaging in faith formation as they participate in small group ministry through covenant groups, spiritual deepening groups such as the Buddhist Fellowship and CUUPS (Covenant of UU Pagans) and social justice outreach.  Faith formation is also happening during The Wednesday Thing as volunteers and staff facilitate programs that support the individual search for meaning in the context of a supportive spiritual community. For example, during the last two multigenerational Pageant & Puppetry programs it was uplifting and fun to witness adults and children working together creating posters and a paper mâché unicorn for our holiday pageant. We also experienced the power of story when Bonnie Habel Stone launched the Wednesday Thing Odyssey. This program invites members of the congregation to know each other in greater depth. Too often we only learn about people’s stories at their memorial services. Our goal is to create opportunities to celebrate each other’s lives now. Starting in January there will be a monthly Odyssey speaker. I encourage you to join us!

Another important part of faith development at UUCA has been offering more whole- church services. Religious educator, Kim Sweeney, has written an essay about the importance of families worshipping together.[2]  She advocates for intentional family ministry that welcomes the whole congregation to worship together on Sunday morning and also offers religious education programs. I like the both/and possibility of her proposal: whole-church worship some Sundays and age-appropriate religious education programs other Sundays. It is important for children to attend service with the congregation and participate in the rituals, the songs and the experiences of the gathered community. My goal in implementing the faith development aspect of my portfolio is to co-create with you, the congregation, opportunities for faith to be caught, taught, and wrought in community.  I am available if you have ideas or feedback about our programs. My office hours are Monday, 9:30am-noon and Tuesday-Thursday, 9:30am-2:30pm. Appointments are preferred because I am also at meetings or doing pastoral visits during those times. See you at UUCA!

[1] Meadville Lombard poster: Making Faith Happen by Joy Berry, FAHS Collaborative; additional research https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f738/75aa0ffc001ebc887fda6e1e19faed080438.pdf

[2] “The Death of Sunday School and the Future of Faith Formation,” Kim Sweeney, p 7-15

Asheville Would Miss Us If We Were Gone

Wouldn’t it be great if we glimpsed the same sort of view of the world that George Bailey got in It’s a Wonderful Life?  It’s really impossible to know what effects you leave in your wake (where is Clarence when you need him?), and it’s just as hard to know how UUCA affects Asheville.  But we do—at least a little!  Here’s how I know.

If you ever wondered whether building, maintaining, updating and expanding buildings are a good use of your donation, here’s something to think about.  Sure, we use these buildings ourselves.  We have offices, RE classrooms, meeting spaces and of course a worship space for the “work of the congregation.”  But we also rent our spaces for quite low fees, not so much for the income (though of course, that helps us pay for maintaining these spaces) but as a service to the community.

But we go beyond that, too.  We frequently reduce our prices or charge nothing at all for groups such as the Racial Equity Institute, CIMA, Nuestro Centro, Guardian ad Litem, Pisgah Legal Services, and more.  Last month, we offered our space to Congregation Beth Israel for their High Holy Day services.  (Their construction project wasn’t done on time and we know all about that.)  Here’s an excerpt from a lovely note written by Rabbi Goldstein (accompanied by a donation to UUCA):

“It was so moving and confirming for our congregation to be welcomed into your home. All of us benefited immensely from the beautiful space, but most of all we experienced an incredible and unquantifiable spiritual and emotional elation from your having opened your doors to us.

We all know that we live in a special community in Asheville, and your congregation consistently helps make this community special in innumerable ways.  In this instance, your neighborliness and heartfelt community contributions meant, for us, the opportunity to celebrate some of our most significant holy days of the year.  For that, we will be forever indebted and forever grateful.

Be it in our communications in preparing for our holidays, in your willingness to allow us to move in and out of the space as we needed to bring in our items, for the sound engineers who helped amplify our services, and in the general welcoming we were shown, the true nature of your community shined brightly throughout all of our interactions.”

Not quite an It’s a Wonderful Life scene, but pretty good confirmation that we matter to Asheville.  Our presence makes a difference.  And we couldn’t BE that presence without the combined acts of stewardship from all of us; our gifts of time, talent and money. Thank you.

Linda Topp, Director of Administration

I Forgive You, I Forgive Myself

I found myself in the Sunday worship service two weeks ago unable to sing the introductory hymn because I was in tears, a surefire sign that I need to work on something deep within my soul. We moved on to the part where people face each other, often married couples or people domiciled together in other arrangements. I can imagine facing my late husband and saying those words. People who live together frequently trespass against each other in all kinds of ways, most of them small enough to be almost insignificant, some large enough to cause real hurt, but mostly the result of thoughtlessness, not malice.
    The annual forgiveness service is a little awkward for those of us unpaired, but that’s not why I became emotional. I said those familiar words in the responsive reading with a certain close family member in mind but realized that I couldn’t mean them yet. I wanted to mean them (or maybe I just wanted to want to mean them), but the hurt and the anger is so deep that I cannot let go. And I am a person who is not easily offended. So…..why is it so hard to forgive?
    Later in the week, I came across a photograph on Facebook, a beautiful picture of two women sitting solemnly side by side, one in white and one in black, with this caption: “I sat with my anger long enough, until she told me her real name was grief.” As the Southern Baptists would say, I felt a sense of conviction. I recognized myself instantly. I am grieving and have been grieving for almost eight years because someone I thought would always have my back let me down and did so at a very bad time in my life. I have finally realized that the major source of my distress is not anger over what she failed to do, but rather it’s grief over losing a relationship that I thought would last forever.
    She has never explained. She has never apologized. She doesn’t want to talk about it. I am not the only family member from which she has distanced herself. Is it possible to forgive when one’s forgiveness has not been sought? When no apology is forthcoming? When no effort at restitution has been made?
    If you forgive someone but don’t tell them about it, have you really forgiven them? Do I want to forgive, or have I nurtured this hurt for so long that I don’t want to let it go? I will be wrestling with these questions as I try to grow spiritually this year. There is a big stinky weed in my UU garden that needs to be pulled, and I would welcome help from anyone in the congregation who has faced this problem, especially within their own family.

Judy Harper, Board of Trustees

#Not Me

In light of the story of sexual abuse unearthed at the US Senate Judiciary hearings on Brett Kavanaugh, it’s no surprise that a new hashtag has appeared on Twitter for men who managed to go through their high school or college years without having sexually assaulted anybody:  #Not Me.

It seems bizarre to me that we should reach the stage where it should be remarkable that young men made it through their adolescence being kind and respectful to sexual partners – whether women or men. And I frankly don’t think it is. I think that most men are and want to be decent human beings in their sexual relationships. But you might not know that from the comments on social media following Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony of having been thrown down and groped by Kavanaugh. We heard it whispered among some men, “Well, who didn’t?” The answer is: lots of us, most of us, men who recognized that only a predator and a jerk would treat women that way.

And as long as we’re talking, I need to add:  Not me, either. I was a quiet kid growing up, no social butterfly. But I had girlfriends in high school and college and was sexually active, but all those relationships were consensual. I never forced myself on anyone.

I have to say, though, that in college I did hear about some wilder goings on, places women were warned against going, where some men embarrassed and debased them. This was pretty widely known, but no one did anything to stop it.

What’s frightening today is that with the entertainment industry so sexualized and with porn ubiquitous across the Internet, it can be hard for boys, especially, to make sense of what a healthy sexual relationship even looks like. That is part of what makes it incumbent on us as a caring, compassionate community to help them learn.

The Our Whole Lives classes that we at UUCA convene across age spans are centered in a value-based conversation about sexuality at each age level, up to and including adults. I took the classes years ago. So did our three daughters and now our granddaughters, and I am grateful for this gift to their lives.

Meanwhile, we men need to be upfront in pledging never to be sexual abusers ourselves, to intervene if we see it happening, to directly urge our sons never to engage in it and to confront anyone who would normalize that kind of behavior. Not Me, not any of us, not ever.

Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister