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.

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

Supporting the Resistance

 

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After hearing Sunday’s sermon about banding together to fight and join the Resistance, I received a note from one of you asking how to get involved if you’re not a person who is comfortable or able to participate in direct action, rallies, and other such “headline” events. You might be an elder who doesn’t drive at night. You might be a person who is uncomfortable at or otherwise unable to attend rallies and actions due to social anxiety, physical, financial, transportation or other limitations. You might be a person limited in your time due to family and work obligations. You might be a person who is interested in learning more about direct action, but wants to dip your toe in the water first. Whatever your situation, there are many ways to support the Resistance.

First and foremost, know that showing up at church every week, singing loudly and clapping along, energetically supporting the activist forces in the congregation, and building up the energy of the congregation for resistance is more important than you think. As always, we are called to community, and therefore called to support one another in many different ways.

Here is a list of actions to consider:

Information Gathering & Communications

  • Attend organizing meetings as a “reporter” and compile notes & resources for distribution to other congregants/community members who could not attend. If you are interested in this role, please contact Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper or any member of the Earth & Social Justice Ministry, we need you now!
  • Make phone calls or send emails to whoever we’re supposed to call that day (Congress, the Justice Department, etc.), plus phone calls or emails to other church members telling them who to call that day.
  • Write letters to the editor about how wonderful you thought the protest was, or about compassionate, UU values-based positions on current issues.

Direct Support to Demonstrators/Arrestees

  • Make yourself available to talk with/listen to people who are or have been on the front lines, have been arrested, or have participated in direct action. They may need general support or critical incident debrief.
  • Bake pretty and delicious cookies and have a friend take them to the front lines and hand them out.
  • Let people use your land line as the jail support line.
  • Go to the jail the day after a protest where people were arrested with a (vegetarian) casserole or a fancy fruit salad and some paper plates and plastic silverware. Make a fuss over the awesome arrestees and offer them food and rides.

Financial Support

  • Donate to a fund to help people who get arrested, or network with others to raise the funds.
  • Give direct support to activists in your community. The financial gifts that often feel most meaningful are ones that happen in relationship, so rather than just giving money to Greenpeace, give a specific activist a gift of money or shop for needed items and deliver them in person.
  • Consider sponsoring a person who wants to attend an out-of-town action but doesn’t have the resources.
  • Provide room and board to an organizer, freeing them up to work full-time on the Resistance.

This list exists in a public google document that will be added to in the future.

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