Creating Our Future Together

The future opens.
Many possibilities,
Choices to be made.

This past Sunday, the 4th, our congregation held its annual meeting. (Our next annual meeting will be held on Sunday, June 3rd, 2018—please put it on your calendar and plan to attend.) During that meeting we learned from John Bates, our Sabbatical Convener, a bit more about the evolving plans for our religious education program now that our Director of Lifespan Religious Education, Joy Berry, has taken a position with the Fahs Collaborative Center for Innovative Learning at the Meadville Lombard Theological School. She will continue to be with us until the middle of July.
We also learned about the state of our congregation from our president, Kay Aler-Maida, and vice president, Kate Hartnett. (Rev. Mark Ward, our Lead Minister who is on sabbatical, usually makes this presentation.) The state of our congregation is good, in fact very good. We are an active congregation with an expanding program. You can learn much about it in our 2016-2017 Annual Report.
We do, however, have choices to make as our congregational reach seems to exceed our grasp. That said, are we reaching for what speaks most deeply to us? That is where the importance of a regular, systematic exploration of our congregational values, mission, and ends comes into relief. During 2016-17 we explored our congregational values and identified connection, inspiration, compassion, and justice as the values that spoke most deeply to us. During fall 2017 we will explore our congregational mission and ends. By becoming clearer about what we value, what our mission is, and what our ends are, we will be better able to create our future, together.
As a result of our annual meeting we have a new board of trustees. Its members are: Nora Carpenter, Michele Gregory, Kate Harnett (president), Judy Hunter, Bruce Larson (vice president), Diane Martin, James Schall, Dale Wachowiak (clerk), and Mariah Wright. These are the people who, along with consultant Laura Park for Unity Consulting of Unity Church-Unitarian of St. Paul, Minnesota, will be guiding our discernment of mission and ends. Many opportunities will be provided for small-group meetings during late September and early October for congregants to participate. Please follow the UUCA Weekly eNews and postings in Sandburg Hall for information on the process and engage fully.
Truly the future—our future—is open and there are many possibilities. During this congregational year, let us work with the creative tension between our aspirations and our abilities to create our future, together. I can’t wait to see what we will do!

Bruce Larson, Board of Trustees



Stories of Us

Meme-JoyBlogHello, friends.

I’m writing with mixed feelings, to share with you some news: I will resign as your Director of Lifespan Religious Education, effective July 15. I will remain a religious educator, joining the Fahs Collaborative Center for Innovative Learning at the Meadville Lombard Theological School this fall.  My family and I will remain in Asheville while I work remotely most of the time.

While I am glad for the opportunity to serve the wider faith that role will provide, it is not what I had hoped for or expected.  This job was a perfect mix of challenge and fun and success for most of the last three years. I love Asheville, and I loved my role and my work.

The last year has been challenging for all of us. We offered a new approach to faith development from ideas and commitments that emerged from our congregational visioning process in the spring of 2016. That required more time and energy from both staff and volunteers, just as we lost staff hours and recruitment levels waned. We rallied; the RE staff, Council and a core group of dedicated volunteers from all walks of life in the congregation helped make our new program a success anyway. RE attendance increased dramatically, even before the election, and was double last year’s average for much of 2016-17. This created its own issues, with regard to recruitment needs and class size. As this April rolled around, and we began recruitment for fall, we recognized our challenges remained. We are now matching the commitments for leadership to a down-sized, sustainable RE program for 2017-18.

The challenges we faced together called us toward big ideas and deeply creative solutions. Although we did not fully solve them, I do not think them insurmountable. You have the tools and resources to continue the work. Like our affirmation of covenant, it is not perfect fulfillment, but the ongoing work of commitment and collaboration that builds healthy change. I believe I fulfilled my role as a temporary shepherd here, guiding and nurturing. And I believe I have done the work I could, as a temporary gardener, planning and planting, tending and harvesting…and saving seeds for next season’s gardeners. I stood on the shoulders of those who came before me; their work paved the way for what we could accomplish together. It is my sincerest hope that I have helped build something of lasting value, too, to support the work of my successors and this congregation, as you take up the work with them that is yours to do.

One of my roles in this community has been as a storyteller.  I have often asked you, as my tale ended, “I wonder where you are in this story?” As in Spirit Play with our youngest children, I hoped to support you in thinking deeply about how stories shape us… encouraging the emergence of both an identity as a person of faith, and the work we are called to do, as a result.

So let me tell you a story. I once said, only half-joking, that you may have begun to suspect I only ever told you one story, in many forms. This, too, is really a single tale, told over the course of three years, through which a single thread runs.  It is the thread that connects the eldest among you to the newest arrival, and everyone in between. It is the ribbons you tied in one unbroken loop around the Sanctuary last spring and that the children turned into a weaving; it is the story of the covenant that connects UUs, rather than any creed. It is the story of who we are, and what we are for. And it is your story to continue telling.

I hope you feel as proud as I do, of the story Mark and I told, about the value of our children and families’ presence in this church. And that we began worshipping together every Sunday, welcoming our children and youth into our ceremony and song, so that they might begin to find themselves in your congregation’s story. We held the largest CoA and OWL classes ever in this congregation’s history. And we found ways to creatively respond to challenges, that strengthened our connections across generations—like having high school youth lead K-3 kids in building Little Free Libraries, when we lacked leaders for both. Like offering UUCA’s first-ever All Ages RE program, at 9:15, giving adults and children a chance to learn and grow together.

You may not have heard this part of your story…that your RE programming was nationally acclaimed, and became models for many other UU churches: the four Sundays, out-of-the-classroom approach to YRUU; your Little Free Library and Little Free Blessing Bags social action projects for children; your hybrid Spirit Play program, with the first-of-their-kind Contemplation and MakerSpace centers in addition to Art, Drama, and Nature.

And this story should make us all proud: this year, you offered the first ever congregation-wide trip to General Assembly. A chartered bus was paid for by you. Some riders bought their own seats and others sponsored seats for CoA youth and chaperones in support of their efforts to get to GA. I want you to know the impact you had in making such an innovative opportunity possible, serving the whole congregation, CoA teens, and multigenerational faith development.

We have done so much good work here together. I believe that is a long story, still unfolding. It began before I joined you and it will continue when I am gone. Your faith community has a strong foundation of excellence in RE, including a core group of committed parents and non-parents who have consistently devoted their time and energy to help it succeed, and deepened their own faith in the process. Even those of you who did not actively lead RE, but helped support the work of this church through financial pledges, should know you had a hand in shaping these stories. And your shared decision to embrace a vision of integrated faith development is a course-altering event in the story of this church’s life. It may take time to become deeply rooted, but it cannot be erased by this year’s difficulties. It is a continuation of the thread of hope and commitment that links these snapshots of your community; I have borne witness to them, and told you about them, but they are your story.

I hope you will continue telling each other of the impact all these efforts made. These are stories that matter: who this faith community is, and what you are for. And I trust you will shape and tell more of this story, going forward, reflecting the values and goals of a gathered people, dedicated to growing in faith.

Faith development is all we do.  Unitarian Universalism is all we teach.
The congregation is the curriculum.
–Maria Harris and Connie Goodbread, religious educators

Warmly, and in faith,

Written by Joy Berry, Director of Lifespan Religious Education

When to Call the Minister

As the church year and the school year wind down, as things get somewhat less busy (I know, it’s wishful thinking!), it seemed like a good time to post my annual reminder of When to Call the Minister — or when to contact a Pastoral Visitor. There is a Pastoral Visitor on call every week, and that information is posted in the order of service and our This Loving Community (TLC) email blast. Also, stop by the Congregational Care table on Sundays and you’ll find cards to sign for congregants who may be experiencing a crisis or hospitalization.

  • When you don’t know your minister, but would like to…
  • When you are facing a problem with your job, children, parents or anything or anyone else where a sympathetic conversation might be helpful…
  • When you’ve lost your job…
  • When you’re considering a new career…
  • When you’re having trouble in your relationship or marriage…
  • When someone you know is interested in the church…
  • When you’d like to invite a friend to church but you’re not sure how to go about it…
  • When there is illness or hospitalization. Remember that hospitals can no longer legally notify a church when you are in the hospital. We won’t be able to visit and offer support if you don’t let us know you’ve been hospitalized…
  • When someone close to you has died, is critically ill, is struggling or is facing an operation…
  • When there is a wedding planned…
  • When you are considering a divorce…
  • When you must make an important decision…
  • When you are pregnant and glad you are or wish you weren’t. When you would like to have children but can’t.
  • When you feel ready to join UUCA…
  • When you are unhappy about UUCA…
  • When you are delighted with UUCA…
  • When you need someone to talk with in confidence…
  • When you are facing a religious struggle…
  • When you have religious questions…
  • When you want to have your child dedicated…
  • When you are feeling joyful and want to share your joy…

Remember, we are a congregation that cares for one another, and these are some of the ways we do that.

See you on Sunday!

Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper, Associate Minister





Where Do We Come From?

These lines, from one of our most well-known UU hymns, also circumscribe the questions we have explored–and keep asking– about our program of religious education and the wider role of faith development at UUCA. At the end of three years as your Director of Lifespan Religious Education, I believe the work of a shared answer to these questions is the most essential task before you as a congregation.


More coming soon from your favorite Director of Lifespan Religious Education!

Thoughts On Inspiration

The Board of Trustees recently wrapped up our Values Project. With the help of the congregation, we identified UUCA’s core values. Connection, Inspiration, Compassion, and Justice express who we are and guide what we do. Wow! We are such an awesome community! I love the fact that we value INSPIRATION!
What does it mean to be inspired? Where do we get inspiration, and how can it guide what we do? The sermon and worship service each week is one source of inspiration for a congregation. Here at UUCA we are blessed with gifted ministers and talented members who get us thinking and engaged. The music and readings can motivate us with the beauty and wisdom imparted. Sitting together, in community, can be inspiring. Knowing that there are like-minded people that we can lean on and learn from is energizing!
By volunteering in our congregation, we can gain inspiration from and encourage others. Have you ever worked with youth in RE or served on a committee at UUCA? If so, you know how these things can strengthen your spirituality beyond belief. If not, I certainly hope you will feel INSPIRED to do so. You don’t have to be “good” at these things to do them. Your community needs you, expert or not! And you will be pleasantly surprised by how much more you receive than give.
Most of us are also inspired by the natural world. The sense of awe and wonder that a sunset gives can be moving beyond words. The circle of life, with its beauty and pain, can give rise to a greater understanding of our world, and ourselves. And while we are inspired BY Mother Nature, we are also moved to care for our environment, to protect this amazing planet for our future generations. In this way, our value of inspiration could very well save the world!
Figure out what inspires you and how you can be an inspiration to others. Share it. Teach it. We have decided that this community values and needs the creativity, insight, and vision of each of us in order to strengthen us as a whole. Let’s really live this value and give the gift of inspiration to each other and the larger community.

Mariah Wright, Board of Trustees

Thank You For “What’s Happening”

In my role of Sabbatical Coordinator, one of the things I do is to put together a report for the Board of Trustees on all the work that staff has been doing with the Congregation over the past month. Although I had received these reports from Mark when I was on the Board in the past, I now realize that he has always had to really distill what is happening since there’s so much great work going on in our Congregation. As I put together the “What’s Happening” report over the past week, I was struck that sometimes as we are so busy that we need to pause, smile at how lucky we are and say Thank You to everyone who helps out in the work of the Congregation. You folks are amazing.

So go ahead and indulge and reward yourself. Go outside, sit in the grass and take in the beauty of the Asheville spring. Mara and I are particularly thankful to the Pastoral Visitors who, a year ago, came and sat with her as she was dealing with a brain tumor in Mission Hospital. I’m sure each of you has a story of thankfulness for acts of kindness or compassion, inspiration or insight, someone going out of their way to help. Take just a moment out and feel good if you’ve been on either the giving or receiving end. Feel better? Good, you deserve it!

John Bates-Sabbatical Convenor


Words Worth Repeating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we do not babysit that which is ours.

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

May it be ever so.