We Build Church

When I was asked to write a little something about fiscal responsibility, I confess I felt a little twinge of guilt. I felt a little awkward, because fiscal contributions are not a thing I have always done so well. Giving money was once a thing I was going to do... later. Sure, I'd give sporadic donations, but giving in an intentional, regular, significant way seemed important, but presently impractical. Later, I was sure, would be a better time. Later: once there weren't so many debts to pay, once I was out of school, once the kids were out of school, once we were “financially secure”, once we retired, or maybe, once we died? There is always a reason for later. But thinking our financial investment can wait until we are somehow "ready" is mistaken. It’s like thinking we can retire to a home we never got around to building. Church is not a thing we attend, church is not a thing we visit. Church is a thing that we build. Of course, UUTC is a collective effort. Reflecting on our upcoming 20 year anniversary, I am grateful for all who have worked to construct this spiritual home we have each inherited. But, though the church as a whole is built communally, the creation of church is also deeply personal. We each have our own experience of church: our own spiritual journeys, our own relationships, our own connection to something bigger. And we must each undertake for ourselves the lifelong process of building our church.

There are several ways we build our own, personal church. One is through deepening our spiritual and personal journeys. One unique and precious quality of Unitarian Universalist philosophy is its invitation to have our own intimate and open relationship with life's Big Mysteries, all the while urging us in the direction of our most deeply held values. As we each engage in the free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and strive to live each day consistent with our hopes and ideals for who we are and the ways we want to live in the world.

We also build our personal experience of church in our relationships. An awkward hello at coffee hour slowly blossoms into friendship as it is watered with common interests and values and fertilized with shared experiences. We celebrate and grieve with one another. We walk each other home. And in this process we build our community. The human spirit is such that we define ourselves in relationship to each other. We were made to belong. It is how we build meaning in our lives; it is how we make sense of the world. Tending these relationships is a form of building church.

Finally, we build church in our investments. Our investments take many forms. When we bring our children each week and make space for their thoughts and questions, we are building church. When we partake in any action to bring about social justice and the realization of UU principles in society through donating, volunteering, speaking up, or voting, we are building church. When we give our time in simple ways: when we make coffee for coffee hour or soup for lunch, when we bring flowers for the sanctuary or help with any of the myriad small, uncelebrated tasks that a community like ours requires, we are building church. And when we give money with intention and generosity to further our spiritual home, we are building church. And the truth is this: we live in a physical and societal reality in which finances create the bounds in which we can operate. Thus, while not the most glamorous part of church, it is vitally necessary. Without these structural beams to steady us, the house crumbles.

Humans are prone to let our worries of what we think we should be doing paralyze us from doing anything at all. Giving is not all or nothing. It is perfectly okay that our relative contributions shift over time as our life circumstances require. So start with where you are today, and build upward. Ask yourself, openly and honestly: What more could I be doing to build my church? What is the next step in my own construction? Start now, and build well. Because, there is a reason we build. The structures we build give us shelter from the storm. It gives us a place to gather, to rest, to grow, and to dream. We build church.

Elizabeth Williams

The Big Burn

Monday, July 30th, 2018... #52 Varsity Street

Monday, July 30th, 2018... #52 Varsity Street

This story actually began in January of 2017. 

It was then that UUTC acquired a neighboring tract of property facing Varsity Street that hosted three structures. One of these became the Olympia Brown Oxford House. One became Chalice House, temporary housing for two ministers and then a rental property. The third, #52 Varsity Street--well, it was a bit of a mess. 

The house had been unoccupied since 1995. Duke Power records had the address listed as #8 Varsity because the power hadn't been on since 911 compliance dictated a change of address. It was built in 1940 and had asbestos siding (and a couple other asbestos "features," it turned out).  The previous owner had used it for storage...storage, neck deep, in all rooms but the kitchen and bathroom. The contents came with the purchase.

It took UUTC members two large construction dumpsters to dispose of the contents that couldn't be given away to some greater purpose. Two younger, tough-as-nails members were responsible for emptying the contents of the attic. Under all that debris was plywood and solid wood decking. Two original chimneys in the structure were discovered to have been capped and removed at the attic level. A leaky roof was traced to a failed boot around the bathroom vent stack, and suspicious mold filled one corner of the front bedroom. 

All systems were beyond fixing--to make the house viable, every one of them would need replacement-- electrical, plumbing, HVAC, the roof--and both the kitchen and bath would need all new "parts." The best bid for rehabilitation came in at $85,000. 

At this point, the Board of Trustees was faced with a decision of what was "Missional." While Brevard has a great need for housing, was this investment where UUTC really needed to spend money? One structure had already become a home for women in recovery. The other was providing workforce housing.

Now that a cost to rebuild was known, it was time to look at taking it down. Here, the estimates were a little more vague because the asbestos testing had not yet been done. Even so, the highest bid for demolition and cleanup was tens of thousands lower than rehabilitation. A decision was made, and a "best use" plan for demo was begun. 

First, the house was opened to metal salvage people in the community. Everything steel from the kitchen cabinets, hot water heater and baseboard heaters was removed. The claw foot tub was donated. Underground Salvage came in and removed bead board, some electrical fixtures, most doors, trim and some cabinetry that was worth saving. And in March of this year, the Brevard City Fire Department was contacted about the possibility of using the structure as the site for a training burn. They looked it over--looked at the capped chimneys, the heat-trapping wood on the attic joists, the separation between the house and its neighbors--and said, "yes, thanks!"

Before an instructional burn could take place, asbestos products were removed from the structure and papers were filed with the state of North Carolina. This process would not have been possible without generous donations to cover the cost of the asbestos inspection and abatement. The removal of those toxic products made the instructional setting safe for the fire fighters and the neighborhood. A date was set for Monday, July 30th. On that day, church members, families of fire fighters and neighbors all began to gather to watch the event.

Captain Adam Hughey was leading the training. Fire fighters from all over Brevard and Connestee Falls were in attendance--some had never before been in an actual burning structure. Ventilation was created for the structure to encourage somewhat predictable burn patterns. In succession, several small fires were created within the structure, allowed to "mature" a bit, and were then knocked down by different teams. Each crew had time to train before the house reached the end of its structural integrity and was lit for the final time. To keep them hydrated and cool, the women of the Olympia Brown Oxford House provided chilled bottles of water. 

Another fascinating piece of this exercise was the use of an infrared camera (thermal imagery) equipped drone. This was purchased by the Connestee Falls property association for use by the fire department in locating people within burning structures. Previously, this drone (a new acquisition) had only been used in waterfall fatality recovery. This training provided the opportunity to see how the tool would work in the situation for which it was purchased. 

Throughout the exercise, fire fighters continually sprayed the trees around the structure. Some preliminary pruning had been done to a particularly nice red oak that was vulnerable. In the images that follow, you will see instances of the spray from the hose cutting above the house itself as it hoses down the branches and trunk of that oak. 

During the evening, many pondered what would happen to the property in the aftermath. A park? A community garden? Parking? As an intentional community, UUTC will allow the site to "simmer" for awhile as our new minister leads us through envisioning what UUTC will do in this space. In the meantime, a grassy green space will be available for our families.  --RK


Photos by Isabelle Von Losch, Kay Webb & RK Young.

The Dignity Project

Early in Rev. Ilene's tenure, she worked with the Social Action Task Force (precursor of the re-formed Social Action Team) to identify work that UUTC could do to meet a currently "unmet" need in our community. 

In talking with the leaders of local non-profits, she quickly discovered that the marketplace inequities ("luxury" taxes on menstrual hygiene products, for instance) were further exacerbated by these products NOT being eligible for purchase through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This leaves our most economically vulnerable women faced with an even greater hurdle--on items they have no choice but to purchase. 


The Dignity Project is based on Unitarian Universalism's First Principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person.  A collection to kick-start the Project was taken in December. Then, based on the assessment of Rev. Ilene and the Task Force, the Social Action Team began deliveries to 5 key agencies, who serve the largest numbers of people in need: Bread of Life, El Centro, The Haven, S.A.F.E and The Sharing House. These agencies would be our partners in delivering a little dignity. 

The Dignity Project has made a tremendous impact for our neighbors in need. When it is hard or sometimes even embarrassing to ask strangers for much needed and costly hygiene and birth control items, the Dignity Project is a welcomed resource! This respectful way of giving items takes away the stigma and honors everyone’s basic human needs.
— Rev. Shelly Webb, Sharing House Executive Director

Deliveries of menstrual hygiene products, diapers, dental health products, condoms, baby wipes and soap began in January of 2018. All of these are items which our neighbors desperately need in order to fully feel their inherent worth and dignity. To date, we have purchased and dispersed 200 toothbrushes, 100 bars of soap, 50 bottles of shampoo, 50 razors, 168 tubes of toothpaste, 800 condoms, 65 boxes of tampons, 42 packages of baby wipes--and 6,878 diapers. Without our partners in the community, there is no way we could equitably distribute these items--we are very, very grateful for the work that these agencies do in our community. 


Another Step Towards Realized Mission

What's so exciting about this picture? 

What's so exciting about this picture? 

In December, a significant gift came to the UUTC Sponsored Projects fund, allowing the Board to select a project from the list of "wishes" towards improving our congregational space. 

That selected project was the installation of LED lighting in many of the spaces that were previously served by florescent fixtures. Our old fixtures had/have rusty and failed/failing ballasts due entirely to their age, and were definitely more appropriate to their original design intent: illuminating the appliance showroom of a natural gas company. 


Above, you can see the first phase work: the social hall, gutted of its two foot x four foot fixtures. In this image, you can also see the new cross ties installed across the four foot length to create support for new 2'x2' ceiling tiles. We had a few "saved" ceiling tiles in the utilities room, but mostly we need to purchase new ones because of banged up corners and such. 

As usual, our electrician, Jeremy, was very tidy as he created the tower of old fixtures to be recycled. These would be considered scrap metal.

As usual, our electrician, Jeremy, was very tidy as he created the tower of old fixtures to be recycled. These would be considered scrap metal.

Each room had unique challenges, due to the fact that all ductwork and the main waterlines run just above the suspended ceilings. 

Each room had unique challenges, due to the fact that all ductwork and the main waterlines run just above the suspended ceilings. 


The new lighting is warmer (mostly 2700K), making the spaces friendlier and more appropriate to the vast majority of the activities that take place in the spaces. The fixtures and bulbs are dimmable, and dimmers will be installed soon for the classrooms so that the groups meeting in them can control the lighting to meet their needs. 


LED lighting, of course, consumes less power, helping us to reduce our footprint. It will probably create a small difference in our power bill, as not only do these individual bulbs consume only 9 watts of power, but there are fewer bulbs being illuminated than there were in the florescent fixtures. Lighting is not one of the big drivers of our power bill, but it won't hurt, either. Not all spaces were included in this particular upgrade, but most were, and the difference is delightful.

But despite the oh-so-practical reasons for installing the new lights, the greatest impact will be how these spaces now feel. As a liberal religious community, it is part of our values to work towards greater sustainability. But the primary mission of this congregation is to support individual spiritual journeys, and the spaces of this building now feel more in line with that mission. 


Dodging a Big One...

...a Big Tree, that is!

Sunday, shortly after the second service, a large white pine from our Broad Street neighbor's yard lost its grip on the soil and came crashing down onto the UUTC campus. It could have been a real disaster, but it wasn't. 

Whether it was the sacrificial diversion by the sweet gum tree-- which lost 4 of its limbs in the process-- or just divine intervention, this pine missed every car, and every person, and only damaged the gutter of the building itself. Quite a feat, given the size of the tree. 


These images are somewhat deceptive, so here's a couple night time views. After dark fell and the lights went on, Brevard policemen and firemen were on campus to make sure everything was OK-- Doug D. & Elizabeth T. both happened on them and assured them that UUTC already knew as the "event" took place earlier in the day. 


When you step back a bit, you get a better sense of the scale....

So this morning, Jake Zimmerman and the TreeZ Crew were on hand to commence the clearing up. They brought in the heavy equipment and the big chain saws, and before you could finish off a pot of coffee, they had the place almost looking like nothing had ever happened. 

All swept up

All swept up

Only the stump remains

Only the stump remains

All that remains is the recycled tree-- ready to become soil-building mulch at the Varsity properties when the time is right. Big thanks to Jake & his crew for the timely and beautiful work!


Covenantal, Not Creedal

Because of Unitarian Universalism’s radical commitment to the personal search for truth and meaning, we sometimes forget that it is much more than an essentially individualistic religion. Our faith, at its fullest, is composed of confessions, matured into covenants and incarnated in communities. The Unitarian Universalist path is more a communal spiritual journey than a personal exploration of faith.
— Tom Owen-Towle, "Growing a Beloved Community"

This week, on top of the regular work and the regular service contractors, we had a new face on campus-- the tech repair guy who disemboweled and rebuilt Rev. Ilene's computer. Like nearly every contractor before him, he asked "what we were." I'm frequently at a loss just how to address this question, and my responses tend to vary based on the inflection of the eyebrows of the one who is asking. 

This time, after an initial couple of responses that seemed to bounce off without impact, I described our congregation's faith as "covenantal, not creedal." That made the eyebrows go up with an accompanying "Hmm!," and we left it at that. He did not seem displeased. 

This week has been one of those where I really felt the "community" part of this congregation. The work would simply not have gotten done, due to the personal events in my own life that were impacting my time in the office. And so I'd like to hold up a few of our volunteers, who really live out the communal spiritual journey in front of me--setting aside multiple hours weekly to hold each other and this community together. 

The first is our care Team, Loving Hearts & Helping Hands. We are going through a period of intense need in terms of the number of people who need our care. This group just doesn't quit, and they provide us lessons in gratitude everywhere they go. 

Next are our office assistants--"the Susans." They excel at keeping the ship moving forward while at the same time being very sensitive to the needs of Members and Friends who come in to ask questions or seek solutions. Both of them have accepted quite a bit of discomfort--while learning new technologies--that have helped UUTC to transition from paper to digital archives, for instance. They don't exactly do that for themselves. They do it for UUTC. 

Susan Slocum.jpg
Susana Bir2.jpg

Finally, I'd like to mention Jim & Sue, who every week are doing something to help UUTC and the community to which it belongs. Just yesterday, Sue made a dash to the post office for stamps. And Jim prints and mails copies of our newsletter every week for those who don't have email. 

None of these folks do the work they do because they are obeying a creed. They appear, to me, to be fully engaged in creating the covenantal community we call UUTC, selflessly. I am deeply thankful.


The Gift of Above Average Weather

iced Rion.jpg

Weather, for children, is not the same as it is for the adults who have to get to work, keep the car running, keep the pipes from freezing, and pay the power bill. Weather is an Event. Or a playground. This weekend, before it gets too warm and all the evidence is gone, take a drive or a walk and remember what it was like to build snow forts and snowpeople, to throw snowballs and have school cancelled. 


Thanks to Heather for all the great pictures!

Preparing for Christmas


So much happening!

Tonight, the Worship Team will be hosting their second annual Solstice Service at 7:00pm. Unlike most services, this one requires no order of service and no hymnals. What a gift to the office--they even created their own PowerPoint! 

Tomorrow, we will be caroling (6:00) in support of the Varsity Oxford House, which is a home for women in rehab. We all know that Christmas can be a time of agony for those separated from loved ones and family...and sometimes even for those who are NOT separated. So we will sing carols and share coffee and cookies and a few gifts. 

This week, the office (which is a term that covers the work of paid staff and a bunch of volunteers) have produced three orders of service, three PowerPoints, a sheet of carol lyrics for the choir... and that's just to get us through Sunday. Like most churches, this is an exceptional time of year. Given that next week is a week off for staff, we are also working on next week's newsletter and the order of service for January 31st. 

Imagine how awful it would be if we had no work? No community to support through our hearts, hands and minds? It is a season of gratitude, and we are filled with it. Thanks to all of you who are a part of the UUTC community.