Defying a National Trend--UUTC?

 This week I read an article in the Atlantic (online) that might interest many of you--

In “Three Decades Ago, America Lost Its Religion. Why?” Derek Thompson doesn’t attribute it to the evolution of science but explores the thesis of a Notre Dame sociology professor that the end of the cold war, the rise of Christian Right as a political force, and 9/11 are responsible.  As such, he argues, the American turn towards atheism and/or religious disaffection may be more a reaction to world and national events than a natural evolution of human consciousness. Unitarian Universalists have been aware of the rise of the “nones” for the last couple of decades and have sought to capitalize on this trend with limited success,  but a deeper consideration of the trend may help us in our quest to help others find our faith. 

In fact, the 1990s saw a great optimism in the growth of Unitarian Universalism, with prophesies that our ranks would swell enormously as people left traditional religions for our more liberal and “rational” faith.  That has turned out not to be true, and trends in Unitarian Universalist numbers as a whole have mirrored national trends in mainstream Christian Protestantism. But wait…the opposite has been happening here in this church in Brevard, this little remote corner of western North Carolina; it is exactly during this time period that UUTC was born and has grown so quickly.  On Saturday, a dozen or more people will join the Membership team to learn more about Unitarian Universalism and this church. Clearly, something is going very right here.  

Contemplating what has been lost in the secularization of America, Thompson writes that many “may not have examined how organized religion has historically offered solutions to their modern existential anxieties.…Although belief in God is no panacea for these problems, religion is more than a theism. It is a bundle: a theory of the world, a community, a social identity, a means of finding peace and purpose, and a weekly routine.”  To this bundle I would add, “Hope.” Clearly, UUTC has been exceptional in providing this “more than theism”, and you have built a remarkable home for liberal religion.

It is an understatement to say we live in times that have such a great need for the bundle referenced above.  Your call is to keep flinging the doors open wide, beckoning, “come in!” How to do that can be a challenge, as structures that have heretofore worked well may need to change to accommodate and sustain growth. I know many of you are aware of this, but even so, change isn’t necessarily comfortable—I myself often find that I would prefer the devil that I know to the unknown.  

Nevertheless, some ways to introduce and create positive change are more effective and happy than others.  As we work together this year to chart a way forward at UUTC, I suggest that we take a strengths-based approach (not hard, since this congregation has a lot of strengths!) and focus on the question, “What would we like to have more of?”  This simple question can yield surprising results for any organization and even personal life.  

Looking forward to our faithful explorations together!  

Sally Beth   

We All Fall

I’ve chosen to speak about climate change this coming Sunday.   Less than 2 weeks ago, we saw the decimation that a monstrous category 5 hurricane can cause.  In the face of such a disaster, and with predictions of worse to come, it is hard not to feel overwhelmed and despondent.  

Recently, a friend of mine wrote in his blog about his experience in riding the Swamp Rabbit trail for the first time and how he noticed that many people were wearing helmets, but many others were not.  He asked someone about this, “Do you really need a helmet for biking?” “Only if you fall!” was the response.   

Many brilliant people argue that religion is outmoded and detrimental and should be a thing of the past. Perhaps, and certainly I believe there are religious practitioners out of sync with humanity’s current needs for unity and shared purpose.  Religious communities, however, groups of people who strive to be in service to one another and the world, who seek to share and discover what is most sacred and important in life together, and where people cultivate live, in-person relationships, are desperately needed. 

Many times I have been approached by an “unchurched” family wishing a memorial service for a loved one and I have ached for them, noting the loneliness and strain, which, were they members of a community of faith, might be at least a little relieved. There are many reasons to be part of a faith community, including sharing life in all its glory.  When we are sailing along, such community may seem like just something else we have to do, more clutter in our calendar, and it can be tempting to say it doesn’t matter whether we are there or not. However, just like wearing a bike helmet, if we fall, our community can cushion us. If we are overwhelmed and despondent, our participation and belonging will help us to recover more quickly, and ultimately, help us get back on the bike. 

And if that proves to be impossible, we know we won’t have to walk the bike alone.    

Rev. Sally Beth Shore

On the Nature of a Minister's Relationship with the Congregation

Well, dear friends, as a UU minister (retired), I’ll let you in on a truth of ministry and congregations. When we ministers leave a ministry, we must leave it. Leave it. Be absent. Stop contact. Why? Because someone else is or will be your minister, and we must get out of the way. And, when we serve a congregation, we are not your friend, no matter how much we love each other.  We have responsibility for enhancing your well-being. You do not have responsibility for enhancing our well being, even if we are unwell.

Who says we must leave our beloved congregations?  We do. We ministers say so. Not a congregation’s Board of Directors. Not the Unitarian Universalist Association.  It is the covenant we ministers make with one another in the UU Minister’s Association that says so. 

And so, when Rev. Ilene’s sick leave ends on August 15, she will be absent from UUTC.  Gone. We have already said our formal goodbyes. But we’ve continued a relationship with her while she’s on sick leave, visiting, taking food.  That ends August 15.

Why will she be gone, separate and apart from us? 
To make space for our new minister to build relationships with us.

You can read more about this here:, which was a major address by Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed on the topic of leaving a ministry.  Here’s a highlight:

My years as a congregant did not prepare me, however, for a cruel irony. Ministry, as most of you have discovered I am sure, is a source of unrequited grief. I regret having not read the fine print. If I had, perhaps I would have made another choice. But the print was very small, the phrasing paradoxical, while I was young and eager. This is what it said:

You will love your parishioners with all your heart but never befriend them.  You will pour out your lifeblood for the community but never settle there. You shall die to the congregation so that the ministry might live.

The relationship of minister and parishioner has the qualities of a friendship, but no matter how warm and deep, authentic and reciprocal the relationship is it is not a sustainable friendship. Why? Because it is built upon an unavoidable imbalance - the minister is always more responsible for the relationship. When necessary we must be prepared to forsake the role of friend for that of minister, and ready to choose the well being of the community over the needs of the friend. We are not as free to share all aspects of our lives and ourselves. Nor can we make friends with whom we please, for that would create two classes of parishioners — the chosen and the not. Finally, when our ministries come to an end so must the relationships, lest we take up space the next ministry needs if it is to take root.

It hurts, it is sad, but it is the truth.

Rev. Jean M. Rowe (retired Minister, Member of UUTC)


A Monarch Momma Helps Us

In Transylvania County, “monarch butterflies” are frequently paired in conversation with “Joyce Pearsall.” How many Monarch Waystations has she helped to get in the ground? How many state rest areas now have Waystations? How many caterpillars has she raised? These numbers may no longer even be knowable!

Monarch caterpillar on swamp milkweed ( Asclepias incarnata ).

Monarch caterpillar on swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).

This past week at UUTC a number of plants were put into the ground as the Facilities Team works to realize their vision of a Fellowship Green. This vision is guided by a policy created by the Property Committee a year ago that reads: Stewardship of UUTC Property— When considering the stewardship of the UUTC property, those delegated the authority and responsibility by the Board to make decisions about the management and maintenance of buildings and grounds shall, whenever possible, minimize negative impacts on the environment through the use of natural and native materials, plants and products. As boots hit the ground, this meant that almost all the new plants put into the ground were native species, and six of them happened to be swamp milkweed.

Later in the week, checking to make sure that everything was moist and looking healthy, these six plants were discovered to be hosting baby monarchs!

Since the plants were not yet what we could call “established,” there was concern that the caterpillars would consume the plants to such an extent that the plants would not live to serve future eggs. So, our resident expert and UUTC member, Joyce, was called to see if she would provide nursery care for this first batch. Happily, she said she would!

The tips of the swamp milkweed were cut to carry the babies to Joyce’s nursery.

The tips of the swamp milkweed were cut to carry the babies to Joyce’s nursery.

In all, 14 caterpillars were discovered and taken to Joyce for safe rearing.

One huge advantage for these babies is that Joyce grows Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which makes the caterpillars much more toxic to the things that would consume them. The survey flags shown in the first image in the gallery below show where Joyce has marked the milkweed as it has started to come up this spring. The patches of dirt show where she has let folks dig up some milkweed to take to their own yards.

Joyce has been rearing monarch butterflies for many years, and has recently moved to “individual” housing for the rearing process. This allows her to isolate caterpillars early on, keeping the possible biological hazards carried by one from getting to the others. The images in the gallery below show Joyce dispensing the collected caterpillars into their condos with an additional piece of milkweed leaf as necessary to get them through until morning, when she will replenish the leaves in every condo. Click the image below to advance through the images.

To learn more about raising monarchs and creating monarch waystations, visit Monarch Watch. Transylvania County is part of the corridor that this magnificent species uses as it migrates to Mexico (and returns) each year.

Joy and Woe Are Woven Fine

Service from April 14, 2019, by Rev. Jean M. Rowe. Unrecorded due to power outage.


These opening words were taken from a sermon Rev. Jean Rowe wrote in April of 2000 for the Neshoba Unitarian Universalist Church of Germantown/Cordova, TN.

The Easter story reminds us that we live in the valley of the shadow of death. Recently, as I was lamenting the rude state of the human condition and rising cancer rates, I realized, quite suddenly, that this is nothing new. Previous generations have always lived squarely in the valley of the shadow of death from war, brutality, plagues and epidemics like tuberculosis and flue, high infant and child mortality, slavery. Violence and death are part of the human condition. We live in the valley of the shadow of death. We always have. That is our address. That is the context for human life. There is no escaping the fact that we die, those we care about die, and often do it too young.

A wise old Unitarian minister, in a book of short meditations said it clearly:

In the presence of Life, we say NO to death. In the presence of Death, we say YES to life.


From Phillip Simmons, Learning to Fall

This is for everyone who has lived long enough to discover that life is both more and less than we hoped for. We’ve know Earth’s pleasures: sunlight on a freshly mowed lawn, leaves trembling with rain, a child’s laugh, the sight of a lover stepping from the bath. We’ve also seen marriages sour and careers crash, we’ve seen children lost to illness and accident. But beyond the dualities of feast and famine we’ve glimpsed something else: the blessings shaken out of an imperfect life like fruit from a blighted tree. We’ve known the dark woods, but also the moon. This is for those ready to embrace this third way, the way through loss to wholeness, richness, and depth we had never before envisioned.

We’re stubborn creatures, and it takes a shock to make us see our lives afresh. In my case the shock was the news, when I was just thirty-five years old, that I had the fatal condition known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and would probably be dead within a few years. By now—more than seven years later—I’ve outlived those predictions and also the sense that my predicament is so unusual. Life, after all, is a terminal condition. At some point we all confront the fact that each of us, each individual soul is, as the poet William Butler Yeats says, “fastened to a dying animal.” We’re all engaged in the business of dying, whether consciously or not, slowly or not.


“Joy and woe are woven fine, clothing for the soul divine;
under every grief and pine runs a joy with silken twine.”

This is the line that ran through my head, over and over this week, as I tried to come to terms with the sad fact that Rev. Ilene is taking medical leave for almost 4 months.  I am sad for her, for the illness that dictated that she take time to learn how to treat the various manifestations of this disease that affects collagen.  I am sad for her having to leave us for awhile because serving this congregation is what she dreamed of and worked for for the past decade or more. I daresay we’re all feeling sad for her. We were her dream.  She has been doing with us exactly what she hoped and worked for. 

 I am sad for us.  I dare say we’re all sad for us, missing her gentle presence and daring sermons, her sense of humor and wisdom, her dedication to helping us grow our souls and be the beloved community.

But her body didn’t cooperate.  Her body told her that she must pay attention, not to us, not to what she wants to do and is called to do, but simply do what the body needs.  I get it.  She gets it. But we don’t have to be glad.  We simply have to accept it, because it is reality. Here’s the thing:  We are all living in bodies, fallible, subject to injury and disease and challenges.  Tragedies happen to people of any age.

So, you ask, where’s the joy in this?  What part of this brings joy?

Not Ilene’s illness, certainly.  Not her absence from us.

But look around.  What also happened this week?  The bursting forth of beauty, beauty so achingly fresh and bright, it was an exhaltation of nature’s alleluia!  The joy of pure natural astonishing beauty.  The other poem that came running around in my head all week is this one by Archibald  MacLeish.  It captures the astonishment of weeks like this.


Why, it was wonderful! Why, all at once there were leaves,

Leaves at the end of a dry stick, small, alive

Leaves out of wood.  It was wonderful,

You can’t imagine.  They came by the wood path

And the earth loosened, the earth relaxed, there were flowers

Out of the earth!  Think of it! And oak trees

Oozing new green at the tips of them and flowers

Squeezed out of clay, soft flowers, limp

Stalks flowering.  Well, it was like a dream,

It happened so quickly, all of a sudden it happened—


The beautiful body of earth sprang forth and bedazzled us.  Yes, all this was interrupted on Tuesday by one of the hardest, heaviest lightning and hailstorms Brevard has ever seen.  It was almost as if spring had betrayed us with fearful fury. Oh, woe! 

Oh, woe!

Most of you know that in late January my dear husband Lackey was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  We are both being cared for by a wonderful organization called Memorycare of Asheville.  He gets a wise doctor and I get training and support for caregivers.  I’ve been attending what they call “Caregiver College.”  It’s six three-hour sessions.  A doctor and a social worker share huge amounts of information about the nature of the various forms of dementia, and how we as caregivers can help the situation instead of making it worse.  There are lists of do’s and don’ts and ways to change our behavior and expectations so that the process of the disease is as smooth and loving as possible.  Each week during the 45 or 50 minute drive home from class, I’m processing what I learned.  Usually, I’m overwhelmed at the volume of information and the stark reality of the progression of the disease. 

On Thursday of this week, I went to session 5, which focused on the needs of us, the caregivers, and how to maintain our own health despite the stress we may be under.  And there’s a lot of stress.  One of my classmates, a little (I mean really short) woman piped up and said: “Well, I didn’t expect to be dealing with this at age 80!”

We learned 7 ways to relieve the stress.  A lot of it has to do with changing expectations and attitudes.  Our teacher reminded us we’re dealing with brain failure.  Other folks are dealing with heart failure, or other sick organs, but this is brain failure, and you have to change your expectations.  Even the 80 year old woman who expressed her frustration at being thrust into a role she didn’t choose and was ill-prepared for has to change her expectations.  The class helped us but it is overwhelming.

And then there was the drive home.  I felt rather numb from thinking about all these things, but reality sunk in.  The fabulous alleluia reality of a mountain spring. There were purple redbuds and white dogwoods and bright yellow ragwort on the roadside.  There were red tulips and white and yellow daffodils greeting me as the miles passed.  I looked up into the mountains and saw the greening of everything.  It was good; it was very, very good, and by the time I was home I was restored.

Our theme for worship this month at UUTC is rebirth.  Nature’s glory is certainly one form of rebirth. You can get lost in it.  You can be restored by it. I’ve been watching and waiting for the hummingbirds to return. And they did!  I imagine Rev. Ilene finding rebirth in the planting of her garden, and bird-watching.

Another form of rebirth is in change of attitude.  Lackey has decided to greet life with gratitude.  He’s been writing thank you’s to friends and to his doctors.  He wrote one this week to Dr. Das, the orthopedic surgeon who did knee replacement surgery twelve years ago.  Dr. Das replied most kindly.  His friends have been showering him with good wishes.  Gratitude takes out bitterness and resentment.  Gratitude trumps grief.

Lackey was writing to his friends early in March.  He even gave his letter a title:  “Living in the fog of Alzheimer’s Disease.” 

Dear Friends:

I have spent most of my waking hours in the last couple of weeks coming to grips with the idea that I have Alzheimer’s disease.

Should I be a “brave soldier” and just shut the fuck up?" Or should I share what I know about this mysterious disease with others and bore the bejeezus out of them. Complicating the matter is the fact that I have a raving case of allergy, to trees, pollen, or something that is making me sneeze, my nose to run, and I’m farting like crazy? Do you tell people you know but can’t remember their name that you have Alzheimer’s disease?

Well, my friend, this is a problem I have been facing!

Do you put on a “brave face” that begs sympathy and understanding and listen to their “blather” about their friends and relatives who suffer from the same condition?

I’m at a loss, do I disclose what’s really happening in my life or do I not disclose and just have them believe
he’s really losing it now.”

You see my problem? You’re either a “brave soldier” or you’re just “boring as hell'“ — not a good choice.

So my friend, I have spent these last several weeks counting my blessings, appreciating a patient and loving wife and going through piles and piles of snotty handkerchiefs and sneezing my head off!

And still life goes on. You wonder what is funny and what is sad? You begin to understand what real friendship is like and how very lucky you are to be able to afford all the doctors and drugs you will need to stay alive. And no matter ow nutty and confused you are, how much memory you are losing and/or have done lost. Life is good.

As I type this out, Jean is on the bed taking a nap, to prepare herself to help me find lost socks and pills, and keys I can’t seem to find. And you realize how very fortunate you are to have made the right choice for a “life mate” and how “selfless” real angels are!

And thank you for making this adventure one we will share together,


You see, he ended his letter with gratitude:  for his friends’ role in his life, and thank goodness, for me, and my skills in finding lost socks and keys.  I think I could write a whole talk about the escapades we’ve had in finding lost keys.  Well, I can’t resist telling a little about the ongoing saga of the lost keys.

One time we found the keys in the pocket of gym shorts that had been pitched down the laundry chute, there to hang up on a nail halfway down the chute.  Once, we found them in gym shorts at the bottom of the laundry pile under the chute.  This week, there they were on a fleece jacket of mine lying on a dining room chair.  When we find them, we laugh.  We laugh.

There’s a third thing that can help a rebirth of attitude: humor.  My own insight during this week’s session of Caregiver College was this:  to take things like lost keys lightly.  I was reminded of the old adage:  Why can angels dance on the head of a pin?  Because they take themselves lightly.

If it’s not a matter of health, safety or true importance, lighten up.

Or as one of the slogans of Al Anon says “Take it easy.”  Don’t sweat the small stuff. 

There’s a fourth thing that helps:  learning to fall. Phillip Simmons, the young man with ALS who wrote a series of essays collected under the title “Learning to Fall,” retells the Buddhist story of the man chased by a tiger to the edge of a cliff, who had no choice but to leap, then discovered another tiger on the ground below.  He’s holding onto a branch on the cliffside when he sees a ripe strawberry growing beside him.  He plucks the berry, eats it and declares, “How delicious.”

Later Simmons alludes to the story.  He writes:  “We perceive problems and set about solving them, laying out our solutions in ordered sequences like the instructions for assembling a child’s bicycle.  We have gotten so good at this method we apply it to everything.. six ways to find a mate, eight ways to bring greater joy into your life…And here is where we go wrong.  For at its deepest levels life is not a problem but a mystery… problems are to be solved, true mysteries are not… each of us finds our own way to mystery.  At one time or another, each of us confronts an experience so powerful, bewildering, joyous or terrifying that all our efforts to see it as a “problem” are futile.  Each of us is brought to the cliff’s edge.  At such moments we can either back away in bitterness or confusion, or leap forward into mystery.  And what does mystery ask of us? Only that we be in its presence, that we fully, consciously, hand ourselves over.  That is all, and that is everything.  We can participate in mystery only by letting go of solutions.  This letting go is the first lesson of falling, and hardest.  …

  • If spiritual growth is what you seek, don’t ask for more strawberries, ask for more tigers. 

  • The threat of the tigers, the leap from the cliff, are what give the strawberry its savor. They cannot be avoided, and the strawberry can’t be enjoyed without them.  No tigers, no sweetness.

  • In falling we somehow gain what means most. In falling we are given back our lives even as we lose them.

Phillip Simmons continues…”Think again of falling as a figure of speech.  We fall on our faces, we fall for a joke, we fall for someone, we fall in love.  In each of these falls, what do we fall away from?  We fall from ego, we fall from our carefully constructed identities, our reputations, our precious selves.  We fall from ambition, we fall from grasping, we fall, at least temporarily, from reason.  And what do we fall into?  We fall into passion, into terror, into unreasoning joy.  We fall into humility, into compassion, into emptiness, into oneness with forces larger than ourselves, into oneness with others whom we realize are likewise falling.  We fall, at last, into the presence of the sacred, into godliness, into mystery, into our better, diviner natures.”

Allowing yourself to fall is a fourth kind of rebirth. A rebirth into spiritual wisdom.

I don’t know what Rev. Ilene is going through right now.  I imagine there’s grief, terror, longing, disappointment, and various kinds of worry.  She’s going to be even spiritually wiser and richer than ever, and she’s already deep and wise.  It takes some falling down.

 I don’t know how Lackey and I are going to be as we live into the reality of brain failure and caregiver.  Hopefully we’ll be deeper and wiser too.  I expect we’ll find joy along the way.  I expect we’ll be less ego-driven and more soulful.  More able to see everyday beauty and divine mystery in simple things.

I don’t know how we’ll be as a congregation as we go through the next four months without our settled minister.  But here’s what Ilene said in her letter last Tuesday  to every one of us: ”Each and every day of my ministry, I have wondered at the love and care you have for each other—supporting each other through thick and thin though easy times and challenging ones. As a lifelong UU, l have been involved intimately in many congregations, and I have never encountered a community as caring and committed as UUTC.  I want to be very clear that, yes—you all have everything you need to weather this.’         

We will, you know.  We will be fine.  Four years ago I stood in this pulpit the Sunday after Ernie retired and we were grieving and wondering how we would get through the next four months.  Paula, our interim, didn’t arrive until August.  We did fine.

Three years ago I stood in this pulpit after Paula left, the interim minister we expected to come had died, and our new interim didn’t arrive  for another 3 months.  We didn’t even know who it would be until late July when we learned that Ian White Maher would be coming. And we did fine.

That’s the fifth thing that saves us and gives rebirth in difficult times:  We are in this together.  We help one another get though the good and bad times. 

These five things can lead to a rebirth of the spirit: Appreciate beauty, especially in nature.  Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.  Use humor and take yourselves lightly.  Know that falling leads to spiritual growth. And finally, hang together.  We can do this because we are all in this together.

Here’s the thing:  We are all living in bodies, fallible, subject to injury and disease and challenges.  Tragedies happen to people of any age. But we will do fine. We will.

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, 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.