By Carol Imani
When I asked Anya Kawka if she would be my next subject for an interview she tried to persuade me to choose someone else. “Everyone knows who I am, so I think it would be better for you to talk to one of our newer members” she said. I didn’t agree. I thought that, although Anya is probably the highest profile person in our fellowship, few of us know much about her other than what we see her doing on Sunday mornings. But I tried to oblige her and scheduled an interview with a newer member. Before I could talk with that person, though, she went out of town for a week and the deadline for newsletter was approaching. So at that point Anya was willing to sit down for a talk with me under a large pink tree in full bloom in her yard and here’s what transpired.
Anya first came to Klamath Falls in 2015, “as the trailing spouse” from The Dalles, where she grew up, because her husband, Michal, had gotten a job running the TRIO program (for students with special needs) at OIT. At that point, their son, Bogdan, so familiar to us all, was just seven months old, and Anya and Michal visited various congregations to see which might be a good fit. She had grown up as a Catholic, and although “that was a meaningful upbringing” she’d also had a crisis of faith in high school when she realized that she could not believe in Jesus as the son of God. “When we went to the Unitarians we met Chuck and Sally and the second week Sally asked me to be the treasurer. ‘But I hate numbers, I hate math’ I said and Sally’s response was ‘Well, someone’s got to do it’ and after two years of that Chuck asked me if I’d be the president of the fellowship. I really struggled with that, because I felt that I still wasn’t even sure what UU is all about. But Chuck said ‘Oh, that’s okay. We just need someone to deal with the administrivia.’ So, in 2017 Anya, who previous experience overseeing things was as the Programming Coordinator for the Parks and Recreation District in the Dalles, became the President of the Fellowship, or more accurately called the Chair of the Board.
What enabled Anya to feel comfortable in her new role was attending a UU Regional Assembly in Eugene, especially a workshop about the meaning of “Beloved Community” in which the facilitator “had us share our various beliefs about religion, which turned out to be quite different and we learned that being in a ‘beloved community’ means not hiding our differences, but embracing them in an atmosphere of acceptance.”
More confidence building came from Reverend Sara Schurr, a Unitarian minister based in Portland, who acts as a consultant to regional UU fellowships of under 75 people, and one of the ways in which she was helpful was in offering Board Development days. Among the things Anya absorbed were
- You can’t please everybody
- Don’t pander to the hecklers
- In making decisions for the fellowship the first priority should always be “Does this serve our mission”
After being intensely involved in all aspects of the fellowship since then, Anya is now cutting back on her involvement a bit. Though she won’t be on the board any longer she will still be chairing the RE (Religious Explorations) Committee and still sitting in on board meetings for a while. She has witnessed a number of key changes in the fellowship over the last few years, and says they were prompted, in large part by how “We’re no longer a congregation in a cupboard, but are now renting the space for our exclusive use.” That has led to, among other things, more programming, including Art Nights, Family Game Nights, and New Member Orientation. And that, in turn, has made the process of becoming a member much more clear than in the past. Another change has been participation in the process of becoming a “Welcoming Congregation for LGBTQ people” which has included putting a “non-discrimination clause” in our bylaws. And all of these changes “have helped us gain new members.” In addition, she says that now “I’ll get to focus on things I particularly enjoy such as overseeing the social media page, as well as outreach, marketing.”
Anya runs a small daycare business from her home during the week, and was motivated to start that when she discovered that “Klamath Falls has a huge shortage of childcare options. I just wanted a place where the TV would not be on all day, and the food would be healthy and that was impossible to find.” But now that Bogdan will be starting kindergarten in the fall she’ll be phasing the business out since, although it’s been fun, it’s also been “exhausting.” And she’s started doing an online masters in education from the University of Oregon.
I asked why she’s doing the degree, phrasing it in terms of that silly question “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” and she said that actually she might like to found an alternative school someday. “I think that school is less about kids finding their own strengths than having to conform to one-size-fits-all norms, less about figuring out who you are, than capitulating to standardization.”
She also told me that her undergraduate major, at Willamette University, had been theater. But “not acting” she said, “more production: bossing people around, organizing them” and so that might also have a role in what the future holds. Certainly those skills would come in handy in running a school.
In the meantime, she and Michal try to visit Michal’s family in Poland every other year. So that must add another dimension of experience to whatever comes next for her. I didn’t get to hear about those trips, though, because Bogdan, who had gone into the house to use the bathroom, left the keys inside and locked everyone out. So we said our goodbyes, and off they went to climb in a window.