Who We Are

Land of the Sky United Church of Christ is an emerging, progressive community seeking to serve the still-speaking God by living justly, loving abundantly, and walking humbly in the ways of Jesus.  

Click here to hear the testimony of our threshold members.

Our Vision:

Serving the Still Speaking God We believe in the good news that God is with us-we are not alone. Because God continues to speak, we look for the divine Spirit reflected in creation, culture, and new understandings of the Bible. We are a community that listens attentively for God’s word and wisdom. Our faith is over 2,000 years old, but our thinking is not. We seek to balance our rich Christian history with openness to new ideas and possibilities.

Living Justly We strive to live justly by covenanting to build just relationships and dismantle unjust practices and institutions both in the church and in the world. In solidarity with the history of the United Church of Christ-which was the first historically white denomination to ordain an African-American, the first to ordain a woman, and the first to ordain an openly gay man-we honor the voices and stories of those who live on the margins, as Jesus did. We affirm the creative diversity of God’s world, remembering that we stand in need of one another and each belong in the sacred family of living things. We delight in using expansive language that re-imagines God through rich imagery and inspired metaphor. We seek to cultivate reconciliation with the Earth and the natural world.

Loving Abundantly As a community living into the unity for which Jesus prayed, we welcome the beautiful spectrum of God’s people-of every race, nationality, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, age, and ability-into the full life of the church. We desire to love abundantly by covenanting to live lives that are reconciled to God, self, and neighbor. We seek to welcome the stranger as one through whom we might learn a deeper truth about the God who is love. Together, we participate in acts of mercy to witness to God’s love in the world through Jesus Christ.

Walking Humbly We commit to walk humbly with God by cultivating our spiritual lives through worship, prayer, study, contemplation, celebration, ritual, and deepening community life. As a foundational source for understanding God’s good news, we honor the Bible’s persistent wisdom, seek out its new insights, and ask the difficult questions of faith. As a community striving to live in the ways of Jesus, we walk as compassionate companions on this journey of faith.

head-shot-amandaRev. Amanda Hendler-Voss

I grew up in a suburb of Detroit, and fell in love with the Appalachian region (and my spouse!) while serving as a summer staff person for the Appalachia Service Project in college. After completing my studies, which took me to England and Honduras, I relocated to Asheville. Drawn by progressive thought coupled with a strong sense of culture and called by the beauty of the mountains, I remain deeply appreciative of the thriving local businesses and emphasis on sustainable living in western North Carolina. After working with persons with HIV/AIDS, I felt the rumblings in my spirit that I knew to be God’s call to ministry. I graduated from Candler School of Theology at Emory University with certificates in Black Church Studies and Church and Community programs. While in graduate school I served as the chapter coordinator of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) in Atlanta, and then joined the staff of national WAND to engage voices of faith in reordering our national priorities away from militarism toward peace. I am ordained in the United Church of Christ and previously served as Interim Minister of Christian Education at First Congregational UCC in Asheville. My ministry includes a particular focus on dismantling racism that led to my involvement in the Black Church and Domestic Violence Institute, Christians for a United Community, and a local clergy training on immigration policy. As the mama of two beloved boys, I am invited to practice loving mercyeach morning-there’s no greater calling than this! I love to read, write, run, and meander through the abundant local farmers’ markets. I embrace my work, which, in the words of poet Mary Oliver, is mostly loving the world, standing still and learning to be astonished, and deep gratitude to be given a mind, a heart, and a mouth with which to give shouts of joy. And so, I offer thanksgiving to God for the opportunity to serve as co-pastor of Land of the Sky United Church of Christ. I hope you will join us!


Rev. Sara sara-head-shotWilcox

I’m lucky to have grown up in a family where I was told I could be anything I wanted to be, but sometimes what we see as possible is limited by what we’ve known. I was mid-way through a graduate program in political science on my way to being a college professor, when I discerned my call to ministry. I had imagined myself as a lawyer and a professor, but had never been in the presence of a woman minister and never considered I would serve in such a capacity. When I came to the United Church of Christ, I was blessed to be in the presence of ministers from all walks of life who opened my eyes and my heart to God’s call on my life. I attended Chicago Theological Seminary where my faith was challenged; I was given the invaluable opportunity to ask questions and seek answers and I learned to live in the uncertainty that often comes from a well-examined faith. While I am comfortable with that uncertainty, there is much I am certain about. The foundation of my faith is the love and grace of God made known in Jesus Christ. That love and grace has been present throughout my life and I see it at work in the world each and every day. Since my seminary education I have served in pastoral leadership in a variety of church families, provided chaplaincy care to patients and their families at Mission Hospital, and assisted families in the midst of decisions about organ donation. Currently, I split my time between Land of the Sky and the Center for Progressive Renewal where I serve as the Director of New Church Initiatives. I am blessed by the love of my partner and friend, Jeff and our daughters, Anna and Ella. We live in East Asheville. I love cooking and baking, enjoying culinary delights, keeping in touch with friends and family, and have been known to watch too much television. This community of faith has blossomed into a congregation that is more than I could have ever imagine.  I am so grateful for all that the United Church of Christ has to offer-a place to ask questions, to honor diversity and to be transformed by the powerful love of Christ. Come join us as we journey together in the Land of the Sky.

head shot melissaMelissa Garrett, Children’s Ministry Coordinator and Office Extraordinaire

Melissa has a degree in early childhood education from Vanderbilt University and a MSW from the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her experience as a teacher, social worker, child care professional and with children’s ministry at her previous church in Chicago makes her an excellent fit for our community of faith. She also has a degree in music and looks forward to singing songs with our kids!

Melissa and her spouse, Kyle, are parents to two young children: Lucia, age 5 and Ezra, age 2. Their family recently moved to Asheville from Chicago and they couldn’t be happier to be settled in such a lovely spot and to call Land of the Sky UCC their new church home.


Ryan Bio
Ryan Hessenius, Co-Minister of Music-Piano

Life should be a journey meant to teach and mold us into the best that we can be; mine has been just that. Born in a small rural town in Northwest Iowa I began my journey in a simple way. I was taught love and kindness, the importance of hard work and dedication, and the importance of family (biological OR chosen) above all else. Being true to myself and discovering my true nature, growing up in Lutheran Church was not necessarily easy, but I learned a great deal that would eventually serve as the foundation of my life in ministry. I have felt a call to music ministry from a very young age. It has played a pivotal role in both my life and faith journeys. It has been the cornerstone through all of my growth and change. Life has not been without its struggles. Questioning my resolve in the Christian church, addiction, failed endeavors and relationships have all been part of my story, but the one Truth that has carried me through and connected me to the universe has been my ministry in music. Music can soothe a wounded soul, comfort a tortured mind, and heal a broken heart.

Since moving to Asheville, I have graduated with my Bachelors in Social Work, and work for Carolina Outreach as an Intensive In Home Therapist. I am blessed to work every day helping children, adolescents, youth, and their families navigate their own difficult journeys.   My plans and goals for the future include both my Masters in Social Work as well as my Masters in Divinity.

Being a part of a faith community that builds upon a foundation of extravagant welcome and inclusivity is incredibly important to me. I have grown and changed through the Lutheran Church, the Metropolitan Community Church, and have found a home within the United Church of Christ. I believe that God is still speaking to all people and calls us to ask questions, challenge the status quo, and to be open to the message that all people are welcome within the community of the Spirit. I am excited to grow in faith and in community at Land of the Sky United Church of Christ, and to begin the next steps on my journey with you.

Will Bio
Will Schmitt, Co-Minister-Guitar
It fills me with joy to join the community at Land of the Sky UCC. I was born and raised in Southwest Iowa, where my musical spirit was nurtured at home, school and the church. After leading a midwestern rock band for a decade I decided to branch out of my home state and work as a wilderness therapy counselor in Vermont.

In my time there, I was able to share my gift of music in numerous ways and was often amazed at the powerful effect it had on the adjudicated youth I served. The experience offered me a new understanding of the power of music and how that source of strength can be shared and brought out in others.

Now in Asheville, I perform regularly in nursing homes, restaurants and night clubs and am looking forward to facilitating and expanding the musical expression of the Land of the Sky congregation. We each have a voice, let’s use it!