Third Service Experiment(s)

from Rev. Gretchen

Just about two years ago, we started talking about what we called the “third service experiment.”  Our Sunday attendance had grown exponentially, and we knew that if we didn’t make more space, people would start leaving.  Which didn’t feel aligned with our newly-voted-on mission statement of unleashing courageous love.

An expanded building was at least 3 to 5 years out in the future, so the Board charged the staff with adding a third Sunday morning service.

We were admittedly somewhat terrified, but then Christmas Eve came – where we have always had at least 3 services – and we realized it might not be so bad.  And we agreed, it was the right thing to do.  Finally, in February 2017, we launched the experiment, and immediately our service attendance grew by over 30%.

Critical to any experiment is seeking feedback, trying new things, and learning together.  Through practice and ongoing dialogue and a strong sense of partnership with the congregation, we learned so much in that first experiment – which lasted through May that year.  We learned what supports and systems we’d need (a lot), what volunteers we’d need (so many), and just how early people were willing to get up and come to service (8 am was too early, especially after daylight savings…).  We applied these lessons, and moved into a more routine pattern of three services in September 2017.

And still, as with most things in church (and life), it’s good to keep that sense of experimentation about these three services alive.  Because we know that what worked at one point may not keep working, we want to keep open to what will best serve the mission now.

One of the things we’ve been learning is that in the past few months, as we returned to the 3 services schedule, the 3rd service has been a little slower to pick up attendance to its numbers all of last year. We realized that while some of you were game to try out the later service for a while in support of making space for everyone (thank you!), the 10:00 service is just soooo convenient and filled with so many happy people!

From a worship-leaders’ perspective, we’ve struggled with what can feel like a strange shift from a full-house of 200+ in the 10:00 service, to the more intimate gathering of 60 or so at the 11:30 – and yet somehow we’re supposed to offer the exact same script.

At the same time, we’ve started to notice that the 11:30 has a certain vibe to it.  An energy seeking more space for silence, more ritual, more healing space, more calm. And there is an openness, and a really strong engagement.  Originally I was categorizing it as a “younger” demographic, but actually it’s a really diverse crowd.  Or rather, not a crowd….a diverse small-ish gathering.

So in the past few weeks, we have been experimenting again.  This time, trying to meet this smaller mid-day gathering with a worship style that fits its organic energy.

Simple things to begin, really.  We have moved ourselves closer to the floor, including sitting within the congregation – to lean into the intimacy of the experience.  We’ve added a participatory ritual to the joys and sorrows for more personalized engagement.  Looking ahead, we’re thinking about ways to reduce some of the talking in some elements to make more space for silence.  And other ways to work with – rather than resist – the different feel of this service.

We’re going to experiment in similar ways for three months.  After three months is up, we’ll hold feedback circles, and send out surveys, and see what we’ve learned, and how we want to apply this learning in the future.  Our goal remains to keep finding ways to best serve our mission, and to meet the real ministry needs of our community both as it is and as we are called to become.

If you’re curious about these experiments, and want to be a part of creating a healing worship-ful space together on Sundays, join us for our 11:30 service.  And if you do, I hope you’ll think of yourselves as partners in this shared learning.  After all, worship on Sundays is not a performance, like the theatre.  It’s our work together, our shared ministry, to create this space, and to show up with and for each other in service of a better world.

There is so much need in our world for healing spaces, and for authentic community.  In this third service – and for that matter, in all of our services, and in all that we do at Foothills – we can together try out different ways of to serve this need.  And we can (only) do this together.

See you Sunday.  Keep experimenting.


What’s Not Decided On Election Night

from Rev. Gretchen Haley

Like a lot of people across the US, I spent much of Tuesday night watching election results come in.  As I did, I was constantly flashing back to the same night 2 years ago,  when the national elections went a direction that many people of progressive faith never imagined. I remembered – with quite a bit of detail – the Governance Task Force meeting I was in, the policies we were discussing, even as I started to get alerts on my phone, and texts saying “Oh, no….”

A few hours later I was home, and the worries became reality.  We quickly started to plan what would become an impromptu vespers service overflowing with a crowd of people needing a place to hold the shock, pain, fear, and grief, especially for those in our community who are people of color, immigrants, GLBT, chronically ill, disabled, or poor.

Two years later, I was at church again, as the returns starting coming in.  This time, in a Board meeting.  The Board was beginning to digest the data nearly 350 of you provided in our visioning sessions this last month.  As we began, we each acknowledged the lingering memories from 2016, and wondered together where this night might end.

Elections have consequences.  The families separated at the border, and the new make-up of the Supreme Court are two easy examples of the consequences of our last election.  Equally so, the increased engagement from many non-immigrants to the longstanding crises around our broken immigration system – including our own determination to become a sanctuary congregation, and to work even more diligently to address the needs for affordable housing and food insecurity in our own community.  As Gloria Steinem said of the 2016 election, there are upsides to the downsides.

And yet, when it comes down to it, voting is the easy part of democracy.  There are so many things that will remain undecided, even after all the votes are counted.  Which is where the harder part of democracy lives.  And also, the part that has the most potential for real impact in the long run.  The part where we live as citizens of our country, our state, and our city – every day.

Where we resist the forces of dehumanization, fear, polarization, isolation – growing in our country.

Where we re-humanize the “other,” and ourselves, even in the midst of these continuing fears, losses, losses of control.

Where we address the unresolved feelings of trauma, loss, pain, and violence that live in our bodies and in our bones – the stories that we carry from generation to generation both due to systemic injustices and personal failures and tragedy in our families and across our lives.

Where we unlearn and relearn, release and rebuild – entire systems of justice, kindness, equity, community.  To undo the consequences of lovelessness person to person, community to community, generation to generation.

Where we remain connected to beauty and gratitude, to our place in the web of life – interdependent and interconnected – of which we are simply a part.

As I said on Sunday, “There’s so much human work that was left undone, work that does not just go away with the passing of time.  Work of mending and tending, healing and transforming; holy work, spiritual work, religious work.  Work that asks us to step back from political affiliation as a stand-in for religion, and instead ask what our actual religion offers us, and requires of us in these times, in this moment.” (Check out the whole text of that sermon here.)

This is our work – as a church – long past any particular election day.  Work that pushes us beyond our comfort zone, and into that place where we can grow and change and become leaders of change in our world – and in our lives – leaders of healing, of transformation, of hope.  And also work that feeds us, and reminds us that we too are worthy of love, and belonging – just as we are.

Sitting there with the Board Tuesday night – looking over all of your values and stories and wishes and dreams – for this congregation, and for our world – it couldn’t have been a better antidote to the election returns coming in.  Because it reminded me, and all of us.  Regardless of who the Speaker of the House may be, or which propositions passed, or failed (but hey! nice work Larimer County on the mental health facility!!) – we have work to do.  Big work.  Joyous work.  Work of unleashing – as in: releasing something that is already there and that is just itching to be set free – courageous love.  And work to remember, and to practice, through everything, how love unites us all.

Our Place on the Altar

Our Place on the Altar

by Eleanor VanDeusen

I am re-reading the Harry Potter book series once again this fall….it’s the fourth time for me, as I must confess that I am an avid Harry Potter fan and I keep discovering deeper layers of meaning each time I re-read the books.

Yesterday I was struck by the scene where Harry visits Dumbledore’s office for the first time and sees the portraits of the all of the past Headmasters of Hogwarts hung on the walls. They move inside their frames and Dumbledore can commune with all of these wise people from the past, draw on their wisdom and feel their support and companionship. I often long for that kind of connection with my loved ones who have died and with my heroes from the past that have left a legacy of good works as an example for me.

our place on the altar

On Sunday, October 28th, our church community will celebrate the lives of our departed loved ones and contemplate our own legacy in our service to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Some of the questions we will consider together are: who do you remember? And what gift did their life give you? What will our place on the altar be? What do we hope that people will remember about our lives?

We invite you and your family to bring items representing people and animals who you have loved that have died. We will share our memories of our loved ones by placing them on a shared altar of remembrance.

Ideas for things to bring:

  • A small picture, framed or unframed.
  • A favorite sweet, game or toy that would have brought a smile to your loved one’s face.
  • A favorite poem, a joke or the lyrics to a song they loved.
  • An object that reminds you of them, things they loved or representations of their job or hobbies.
  • Flowers or other objects from nature

We will join together in honoring our departed  loved ones as we create our Day of the Dead altar. In this way, they will live on in our hearts as the joy of their memory reminds us that love never dies.  


Red/Blue Retreat – How to Talk Across the Political Divide

by Jane Everham

It was quite late one, week night when I couldn’t sleep and dark thoughts crept in. I texted Gretchen to ask, “Are you sure everyone is inherently entitled to worth and dignity?  Because I think a certain politician today forfeited his right to both.”  Of course, she responded immediately. Does that woman ever sleep?

And she said, Yes, Jane, I hear you, but our faith asks a lot of us and searching for the path to hold all individuals as entitled to dignity and worth is non-negotiable. Well, those weren’t her exact words, she was much more eloquent, but you get the gist. Our faith is not easy.

I completely and heartfeltly embrace the sentiment of our first Principle – until it comes time to put it into practice. How to love someone who is racist? Someone who speaks hate? Someone who applauds misogyny and discrimination? Unleashing courageous love is the challenge of my concern. On my UU spiritual path, I may be working on this practice for a long time.

When Sean introduced the idea of a Red Blue Retreat I glared at him. I had just vowed to myself to start saying “no” to requests and offers as I was already over committed. BUT I wanted to do this so badly! I have since the early 2000s. I wanted to say yes. I had to say yes. I did say yes.

And it is meaningful and worthy time spent inviting UUs to participate. Are you surprised that the Red group began filling faster than the Blue group? I was. But the good news is – the Retreat is not yet filled. There is room for a couple of Reds, a couple of Blues and numerous Observers. The registration form is on our FB page, in the Communicator, and on the website.

Does anyone NOT think our Democracy is in trouble? Well, here is a step you can take to begin to heal our nation. It is no panacea, just a step. But remember what one of my heroes, Margaret Mead said, “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Take this first small step.

How To Talk Across the Political Divide

September SHARE the PLATE – Turning Point

September SHARE the PLATE – Turning Point

The September Share the Plate at Foothills Unitarian Church collected $2,164.59 for Turning Point, a mental health and substance abuse treatment center for children and families.

“At Turning Point, we turn lives around for youth who are struggling with behavior, mental health, or substance abuse issues. We offer the broadest range of programs from outpatient services to intensive residential treatment through our Northern Colorado centers, offering help and hope for youth and their families.

Turning Point’s therapeutic services range from individual and family therapy sessions to round-the-clock care in one of our residential treatment facilities. We have developed and fine-tuned our programs over the course of more than 40 years to better suit at-risk and troubled youth in our community”

Turning Point

Turning Point is grateful to receive our financial support, and there is more need. There are gaps in the services people need for inpatient behavioral health treatment or treatment for alcohol/drug abuse.

One way to change this is to support the November Ballot Issue 1A. This measure will build, fund and support a mental health/substance abuse/detox facility to address this significant need. A small sales tax (25 cents for every $100 you spend) will pay for this needed health care facility. Your vote is needed to make this a reality.

We supported Turning Point with our dollars, and we can continue out support with our vote. Ballots will be mailed on October 15th. Watch you mail and vote for Ballot Issue 1A for increased mental health services in Larimer County.

Ready for action now? Turning Point also accepts volunteer support. You can:

  • Help at an event
  • Organize a group to help with Turning Point building and grounds maintenance
  • Provide administrative assistance in our office
  • Work with youth in our classrooms or in daily living experiences

“Turning Point has volunteers who come to help for a day and volunteers who work regularly for years. Any time you can spend will make a difference.”

The Story of Our Branding or Hey, Did You See the New Logo!?!

By Erin Price

In July, 2017, Rev. Sean asked if I would lead a committee to revamp our church website. I agreed almost immediately. I mean, have you used the church website lately? There are some great pictures of our smiling faces, but it’s clunky, and hard to use.

But when I began to think about a better website for Foothills, big questions arose. How do we best communicate our mission and all the work we do in the community? Who exactly are we trying to reach, people who don’t know us, or members and friends who might need specific ‘insider’ information? And then the biggest question, how does our website fit with all our other materials? We have so many people — church staff and volunteers — creating posters, signs, pamphlets, and flyers, that we don’t have a cohesive set of materials. So what should our website look like?

Then I remembered something Erin Hottenstein and I had talked about a decade ago, as we were developing the Stewardship committee: Branding.

What the heck is branding, you might ask?

Officially, effective branding allows an organization to capture its personality in its visual and written materials.

Our brand isn’t just a logo, but includes all the materials we use to communicate. The goal of branding is to stimulate recognition and evoke an emotional response by embodying the characteristics of an organization in its written materials. It’s a tall order. Think of the Nike logo and their marketing around athleticism. Or Harley Davidson and its ethos of masculinity and strength.

So, I went back to Sean and suggested we do a bigger revamp of all our church materials, including the website, to enable us to communicate to all of our various constituencies, members, friends, newcomers, and our community at large, in a more cohesive and effective manner.

Sean agreed that there was value in thinking of our website as part of a bigger whole, and we put together a committee. Gale Whitman joined right away. Then we recruited Ann Molison and Brendan Mahoney.

Together, our committee did a lot of research into the branding process and read some good books on what steps to take. (In case you’re interested in learning more, the best of the bunch were: Branding for Nonprofits: Developing Identity with Integrity, by DK Holland, and Building a Story Brand, by Donald Miller.

We began by building on the excellent Mission Statement work done in the past few years, which answers the questions: “Who are we and whom do we serve?”

Next, we defined the elements that communicate to our audiences. We gathered a big stack of materials, each reflecting a different facet of our programs and services. Things like the website, pamphlets publicizing our programs, the banners along Drake which express support for marginalized groups, event posters, our weekly email updates, ministerial communications, and the Order of Service we us on Sundays.

And then we began the real work of creating a plan for managing those communications. We spent about a year — yes, a year — working through what we wanted our brand to reflect. We met with many congregants and talked with church leaders to create set of documents, which boiled down who we, as a congregation, are.

At this point, we debated whether the real design work was something that we could do in-house, or whether we’d need to call in the pros. Branding is a specialized field, which requires education, training, and artistry, to do well. After much deliberation, and more research, we determined that we did not have the capacity to design a new logo or create a branding guide ourselves.

This is not to discount our previous logo, developed by church member Steve Sedam. It’s beautiful, and has served us well for many years. The new logo draws inspiration from Steve’s design. As much as we love that logo, we recognized that if we were going to go to the effort to create a new package of materials, we should have the designers spruce up our logo, too.

When we were ready for the experts to step in, we interviewed a number of local design firms to find the right match, finally selecting One Tribe Creative. Over the last few months, we have worked with One Tribe as they’ve developed the new logo. We went through four rounds of major revision, followed by countless back-and-forths to get it just right. (You might be surprised how many conversations you can have about different fonts, just how big that font should be, the value of serif versus san serif, and whether or not everything is centered correctly!)

FoothillsHorizontal Slogan- LOW RES

We love the fact that the new logo takes the historical chalice image and injects it with vibrant colors, and a dynamic, energetic graphic, that captures the spirit of Foothills. The tagline, ‘Love Unites Us All’ distills our mission, to unleash courageous love, so that we can communicate it more broadly wherever our logo appears.

One Tribe also created a guide for how to use the logo so that our materials will have a consistent look and feel. This should make the lives of our staff and volunteers, who are often tasked with developing pamphlets, posters, and signs for our many events, much easier. Finally, One Tribe has worked hard to develop a snazzy, super-functional new website, too, which will roll out soon.

We are very proud of the work we’ve done. The process took a lot longer than we originally thought it would, but we’re pleased with the result.

Reflections on the 6th UU Source

from Jane Everham

“Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the scared circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.”

In the Black Forest of Pikes Peak region of Colorado, one finds oddly formed Ponderosa Pines that look to have suffered harsh winters, intense winds or even viruses. Turns out they are Ute Prayer Trees. Ute Prayer Trees (UPT) are a unique variety of culturally modified trees that were skillfully cultivated by the Ute Indians throughout much of Colorado.  They began modifying trees for navigational, medicinal, nutritional, educational, burial or spiritual purposes.  UPT can still be found today and are believed to have been cultivated between 150 – 450 years ago. The Ute, like many other Native Americans, believe all living things have a spirit and the majority of the UPTs discovered in El Paso, Teller and Custer Counties appear to point towards Pikes Peak and other sacred places of the Ute people.

“I think Ute Indian Prayer Trees are living Native American artifacts that offer us an intriguing link back in time to a deeply spiritual people with rich culture and long history in the Pikes Peak Region,” explains Anderson. *

Earth-centered traditions have been around as long as humans, thousands of years. And many different living traditions are offered for UUs to practice and incorporate into our faith, be it Pagan, Christian, Native American or more.

At the Western Unitarian Universalist Life Festival, the UU family camp at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, we have a tradition of celebrating the Solstice at Echo Amphitheater. Our Pagan UUs craft a ceremony which includes interfaith readings, we honor the Four Directions and the Earth Elements, a teacher from Albuquerque sings a heart-stopping Ave Maria into the echo canyon wall, and then everyone – all ages – dances, drums, waves ribbons, wands and engages in all kinds of spiritual joyousness. It is a complete religious and spiritual stew – a glorious stew honoring the earth.

Here in Northern Colorado, we have a vibrant land to protect. “We can’t make new rivers” said a recent Facebook post from the Save Our Poudre folks. Keeping earth-centered traditions alive in all forms is work we can engage in, especially on days when the news has us holding our heads crying, “What can we do?”  In a sermon back in June, Gretchen counseled us to stay alert to and embrace joy where we find it. If tending the earth physically, monetarily, or politically brings you joy then dig in and get your hands dirty, or pull out your wallet, or put pen to paper with a rousing Letter to the Editor. Our natural environment needs our ongoing service and our Sixth Source of Earth-centered tradition calls us to keep up the effort.

This is the last Blog in my series on our Six UU Sources – there are surely other perspectives on these Sources, and you are invited to join the Foothills Bloggers and share yours. All Six UU Sources acknowledge the gifts we have received from other faiths, voices, and traditions. It is up to us to honor them and make them vibrant in gratitude. We hear every week that our worship is on Sunday, but our service is every day, and we continue to respond.

Blessed be.

*Culturally Modified Ute Prayer Trees by John W, Anderson – A side note, the La Foret Retreat Center often visited by UUs is in this Black Forest with its Ute Prayer Trees. Some of you may remember seeing these peculiar trees.