Becoming Belonged

Dinner.  Sharing stories.  For-real check ins.  

It’s a simple concept, but it’s not an obvious one.   The conventional wisdom these days is that we’re so busy, the only way to get folks to engage is to make it as easy, short, and simple as possible. To ask that people meet every single week, for 2 hours or more, for 8 weeks, and maybe longer – it’s too much.  

But the fact that we are over-programmed is only one part of the truth; the other, is that we are under-belonged.

I know, “belonged” isn’t technically a word.  But it helps describe how it happens.

Belonging isn’t passive – it’s active, it takes work, and discipline, and commitment – from us, and from others.  Belonging requires partnership.

Although we have more opportunities than ever before for connection, belonging is in short supply.  Only when we decide to prioritize opportunities for real connection, when we show up for true relationship with those who are committed to true relationship with us – can it really take hold.

This is the theory behind our Gather Groups – a new initiative that isn’t so much an initiative as a whole new way of being together.  

Last month at our Group Link we launched 8 new Gather Groups – and 2 pilot groups were already under way – that makes 10 groups of about 10, all of whom are following that simple formula: Dinner, Sharing Stories (related to faith), For-Real Check-ins.  Every Week.  Eight weeks – and then…maybe more, or something else, or – who knows.

Simple, but not easy – and not that short.  Simple, and transformational.  

Meanwhile, we’re piloting a Leadership version – which uses the same formula while intentionally putting mentors (i.e. longtime church leaders) with mentees (potential future leaders) to intentionally tend to leadership development in our congregation.  We’re also piloting a Family version, where families with their children meet to gather and grow together, in community.  We’ll be launching both of these in their full versions by the fall.

If you missed that first Group Link, not to worry – we’re offering another one on March 17th.  More info and sign up here.  

When I look to our future as a congregation, I am excited about the breadth of our potential impact, but I am also overwhelmed by the depth of our potential connections, the power we have to ease the central dis-ease of life today – our separation, our isolation, our longing to be known, and to know one another – for real.  


Showing Up for Democracy: The Women’s March

from Foothills Blogger, Jane Everham


The Women’s March isn’t just for women!

Brian and I attended the first March in 2017 where the organizers hoped for 20,000 attendees – they got 100,000 instead! This delayed the march as the logistics were re-worked, but the standing around with like-minded strangers gave us hope and good cheer.

The 2nd Annual Women’s March took place in downtown Denver on January 21, and even more came to march! Despite the March starting on-time at 9:30, it still took us almost 90 minutes to funnel with the crowd onto 14th St and Bannock – we were so many! This year we encountered numerous of the dozens of Foothills UUs that rode buses or carpooled down to join the March. They carried signs made at various Sign Parties sponsored by church members. The sign I carried said, “Hick, Pardon Ingrid!” and UUs from Boulder and Quakers from Denver, all part of the larger Support Ingrid coalition, recognized its meaning and stopped to talk. Many strangers asked, “Who’s Ingrid?’ and were enlightened on how they could support Ingrid and stand up for justice. It was heartening to hear them express gratitude and support for our Sanctuary efforts.

main photo

Many of the beliefs and principles of Unitarian Universalism were on display at the March.

The demographic of the marchers was extensive and inclusive – babes in arms – girls 3and women – the elderly in wheel chairs – men and boys – LGBTQ – the disabled on scooters – a rainbow of colors. They were from all over Colorado. Most carried signs – many marchers brought extras to share. The signs varied from sweet to snarky to political, and many were very funny:

“It’s about all of us!”  “Girls just want to have FUN-damental rights!”

“I’ve seen better Cabinets at IKEA!”


Note the Ingrid balloon in the background!

We were a mighty, joyous, and peaceful crowd!

Mark your calendars now for the 3rd Annual Women’s March – it is a moving experience of Showing Up -not to be missed!

January 19, 2019.


Progress Is Possible

from Foothills Blogger, Jane Everham

“It is possible to make progress.” said Rev. Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, Executive Director of Colorado’s American Civil Liberties Union and Unitarian Universalist Minister during his guest sermon last Sunday. Rev. Nathan used two stories to illustrate his point. The first story was about the exertion required in the ground-breaking effort to rebel – (something UUs take to rather well.) The second story reflected a painful reality–our democracy is far from seeing our ideals as universal and fair. He called on us to weave these two stories together in a tale which will prevail and define us – to let our highest ideals “ring true not hollow.”

True democracy, he pointed out, is evident in the words at the base of the Statue of Liberty, in the Suffragettes’ movement, the civil rights’ movement, the support for the LGBTQ community. Our Constitution speaks to us with “We the People”, equality for all.

Rev. Nathan reminded us that though the quote “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” is frequently attributed to Rev. Martin Luther King (who did repeat it often) it was first spoken by Theodore Parker, reforming minister of the Unitarian church. What connects UU’s and the ACLU is our shared belief that no one should be left out from experiencing equality and justice.

Showing up for democracy means having a better sense of what needs to be done. The 2016 election galvanized both our UU world and the ACLU. The population of the ACLU in Colorado in October 2016 was 7,000 – today it is 37,000. This influx of newly engaged Coloradans has enabled the ACLU to hire a Voting Rights Committee Coordination, a Reproductive Rights Attorney, launch a podcast called Purple State Report, and other useful entities that weren’t affordable before.

These words of Rev. Nathan bear repeating – it is possible to make progress. In the last year, much progress has been made. As we look toward the future, the November 2018 election is crucial. He called on us to at the very least show up to vote – at the very least! Or step up and RUN for office. Many, many, new people are entering the political field and running for office for the first time.

Rev Nathan closed his sermon inviting us to stay engage and to do the serious work ahead . . . with joy.

This last point was so important that Rev. Gretchen underscored it in the Gratefulness Moment of the service. “Focus on joy, give thanks for all the gifts of this life – feel gratefulness, gratitude.”

This service, like so many others, was deeply inspiring – I often leave church on Sunday thinking “This is so good, they should charge admission.” But they never will! We are invited to show our gratitude, support, and commitment to our faith’s future through pledging. Speaking of pledging . . . see you at CSU for breakfast at 9:30 next Sunday morning.


Mid-Year Governance Progress


Dear Congregation,

We are now mid-way through the church year trying out our new governance approach, and would like to provide an update. You may remember at our last congregational meeting in June of 2017, we voted affirmatively to slightly adjust our bylaws and move forward with procedural and structural changes targeted at further empowering and energizing our mission together.

The Governance Committee interviewed Board members and Rev. Gretchen in December of 2017. Together, we checked in on the progress of transitioning into the new governance roles and assessed where things were either working well or needed additional improvement.  

Generally, all parties are making very good progress toward filling their respective roles and increasing focus of talent and resources to appropriate tasks. Both the Board and the minister report strong collaboration in decision-making and discussions. Rev. Gretchen is providing excellent monthly progress reports to the Board to enable monitoring and oversight. Both the Board and Gretchen are referencing the policy book, appreciative of where sufficient guidance was provided and highlighting items that require more clarity.  The greatest challenge our leaders face in making this transition is completing Board adjustments to truly focus on their role in setting vision and mission, and achieving the desired level of congregational engagement in that process. This is expected in this first year of effort, and we expect it to continue for some time.

In the spring, a deeper assessment of the effectiveness of the governance approach will be conducted, collecting input more broadly from staff, volunteers, and members.

The full report of the mid-year progress is located in our Governance Documents area of the website. View it here. We will also be providing an update at the Congregational Forum on January 21st.

Yours in Community,

The Governance Committee on behalf of the Board

Reflections on the 7th UU Principle

By Karen Marcus

This post —one in a series about the 7 UU principles — explores the 7th one, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” The “interdependent web of existence” is an abstract concept and, therefore, one that applies to many aspects of life. I asked several Foothills members to share what comes to mind for them when considering the 7th principle.

Natalie Shrewsbury, who has been attending Foothills for two years and has been a member for the last nine months, notes that when you see the world through the lens of the 7th principle, decisions become more complex because you have to consider all factors in every situation. For example, “If you’re thinking about how to be a good land steward in your own backyard, maybe you want to have a garden, or some chickens. You need to consider things like the history of the location, the movement of the sun, how people and animals use the space, and how the land might be used in the future, as well as how your actions might affect your neighbors and the larger community. The idea is to create a space that works for every living being in it: plants, animals, and people.”  

Natalie is concerned that, in the current political climate, decisions are being made too quickly to use this type of problem-solving to take all factors into consideration. For example, she says, “To dismantle the health care system and come up with something new takes much longer than three months. It seems decisions are being made so fast that the decision makers aren’t honoring a wider view.”

As a Foothills member for 30 years, Brian Woodruff was around in the 1980s, when Foothills minister Walter Royal (Roy) Jones was instrumental in formulating the 7 principles. Brian explains, “Consensus on the 7th principle was difficult, and Roy’s language ‘respect for the interdependent web’ won.” As someone who has worked in air pollution throughout his career, Brian is proud of the UUA for including the environment among its principles. Brian sees the 7th principle playing out for some in changed behavior, such as the reduction of energy and raw materials in our homes. For others, he observes, “It manifests as political activism to raise awareness and fight for better environmental laws.”

Brian points out a drawback of the 7th principle: it doesn’t require action. He says, “Pride isn’t enough. I’m interested in motivating Foothills to take action on the 7th principle, in more ways than greening our buildings. Considering that climate change is the most significant threat to planetary health, what might we aspire to do together with the support of a principled church community?”

Ann Molison, along with her husband Bob, attended Foothills from 1983 to 1989, returned in 2000, and have been attending ever since. For her, the 7th principle relates to her involvement with Foothills itself. She says, “Membership has helped me develop a deeper involvement in our church.” Ann believes the 7th principle reflects our relationship to the world around us, saying, “We need this world and it needs us. Not just the people, but the environment both within and outside our church.” Church involvement has helped her to concentrate less on herself and to reach out to others. For example, Ann sits at the Welcome Kiosk on Sundays, helps with the Sanctuary program, attends workshops on the environment, and attends church services whenever possible. She remarks, “Participating in these activities has been a freeing experience and gives meaning to my commitment to Foothills.” 

Laurie Seiler, who has been a Foothills member for 10 years, has always felt connected to “the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” She says, “I continue to learn more about how to respect it. This is both an integral part of my spirituality and part of being a responsible steward of the planet we share with all life forms. Connecting in this way allows me to transmute fear, disappointment, and stress into love, joy, peace, and hope. It also motivates me to do what I can to care for our planet and everyone on it, now and into the future.” 

Laurie observes that it’s easy to think only of survival for ourselves in the current moment and forget to look at all life over an extended period of time. She notes, “When we remember to step back and look at the bigger picture we begin to understand and live in integrity with the 7th principle.”

Like Laurie, for Foothills member Peg MacMorris, “The ‘interdependent web’ embodies the idea of living in harmony with the earth; living in good conscience means limiting our carbon footprints and trying to live as sustainably as possible.” These principles have guided Peg’s life. She notes, “I’m inspired and sustained by time spent experiencing the natural environment, in large and small ways.”

At her former church, Peg worked on environmental initiatives, and at Foothills, she says, “I strive to make our congregation aware of climate justice. I also hope that care for our environment enters into all considerations within our church life, and within the lives of each congregation member.” She is also organizing efforts to help provide energy efficiency and weatherization enhancements for families with low incomes in Fort Collins. The dangers of not making these efforts, says Peg, are “a life out of harmony with the environment, a lack of awareness of our natural surroundings, and a life that is not sustainable for individuals or the community.”

What a great variety of interpretations on the 7th principle. What does it mean to you? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!


No Room at the Inn?

No Room at the Inn?



Jose Y Maria by Artist Averett Patterson

Images of Mary and Joseph haunt me. Not the ones you find in most churches mind you, those ones that get commissioned to be placed in stained glass that feature the immaculately white and pure Mary looking all European and very definitely not pregnant or Palestinian.  No, the images that haunt me this time of year are the more raw, modern depictions like Everett Patterson’s Jose Y Maria, which depicts the couple, struggling, in the rain, calling for help, in a bleaker by sadly relatable setting. The No Vacancy sign flickers and calls the question: would you let this couple in?


This is a high bar for most of us to say YES to without reservations. It is one of the reasons I love being part of Foothills, because through all of our shared work, with One Village One Family and our partnerships with Homeless Gear, our commitment to Faith Family Hospitality, and our Sanctuary Church work, we get to answer this question with a collective yes.

But even then the question and the images still haunt me.

Meg Barnhouse in her article Bethlehem’s Hospitality grants me a much needed reframe. Helping me find a personal yes of course in the Christmas story.

When reading the Nativity story through the eyes of Arab-Palestinian culture, one comes to a stunning revelation: There was no Inn.

If you have ever traveled to the Middle East, which I have had the lucky fortune of doing so, you learn quickly highest among all the values is that of hospitality. Even being distant relatives Joseph was returning to his ancestral city, and thus would have been welcomed in by some distant relative.

The room that Jesus came into the world in was not the stable at the back of some Hotel, but Joseph’s distant relatives family room, which according to biblical scholar Kenneth Bailey in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes “had an area usually about four feet lower, for the family donkey, the family cow, and two or three sheep.”

As Meg Barnhouse writes “There wasn’t room in the guest room, so the baby was laid in one of the mangers dug into the stone floor of the family room or made of wood and stood up on the family room floor, surrounded by animals, aunties, uncles, and cousins”

It is the story of the divine being born in the moments when we find our people and together try our best to accommodate all that life throws our way. Even if it is crowded and noisy, even if it all didn’t go the way we planned. Something beautiful, maybe even divine, can happen when we embrace what is, in all its absurdness miraculousness, and just do the best we can.

Inside November’s “Share The Plate”

By Karen Marcus

In November, Foothills Unitarian Church raised an impressive $4,404 for the Food Bank for Larimer County! The Food Bank is a non-profit organization that strives to support stability in people’s lives through hunger-relief programs. Each year it provides food to more than 37,500 people in need in our community.

Foothills supports the Food Bank in another important way: by running the Food Bank for Larimer County Mobile Pantry two Sundays per month in the Foothills parking lot. The Mobile Pantry has been in operation for over a year, and Foothills was the first entity to set one up (the second was Discovery Fellowship Church, and we hope there will be more to come).

Rebecca Parish heads up this effort, and I asked her for details about this highly successful program. Here’s what she had to say:

KM: Can you describe the variety of people who need this service?

RP: We see quite a few senior citizens, who commonly tell us that they’re living on a fixed income, and also dealing with rising housing costs and medical expenses. The result is that once they’ve paid for rent and utilities, there’s little left over for food.

We also see single mothers with their children. Most of them are working to provide for their families, but just can’t earn a large enough income to support a whole household. Food from the Food Bank helps them save on their grocery bills and make nutritious meals. One woman shared that she has just enough to pay the bills and feed her family, so she only comes through the food line at certain times of the year for grocery savings, which helps her to afford extras — like presents during the holidays, or school supplies and clothes at back-to-school time — or to make ends meet when an unexpected expense, such as a car repair, comes up.

This way, she feels she’s leaving more food for those who really need it, but the reality is she’s exactly the recipient for which the Food Bank exists! However, most people want to be independent and self-sufficient, and use such services as little as possible.

We also see some college students who eat inexpensive meals to afford college here. The Food Bank provides them more beneficial foods to eat. Additionally, even some families who have two working parents struggle to get by as the cost of living continues to rise.

There’s a perception in America that assistance recipients are all on welfare and don’t work. We don’t find that to be the case. Most of them are working, but just don’t make enough money to pay the bills. Or they’re working part-time because they’re in school so that someday they can afford to not need any assistance.

KM: What is the biggest benefit for recipients of the Mobile Pantry?

RP: One intangible benefit is feeling their community cares about them. The primary concrete benefit is that it simply helps recipients have enough food to eat and afford groceries! Most Mobile Pantry events include eggs and yogurt, sometimes packaged meats, and generally there is plenty of fresh produce. Some recipients are eating food for the first time that day when they come to our afternoon distribution.

The Mobile Pantry sometimes includes a “special treat” that appeals to kids because so many households with children come through the line. It could be cookies, fruit roll-ups, animal crackers, ​or whatever treat that happens to be available that week. For those who are just trying to put food on the table, it’s something they wouldn’t usually spend money on, so the kids get really excited to have it.

We don’t know the whole story of many of our clients — we hear little bits and pieces — but generally all the clients are very thankful for us being there and doing this. I don’t think any of them know that the church pays for the food (produce costs us nothing, but we pay a low rate per pound for the other food we distribute). They view it as exactly the same as going to the Food Bank warehouse up north or down in Loveland.

However, many of them tell us that they aren’t able to get to the Food Bank warehouse for a variety of reasons: lack of transportation, working during Food Bank hours, etc. For the roughly 90-100 households that come to us for food, 50-60 visit only our location, despite our events only being held twice a month! This means that — although each household is eligible for two shopping visits per week from the Food Bank program — the Mobile Pantry is their sole source of Food Bank assistance.

This is exactly the gap the Food Bank was trying to fill. They suspected many food-insecure households weren’t accessing the Food Bank’s services simply due to logistical issues. So, we are a success! The leadership at Foothills and our many volunteers are thrilled to help our neighbors in this way. And the Food Bank looks forward to the creation of more Mobile Pantry locations — such as the one recently started at Discovery Fellowship — to extend their reach.

KM: Do you have any other anecdotes about people who have been helped by this service?

RP: One elderly lady comes with her two young grandchildren to every Mobile Pantry. She is largely providing the care and housing for these children because their parents can’t. She’s on a fixed income and isn’t getting any financial assistance to provide for these kids, so she’s struggled to do so. She has expressed her thanks many times for us doing this work, because otherwise she doesn’t know how she’d keep her grandchildren fed. She’s making life work for her grandchildren, and they seem happy and healthy, and are very polite. I’m so glad they have her.

KM: How long have you been acting as coordinator, and what is your favorite part of that role?

BP: I’ve been the coordinator for a little over a year. We’ve grown from a small team of four to a dozen leads who, in pairs, can successfully set up, manage, and tear down one of our Mobile Pantry events. We’ve gone from a handful of volunteers to nearly 200 that have helped at one time or another. And from under 20 household recipients served at our very first “Food Bank @ Foothills” to 109 at our recent December 10th pantry! I’m so grateful for this lead team and the many dedicated volunteers that make it all come together so nicely.

My favorite part of the Mobile Pantry is that it’s an opportunity for multi-generational and family volunteering. My family and I really enjoy working there and meeting our food-insecure neighbors. I also really love that I’ve had an opportunity to get to know more Foothills members and their families when they come to volunteer. We have senior citizens working next to teenagers almost every time. It’s a very positive atmosphere where everyone is really happy to be there and that comes across to the recipients. Many of them have commented on how welcoming we are, and some have even said they “feel like royalty.” A couple of clients have become volunteers, themselves, because they want to give back to something they appreciate so much. The whole event is really heartwarming.

KM: Is there anything else you’d like to share about the Mobile Pantry?

RP: The Food Bank is able to much more effectively get quantities of food for each dollar than we as individual consumers can, even when we buy in bulk at places like Costco. So, if you have the choice to buy a case of soup for $10, or give the Food Bank $10, giving them the money is going to put more food onto the tables of food-insecure households. The Food Bank also needs and depends on volunteers in order to get more food out to our community. If you’d like to volunteer at our Mobile Pantry or at a Food Bank for Larimer County facility, your help is welcome and appreciated.

Learn more and find out how to volunteer for the Mobile Pantry.