Looking Back on the Church Year 2014-15

For most of the world, it’s decidedly mid-year.  But for schools and churches, we are coming towards year-end.  Although our congregation- like most UU congregations today – does not shut down over the summer, but we do move into a different rhythm.

With just a single worship service (starting June 14), we will have a more intimate feel, and also a little more casual/experimental air.  Our religious exploration program will offer programs targeted to the many first-time visitors we see over the summer and most of our ministry teams will be in “planning season,” studying and reflecting as they gear up for next year.  Which makes it a great time to get involved – we are currently looking for new partners in membership, stewardship, worship arts, welcoming, and our parish visitors.  Email me if you’re interested!

Even as we look ahead, we also look back.  Rev. Keyes, will offer his “State of the Church” address this Sunday, and given his time with us is nearing its end, I am grateful his reflection will offer a certain objectivity about our church.

As for me, I claim no such objectivity.  I am deeply invested in our continued and strengthened future and our partnership.  I shared recently about the ways I know this year has been hard for many of you.  But just as importantly, there has been so much good this year!! I am proud of what we have done together, and I don’t want this to be overlooked or understated.

With this in mind, I offer this summary overview.  It’s a lot of information, and yet for every word I write, I have left out hundreds of others.  It’s really incredible how much good we do together, freely, in service of bringing more love and hope to more of the world.  Thank you for your partnership and investment in all this goodness.  Let’s keep moving forward.

Summary of Ministry Partnerships 2014-2015 

This year, we have seen a huge increase in participation and engagement of our community in the shared ministry and programs of our congregation.  Here are a few of those stories…..

Pastoral Care and Caring Team 
After being trained and launching officially last spring, our group Parish Visitors have been regularly visiting about 20 of our congregants, growing the reach of our care and ensuring a steady presence of our church in the life of our members.
Meanwhile, these Visitors have been working in coordination with our Caring Team – they rotate as an on-call intake for any caring needs we hear about, ensuring that our people get the support they may need.  Our Caring Team provides meals, rides and cards to many congregants over the year, supporting people through surgery, grief, illness and other life transitions, in addition to providing meaningful support for memorials for our beloved members.  And, our Caring Team has been working to coordinate more fully with our small groups such as our Senior Sages, our group for older adults, to ensure better communication and use of the informal networks of support.
Lifespan Religious Exploration 
Eleanor Van Deusen and I took over the direction of the adult religious exploration program this year, and launched the three-fold program of spritual practices, classes, and small groups.  We saw regular attendance at our Spiritual Practices in opportunities like yoga, meditation, ZenTangle, Artist’s Way, chanting and drum circle. Over the course of the year we have seen an explosion in participation in small groups, with nearly 400 members participating in small groups exploring everything from social justice to Unitarian Universalist history to personal grief to your own spiritual journey and faith development.  Along the way you have strengthened your connections with one another, your own sense of spiritual depth, and your connection to something greater than us all.
The Adult RE classes have been hugely successful this year, with tracks focusing on Unitarian Universalism, Social Change and Tools for the Spiritual Journey.  Our Intro Sundays have regularly seen 20-30 in attendance, and classes on Transcendentalism, Unitarian Justice Roots, Islamic and Jewish Influences in Unitarian Universalism, Atheism/Theism Theological Constructs and others have all seen 30-40 in regular attendance.  Our classes on end of life conversations and tools for ending the cycle of poverty saw even greater numbers.  It’s been a wonderful time of growing and deepening our sense of our living tradition and our call to transforming lives – our own, and the wider world.
Finally, our Adult RE program and worship services were integrated this year through a new theme-based ministry initiative.  Exploring topics like faith, gratitude, grief, hope and justice allowed us to delve more deeply into our big questions, and to experience a greater sense of cohesion across our programming and our life stages.
Meanwhile, our program for children, youth and families has never been stronger.  Eleanor built on our themes and used a workshop rotation model for her classes to allow for greater member participation and more experiential learning for our students, while still offering rich content and meaningful children’s worship for our kids  Our high school youth continued to strengthen their relationships with one another and our faith, with highlights including small group ministry, service outreach, collaboration in a Sunday service, and the annual 9th grade trip to the Navajo Reservation.
Worship and Music 
Our Worship Learning Community has grown over this year, adding new members to an already strong group that began not quite 2 years ago.  In addition to providing all of the music and lay support for worship last summer, this group was responsible for leading and crafting our Vespers services – evening mid-week worship that is more contemplative, music-driven and interactive than our Sunday services.  We averaged about 60 people in these services, with special highlights being our Winter Solstice (over 100 in attendance) and Earth Day Vespers service (which was intentionally multi-generational and was led in collaboration with our youth group).  This Worship Community has also been responsible for enhancing our overall professionalism on Sunday morning through their role as Worship Hosts.
Our Music program has continued to grow this year with Ryan’s continued compassionate leadership and exceptional talent, especially as seen in our collaboration with Plymouth UCC where their choir came for one Sunday with us, and another Sunday, we went to their church.  It was also a joy to see our children’s choirs continue to grow this year with performances over the winter holidays and again in the Spring.
As for Sunday services, although we have had a change in our Senior Minister of the past 23 years – which in many churches results in a huge (usually temporary) decrease in Sunday attendance – we have generally seen a steady attendance and participation on Sundays.  We have welcomed many guests to our pulpit, and have continued to be blessed by a strong collaboration across our music, religious exploration and administrative teams to offer a welcome and creative opportunity for gathering around our deepest values throughout the year.
Membership Team 
Our Membership Team clarified its focus and mission over the summer – to welcome people as they came in and to help them find their place of connection in the congregation, particularly in terms of the process from their first visit all the way until they decide to become members.  Over this year, the Team has been working to improve and enhance its 4 Ways to Connect, which includes our Path to Membership classes (offered 4 times), Connections Dinners (offered 3 times), Explorations Small Group Ministry (offered 3 times, all over-full) and Intro Sundays (offered monthly) – all of which have seen regular strong attendance and positive feedback from attendees.  Beginning a year ago, Membership has also been working in collaboration with staff to offer our Hops & Hospitality and Wine & Welcome trainings, beginning to focus additional efforts on being a welcoming congregation and to strengthen our welcome on Sunday mornings.  Out of these efforts, we will be forming a new Radical Welcome Team starting this summer.
Social Justice
Our Justice efforts have built on an already-strong foundation this year, beginning with our continued work with Faith Family Hospitality, where in the range of 100 of our members regularly volunteer to host and support families experiencing homelessness.  After gathering for our training on Cycles of Poverty in January, we discerned that our next step together would be to engage the One Village One Family program that mentors homeless families as they re-stabilize in housing.  We will launch 5 villages (30 participants) this Sunday as they companion 5 families back into stable housing in the next 5-6 months.  They will also act as supports for one another, and will be strengthened by their connection to and support from this faith community.
We have also seen the continued good work of our ESL Tutoring program where about 40 members volunteer weekly, as well as additional development in our work towards immigration justice, beginning with the Do You Know Who I Am? autobiographical play we sponsored with Plymouth UCC in late summer, and leading to our immigration class series in the fall.  We will build on this work next year as our adult education program will offer a series on Intercultural Competency and in partnership again with Plymouth, a curriculum based on the play, all leading towards a possible Borderlinks trip next spring.
We have also seen activity in addressing the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, supporting our partner church, and we have been early partners in the newly formed Northern Colorado Pride Coalition to support welcome and advocacy for GLBTQ persons in the area.  I was happy to represent our values as one-half of the first legal marriage ceremony for a same sex couple in Colorado in October, and it was great fun to see the Coloradoan pick up our wedding photos!
Most recently, we have been excited to see the newly revitalized environmental justice team, launching based on the UUA’s Commit2Respond initiative in mid-March.  This group has been meeting regularly and reflecting on our call to act on behalf of the earth and its resources, and we look forward to significant progress on this front in the coming year.
Over this summer, we anticipate pulling together our justice leaders to have a conversation about intersectionality in our justice work – which is a way of seeing justice issues as all interconnected so that we can better collaborate rather than compete with our resources.
Stewardship
Our Stewardship Team has also been extremely active this year, starting in the fall as it worked to analyze our current trends in giving, as well as partnering with our adult ed program to offer classes in financial health and linking money to personal values.  Stewardship was also critical to the successful roll out of our new Share the Plate Program, which is on track to give away over $20,000 to our community partners in homelessness, domestic violence, suicide prevention, immigrant support, international support, and direct food relief by the end of this church year.
The Stewardship Team is also responsible for the reverse-offering program where we gave the church money in a worship service rather than collecting it, resulting in $800 of money being handed out and that money growing to at least $15,000 of impact into the community as you worked together and “passed it on” as a part of the good news of the Foothills Unitarian Church furthering the reach of love.
On top of all of this Stewardship oversaw our highly successful canvass, where we saw a 10% increase in our pledges and about 40 net additional pledging households, with over 25 canvassers personally speaking to about 25% of the congregation.  And although the increased pledges were meaningful, just as important were the personal connections we heard many people made by reaching out one-on-one and talking about what they cared about and why.
Young Adult and Campus Ministry 
We launched full campus ministry this year led by Chris Sharp and lay student leaders Kelly and Rosalinda. We are anticipating regular worship gatherings on campus in the fall and strengthening our partnership with the Gellar Center.  Chris also helped to strengthen our young adult ministry this year, adding targeted support for our parents of younger children as well as a Sunday evening vespers/small group opportunity.
Transition Team
Our Transition Team, formed in the Fall, has led the way in our review of our past, celebration of our present, and our looking ahead to the future.  This began in the fall with our history wall and our chalice-lighting reflections where members shared about their experiences in each of the decades of the church, and continued with workshops and conversations leading to the creation of a covenant of right relations.  The Team then moved into the leadership of our appreciative inquiry process, which resulted in a strengthened positive sense about what we care about in our congregation.  This Team is now turning its attention to meeting with every group, committee and team in the church to check in around how it is doing, how it sees itself as connected to the wider community, and to help it gain the support it needs to move forward.
Partnership with Other Area UU Congregations 
We have grown significantly in our relationship with other UU churches in the area, especially in our connections across our staff teams.  We have started providing administrative support to the UU congregation in Loveland, and bookkeeping support for the church in Greeley.   In the coming year we will share a staff position with Greeley to address our membership and volunteer coordination needs, which will significantly strengthen our relationship across staff and members. Our ministers have met monthly with the ministers of other area congregations, and our staff has met twice with other congregations’ staff teams for shared learning and team building.
Final thoughts
I cannot conclude this report without an acknowledgement of the Board for its hours and hours of good, patient, and thoughful work this year.   So much of their work goes unseen, and it is hard to describe just how much they have done this year – it’s pretty amazing to consider that most of them have full time jobs and all of them have very busy lives – let us say thank you a thousand times!!  And I also want to lift up our staff team, who continue to bring this congregation so many gifts – their passion, energy, commitment, goodwill, and the skills they each bring to their jobs.  We are truly blessed!
It has been a big year with so much going on.  Surely not everything has been perfect, but we need to be proud of all that we have done, and stay focused on this goodness as we look ahead to the future.  I am so grateful for all of you and look forward to our continued partnership.
With gratitude,
Rev. Gretchen Haley
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