Church Governance – Boring but Important by Brian Woodruff

My favorite news magazine has a little sidebar each week entitled “boring but important,” and you may think the title would cause readers to quickly turn the page. Yet the sidebar often sheds needed light on why things work as they do in our world. At Foothills Unitarian Church, the way we organize ourselves to accomplish our collective aims as a congregation, from worship, religious education and social justice through paying the bills and keeping the furnace running is what we call governance, which I daresay some would find boring…and important.

Board members and many past and present church leaders, however, believe that we need to update our system of governance, because we have outgrown the current system that was put in place when we were a much smaller congregation.

To that end your Board of Trustees has appointed a Task Force to lead the congregation through a process to evaluate and update our governance and to recommend a governance structure to the Board. We looked for people that have the trust of the congregation, are able to make a two-year commitment, have demonstrated interest in governance and policy development, have good communication skills, and are able to set aside preconceptions and factional loyalties. Five people have agreed to serve on the Task Force: Bruce Wagner (chair), Jody Anderson, Tom Inscho, and Board members Elizabeth Stanley and Brian Woodruff. They will meet for the first time in early January.

The Board has approved the following charge to the Task Force:

“The Governance Task Force (GTF) will evaluate options and recommend to the Board a governance structure appropriate to our size as a large congregation and reflective of the expressed values of the congregation. The GTF will follow the general template presented by Dan Hotchkiss in his book Ministry and Governance (Chapter Eight) and will engage in an iterative process involving GTF reflection, board affirmation, and wider conversations with the congregation to develop a set of draft policies. The GTF will oversee a trial run of the new governance structure and policies, with periodic evaluation and review and adjustments as required. The GTF will be appointed by the Board of Trustees, and will be expected to complete its tasks by fall 2017 according to the governance change process timeline proposed by Hotchkiss.

The Board considers it essential that the process be communicated to the whole congregation, so that everyone can know what changes are under consideration, who will decide about them and when, and what opportunities members will have for input in the meantime.

We anticipate that it will take the rest of this church year to lay the groundwork for the change to a new system of governance, and that we would try out a new system in the 2016-17 church year. If the trial year is successful, any changes in our by-laws that may be required would be put to a congregational vote during the 2017-18 church year. Look for further announcements from the Governance Task Force in the coming weeks.

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What’s our mission? Let’s talk.

By Karen Harder, Mission Statement Task Force

Congregations exist to serve their owners.  But who is the owner of a church?  More specifically, who is the owner of Foothills Unitarian Church?

Dan Hotchkiss, in  “Governance and Ministry,” — the book many of us read together earlier this year in an effort to understand current thinking about effective and responsible church leadership — maintains the church is owned by its mission.

So quick — without looking it up on our church website — can you recite our mission?

Thom Belote, in “The Growing Church,” states that if we can’t recite our mission from memory, we really don’t have one.

Even if you could recite Foothills’ mission statement, how well do you think it does the job?  What should a good mission statement do anyway?

Hotchkiss says a church’s mission is the congregation’s unique answer to the question, “Whose lives do we intend to change and in what way?”  Hotchkiss maintains a congregation needs to know “the mission it belongs to, the real owner for whose benefit the leaders hold and deploy resources. “

According to “Holy Conversations,” by Gil Rendle and Alice Mann, the unique mission of a congregation is formed by its specific context, location, giftedness, and place in time.   We at Foothills have learned much over the past interim year about our specific context, location, giftedness and place in time.  We have the extensive work of our dedicated Ministerial Search Committee that informed our Congregational Profile.  We have the results of our Congregational Survey.  We have the provocative proposals from our Appreciative Inquiry process.   And we have had much dialogue about who we are and what we want to be.

What better time to revisit the topic of mission?  In doing so, we will reflect on what we have learned this year while building on and reinforcing work done before the announcement of the Rev. Marc Salkin’s retirement as senior minister.  Additionally, we will supplement it with your impressions and reflections here and now

Each Sunday between January 10 and January 31, the Board of Trustee’s Mission Task Force will meet with interested congregants in the sanctuary between the services for dialogue to help us refine our understanding of our mission.  We invite you to one or all four of these interactive sessions around the question of:  “What is uniquely ours to do?”   We will take your feedback and incorporate it into the Board’s review and reworking of our mission statement.   Our goal at the end of this work will be a mission statement that is memorable, meaningful and moving to guide us in our work ahead.

Please plan to join the conversation!

Shining our light

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As we were preparing for the vigil on Sunday evening, the Rev. Hal Chorpenning, Senior Minister at Plymouth UCC quipped, “I wish the news would stop giving us so many things to preach about.”

It was the 8th Night of Hanukkah, the third Sunday of Advent, a week before the Winter Solstice – all of these seasons of darkness longing for light.  We all agreed, there has been too much heartbreak, fear, violence and division – all requiring the response of the best of our religious traditions.   When the call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. started to circulate early last week – from a popular presidential candidate, no less – we knew we needed to step up and speak out as people of faith – do something, bear witness to another truth, another story of America, of humanity, of life.

As we gathered on Sunday, we remembered that the next day would be the anniversary of the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.  The children lost there are never far from my thoughts, and maybe even more, the children who survived, and the families left behind.  What story do they have of the world? How do they make sense of humanity, of life? How do they reclaim joy or goodness in a world where such a thing can happen? 

I can get lost in these questions and become overwhelmed by the grief, but then, something like the Vigil on Sunday night happens, and I remember hope.  I remember, like the song we ended the final Sunday of Candidating Week singing encourages – tenderness, kindness, friends – and that it’s only love that never ends.  I remember those words from Mr. Rogers to “look for the helpers,” and I remember the words attributed to Universalist John Murray, “You may possess a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of women and men.  Give them not hell, but hope and courage; preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.”

The paper reported over 200 were gathered, but I would guess more like 300-400 – and I would guess about 80 of those were from our congregation.  It was a cold night, and our plans weren’t totally clear, even to those of us doing the organizing (my summary of the first few moments of the event: the Muslims were inviting everyone inside, the Christians said we were gathering outside, the UUs were saying both ways were good, and the Jews just launched into “This Little Light of Mine.” Welcome to the real work of interfaith dialogue!), the parking was non-existent, and there weren’t enough candles for our candlelight vigil.

And yet still, the people gathered.  The people gathered to remind us all of another story of life, the story of human goodness and compassion and connection – a story of love over fear.  In turn the Islamic Center opened their space with warmth and hospitality to all who wanted to pray, offered hot drinks and treats, and took up an offering for the victims of the Shooting at San Bernardino.

Our own Christopher Watkins Lamb and Amber Lamb led the crowd in singing the Meditation on Breathing – the song UU Sarah Dan Jones wrote in response to 9/11.  Rabbis Shoshana Leis, Ben Newman and Hillel Katzir, Rev. Chorpenning, and Howell and I each offered prayers, and we closed the service by singing the song from Emma’s Revolution, “Peace Salaam Shalom.”  Later, I learned that the kids and youth were watching it all from the second floor, inside the Islamic Center – can you imagine their view as they looked out on all their neighbors coming to witness their love in the face of bigotry?  It was powerful, and holy.

Times like these ask us to get really clear about what story we are going to live out of, what story we will bear witness to, and what claims we are willing to stand out in the cold for – and then to actually step out and live out of this story and these claims – this faith.

I am so honored, and proud, and grateful, to serve with and among you, this congregation, and to live out our Unitarian Universalist bold claims of liberty and justice for all in this community – to shine our lights in the darkness together.  (When we talk about our “mission” as a congregation, this is exactly the sort of thing that we mean to be talking about – why do we exist, what does our community need from us, what does our faith ask of us?)  Sometimes I know it feels like it could never be enough, but as we each do our part, keep showing up – we make sure that the darkness will not overcome this light, this resilient story of love.

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Plans for the Ministerial Transition

Over the past few weeks, I have been working and planning with many of you, with the staff team, and with Howell. I have sought counsel from colleagues, and I have talked with UUA staff that I trust, most especially the Rev. Nancy Bowen.  Through these conversations, Howell and I have started to formulate plans and priorities that will move us through the next six months – the remaining time of the official interim.

During this time, Howell will remain as the Interim Lead Minister, and we will work in a close partnership to ensure a smooth transition before the end of his contract in June and my official beginning as Senior Minister in July.  Generally speaking, Howell will be leading and working on those efforts that relate to the intended work of the interim, and I will be leading and working on those things that establish the foundation for the future.  More specifically, here is a breakdown of our priorities and plans for the next six months. As always, we welcome your input, questions, ideas and partnership.  And, we’ll be sure to bring you regular updates here and in upcoming forums on Sundays (next forum: 1/10/16).

  1. Worship Leadership and Planning – Howell and I will work closely in worship over the next six months, hopefully offering a number of Sundays with both of us present!  We have created a calendar that has Howell and I each in the pulpit on average, twice a month, and Diana McLean, our Ministerial Resident will be returning once a month once she’s fully recovered from her injury.
  2. Pastoral Care and Support – I will continue to act as lead for pastoral care, including supporting our Parish Visitors and Caring Team.
  3. Mission Task Force – Mission is the reason we are here, why we exist, as a congregation, and helps us move forward with confidence together. This is why the Board has created a sub-committee to engage the congregation around our mission in the coming months.  It will build on and reinforce the work done a couple of years ago on our mission statement, as well as our Appreciative Inquiry and Ministerial Search Discovery Sessions and Survey.  Look for notice about conversation opportunities in upcoming Extras.   Howell and I will both be support for this important Board work.  
  4. Governance Task Force – As was discussed in the October Congregational Forum, the Board is appointing a Task Force that will oversee and coordinate our governance transitional process.  Generally, we will follow the timeline and concept outlined in Dan Hotchkiss’ book, Governance and Ministry that many of you read and discussed over the summer.  (Still available for check out in the office!).  Ministerial Lead: Rev. Howell Lind
  5. Personnel / Human Resources Task Force – We value our employees and being a just and good employer.  Which means, we need to be thoughtful and intentional in creating an effective structure that includes both professional and volunteer partnership in order to effectively and legally address all the many areas of personnel – from policies to organizational structure to compensation to benefit management and liability to work environment and professional development.  As a result, the Board will be appointing a task force to work with me to review current and potential new policies, to recommend an appropriate structure to address personnel issues (in collaboration with the Governance Task Force) and to address fair compensation for our employees.  This will result in an updated job description for our Personnel Committee, which we will re-institute at the conclusion of this Task Force’s work.  Ministerial Lead: Rev. Gretchen Haley 
  6. Committee on Shared Ministries – Previously known as the Committee on Ministry, this important team was put into recess during the transition, but as we move out of this transitional time, Howell and I look forward to its full re-instatement.  Howell will work with the Board to clarify its purpose, share that with the congregation, and gather up both past Committee on Ministry members as well as new appointees as we begin again with this group whose mission remains to ensure the health and vitality of our shared congregational ministries and the right relations of our community.  Ministerial Lead: Rev. Howell Lind 
  7. Stewardship and Finance – Critical to an effective transition is successful management of our financial resources, including a successful pledge drive.  I will start attending Finance meetings this month, and be a part of the Stewardship campaign and budgeting process that will begin in February.  As I said throughout Candidating Week, I am very much looking forward to this part of the senior minister role, as I find that when we speak openly and non-judgmentally about money and its role in our lives, it can be as healing as any other ministry we might engage.  I also find it so inspiring to experience people’s generosity in service of our shared vision – and this congregation is so generous, this is simply really fun work.   Ministerial Lead: Rev. Howell Lind 
  8. Search for the new Assistant Minister – I had a great conversation with the UUA Transitions Office last week, and as a result, we have now listed our opening for an Assistant Minister to begin next July or August with the UUA.  This is just a simple notice of a job opening. In the coming months, the Board and I will convene a few forums to hear about your ideas and questions about this position and your hopes for who might fill it. The Board will also be appointing a selection committee who will work with me to identify the right fit.  It will be a hired and contract position, for 2 years.  This will allow us the time and space necessary to think through what we want in the long run and to make sure we have the right person for the position.  Lots more information to come on this! Ministerial Lead: Rev. Gretchen Haley 
  9. Nominating and Leadership Development Process – Given all the ways our congregation has changed and the changing needs for leadership today, we know we need a more robust process to identify, train and continually develop leaders in our congregation.  As a result, Howell will be working with the Nominating Committee to clarify job descriptions and a process for identifying and developing congregational leaders.  Howell brings a wealth of experience in facilitating this process in many other congregations, and so we are lucky to have him with us as we address this very important need in our congregation.  Ministerial Lead: Rev. Howell Lind 
  10. Faith Foundations – I learned a lot over Candidating Week about the learning and reflecting opportunities we need to set a foundation for the coming years together.  I realized we need to be talking more about generational changes, the cultural shifts happening in society, the history of Unitarianism and Universalism – especially three of our sources – Protestant/Heretical Christianity, Transcendentalism, and Humanism – as well as trends in today’s Unitarian Universalism, the ideas and practice of covenant, and emotional/family systems. As a result, we intend to focus most of our offerings in Religious Exploration in the next 5 months in these areas.  We’ll offer opportunities in a variety of ways – classes, small groups, online options, spiritual practices, book groups, and forums – and in a variety of days/times, with a variety of commitment-level options, and targeted to all the life stages and ages present in our congregation.  Our hope and goal is that by the end of May, a good number of you will feel more confident and clear in these important areas of our faith so that we can set a stronger foundation for what we are up to, and why, as a religious community and as individual Unitarian Universalists.  Ministerial Lead: Rev. Gretchen Haley
  11. A few other important things: Howell will be initiating our new Hospitality Learning Community, helping us to enhance our welcome, especially on Sunday mornings.  I will be working with the Climate Justice Team, especially in March and April as we continue to strengthen our congregational engagement with sustainability and care for the earth.  We will also continue and strengthen our partnerships in addressing homelessness, economic justice and immigration and racial justice related issues – especially in the ways all these things are connected.  Our campus ministry is growing, we are offering targeted programming to meet all of life’s stages and ages in our community – from new parents to empty-nesters to elders, and we continue to experiment in partnership with the UU Church of Greeley to bring our values and faith to more of our northern Colorado community.

Phew! That’s a lot! Good thing it all sounds like fun and enlivening work! And good thing it is work done in partnership, with all of you.

Questions? Things I left off you are wondering about? Let me know.  As I said, this is an evolving understanding of what is needed and what will work best to facilitate a healthy and smooth transition in the next few months. I’m so looking forward to all that this second half of this church year will bring, and the foundation it will set for the many years ahead.  Thank you for all you have done, and all you will do to help bring all this goodness into our community and our world.

In partnership,

Gretchen