Next Steps for our Music Ministry

After good consultation with the choir, other music leaders, the Board, other UU music professionals, and hearing from many others in the congregation, we have settled in on this 3-phase approach for our next steps in our music ministry at Foothills.

First, the immediate future.  For the next 6-8 Sundays we will be working with the great deal of talent and generosity in our congregation to provide song leadership, music coordination and special music.  Occasionally, we may have guests from other nearby UU congregations who want to express their support and care for our congregation during this transition.  We will also be engaging a variety of accompanists both internal and external.  During this time we will be listening for things that work well, and learning from things that don’t.  Especially as this will overlap with the launch of our 3rd Service Experiment, we know not everything will go perfectly, but we know that the strength of our congregation and its generosity will sustain us.

We are especially grateful for choir member and retired choir director Bob Molison for stepping in to help lead choir rehearsal for the next few weeks, including preparing the choir to sing this Sunday, and for the upcoming memorial for Nancy Phillips.

Second, the interim next steps.  This position is a 3/4 time staff position, and again, we are about to launch three service Sundays – which means that we can’t wait too long before filling the position in a more professional way.  As a result, I have asked the choir to nominate people who they would trust to serve on an interim selection committee to help identify someone who can fill in for the next 6 months or so.  We already have three applicants for this position, and our target is for this person to start by mid March.

This brings me to the third phase, which is our long term position.  Our hope is that our Interim Music Director would help us to develop a vision for where music ministry needs to go next, including to help craft a job description for someone to apply out of a national search.  This was a great idea that the choir suggested – that we take this time to look at our strengths and opportunities for growth and craft a vision for our shared future.

Depending on the success of the pledge drive, this would be a position that is anywhere from 3/4 time to full time, and year round. As a large, creative, and energetic congregation in this amazing town, we should be able to attract an exceptional candidate to be a great addition to our staff team, and to our congregation. Our intent would be to have this person start by September, with a brief overlap with our Interim.

Please let me know if you have any questions.  I want to thank all of the many who have volunteered to help with our music ministry, and for your partnership as we imagine the next steps for our future.


My name is Patricia Miller and I am an immigrant.


Patricia Miller speaking at Foothills on Jan. 22nd

My name is Patricia Miller and I am an immigrant. I was born in El Salvador and immigrated to Colorado during my country’s civil war. As a middle class family, we owned a house, had a bank account, and had a good job that we could present as evidence that we were worthy of a US immigration visa. 11 million other immigrants who came here in search of a better life did not have the same financial advantages. But the violence, poverty and hopelessness of their situations forced them to immigrate too. In the words of Warsan Shire, “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

When Trump opened his presidential campaign by accusing Mexicans of being rapists and criminals, he tapped into a widely shared sentiment in our society. After he was elected president, I felt such frustration that I was compelled to do two things: attend a like-minded place of worship, and become an activist for good.
While the church I attended was ignoring politics altogether, Foothills Unitarian Church posted those beautiful signs out front; among them, “We love our Immigrant Neighbors.” Here I found people who were grieving the presidential election and all its divisiveness just as fiercely as I was. I became determined to pass that love forward.
At that same time, a local grassroots organization named Fuerza Latina, or Latin Taskforce, organized an Immigrant Support Community meeting. I felt called to this group for many reasons; the main one being that when people don’t have rights, they are easily and frequently exploited and they struggle to pull themselves out of poverty.
Undocumented immigrants are a net positive for public budgets – they contribute more to the system than they take out. But the value of immigration cannot be reduced to a spreadsheet. Immigrants do not simply make America better off. We make America better – through our entrepreneurial spirit, our low incarceration rates, our culture, and our strong family values we enrich our communities.
Through fact-based sharing of information, Fuerza Latina aims to build support for undocumented immigrants in our community. We want to destroy the myths and prejudices that have been burned into our collective consciousness.
Thank you so much for supporting the work of Fuerza Latina so we can build a more resilient and inclusive community. And thank you for opening your arms and your church to this immigrant. I light our chalice in gratitude and in the hope that we can continue to work together to welcome everyone and to seek for justice for all.

Want to get involved?

The Fort Collins’ Immigrant Advocacy Group Fuerza Latina has been organizing powerfully in the past few weeks, creating what they are calling This is Our Home, a network of grassroots committees working on everything from addressing hate speech and bullying in our community to working with the police and the city.  Join one of these committees and help our community be the place we want it to be. Contact Cheryl Distaso. Within our congregation, we are working to hold a workshop with the Interfaith Community about what it means to be Sanctuary Congregations, and to work together on providing safety for immigrants in our community as many other congregations have done over time.  If you’d like to be involved in this effort, contact Anne Hall.


Further Thoughts on Sean Neil-Barron’s request for Ordination from the Committee on Shared Ministry

We were happy to hold a well-attended informational forum between services Sunday, Jan. 8, to answer questions about the upcoming congregational vote on whether to perform our congregational role of ordination of a new minister into the Unitarian Universalist faith. This vote is the sole item on the agenda of the January 29th Congregational Meeting, scheduled for 10:15 am.

The questions at our informational forum highlighted what a complex process becoming a UU minister is, and we thought it might be helpful to outline the differences between the UUA-run fellowship process, the right of ordination that congregations hold sole responsibility for, and the separate act of calling a permanent minister.

Assistant Minister Sean Neil-Barron is currently serving our congregation on a one-year contract, which will end in August. Before that time, the Board of Trustees will convene to consider extending his contract to a second year.

Our vote on Sean’s request for ordination in no way affects that process or reflects any commitment to hire Sean on a permanent basis. The process of hiring a minister for a permanent position (associate minister or senior minister) is known as calling, and is a separate and much more involved congregation-level decision making process.

Ordination is a ceremony that also reflects our unique UU history of congregation-based decision-making — in particular, the right and responsibility of UU congregations to identify and name the ministers they see fit to serve our faith communities.

UUs have a long tradition of reserving certain rights for individual congregations that other denominations give to their governing body or diocese.

These congregational rights include self-governance, the right of congregations to own their own church properties, and the right to say if an aspirant is suitable to serve in our faith tradition. The latter right and responsibility is called ordination – when a congregation affirms that a ministerial candidate possesses the qualities needed to serve the Unitarian Universalist faith community.

Ordination happens once in a minister’s lifetime and cannot be revoked. It is considered a sacred duty and honor for a congregation to perform. It is generally requested after a ministerial candidate has entered preliminary fellowship with the UUA.

Which brings us to the process of fellowship, distinct from ordination.

To support individual congregations, the Unitarian Universalist Association created a Ministerial Fellowship Committee to be the credentialing body of the UUA and to ensure the quality of ministers who seek to serve UU congregations.

Ministerial candidates still in theological schools as well as ministers who are transferring from another denomination or are seeking to be accredited to serve in more than one religious tradition all become accredited through the UUA’s very rigorous Ministerial Fellowship program.

To become a candidate for ministerial fellowship, Sean and all other aspirants must have a masters in divinity or its equivalent from and approved theological school, have completed a clinical pastoral education program, an internship, and a long list of other qualifications, including demonstrating a strong motivation for our ministry, a balanced and healthy personality, a capacity for self-understanding, a concern for others, and ministerial leadership skills.

Obtaining preliminary and final fellowship through the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee is a lengthy and intensive commitment, a commitment that seeks to ensure the quality of the ministers who serve our religious tradition. Sean is 8 months into his preliminary fellowship, and is on track to complete it by 2019, at which point he will have his final fellowship.

He could have requested to be ordained by any of the UU churches he has previously been affiliated with, such as his home church or the church where he served his internship, but he waited to ask the first congregation that he served as an assistant minister.

This is a great honor for us and we, the Committee on Shared Ministry (which has, among its responsibilities, the job of evaluating Sean periodically during his preliminary fellowship process) believe that Foothills Unitarian has amply experienced the talents, abilities and passion that Sean brings to his professional calling — talents and abilities that have been verified and vetted by the UUA’s Preliminary Fellowship process — and that we are well equipped to make the decision to ordain him as a Universalist Unitarian minister,  thus allowing him to claim the title of Reverend Sean Neil-Barron.

The Future of Our Rummage Sale

The Foothills Rummage Sale has been a cornerstone of both our community-building and fundraising efforts over the past three decades.  The amount of time and care that so many have given on behalf of the Rummage Sale is truly mind-boggling.  This time and care has in turn resulted in up to $25,000 (at its peak so far) in funds to support our mission and vision in a given year.  Along the way, the Rummage Sale has been a great way for people to get to know each other and to build friendships that last far beyond the few weeks of the sale.  It’s also been a great way to serve our community, offering low-cost good-quality goods right as the school year returns and many are searching out bargains.

Over these same years, however, many changes have been happening both in the church and in Fort Collins.  In both, the population has grown exponentially.  Within Fort Collins, this population increase has meant that there are now multiple second-hand stores that are open throughout the year, so that our offering isn’t quite as value-added as it used to be. This is a relatively minor consideration, however, as we look at some of the other changes that have occurred….

Within our own community, our growth has meant that space is almost always tight – and as we have moved to a year-round schedule, while the summer is slightly less crowded, it is still often full throughout the week with programs and meetings.  Each year, as our community has grown, so have the donations (thank you!), and so the need for space and volunteers have also grown.  While we ask everyone to pre-sort their goods, we ultimately have more stuff than we have usable space, and this is frustrating for everyone.

Speaking of that usable space, as religious education classes for children and youth are active and well-attended throughout the whole year, the space available in the Classroom Building is less than it has been previously, and even when it is available, it is able to sustain a much lower impact as it needs to be reset to accommodate children and/or youth every Sunday – so clean up is very stressful.  (To help with this, we have experimented with moving the dates earlier in the summer, but this has resulted in fewer volunteers available due to vacations…we’ve wondered if moving to June would be better…?)

Also, over these years our leadership has prioritized holding worship every Sunday as central to our mission. This was especially made possible by the addition of a second minister in 2012.  Although we attempted to hold these services outdoors, our growing population and value to ensure the space is accessible to all made this not a viable alternative, and so this resulted in the sanctuary no longer being a place for the rummage sale to be held on Sundays.

The various space constraints are also made more challenging by a dwindling volunteer population resulting from two main factors.  First, our longtime volunteers are – much to their chagrin – aging.  They no longer can or want to volunteer in the same physically demanding ways that they have in the past.  Many have stepped down entirely while others have simply scaled back.  The vacancies left by these changes, however, have not been sufficiently filled by a new volunteer base – particularly in terms of taking management and leadership level responsibility.

Younger people today are often overly busy with two-career households and caring for both children and aging parents.  Free time is down – nationwide.  What free time people do have, they prioritize more direct-service, high-impact, and often short-term volunteer roles – for example, we have no problem filling our 25 twice-a-month Food Bank @ Foothills roles – we actually have more interest than we have volunteer slots – and these are all direct-service, high-impact and short-term roles.

This volunteer shortage means that the community and friendship building aspects of the sale just aren’t as great as they were in the past – because it’s more stressful to do so much work without enough people to do that work.  Also with the space constraints, the sale is spread out across more of our campus, meaning volunteers often work on their own – which may be good for some seeking solitude!  – but isn’t conducive to the laughter and fun times that many of us remember.

All of this – the population growth, the space constraints, and the changes in volunteering – lead us to wondering if and how we can continue our Rummage Sale in the next year – and beyond.  We need new leaders to emerge if we are going to be able to continue – leaders who will look at these challenges and find new and creative solutions, and leaders who are willing to take on a management level role.  We believe we will need at least four such leaders to step forward by February 15th if we are going to hold a Rummage Sale this year.

We hope all those who care about the Rummage Sale and who are willing to consider being one of these new leaders will come to a Rummage Sale meeting on Sunday January 22nd at 10:10 in the Sanctuary.  If you have questions before then, please be in touch with Pam Stevens (970-225-1223, or Ben Manvel (970-484-3249,, longtime dedicated leaders for the Rummage Sale.  So much good has happened as a result of this incredible effort, and now’s the time for us to work out the next good steps, whatever those will be.