From #MeToo to Easter – Making Space for a New Story

To call last Sunday’s #MeToo service “powerful” feels too small, too overused a word.  It was holy, it was terrifying, it was the beginning of something that we don’t yet totally understand.  (If you were not able to join us in person, check out the podcast here, or watch the full service here, and check out the text of the sermon here.)

Holding space with you as we traveled the path of our stories of pain, and shame, violence, and also resilience and resistance broke my heart, and also bolstered my spirit.  It was brave space that we made together, and also, it was just the beginning.

As I prepared for the service, I was struck repeatedly at the ways that the #MeToo movement connects so readily to the #NeverAgain marches that happened across the country on Saturday, and also the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the work for Immigration Justice and also environmental justice, and….because all of these movements are trying to address the dominant paradigm that says some lives matter more than others, that some voices and stories matter more – that we are not ultimately all in this life together.

It can be easy, when we start delving deeply into this work in the ways that we did on Sunday, to get caught up in the pain, or the shame, or to feel that these old stories we are fighting to change are in fact intractable, or to be overwhelmed at just how deep the dysfunction goes, including in ourselves.

Which is why, I’m so glad that the Sunday immediately following #MeToo is our Easter Sunday.  Because Easter reminds us that it’s never too late for forgiveness, for healing, for reconciliation, for redemption.  It’s never too late to imagine a new story, even one that feels at times impossible.

So, come on Sunday, and let’s celebrate together, and remind each other – that we are still in the middle of a story that we are writing together, and that so much remains unknown, and out of our individual control – and, despite what we might think sometimes, that’s such good news.  Because then in the midst of some of the darkest days, there emerges Emma Gonzales, and Naomi Wadler, and the movement for Black Lives, and the intersectional work of the Women’s March.

Our task, as we gather, is to make space in our hearts, and in our lives, for all that is trying to be born, and to keep doing our own work that we can be shepherds of a new day, and a changed story.  And to give thanks, for this good and worthy work that we can do together.

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Foothills Students Add Their Voices to National Outcry for Stricter Gun Control

by Karen Marcus, Foothills Blogger

“Children are dying who could have been future leaders, scientists, or doctors.”

—Cameron Montague, Sophomore at Poudre High School

Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands or people participated across the U.S. and internationally in “March for Our Lives” protests to demand stricter gun laws in America. These events were spurred by actions taken by students in the wake of the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

On Wednesday, March 14 — one month after the Parkland shooting — students across the U.S. walked out of their classrooms to honor the 17 victims killed in that event, and to push lawmakers to enact new gun restrictions. Students from elementary, middle, and high schools — as well as some colleges — participated by marching, holding signs, and speaking about their experiences.

Fort Collins students had heard about plans for the national walkout, but the date fell during their spring break; so they scheduled their own walkout and rally in Old Town Square on Tuesday, February 27. The student-led demonstration attracted about 1,500 students and supporters, who carried signs, chanted, and engaged in a moment of silence for the Parkland victims.  

Many Reasons to Participate

Among the attendees were several young people from the Foothills Unitarian Church community. At a discussion about the event with Reverend Sean Neil-Barron on Sunday, March 4, the students said their reasons for attending the walkout included wanting safer schools and stricter gun laws. One asked, “Why should I have to learn to run for my life?” As part of the first generation that regularly participates in “lockdown drills,” they noted that lawmakers haven’t been listening to adults about this issue, so maybe they’ll listen to kids.

Cameron Montague, a sophomore at Poudre High School, said she never hesitated about participating in the walkout. “Social justice and activism have been a big part of my life,” she commented. She started the walk from Poudre to Old Town with friends, who had similar reasons for participating. “We all share strong beliefs about change, having our voices heard, and doing our part,” Montague said.

Piper Levinson, an 8th-grader at Lesher Middle School, participated in the walkout because it was specifically for kids. In addition, she said, it was conveniently close to home, and she was able to easily learn the details about how to participate. Levinson supports guns for sport, and may even try them when she’s older, but noted, “It’s ridiculous that there aren’t more restrictions — ridiculous that people can get an assault rifle with no mental health check.” She pointed out that, by at least one count, just this year, there have already been 18 gun-related incidents, and she finds herself wondering, “Am I next?”

Poudre High School junior Ted Davies had similar reasons for participating. He said, “The shooting in Florida just repeated the trend of school shootings using AR-15 assault weapons. I don’t believe the general population should be able to purchase them. They’re designed to kill people, and ordinary citizens don’t need them.” He would like to know why Congress hasn’t done anything yet, and would like to tell Senator Cory Gardner, “You need to take a progressive stance on gun control because the people you represent take that stance, and your job is to represent their views, not yours.” He hoped his presence at the event would contribute to getting these messages across.

Another big reason for participation in the event was a sense of fear that underlies students’ every-day lives at school. Both Montague and Davies said it’s become mostly a back-of-mind issue for them throughout their school days, but they do think about it at certain times, such as if they see someone unfamiliar at school. They ask themselves if that person could have a concealed gun. Recently, said Montague, a lockdown occurred at her school because of a disturbance in a nearby neighborhood. When teachers were asked over the school’s intercom system to check their email and close the blinds, but no explanation was given, she became genuinely afraid and thought, “This could be it.”

Drills for kids used to involve only instructions to “hide and be quiet,” but now they’re also instructed to “fight” if necessary. Davies said, “That possibility used to scare me, but now I’ve heard it so often that it doesn’t really register.”

A New Paradigm

The purpose of the walkout was to make student voices heard, as the people who would be most directly affected by a school shooting, and as soon-to-be voters. Students at the group discussion said their ideal scenario would be a world where everyone feels safe, where students don’t fear being hurt at school, and where people truly listen to each other. They noted that their intention isn’t to take guns away completely, but to impose limitations on who has access to guns, and to eliminate access to military-style weapons.

Montague said she understands why people want guns, but, “The current situation is not working. Children are dying who could have been future leaders, scientists, or doctors. Our generation is the future, and we’re being killed in the places where we’re supposed to be learning how to be the best we can be. What does that say about us as a society and as part of the human race?”

Levinson thinks gun control should mimic the types of restrictions we place on other dangerous items, such as cars and drugs. She explained, “With cars, their purpose is to drive, but they do kill many people every year; with prescription drugs, their purpose is to help people become healthier, but they also kill sometimes. With both of these things we have a lot of restrictions in place to prevent those negative outcomes. Why shouldn’t it be the same with guns, since their sole purpose is to kill?” Davies agreed: “Assault style weapons designed to kill people shouldn’t be covered by the second amendment because they’re a danger to society when in the wrong hands.”

The Foothills students spoke about the influence of the NRA in the gun restriction debate. They want to send a message to the NRA and the politicians supported by it that kids’ lives are worth more than the money they’re getting in exchange for not acting on citizens’ desire for tighter gun restrictions. Levinson noted she’s pleased that some corporations are cutting ties with the gun-rights group. “I think it’s really effective,” she said. “It shows they put their values above money, that they’re serious about this issue.”

Hope for the Future

Students at the group discussion described their experience with the walkout and rally as “overwhelming” (in a good way), “powerful,” and “feeling like a part of something bigger.” They noted a sense of unity as they started walking from their schools to Old Town with their own classmates and peers, and as they were joined along the way by students and supporters they didn’t know, and encouraged by observers who cheered, honked horns, and held “you make us proud” signs.

Levinson said, “The most inspirational part for me was how passionate people were. They took it really seriously. It was very moving, because usually kids don’t get a say in these things, and the event was centered around kids, not adults.”

Davies commented, “I thought, wow, a lot of people that go to other schools in this town really do care about this issue. Seeing that all these people care, it’s a surprise that nothing happens in D.C.”

The event created a sense of hope that these students would like to see continue. Being in dialog with friends, fellow students, and caring adults at Foothills, as well as becoming more informed and active are ways they’re perpetuating that hope. Davies said he’ll try to speak out more when he sees things like this happen, and make his voice heard at future events. He added, “Our generation can do a lot. In the next few years we’ll have the right to vote, as some of my friends do now. Elections will be influenced by us and how vocal we are about topics that are important to us. And eventually some of us will get into office and put our views into action there.”

Montague said, “The event showed me there are so many other people who support and believe what I believe. Now I know there are hundreds of teens that want gun reform; it’s refreshing how many there are, and how many voices are speaking out for peace, change, and action.”

Foothills Announces Support of #MeToo movement

For Immediate Public Release – Full Text

Foothills Unitarian Church is proud to announce our upcoming plans to explore and support of the #MeToo movement, which seeks to end the silence around sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct that people of all genders, and especially women, have experienced, and to draw attention to the magnitude of the problem.    

On Sunday March 25th at 8:30, 10:00, and 11:30 am, Foothills Unitarian Church will launch our public exploration of #MeToo, in a service that will feature story telling, testimonies, ritual, powerful music and theological reflection.

In addition to this service, we will also be changing our signs on Drake – well established in Fort Collins since November 2016 as a much-needed acknowledgment of love for all people, especially those on the margins – to align with our equal support for the #MeToo movement.  Look for these new signs no later than March 25th.

Concurrent to the second and third services (at 9:45 and 11:15), Foothills community member Hudson Wilkins, a counselor who specializes in sexual assault recovery, will be leading conversations on how to be an ally for those who have experienced assault or harassment.  

Additionally, we will be holding a series of conversations aimed at men, hosted by two of our members who are trained facilitators in our lifespan sexuality education program (OWL).  We believe that it is important that as we lift up women’s voices and experiences, we also engage in the re-constructive education to address long standing misunderstandings and harmful cultural norms that have caught men in a culture of toxic masculinity and left them unsure about how to be good allies and companions to women in this cultural moment.  These dates are being finalized.

We consider all of these actions to be the beginning of an enduring commitment to enable a culture change in our lives, in our congregation, and across Northern Colorado and beyond.  

In these days where too often churches are a part of silencing women’s voices, or devaluing sexuality as a part of a healthy and whole life, Foothills Unitarian Church is proud to support the #MeToo movement.  We are proud to be a church that believes women, believes in telling the truth, and believes in working together to create a future of real healing, wholeness, and reconciliation for us all.

For more information about Foothills and the #MeToo movement, contact Rev. Gretchen Haley at gretchen@foothillsuu.org.  For pastoral support related to sexual assault, harassment, or misconduct contact Rev. Sean Neil-Barron at sean@foothillsuu.org.

An Update on Music Visioning and Music Director Search

From our Music Visioning Task Force Sue Sullivan, Gretchen O’Dell and Herb Orrell

After a busy autumn conducting interviews with notable music ministers across the country, holding feedback circles with choir members and other groups inside the church, and gathering feedback from the congregation at large via an online survey that was completed by 88 members, we have a great deal of information to sift through to craft a vision for music ministry at Foothills.

But with the departure of administrator Carolyn Myers in December, we felt that trying to hire a new church administrator and a new music director was a tall order.

In order to do the best job of both, we opted to ask Chris Reed if he would be willing to extend his interim director position. He has agreed to continue serving as interim music minister through December, after which he will be returning to graduate school to finish his PhD and pursue his academic passions full-time. Chris has become beloved by choir and the congregation of Foothills, but his first home is academia. We are deeply grateful for the calm, comforting, and affirming hand he has brought to our music ministry in this time of revisioning.

With our musical direction needs covered through the end of the year, the music visioning task force now expects to finalize the Music Ministry Vision next month and share it with the congregation for your feedback.

This vision will describe the purpose of music in our church, the ways music shows up in our congregational life, and what impact our music ministry should have within the congregation and in the larger community. It will also include qualities that we desire in our music minister.

By September, Foothills will assemble a separate search team to create a position packet for applicants that would be disseminated in a nationwide search. Interviews could begin by the end of the year and final candidates could be invited out to meet us by April of next year, with the expectation of hiring a new music director by July of 2019.

After Chris leaves us in December, we plan over the next four to five months to hold a series of music residencies. The initial residencies will be filled by well-known consulting music ministers who will come for several weeks at a time and work with our congregation, both to provide for our musical worship needs in the interim period and to help us prepare to welcome a new music director. By spring, our finalists for the position can be the music directors in residence, so that we can get to know each other before making a final decision.

We do know that we should have a full-time music minister position, both for the needs of our congregation and to draw the best possible candidates. We estimate we will need to raise another $25,000 a year in pledges to cover this cost,  but we are confident that we can make this happen!

Look for the draft music ministry vision in the coming weeks. We are very excited by the possibilities that this new vision for music in the life of our congregation holds for us!

#MeToo

#metooOver the last year, we have been inspired and strengthened by the the rising #MeToo movement, which seeks to end the silence around sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct that people of all genders, and especially women, have experienced, and to draw attention to the magnitude of the problem.

On March 25th, we will be holding a service exploring the #MeToo movement.  As a part of this service, we invite your #MeToo stories and testimony. We will be sharing small parts of these during the service. Please send your story to metoo@foothillsuu.org. If you want to remain anonymous, feel free to print up your story and mail it or bring it to the office in a sealed envelope and put it in one of our boxes.

Additionally, we invite all women to join in a women’s choir to sing the women’s march anthem, “I Can’t Keep Quiet” as a part of the service.  All who identify as women, regardless of singing background or ability, are invited and encouraged to join in. We will rehearse Sunday March 18th at 1pm, and Wednesday the 21st at 6pm. Please RSVP to chris@foothillsuu.org and he will send you the music and recordings for your part.

Finally, following each of the first two services on the 25th, we will be holding two conversations about being an ally for those who have experienced sexual assault, hosted by a newcomer to Foothills, Hudson Wilkins. Hudson is a local therapist whose practice focuses on healing from sexual violence and who heard about our #MeToo service and wanted to be a part of this important work. Look for more information in an upcoming Communicator or Sunday Bulletin.

Our history as advocates for lifespan sexuality education and our affirmation of healthy sexuality as an integral part of a healthy life calls and challenges us to be the church that explicitly supports the #MeToo movement. Join us on March 25th, and join us in this journey as we look ahead to building a healthier culture for all people.

In faith,

Rev. Gretchen Haley & Rev. Sean Neil-Barron