Thoughts On Unitarian Universalim, Grief, and Beloved Community

from Ximena Meissgeier

About a year ago, I attended my first Unitarian Universalist service. I watched Rev. Gretchen speak candidly but gracefully about progressive issues. I laughed when Rev. Sean made a Beyoncé joke, and I was engulfed by the way the church had notes of my past traditional religious life, but yet it had its own spiritual energy. When the song “Come, Come Whoever You Are” was sung, it struck my core. I was what the words said. I was a “wanderer worshiper, lover of leaving,” and then I knew that this was now my church, my sanctuary, my family.

Since then I have had many religious experiences. I volunteered with the congregation on numerous projects, I listened to many services that healed my wounds, and felt the emotional support I had so desperately needed. One thing I had not experienced however was the death of a loved one as a Unitarian Universalist. Then my childhood friend passed away in a traumatic and unexpected way this past July.

I was drowning in grief. He was a bright and lively 20-year-old. He was the first person who told me Santa Claus didn’t exist, and he snuck me out to my first party in high school. How could this happen?

I remember attending the services following his death. I was so angry; how could these people be praying to a God who didn’t save this beautiful man. Didn’t they realize we were gathered here because their prayers didn’t work? I went through the motions of Christian ceremonies but was not present. The priest officiating the service said that now was our time to turn to our faith in Jesus and become strong through him. That did nothing to alleviate my grief. My mother assured me he was in a better place. All my friends posted Facebook pictures saying that they will see him soon. I even became jealous because as an atheist, I lacked the comfort that my Christian friends had. The following days were some of the lowest in my life.

Then came Sunday, and it was time to go to the UU service. While I was away, I had emailed Rev. Sean, about my loss, and he forwarded my information to a grief supporter named Karen. I had never met her before, and I wanted to thank her for calling me and checking up on me as the days passed. Those calls meant a lot to me. I have yet to come out as a UU to my family and I could not express my thoughts on death with anyone. But she listened. She texted. She was there.

As I walked into the church, I bumped into Christopher Lamb, a lifelong UU who is about to become the interim minister in Boulder. I had previously spent a lot of time with Christopher and his wife Amber at the Spirit Quest Camp. I often tell my husband that they are my #marriagegoals because of how they treat each other and how they treat the people around them. I told Christopher about what I was going through, and he looked at me like he cared. Which I knew he did, by the way he listened with patience and offered his condolences. Later, he sent me an email with resources about the grief process.

After church, I finally felt like I could start to breathe again.  I don’t know if it was the way I was greeted when I walked through the doors, or how my spirit was at ease after singing with the congregation. Maybe it was hearing my friend’s name during the service, how his life was acknowledged within my own church walls. Through my pain, I have only felt closer to the church. I have read more about the core UU belief and have felt a greater sense of connection with the faith. I know what type of UU I want to be. I want to be daring like Rev. Gretchen, fighting for my beliefs. I want to make people smile the way Rev. Sean does. I want to volunteer my time like Karen, with a service that might not be exciting or fun, but nevertheless crucial to the church, and like Christopher I want people to know that I will always be there for people when they need it the most.

The UU principles look great written on paper. They were written with lots of wisdom and they truly made a unique faith. But the UU principles embodied by real people are beautiful. They are what keep me coming back to church every Sunday.

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Foothills Holiday FUNdraiser Sale & Spring Booklovers Booksale: Join us for This Year’s Experiments in Fundraisers

Foothills Fall Sale Recruitment.pngThe Foothills Rummage Sale has been, for nearly three decades, legendary. Both for people within our church, and for our wider community.

However, a lot of conversation and review by volunteers and staff in the last couple of years culminated in a decision a few months ago to take a time-out from our regular Rummage Sale – at least until there is a new and bigger building.

During this time we hope to try some new experiments that will engage some new energy and leadership, feel like less work, and not run into the same space constrains we’ve run into in the past.  We also hope to place the sense of fun and community-building that so many appreciated about the Rummage Sale at the heart of these experiments.

The first of these experiments will be October 20th when we hold a Holiday FUNdraiser.  We’ll focus on selling holiday items (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, New Year’s), as well as asking for any second-hand costumes (or good gear for potential costumes).  We’ll be holding a costume-making workshop, as well as a photo booth.  We’d love to see people get their costumes at the sale and wear them to Pumpkin Carving the next week!

We’re looking for a team to help make this fun event happen…..

  • Idea generators to flesh out the concept
  • Planning & organizing types to work out the details
  • Leaders willing to take a part of the idea and run with it
  • Worker bees To sort, organize, cashier, and support (We’ll be collecting items the Sunday before, and be done within a week – so the time commitment for this part is pretty low – but so important!!)

If you’re interested, please email Diane Banta at dianebanta@sbcglobal.net.

And, start to collect all your holiday items as well as your costume-worthy clothes! We’ll be collecting them from October 14 – 19th.

The second experiment we have in mind is for March or April, when we’re planning a Booklovers Booksale.  We’ll fill the hall with all our books we want to share, and there will be a story-time for kids – and adults! As in, we’ll invite you to share in story-hour type formats your favorite books around particular topics. If there are multiple copies of a book, we’ll lift them up as a possible book club.  We are just beginning to form the leadership team for this (we haven’t even officially set a date) so please let me know (gretchen@foothillsuu.org) if this sounds like fun to you and we’ll get rolling!  But in the meantime, be sure to save your books for drop off around February.

One thing not changing this year….we are still on for our regular Auction! Save the date for November 10th! 

All of these fundraisers are both great ways to build community, and support all that we do together – all the services and programs and groups and ways we impact the community.

It was strange not to have the Rummage Sale this year! But I’m excited for some of these experiments during this transitional time. I hope you’ll all join in the fun so we can learn and grow together, all while supporting the important work that we do together at Foothills.

Foothills Garden Blooms With Beauty and Opportunity

from Karen Marcus

If you’re new to Foothills, or simply haven’t fully explored its grounds, give yourself a treat by visiting the hidden gem on the southeast side of the church. There you’ll find a large garden that grows beans, spinach, tomatoes, cabbage, onions, raspberries, fruit trees, herbs, and much more.

The garden was started in 2006 by Bob Jones, who had gardens in New Zealand and Maine, where he traveled twice per year. Jones spent some time convincing the church board and minister at the time that he could turn the hill on the southeast side of the church — which then consisted of gravel and fill from the church building — into a thriving garden.

Jones’ original vision for the garden was to create a spot of beauty on the church property that would:

  • Provide a learning opportunity around sustainability and environmental issues
  • Provide fresh organic produce for congregants
  • Meet one of our social justice principles by providing organic produce for the Food Bank
  • Connect with the earth and build community around gardening

When the board and minister finally agreed, the garden was started with help from others, including Janet Brubaker who now leads the gardening team. “Because of what it was to begin with,” says Brubaker, “it took a lot of effort to make it productive. But, we started slowly, and over time it has grown to the size it is now. We make every effort to be good stewards of the land. For example, we rotate our crops to help sustain the soil, and periodically take some beds out of production to rebuild them.”

The current team of several dedicated gardeners communicates by email to set their schedule; they work about 100 hours a month. Brubaker says, “We begin growing our produce early in the year at our homes to have it ready to put in the ground in the spring. We’ve developed a number of ways to help protect the garden from the elements in the challenging Colorado climate. Trying to keep all the plants safe is one of the things that makes the garden a learning experience.”

Brubaker notes that the church has been generous in providing a budget for purchasing seeds, a water line for drip irrigation, and protective coverings for the plants.

Foothills Garden

The gardening team then sells produce to congregants, making enough money to pay back the money from the church. In addition, the team gives produce to the Food Bank, up to 700 pounds each year.

City of Fort Collins officials have noticed all this hard work and, for the last several years, the garden has been selected to participate in the Nature in the City program. Brubaker explains, “The program was developed to track the number of birds, bees, butterflies, and other insects in the city and notice any decline. We’re very proud that our garden has been chosen for this program. It’s such a lovely place, and it attracts many pollinators that are so vital to our food production.”

Brubaker says the team welcomes new gardeners.

It’s a perfect way for families to spend time appreciating nature together, or for seniors to get outdoors. “We have many opportunities for people of all ages and skill levels,” notes Brubaker. Anyone interested should call her at 970-286-8088.

The Foothills blogging team is also looking for new members to write about church activities, themes, and teachings. Anyone interesting should contact Kathryn at 970-493-5906.

 

Letters to Ingrid

from Ximena Meissgeier

Spirit Quest is a seven-day summer camp for Unitarian Universalist middle schoolers. This was my first-year volunteering as a counselor, and one of my duties was to come up with a service project that the campers could do. Immediately, Ingrid Encalada came to my mind. Ingrid is now taking refuge at the Boulder UU church, and she often comes to mind when I hear disparaging comments made about immigrants. She is a mother of two young children, who once had the courage to come to America in search of the American dream. Today, her only dream is to care for her children, which she does out of sight within of the church.

I explained to the children the story of Ingrid, but I did not expect that most campers already knew about her story, even if they were not members of Foothills. I encouraged them to write letters to Ingrid showing their support for her fight.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Dear Ingrid, do you remember me? My name is Graciella, I played with your two sons. I hope you are doing alright, please tell them I said hi. We love you and support you at Foothills” -Graciella

“Dear Ingrid, I am sorry our President is dumb and doesn’t see you like I see you. You are the most courageous woman I know. Please Stay Strong.”  -Mia

“Dear Ingrid, Do you like pizza? I do. I hope you can stay in America, I want you here.” – Kian

The following weekend, I went to take the letters to Ingrid in Boulder with my husband. My intention was not to crash a wedding, but that’s what ended up happening. As soon as we opened the doors to the church, we walked into the middle of a wedding ceremony. I quickly walked to Ingrid’s room before the bride could see us. When I finally found Ingrid, she was at the playground with her sons. I greeted her in Spanish and her eyes lit up.  I realized she probably had not spoken to anyone in her native tongue for some time. 

My husband motioned Bryant over, threw a soccer ball on the ground, and began to play with him. Immediately, they started to do tricks and became engulfed in their game. I told her, “Well, at least they will be tired tonight with all this exercise.”  She looked up for a split second and shrugged.

“No, they will be up all night because our room in next to the hall where the party is being held. The music will keep them up well into the next day.” I never thought about that, what life is like living in a church.

I sat next to her and showed her the handwritten letters. When I came across one that read, “I hope you don’t get deported, and stay in the U.S.” My heart stops. It was too late, I didn’t read this one before. But I had to read this aloud since she had already seen it. I translated the letter and reality truly hit me— this is why I am here. Ingrid is going through a battle and the outcome might be losing her children.

Her youngest tugged at her constantly. He asked her to open his juice and hugged her tightly when the wind picked up. He feared the noise the wind was making, and I realized just how dependent these children are on her. Ingrid pressed her hand on his back and comforted him. I looked into his eyes. Like Ingrid he has soft, peaceful eyes. I wanted to hug both and tell them that I am here for them. Instead, I picked up another letter and read it to them.

I wish I could tell Ingrid, “It is going to be okay,” but the truth is I am not able to. I do not know if she is going to be able to stay in the United States with her family. I can’t take away the anxiety she feels every night, not knowing what her future holds. I can only tell her that my congregation and UU’s everywhere are rooting for her.  At Foothills, we will never be afraid to be “too political” about issues that matter. I can assure her that we are working hard for her cause and that families are saying her name over dinner and are keeping her in their thoughts. I can tell her that her life is worthy of not only sanctuary but freedom as well.

Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network: Ensuring Justice

from Jane Everham

The Share the Plate for July was RMIAN: Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. During the month of July, we donated $3,000 to RMIAN. As you will see below, RMIAN’s mission and values are very aligned with our own UU values.

“RMIAN is incredibly grateful for the recent $3,000 donation from the Foothills Unitarian Church community. Your donation will support RMIAN’s work to provide free immigration legal services to individuals in civil immigration detention, as well as free immigration legal services to children throughout the state. Simply put, without RMIAN’s work, thousands of individuals in Colorado would be forced to confront a hostile and complex immigration system without having had the opportunity to talk to an attorney about their rights, and without an attorney to represent them and protect their best interests. Thank you for standing up for justice for all!”

Mekela Goehring – Executive Director

The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN) provides free immigration legal services to immigrant children and to adults in immigration detention.

Our Mission

RMIAN is a nonprofit organization that serves low-income adults and children in immigration proceedings. RMIAN promotes knowledge of legal rights, provides effective representation to ensure due process, works to improve detention conditions, and promotes a more humane immigration system, including alternatives to detention.

Our Values

We believe that justice for immigrants means justice for all. We respect the needs and celebrate the contributions of the individuals and communities that we serve. We believe our clients are equal partners in accessing justice. We value respect for all human beings, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or legal status. How many of our 7 UU Principles do you see here?

RMIAN is grateful for our support and donation. The money will assist any of the following services offered.

Donating money is one huge way to help RMIAN and there are others. If when worship ends you are looking for a way for your service to continue, read on.

RMIAN’s continued success relies on the commitment and generosity of its dedicated volunteers. RMIAN welcomes volunteers of all backgrounds and interests, including pro bono attorneys, interns, interpreters, researchers, medical professionals, expert witnesses, and others.

RMIAN’s primary volunteer needs consist of:

  • Pro Bono Attorneys
  • Mental Health & Medical Professionals
  • Student Interns
  • Volunteer Interpreters/ Translators

More detailed information is available at their website: https://www.rmian.org/

Welcoming Kristen Psaki, Our Ministerial Resident

from Rev. Sean

It is with great delight that I introduce Kristen Psaki, who will be serving as our Ministerial Resident this year. Kristen comes highly recommended from Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado, where she completed her ministerial internship this past year.

A residency is different than an internship. A residency is for those who have completed all the requirements to become a minister (degree, internship, chaplaincy placement, reading list) but have not yet met with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee (MFC). The MFC is the body that credentials UU Ministers.

When we learned that Darrick would be leaving his position this summer, we decided to increase Kristen’s position, initially at half time, to full time, so she could take over the Engagement Coordinator’s role in addition to her other responsibilities.

Kristen will work to support lay leaders and teams in newcomer ministry, justice ministry, small group ministry, and pastoral care. You can read more about Kristen below, but suffice to say, we are overjoyed to have her experience, presence, and skill joining our team. She will begin her work on August 20th, so please make a point of introducing yourselves to her when she arrives.

Kristen is a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York, NY. As a life-long seeker of Wisdom and Justice, Kristen’s Unitarian Universalist identity sits on the shoulders of a formative Christian childhood and an earnest adult search for the sacred. Called to work at the intersections of healing and justice, Kristen finds guidance in daily spiritual practice and the prophetic voices of queer people and people of color. She trusts in the transforming power of Love and believes church is where we come to remember our truest selves and to reconnect with each other.

She loves chocolate and coffee, separately or together, and savors every opportunity to gather around a table for a shared meal.