Third Service Experiment(s)

from Rev. Gretchen

Just about two years ago, we started talking about what we called the “third service experiment.”  Our Sunday attendance had grown exponentially, and we knew that if we didn’t make more space, people would start leaving.  Which didn’t feel aligned with our newly-voted-on mission statement of unleashing courageous love.

An expanded building was at least 3 to 5 years out in the future, so the Board charged the staff with adding a third Sunday morning service.

We were admittedly somewhat terrified, but then Christmas Eve came – where we have always had at least 3 services – and we realized it might not be so bad.  And we agreed, it was the right thing to do.  Finally, in February 2017, we launched the experiment, and immediately our service attendance grew by over 30%.

Critical to any experiment is seeking feedback, trying new things, and learning together.  Through practice and ongoing dialogue and a strong sense of partnership with the congregation, we learned so much in that first experiment – which lasted through May that year.  We learned what supports and systems we’d need (a lot), what volunteers we’d need (so many), and just how early people were willing to get up and come to service (8 am was too early, especially after daylight savings…).  We applied these lessons, and moved into a more routine pattern of three services in September 2017.

And still, as with most things in church (and life), it’s good to keep that sense of experimentation about these three services alive.  Because we know that what worked at one point may not keep working, we want to keep open to what will best serve the mission now.

One of the things we’ve been learning is that in the past few months, as we returned to the 3 services schedule, the 3rd service has been a little slower to pick up attendance to its numbers all of last year. We realized that while some of you were game to try out the later service for a while in support of making space for everyone (thank you!), the 10:00 service is just soooo convenient and filled with so many happy people!

From a worship-leaders’ perspective, we’ve struggled with what can feel like a strange shift from a full-house of 200+ in the 10:00 service, to the more intimate gathering of 60 or so at the 11:30 – and yet somehow we’re supposed to offer the exact same script.

At the same time, we’ve started to notice that the 11:30 has a certain vibe to it.  An energy seeking more space for silence, more ritual, more healing space, more calm. And there is an openness, and a really strong engagement.  Originally I was categorizing it as a “younger” demographic, but actually it’s a really diverse crowd.  Or rather, not a crowd….a diverse small-ish gathering.

So in the past few weeks, we have been experimenting again.  This time, trying to meet this smaller mid-day gathering with a worship style that fits its organic energy.

Simple things to begin, really.  We have moved ourselves closer to the floor, including sitting within the congregation – to lean into the intimacy of the experience.  We’ve added a participatory ritual to the joys and sorrows for more personalized engagement.  Looking ahead, we’re thinking about ways to reduce some of the talking in some elements to make more space for silence.  And other ways to work with – rather than resist – the different feel of this service.

We’re going to experiment in similar ways for three months.  After three months is up, we’ll hold feedback circles, and send out surveys, and see what we’ve learned, and how we want to apply this learning in the future.  Our goal remains to keep finding ways to best serve our mission, and to meet the real ministry needs of our community both as it is and as we are called to become.

If you’re curious about these experiments, and want to be a part of creating a healing worship-ful space together on Sundays, join us for our 11:30 service.  And if you do, I hope you’ll think of yourselves as partners in this shared learning.  After all, worship on Sundays is not a performance, like the theatre.  It’s our work together, our shared ministry, to create this space, and to show up with and for each other in service of a better world.

There is so much need in our world for healing spaces, and for authentic community.  In this third service – and for that matter, in all of our services, and in all that we do at Foothills – we can together try out different ways of to serve this need.  And we can (only) do this together.

See you Sunday.  Keep experimenting.

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What’s Not Decided On Election Night

from Rev. Gretchen Haley

Like a lot of people across the US, I spent much of Tuesday night watching election results come in.  As I did, I was constantly flashing back to the same night 2 years ago,  when the national elections went a direction that many people of progressive faith never imagined. I remembered – with quite a bit of detail – the Governance Task Force meeting I was in, the policies we were discussing, even as I started to get alerts on my phone, and texts saying “Oh, no….”

A few hours later I was home, and the worries became reality.  We quickly started to plan what would become an impromptu vespers service overflowing with a crowd of people needing a place to hold the shock, pain, fear, and grief, especially for those in our community who are people of color, immigrants, GLBT, chronically ill, disabled, or poor.

Two years later, I was at church again, as the returns starting coming in.  This time, in a Board meeting.  The Board was beginning to digest the data nearly 350 of you provided in our visioning sessions this last month.  As we began, we each acknowledged the lingering memories from 2016, and wondered together where this night might end.

Elections have consequences.  The families separated at the border, and the new make-up of the Supreme Court are two easy examples of the consequences of our last election.  Equally so, the increased engagement from many non-immigrants to the longstanding crises around our broken immigration system – including our own determination to become a sanctuary congregation, and to work even more diligently to address the needs for affordable housing and food insecurity in our own community.  As Gloria Steinem said of the 2016 election, there are upsides to the downsides.

And yet, when it comes down to it, voting is the easy part of democracy.  There are so many things that will remain undecided, even after all the votes are counted.  Which is where the harder part of democracy lives.  And also, the part that has the most potential for real impact in the long run.  The part where we live as citizens of our country, our state, and our city – every day.

Where we resist the forces of dehumanization, fear, polarization, isolation – growing in our country.

Where we re-humanize the “other,” and ourselves, even in the midst of these continuing fears, losses, losses of control.

Where we address the unresolved feelings of trauma, loss, pain, and violence that live in our bodies and in our bones – the stories that we carry from generation to generation both due to systemic injustices and personal failures and tragedy in our families and across our lives.

Where we unlearn and relearn, release and rebuild – entire systems of justice, kindness, equity, community.  To undo the consequences of lovelessness person to person, community to community, generation to generation.

Where we remain connected to beauty and gratitude, to our place in the web of life – interdependent and interconnected – of which we are simply a part.

As I said on Sunday, “There’s so much human work that was left undone, work that does not just go away with the passing of time.  Work of mending and tending, healing and transforming; holy work, spiritual work, religious work.  Work that asks us to step back from political affiliation as a stand-in for religion, and instead ask what our actual religion offers us, and requires of us in these times, in this moment.” (Check out the whole text of that sermon here.)

This is our work – as a church – long past any particular election day.  Work that pushes us beyond our comfort zone, and into that place where we can grow and change and become leaders of change in our world – and in our lives – leaders of healing, of transformation, of hope.  And also work that feeds us, and reminds us that we too are worthy of love, and belonging – just as we are.

Sitting there with the Board Tuesday night – looking over all of your values and stories and wishes and dreams – for this congregation, and for our world – it couldn’t have been a better antidote to the election returns coming in.  Because it reminded me, and all of us.  Regardless of who the Speaker of the House may be, or which propositions passed, or failed (but hey! nice work Larimer County on the mental health facility!!) – we have work to do.  Big work.  Joyous work.  Work of unleashing – as in: releasing something that is already there and that is just itching to be set free – courageous love.  And work to remember, and to practice, through everything, how love unites us all.

Bring Your Water (or Don’t)

To be honest, I’ve come to many Water Communion services empty-handed.  Forgotten what Sunday it was, or too busy to think about “special water” to collect.  Especially when the kids were really little.  It’s why during my internship, back when my kids were 2 and 4 – I decided we should order a bunch of little bottles with the Water Communion date on them and pass them out throughout the summer.  Maybe if there was a visual cue, we’d all have an easier time at the remembering.

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the rare experience of remembering to collect water! now…..to remember to bring it…..

Even with the bottles (that we now offer here at Foothills), it’s often been a struggle.  To bring the vial, to remember to collect the water, to bring the water back, to remember the water on the Sunday.  Instead of a grounding ceremony celebrating our wide welcome – as Water Communion is intended – it has sometimes felt like just one more opportunity to feel unprepared and out-of-sorts.

After a few years of leading Water Communion, however – I’ve started to think differently about these services.  I’ve started to see the ceremony as a lot less about the specific water someone has or has not brought, and a lot more about the communion.

The lines filled with people of all ages, some first timers, some who have been remembering and forgetting their water for decades, all moving together towards the front, sometimes tentatively, sometimes confidently, and finding there a bowl where others have shared, and then pouring in some of their own (we always have a little extra to share if you forget).  Watching how – magically, their added water both changes what is already there, but also simply becomes a part.  Singing together, being together, feeling connected to each other, to these traditions of Unitarian Universalism, to the earth, and to life itself.

We are living in these times where it feels like so much is asked of us that we feel unprepared for, and out-of-sorts.  And yet, this feeling does not lessen the need to act.    In the practice of Water Communion, we remember that in community, when we offer ourselves, just as we are, we already have everything we need.  Everything we need to do the next right thing, to take the next leap forward, to care for ourselves, and for this planet.

Water Communion is a tangible experience of this lesson, but it’s really the practice of our church and our faith all year long.  Showing up together, sharing our gifts (just as they are, today), the willingness to be a part, the creation of something more beautiful, more powerful, together.  Creating together a safe place where we can be “unprepared and out of sorts” in ways that help us grow, and change.  As Rabbi Alan Lew says it, “The time of transformation is always upon us. The world is always cracking through the shell of its egg to be born.” In community we are like midwives for each other, and for this world – cheering each other on, providing support, becoming still more alive, together.

This Sunday we’ll be kicking off the start of Fall at Foothills with one service for our whole community.  10 am.  Poudre High School.  Bring your water, or don’t.  Mostly, just bring yourselves.

the plunge (1)

 

The Six Sources: A Blog Series – Our 1st Source

For the next six weeks, Jane Everham will be sharing reflections on the Six Sources of Unitarian Universalism. Read her first post here, and check the blog next Tuesday for Source #2.

UU First Source –  Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.

I once heard someone say, “Experiencing spirituality in nature is easy.” The tone was derogatory, as if nature lovers take the easy way out. My response was, “So what?  Does spirituality need to be hard?”

Nature needs us now more than ever, and if more people experience the mystery and wonder of nature then all the better for the planet. And its inhabitants.

But what else is meant by transcending mystery and wonder? Is there more to it than enjoying and being renewed by nature? And what about the 1st Source’s call to “openness to the forces which create and uphold life,” where does that fit? According to Sara Smalley, a U.U. Seminarian at Meadville Lombard Theological School, our First Source is “the sacred text upon which our faith is built: not a hard-bound book, but the testament of our own lives.”  Huh? Anybody thinking, “What, me? My life is a sacred text?”

Time to ponder.

My pondering takes me back to my 34 years as a school psychologist in the public schools. A large part of my job was evaluating children to help determine why they were struggling to learn in school. I was one-on-one with kids for up to three hours during an evaluation. I was close-up – in their face. And let me tell you there is nothing as beautiful as the face of a child.

All children? Yes.

Close-up, all kids  are perfection in some way – in the shape of a facial feature, an innocent expression, or a  question that is startlingly honest. I loved watching them think, struggle with a question, problem-solving puzzles, or even try to manipulate themselves out of a task. Was my involvement with children the direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder?

I worked with programs serving the severe and profoundly disabled children attending public school. Teaching disabled children is a calling with its own set of rewards, far different from what classroom teachers experience. I watched in wonder at the love, compassion, and tireless care these teachers poured out on their students. When a teacher throws a class party because a ten-year-old finally learned to recognize his name – you know you are in a special realm – the realm of openness to the forces that create and uphold life, maybe?

I believe mystery and wonder and the forces that create and uphold life are all around us, and we just need to have our antenna out to experience them. Our busy lives tend to create too much mental clutter and static. Remember the car wash sign that  says, “Collapse your antenna to avoid damage.” Sometimes we need to “pull in” our spiritual antenna as an act of self-preservation, and sometimes life collapses it, but committing to fully extending your spiritual antenna is the way you will catch mystery and wonder.

The testament of my own life as a sacred text?  That is still hard to fathom, but when I link it to the beloved community and think of it in terms of “our lives” – the basis of our faith is the testament of our lives, my life does begin to resemble wonder and mystery.

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.

We’re Staying!

By Sara Steen, Board Member and Space Committee Member

The Board of Trustees and the Space Committee are delighted to announce that, after 8 months of intense study, we have determined that staying on our current site will be the best way for us to continue to accommodate growth and live into our mission.  

At the Annual Meeting on June 3, the Space Committee presented an overview of the work it has done since October to reach this conclusion.  The full presentation, along with the Programming Report produced for us by inFusion Architects, can be found on the church website.  In this post, I’ll provide you with a summary of the year’s work leading up to our recommendation to the Board that we remain on site.

As many of you may recall, when the Board came to the Congregation in October, we had come to the conclusion that we would likely need to find a new site in order to accommodate the growth we have seen over the past several years.  We provided several opportunities for people to share their reactions to that news, many of which were deeply sad and concerned about what moving would mean for us as a community.  Based on your input, the Board asked the Space Committee to do a very careful assessment of our current site to see if there was any possibility that we could stay. The Space Committee hired a programming consultant, inFusion Architects, to help us with this task.

From January through April of this year, inFusion conducted a series of meetings with staff and congregation to identify what exactly our space requirements were and to do the detailed assessment of our current property.  Alongside the work inFusion was doing, the Space Committee did work to identify transportation options for remaining on site (parking is a major hurdle; there is simply no way to double the parking on our current site, so we needed to expand our thinking to come up with other alternatives); met with City Planners to identify city regulations that we needed to consider on our current site; and launched our first subcommittee, Communications and Engagement, to facilitate communication between the committee and the congregation.  

The final report produced by inFusion identified the following as our key priorities in the expansion process:

      • 400 seat sanctuary (more than double current worship space)
      • Double size of RE, social hall, kitchen, office suite
      • Minimize environmental impact, continually seek to embed green considerations
      • Maintain connection to outdoors
      • Create flexible spaces that can be easily adapted to different uses

In May, the committee worked diligently to develop decision criteria that would help us to determine whether remaining on our current site or moving to a new (larger) site would better enable us to live into our bold vision as a congregation.  Using the report produced by inFusion alongside the work the committee conducted over the year, we identified 13 criteria to consider in making a location recommendation to the board. These included things like cost, our ability to remain inside city limits, our ability to live up to our climate justice and social justice missions, future expansion ability, and transportation options.  We assigned a numerical weight to each criterion to acknowledge that some criteria should weigh more heavily in the decision, then we scored each location (current and new/larger) according to how it met the criterion. By multiplying the scores by the weights (full scoring can be found on the website), we concluded that there was a strong advantage to remaining on our current site.  We took this recommendation to the Board of Trustees, who approved it on May 24, 2018.  

Our immediate next step is to hire an architect to develop architectural plans for us.  This summer, we will be identifying architectural firms of interest, writing and distributing a request for proposals (RFP), developing and executing an interview process, deciding on decision criteria for choosing an architect, and finally conducting interviews and making a selection.  Once we have retained an architect, we will work with them to continue our conversation with the City of Fort Collins, and with Gary Schroeder of the Integrated Design Assistance Program which assists organizations invested in minimizing the environmental impact of building projects.

Our hope is that we will be able to come to the congregation in the Fall with an architectural plan approved by the Board for the congregation to vote on.  We will be hiring a financial feasibility consultant to help determine how much money we can expect to raise prior to beginning our capital campaign. Our fabulous communications and engagement subcommittee will be keeping you posted at every step along the way.  

This is a huge undertaking, and a massive milestone in the history of our church.  We want to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard. There are several ways to get involved.  First, we anticipate needing volunteers in a wide range of areas, including: finance/capital campaign, transition planning, exterior design (landscaping), interior design, and sustainability/green design.  If you have interests/talents/skills in any of these areas, please email me directly at professor.steen@gmail.com and I will add you to our ever-expanding volunteer list.  Second, we will be holding a series of forums in the coming months to provide opportunities to hear from you on a number of specific questions–stay tuned.  Third, you can always find updates on what we are doing on our social hall bulletin board or the update section of our church website; there are tools for you to provide input in both locations.  Finally, the space committee meets weekly on Tuesdays from 12:30-2:30 in the RE building (typically room 22); our meetings are open to anyone interested in knowing what we’re up to.  

We are so grateful to be part of such a dynamic congregation that is up for this challenge, and are looking forward with great excitement to continuing this journey with all of you. 

An Exegesis of the Reading from James Luther Adams

There was a version of the sermon on Sunday that included a full exegesis of James Luther Adams’ reading…but as you heard – or you’ll hear in the podcast – that version wasn’t the version that made it to the service. Too much else I wanted to say….
But, I know JLA is dense, and especially since the reading comes at the end of a long essay filled with all sorts of other ideas that culminate in this section….some might find it helpful to have a little more commentary….So, for those of you who fall into that category…my JLA exegesis on this reading on conversion.
First, the context for this reading – it is an essay he calls, the “Root Ideas of Human Freedom: The Changing Reputation of Human Nature.” In it he is exploring the relationship between rationality/rational order, human freedom, choice and the nature of the human being, in a theological sense.  It was first presented at a meeting of the American Unitarian Association in May 1941.  You can find the essay in the collection of his essays entitled On Being Human Religiously (check out esp pg 40 – 54; this quote is from pages 53-54).
Throughout this essay, his motivating question – as I talked about on Sunday – is: what would create a liberal religion that would be able to effectively resist Fascism if it came to the United States?  That is, a religion that would motivate and organize people for real impact in history.
He diagnoses the problem as being liberal religion’s optimistic orientation towards human nature, as well as its over-emphasis on the individual, rather than the corrective of the “association,” which is his term for the group you associate with.
Right before the section of our reading, he’s talking about our struggle to engage with the destructive portions of life and human nature, and instead an over-reliance on restraint, and reason, as if those could save us all.  Here he starts to build towards one of the main points – reason alone can’t save us.  Lots of people know how to reason – but that doesn’t mean they actually have the motivation, or the orientation, to direct their energy towards collective liberation and healing.  For this, it requires the “affections” of the heart.
As the reading says, “It is not reason alone, but reason inspired by ‘raised affections’
that is necessary for salvation. We become what we love.”
It is hilarious to me that he’s describing how we need to better engage the heart, and he does so with such a restrained term as “raised affections,” but I also find it endearing.  He swims in this water too.
Also, before the reading, he describes how we need to reckon with the enormity of the evil that exists in the world – we need to get in touch with it – so that we can motivate the necessary will to actually address it.   At the same time, we need to reckon with the capacity for evil that exists within us – and the ways that our choices enable the evil in the world.  He encourages a kind of individual repentance – a seeing-clearly that connects with a desire for change –  that can foster world repentance – what he ultimately calls individual conversion (change) that leads to societal conversion.
Back to the reading – he wants to be clear that it isn’t that he thinks there is no place for the rational, or the intellectual approach in manifesting change, “Not that information and technique are dispensable. Even a St. Francis with commitment to the highest would be impotent when confronted with a case of appendicitis if he did not recognize the malady and did not know what to do.” 
St. Francis – huge heart, right? Can’t solve all problems just with that heart.  He needs information, education.
And so, JLA acknowledges: “One sector of the problems of society is its intellectual problems. Here no amount of goodwill alone can suffice. But something of the spirit of St. Francis is indispensable if the benefits of science and of society are to be in the widest commonalty spread, and for that matter, if even the intellectual problems are to be dealt with adequately.” 
I really think that climate change is the best example right now of this insight – we need the science, we need the scientific options for where to go next – but we cannot solve climate change – we won’t have the will, and we won’t actually find the right solutions if we don’t also engage the heart, what he’s calling, “the spirit of St. Francis.”
He goes on, “The desire to diagnose injustice as an intellectual problem as well as the power of action to achieve a new form of justice requires ‘raised affections,’ a vitality that can break through old forms of behavior and create new patterns of community.”
This is a really complicated sentence – I take from it his sense that you can’t get people to even hear the “intellect,” (the climate science), let alone take the action required to fix an issue, without first touching their hearts.  Because you have to change people’s behavior, and create new relationships, and new commitments.  It’s really hard.  Information alone, analysis alone, rationalism alone – cannot do it.
I left out a sentence in the reading, but in the text, he also adds this line at this point: “But the raising of the affections is a much harder thing to accomplish than even the education of the mind; it is especially difficult among those who think they have found security.”
This is the challenge of getting privileged people to care about the suffering of those who do not share their privilege.  It requires what Bryan Stevenson calls “getting proximate.”
He goes on to describe how religious liberals have often failed to stimulate this heart-opening experience, as he says, “This element of commitment, of change of heart, of decision, has been neglected by religious liberalism, and that is the prime source of its enfeeblement. We liberals are largely an uncommitted and therefore a self-frustrating people.
We focus on changing people’s minds – but we fail to engage the heart, to meet ourselves and the world in our real brokenness.
As he says, “Our first task then, is to restore to liberalism its own dynamic and its own prophetic genius.” 
One of his main projects is to help liberalism claim its power.  As one of his other essays says, “liberalism is dead. long live liberalism.”
And here he turns to conversion: “We need conversion within ourselves.” 
By this he means – change, starting with repentance – a clear-eyed look at our own brokenness, and the world’s.  Our own capacity for destruction, and society’s.  To see and more importantly, to feel the human capacity for destruction, and how, either directly or indirectly, we are all a part of this suffering.  (Remember, he wrote this in the context of Nazi Germany where he had been working along side the Confessing Church movement, attempting to overthrow the Nazis. There was a time where I wondered if or how his urgency translates to our world today. I don’t wonder this anymore.)
He does not mean to instill guilt, or shame, but only a sense of our responsibility, motivated by love.  Love for others, love for the world, love for life itself.
As he concludes: “Only by some such revolution can we be seized by a prophetic power that will enable us to proclaim both the judgment and the love of God.  Only by some such conversion can we be possessed by a love that will not let us go.”
It is the change of heart that fosters the necessary commitment to stand alone in transforming the status quo – the status quo of our individual lives, or of society.  Conversion is a transformation of heart – a revolution of the heart – that comes when we feel this deep connection with our fellow humans, and take a personal sense of responsibility, because we are bound up together in this transcendent, ultimate, and universal love.
I hope that this helps a little in making sense of the JLA – and helps us keep the conversation going about this idea of conversion! It’s one of my favorite topics, so please feel free to comment with your questions or further thoughts.