Pausing the Holiday Rush

This week marks the beginning of advent, which in the Christian tradition is a season of anticipation, paying attention, and waiting.   It is a time that invites our intentional pause, and slowing down so that we might more fully notice all that is about to be born.

In other words, advent embodies precisely the opposite of what many of us are feeling this holiday time of year.  So often we spend our Decembers in a rush, filled up not with anticipation but with anxiety, overwhelm, and sometimes even dread.

This year, we could all use the practice of advent.  To listen more intentionally, that we might hear beyond the restlessness, to pause more fully that we might see beyond the rush, to breathe more deeply that we might know ourselves still becoming, to see all that is growing and beginning in joy.

During this holiday season, we invite you to join us for a time of greater intention, attention, awareness, anticipation, and joy.

  • Join us on Sundays for explorations of memory (12/3) and hope (12/10), as well as our special all-music Sunday on the 17th with a theme of JOY.
  • Also on the 17th, join our Earth Based Path group for a traditional casting of the circle in honor of Yule – set up at 5, ritual at 6.
  • On the 21st we’ll gather to welcome the return of the light for our special holiday vespers at 6:15.
  • On Christmas Eve (a Sunday this year!) we’ll have 4 services – 10 am (a “Kitschy Christmas” celebration), 5 & 7 pm (family Christmas services) and 9 pm (Lessons & Carols).
  • And on New Year’s Eve Sunday, we’ll celebrate Fire Communion at 8:30 & 10, and at 11:30 we’ll share in waffle church with an abridged Fire Communion service.

Beyond worship, join us on the 17th for our annual Holiday Craft Fair – a sure bet for any gifts you haven’t yet been able to find.  Also, look for news from Chris Reed on our new-this-year family holiday pick-up choir.

Over the Christmas week, we’ll also be hosting families experiencing homelessness with Faith Family Hospitality, and we invite you to sign up to bring and share in a meal, or stay over night.

Whether in worship, in community, in service together, or simply in the breaths that fill all the space in between all of these, and that flow through and connect us all – in these days, my hope is that we can all find that pause of advent in our holiday rush, and remember there what it feels like to anticipate with joy, to notice with wonder, to let laughter overcome us, to be filled with hope.  This is my hope, and it is also an invitation, to keep coming back to this pause – we can practice, and become, together.

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Sharing Joy – reflections on Sunday’s service from Foothills’ member Lindsay Tearman

When I pulled up to the church at 8:15 Sunday morning, I knew that something special was in the air. The streets were already lined with cars which is a rare sight for first service. When I entered the building, the energy was already moving around, and my morning coffee became less critical, as I was quickly energized by simply breathing it all in. There were a few of us that knew what was in store for the morning service, and the anticipation of how the it would be received was thrilling.

As Gretchen opened up with sharing stories of joy regarding Thanksgiving, I smiled as I had also found myself on the “Turkey Train” for the last week. Tables got a big shout out this morning, and rightfully so. We gather around them constantly at our homes or offices, as a central meeting place to share food, stories, or ideas. A table is a rarely thought-about symbol of unity, the unsung hero of holidays. There were a few questions presented to us, calling attention to various things that make us happy. Songs, places, foods, and we shared those answers with the community at large, as well as with our neighbors. It was a well-needed moment to have.

I don’t know about you, but I can find myself struggling to hold on to happiness sometimes. As we carry justice to our local and global families, it can feel like an uphill battle against the injustice that is presented to be prevalent. Sunday morning was a beautiful reminder of what we know is true- that there is wonder and love and light that is everywhere. That the source of our strength comes from ourselves and from each other, and the hope that we hold so dearly in our hearts. Sunday was a chance to tap into our happiness, and to revel in it with each other.

We also did something that we haven’t done in a few years by holding a “reverse offering” in which a two dollar bill was handed out to every single member of the church (adults and children alike). The mission we were tasked with was to take that $2 and find some way of expressing courageous love to our community. We could work together, work as a family or with neighbors, or by ourselves to come up with a way to share joy. I can’t wait to hear the stories that come back for this, and knowing that Northern Colorado is going to get a little boost of love in the next few weeks is endearing.

This was followed up by Gretchen’s announcement that a donor, who sits amongst us each Sunday and yet wishes to remain unnamed, received an unexpected large sum of money and in the wake of Charlottesville, decided to give that money to the church. This is incredible and inspiring, a huge momentum given to promoting all of the good that exists here.

I expected a shock wave of such an announcement to flood through the church. I wasn’t sure if people would faint or jump out of their seats (being from the South I have a perpetual expectation of a “big tent revival level of expression” at any church I ever attend), or perhaps confetti and balloons would shower from the ceiling. Instead, I noticed the community smiled at each other and nodded, with immediate acceptance of this most wondrous gift. I found it intriguing, as if there was a collective “Yeah, that totally sounds like something one of us would do”. Which to me completely reinforces who we actually are. We are the people that go about our lives, day-to-day, in a fashion that may seem outrageous and bold to others. The spirit of giving and loving and taking care of others is ingrained in us, all year round. This donation was given whole-heartedly, in the spirit of love. We are approaching the holidays as heightened expressions of love and gratitude, not viewing them as a single day to celebrate.

As I sat there, still thinking about exactly what I could possibly do with my $2, the choir took the stage. Their performance sung beautifully as always, and there was a power to their voices that flowed through each one of us. I found it interesting to think about what we are able to give to the world. The impact that a single voice makes, that is amplified by the others that join them- it fills the entire room. And it’s genuinely moving.

There is so much work to be done, but we are never alone on our journey. Side by side, we continue to share our gifts with our community, only to have that create a continuous energy that cannot be contained.

So it is up to us to continue to sing that song of joy, to hold that space of Hope even in the most difficult of times. It is the only way that we can be true to ourselves, and to fulfill our purpose here. One of my favorite proverbs is “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow”.  (Disclaimer: this was on a desk calendar I had many years ago, but it has stuck with me throughout time.) When we keep anything to ourselves, we deny others the ability to be a part of something that is bigger than us. I am so thankful to be a part of this community and I wish you all the most magical of holidays. May your hearts be filled with everything that is wonderful in this world.

Lindsay Tearman, Stewardship Team Member

One year later

15036731_10210339868347595_5652769351943201453_nA year ago right now, we were preparing for election day.  I woke up and put on a white shirt, and helped my daughter find a white shirt, we took a selfie together – we were planning for an historical outcome in the national election.  It wasn’t that I thought it was a foregone conclusion – I knew the race was tight.  But there was something in my white middle class progressive Unitarian DNA that refused to truly believe that the United States would follow up its election of the first African American president with the election of a president who bragged about sexual assault, or who portrayed Mexican immigrants as rapists, or who denied climate change, or…..

Many of us woke up on November 9th, 2016 stunned by a reality that probably shouldn’t have been such a surprise – but it was.  It was painful, and even traumatic for many to have to face, and the fear of what it would mean hung over all of us with an aching dread.

A year later, I wish I could say that these fears were all unfounded, that the communal grief that sent nearly 430 of you into the Sunday service the Sunday after the election was overblown…..but it has been predictably, a really hard year.  The fights for health care, and GLBT rights, and against the Refugee Ban, and the campaign-promise-fulfilling willingness to deport all those who are undocumented, regardless on the impact on families or on the individual worthiness as a contributing part of our community…the twitter fueds and the re-initiated global panic on the potential of nuclear war….these all take a toll, on all of us.

The ripple effects of anxiety and overwhelm, dread, and even despair have therapists working overtime, and still each Sunday, so many come for the first time, seeking some way to making meaning and to find hope in the midst of this difficult and upside down world.

A year later, however, I am not without good news.  I’ve watched – in countless meetings and in small conversations – a new desire to engage, to make a difference, to orient our lives towards meaningful contributions, and to learn the skills needed to listen more deeply, connect more authentically, and to be a part of much needed healing and restoration for our world.

I’ve seen a deeper commitment to spiritual growth, to attending worship, to giving of yourself in time and with money – this great generosity of spirit in service of a larger vision.  And I’ve seen bright faces of joy, and hope, each Sunday – a huge desire to learn, and grow, and be a part of the change we wish to see.

I’ve also seen new grassroots organizations formed, and new partnerships started – some of these have been especially important for our congregation and our learning in addressing homelessness, economic justice, and interfaith relationships.  And, a new boldness and courage has taken shape in all sorts of ways, not the least of which in our community has been visible in our sanctuary vote and efforts.

In the past ten months, I’ve taken so many people to their first protest march, it’s incredible.  And, I’ve seen a willingness to take risks on behalf of deeper values in ways that I truly don’t think would’ve happened even a couple years ago.

What’s especially meaningful to me through all of this, however, is that I know that not everyone agrees about all the things, or in all the same way – and yet we have found a way to remain in conversation and dialogue.  We have been working hard at learning how to have meaningful conversations about real things – and yet to be able to disagree, even while staying connected. It’s a practice that’ll likely take us our whole lives, and so we will continuously rely on grace, and spiritual practices of renewal, and a respect of a regular Sabbath, however that looks like to each of us.

As we cross this year mark, I am especially aware of the potential for burnout – in all of us.  That we will simply be too overwhelmed or too tired to keep engaging, that church and community and participating could feel like just one more item on an already too-full to-do list.  That the initial burst of resistance will transform into old complacency or cynicism.

This is all on my mind and heart as I look ahead to our plans for the next few months and beyond – at church, and in my own life.  We have many days ahead, and there’s no guarantee things are going to get easier.  We must be vigilant in all the things that allow us to keep going, to remain at the table so that we can do the hard work, to keep tending to that bright thread of hope.  And we must keep leaning in to care for each other, sing for and with each other, make meals for and with one another, keep taking time for gratitude, and joy; silence and story; community and care – committing ourselves once again to the power and potential of real, authentic community of trust and accountability, calling us to show up each day, and offer ourselves to that greater vision.

 

When the Special Appeal became extra special

For many years, the special appeal at the annual auction has allowed the congregation to fund something that – although not funded in the regular budget – would make a real difference in congregational experience.  The special appeal has funded the benches on the patio, the lightweight tables in the social hall, the screens in the foyer and RE building, and the initial set up of the projector and screen in the sanctuary – and much more.  This has all been incredible, but a few years ago we had the idea that we should do something even more “special” with the special appeal.  We should share it.

It was the year we’d started sharing the plate with a community partner, and we knew how powerful it could be to be able to do something big and generous for one of our partners in Fort Collins – so that we wouldn’t just be keeping the money to grow the blessings in our community, but we’d be passing it on – which felt like living our values.  And so we tried it out, and the results were incredible.  Suddenly instead of raising $3,000 or $4,000 in the special appeal, we started raising $7,000, and then $9,000, and then….last year was the most amazing thing when we raised over $18,000.  You can read about all the worship improvements that these funds enabled in this blog post from Chris Reed.

But maybe even more importantly, nearly $9,000 of this money went to our partners at Faith Family Hospitality to support the building of a patio and playground for children at their new transitional housing unit – a house that FFH leases from the city as a temporary home for up to seven families working towards self-sufficiency.  This home is currently under renovation, and over $300,000 must be raised to complete this project.  Which is why for this year’s Special Appeal, we’re going to keep supporting FFH and this important work!

This year we hope to raise $10,000 for FFH to replace dilapidated kitchen cabinets in the transitional home, known as Sherwood House. There are three communal kitchens in this old home, and all need new cabinets.  And in turn, we’re planning to use the money we raise for Foothills to do a complete overhaul of our Foothills’ website – which as you may have noticed, very much needs it!

A few years ago we might have thought that this goal number was far out of our reach – but this congregation has shown us again and again that this is not the case.  The generosity of this community has been incredibly inspiring, and ensures that we are in so many ways living up to our mission of truly unleashing courageous love both within and beyond our congregation.

Thank you for being a part of this important and extra-special effort, and hope to see you at the auction on November 11th! Get your tickets here.

Worship Improvements Made Possible By 2016 Auction Funds by Chris Reed

Our goal was to improve the worship experience for everyone, especially to enhance the experience for those in the social hall given our frequent over-flow seating. Here’s a list of all the ways we’ve been able to do this as a result of your generosity:

  • We purchased more hymnals, so we are now able to provide good hymnal coverage for our very largest services.
  • Over the summer, we added live streaming of our services on the Foothills Facebook page. We have been thrilled with the reception that this has received online. Now, if you are traveling, are ill, or simply can’t be in the service for any reason, you can now join with all of us online.  You can find the live streams on our Facebook page approximately 5 minutes before each service begins.
  • We reworked the stage lighting to make the stage more visually accessible.
  • We purchased and installed a new projector in the sanctuary, as well as a large video screen in the social hall.
  • We added a new computer and powerful software to allow us to seamlessly integrate a visual component to our services.

These last two changes mean that you can now expect to see the words to all of the songs we sing on the screen, as well as other readings or pertinent information. The possibilities go far beyond just those items, and we look forward to exploring how this potential can enrich our shared worship experience.  We hope that this makes each element of our services more engaging, and more accessible to every individual joining with us.

The financial resources to create all of these improvements were made possible by your generosity in last year’s auction. Additionally, we were able to stretch those funds so effectively due to the immense generosity of some of our members who spent many hours assisting with this equipment installation.  Wayne Brown, Mike McCarthy, Bruce Wagner, and Rich Roberts were invaluable in making this project happen.

Thank you all so much for helping us to reach more people through our worship services as we continue to unleash courageous love together. I can’t wait to see what becomes possible through your generosity in this year’s auction!

Exploring Calling – A Reflection on the Recent “Called to Be” Workshop by Rosemary Coslit

I was immediately drawn to the “Called to Be” workshop held at Foothills in late September. I am recently retired and though I love hiking and biking, I have felt a need for something with more meaning. I hoped the day would give me some insight.

When it came time for the intensive “Clearness Committee” opportunities, I volunteered to be a focus person and describe my problem/issue to the group, who would ask me objective questions (as opposed to giving me advice). It was a little intimidating to be discussing my life with people I didn’t know (will they judge what I say?), and I probably didn’t trust that this group, with no experience of this method or knowledge of me, could offer much.

But, I was wrong. Each person asked questions that were from a different perspective – many with laser insight! By not offering me solutions, I felt supported in coming to my own conclusions. As the group asked questions, I could hear my answers. I could hear what I said….and what I didn’t.  I could hear myself trying to justify some of my volunteer activities, and the lack of conviction in my voice. I could hear the examples I used, and how I talked about moving from New York (and being new to Colorado) as much as needing to find more meaning ; and realizing how these were clearly connected.

The most helpful part was the mirroring where each person in the group could say what they heard ME say. They told me where they heard energy and excitement. And where they didn’t.  I learned that my words and my face could tell different stories. (I trust my face- my words tend to be what I ‘should’ do).  I also knew the feedback was correct.

Why couldn’t I do this on my own? I don’t know. The ‘Clearness Committee’ does just that- it takes the jumble of things in your mind, and gives clarity. Maybe it highlights what you knew all along.

After this experience, I knew what to pursue, and what to let go. That sounds so simple, but trying to do this alone was a round and round experience of getting nowhere – I brought no new insights to myself. Based on the group’s input, I have already made some changes in my current volunteer work. It is gratifying to better understand that what I felt I ‘should’ be doing may not be a good fit for me.

At the end I felt, and I hope the group felt, that we had accomplished something important. They had helped me define my path forward. I felt close to these people who were learning about my life and giving me loving attention. It is so interesting that a group of people, who had never met me, could be so helpful.

Envisioning Music Ministry at Foothills

A note from Our Music Visioning Team, submitted by member, Sue Sullivan

Last January, we heard many requests from members of our choir to take the time and the opportunity to look deeply at what we could ask for and aspire to in the way of music ministry at Foothills. Our former music director had been  here for a dozen years and the director before him served for a decade as well. As a result of these long tenures, it has been many years since this congregation has asked itself – in a deep and open-to-all possibilities way — how we could imagine music ministry manifesting at Foothills.

The Committee on Shared Ministry (which consists of Glenn Pearson, Sally Harris, Anne Hall, Herb Orrell and myself), as part of its on-going responsibility to gather effective and meaningful feedback about how Foothills is manifesting its various ministries and how we might unleash more courageous love in our community and beyond, has taken on the leadership of this task of exploring the wide range of possibilities for music to manifest in our faith and our community, and to listen deeply to what our music makers and our whole Foothills community would find meaningful, transformative, creative, and powerful.

To that end, the COSM convened a sub-task force (composed of myself and Herb, plus two non-COSM members, Gretchen O’Dell, Dave Montanari, and in partnership with Rev. Haley) are beginning a multi-step process of:

  • gathering feedback from Unitarian congregations and other churches known for their strong and innovative music ministries
  • reporting back to the congregation about the ideas and programming we discover in those interviews
  • asking members of the congregation as a whole to take a music visioning survey, which will include questions about what has been meaningful or transformative in our own experiences of music ministry at Foothills in the past and what new possibilities we might wish to explore in the future
  • holding small-group feedback circles for various groups within the church who make the music we experience, as well specific groups of people whose experience of music ministry we would like to understand more deeply
  • gathering up all that visioning and feedback and reporting back to the congregation as a whole what we heard and how that can be shaped into a vision of how music manifests as a ministry at Foothills in the coming years
  • and finally, writing a detailed job description of what sort of candidate would be the right kind of leader for this ministry in our church, including such details as part-time or full, choir director or music director or music minister.

We intend to post this position by December in order to begin a nationwide search through Unitarian Universalist circles and networks.  This would typically conclude around April with the start of the new person by mid-summer. We are most grateful and happy to have the musical leadership of Chris Reed as our Interim Music Director through next May as we conduct this search. Chris is eligible to apply for this position, and he will be working with Gretchen in December after the position is finalized, to discern if and how he sees this is a potential fit.

We are digging in right away to our first task, which is asking the music directors of congregations with nationally known music ministries to tell us about their music programs. We’ll ask what works and what doesn’t, what they love about it, how it relates to the rest of the church’s programming. We’ll ask how many different avenues are there for people to create music in their ministry and whether they use music as an outreach to the larger community. What instruments do they use and where do they find the pieces they perform? How do children and youth participate in music? How do people learn music in these churches? How does music turn up as a spiritual practice?

The congregations we will talk to include: All Souls Church in DC; All Souls Tulsa; Middle Collegiate Church in NYC; the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor; and First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque.

After we gather this feedback, we’ll report our findings back to you and craft a survey to help identify what you have found to be powerful and transformative in the past and what new possibilities you would like us to pursue musically. We will also hold small-group feedback circles to ask and listen to your experiences and hopes about music in our collective life, with both the makers of music in our church and those who experience it deeply and meaningfully.

We are very excited about this chance to be intentional, expansive, creative, and transformative as we re-vision music as a ministry and a spiritual practice here at Foothills Unitarian, and we look forward to hearing from you!

In partnership,
Sue Sullivan, on behalf of the Music Visioning Team