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. 

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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.

Following Up on #MeToo

It’s been a little over 3 weeks since our #MeToo worship service, and the conversation is just beginning.  A few of our Senior Sisterhood groups have been taking up brave and tender conversations around #MeToo – sharing their own experiences and reflections with one another.  The small group conversations for women to reflect on problematic sexual experiences started tonight, with another on Saturday.  And, the conversations for Men and #MeToo are set to begin next Wednesday.  This last one has drawn the attention of NPR’s All Things Considered, who is doing a story on men and the #MeToo movement – they reached out to hear about our intent for these conversations, and how men are responding.

Another part of this continued conversation is also just beginning to take shape – the Restoring Wholeness Task Force announced by the Board as a part of the #MeToo service.  Over the past few weeks, the Board has been drafting the charter for this Task Force, and thinking carefully about the desired ends.

The Board has been clear that we are called to be a church that deals directly with sexual misconduct and harassment, and that we want to be a part of shifting the culture towards one of greater respect, equality, understanding, and mutual liberation.  To do this, we know we need to start by taking a good look at our past – for, as the Rev. Jan Christian says, “going back can change the way we go forward.”

Part of the work of the Task Force will be in collecting stories about our congregation’s past – including relationships between congregants and religious professionals, and the ways our congregation’s culture, as a system, may have contributed to a lack of clarity or other factors that may have allowed misconduct or harassment to occur.  The goal is to learn, to change, to grow, and to do better.

If you are someone who is wanting to share about an experience that you are thinking through from the past that may connect to this conversation, please email metoo@foothillsuu.org, which for now (until our Task Force is fully up to speed) will be responded to by me, or by Rev. Sean directly.  You can trust that your confidentiality will be protected, as together we continue to understand and learn from our own past – so that we can create an even stronger future.

This is brave, and sometimes challenging work.  I am proud to serve a congregation whose leadership has been willing to do the difficult and yet faithful thing at each step, with a commitment towards being that church that we know we are called to be.  And, I am grateful that we can create spaces and opportunities for this brave learning to happen together, so that we can all grow, and learn, and change, for the better.

Why I’m Grateful We Won’t Be Sponsoring a Black Lives Matter Event This Weekend

It started the way that so many Unitarian Universalist actions start: with a question.

One of our members asked on a progressive social media site, why there had not been any response in Fort Collins to the most recent shooting death of a Black man by police officers – in this case, Stephon Clark in Sacramento.

Just a few days later, the event seemed to be well on its way.  Conversations were happening across various communities, speakers were being booked, permits were being pulled, objectives were being outlined.  Some of the organizing was messy – most of us didn’t know each other.  But we were figuring it out.  The Facebook event went live. It was happening.

To be honest, I have been waiting for this moment.  I knew it would come, hoped it would come. This moment when the right someone would ask the right question, at the right time, and movement would begin.  We could show up, as allies, and supporters with our presence as a predominantly white faith community to support the voices and leadership of people of color.

When it comes to race and racism – we are not well practiced at these conversations in Fort Collins, at least, not in the white community.  But in other spaces, amongst people of color, and sometimes across trusted friendships, it’s generations-long.   Before I lived in Fort Collins, I first heard about it from one of my favorite artists, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, who wrote a piece about a stay here in 2008.  He described the city as “one of the most racist places” he’d been in the U.S., and went on to describe a series of harassing anti-Mexican racist interactions he and his friend had while in town.

It’s long past time for all of us to be having this conversation, and to do the work to make change.

As the team started to discern its plans, it reached out to a core group of leaders of color in the city, hoping to invite their participation and engagement.  Instead of positive reception, however, this group expressed serious concerns and resistance.  First, at the focus on Stephon Clark and national issues.  They felt it perpetuated a myth that racism happens somewhere else, not here.  And second, that a single rally or event might help white people feel they were doing something, but wouldn’t necessarily make actual change for people of color in the community.  They asked the group to put the event on hold so that greater conversation, relationship building, and strategizing could occur.

I already said that the early stages of this process were messy.  But this was something else.  This was – painful. Confusing.  There was a plan in place, a lot of publicity.  Already a group of volunteers being recruited. No one disagreed with the need to address race and racism – and yet it matters how, and with whom.  As the Black Lives Matter organizers have said it, we need to move at the speed of trust. And these relationships, this partnership, it didn’t have the trust yet.  We realized, we needed to start there.

So the lead organizers put the event on hold.  There have been hurt feelings as a result, and some angry words – especially coming from white activists invested in the event.  It’s been even messier than those first conversations.

And yet ultimately, I’m grateful that we aren’t moving forward with the event.  Because an event is not the end we’re after.  The event was just a means towards the bigger end, which is racial justice – and a Fort Collins where all people, including people of color feel welcome, and included, seen, and heard, and valued – for who they are.  That end is going to take a lot of messy conversations and a broad coalition of partners.  And it’s going to take a willingness to put things on hold when key leaders of color in the community ask for a pause, to slow down to build that trust.  It’s going to mean listening, and re-assessing, and learning together, and privileging relationship over publicity, or facebook events – even when they have gotten many likes, and many people indicating their desire to attend.

With the event on hold this weekend, we are re-assessing our plans, and stepping back into that critical relationship-building work, and strategizing together in the way the group of leaders asked for.  We’re engaging some help from community leaders who have walked this path before, and we’re taking a breath.  We’re committed to the long-haul work, and to doing our part to build the Beloved Community.  Most of all, I am grateful to get to be a part, to listen and learn, and to be on this journey, together.

 

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.

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