Preparatory Packet for the 2015 Annual Meeting of Foothills Unitarian Church

In advance of the Annual Meeting this Sunday, I’ve assembled a packet of the materials that the congregation will be called to vote on, so that you will all have the opportunity to familiarize yourselves with it before the meeting.  This packet includes:

  • The meeting agenda;
  • Minutes of all congregational meetings since (and including) last year’s annual meeting;
  • Nominees for elected offices, committees and chairs;
  • and, finally, the budget materials presented at our informational budget session on May 3rd.   This includes the Board’s Vision, a power-point presentation on the proposed budget, and a summary of the budget  itself.  We have made healthy strategic choices to move forward to promote the vision and mission of the church for the coming year.

I hope you find it helpful.  Feel free to contact me, any other Board member, or Carolyn Myers if you have questions.

See you Sunday,

–Rich Young, President,  Board of Trustees

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Announcement of the 2015 Annual Meeting of Foothills Unitarian Church

It has been a big year for our congregation, and we have much to celebrate.  Join us for worship service at either 9 or 11 a.m. where we will recognize our lifespan religious exploration volunteers from the year, affirm the launch of our new villages for One Village One Family ministry, and Rev. Keyes will offer a “State of the Church” sermon.

Then, return at 12:15 for our Annual Meeting.

The 2015 Annual Meeting of Foothills Unitarian Church will be held on Sunday, May 17th, in the sanctuary at 12:15 p.m.  The agenda will be as follows:

Agenda:

  • Call to Order and Chalice Lighting
  • Announcement of Count and Quorum
  • Approval of Past Congregational Meeting Minutes
  • Election of Officers, Trustees, Committee Chairs and Committee Members
  • Approval of the 2015-16 Operating Budget
  • Presentation on Results of the Interim Senior Minister Search
  • Closing Remarks & Adjournment

A packet containing the various supplementary materials referenced in this agenda (past minutes, budget summary, and information about candidates for elected positions) will be made available in the week preceding the meeting.

I hope you’ll all join us there,

Meanwhile, I hope to see you at one of our scheduled small group conversations about the structure and organization of our congregation.  More information below.

–Rich

Join Us to Learn About Plans for Our Church’s Structure and Organization

At our congregational meeting on April 19th, I was encouraged by the strong turnout.  It’s exciting to see the congregation showing up in such numbers to take on the sometimes dry work of church governance (the way we structure and organize ourselves).  But the strong turnout, as well as feedback we had received in the weeks preceding the meeting, also demonstrated that the congregation didn’t feel ready to responsibly address the questions posed by the Bylaws changes we had proposed.  The Board hadn’t done enough work to share where we see the church heading, and why we felt that those changes to our Bylaws were necessary, and to engage your input along the way.   It has been a big learning year for all of us, and we want to do more in the coming year to ensure an ongoing dialogue and engagement between the Board and all of the stakeholders in our congregation’s future.

I was disappointed to see that many of you still had questions when we ran out of time.  In the days since that meeting, the Board has been considering various ways that we could provide the congregation opportunities to get those questions answered, and hear from the Board a clear description of our vision for the church’s future.

My friends on the Board and I have decided that the best format is to offer a series of smaller meetings, rather than another single gathering of 100-plus congregants.  In smaller groups of ten or twenty congregants, we should be able to ensure that all those present get a chance to ask their questions, express their opinions, as well as strengthen relationships with one another, based in our shared commitment to our church and our Unitarian Universalist values.

As a result, we have scheduled meetings at a variety of times of day and days of the week over the next month, in hopes that all who are interested in attending will be able to make one of the gatherings:

  • Thursday, April 30 from 6:30-8:00 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 6 from 6:30-8:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, May 9 from 9:30-11:00 a.m.
  • Monday, May 11 from 6:30-8:00 p.m.
  • Friday, May 15th from 10:30-12:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 24 from 12:30-2:00 p.m.
  • Tuesday, May 26 from 6:30-8:00 p.m.

Each session will be hosted by two or more members of the Board.  Whichever session you choose to attend, you’ll have the chance to hear about the Board’s vision for our future governance, with plenty of time set aside for your questions and comments.  We will work to gather those comments and questions and, at the end of the process, produce a summary of frequently raised questions and concerns.

To express your intent to attend, please send an email to RSVP@foothillsuu.org or call the church office at 493-5906.  With sufficient notice, we can likely make childcare available, so let us know if that is something you would need and we will do our best.

Proposed Bylaws Revisions, to be Considered at a Special Congregational Meeting April 19, 2015

As we on the Board have worked to refine the governance structure at Foothills, we have kept an eye on our bylaws. They are, we’re told, unusually specific and restrictive. There are areas where our practices have drifted away from the structures prescribed in the bylaws – in some cases, years ago. We have not kept a Church Council since before I began my time on the Board, for example, and we long ago began calling our Canvass Committee by the new name of “Stewardship Committee” instead. The bylaws were not kept up to date as these practices evolved.

More recently, we’ve come to realize that there are some other ways the Bylaws mandate a structure that poorly suits our needs as a large church experimenting with different ways of operating. When Rev. Keyes arrived, he pointed out that we might not want to continue to have a Committee on Ministry or Personnel Committee. He suggested that we might find we were able to get more accomplished with a smaller Board – perhaps 7 members, rather than the 11 that our bylaws mandate? And as we have begun to adopt what’s known as policy governance, where the Board focuses on questions of purpose and mission rather than day-to-day operational decisions, it’s become clear that the bylaws suit this new structure poorly.

In short, our bylaws need a thorough rewriting.

The changes you’ll see below do not represent that thorough rewrite, however.

In some cases, we’ve felt that we wanted to delay action on questions that we don’t feel confident we’ve decided yet. Our Committee on Ministry, for example, has spent most of the past year in recess, but neither the COM nor the Board has comfortably decided what that committee’s future should be, so we’ve retained the language in our bylaws requiring that there be a COM, for now.

In other cases, we on the Board have felt that changes suggested by Rev. Keyes, or practiced in other churches, might not suit the needs of our church well. For instance, we have decided to reduce the size of our Board of Trustees, but have settled on a 9-member Board rather than the 7-member size that’s been recommended by David and others. We may yet decide that 7 is the right number, but the composition of the Board seems like an area where caution and gradual change is called for.

Above all, we’ve tried to adopt a slate of bylaws revisions that do not make drastic, sweeping changes to the way this church is operating right now. Some of the changes we’re recommending impact the elections at the upcoming Annual Meeting on May 17th, and need to be made as soon as possible so that our Nominating Committee can know what is required of them. But there simply hasn’t been time for adequate discernment, adequate engagement with the congregation, adequate debate about the content of any broader changes that might be needed some day.

So… what you see below is a set of bylaws revisions that change only what really needs to be changed now. These are edits that seek to protect the church from dangerous practices, reasonably increase our flexibility and efficiency as we experiment with our governance structure, and – critically – leave for another day the biggest potential changes that will really require more debate than we have time for in the waning months of this church year.

I’ve detailed the exact changes below, along with line numbers referencing the most recent (May 2014) edition of our bylaws, and a brief explanation of the thinking behind the change.

Proposed bylaws revisions

Thanks are due to Trustees Elizabeth Stanley and Nate Donovan for their hard work and attention to detail on this project, and to David, Gretchen, and the rest of the Board for their insightful questions and suggestions on the drafts we’ve considered along the way. If you have questions about the revisions we’ve proposed, please feel free to contact me via the Board of Trustees address, bot@foothillsuu.org. We will vote on these revisions in a Special Congregational Meeting, to be held on Sunday, April 19th, between services. That meeting will follow the typical parliamentary procedures, with space for questions and comments as usual. But in the interest of time, I’d welcome a chance to publicly address any common questions beforehand, so I hope you won’t hesitate to reach out to me if you’re confused about the rationale behind anything we’ve proposed.

Thanks for taking the time to read about this. I’ll see you Sunday,

–Rich Young

President, Board of Trustees

The Power of Asking Big Questions from Rich Young

Over the last six months, your Board has begun considering some provocative questions about this church and its future. What matters most to our congregation? How can we assure that our members find meaning and purpose here? Who belongs among us but is missing? What needs in the wider community are we uniquely able to address? What responsibilities do our size and success among UU churches confer upon us, and are we meeting them adequately? How can we ensure that our lay leaders are prepared to do what we will ask of them? How can we best accommodate the ongoing growth we are experiencing? What can we do to ensure that our leadership remains in touch with the evolving will of the congregation? How should… well, you get the picture. This time of transition has asked of the Board, and the congregation as a whole, a great deal of introspection and contemplation.

In late fall, this conversation was distilled into a set of outcomes that this board hoped the church would produce under its leadership and in the years to come. A few highlights among them were:

Foothills Unitarian Church becomes a “Flagship” church in Fort Collins

  • We discover and act on our large church identity;
  • We have the structure, staff, and capacity to serve the size we are as well as the size we are going to be;
  • We explore multiple campuses and address our building needs with a capital campaign;
  • We are welcoming to all who would seek a liberal religious home in Northern Colorado
  • Organic growth in committed membership allows us to better fulfill our mission;
  • We are known in the UUA both as a result of stronger ties with other UU congregations, as well as from our leading practices;
  • We ensure a vibrant home in Fort Collins for future Unitarian Universalists.

Our church touches souls through expansive and excellent worship, lifespan religious education opportunities, and a clear path of leadership development within and beyond the congregation.

  • Leaders are equipped and supported in their roles in the congregation – before they begin and during their service
  • Excellent worship occurs in multiple settings, including on campus through an expanded and strong campus ministry
  • There are robust and diverse opportunities for spiritual growth and religious education for all ages – small groups, classes, spiritual practices – including within our campus ministry program
  • People know how to serve and get involved in our congregation – and do get involved and serve
  • Our program for children and youth keeps growing, even doubling in the next few years
  • Our leadership development program is offered to all the UU congregations in our area and we are a leader and resource within the cluster, District, Region and national UUA

Through community leadership and service, we turn our faith into action to address injustice and human need.

  • Foothills Unitarian Church is known in the community for its generosity and leadership, especially in involving congregants in social justice and spiritual growth;
  • We have a meaningful impact on homelessness and hunger in Northern Colorado, addressing the roots causes in addition to routine service;
  • We leverage the resources of our congregation to engage issues of environmental justice and climate change;
  • We build on our work with immigration justice and serving our neighbors;
  • We take our OWL program and bring it out into the community, including into PSD and the CSU campus;
  • We change society’s conscience so that it addresses the inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • As a large church, we have a meaningful impact on multiple issues.

As you can see, it was a sweeping vision for the future of the church. It had its roots in the hopes and dreams of all of us on the board, pulling from our many friendships in the congregation, our many years of experience with the church, and our diverse backgrounds and social justice interests. And it was exciting to talk in such detail about what Foothills could become.

More exciting still was what happened next: Revs. David Keyes and Gretchen Haley took this laundry list of our dreams and aspirations for this church community, and they transformed it from a collection of wishes into a plan. Every vision on the Board’s list was attached to activity by at least one of the ministers or staff, was given a timeline, and was framed in a way that it was easy to imagine knowing whether or not it was being carried out successfully. This strategic plan for the transition period was delivered to – and enthusiastically approved by – the Board in late January.

In the time since, we have seen the work outlined in the transition strategic plan begin. Campus ministry is growing and taking shape. Our participation in the One Village, One Family homelessness support initiative has begun. We’ve begun exploring multi-site options, launched a ministerial search committee, and we’re wrapping up another successful stewardship drive. We will soon begin exploring the feasibility of a capital campaign, relaunch our partner church program, and continue to explore the history and importance of our own church and the larger movement of Unitarian Universalism. Big things are happening here.

As these big things happen, or perhaps occasionally fail to happen, we will review our progress; contemplate whether the original vision might stand to be revised or clarified, or has perhaps evolved; we’ll engage with the congregation to ensure we stay in touch with our sense of mission and purpose; and we’ll begin conversation with community partners on ways we can refine our church’s participation in the work we share. The strategic plan that the board adopted early this year should become a living document, subject continually to our scrutiny, our discernment, and our common ingenuity.

What I want to convey to you is that this is the way your Board intends to govern in the future: by listening to the congregation, surveying the need around and among us, casting a big vision informed by these inputs, and finally working with the ministers and staff to carry that vision out. It is in this way that we hope to fulfill the promise that we began this transition period with: retaining what is special about this church community, while working for a world transformed by our values.

See you Sunday,

-Rich Young, Board President

MInisterial Search Timeline

This past Sunday, Rev. Nancy Bowen joined us to lay out the timeline for our coming ministerial search.  For those of you who couldn’t make it to that meeting, for those of you who weren’t sitting close enough to read the timeline projected on the screen, and for those of you not blessed with perfect photographic memories, here is the timeline for our search process.

I’d like to add a few details about the process that we mentioned Sunday but didn’t have space for in the timeline document.

  • First, that the upcoming Appreciative Inquiry opportunities are, in a way, part of the search process.  Ministerial search is tightly interwoven with congregational identity – as Nancy said, we are not simply looking for the most qualified candidate, we’re looking for the best fit for our congregation. Appreciative Inquiry is an exploration of what makes this church special, and the lessons we glean from that process should inform our search.
  • At the recommendation of Rev. Keyes, we will be calling every member of our congregation to talk about the qualities we look for in a search team, and who you feel embodies those qualities.  These calls are intended to maximize the involvement of the congregation in this process, so that we end up with a Ministerial Search Committee we know and trust.
  • The Nominating Committee will then propose a search committee slate in consideration of that broad congregational input, and the congregation will vote on whether to accept the proposed committee members at a special congregational meeting to be held in early March.

The rest of the process is outlined in the timeline above.  Feel free to ask a Board, Nominating Committee or Transition Team member if you have any specific questions I haven’t covered.

Then Our Promise Finds Fulfillment, and Our Future Can Begin

It’s probably no coincidence that the service led by Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs this past Sunday began with the familiar UU hymn “The Fire of Commitment.” You see, Rob is not only the co-senior minister at Unity Church Unitarian in St. Paul, Minnesota – he’s an expert on the church governance style known as “policy governance,” and one of the founders of Unity Consulting. Rob wasn’t just a visiting minister, here as a guest in our pulpit. He’d also spent much of the weekend educating members of our Board on the governance structures that work best at large UU churches, and how to put them into practice. And that hymn is clearly an ode to the impact of the governance style Rob had been describing.

What’s that? Governance doesn’t spring to mind when you hear “The Fire of Commitment?” Well, perhaps I should explain….

“Governance” is simply the way decisions get made in a church. There’s a strong correlation between the size of a church and the decision-making systems it most successfully employs. As churches begin to outgrow their governance, there’s a tendency to make incremental changes, adding new committees and staff in response to challenges as they arise. As programs, budgets, and staff grow, a board that seeks to manage the activities of the church begins to find that it is too busy to step back and consider the big picture.

It’s a pattern we’ve seen first-hand at Foothills. When the interim task force was preparing our application for interim ministry this spring, we invited comment from the entire congregation, and made especially sure to poll current and former members of the various committees and the Board. The lay leaders with first-hand experience doing the work of the church (and our ministers, too) all listed an updated governance structure as one of the most important issues our church needed help with. And so, we chose an interim minister with proven expertise in – among other things – helping large churches implement policy governance.

But what exactly is policy governance? If you ask Rev. Keyes, he’ll tell you that it’s a democratic process that unleashes creativity in churches. If you ask Rev. Eller-Isaacs, he’ll describe it as “a radical separation of means and ends.” It might require a slightly less pithy answer, though, to satisfy those of you still reading this far along.

In policy governance, the board and congregation work to clearly state the church’s values and mission, and decide what specific outcomes the church’s work should produce. These outcomes are the “ends” that Rob Eller-Isaacs was referring to. A board in policy governance has the task of drafting and continuously refining policies that state the impact the church seeks to have on the world, define how progress towards those goals should be measured, clarify how the organization should be structured in pursuit of those goals, and establish some limitations on the ways those goals can be pursued.

On the other side of the spectrum in Rob Eller-Isaacs’ definition, the “means” are the methods used to pursue those ends, and they are the domain of the ministers and staff of the church. The board places final responsibility for the success or failure of its goals on the “executive,” which is typically the senior minister, or sometimes a small team including, for example, the ministers and church administrator. Once the board has defined the goals the executive is responsible for achieving (and placed whatever restrictions it deems necessary upon those efforts) it allows the executive or executive team the freedom to decide on the means it will employ to succeed.

To offer a concrete example, suppose that our church had decided to eliminate homelessness in Fort Collins. That process might look something like this:

  1. The importance of the goal would trickle up from the congregation to the board;
  2. The board would draft a policy charging the executive with achieving this goal;
  3. The executive would be prevented by existing limitations policies from selling the church building to raise funds, from employing means inconsistent with our principles to pursue this goal, etc.
  4. Within those boundaries, however, the executive would be free to align its efforts with other partners in the community, and to choose which facets of homelessness might be most important in achieving the goal. We might focus our resources on addiction services, or mental health services, or rent assistance, or using the church budget to fund a shelter, etc.
  5. The executive would report to the board periodically on how successful our efforts have been towards the goal.
  6. The board may choose to refine the goal – for example, we might determine that it was naïve to expect to end homelessness entirely, but a more reasonable goal that the church should ensure that psychological, legal, financial and material assistance are available to all who face homelessness. And the process would begin again.

Clearly, this is a significant change in how our church operates, and it won’t happen overnight. Our board has begun, in small ways, to operate on a policy basis: we have delegated to Rev. Keyes the role of chief of staff, and have been working to articulate the kind of impact our church should have on our lives and the wider community. We’ve begun considering the governance policies of other large UU churches for instruction and inspiration. We’ve directed the Transition Team to work towards a covenant of right relations, and are drafting a conflict resolution policy. We’re making a real effort to listen to the congregation’s hopes and concerns, and to communicate in return how we intend to represent them.

We’re learning as we go, and a lot of work remains to be done. The transition won’t be painless. But continuing to run a large church as if it were a small church would mean settling for a community where our values don’t have much influence. Foothills is one of the bigger UU churches in the country, falling within the top 5% by membership already, and continuously attracting new members in a rapidly-growing city. Nearly all large UU churches (and the UUA itself) have implemented policy governance, or are actively working to do so, and we hear success stories from those who have made the transition all throughout the denomination. If we want to see the seven principles actively shaping life in Northern Colorado, we’re going to have to accept the reality of our size, and adopt governance practices that unleash our very real capabilities.

When we’ve completed this transition, it’s my hope that our board and congregation will be focused on important questions like, “Where does injustice exist in our community?” and “In what ways should Fort Collins be transformed by our presence?” All of the work we do together will be guided and fueled by an awareness of how that work furthers our mission. If we can accomplish that, I think, Foothills will be entering a really exciting new era.  Or, in the words of the hymn,

When the fire of commitment sets our mind and soul ablaze,
When our hunger and our passion meet to call us on our way,
When we live with deep assurance of the flame that burns within,
Then our promise finds fulfillment and our future can begin.

See you Sunday,

–Rich Young