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

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Going Slow to Go Fast, Going Together to Go Far

Those of us who hang around churches a lot talk about the idea of “church-time,” by which we usually mean SLOW time.  It’s often talked about with a chuckle, and sometimes a sigh of frustration, especially for leaders inclined towards moving the church forward in a way that makes “perfect sense,” at least to them.

This was the story about Foothills’ when it came to governance change – at least whenever I’d heard it up until this past week.  We’d been trying for over 15 years to make an effective change in governance structure that would bring our underlying system into alignment with our church size and today’s best practices.  This sense that it had been going on for a long, long time inspired the Board in the first year of the interim after Rev. Marc Salkin retired (2014-15) to move quickly on a new direction.  What that Board – and all of us – quickly realized, however, is that even though it felt slow to some, not everyone was caught up, and after the retirement of a long-tenured minister, it felt like too much change, too fast.

The Board learned from that experience, re-grouped, and began a slower and more cooperative and consulting process beginning in the church year 2015-16.  As a result of many, many conversations with all sorts of people in all sorts of ways, this past Sunday we saw the flip side of “church-time,” what I call the “all-of-a-sudden-it’s-done” phenomenon: The congregation enthusiastically endorsed the Governance Task Force’s work and authorized the Board to move forward with its trial year.

It was a huge and wonderful accomplishment for this congregation, and it was a beautiful thing to witness – because it was both about a single moment, and about all the faithful, sometimes-frustrating, usually-thoughtful moments that the meeting constituted.  Thousands of hours and years of committees and teams all came together into one meeting where the the foundation had been properly set, the congregation was ready, and the time was right.

Even though people talk about church-time as slow time, that’s not at all how I see it. I see church as the embodiment of the principle that’s true in every case where you’re trying to do something big, and important and long-lasting – which is that if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, you must go together.  And going together takes patient, careful time…conversations and care, humility and a great sense of humor. But then suddenly, in one hot June afternoon, you look around and realize, all-of-a-sudden, it’s done.  And then you just feel proud, and grateful, to be there at a time such as this.

The Rummage Sale is On! …and needs YOU!

I’m so happy to share that we have found both dates that will work and a Lead Team of three church members who have agreed to lead our Rummage Sale this year.  Which means….the Rummage Sale is on!

The dates for the sale will be August 4th through 6th.  (There may be an opportunity for an August 3rd pre-sale, but that’s something the Leads will be assessing.) 

The Leads Team is: Pam Stevens, Sara Steen and Julie Estlick.  (Thank you!!) 

What we need: They will next be looking to ensure they have Room Managers for all of the rooms, as well as a few other key roles.  If you are willing to be a Room Manager, or are just wanting to learn more about how to help us have a great rummage sale this year, please contact Pam Stevens directly at pamelahope@aol.com.  We will be posting job descriptions and time requirements for these roles in the next few weeks so look for that as well.

We are so grateful to our Rummage Sale Visioning Task Force of Pam Stevens, Sara Steen, Angie Noden, Diane Banta and Eve Enright to helping us find a new vision for how to have success in our Rummage Sale.  From their conversations and plans, we’ve come up with some changes we’ll be trying out this year – from trying out a “Share the Plate” model to scaling back the size of the sale, to having a more intentional leadership structure.   You can find out more in this blog post (from the April 5th Extra).

In the meantime, start saving up your GREAT stuff you no longer need! Though we won’t be taking clothing or electronics this year, we would love to receive those wonderful finds that will make someone really happy! Look for more information on this blog, in the Extra, and in church on all the ways you can help make this year’s sale a great success.

The Business of the Church – from Board President, Erin Hottenstein

As the school year comes to a close, so does the church year. On Sunday, June 4 at 11:00 a.m. we will hold our official annual congregational meeting. Please save the date! All members will be asked to attend to vote on elected offices as well as bylaws changes and the annual budget.

Lay leaders – who are all volunteers/members of the congregation – and Foothills staff have been hard at work preparing for the annual meeting.
To help members prepare, a packet will be sent out around May 18th by email (paper copies available by request) that will contain the important information you need to know before voting.
At our Annual Meeting, in addition to the elections and votes mentioned above, we will be thanking our outgoing officers, hearing about the results of our stewardship campaign, and officially moving forward on our Governance trial year.  Because this is a lot to pack into a single meeting, and because we have over 600 members, we’d love to be in conversation with you before the meeting to hear your feedback and to help you learn about these various facets of our congregational life.  As a result, in other blog posts you’ll find mini-updates on each of these areas, as well as notices of meetings where you can discuss these topics more fully with their respective leaders.
We look forward to talking more about all of these things with you and moving our congregation forward as we continue to unleash courageous love!  So, please,
mark your calendars and watch your email around the 18th. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Governance Update from Jody Anderson

This update is a part of a Governance Update being sent by email to all Foothills members.

The Board of Trustees hopes all members are prepared to vote on governance changes at our upcoming annual meeting.  Since the Governance Task Force formed about 18 months ago, we have received support and encouragement from members and staff throughout the church through congregational meetings, informational discussions, book discussion groups, and electronic communications conducted over the last twelve months.  We hope you have had a chance to participate, provide feedback, and learn about this important work to help align our governance structure with our church size and mission.

We are planning to conduct a trial year using our new governance structure, and will need to slightly amend our bylaws to enable that trial.  The key changes we are proposing include:

  • Role of the Board – The Board will shed its administrative role and instead concentrate on discerning mission, setting goals, dialogue with the congregation, and oversight.  This is something that the Board has been already in many ways practicing over the last 5 years as we have grown in size.  This will formalize this role and add clarity, as well as enhanced methods of monitoring and accountability.  
  • Board Size – The Board will reduce to seven, a more appropriate size for its new role (currently there are 11). The congregation would elect 2-3 Board members annually.
  • Delegate Operations – The senior minister, in partnership with the congregation and Board, would manage “operations” as head of staff.  This role would hold responsibility for all administration, programming, and shared ministry as well as Sunday services and pastoral care through delegation to paid staff and members/friends of the congregation, aka volunteers. Again this is already in many ways the case; this would formalize and add additional structures for accountability, alignment and monitoring of this work.  
  • Policy-Based Guidance – The Board will use written policies both to guide and hold accountable all those who help carry out the mission, including the ministers, staff, and volunteers.  Overseeing and keeping effective these policies will be a part of the Board’s new role.
  • Committee Structure – The Board will have three appointed committees:  Finance, Personnel, and Governance. It would have one elected committee, Nominating.
  • Nominating Committee – The Nominating Committee will reduce to three elected members (from the current five).  Its members will interact with the congregation, ministers, board, and Leadership Development team to identify the coming needs, develop job descriptions, and clarify role requirements, and ultimately nominate a slate of nominees for all elected positions that comply with established policies.
  • Leadership Development Team –   This team will be a newly formed ministry team charged with building and developing our future leaders through training, coaching, and open and inclusive engagement with the congregation.
We are excited to be making these changes!  It is long overdue for a growing church like ours.  We have been doing some of these things for several years, formally and informally.  This process has taken the best of what we learned through practice, research, and deliberation, to outline a foundation for the future.
To see the proposed bylaw changes, supporting concurrent resolution, policy examples, and glossary, visit us in the social hall between services on April 30, May 7, and May 14.  You will also have a final opportunity to dig into the details and ask questions on May 21, between services, during a Governance Review meeting.
If you have any questions about our work, please feel free to contact our chair Jody Anderson, jodeenanderson@gmail.com.
Thank you!
Governance Task Force – Jody Anderson, Brian Woodruff, Elizabeth Stanley, Tom Inscho, Ed Beers, and Rev. Gretchen Haley (ex-officio)

The UUA President, Institutional Racism, Broken Covenants, and Living with Uncertainty

I first met the Rev. Peter Morales when I was a student in my second year of seminary.  We were at a collegial gathering at the church where he was then serving, in Golden, Colorado.  He was quiet, and I left the meeting not knowing all that much about him – or he, me.

Still, as a seminarian and lay leader in Denver, I admired Peter’s ministry in the nearby Jefferson Unitarian Church, and so I eagerly supported his candidacy for UUA President in 2009. My partner and I dropped in at his church for the Sunday where he announced he’d decided to run.  The enthusiasm and hopefulness in that gathering was palpable. He said, he wished that all of the congregations in the UUA could have the vitality of JUC – that the goodness they had together shouldn’t be contained in one small corner of Colorado.  He wanted to lead the whole Association in discovering and embracing what they’d created there.

The first term of Peter’s Presidency was based on this vision, where he repeatedly called on our Association and our congregations to Get Religion, Cross Borders and Grow Leaders.  I found this focus clarifying and relevant to the challenges we were facing, and a strong jumping off point for our work together.  By the time of his second term (which began in 2013), however, this vision had fallen away as the challenges of institution-building and alignment presented themselves, the ups and downs of regionalization and the insufficient funds at a national level ran their course, and the politics of our small UU world played out.  The role of the UUA President often seems to me like the most challenging/frustrating parts of large church ministry put together with the most challenging/frustrating parts of serving our smaller, most change-averse congregations.  By which I mean….it’s a job filled intense pressure, public judgment, resistance to change, suspicion of authority, and polarized thinking – as I said to the three candidates currently running for President – you must be very brave.  The job seems to me, exhausting, and often, disheartening.

I last spent time with Peter at the gathering for UU ministers serving large UU churches in Santa Barbara just a few weeks ago.  He and his wife Phyllis are retiring to the town next to my hometown in Washington state, so we talked about what that life would be like, and what he hoped for.   As he spoke of it, I felt happy for him, seeing that he was looking forward to retirement.  He shared the surreal and heartbreaking experience of needing to issue “a statement a day” on whatever recent immoral act the Trump administration had done – sometimes there were multiple needs in a single day.

I say all this to start because, I think it’s important in these moments to remember what a small community we are, how often what looks like “big politics” is actually a relatively small group of people trying to figure out how to live and be and grow together, and also that there are finally, simply people here.  Flawed, complicated, hopeful people, so wanting our faith to matter, to live into our promise – especially in this cultural moment where so many of our churches are thriving, feeling the call to do the important work of resistance, community-building, and unleashing courageous love.

Yesterday, news broke that Peter resigned his role as President, three months short of the end of his term.  For some who haven’t been following our “small world that masquerades as big politics” in the last few weeks, here are the important facts that immediately preceded his resignation.  (also check out the UU World summary here.)

  1. A few weeks ago, a hire was made in the Southern Region, for Regional Lead.  The person they hired was a white, straight, cisgender male (someone I consider a good colleague, and to whom I send my sympathy and support through this difficult beginning to his new job).
  2. The facts of that hire, however, made the leadership of the UUA wildly and disproportionately white, and male.  For an explicitly anti-racist, anti-oppression organization, this was/is a problem, and a clear symbol of the larger problem of institutional racism that most of us realize is a part of our infrastructure – an infrastructure we have committed to transform.
  3. Through letters that spread quickly online, UU Clergy and other leaders named this problem as a systemic issue that needed to be addressed, grieved the lack of progress this hire signaled, and called us to live up to our stated values.
  4. In response, Peter wrote an open letter and sent it to his staff team across the country (the President is the CEO of the UUA).  That letter, for the most part, did not  – as he surely hoped – help the situation, and instead caused even greater division.  In particular, some among us responded to his defensiveness and his use of the term “hysteria,” which has a particular cultural connotation and history – i.e. that the concerns were being blown out of proportion.
  5. It was in response to this division, that Peter resigned.

We will be electing a new President in June, so ultimately the practical impact of his resignation will be pretty short-lived.  But it is the less-immediate, perhaps less-practical impact that I believe is worthy of our reflection and consideration.

To begin: are we institutionally racist and is our system built to perpetuate white culture and supremacy? Of course.  Though we have tried, are trying, keep trying to do better, we are a part of the wider US culture, not immune to these forces.  We are also institutionally sexist, homophobic, *trans-phobic, classist, ableist – and we swim in all sorts of other isms and phobias.  Generations of Unitarians and Universalists and Unitarian Universalists have perpetuated these systems consciously and unconsciously.  This is true in our wider Association, and it is surely true in our individual congregations – including our own.

It is always surprising to me that this is surprising.  Perhaps it is because we confuse the Unitarian Universalist faith with the Unitarian Universalist Association.  But our faith is not the same thing as the institution of the UUA. The UUA is – to use the great descriptor from Theodore Parker – the transient.  The UUA is a human creation, limited by human imagination, human ego and yes, human sin.  But our faith is not limited, nor transient – but rather calls to us with the vision of what is permanent – that we might serve on behalf of abundant life, for all – serve on behalf of justice and liberty, for all – that we might imagine a world free of racism, sexism, homophobia – a world free of all of these and other interlocking and oppressive forces – and to work towards such a world’s reality.  That we might still journey in covenant together – even when we do not agree, even when our hearts are broken, even when we can’t see our way through.

There is almost always going to be a disconnect between the lofty promises of our faith, and the on-the-ground reality of our congregations, and our Association.  This is what faith means in a covenantal association.  Inherent to a covenant is the awareness that it will be broken.  We will betray one another, and ourselves. The promises are too big, and we are too – human. What covenant asks of us is not to perfectly fulfill our ideals, however – but when things fall apart, to do the hard work of naming what has been broken, what the injury has been, to learn and listen and to try to understand.  And then, ultimately, covenant invites us to restore the relationship in a renewal of promises.  This is what faith means as a Unitarian Universalist.

Which, I guess, is my way of acknowledging, I wish that Peter would’ve been able to hang in a little longer. I wish he would’ve been able to model how we can and will mess up – even publicly – and yet the broken promise need not be the end of the story.  What’s more, his leaving indicates that somehow he was singularly or supremely responsible for this broken covenant – but surely that is not the case.  We are all a part of bringing us to this moment, and we all need to look at our own selves, and our own assumptions and privileges, and do our own work – that we might all keep attempting to bring our vision and our reality just that much closer to alignment.

But, he wasn’t able to hang in.  For reasons only he knows, he decided to step back.  And so we’re left with a feeling of uncertainty – and quite a bit of confusion as UUs across the country who haven’t been paying attention to the “inside baseball” details that led up to this try to make sense of why the UUA President resigned.

What I’ve learned from the past few months and our congregation’s experience of responding to brokenness and uncertainty, is that people are going to have all sorts of feelings – and we aren’t going to agree about how we can or should respond to this moment, or the ones that come next, or the ones after that.

And yet, as Rilke says, “no feeling is final.”  The important thing is that we make space for all our feelings, and try not to resolve anything too quickly, or try to make everything seem all better when it isn’t, or to try to make agreement where there is none.  It is so much harder to live into the words we say so often than we realize:  that we need not think alike to love alike. Or in Ballou’s version, if we agree in love, then no disagreement can do us any injury – but if we do not, then no agreement can do us any good.

The love that Ballou is describing – the love we are called to “agree in” – is that greater love, that courageous transcendent love – the agape love that fuels and binds our covenant, and that calls us on.  This love – however – becomes really hard to access when we’re anxious, when we’re uncertain, when we’re shocked – and when we wonder if the gap between what we long for and what we are will ever lessen.

So our task ahead, as an Association, and as Unitarian Universalists, remains a spiritual one. The challenge is to stay connected to this deeper love, this grounding and animating force that holds us, still.  And it is to resist the urge to make everything all better and all right too quickly (what theologically we might call, cheap grace) – and instead use this time of uncertainty and the questions that have been raised as a great learning opportunity for how we could be even more who we say we are, that we could build the skills we’re going to need to do the really hard and deep work our faith truly calls us to do.  To seek justice, love mercy, and travel humbly – with one another, with this faith, with courageous love, still urging us on.

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Report from our Congregational Forum – from Scott Denning

About 20 people attended a Congregational Informational Forum held by the Board of Trustees on the evening of February 22.

Member Jody Anderson presented an update on the Governance Task Force (GTF), which has been very busy drafting comprehensive new policies to help us organize ourselves to better serve our large and vibrant congregation. The GTF drew from the book Governance and Ministry by Dan Hotchkiss and from dozens of large UU churches to draft policies that have been reviewed by the Board. These policies will be discussed in various settings with the Congregation at large this spring, intending to begin a trial period when the new church year starts on July 1. We look forward to a smaller, nimbler, and more vision-focused Board that delegates more operational responsibility to staff, with much clearer written guidance. There will be lots of opportunity to learn and participate in this important process during congregational discussions in March, small group drop-ins, and a table in the social hall.

Treasurer Scott Denning provided a financial update. A bit past the halfway point of the church year, we’re in very good financial shape. Expenses are right on track with the budget and with our spending last year, but our income is substantially ahead of previous years at this point.  We thank those of you who pay their pledges monthly rather than in a lump sum in December. We’ve finally begun to rebuild our reserves, which were nearly wiped out during the Great Recession in 2008-2010. We are tracking down pledges from the wave of new members who have recently joined, and currently project a small surplus at the end of the year on June 30.

Assistant Minister Sean Neil-Barron updated us on membership and staffing. We’ve experienced a surge in membership and visitors over the past year and now have about 600 official members (and about 300 other regular adult participants). Attendance at Sunday services has been at nearly 100% of our physical capacity. Our Third Service Experiment has allowed us some breathing room and has already seen an increase in total attendance.

We’re committed to maintaining a vital music ministry, drawing on the talents in our community and beginning a national search for a Music Director. We’re delighted to announce that as was shared in an email to the congregation, Chris Reed has agreed to serve as our Interim Music Director and will start on March 15th. Chris is Assistant Professor of Music at CSU and previously served as Music Director at Trinity Lutheran in Fort Collins.