Comfort in Turbulent Times

by Karen Marcus, Foothills Blogger

Many who started attending Foothills after the 2016 election have found reasons to stay. 

The 2016 U.S. presidential election was shocking for many people — locally, nationally, and globally. Those who were confused, frightened, or angered by its outcome sought comfort, guidance, community, and hope. In and around Fort Collins, Foothills provided those things, and more.

Chris Guppy and her family started attending services at Foothills in December 2016. She says, “After the election we felt desolate, lonely, and helpless. We, as a family, needed community support.” They found it at Foothills, and continued coming to services because, says Guppy, “the sermons made me cry.” In addition, they enjoyed the presence of other young families, and Guppy’s son Jack “loved the ceiling fans in the sanctuary and kept asking to go back.”

Guppy and her husband, Brian, became members in early 2017, and joined a Gather Group. She teaches RE, and has volunteered for the welcome kiosk and the mobile food pantry. Now, Guppy wants to continue working with youth and to teach meditation techniques to both children and adults. She comments, “We continue to be amazed and thankful for such thoughtful and good-spirited church leadership.”

Erin Purdy is also very appreciative of Foothills. She notes, “We love the positive atmosphere, the rich and honest conversation, the social justice orientation, and the open-minded teaching, both for adults and in the RE classes. We’ve stayed because we feel at home and that we can explore our spirituality in an intellectually honest and deeply loving way.”

While the election got Purdy and her family into Foothills, she had been attracted to it for some time. She had a UU friend who often talked about her positive experiences, and she knew she wanted to check it out every time she drove by.

Now a member, Purdy and her family attend services regularly, and she teaches RE classes and brings meals to people who need them. “I think we’ll continue to come as a family,” she says. “I just love Foothills and am deeply grateful for everyone and everything there.”

The Sunday following the 2016 election marked the first time Sandy Brooks attended a service at Foothills. “I needed a family,” she remarks. “I had a couple of friends who were members, and I always noticed their enthusiasm when they talked about what their church was doing. I did some research online and decided it was the church I wanted to attend that day.” Brooks walked away from that service feeling like she had found exactly what she needed. Shortly thereafter, she became a member.

Brooks was active in the Sanctuary while Foothills provided housing to Ingrid and her children before their move to the Unitarian church in Boulder. She says, “Instead of thinking I was giving, I knew that what I received was much more.” She has also worked as a welcome kiosk attendant, a greeter, and an usher. As she reflects on her time at Foothills, Brooks wonders, as a Christian, if Foothills is the right church for her. But, she realizes that its main teaching is significant: “Courageous Love has new meaning for me.”

Mark Benjamin also started attending Foothills around the time of the 2016 election, though not necessarily because of it. He explains, “My 16-year old son moved in with me that November. Just before then, he came out to me as transgender, so I looked for churches that would support that.” He also wanted to find a community that “spoke to him.” Foothills offered the inclusiveness and acceptance he sought. Benjamin was involved in the Sanctuary movement; he worked with Gretchen to plan the space and ensure it was done legally.

Now living in Greeley, he’s not as involved as he would like to be, but “still loves going to Foothills.” As a result of his experience there, he feels happier and hopes he can return to being more involved.

Raised UU, Kathy Krisko moved to Fort Collins in the 80s and attended Foothills a few times then. She moved away for her career, but returned in 2014 and started coming to services irregularly in 2015. Then, when the 2016 election occurred, she says, “I felt the need to be in the presence of people who shared at least some of my opinions and concerns. I knew I could connect with other Unitarians, so I began attending services more regularly and became a member.”

Krisko says she’s continued because “it’s a time I can stop myself, sit down, and just listen.” While she doesn’t agree with everything she hears, she feels that Unitarianism is close to what she believes. In addition to attending services, she participates in Tai Chi Chih, a Gather Group, and concerts, and plans to engage in other activities as opportunities arise.

Foothills also holds special meaning for Page Frick, who loves being a part of the community. “After attending since November 2017, it feels like home to me,” she states. Prior to visiting, Frick had admired Foothills for its inclusiveness and commitment to making a difference in the local and global community. She says, “Like so many others, the 2016 election rocked my world. I needed a sane place, a respite, where people held similar views to mine.”

Frick used the opportunity to refocus on her ongoing goals of spiritual growth and giving back. She has attended Base Camp, joined a Gather Group, and volunteered as an usher. She plans to become a member in the near future, and to explore new spiritual practices. She comments, “Foothills comforts me and inspires me to grow as a person. I’m especially grateful for the efforts of Sean and Gretchen and members of the congregation to promote true connection and belonging among people.”

Thanks to everyone mentioned for your heartfelt remarks, and for the “piece of the truth” you bring to the Foothills community.

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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.

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.

Becoming Belonged

Dinner.  Sharing stories.  For-real check ins.  

It’s a simple concept, but it’s not an obvious one.   The conventional wisdom these days is that we’re so busy, the only way to get folks to engage is to make it as easy, short, and simple as possible. To ask that people meet every single week, for 2 hours or more, for 8 weeks, and maybe longer – it’s too much.  

But the fact that we are over-programmed is only one part of the truth; the other, is that we are under-belonged.

I know, “belonged” isn’t technically a word.  But it helps describe how it happens.

Belonging isn’t passive – it’s active, it takes work, and discipline, and commitment – from us, and from others.  Belonging requires partnership.

Although we have more opportunities than ever before for connection, belonging is in short supply.  Only when we decide to prioritize opportunities for real connection, when we show up for true relationship with those who are committed to true relationship with us – can it really take hold.

This is the theory behind our Gather Groups – a new initiative that isn’t so much an initiative as a whole new way of being together.  

Last month at our Group Link we launched 8 new Gather Groups – and 2 pilot groups were already under way – that makes 10 groups of about 10, all of whom are following that simple formula: Dinner, Sharing Stories (related to faith), For-Real Check-ins.  Every Week.  Eight weeks – and then…maybe more, or something else, or – who knows.

Simple, but not easy – and not that short.  Simple, and transformational.  

Meanwhile, we’re piloting a Leadership version – which uses the same formula while intentionally putting mentors (i.e. longtime church leaders) with mentees (potential future leaders) to intentionally tend to leadership development in our congregation.  We’re also piloting a Family version, where families with their children meet to gather and grow together, in community.  We’ll be launching both of these in their full versions by the fall.

If you missed that first Group Link, not to worry – we’re offering another one on March 17th.  More info and sign up here.  

When I look to our future as a congregation, I am excited about the breadth of our potential impact, but I am also overwhelmed by the depth of our potential connections, the power we have to ease the central dis-ease of life today – our separation, our isolation, our longing to be known, and to know one another – for real.  

Skin in the Game

In the service last Sunday, I said our theology of social justice requires that we ask ourselves: what are we willing to risk, and what’s our skin in the game? In the coming weeks, our congregation has the chance to really wrestle with these questions.
It’s been four months since our Sanctuary Team lit the chalice and invited us to start considering the question of becoming a  Sanctuary Congregation. Since then they’ve held forums and informational sessions, reached out to the interfaith and immigrant community, and met extensively with First Unitarian in Denver where they’ve hosted two people in sanctuary.
From this work, and with my full support and appreciation, they brought forward the invitation to the Board to set a special congregational meeting for us to vote on becoming a Sanctuary Congregation.  After two in-depth conversations with the Board, they whole-heartedly agreed.
Which means, it’s finally time to get serious in our conversations with our whole community.  We want to help us all consider what sanctuary means, and if and how we are called to be a Sanctuary Congregation. We want to review what we’ve learned about the risks and the ways to mitigate these risks, even as we recognize that part of what we are called to do – as I said before – is to take risks on behalf of justice, and on behalf of our faith.
With all that in mind, I invite you all to the following opportunities to learn more, to share and discuss together, and for us to decide together, where and how we are called as a congregation in this important path of caring, justice, and courageous love.
  • Sunday, August 13th 8:30 and 10:00 service, “Just Home,” led by the Rev. Mike Morran, First Unitarian Society of Denver, leaders in the Sanctuary movement in the Denver metro area
  • Sunday, August 13th at 11:30 am, following the second service, Informational Workshop on Sanctuary, led by the Sanctuary Team and Foothills staff team – answering all the questions anyone can come up with, talking practical details, sharing in group discernment.  Register to attend this workshop here.
  • Wednesday, August 23rd at 6:30 pm, a 2nd opportunity for the same information provided at the 8/13 Informational Workshop for those who weren’t able to attend, or who want additional info
  • Sunday, August 27th, Special Congregational Meeting at 11:30 am, following the second service, called for the sole purpose of voting on the question “Will Foothills Unitarian Church be designated as a Sanctuary Congregation?” All those who have been members for 30 days or more by 8/27 are welcome to vote.
If you were there on Sunday, you heard the story of Juan, a father of five in the Greeley area who was recently and suddenly deported. While we don’t know for sure, Juan is someone who seems like would’ve been a great candidate for sanctuary – but we weren’t ready.  The need is increasingly urgent to take up this question, and I am grateful for your willingness and partnership as we consider it together.
*This post was originally sent out as a part of the 8/2 Weekly Extra

Donation Days Are Here!

Donation Days are here! The Foothills Rummage Sale is less than two 2 weeks away and donations can be dropped at the church beginning tomorrow July 26th.
Donations accepted:
  • WednesdayThursdayFriday and Monday from 9 a.m.- 8 p.m.
  • Saturday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Sunday 12:30 p.m. -5 p.m.

Please do not drop off donations after hours or during Sunday services. (After the 11 a.m. service a Team member will be available at the RE Building if you want to bring items to church with you on 7/30.)

This year we are accepting:

Art
Baby Items
Baskets
Bikes & Sports   (NO skis)
Books
Boutique
Children’s
Clothes
Children’s Toys
Entertainment-
Decor & Holiday

Furniture
Garden & Pets
Health & Beauty
Jewelry
Kitchen/Housewares   appliances/vacuums,
Linnens & Luggage
Office & Lamps
Rugs
Sewing Crafts
Storage & Organization
Tools & Construction

We aren’t accepting adult clothes (but shoes and accessories are okay) or electronics (like DVD players, computer stuff) this year.

 

Foothills Members & Friends (of the church) sale is Wednesday, Aug. 2:
4:30 p.m. Sale volunteers with 15 or more hours logged shop
5 p.m. Wine and Cheese Reception begins. Sale volunteers (6 or more hours worked) or church members/friends who pay $10 shop
6 p.m. – 8 p.m. FREE for all Foothills members and friends
The public sale is Thursday, Aug. 3 – Saturday, Aug. 5 from 8 – 6 daily. Saturday is 50 percent off everything that is left.
This sale is hugely popular in our community, helping those with lower incomes and students furnish homes and clothe their families. We are coordinating with the nonprofit Homeless Gear in 2017, and half of all net proceeds will go to support their essential programs – homelessgear.org. The other half will support our church’s work.
Many volunteers have stepped up, but there are still several open slots to fill. Childcare is available for volunteers on Saturday, July 29 and Friday, Aug. 4. Please contact jestlick@gmail.com if you need babysitting. Please go to the sign-up sheets at foothillsuu.org/rummagesale and see where you can lend a hand. We’ve shortened the sale and want to see this tradition survive.

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.