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

Rummage Sale Update

The Rummage Sale Task Force has been working over the past couple of months to re-envision the Rummage Sale, to address the various issues and concerns that have come up over the year – mostly related to lack of space, struggles to find sufficient volunteers, and an overall stress some have felt in trying to sustain such a big project.

We’ve decided to try scaling back the sale, primarily by doing the following:

  • Reducing the time it takes for set up and sell to 10 days
  • Eliminating and and sale of adult clothing
  • Eliminating collection and sale of electronics
  • Eliminating sales on Sunday. Sunday will be all church cleanup
  • Training additional personnel on non-global pricing to expand number of folks who can do pricing, provide consistency and reduce rework
Additionally, we are looking to enhance the mission focus by connecting it more explicitly to courageous love.  We are exploring the possibility of “sharing the plate” with a selected community partner, and also partnering with that organization for help in setting up and/or clean up of the sale.


Additionally, we are establishing a 3 person Lead team – and we are very much in need of 2 additional folks to fill in this role . Without finding people for this team in the next week or so, we will not be able to proceed with a sale this year.  If you would like a great opportunity to make a meaningful difference in our community, and want to learn more about the Lead team, please contact Gretchen at and she’ll send you the job description and basic time requirements.
We are very hopeful that we can continue this wonderful Foothills tradition!

Come one, come all!

By Erin Hottenstein, President, Board of Trustees

Come one, come all! This is a two-part theme for this update from your Board of Trustees. First, it is an invitation to our upcoming congregational forum on Wednesday, January 18, at 6 p.m. and an official congregational meeting on Sunday, January 29, at 10:15 a.m. More on these in a moment.

Second, I believe “come one, come all” is also a great welcoming approach for Foothills Unitarian Church to live into right now. As Fort Collins is growing, so are we. We have been seeing and continue to see many lovely new faces. It is an exciting time and calls upon us to respond in a conscious way. We are an open and accepting community that encourages spiritual growth (3rd principle!) – yet it can be a challenge some Sundays when we have a lack of seats. So, how can we widen our circle?

One way (and maybe you’ve already heard) is that we will have a 12-week experiment of three Sunday services instead of two. The times of the three services will be 8:00 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. We will need 50-100 people from each service to shift to a different service during the experiment and we hope that you will consider responding in this way. Think of it as a new spiritual practice in welcoming that you could take on for February, March and April.

Another way we are responding is that the Board of Trustees has made it a priority this year to dialogue with the congregation about our physical space. We have already heard lots of comments and conversations on this topic – how could we not? – but now that we are through the interim period and we have launched a new ministry, we believe that it is time to bring these questions to the fore. Stay tuned for opportunities to meet with us and share your insights.

Speaking of meetings, there are some coming up that I would like to highlight. On Wednesday, January 18, at 6 p.m., the Board will host an informational forum. We hold these sessions several times a year to keep you updated on work happening behind-the-scenes here at Foothills. We thought we would try a mid-week forum to reach more people. You will be able to hear reports on finances, membership and the Governance Task Force.

By the way, in case you can’t make it, the Governance Task Force and the Board have been hard at work. Over the last couple of years, the Board realized that our church had in place organizational structures that we have outgrown. The Board decided that it was important to our future success to improve these organizational structures, and so we charged the Governance Task Force to lead the change.

What does this mean for you? Well, one change that the Board has endorsed reducing the size of the Board from 11 down to 7. At the same time, the Board supported the idea of lengthening Board terms from two years to three years. We hope this will have several benefits. We think this will make the Board more nimble – I just read a newspaper article about how seven is a great number of people to ensure effective and efficient meetings. (You can find it on our Board of Trustees bulletin board in the social hall.) We also believe that lengthening the Board terms will result in a good balance between fresh ideas and maintaining institutional knowledge. Many previous Board members have said that they were just getting in the swing of things when their two-year term ended. Please, join us on January 18 to hear more about the work of the Board and the Governance Task Force.

Lastly, you may have heard either in church or on another blog post that we have the great honor of ordaining our Assistant Minister Sean Neil-Barron. This is a rare event in the life of our church. Bestowing this honor requires an official vote at an official congregational meeting. Therefore, we have called a special congregational meeting for Sunday, January 29, at 10:15 a.m. Only members who have signed the book at least 30 days in advance may vote. To learn more about the process, watch this blog or The Extra for special sessions the Committee on Shared Ministry is holding to answer any questions you may have.

So, mark your calendars, and come one, come all.

Our New Sunday Morning Hospitality Plan: Connecting Our Many Groups

It’s no secret that we have been trying all kinds of ideas to help our community be a part of the ways we greet, usher, and provide social hour hospitality on Sunday – I am beginning my fourth year with Foothills, and I think we’ve tried at least 5 different big ideas since I started to try to find just the right fit.

With over 800 adults and 300 kids and youth who consider themselves in one way or another a part of our community, it is somewhat of a funny mystery why we struggle so much to fill our ushers, greeters, visitor table staff, and coffee-maker jobs every Sunday.  It’s not that our community isn’t willing to pitch in – we have in the range of 200 people doing some sort of service for the church or on behalf of the church every week! Yet….nearly every Friday, we keep finding ourselves without sufficient folks to take on these important jobs….

Over the past couple of months, the Membership Team and the staff has been brainstorming and thinking through what’s going on with this dilemma.  Through lots and lots of conversation, we came up with a plan that we are all feeling very good about, and two Sundays ago we launched our new plan.

This plan invites all of our groups – and I do mean all – from the Board to the Choir to ESL tutors to….everyone! – to cover at least one (and if they are big, more than one) Sunday in the church year, filling all of the hospitality roles as a team.  We created a calendar slotting everyone in, and we discovered that when every group participates we are able to cover the whole year of Sundays without any problem!

The group providing these important hospitality roles will in turn be promoted through an insert in the order of service and with special nametags, which will help our wider community to know more about all of the ways to connect in our congregation.   Serving together also allows the group to strengthen their relationship with one another, their sense of teamwork, as well as their connections to the congregation.  We had in mind building on the model the Brotherhood has kept over the years where they serve coffee together regularly – giving back to the community and strengthening their relationship with one another.

If you want to serve on Sunday but you aren’t a part of a group, don’t worry! We have created a group called the Free Rangers where we will invite you to fill in when groups aren’t able to cover all the slots, and a few Sundays in the year are reserved for the Free Rangers entirely.  To sign up for the Free Rangers, contact Kathryn at

If you are a part of a group, ask your group leader when YOUR Sunday is, and get it on your calendar now! We hope everyone will show up for their group’s Sunday, help people know about their group and ways to get involved, provide a wonderful welcome for everyone who comes on Sunday, and have fun along the way.

Thank you to all who do so much for our congregation.  I am constantly amazed and grateful to be a part of this generous, joyful and welcoming community.

– Rev. Gretchen Haley, in partnership with the Membership Team and the staff

Our Shared Ministry of Welcome and Connection – An Update from the Membership Team

“Welcome to our church!  What brings you here?  Let us help you get connected!”

If you’ve ever stopped by, wandered past – or perhaps volunteered at – the Visitors’ Kiosk, you’ve probably heard those words or variations on the theme.  They are what our Membership Team has focused on this year – welcoming visitors and helping them find their way into our church.

Under our beautiful new “Welcome” sign at the Kiosk repositioned to make sure our smiling faces are the first thing newcomers might find when they come in our front door, we seek to share our 4 Ways to Connect – Intro Sundays, Explorations Small Group Ministry, Path to Membership classes, and Connections Dinner. 

Our Team sponsors these offerings throughout the year so there’s always an upcoming  way “in”  regardless of when newcomers find us.  We plan our programs to promote our 5 Practices of Meaningful Membership: Gather for Worship, Grow in Spirit, Serve in Partnership, Give in Gratitude and Connect in Community. 

Our work is fueled with a passion for warmly welcoming fellow seekers to our liberal faith.  We are excited to be launching our new Radical Welcome Team this summer.  With those folks focusing on “the front door” and with expanded professional staff hours through an experimental shared position with the Unitarian Universalist Church in Greeley, the Membership Team will be broadening its focus.  We dream of finding better ways to identify new and existing members’ gifts and passions to connect all of us with new opportunities to serve,  grow and strengthen our church community.

Does this sound like exciting work?  If so, please join us!  To get involved, contact Kathryn Boyle at or 493-5906.

Membership Team:  Kay Williams; Karen Harder; Mary Rundquist; Jack Zak; Ann Molison; Kathryn Boyle, Staff Support; Rev. Gretchen Haley, Associate Minister

Church and Family – “Extra” Lead Article, week of May 6th

Sometimes I have heard people describe Foothills as a family, even as “my family.” There’s a lot of rich meaning in describing a church this way.  However, the description is not always as straightforward as you might think.

Sometimes people mean to describe an intimacy and connection that they associate with a family – people who know you, and who love you, and who will be there for you, no matter what.  This is what we hope families are like! Through small group connections, social gatherings, and worshipping and serving together, it can be a profound experience to discover this type of web of relationships with people beyond those society might name as your actual family.

On the other hand, many people have not had that experience of a family.  Instead, family means dysfunction, struggle, even violence.  Family gatherings bring to mind discomfort, inauthenticity, addiction, abuse.  If this is you, maybe the church has been, or you hope it can be, a place where you experience the opposite of your family-of-origin, a place where you can finally experience that idealized sense of family our culture promises but often falls short of delivering.  Or, maybe the church affirms your past experience, and you feel heart broken all over again.

The truth is, churches are made of imperfect and complicated human beings, just like families.  Idealizing either will inevitably lead to disappointment, heart ache, and perpetuating rather than transforming cycles of suffering.  Instead, we are called to use what we experience – whether joy or sorrow, disappointment or discomfort – in others as a mirror reflecting back questions for our own growth, our own spiritual journey and development.  We are invited to ask: What am I seeing in this person that is a reflection of something in me that needs to change, grow, or transform? What fear does it touch on, what value does it tug on, what new insight does it offer me? What compassion can I bring for myself, for the other in our encounter?

I have mixed feelings about using the word “family” to describe a congregation – but I do think that like families, churches reveal our complicated, multi-layered natures, and how exponentially greater that complication grows when we are in relationship.  And yet unlike families, we participate in our gathered covenanted community by choice.  We keep showing up, keep participating because we choose to serve something greater than ourselves, choose to work towards a world and our individual hearts filled with more love, more justice, and a greater peace.  It is this shared mission that keeps us grounded, even when we encounter disappointment or frustration.

Let us be patient with ourselves, and with one another.  I do believe that saying (attributed to many, most often Plato) offers us a great mantra – for families, churches, and the world: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Changes to Sunday Morning – aka, What happened to the chairs?!

A couple Sundays ago I confessed some of my yearnings for control in the interim period, despite acknowledging that the interim time is a period of some intentional chaos – where being off-balance in the midst of change helps us learn and discover our new identity.  And so control isn’t really the point.

This was the reason behind spending the first 45 minutes of our last Board meeting surfacing the changes we have experienced in our congregational life over the past 2 or 3 months.  As we identified some of the things we’ve each noted as new or different, we were able to release some of the anxiety and instead tap into our shared curiosity and desire for learning.  What were the reasons behind these changes? What can we learn about ourselves and our community from our reactions to them? What is the new invitation being made and what would it feel like to say yes – to experiment with a new thing?

Most of the changes on our list had to do with Sunday morning. We talked about the dedication of the offering, the intentional greeting that David and I are doing, and the receiving opportunity after the service.  And we spent time talking about the chairs in the social hall.  As in, there not being any.

It’s true.  We’ve asked our ushers and our newly created role of the Worship Host (think: stage manager or if you’re into the Vicar of Dibley, you might think: verger) to refrain from putting up chairs in the back unless it becomes absolutely necessary.  Why? For a bunch of reasons, including:

  • We have enough space in the main sanctuary to accommodate everyone most Sunday services.  There are usually 3 or 4 fully empty rows in the upper west side (closest to the ministers…hmmm….).  We have realized that people coming in later cannot always see these empty chairs, but they are there, most Sundays.  And when they aren’t (like last Sunday’s awesome turn out! – then the ushers are authorized to put up chairs as needed.
  • The social hall sitting experience is not a great experience of worship.  The sound isn’t great.  There are often distractions. It keeps us divided.
  • This point is made more important by the fact that often newcomers sit in the social hall.  This keeps our guests literally at a distance, keeps them from being fully invited in to our community.  Often this includes families with younger children and young adults – those people who we all agree we need the presence of in our church community!

At the same time, creating a space of welcome for everyone without those chairs will take a group effort.  We ask that people who arrive earlier to sit towards the front, especially the upper west side (we won’t bite or call on you….much).  And we ask that ushers do more active ushering, helping people find a place to sit when we’re full, and asking people to move over to make room.  And finally we have set aside the last row of the sanctuary for those who arrive late to easily be able to find their seat.  We’ll keep the “reserved sign” there until the Greeting of Neighbors so that anyone who arrives after that point is assured a seat without having to pull up a chair in the social hall. (Also people who want/need to be able to get out quickly i.e. parents of younger kiddos – been there! – are welcome in that last row anytime.)

We do all this so that we can all be together in our worship service, in the same place – so no one has to have that “second class” experience, and to be clear that we are inviting everyone in – all the way in – to the heart of our community and the good news of our faith.  We have a big task – to further the reach of love in our lives, in Northern Colorado, and beyond – and so we need us all, first time guests, long time members, and everyone in between.  Let’s be sure to make the necessary room so all our partners have a place – on Sunday morning, and in all of our shared ministry.

PS Since I posted this I received a couple questions about those who may still want to sit in the social hall for various reasons.  Of course, if you prefer to sit there, no problem! You can still do that.  We just don’t want anyone to feel like there isn’t room or welcome for them in the sanctuary.  Thanks for reading and being in the conversation together.

(If you missed my Oct 19th sermon on Letting Go – or any sermon – you can always find them available by audio at and this and many of my sermon texts are available on my blog: