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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

One year later

15036731_10210339868347595_5652769351943201453_nA year ago right now, we were preparing for election day.  I woke up and put on a white shirt, and helped my daughter find a white shirt, we took a selfie together – we were planning for an historical outcome in the national election.  It wasn’t that I thought it was a foregone conclusion – I knew the race was tight.  But there was something in my white middle class progressive Unitarian DNA that refused to truly believe that the United States would follow up its election of the first African American president with the election of a president who bragged about sexual assault, or who portrayed Mexican immigrants as rapists, or who denied climate change, or…..

Many of us woke up on November 9th, 2016 stunned by a reality that probably shouldn’t have been such a surprise – but it was.  It was painful, and even traumatic for many to have to face, and the fear of what it would mean hung over all of us with an aching dread.

A year later, I wish I could say that these fears were all unfounded, that the communal grief that sent nearly 430 of you into the Sunday service the Sunday after the election was overblown…..but it has been predictably, a really hard year.  The fights for health care, and GLBT rights, and against the Refugee Ban, and the campaign-promise-fulfilling willingness to deport all those who are undocumented, regardless on the impact on families or on the individual worthiness as a contributing part of our community…the twitter fueds and the re-initiated global panic on the potential of nuclear war….these all take a toll, on all of us.

The ripple effects of anxiety and overwhelm, dread, and even despair have therapists working overtime, and still each Sunday, so many come for the first time, seeking some way to making meaning and to find hope in the midst of this difficult and upside down world.

A year later, however, I am not without good news.  I’ve watched – in countless meetings and in small conversations – a new desire to engage, to make a difference, to orient our lives towards meaningful contributions, and to learn the skills needed to listen more deeply, connect more authentically, and to be a part of much needed healing and restoration for our world.

I’ve seen a deeper commitment to spiritual growth, to attending worship, to giving of yourself in time and with money – this great generosity of spirit in service of a larger vision.  And I’ve seen bright faces of joy, and hope, each Sunday – a huge desire to learn, and grow, and be a part of the change we wish to see.

I’ve also seen new grassroots organizations formed, and new partnerships started – some of these have been especially important for our congregation and our learning in addressing homelessness, economic justice, and interfaith relationships.  And, a new boldness and courage has taken shape in all sorts of ways, not the least of which in our community has been visible in our sanctuary vote and efforts.

In the past ten months, I’ve taken so many people to their first protest march, it’s incredible.  And, I’ve seen a willingness to take risks on behalf of deeper values in ways that I truly don’t think would’ve happened even a couple years ago.

What’s especially meaningful to me through all of this, however, is that I know that not everyone agrees about all the things, or in all the same way – and yet we have found a way to remain in conversation and dialogue.  We have been working hard at learning how to have meaningful conversations about real things – and yet to be able to disagree, even while staying connected. It’s a practice that’ll likely take us our whole lives, and so we will continuously rely on grace, and spiritual practices of renewal, and a respect of a regular Sabbath, however that looks like to each of us.

As we cross this year mark, I am especially aware of the potential for burnout – in all of us.  That we will simply be too overwhelmed or too tired to keep engaging, that church and community and participating could feel like just one more item on an already too-full to-do list.  That the initial burst of resistance will transform into old complacency or cynicism.

This is all on my mind and heart as I look ahead to our plans for the next few months and beyond – at church, and in my own life.  We have many days ahead, and there’s no guarantee things are going to get easier.  We must be vigilant in all the things that allow us to keep going, to remain at the table so that we can do the hard work, to keep tending to that bright thread of hope.  And we must keep leaning in to care for each other, sing for and with each other, make meals for and with one another, keep taking time for gratitude, and joy; silence and story; community and care – committing ourselves once again to the power and potential of real, authentic community of trust and accountability, calling us to show up each day, and offer ourselves to that greater vision.

 

Seeking Board Committee Members

As a follow up to this post from the Board of Trustees, the Board is looking for a few additional members to join their newly formed committees:

  • Governance Committee – the committee charged with editing and drafting of policies, and drafting of new policies to be brought to the full Board
  • Finance Committee – the committee responsible for auditing the church’s compliance with financial policy
  • Space Task Force – the committee responsible for leading the conversation around our building and our space needs
  • Personnel Committee – the committee responsible for auditing the church’s compliance with personnel policies

Each of these need at least one additional person beyond Board members.  We have begun recruiting for these positions, and wanted to make sure that anyone who may be interested had a chance to express that interest.  If you want to learn more and see if your gifts may be a fit for these teams, send an email to theboard@foothillsuu.org before September 30th.

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!