A Year of Courageous Love | 2016-17 Annual Report

Dear Members of Foothills Unitarian Church,

The church year 2016-17 has been a momentous year for our world, and for our congregation.  We have met the many unforeseen challenges with clarity and conviction and looking back together we truly have risen to answer the call of courageous love. Here are just a few of our highlights from our year together:

We enthusiastically and unanimously claimed Unleashing Courageous Love as our collective mission.

Not only did we install a new senior minister for the first time in 25 years, we also ordained our assistant minister, marking our first ordination in that same period.

Our community has rallied to found the first mobile food bank site in Larimer County ensuring that each month over 100 families have access to the food they need.

The day after the election, we gathered all together to sing, grieve, pray, and just be together. Responding to the pain and division in the wake of the election, we proclaimed our Universalist faith loudly for all to see on Drake.

We’ve ramped up efforts for Climate Justice, convened an Interfaith Coalition for Sanctuary, and given away our space for community organizing that aligns with our values.  

And our work for justice and healing has not gone unnoticed by our national movement. Foothills was announced as the 2017 winner of the Bennett Award for Congregational Social Justice efforts!  Read more about the Bennett Award.

To make space for all are seeking our progressive religious community, we added a 3rd Sunday morning service in February, resulting in more than 30% greater attendance on Sundays during this same period in any prior year since we began tracking in 1984.

We demonstrated a greater generosity than we have ever shown – breezing past our previous top-limit of 400 pledging units to a total of 404 households making a financial commitment to our mission, and giving away over $37,438 to our community partners through our Share the Plate efforts.

We also brought to completion our governance work that has been ongoing for the past 3 years.  The Governance Task Force has met with numerous leaders and groups so that we can make official the many changes that we’ve been experimenting with over the last 5 years, and add to these a greater degree of accountability and alignment.  

We hope you’ll dive into the 2016-2017 Annual Report which offers a fuller picture of our ministries and the governance proposal which summarizes the changes we hope to make official in the coming church year. We hope to see all our members at our Annual Congregational Meeting June 4th at 11:30 AM.  

There have been times in the past year when we might’ve given into despair. Instead, we responded to these challenges with a stronger and clearer sense of mission.

Looking ahead, together we can build on all we’ve learned and become this year as we seek to transform Northern Colorado – and beyond – with the power and promise of Unitarian Universalism.

In partnership,

Rev. Gretchen & Rev. Sean

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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.

It’s time to Answer the Call of Love – from Kay Williams

Foothills HeartFlame logo 2.1.17 ANSWERING THE CALL O LOVE (1).jpgIt’s time. Time to help support all of the important work that Foothills is doing to unleash courageous love in Northern Colorado and beyond. It’s time to affirm what Foothills means to you and your family personally.  And, it’s time to thoughtfully consider your financial commitment and the ways that love calls each of us, and all of us together to respond to the challenges and hopes of our world today.

It’s time to answer the call of love.

We ask all friends and members to keep an eye on your snail mailbox during the next few days – you’ll find information on the ways we’ve been growing, and the ways we are all needed to respond to the needs of today – to meet the rising fear and hatred with a bolder, more courageous love.

To dive in now, be sure to check out our website to see where we have been and where we are going as we discover what it will mean to Answer the Call of Love.

Thank you for your generous support of Foothills and for making all that we do together possible – Kay Williams, Stewardship Team Chair

P.S. If you’ve been preparing your taxes, and thinking you would like to save money on them next time, click here to learn how your pledge of financial commitment to Foothills can provide you with tax advantages for next year.

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 Church Directory Experience

Dear friends,

We have heard from many of you that the experience with the photographers for our recent church directory was less than ideal, and that’s putting it mildly.  Others of you who we haven’t heard from, I’m assuming things went generally fine, or just not bad enough to warrant letting us know.

I am so sorry for these negative experiences – it was hard to hear them from you, and hard to figure out how best to address them after-the-fact.  One small thing I’ve done is written a letter to the directory company letting them know about our experiences and asking them to better train and prepare their photographers and more pro-actively anticipate the backlog/wait time that many of you experienced.

You can find the full text of that letter here.

I know that coming out for photos can be inconvenient and stressful even in the best of circumstances.  I am sorry that for some of you this was made more stressful, and I so appreciate your willingness to deal with these moments with your usual grace and sense of humor.

With that said, as you’ll see in my letter, based on the response from the company, we will be considering if we will use them for our next directory.  I will let you know as we see how things develop.

In the meantime, our directory has gone to press and you should be able to pick one up after the holidays.  Let me know if you have any questions or further feedback, and thank you for your patience and presence in this and in all things.

In partnership,

Gretchen

 

From Covenant to Healing: How We Care, and Belong

I remember hearing a story about a young couple that showed up at a church for the first time. They had recently moved to the area and were church shopping. Walking into the church they quickly noticed that nobody, and I mean nobody, was even close to their age. If you took their parents’ age and added it to their age, you would get in the ballpark of the average age of the congregation. But…five years later they were still there. Why?

After they visited the congregation for the first time, one of them was diagnosed with cancer.  Even though they had only been to the congregation that one time, a church member followed up with them.

The afternoon after the first chemo treatment, the couple responded to a knock at the door and they were met with the sight of a casserole sitting on their front door, steaming, and the back of a church member hurrying away. And the casseroles kept coming. For months. Why did they stay? Because the congregation cared about them deeply, and they knew they belonged.

I have only been getting to know Foothills for a short time, but in that time I have witnessed a spirit of love rippling outward. People at Foothills actually want to hear the truth when we ask them “How are you doing?” What a healing balm that is, and how critical it is to that hope we all have to feel like we belong.  

Within our congregation, we have dedicated teams that actively partner in our shared ministry of care and belonging:

  • Our Parish Visitors care and visit with dozens of people within our community each month who need a listening ear.
  • Our Meals Team jumps into action to provide meals during times of stress and need.
  • Our Cards Crew helps us reach out and share our concern 
  • Our Caring Team connects people to rides to church and supports hospitality during memorial services
  • Our small groups – each led by a trained and supported facilitator –  offer a sense of intimacy, connection, and shared spiritual growth

Our professional ministry team, Rev. Haley and myself, extend this care by offering pastoral care and counseling, end of life support, rites of passage, and alleviate financial burdens for members through the Ministerial Discretionary Fund.

If you would like to join one or more of these teams – if you think you may have, as we spoke about this Sunday, a calling to this important ministry, please contact Sean (sean@foothillsuu.org). 

In a church our size, it can sometimes be hard to figure out how to access this care, and you can often wonder if they are meant for you. They are. Dropping by or calling the church office, sending an email to caring@foothillsuu.org or connecting directly with Sean (sean@foothillsuu.org) are the easiest ways to start the conversation. If you think you know a member who might need some support, please let us know in these ways, as well.

This month, our theme moves from covenant to healing.  It is our ministry of care where these two themes come together.  May our walk together be one where we deeply care for each other, healing ourselves, and our world.

Eagerly Enthusiastic, Passionately Provoked

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About 50 of us from Foothills toured the new Mormon Temple last Tuesday.  Here’s Eleanor Van Deusen, Sean Neil-Barron and Gretchen Haley in the photo op they offer at the end of the tour.  

I’ve come to the realization that I’ve officially over-used the word, “excited.”

How do I  feel to finally be starting my new senior ministry? Excited.  How am I feeling about Sean’s new ministry? Excited. How am I feeling about the church – all that’s going on, and all we’ve got planned? I’m so excited.

Time to consult the minister’s BFF, thesaurus.com.  And now, I am happy to share with you that….

I am delighted with the great summer we have had.  Our worship attendance has been regularly record-breaking for summer – if you were at Water Communion, you got a taste of what I mean – many summer Sundays had more than 250 adults and children for a single service, and we have welcomed at least 80 newcomers over the course of the past 3 months.  Wow!  (To all of you who may be reading this: Welcome!)

What’s more, I’m passionate about the services we’ve been able to offer each Sunday this summer, especially with the steady partnership from Lehne Leverette who coordinated music for five Sundays while our music director, Ryan Marvel was away.  And because of our increased hours for Ryan in this year’s budget, I was thrilled to have him return from his time away four Sundays earlier than usual.

I’ve also been extremely animated about the Faith Cafe and Community Office Hours, as it’s allowed me and other staff members to meet and connect with you in smaller groups, and go deeper more quickly.  We’ll definitely be continuing these (with some tweaks) as we head into the fall.

Speaking of the fall, I’m fired up at all we’ll be offering to grow in spirit, connect in community and serve in partnership this fall.  Check out our “Next Big Thing” section for more details, but let me summarize by saying – we have been thinking carefully about what our community needs – across all our ages and stages – in light of the November election, considering the particular challenges of the various stages of life, and in service to our Unitarian Universalist good news and commitment to lifelong learning.  We have created a robust offering of small groups, classes, spiritual practices and other ways to- as our new mission statement puts it – embrace diversity, grow our faith, and awaken our spirits to the unfolding meaning of this life.

I hope it piques your interest to learn that our theme for the whole year will be “Learning to Lovingly Disagree.” This is in addition to the monthly themes we’ll continue as a part of the Soul Matters Sharing Circle.  This fall we’ll be delving into covenant, healing, story, and presence in worship, and across all of our lifespan religious education.  Sean, Ryan, Eleanor and I are weaving together a series of Sundays to address the breadth and depth of human experiences, and that will continue to strengthen our sense of belonging and connection with something greater than we are.  Don’t forget the return of the vespers services on September 22nd at 6 pm!

I am especially enthusiastic about the many ways to serve our greater community – we’ll continue our partnership with Faith Family Hospitality, start a few new villages for One Village One Family, and we’ll partner with the Food Bank on a pilot program for mobile food distribution 2 Sundays a month starting in October (did you see the article in the Coloradoan this Sunday? see if you can find our mention tucked in there).  This last one I am particularly on fire about because it is an opportunity for families to serve together – we’ll welcome kids 10 and up (willing to actively help)!

And, I am charged up at the energy I am feeling from many of you who are seeking to serve within our congregation in new ways, and hopeful that I can work with Sean and the Nominating Committee to create better and fuller pathways to help more of you more easily find your place where service becomes joy.

Through all of this programming, I can’t forget to mention the event I am most eagerly anticipating – my installation service as senior minister, on October 2nd at 4 pm.  I am beside myself thinking about the choral piece we have commissioned Ryan to compose for the occasion, the charge we might hear from Rev. Justin Schroeder for this congregation where he grew up, the story featuring choreography from Eleanor Van Deusen, and the powerful experience it will be to all be together in a single service (as we’ll be holding it at First UMC on Elizabeth and Stover).  Look for your invites to arrive this week!

I hope you’ll join me in eager enthusiasm, passionate provocation, and all around fired-up-ness.  There’s so much good going on, and most of all, it all becomes good because you are there.  You are what makes it good.  I am so grateful.

In partnership,

Gretchen