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.  


Pausing the Holiday Rush

This week marks the beginning of advent, which in the Christian tradition is a season of anticipation, paying attention, and waiting.   It is a time that invites our intentional pause, and slowing down so that we might more fully notice all that is about to be born.

In other words, advent embodies precisely the opposite of what many of us are feeling this holiday time of year.  So often we spend our Decembers in a rush, filled up not with anticipation but with anxiety, overwhelm, and sometimes even dread.

This year, we could all use the practice of advent.  To listen more intentionally, that we might hear beyond the restlessness, to pause more fully that we might see beyond the rush, to breathe more deeply that we might know ourselves still becoming, to see all that is growing and beginning in joy.

During this holiday season, we invite you to join us for a time of greater intention, attention, awareness, anticipation, and joy.

  • Join us on Sundays for explorations of memory (12/3) and hope (12/10), as well as our special all-music Sunday on the 17th with a theme of JOY.
  • Also on the 17th, join our Earth Based Path group for a traditional casting of the circle in honor of Yule – set up at 5, ritual at 6.
  • On the 21st we’ll gather to welcome the return of the light for our special holiday vespers at 6:15.
  • On Christmas Eve (a Sunday this year!) we’ll have 4 services – 10 am (a “Kitschy Christmas” celebration), 5 & 7 pm (family Christmas services) and 9 pm (Lessons & Carols).
  • And on New Year’s Eve Sunday, we’ll celebrate Fire Communion at 8:30 & 10, and at 11:30 we’ll share in waffle church with an abridged Fire Communion service.

Beyond worship, join us on the 17th for our annual Holiday Craft Fair – a sure bet for any gifts you haven’t yet been able to find.  Also, look for news from Chris Reed on our new-this-year family holiday pick-up choir.

Over the Christmas week, we’ll also be hosting families experiencing homelessness with Faith Family Hospitality, and we invite you to sign up to bring and share in a meal, or stay over night.

Whether in worship, in community, in service together, or simply in the breaths that fill all the space in between all of these, and that flow through and connect us all – in these days, my hope is that we can all find that pause of advent in our holiday rush, and remember there what it feels like to anticipate with joy, to notice with wonder, to let laughter overcome us, to be filled with hope.  This is my hope, and it is also an invitation, to keep coming back to this pause – we can practice, and become, 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.



Following an Earth Based Path

by Libby, a member of Foothills

I am a wildlife biologist and animist, which means I balance being a scientist with a belief that everything on our planet has a spirit. I also believe in the interconnectedness of these spirits in the web of life – whether at the molecular, physical, or metaphysical level – we are all one connected being.  We are the ferruginous hawk, the cutthroat trout, the bison, the coal and oil extracted from the ground, and the prairie meadow at sunrise. When I see these things, I see the divine. When I look out at your faces, you reflect back to me this same connection to divinity in our natural world.

Nathan has been asking me recently where and when he can see gods, goddesses, and spirits. As an adult with an earth-based spiritual practice, I have gained my own familiarity with how to see these spirits. Now as a parent, I’m challenged with how to share this knowledge with my son in a way that makes sense and won’t get him ostracized at school.  As a parent, I have appreciated the religious education classes here at Foothills that reinforce and expand on what I teach at home.

One of the reasons I became a member of Foothills is one of the core theological principles of Unitarian Universalism is that “All of life is connected and interdependent”.  That the ground we walk on is holy, the air we breathe is holy. That as a community we affirm that all life on this planet has an inherent worth and dignity, not just human life.  Celebrating Earth Day is a reaffirmation for us as Unitarian Universalists to find and care for our holy planet. As science teaches us, each of our actions has a reaction, whether in service projects, prayer, meditation, or in climate justice advocacy work. We light this chalice to honor the earth and all our actions to protect her.


Discerning Desires (including an update on personnel committee and assistant minister planning)

From Rev. Gretchen Haley
January always seems a challenging month. All those things we said we would do “in the new year” suddenly need to be done, and there is a little less daylight and a little more cold, making motivation and time harder to come by.  Also, pastoral concerns are often their toughest in January.  The rumors about people “waiting” through the holiday season are true it turns out.  It is tough on the heart, and the schedule.
I was able to take some time away in January, all part of an intentional plan to set the foundations for my beginning as senior minister in July.  It’s not exactly “vacation,” but rather intentionally set-aside time to prepare, study, and reflect.  I’ll be taking a week or two every month between now and July (except this month) for this sort of study leave.
In January, my time was devoted to three things:
First, getting some much needed rest and re-setting after the pace of the past year and a half.  I had a great time catching up on streaming television, books I’d been meaning to read (especially Ta-Nehisi Coates’Between the World and Me), and cleaning the house (for some reason it doesn’t stayclean…).
Secondly, I began setting some important foundations around personnel practices.  I reached out to other UU congregations of a similar size about their practices as an employer, and I spoke with a UUA consultant who specializes in supporting Directors of Music and Religious Education.  I convened a mini-summit of past, present and potential future Personnel Committee members to clarify lessons and questions for us in meeting our ethical, legal and programmatic requirements as an employer. From these initial steps I will be forming an HR Task Force that will (in collaboration with the Governance Task Force) advise the Board and me regarding how we can address these vital questions.  More information on this in the coming weeks.
Third, and perhaps most exciting of all, I spent a good deal of time on the early stages of our search for an Assistant Minister.  I’ll be providing a full update (along with our newly appointed Search Committee – Scott Denning, Bonnie Inscho, Sara Edwards and Tim Pearson) on February 14th after both services.  For now, let me just summarize by sharing that we had a very strong applicant pool from all across the country. By the 3rd week of February we will have that group narrowed down to 2 candidates, and by the end of March, we will likely have a candidate ready to start in August! I am inspired and humbled by the enthusiasm and skills of my colleagues who are applying to serve this congregation and join our team.  We have the great problem of needing to choose the best fit among many strong candidates.  Join us on the 14th at either 10:10 or 12:30 for more information!
With all of these great “away” projects, it remains also a busy and exciting time at the church.  Between the new Foundations series, Sunday services, Vespers, preparations for the pledge drive, and all the usual stuff of church life, I have been feeling a little extra packed.  If you’re with me on that and you too had a busier than usual January, here’s to a return to equilibrium in February – remembering that even when we “desire” to do it all, sometimes the most important part of desire is discerning what we will not be able to do, and how to maintain a sustainable pace.  That’s my hope for all of us – in February, and in our continued shared ministry together.
In partnership,

Partner Church Trip to Transylvania in August 2016 by Bob Viscount, co-chair partner church committee

For 25 years Foothills Unitarian Church has had a partner church relationship with the small Unitarian congregation in Bethlenszentmiklos, Transylvania, Romania.  We have had various levels of contact over the years, and for the past 10 years we have provided funds for scholarships to help the youth of the congregation attend private secondary schools where Hungarian is used as a language of instruction and choices are available for the religious education classes.

For 2016 in August we want to have a group from our congregation tour Transylvania and participate in a work project in Bethlenszentmiklos.  This trip is organized by the UU Partner Church Council and will be from August 8 to 18, with an optional extension to Budapest from August 18 to 21, which will include Hungarian National Day on August 20.

The time in Transylvania will concentrate on places that are important for Unitarian history, which dates back to the 16th century —

  • Torda – where the first act of religious tolerance was signed in 1568
  • Kolozsvár – where the Transylvanian Unitarian Church has its headquarters, high school, and 1st Church which houses the “Rock” of  Francis David.
  • Marosvasarhely – home to the spectacular Art Nouveau Cultural Palace and the Teleki Library, Transylvania’s oldest public library, which houses one of the world’s great rare book collections.
  • Gyulaferhervar – where a 1000 year-old church shelters the remains of the Unitarian King – John Sigismund and his mother Isabella.
  • Sighisoara – the medieval walled city which is both a UNESCO World Heritage site and the purported birthplace of Vlad Tepes – aka “Dracula”.
  • Biertan – the magnificent Saxon fortress church (a UNESCO World Heritage site) that served as the seat of the Lutheran Bishop of Transylvania for 300 years.
  • Meszko – the “Alabaster Village” made famous by the book of the same name.
  • Deva – the ruins of the prison where Francis David died

In Bethlenszentmiklos we will help with the restoration of the old Hungarian school building, which the Unitarian congregation plans to use as a community center.  The building was “nationalized” in 1947 when the communist government came to power, and it has stood empty, unused and deteriorating until 2015.  Now the exterior walls have been stabilized and a new roof installed.  But there is a lot of interior restoration still needed, and both front and back yards need help.

The cost of the land package is $1,150 (double occupancy) plus a $150 non-refundable registration fee.  Add $125 for single supplement.  The package does not include air fare, gratuities, alcoholic beverages, or other personal expenses.  The optional Budapest extension is $570 (double occupancy), and a $130 single supplement.

For the detailed itinerary, contact Bob Viscount (970-223-5975) or  Or see the Partner Church Committee section of the bulletin board in the social hall.

When you are ready to reserve a spot on the trip, the trip id number  is 3287059. It is up on the UUPCC website  and ready for registration. Just go to and click on Pilgrimages, then select “group pilgrimages” from the drop down menu. Scroll down to where you enter the above id number. That will take you to a page specifically devoted to the Foothills trip. Registration is set to close on April 30th.


Freeing Forgiveness – Exploring October’s Theme

forgive-everyone-everything“What does it mean to be a people of Forgiveness?”

As a child, growing up Catholic, my sense was that we should give away forgiveness like candy at Halloween: freely and readily, to anyone who comes asking.  As an adult Unitarian Universalist, however, I have realized that forgiveness is a lot more complicated and challenging than that image would imply.

What should we ask of those who have hurt us before we offer forgiveness – if anything? Must someone seek your forgiveness in order for you to forgive them? What if they can’t or won’t? What about self-forgiveness? Is there a point where something or someone is beyond forgiveness? What about forgiveness of a group, community, or institution? …Or life itself?

Forgiveness is connected to memory and time.  It asks us to engage our feelings about something in the past in order to change our experience in the present, and move into the future.  Forgiveness is an act of vulnerability – both from the one seeking forgiveness and the one offering it – as it reveals the risks of trying to love in an imperfect world.

In September, we have been asking “What does it mean to be a people of Invitation?” Inviting requires we make space in our lives and in our hearts – create a clearing, open our hands, and let life move freely in, and out – as it is all a gift.  And living with open hands and an open heart requires we become a people of forgiveness.

Since forgiveness is not as simple as candy on Halloween, we will offer many opportunities this month for reflection, practice and exploration of October’s monthly theme, forgiveness. This Sunday, October 4th, we will begin with a multi-sensory worship experience exploring forgiveness.  After service, we will offer a workshop on the theme from 12:30-1:30.  I will be leading Forgiveness Practice Circles on Tuesdays in October at 6 pm – come to one or all of these to literally practice forgiving – whatever or whomever needs forgiveness in your life.  Our popular evening vespers (contemplative) services return October 15th at 6 pm where we will be exploring forgiveness through song, meditation and ritual.  And finally, I want to encourage you to join our new small group that will delve deeper into the Sunday sermons and the theme, which kicks off Sunday the 18th, although after this month will run every 2nd and 4th Sunday at 12:30. You can “drop in” to experience these sermon-based reflection circles, though our recommendation is you attend at least 6 throughout the year to strengthen the experience for everyone.

It will be a rich month, and I look forward to exploring all of this and more with you.  – Gretchen