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

An Update On All The Things

An Update On All The Things

When Sean sent me the note about writing this week’s Extra lead article, he said that my topic should be “an update on all the things.” To help me narrow it down, he gave me a parenthetical list of examples of what that “all” might include: 1) the final decision on our worship times; and 2) the renewal of his contract. They may not be all the things – but they are pretty big things.
1.  Worship Times
The 3rd service experiment was a great success.  Our attendance over the last few months was exponentially greater than it has been in over 30 years, and is not slowing down.  In the past few weeks, we have taken our analysis of the data, in combination with the feedback we’ve received in small groups, in our survey, and through individual emails and conversations (thank you!), and come to a decision about our worship times for the coming year.
From May 28th (Memorial Day weekend) through September 3rd (Labor Day weekend), we will run two services: 8:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.
This is a change from what was previously announced – because we became clear that the best times for worship starting September 10th and running through May 20, 2018 need to be: 
8:30 am, 10:00 am and 11:30 am
This new pattern has its upsides and downsides – as does every possible option.  The primary upside is we believe that it will assure the maximum “spread” of attendance, especially with some adjustments to when classes are offered for children.  The primary downside is the lack of social “hour,” and reduced capacity for between-services programming. We are already brainstorming ways to address the underlying needs for these and other things that will need to adjust. More info on both of these coming soon.
I am excited about this new worship schedule, and our commitment to ensuring that there is plenty of space for all who come seeking our community and who share our mission.  Although our “experiment” is technically concluded – let’s remember that everything we do is an “experiment,” so we can learn how this feels all next year, and if it isn’t working, we can adjust, and try something new once again.
2.  Sean’s Contract
As most of you know (and many have expressed some worry about), Sean is on a one year contract with us, which expires in July.  Over the past few months I have spoken with the Board, the staff team, and the Committee on Shared Ministry, and we all whole-heartedly agree that our hope is that Sean continues in his ministry with us for a long, long time.  Luckily, I also spoke with Sean, and he shares this hope.
From this conversation and reflection, we have offered and Sean has agreed to a renewed contract for the maximum possible length of his visa renewal – 49 months – which extends his contract through August 2021!  I hope you’ll join me in a happy dance / sigh of relief / prayer of THANKS and WOW!
I’m so happy for all of us – first that we found this great match with Sean, and second that we all get to continue to do ministry in partnership with him for at least the next 4 years.  Look for more information on what’s next for our shared ministry with Sean in an upcoming blog post and/or Extra.
An Update on All the Things
If you’re still hoping for the latest news on ALL the things…while I can’t quite offer that, I can at least tell you what I think is perpetually the good news about all the things:
Whatever it is, whatever is going on in your life, or in this world, however, you’re feeling about it – it’s not the end of the story. There’s more truth to be revealed, more truth to unfold, more change to come.  We get to be a part of this unfolding, and a part of the telling, a part of the creating – even as it remains mostly all a mystery to all of us.  So we keep showing up, keep doing what we can, and continuing to offer ourselves, in love, in hope, in faith.
See you in church – for a few more weeks at 8/9:30/11:30, but then starting on May 28th, at 8:30 & 10.
In partnership,
Gretchen

Budgeting Update from Scott Denning and Erik Martinson

This update is a part of a Governance Update being sent by email to all Foothills members.

Every year, the church prepares a budget in the spring for the church year starting on July 1, projecting monthly income and spending 15 months in advance. Our budgets are balanced, so we spend only what we earn.

Nearly all of our income is from the pledges of financial commitment made by members and friends of our community.

The budget for next fiscal year has been prepared by the Finance committee, affirmed by the board, and will be voted on for final approval by the members of the congregation at our annual meeting on June 4.

A hearing to introduce and discuss details of the budget will be held on May 7 at 10:40am. Highlights include an overall increase to the budget of nearly $43,000 made possible by a projected pledging increase of over 8%!

Most of the additional income will be invested in our human resources, including a new part-time coordinator position for membership, as well as salary adjustments to reflect current UUA compensation guidelines for our ministers and staff.

Please plan to attend the May 7 hearing to inform your vote as the budget presentation at the Annual Meeting will be abridged.

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.

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.

Making a Reverend – from Sue Sullivan and the Committee on Shared Ministry

You might have noticed that Sean doesn’t wear a stole on Sundays, or call himself Reverend. That is because, while he has completed every other necessary step along the path to becoming a minister, including graduating from Harvard Divinity School and completing his post-graduate studies and internship, he has not yet asked a congregation to ordain him — the ultimate symbolic, practical and spiritual step in the process of becoming a UU minister.

Sean could have requested ordination from any of the churches he has been affiliated with (the church he grew up in, the church where he first answered his call to become a minister, or the church that he did his field work in, for example) but he knew that he wanted to be ordained by the first church he served…and that’s us!

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The Committee on Shared Ministry shares about Sean’s ordination at the December 18th service

We are excited to share that we have been asked to enact this fundamental ceremony of our Unitarian Universalist faith, one that we have not performed for more than 25 years – the ordination of a minister to serve in our religious tradition (our last ordination was in 1991 when we ordained our then intern, the Rev. Thomas Perchlick). And not just any minister, but our own Sean Neil-Barron.

Many of us have heard Sean’s thought-provoking sermons since he joined us as assistant minister in August. Some of us might have received pastoral care from him, or attended a Foundations class, a Vespers service or one of the other small group experiences Sean has helped facilitate with energy, warmth and a passion for deepening our connections with each other and our larger community.

Sean is asking us, as a Universalist Unitarian congregation, to affirm that we find in him a strong and capable minister for our faith. We are honored to affirm his ministry not just generally, but in the many ways we have felt the power and care of his ministry personally.

Unitarian Universalism, unlike other religions, reserves the right to ordain ministers for congregations alone, and not a centralized church leadership. We the people do the ordaining.  In doing so we are not making an offer or a call to the minister, but simply and solemnly declaring that we see in him or her a minister fit to serve the Unitarian Universalist movement. We are fulfilling our role and responsibility as a congregation to select the ministers that serve our religious movement, and affirming and authorizing the minister into their service and leadership in Unitarian Universalism.  It is a solemn responsibility, as ordination is for life.

At the request of the Committee on Shared Ministry, the Board of Trustees voted last week to hold a special congregational meeting on January 29th with one action item – whether we agree as a congregation to ordain Sean Neil-Barron into the Unitarian Universalist ministry.

All those who have been members for 30 days prior are eligible to vote. If the vote passes, we’ll hold an ordination ceremony in April. The Committee on Shared Ministry will hold a forum between the Sunday services on January 8th to answer any questions about the ordination process.

The Committee on Shared Ministry includes Glenn Pearson, Sally Harris, Anne Hall, Margie Wagner, Sue Sullivan, Rev. Gretchen Haley and Sean Neil-Barron. To a member, we are thrilled that Sean has asked us to perform one of our tradition’s most fundamental religious ceremonies and we look forward to answering any questions you might have about it at the January 8th forum.

In partnership and passion for a brighter world,

Sue Sullivan

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