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.

 

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Envisioning Music Ministry at Foothills

A note from Our Music Visioning Team, submitted by member, Sue Sullivan

Last January, we heard many requests from members of our choir to take the time and the opportunity to look deeply at what we could ask for and aspire to in the way of music ministry at Foothills. Our former music director had been  here for a dozen years and the director before him served for a decade as well. As a result of these long tenures, it has been many years since this congregation has asked itself – in a deep and open-to-all possibilities way — how we could imagine music ministry manifesting at Foothills.

The Committee on Shared Ministry (which consists of Glenn Pearson, Sally Harris, Anne Hall, Herb Orrell and myself), as part of its on-going responsibility to gather effective and meaningful feedback about how Foothills is manifesting its various ministries and how we might unleash more courageous love in our community and beyond, has taken on the leadership of this task of exploring the wide range of possibilities for music to manifest in our faith and our community, and to listen deeply to what our music makers and our whole Foothills community would find meaningful, transformative, creative, and powerful.

To that end, the COSM convened a sub-task force (composed of myself and Herb, plus two non-COSM members, Gretchen O’Dell, Dave Montanari, and in partnership with Rev. Haley) are beginning a multi-step process of:

  • gathering feedback from Unitarian congregations and other churches known for their strong and innovative music ministries
  • reporting back to the congregation about the ideas and programming we discover in those interviews
  • asking members of the congregation as a whole to take a music visioning survey, which will include questions about what has been meaningful or transformative in our own experiences of music ministry at Foothills in the past and what new possibilities we might wish to explore in the future
  • holding small-group feedback circles for various groups within the church who make the music we experience, as well specific groups of people whose experience of music ministry we would like to understand more deeply
  • gathering up all that visioning and feedback and reporting back to the congregation as a whole what we heard and how that can be shaped into a vision of how music manifests as a ministry at Foothills in the coming years
  • and finally, writing a detailed job description of what sort of candidate would be the right kind of leader for this ministry in our church, including such details as part-time or full, choir director or music director or music minister.

We intend to post this position by December in order to begin a nationwide search through Unitarian Universalist circles and networks.  This would typically conclude around April with the start of the new person by mid-summer. We are most grateful and happy to have the musical leadership of Chris Reed as our Interim Music Director through next May as we conduct this search. Chris is eligible to apply for this position, and he will be working with Gretchen in December after the position is finalized, to discern if and how he sees this is a potential fit.

We are digging in right away to our first task, which is asking the music directors of congregations with nationally known music ministries to tell us about their music programs. We’ll ask what works and what doesn’t, what they love about it, how it relates to the rest of the church’s programming. We’ll ask how many different avenues are there for people to create music in their ministry and whether they use music as an outreach to the larger community. What instruments do they use and where do they find the pieces they perform? How do children and youth participate in music? How do people learn music in these churches? How does music turn up as a spiritual practice?

The congregations we will talk to include: All Souls Church in DC; All Souls Tulsa; Middle Collegiate Church in NYC; the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor; and First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque.

After we gather this feedback, we’ll report our findings back to you and craft a survey to help identify what you have found to be powerful and transformative in the past and what new possibilities you would like us to pursue musically. We will also hold small-group feedback circles to ask and listen to your experiences and hopes about music in our collective life, with both the makers of music in our church and those who experience it deeply and meaningfully.

We are very excited about this chance to be intentional, expansive, creative, and transformative as we re-vision music as a ministry and a spiritual practice here at Foothills Unitarian, and we look forward to hearing from you!

In partnership,
Sue Sullivan, on behalf of the Music Visioning Team

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.