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.

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Governance Update from Jody Anderson

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

The Board of Trustees hopes all members are prepared to vote on governance changes at our upcoming annual meeting.  Since the Governance Task Force formed about 18 months ago, we have received support and encouragement from members and staff throughout the church through congregational meetings, informational discussions, book discussion groups, and electronic communications conducted over the last twelve months.  We hope you have had a chance to participate, provide feedback, and learn about this important work to help align our governance structure with our church size and mission.

We are planning to conduct a trial year using our new governance structure, and will need to slightly amend our bylaws to enable that trial.  The key changes we are proposing include:

  • Role of the Board – The Board will shed its administrative role and instead concentrate on discerning mission, setting goals, dialogue with the congregation, and oversight.  This is something that the Board has been already in many ways practicing over the last 5 years as we have grown in size.  This will formalize this role and add clarity, as well as enhanced methods of monitoring and accountability.  
  • Board Size – The Board will reduce to seven, a more appropriate size for its new role (currently there are 11). The congregation would elect 2-3 Board members annually.
  • Delegate Operations – The senior minister, in partnership with the congregation and Board, would manage “operations” as head of staff.  This role would hold responsibility for all administration, programming, and shared ministry as well as Sunday services and pastoral care through delegation to paid staff and members/friends of the congregation, aka volunteers. Again this is already in many ways the case; this would formalize and add additional structures for accountability, alignment and monitoring of this work.  
  • Policy-Based Guidance – The Board will use written policies both to guide and hold accountable all those who help carry out the mission, including the ministers, staff, and volunteers.  Overseeing and keeping effective these policies will be a part of the Board’s new role.
  • Committee Structure – The Board will have three appointed committees:  Finance, Personnel, and Governance. It would have one elected committee, Nominating.
  • Nominating Committee – The Nominating Committee will reduce to three elected members (from the current five).  Its members will interact with the congregation, ministers, board, and Leadership Development team to identify the coming needs, develop job descriptions, and clarify role requirements, and ultimately nominate a slate of nominees for all elected positions that comply with established policies.
  • Leadership Development Team –   This team will be a newly formed ministry team charged with building and developing our future leaders through training, coaching, and open and inclusive engagement with the congregation.
We are excited to be making these changes!  It is long overdue for a growing church like ours.  We have been doing some of these things for several years, formally and informally.  This process has taken the best of what we learned through practice, research, and deliberation, to outline a foundation for the future.
To see the proposed bylaw changes, supporting concurrent resolution, policy examples, and glossary, visit us in the social hall between services on April 30, May 7, and May 14.  You will also have a final opportunity to dig into the details and ask questions on May 21, between services, during a Governance Review meeting.
If you have any questions about our work, please feel free to contact our chair Jody Anderson, jodeenanderson@gmail.com.
Thank you!
Governance Task Force – Jody Anderson, Brian Woodruff, Elizabeth Stanley, Tom Inscho, Ed Beers, and Rev. Gretchen Haley (ex-officio)

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.

Join us for the Board Forum on Feb 22

On Wednesday, February 22, at 6 p.m., the Board will host an informational forum (this is the reschedule of the forum we postponed from January). 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 February 22 to hear more about the work of the Board and the Governance Task Force.  All are welcome.

Next Steps for our Music Ministry

After good consultation with the choir, other music leaders, the Board, other UU music professionals, and hearing from many others in the congregation, we have settled in on this 3-phase approach for our next steps in our music ministry at Foothills.

First, the immediate future.  For the next 6-8 Sundays we will be working with the great deal of talent and generosity in our congregation to provide song leadership, music coordination and special music.  Occasionally, we may have guests from other nearby UU congregations who want to express their support and care for our congregation during this transition.  We will also be engaging a variety of accompanists both internal and external.  During this time we will be listening for things that work well, and learning from things that don’t.  Especially as this will overlap with the launch of our 3rd Service Experiment, we know not everything will go perfectly, but we know that the strength of our congregation and its generosity will sustain us.

We are especially grateful for choir member and retired choir director Bob Molison for stepping in to help lead choir rehearsal for the next few weeks, including preparing the choir to sing this Sunday, and for the upcoming memorial for Nancy Phillips.

Second, the interim next steps.  This position is a 3/4 time staff position, and again, we are about to launch three service Sundays – which means that we can’t wait too long before filling the position in a more professional way.  As a result, I have asked the choir to nominate people who they would trust to serve on an interim selection committee to help identify someone who can fill in for the next 6 months or so.  We already have three applicants for this position, and our target is for this person to start by mid March.

This brings me to the third phase, which is our long term position.  Our hope is that our Interim Music Director would help us to develop a vision for where music ministry needs to go next, including to help craft a job description for someone to apply out of a national search.  This was a great idea that the choir suggested – that we take this time to look at our strengths and opportunities for growth and craft a vision for our shared future.

Depending on the success of the pledge drive, this would be a position that is anywhere from 3/4 time to full time, and year round. As a large, creative, and energetic congregation in this amazing town, we should be able to attract an exceptional candidate to be a great addition to our staff team, and to our congregation. Our intent would be to have this person start by September, with a brief overlap with our Interim.

Please let me know if you have any questions.  I want to thank all of the many who have volunteered to help with our music ministry, and for your partnership as we imagine the next steps for our future.

An Update on Our Governance Change Process from Jody Anderson

Hello Foothills Family –

As I sat down to write this blog in mid-November, I wondered if an update on our governance progress was the right thing to post right now, when hearts and minds are brimming with holidays and an uncertain future.  Our community continues to come together with hands held and tears shared in Sunday services.  In November we stood and clapped to display our solidarity in being right here, in the United States, at this time, as a community that is already practicing with each other the accepting message we could share with the country.  And I think – we have big work to do.  Let’s get this organizing stuff done to smooth the path for what’s ahead.  To that end, the Governance Task Force is striving to support our mission and channel our energy in our governance work.

Recent Progress

  • Last April, the Board confirmed our Vision of Governance, a statement that is guiding the detailed tasks of writing our future policies.  Participants in the summer book group thought it was a great statement, and encouraged us to share it more widely.  Here is a link.
  • Over the summer, we conducted a book discussion group on Ministry and Governance by Dan Hotchkiss.  We continue to follow the guidance of the book, other congregations of our size, and the advice of leaders in our church and beyond.
  • In September, we affirmed that we are indeed pursuing a policy based governance approach, though not the Carver model.  
  • In September and October, the Governance Task Force has been working with the Board.  We have presented several open questions for discussion around the topics of board role, size, officers, and member election.  While we discuss, we are keeping in mind the potential that bylaw changes may be required.
  • In October, Gretchen joined our team, adding her knowledge of the workings of our church, and experience in administration, to our deliberation.
  • November continued iterative discussions with the Board on topics of committees, delegation, and work products.

Coming Up

  • During December, we will continue to ask the Board questions that guide our writing process. Topics coming up include Oversight and Guidance.
  • Also during December, we will be connecting with the leaders of several of our current teams and committees, to understand where they are in reviewing their charter and procedures, and to ensure we are blending our expectations. Teams we plan to get in touch with include Nominating Committee, Personnel Committee and Staff, and Finance.
  • In January, we plan to hold a Congregational Discussion session on the items that have been affirmed by the Board.  This will be an ideal place for those interested in the details of governance to see policies so far and ask questions.
  • Also in January, we plan to drop in on small groups in the church with quick info to keep everyone updated.
  • All of our work through the spring will target having major decisions made and ready for a trial period during our 2017-2018 church year.  We will present that plan at our congregational meeting in May.

A reward from this work so far is to see the convergence of ideas.  Careful study and thoughtful decisions are aligning with current good practices.  Thankfully, some things can be easy and make sense.  🙂

May you all enjoy having some things fall into place as well, and enjoy a safe and blessed holiday season.

In Community,

Jody Anderson

Chair, Governance Task Force

The space for courageous love

Check out the video above for the video version of this blog – or if you prefer, read the text below…or both! 

You may have noticed that we are often at our capacity on Sunday – these past few weeks, even more so.

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Look at how full that sanctuary is! 

Recently, we reviewed our worship attendance data for the last 8 years, and we realized, that we’ve been at capacity pretty much that whole time.  We’ve flirted consistently with 80% of capacity, to be specific – sometimes above, sometimes below – but never really staying above for too long.  This is important, because studies show that once you hit 80% of capacity, your attendance flatlines because people get a subconscious message that there isn’t enough room for them.  And that’s exactly what our data shows.

Even before the election, we were pondering what to do about this.  But with the results of the election and the many big questions before us, it is even more urgent that we ensure that we are making space for all who may be needing a religious community grounded in the practices of courageous love.  The data shows, capacity is the driver – and so our question is: how do we increase capacity?

With all this in mind, the Board has asked the staff team to explore a “3rd Service Experiment” beginning around February and continuing through April – during which we could figure out what it would take to maintain 3 services over the longer run, if it’s possible, and what will work best.

We know that this will require some discomfort on all of our parts – but as I said in a prior blog post – unleashing courageous love does not mean being comfortable, but only the safe place in which we can manage discomfort, together. So our hope is that we can learn together, grow together, stumble together, offer each other grace – all of which will allow us to truly unleash the big huge love that exists within us and among us.  We need this, the world needs it – now more than ever.

I’ll keep you updated as our staff and lay teams for worship and religious exploration start to figure out the details.  For now, I am so grateful for your partnership at this time, grateful to be learning with you, wrestling with these big questions together, and unleashing courageous love, together.

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This photo is from our gathering at the Islamic center last year….A year later, there are even more souls who are hungry to gather in light and love – how will we make space for all who seek to join together on this journey – the space for the greatest impact for courageous love to be unleashed?