An Update on Music Visioning and Music Director Search

From our Music Visioning Task Force Sue Sullivan, Gretchen O’Dell and Herb Orrell

After a busy autumn conducting interviews with notable music ministers across the country, holding feedback circles with choir members and other groups inside the church, and gathering feedback from the congregation at large via an online survey that was completed by 88 members, we have a great deal of information to sift through to craft a vision for music ministry at Foothills.

But with the departure of administrator Carolyn Myers in December, we felt that trying to hire a new church administrator and a new music director was a tall order.

In order to do the best job of both, we opted to ask Chris Reed if he would be willing to extend his interim director position. He has agreed to continue serving as interim music minister through December, after which he will be returning to graduate school to finish his PhD and pursue his academic passions full-time. Chris has become beloved by choir and the congregation of Foothills, but his first home is academia. We are deeply grateful for the calm, comforting, and affirming hand he has brought to our music ministry in this time of revisioning.

With our musical direction needs covered through the end of the year, the music visioning task force now expects to finalize the Music Ministry Vision next month and share it with the congregation for your feedback.

This vision will describe the purpose of music in our church, the ways music shows up in our congregational life, and what impact our music ministry should have within the congregation and in the larger community. It will also include qualities that we desire in our music minister.

By September, Foothills will assemble a separate search team to create a position packet for applicants that would be disseminated in a nationwide search. Interviews could begin by the end of the year and final candidates could be invited out to meet us by April of next year, with the expectation of hiring a new music director by July of 2019.

After Chris leaves us in December, we plan over the next four to five months to hold a series of music residencies. The initial residencies will be filled by well-known consulting music ministers who will come for several weeks at a time and work with our congregation, both to provide for our musical worship needs in the interim period and to help us prepare to welcome a new music director. By spring, our finalists for the position can be the music directors in residence, so that we can get to know each other before making a final decision.

We do know that we should have a full-time music minister position, both for the needs of our congregation and to draw the best possible candidates. We estimate we will need to raise another $25,000 a year in pledges to cover this cost,  but we are confident that we can make this happen!

Look for the draft music ministry vision in the coming weeks. We are very excited by the possibilities that this new vision for music in the life of our congregation holds for us!



#metooOver the last year, we have been inspired and strengthened by the the rising #MeToo movement, which seeks to end the silence around sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct that people of all genders, and especially women, have experienced, and to draw attention to the magnitude of the problem.

On March 25th, we will be holding a service exploring the #MeToo movement.  As a part of this service, we invite your #MeToo stories and testimony. We will be sharing small parts of these during the service. Please send your story to If you want to remain anonymous, feel free to print up your story and mail it or bring it to the office in a sealed envelope and put it in one of our boxes.

Additionally, we invite all women to join in a women’s choir to sing the women’s march anthem, “I Can’t Keep Quiet” as a part of the service.  All who identify as women, regardless of singing background or ability, are invited and encouraged to join in. We will rehearse Sunday March 18th at 1pm, and Wednesday the 21st at 6pm. Please RSVP to and he will send you the music and recordings for your part.

Finally, following each of the first two services on the 25th, we will be holding two conversations about being an ally for those who have experienced sexual assault, hosted by a newcomer to Foothills, Hudson Wilkins. Hudson is a local therapist whose practice focuses on healing from sexual violence and who heard about our #MeToo service and wanted to be a part of this important work. Look for more information in an upcoming Communicator or Sunday Bulletin.

Our history as advocates for lifespan sexuality education and our affirmation of healthy sexuality as an integral part of a healthy life calls and challenges us to be the church that explicitly supports the #MeToo movement. Join us on March 25th, and join us in this journey as we look ahead to building a healthier culture for all people.

In faith,

Rev. Gretchen Haley & Rev. Sean Neil-Barron

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.  

Board Update #2: Space Exploration

We’ve been a busy Board already this year! Because we have so much to share, we are offering it in three parts, this is the second of these (you can find the first here). This one provides an update on our space task force. 

As you have likely experienced and heard, our church has grown quite a bit in the last decade, and especially in the last couple of years – which is why we are looking at our space needs for the future. The Board believes our current campus cannot be adequately expanded to meet our (and Fort Collins’) anticipated growth. We discussed space at our informational forum a few weeks ago, where we had 55 people attending. We got lots of great comments in person and on sticky notes. We have conducted two additional meetings with 16 people participating.

The main question we’re hearing so far is about the process – how and when it’ll all happen. It’s a great question and we have broad answers to it right now. We are in step 1 of probably 50 steps. We wanted to bring the whole congregation into the conversation as early as possible. We wanted to hear your thoughts and concerns, as well as your hopes and dreams.  Our next step is to hire a programming consultant to

  1. Help us understand how much space we need and what kinds of space we need given our programming;
  2. Give us a second opinion about our current campus and if there is a possibility we could adequately expand here; and
  3. Help us figure out what to look for or build in a different place.

The Space Committee has already interviewed and checked references on several professional firms that do this work. The church will be hiring someone shortly. There will be opportunities for you to participate in this step – so we hope that you will keep an eye out for announcements.

All of the steps in this process will be thoughtful and deliberate, and will probably take three to five years, which will look generally like this:

  • Year 1 (Fall 2017 -Summer 2018)….This year we will figure out what we need and develop some more specific plans.
  • Year 2 (Fall 2018 – Summer 2019/20)…..Next year, we will figure out how much it will cost and how to pay for it.  This could take 1-2 years.
  • Year 3/4 (Fall 2019/20 – Summer 2020/21) The third year, we will remodel, renovate or build and take care of the other logistics around moving. This too might take slightly longer, depending on all the decision points along the way.

Do we know exactly how many steps there are actually going to be? Not really, but we wanted to give you the general sketch. We also wanted you to know that the congregation will be involved all along the way. That’s why we brought you in early!

We on the Board are always happy to hear from you. We are all going to figure this out together.

Board of Trustees News #1: Seeking Congregational Input on Our Vision

We’ve been a busy Board already this year! Because we have so much to share, we are offering it in three parts….first up, an update about our need for congregational input on our vision by way of the “Future-Oriented Questions.”  

Over the years, our Boards have long engaged in visioning and planning for the future. However, they also had significant responsibilities in operations. Under our new governance system, the ministry team is responsible for the day-to-day running of the church, which allows the Board to spend much more time on high-level questions and visioning.

Now, each year, the Board will go through a process of listening and deciding where our mission calls us to go next. To do this, we listen to you, the congregation, and we consider our place in the community.  The dialogue with you happens through our Future-Oriented Questions.  At our annual Board retreat, we decided on these three questions as the basis for our conversation this year:

  1. How might we re-imagine a joyful, spiritual, human-centered and sustainable community and environment?
  2. Who does the mission call you to be in relationship with, and what does it mean to be transformed/changed by this work?
  3. What would it take for people to know you and for you to know yourself deeply? How does that manifest in the congregation?

We’ve already started to explore these questions in worship over the past few Sundays, and will continue that in the next few weeks.  We hope that you will take a little time each week to reflect and then to fill out the survey either online (here’s the link) or on paper.  Extra paper forms are in the office.  Our shared dialogue becomes our future, and so we are grateful for your willingness to share your stories and feedback as we discern together where and how we will unleash courageous love in the coming years.

Summary of Congregational Forum

From the Board Engagement Committee – Ed Beers and Sara Edwards

We had a great Congregational Forum last Sunday, October 15th. We had over 50 people attend as the Board gave an update of their activities and plans. This included reports from the newly established Board Committees – Personnel, Finance, Governance, Board Engagement and Space.  This began with an overview on our new Governance structure, which can be found here.

The Space Committee had the greatest interest from the attendees and many positive comments and ideas were mentioned.  The presentation and handout included data supporting the Board’s belief that, in order to live up to our mission, we need to start planning for a move to a new location.

The presentation was the beginning of a dialogue and engagement effort with the Congregation on dealing with the space issue. Follow-up dialogue sessions are planned for Monday, October 23 at 7 PM in the Triple RE room and Thursday, November 2 at 7 PM in the Triple RE room. Sign up here to attend one or both of these meetings.

Brief updates from the Board Personnel Committee, Finance Committee, Governance Committee and the Board Engagement Committee were also provided.  As you can see from Governance presentation, the management and operations of Personnel and Finance have been delegated to the Ministry with the Board Committee functioning in an oversight role.  One major recent development of the Personnel Ministry Team (as instructed by the Board Care for Staff policies) is the creation of a fully updated Employee Handbook, which can be found here.  The Board Governance Committee will monitor the Board Policy Book and will be the resource for adding or changing policy.

The Board Engagement Committee is charged with ensuring more and improved Board engagement and communication with the Congregation. Three Big Questions (Future Oriented Questions) have been developed by the Board to facilitate discussions and input. The input gained from these conversations will enable the Board to develop a Vision of Shared Ministry – a list of goals for the coming year and beyond.  Look for more information on this coming to your (snail) mail box soon!

This Vision will be the result of a process of gathering and distilling ideas from a wide range of individuals and constituencies within the congregation – and it will be an iterative process that will likely roll easily from one year into the next. In all cases, it will get to the heart of who we are and where we are going. There will be numerous opportunities for you to participate and provide your input.

Keep in touch with our Leadership Blog and we will be providing more detail on these initiatives and all the work of the Board over the next several months.  Also if you ever want or need to access any of the documents related to Board work, you can follow this link for our archive.


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