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.

We won the Bennett Award – the annual UUA Congregational Award for Justice!

If you were at the annual meeting, you already heard this great news that this year, our congregation was selected as the 2017 recipient for the UUA Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Action.  This award recognizes congregations that has done exemplary social justice ministry.

In the letter from the Bennett Award Panel, they wrote:

“From your congregational vision to ‘Unleash Courageous Love’ to your approach of accompaniment of the most vulnerable in your community, positioning ‘real life, on-the-ground presence’ and service as part of systemic social change, your justice ministry truly deserves this recognition.  It’s inspiring to learn about how your work for justice is driving by your mission and faith, and sustained by spiritual practices from breaking bread and vigiling to storytelling and companioning.”

Read the whole letter here.

This award recognizes the work of all of the many people who make our Faith Family Hospitality, One Village One Family, Food Bank, Immigration Coalition, and Climate Justice ministries happen – and have such a huge and consistent impact on our community.  Thank you to all those who have stepped up in big and small ways, over and over – I hope you take this award as a recognition of just how much these efforts mean.

A special thank you to Kay Williams, Anne Fisher and Sue Ferguson who compiled the application and the ministry leads who each helped tell the story of their areas of our total ministry for justice.

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Our 3rd Service Experiment: The results are in…

In February, we began our “3rd Service Experiment,” with an intent of trying out three Sunday morning services for 13 Sundays – through April.  The Board charged the staff team with moving forward with this experiment in December because they realized that 2 services could not accommodate the numbers of people who wanted to worship with us on Sunday morning.
Our goal for the three services was to learn as much as we could about what it would take to sustain 3 Sunday services (how hard would it be?!), how people would react to an earlier (or later) service, and whether or not it would indeed accomplish the goal of serving more people.
In the past few weeks, our Committee on Shared Ministry (Glenn Pearson, Margie Wagner, Sally Harris, Anne Hall, Sue Sullivan and Ward Sutton) have held a few feedback circles with various groups to help gather up some of this information we hoped to learn. These have provided us critical information as we begin to look ahead to the next steps for our worship services this summer and beyond.
If you weren’t able to attend one of these circles, I hope you will fill out this short survey about YOUR experience and lessons from the 3rd Service Experiment (By the end of April, please!).
We have two big pieces of news resulting from our lessons learned and our feedback so far.
First – much to our surprise – is that, instead of asking us to hurry up and be done with the three services – there is a shared desire to extend the three services through May 21st when our regular religious education classes will conclude. Anything sooner would disrupt our classes and our teachers too much.  Also, as a staff team, we have realized that a third service isn’t that hard – we actually like it! We like that it means more space for all who come, and that we can indeed serve more people.
Which brings us to the second insight – which is that for the period of February through this past Sunday, we are consistently serving nearly 40% more people than we did this time in any prior year.  Instead of seeing attendance plateau at our seating capacity, and then drop back down, it’s remaining steady, and growing.  Whereas previously we would see 200-300 adults on a Sunday, we are now routinely seeing between 350 and 450.  There are probably multiple reasons for this, but we can say with confidence that we are accommodating more people on Sunday morning, which was the goal.
Also, for the summer time, based on last year’s numbers we know that we need to have 2 services instead of 1. The summer time seems like an ideal time to offer our 8:00 service.
All of this means that, starting on Memorial Weekend and running through Labor Day, we’ll hold services at 8:00 and 9:30, with an extended fabulous social hour/community fun time at 10:30.
After Labor Day we will return to three services – and the times for these will be sorted out based on your feedback in the survey as well as through other efforts to collect feedback.
Thank you so much for your willingness to try out this experiment, and for making space for all who want to gather with us on Sundays. I know it has sometimes meant stepping out of your comfort zone, missing out on seeing some of your usual friends on Sundays, and changing around your routines.  Thank you for keeping your senses of humor in tact and for learning along with us so that we can keep serving our mission in these times when our church and our values are so needed, by so many.  33682878575_f8987089f2_k.jpg

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.

The Future of Our Rummage Sale

The Foothills Rummage Sale has been a cornerstone of both our community-building and fundraising efforts over the past three decades.  The amount of time and care that so many have given on behalf of the Rummage Sale is truly mind-boggling.  This time and care has in turn resulted in up to $25,000 (at its peak so far) in funds to support our mission and vision in a given year.  Along the way, the Rummage Sale has been a great way for people to get to know each other and to build friendships that last far beyond the few weeks of the sale.  It’s also been a great way to serve our community, offering low-cost good-quality goods right as the school year returns and many are searching out bargains.

Over these same years, however, many changes have been happening both in the church and in Fort Collins.  In both, the population has grown exponentially.  Within Fort Collins, this population increase has meant that there are now multiple second-hand stores that are open throughout the year, so that our offering isn’t quite as value-added as it used to be. This is a relatively minor consideration, however, as we look at some of the other changes that have occurred….

Within our own community, our growth has meant that space is almost always tight – and as we have moved to a year-round schedule, while the summer is slightly less crowded, it is still often full throughout the week with programs and meetings.  Each year, as our community has grown, so have the donations (thank you!), and so the need for space and volunteers have also grown.  While we ask everyone to pre-sort their goods, we ultimately have more stuff than we have usable space, and this is frustrating for everyone.

Speaking of that usable space, as religious education classes for children and youth are active and well-attended throughout the whole year, the space available in the Classroom Building is less than it has been previously, and even when it is available, it is able to sustain a much lower impact as it needs to be reset to accommodate children and/or youth every Sunday – so clean up is very stressful.  (To help with this, we have experimented with moving the dates earlier in the summer, but this has resulted in fewer volunteers available due to vacations…we’ve wondered if moving to June would be better…?)

Also, over these years our leadership has prioritized holding worship every Sunday as central to our mission. This was especially made possible by the addition of a second minister in 2012.  Although we attempted to hold these services outdoors, our growing population and value to ensure the space is accessible to all made this not a viable alternative, and so this resulted in the sanctuary no longer being a place for the rummage sale to be held on Sundays.

The various space constraints are also made more challenging by a dwindling volunteer population resulting from two main factors.  First, our longtime volunteers are – much to their chagrin – aging.  They no longer can or want to volunteer in the same physically demanding ways that they have in the past.  Many have stepped down entirely while others have simply scaled back.  The vacancies left by these changes, however, have not been sufficiently filled by a new volunteer base – particularly in terms of taking management and leadership level responsibility.

Younger people today are often overly busy with two-career households and caring for both children and aging parents.  Free time is down – nationwide.  What free time people do have, they prioritize more direct-service, high-impact, and often short-term volunteer roles – for example, we have no problem filling our 25 twice-a-month Food Bank @ Foothills roles – we actually have more interest than we have volunteer slots – and these are all direct-service, high-impact and short-term roles.

This volunteer shortage means that the community and friendship building aspects of the sale just aren’t as great as they were in the past – because it’s more stressful to do so much work without enough people to do that work.  Also with the space constraints, the sale is spread out across more of our campus, meaning volunteers often work on their own – which may be good for some seeking solitude!  – but isn’t conducive to the laughter and fun times that many of us remember.

All of this – the population growth, the space constraints, and the changes in volunteering – lead us to wondering if and how we can continue our Rummage Sale in the next year – and beyond.  We need new leaders to emerge if we are going to be able to continue – leaders who will look at these challenges and find new and creative solutions, and leaders who are willing to take on a management level role.  We believe we will need at least four such leaders to step forward by February 15th if we are going to hold a Rummage Sale this year.

We hope all those who care about the Rummage Sale and who are willing to consider being one of these new leaders will come to a Rummage Sale meeting on Sunday January 22nd at 10:10 in the Sanctuary.  If you have questions before then, please be in touch with Pam Stevens (970-225-1223, pamelahope@aol.com) or Ben Manvel (970-484-3249, bmanvel@gmail.com), longtime dedicated leaders for the Rummage Sale.  So much good has happened as a result of this incredible effort, and now’s the time for us to work out the next good steps, whatever those will be.

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.

Do we have room at the Inn? The 3rd Service Experiment by April Undy

 

Room at the.pngApril Undy is a member of the Board of Foothills Unitarian Church

This time of year we’re all about the nativity story.  A homeless couple, the young woman laden with child, need a place to rest, to give birth to their child.   A family that represents the joy of new life.   A child, who unbeknownst to those around him, will be the light of the world.

Why didn’t someone make room for them?  There were reasons, logical reasons, good reasons.  The rooms were booked.  The lodgings were over crowded.  They didn’t want to inconvenience their other guests.  The family was poor, they might not be able to pay their way.  There was no way for the inn keepers to know how special this family was, no ability to see how special every family is.

Reasons? No. Excuses.  Always excuses.

There are a people who don’t make excuses; people who see what needs to be done, and do it, even if it’s uncomfortable, even if it’s challenging, even if it’s hard.

We claim those people.  We are those people.

We are people like Martha and Waitstill Sharp*, Ed Cahill**, and locally, Sue Ferguson***.

We are a called people.  We come together not because doctrine says we must, but because we choose to.  We, as individuals, have discerned a need within ourselves, a need in the world, to come together to worship and be of service.  We are a people who answer the call.  We act. We make room.  We are comforted together.  We are powerful together.

We are called again, now.  More people are finding us.  More people see that they need what we offer.  We are being asked to make room at our inn.  We are being asked to be uncomfortable, challenged, perhaps even, inconvenienced.

How do we answer that call?

We make room, even when it seems like there’s no more room to be had.  In the case of crowded Sunday mornings at Foothills Unitarian, we are experimenting with a 3rd service on Sundays to accommodate the larger crowds coming to Sunday morning services.  We know that this is not the end, it’s not the only way, but it’s something we can try, right now, with what we have.

Please, answer this call.  Try a different service, especially if you don’t have children in R.E.  Volunteer to help during service.  Three services means we need 50% more volunteers to help with the Welcome Desk, making coffee, and ushering.  This is an experiment, if nothing else, we will learn something from it.  More importantly, we will be telling each other and the larger community something.

“You are important.  We care.  We want you here.  We are willing to make room for you.”

“ Please come in.”


*Martha and Waitstill Sharp who, supported by their congregation and the American Unitarian Association went to Europe before and during WWII to support persecuted people and with the aid of many others facilitate the immigration of refugees.

** Ed Cahill, the minister whose North Caroline church’s open membership policy was reported in the local paper on the same day in 1954 as the Supreme Court handed down its decision on Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka.

*** Sue Ferguson, Foothills Unitarian Church member, Faith Family Hospitality board member.   Faith Family Hospitality opens our physical space to homeless families during the week so that families may stay together, and facilitating more a more stable situation for those families.