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 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, email@example.com) or Ben Manvel (970-484-3249, firstname.lastname@example.org), 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.
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.
April 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.
“Welcome to Foothills; sorry we don’t have any seats left!”
Have you noticed how full the church is on Sunday mornings? While it’s wonderful that so many people are coming to church, the members of the Board of Trustees are wondering how many folks we are unwittingly turning away, with the message that there’s no room for anyone new here.
Our parking lots are full; the sanctuary – even if there are a few seats available here and there – looks full; there is often a scramble to put out enough chairs in the Social Hall at the start of services for the overflow from the sanctuary. It’s easy to see how a newcomer may feel discouraged from coming back and finding their spiritual home with us.
Aligning with our congregation’s new mission statement to “unleash courageous love in Northern Colorado and beyond,” The Board of Trustees has enthusiastically asked the ministers and staff to explore adding a third service to Sunday mornings at Foothills Unitarian Church. For now we mainly want to make more space to serve the people already coming and to keep them coming.
Beginning in February 2017, and continuing for 12 Sundays through April, the “Third Service Experiment” will be conducted. The times of the three services will be 8:00am, 9:30am and 11:30am. There will be a short social hour from 9:00-9:30 and a longer one from 10:30-11:30. The nursery will be open and pre-K through 2nd grade religious education (single classroom) will be offered at 8:00; the other two services will continue with the current arrangements for the 9 and 11 services.
More details will be coming from the staff team, and the Board will be hosting an informational forum on January 18. Throughout the experiment, we want to hear from YOU about how it is working… there will be regular opportunities to give us your input and dialogue with church leaders.
We look forward to learning from this experiment and using your feedback to prepare for a longer term third service effort. Together we are Unleashing 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.
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.