Pausing the Holiday Rush

This week marks the beginning of advent, which in the Christian tradition is a season of anticipation, paying attention, and waiting.   It is a time that invites our intentional pause, and slowing down so that we might more fully notice all that is about to be born.

In other words, advent embodies precisely the opposite of what many of us are feeling this holiday time of year.  So often we spend our Decembers in a rush, filled up not with anticipation but with anxiety, overwhelm, and sometimes even dread.

This year, we could all use the practice of advent.  To listen more intentionally, that we might hear beyond the restlessness, to pause more fully that we might see beyond the rush, to breathe more deeply that we might know ourselves still becoming, to see all that is growing and beginning in joy.

During this holiday season, we invite you to join us for a time of greater intention, attention, awareness, anticipation, and joy.

  • Join us on Sundays for explorations of memory (12/3) and hope (12/10), as well as our special all-music Sunday on the 17th with a theme of JOY.
  • Also on the 17th, join our Earth Based Path group for a traditional casting of the circle in honor of Yule – set up at 5, ritual at 6.
  • On the 21st we’ll gather to welcome the return of the light for our special holiday vespers at 6:15.
  • On Christmas Eve (a Sunday this year!) we’ll have 4 services – 10 am (a “Kitschy Christmas” celebration), 5 & 7 pm (family Christmas services) and 9 pm (Lessons & Carols).
  • And on New Year’s Eve Sunday, we’ll celebrate Fire Communion at 8:30 & 10, and at 11:30 we’ll share in waffle church with an abridged Fire Communion service.

Beyond worship, join us on the 17th for our annual Holiday Craft Fair – a sure bet for any gifts you haven’t yet been able to find.  Also, look for news from Chris Reed on our new-this-year family holiday pick-up choir.

Over the Christmas week, we’ll also be hosting families experiencing homelessness with Faith Family Hospitality, and we invite you to sign up to bring and share in a meal, or stay over night.

Whether in worship, in community, in service together, or simply in the breaths that fill all the space in between all of these, and that flow through and connect us all – in these days, my hope is that we can all find that pause of advent in our holiday rush, and remember there what it feels like to anticipate with joy, to notice with wonder, to let laughter overcome us, to be filled with hope.  This is my hope, and it is also an invitation, to keep coming back to this pause – we can practice, and become, together.

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Sharing Joy – reflections on Sunday’s service from Foothills’ member Lindsay Tearman

When I pulled up to the church at 8:15 Sunday morning, I knew that something special was in the air. The streets were already lined with cars which is a rare sight for first service. When I entered the building, the energy was already moving around, and my morning coffee became less critical, as I was quickly energized by simply breathing it all in. There were a few of us that knew what was in store for the morning service, and the anticipation of how the it would be received was thrilling.

As Gretchen opened up with sharing stories of joy regarding Thanksgiving, I smiled as I had also found myself on the “Turkey Train” for the last week. Tables got a big shout out this morning, and rightfully so. We gather around them constantly at our homes or offices, as a central meeting place to share food, stories, or ideas. A table is a rarely thought-about symbol of unity, the unsung hero of holidays. There were a few questions presented to us, calling attention to various things that make us happy. Songs, places, foods, and we shared those answers with the community at large, as well as with our neighbors. It was a well-needed moment to have.

I don’t know about you, but I can find myself struggling to hold on to happiness sometimes. As we carry justice to our local and global families, it can feel like an uphill battle against the injustice that is presented to be prevalent. Sunday morning was a beautiful reminder of what we know is true- that there is wonder and love and light that is everywhere. That the source of our strength comes from ourselves and from each other, and the hope that we hold so dearly in our hearts. Sunday was a chance to tap into our happiness, and to revel in it with each other.

We also did something that we haven’t done in a few years by holding a “reverse offering” in which a two dollar bill was handed out to every single member of the church (adults and children alike). The mission we were tasked with was to take that $2 and find some way of expressing courageous love to our community. We could work together, work as a family or with neighbors, or by ourselves to come up with a way to share joy. I can’t wait to hear the stories that come back for this, and knowing that Northern Colorado is going to get a little boost of love in the next few weeks is endearing.

This was followed up by Gretchen’s announcement that a donor, who sits amongst us each Sunday and yet wishes to remain unnamed, received an unexpected large sum of money and in the wake of Charlottesville, decided to give that money to the church. This is incredible and inspiring, a huge momentum given to promoting all of the good that exists here.

I expected a shock wave of such an announcement to flood through the church. I wasn’t sure if people would faint or jump out of their seats (being from the South I have a perpetual expectation of a “big tent revival level of expression” at any church I ever attend), or perhaps confetti and balloons would shower from the ceiling. Instead, I noticed the community smiled at each other and nodded, with immediate acceptance of this most wondrous gift. I found it intriguing, as if there was a collective “Yeah, that totally sounds like something one of us would do”. Which to me completely reinforces who we actually are. We are the people that go about our lives, day-to-day, in a fashion that may seem outrageous and bold to others. The spirit of giving and loving and taking care of others is ingrained in us, all year round. This donation was given whole-heartedly, in the spirit of love. We are approaching the holidays as heightened expressions of love and gratitude, not viewing them as a single day to celebrate.

As I sat there, still thinking about exactly what I could possibly do with my $2, the choir took the stage. Their performance sung beautifully as always, and there was a power to their voices that flowed through each one of us. I found it interesting to think about what we are able to give to the world. The impact that a single voice makes, that is amplified by the others that join them- it fills the entire room. And it’s genuinely moving.

There is so much work to be done, but we are never alone on our journey. Side by side, we continue to share our gifts with our community, only to have that create a continuous energy that cannot be contained.

So it is up to us to continue to sing that song of joy, to hold that space of Hope even in the most difficult of times. It is the only way that we can be true to ourselves, and to fulfill our purpose here. One of my favorite proverbs is “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow”.  (Disclaimer: this was on a desk calendar I had many years ago, but it has stuck with me throughout time.) When we keep anything to ourselves, we deny others the ability to be a part of something that is bigger than us. I am so thankful to be a part of this community and I wish you all the most magical of holidays. May your hearts be filled with everything that is wonderful in this world.

Lindsay Tearman, Stewardship Team Member

Worship Improvements Made Possible By 2016 Auction Funds by Chris Reed

Our goal was to improve the worship experience for everyone, especially to enhance the experience for those in the social hall given our frequent over-flow seating. Here’s a list of all the ways we’ve been able to do this as a result of your generosity:

  • We purchased more hymnals, so we are now able to provide good hymnal coverage for our very largest services.
  • Over the summer, we added live streaming of our services on the Foothills Facebook page. We have been thrilled with the reception that this has received online. Now, if you are traveling, are ill, or simply can’t be in the service for any reason, you can now join with all of us online.  You can find the live streams on our Facebook page approximately 5 minutes before each service begins.
  • We reworked the stage lighting to make the stage more visually accessible.
  • We purchased and installed a new projector in the sanctuary, as well as a large video screen in the social hall.
  • We added a new computer and powerful software to allow us to seamlessly integrate a visual component to our services.

These last two changes mean that you can now expect to see the words to all of the songs we sing on the screen, as well as other readings or pertinent information. The possibilities go far beyond just those items, and we look forward to exploring how this potential can enrich our shared worship experience.  We hope that this makes each element of our services more engaging, and more accessible to every individual joining with us.

The financial resources to create all of these improvements were made possible by your generosity in last year’s auction. Additionally, we were able to stretch those funds so effectively due to the immense generosity of some of our members who spent many hours assisting with this equipment installation.  Wayne Brown, Mike McCarthy, Bruce Wagner, and Rich Roberts were invaluable in making this project happen.

Thank you all so much for helping us to reach more people through our worship services as we continue to unleash courageous love together. I can’t wait to see what becomes possible through your generosity in this year’s auction!

Upcoming Worship Improvements

This past fall, so many of you exhibited your generosity and love for the church by donating funds to be used to improve the worship experience here at Foothills. As a congregation that is growing rapidly, and already straining the limits of our facilities, we’ve spent a lot of time examining what our best options are moving forward. We have already purchased additional hymnals to ensure that we always have enough for everyone in attendance, and upgraded the mics used in our services to ensure that everyone can hear and understand the services more easily.

In the coming months we will be finalizing our improvements by replacing the window blinds between the kitchen and the social hall. Our goal in this is to ensure there is less noise crossover between the two spaces so that activities in the kitchen don’t interfere with the worship experience of those in the social hall. We will also be reworking our lighting to ensure we have a more effective use of light on our stage.

Perhaps the largest change will involve upgrades to our audio and visual systems in the sanctuary. While our sanctuary is beautiful and we are lucky to have so much natural light, the flood of natural light (300+ days a year thanks to the beautiful state in which we live!) does create issues with our current projector. To that end, we will be upgrading the projector which will allow us to easily see the images in all lighting conditions. This will allow us to consistently utilize video projections in our services. This means that we will be able to show announcements before and after services, have large print song lyrics on the screens, reinforce readings by having them visually available as they are being read, and other uses of video within services as appropriate. To ensure that the social hall has the best possible experience, it will also have a dedicated screen which will mirror what is being shown on the screen on stage.

Finally, we will be streamlining our podcasting so that episodes will be available more quickly and are integrated more directly within our website. In our efforts to give our community more options to experience what Foothills offers, we are also going to begin offer live streaming of our services. We plan to begin integration of all of these new technologies when we move back to our 3 service schedule on September 10th.

While this new level of visual integration in our worship experiences is exciting, it will also be a challenge, one which will require your help. I am assembling a new team of volunteers who are interested in helping to create and to run the weekly visual elements to our services. The software we will be using can be a bit challenging at first, but with training, it quickly becomes easy to navigate and I believe this will be a rewarding volunteer opportunity for many of you. If you are interested in learning more, or to offer yourself as a volunteer, please email me directly at chris@foothillsuu.org.

In partnership,
Chris Reed

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
Reflections on Foot Washing

Reflections on Foot Washing

Behold what you are. Become what you receive. Take up this bread and wine. Embrace the mystery.Last Thursday, a group of about twenty or so, gathered in the evening for a Vespers service on what Christians call Maundy Thursday — or Footwashing Thursday. Church members Lenny Scovel and Karen Robinson reflect below about their experience at the first foot washing at Foothills in recent memory.

From Lenny Scovel:

To sit in darkened silence is one thing; to share a visceral experience is something wholly (and holy) other. I’ve become accustomed to Foothills Vespers services as a quite time, a reflective time. A little singing, a little ritual. And yet, the recent Vespers celebrating Maundy Thursday transcended all others through a simple act: the washing of feet. It is a ritualistic practice, reminding us of how we are called to be in service or minister to each other. The act itself was simple, but the feelings of connection, of care, of touch, were transformative. It is good to be called out of our places of comfort, to be made vulnerable, even for just a moment. Our church home is a safe place, where vulnerability is not seen as weakness, but rather as necessary in the process of transformation.

From Karen Robinson:

On Maundy Thursday about a dozen of us gathered for a service led by Gretchen, Sean, Chris and Kara Shobe.  I found it very moving, especially the foot-washing, which I had never done before.  I have always loved the original story, where the disciples are quarreling about which of them will be the leaders in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus kneels and washes their feet, the task of a servant.  When the disciples object, Jesus says essentially that if he can take the role of a servant, then it’s not beneath them.  The disciples find it awkward, and we did too, but well worth the effort of overcoming the awkwardness.  

We were told that no one had to participate, but most people did. Sean explained that it wasn’t going to be “scrub a dub-dub”, but just a simple pouring of a bit of water and drying with a soft towel. I wimped out a bit and had my husband wash my feet, something he’s done before.  But then I washed someone else’s feet and found it a profound experience.  I’m not very good at serving others, and it felt like it was good for me.

We also had a sweet communion of grapes and fresh-made bread.  I thought the grapes were a nice idea; easy clean-up with no worries about what kind of cups to use, and whether to have wine or juice.  They also made an evocative connection to the earth.

The music was lovely and meditative, a chant-like phrase we could sing from memory, and a longer song which was printed on the back of the small card that served as a program.  Chris played some quiet piano music, and Kara and Gretchen led the singing.

When I was a Christian, as a child and young adult, Holy Week was the high point of the year.  When I left Christianity, I didn’t go away mad.  I still love the Jesus I met in my liberal childhood Methodist church, and it was so nostalgic to remember him in such an intimate way.”

 

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