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.

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)

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.

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.

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

Third Service Experiment, from Board of Trustees Member, Gale Whitman

“Welcome to Foothills; sorry we don’t have any seats left!”

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A very cozy congregation

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!

Welcoming Our New Minister

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Sean Neil-Barron

We finally find ourselves in mid-August, and after much anticipation, I am thrilled this weekend will mark the official beginning of Sean’s ministry with us.  He will be arriving to town this Friday, and will be in worship this Sunday.  Please come and introduce yourselves (I’ve told him we save the name test for at least a week) and help him feel welcome in our community.

We have convened a Transition Team for Sean – Anne Hall, Hannah Mahoney, Tim Pearson and Erin Price – who will be helping him get oriented and setting up times for him to meet with as many of you as possible in the next couple of months.  We should have an initial schedule of these opportunities in next week’s Extra.

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Sean and the Assistant Minister Search Committee in May after he had accepted our invitation to join our team

Sean will be spending the next few weeks listening, getting to know people, and learning about our congregation – our values, our stories, our challenges and our hopes.  In the next few months he will begin to take the lead on our membership ministry, our pastoral care, and our small groups.  You’ll see him in Worship on Sundays, he’ll be leading classes, and he’ll be piloting a new program called Wellspring. And more important than any specific thing he may do, I am most grateful to know he will be a caring, wise, faithful partner to all of us as we travel life’s journey together.

Finally, I have to end this otherwise happy announcement with something less so. Because Sean is a Canadian citizen, we have had to apply for a Visa.  Unfortunately, this application process has become more complicated in the past few years, so that a site inspection to verify we are a church is required.  This site inspection has a 6 month waiting list. As a result, we are now anticipating a likely approval of December.  During this waiting period, Sean is able to continue to live in the United States, and I am grateful to report that he has generously agreed to volunteer his time with us.  Rest assured we have been working with legal counsel throughout this process to ensure we and Sean are in complete compliance with the law, and our attorney is confident he will receive his Visa after the inspection concludes.

I hope you’ll all join me this Sunday in welcoming Sean -and in these coming months ensuring that we have a great beginning to a wonderful new shared ministry.

In partnership,

Gretchen