One year later

15036731_10210339868347595_5652769351943201453_nA year ago right now, we were preparing for election day.  I woke up and put on a white shirt, and helped my daughter find a white shirt, we took a selfie together – we were planning for an historical outcome in the national election.  It wasn’t that I thought it was a foregone conclusion – I knew the race was tight.  But there was something in my white middle class progressive Unitarian DNA that refused to truly believe that the United States would follow up its election of the first African American president with the election of a president who bragged about sexual assault, or who portrayed Mexican immigrants as rapists, or who denied climate change, or…..

Many of us woke up on November 9th, 2016 stunned by a reality that probably shouldn’t have been such a surprise – but it was.  It was painful, and even traumatic for many to have to face, and the fear of what it would mean hung over all of us with an aching dread.

A year later, I wish I could say that these fears were all unfounded, that the communal grief that sent nearly 430 of you into the Sunday service the Sunday after the election was overblown…..but it has been predictably, a really hard year.  The fights for health care, and GLBT rights, and against the Refugee Ban, and the campaign-promise-fulfilling willingness to deport all those who are undocumented, regardless on the impact on families or on the individual worthiness as a contributing part of our community…the twitter fueds and the re-initiated global panic on the potential of nuclear war….these all take a toll, on all of us.

The ripple effects of anxiety and overwhelm, dread, and even despair have therapists working overtime, and still each Sunday, so many come for the first time, seeking some way to making meaning and to find hope in the midst of this difficult and upside down world.

A year later, however, I am not without good news.  I’ve watched – in countless meetings and in small conversations – a new desire to engage, to make a difference, to orient our lives towards meaningful contributions, and to learn the skills needed to listen more deeply, connect more authentically, and to be a part of much needed healing and restoration for our world.

I’ve seen a deeper commitment to spiritual growth, to attending worship, to giving of yourself in time and with money – this great generosity of spirit in service of a larger vision.  And I’ve seen bright faces of joy, and hope, each Sunday – a huge desire to learn, and grow, and be a part of the change we wish to see.

I’ve also seen new grassroots organizations formed, and new partnerships started – some of these have been especially important for our congregation and our learning in addressing homelessness, economic justice, and interfaith relationships.  And, a new boldness and courage has taken shape in all sorts of ways, not the least of which in our community has been visible in our sanctuary vote and efforts.

In the past ten months, I’ve taken so many people to their first protest march, it’s incredible.  And, I’ve seen a willingness to take risks on behalf of deeper values in ways that I truly don’t think would’ve happened even a couple years ago.

What’s especially meaningful to me through all of this, however, is that I know that not everyone agrees about all the things, or in all the same way – and yet we have found a way to remain in conversation and dialogue.  We have been working hard at learning how to have meaningful conversations about real things – and yet to be able to disagree, even while staying connected. It’s a practice that’ll likely take us our whole lives, and so we will continuously rely on grace, and spiritual practices of renewal, and a respect of a regular Sabbath, however that looks like to each of us.

As we cross this year mark, I am especially aware of the potential for burnout – in all of us.  That we will simply be too overwhelmed or too tired to keep engaging, that church and community and participating could feel like just one more item on an already too-full to-do list.  That the initial burst of resistance will transform into old complacency or cynicism.

This is all on my mind and heart as I look ahead to our plans for the next few months and beyond – at church, and in my own life.  We have many days ahead, and there’s no guarantee things are going to get easier.  We must be vigilant in all the things that allow us to keep going, to remain at the table so that we can do the hard work, to keep tending to that bright thread of hope.  And we must keep leaning in to care for each other, sing for and with each other, make meals for and with one another, keep taking time for gratitude, and joy; silence and story; community and care – committing ourselves once again to the power and potential of real, authentic community of trust and accountability, calling us to show up each day, and offer ourselves to that greater vision.

 

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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.

Our Church Directory Experience

Dear friends,

We have heard from many of you that the experience with the photographers for our recent church directory was less than ideal, and that’s putting it mildly.  Others of you who we haven’t heard from, I’m assuming things went generally fine, or just not bad enough to warrant letting us know.

I am so sorry for these negative experiences – it was hard to hear them from you, and hard to figure out how best to address them after-the-fact.  One small thing I’ve done is written a letter to the directory company letting them know about our experiences and asking them to better train and prepare their photographers and more pro-actively anticipate the backlog/wait time that many of you experienced.

You can find the full text of that letter here.

I know that coming out for photos can be inconvenient and stressful even in the best of circumstances.  I am sorry that for some of you this was made more stressful, and I so appreciate your willingness to deal with these moments with your usual grace and sense of humor.

With that said, as you’ll see in my letter, based on the response from the company, we will be considering if we will use them for our next directory.  I will let you know as we see how things develop.

In the meantime, our directory has gone to press and you should be able to pick one up after the holidays.  Let me know if you have any questions or further feedback, and thank you for your patience and presence in this and in all things.

In partnership,

Gretchen

 

Shining our light

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As we were preparing for the vigil on Sunday evening, the Rev. Hal Chorpenning, Senior Minister at Plymouth UCC quipped, “I wish the news would stop giving us so many things to preach about.”

It was the 8th Night of Hanukkah, the third Sunday of Advent, a week before the Winter Solstice – all of these seasons of darkness longing for light.  We all agreed, there has been too much heartbreak, fear, violence and division – all requiring the response of the best of our religious traditions.   When the call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. started to circulate early last week – from a popular presidential candidate, no less – we knew we needed to step up and speak out as people of faith – do something, bear witness to another truth, another story of America, of humanity, of life.

As we gathered on Sunday, we remembered that the next day would be the anniversary of the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.  The children lost there are never far from my thoughts, and maybe even more, the children who survived, and the families left behind.  What story do they have of the world? How do they make sense of humanity, of life? How do they reclaim joy or goodness in a world where such a thing can happen? 

I can get lost in these questions and become overwhelmed by the grief, but then, something like the Vigil on Sunday night happens, and I remember hope.  I remember, like the song we ended the final Sunday of Candidating Week singing encourages – tenderness, kindness, friends – and that it’s only love that never ends.  I remember those words from Mr. Rogers to “look for the helpers,” and I remember the words attributed to Universalist John Murray, “You may possess a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of women and men.  Give them not hell, but hope and courage; preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.”

The paper reported over 200 were gathered, but I would guess more like 300-400 – and I would guess about 80 of those were from our congregation.  It was a cold night, and our plans weren’t totally clear, even to those of us doing the organizing (my summary of the first few moments of the event: the Muslims were inviting everyone inside, the Christians said we were gathering outside, the UUs were saying both ways were good, and the Jews just launched into “This Little Light of Mine.” Welcome to the real work of interfaith dialogue!), the parking was non-existent, and there weren’t enough candles for our candlelight vigil.

And yet still, the people gathered.  The people gathered to remind us all of another story of life, the story of human goodness and compassion and connection – a story of love over fear.  In turn the Islamic Center opened their space with warmth and hospitality to all who wanted to pray, offered hot drinks and treats, and took up an offering for the victims of the Shooting at San Bernardino.

Our own Christopher Watkins Lamb and Amber Lamb led the crowd in singing the Meditation on Breathing – the song UU Sarah Dan Jones wrote in response to 9/11.  Rabbis Shoshana Leis, Ben Newman and Hillel Katzir, Rev. Chorpenning, and Howell and I each offered prayers, and we closed the service by singing the song from Emma’s Revolution, “Peace Salaam Shalom.”  Later, I learned that the kids and youth were watching it all from the second floor, inside the Islamic Center – can you imagine their view as they looked out on all their neighbors coming to witness their love in the face of bigotry?  It was powerful, and holy.

Times like these ask us to get really clear about what story we are going to live out of, what story we will bear witness to, and what claims we are willing to stand out in the cold for – and then to actually step out and live out of this story and these claims – this faith.

I am so honored, and proud, and grateful, to serve with and among you, this congregation, and to live out our Unitarian Universalist bold claims of liberty and justice for all in this community – to shine our lights in the darkness together.  (When we talk about our “mission” as a congregation, this is exactly the sort of thing that we mean to be talking about – why do we exist, what does our community need from us, what does our faith ask of us?)  Sometimes I know it feels like it could never be enough, but as we each do our part, keep showing up – we make sure that the darkness will not overcome this light, this resilient story of love.

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