Skin in the Game

In the service last Sunday, I said our theology of social justice requires that we ask ourselves: what are we willing to risk, and what’s our skin in the game? In the coming weeks, our congregation has the chance to really wrestle with these questions.
It’s been four months since our Sanctuary Team lit the chalice and invited us to start considering the question of becoming a  Sanctuary Congregation. Since then they’ve held forums and informational sessions, reached out to the interfaith and immigrant community, and met extensively with First Unitarian in Denver where they’ve hosted two people in sanctuary.
From this work, and with my full support and appreciation, they brought forward the invitation to the Board to set a special congregational meeting for us to vote on becoming a Sanctuary Congregation.  After two in-depth conversations with the Board, they whole-heartedly agreed.
Which means, it’s finally time to get serious in our conversations with our whole community.  We want to help us all consider what sanctuary means, and if and how we are called to be a Sanctuary Congregation. We want to review what we’ve learned about the risks and the ways to mitigate these risks, even as we recognize that part of what we are called to do – as I said before – is to take risks on behalf of justice, and on behalf of our faith.
With all that in mind, I invite you all to the following opportunities to learn more, to share and discuss together, and for us to decide together, where and how we are called as a congregation in this important path of caring, justice, and courageous love.
  • Sunday, August 13th 8:30 and 10:00 service, “Just Home,” led by the Rev. Mike Morran, First Unitarian Society of Denver, leaders in the Sanctuary movement in the Denver metro area
  • Sunday, August 13th at 11:30 am, following the second service, Informational Workshop on Sanctuary, led by the Sanctuary Team and Foothills staff team – answering all the questions anyone can come up with, talking practical details, sharing in group discernment.  Register to attend this workshop here.
  • Wednesday, August 23rd at 6:30 pm, a 2nd opportunity for the same information provided at the 8/13 Informational Workshop for those who weren’t able to attend, or who want additional info
  • Sunday, August 27th, Special Congregational Meeting at 11:30 am, following the second service, called for the sole purpose of voting on the question “Will Foothills Unitarian Church be designated as a Sanctuary Congregation?” All those who have been members for 30 days or more by 8/27 are welcome to vote.
If you were there on Sunday, you heard the story of Juan, a father of five in the Greeley area who was recently and suddenly deported. While we don’t know for sure, Juan is someone who seems like would’ve been a great candidate for sanctuary – but we weren’t ready.  The need is increasingly urgent to take up this question, and I am grateful for your willingness and partnership as we consider it together.
*This post was originally sent out as a part of the 8/2 Weekly Extra

The Business of the Church – from Board President, Erin Hottenstein

As the school year comes to a close, so does the church year. On Sunday, June 4 at 11:00 a.m. we will hold our official annual congregational meeting. Please save the date! All members will be asked to attend to vote on elected offices as well as bylaws changes and the annual budget.

Lay leaders – who are all volunteers/members of the congregation – and Foothills staff have been hard at work preparing for the annual meeting.
To help members prepare, a packet will be sent out around May 18th by email (paper copies available by request) that will contain the important information you need to know before voting.
At our Annual Meeting, in addition to the elections and votes mentioned above, we will be thanking our outgoing officers, hearing about the results of our stewardship campaign, and officially moving forward on our Governance trial year.  Because this is a lot to pack into a single meeting, and because we have over 600 members, we’d love to be in conversation with you before the meeting to hear your feedback and to help you learn about these various facets of our congregational life.  As a result, in other blog posts you’ll find mini-updates on each of these areas, as well as notices of meetings where you can discuss these topics more fully with their respective leaders.
We look forward to talking more about all of these things with you and moving our congregation forward as we continue to unleash courageous love!  So, please,
mark your calendars and watch your email around the 18th. We look forward to seeing you soon!

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)

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.

Making a Reverend – from Sue Sullivan and the Committee on Shared Ministry

You might have noticed that Sean doesn’t wear a stole on Sundays, or call himself Reverend. That is because, while he has completed every other necessary step along the path to becoming a minister, including graduating from Harvard Divinity School and completing his post-graduate studies and internship, he has not yet asked a congregation to ordain him — the ultimate symbolic, practical and spiritual step in the process of becoming a UU minister.

Sean could have requested ordination from any of the churches he has been affiliated with (the church he grew up in, the church where he first answered his call to become a minister, or the church that he did his field work in, for example) but he knew that he wanted to be ordained by the first church he served…and that’s us!

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The Committee on Shared Ministry shares about Sean’s ordination at the December 18th service

We are excited to share that we have been asked to enact this fundamental ceremony of our Unitarian Universalist faith, one that we have not performed for more than 25 years – the ordination of a minister to serve in our religious tradition (our last ordination was in 1991 when we ordained our then intern, the Rev. Thomas Perchlick). And not just any minister, but our own Sean Neil-Barron.

Many of us have heard Sean’s thought-provoking sermons since he joined us as assistant minister in August. Some of us might have received pastoral care from him, or attended a Foundations class, a Vespers service or one of the other small group experiences Sean has helped facilitate with energy, warmth and a passion for deepening our connections with each other and our larger community.

Sean is asking us, as a Universalist Unitarian congregation, to affirm that we find in him a strong and capable minister for our faith. We are honored to affirm his ministry not just generally, but in the many ways we have felt the power and care of his ministry personally.

Unitarian Universalism, unlike other religions, reserves the right to ordain ministers for congregations alone, and not a centralized church leadership. We the people do the ordaining.  In doing so we are not making an offer or a call to the minister, but simply and solemnly declaring that we see in him or her a minister fit to serve the Unitarian Universalist movement. We are fulfilling our role and responsibility as a congregation to select the ministers that serve our religious movement, and affirming and authorizing the minister into their service and leadership in Unitarian Universalism.  It is a solemn responsibility, as ordination is for life.

At the request of the Committee on Shared Ministry, the Board of Trustees voted last week to hold a special congregational meeting on January 29th with one action item – whether we agree as a congregation to ordain Sean Neil-Barron into the Unitarian Universalist ministry.

All those who have been members for 30 days prior are eligible to vote. If the vote passes, we’ll hold an ordination ceremony in April. The Committee on Shared Ministry will hold a forum between the Sunday services on January 8th to answer any questions about the ordination process.

The Committee on Shared Ministry includes Glenn Pearson, Sally Harris, Anne Hall, Margie Wagner, Sue Sullivan, Rev. Gretchen Haley and Sean Neil-Barron. To a member, we are thrilled that Sean has asked us to perform one of our tradition’s most fundamental religious ceremonies and we look forward to answering any questions you might have about it at the January 8th forum.

In partnership and passion for a brighter world,

Sue Sullivan

We Unleash Courageous Love

Foothills Unitarian has a new Mission Statement!

A Special Congregational Meeting was held Sunday, October 16, 2016 at 10:15 AM. Following a brief discussion, wherein members voiced their opinions of the now-approved

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Mission Task Force Member Karen Harder speaks about the missions statement process as our chalice burns

statement using words such as “active,” “movement,” and “powerful,” Erin Hottenstein officially called to order a meeting that would prove to be one of the shortest in Foothills Unitarian history. Within a matter of two and a half minutes, a motion to limit talking time was approved and then a vote was called. Without further ado, and with a full house, the congregation overwhelming approved the new Mission Statement.

Foothills’ new mission statement reads:

Foothills Unitarian Church unleashes courageous love in Northern Colorado and beyond by embracing our diversity, growing our faith, and awakenimg_20161016_103012ing our spirits to the unfolding meaning of this life.

The process undertaken to draft this Mission Statement was 11 months of deep listening, strategic questioning, and lively discussion, followed by drafts and drafts and drafts – 150 to be exact – of ideas, words, and hopes. Each iteration of the statement brought the congregation closer to spelling out how this community wants to show up in this world today. As one member said, “It is not the ‘what’ of what to do, but it is the ‘how’ and the ‘why.’” Congratulations, Foothills! We have another very important piece that helps us move forward in courageous love together.

-Sara Edwards is a member of the Foothills Board