We still don’t do shame, and there’s still no them

This past Sunday, we had 180% more of you than usual, and it was what writer Glennon Doyle Melton calls “brutiful,” a combination of beautiful, and brutal. Beautiful to gather, beautiful to sing, to breathe, to laugh and cry and simply come together after a week where, as I said on Sunday, we experienced a “global plot twist.”  I could feel the force of love among us.  But also brutal, because what inspired so many to show up on Sunday was pain, grief, anger, fear, even despair.  It was one of the most powerful Sundays I’ve ever experienced, and I’d give nearly anything for it not to have been necessary.

As we move forward, I want to clarify and underscore two commitments of our faith and our congregation that I hope you’ll help me uphold.

First, we still don’t do shame in our church.  We don’t shame each other for who we voted for – no matter who that is, or for coming to different conclusions than we have about big and complex topics, or about how we will move through these complicated times (aka, life).

The emerging future is going to require a lot of learning.  And learning requires imperfection, humility, laughter, and grace.  We’re going to screw up a lot, and we’re going to state strong opinions that later we realize we were wrong about.  A few months ago I preached on what it feels like to be wrong, exploring some of the ideas in the TED Talk by Kathryn Schulz  What she says is that being wrong feels exactly the same as being right – only once we realize we are wrong does it feel differently.

We have to give each other and ourselves the space to be wrong, without shame.  In place of shame, let us ask more generous questions (the topic of our Wednesday night Civil Conversations gathering by the way!).  Instead of shame, try to listen for what’s hurting, what’s being wrestled with, what value is being expressed.

Growth and change require a level of safety – which is not the same as comfort.  We need to create safe spaces where we can be uncomfortable together.  This is the sweet spot of deep learning – real transformation, and courageous love.

Which brings me to the second commitment: there’s still no “them;”only us. Our world seeks to divide us, to harden the categories of who is worthy, who is good, who suffers the most, who is to blame, who is the enemy, and who is our kin.  Our religious lens asks us to not let the categories, or our hearts be hardened to any other, but to keep up the practices that grow more supple hearts, hearts of compassion that can hold ever more complexity and willingness to see ourselves in the other.  (This is the work of our upcoming Healing the Heart of Democracy series.)

This second commitment does not mean that we don’t have strong convictions. We are called to a practice of compassion with boundaries, covenant by way of self-differentiation.   As my message on Sunday proclaimed, our faith compels us in this moment to a greater justice, a braver and bolder living out of our principles, our living Unitarian Universalist tradition, and our mission.  Wherever hatred has been unleashed, we are called to unleash courageous love.  The great discipline before us is to discern what that love looks like, and what it asks of us.  And for that, we need each other and our religious community, more than ever.

Thank you for being present in the struggle, learning together, and unleashing courageous love for one another, and for our greater world.  I have never been more grateful for this community, and our promise and commitment that we are all in this together.





From Covenant to Healing: How We Care, and Belong

I remember hearing a story about a young couple that showed up at a church for the first time. They had recently moved to the area and were church shopping. Walking into the church they quickly noticed that nobody, and I mean nobody, was even close to their age. If you took their parents’ age and added it to their age, you would get in the ballpark of the average age of the congregation. But…five years later they were still there. Why?

After they visited the congregation for the first time, one of them was diagnosed with cancer.  Even though they had only been to the congregation that one time, a church member followed up with them.

The afternoon after the first chemo treatment, the couple responded to a knock at the door and they were met with the sight of a casserole sitting on their front door, steaming, and the back of a church member hurrying away. And the casseroles kept coming. For months. Why did they stay? Because the congregation cared about them deeply, and they knew they belonged.

I have only been getting to know Foothills for a short time, but in that time I have witnessed a spirit of love rippling outward. People at Foothills actually want to hear the truth when we ask them “How are you doing?” What a healing balm that is, and how critical it is to that hope we all have to feel like we belong.  

Within our congregation, we have dedicated teams that actively partner in our shared ministry of care and belonging:

  • Our Parish Visitors care and visit with dozens of people within our community each month who need a listening ear.
  • Our Meals Team jumps into action to provide meals during times of stress and need.
  • Our Cards Crew helps us reach out and share our concern 
  • Our Caring Team connects people to rides to church and supports hospitality during memorial services
  • Our small groups – each led by a trained and supported facilitator –  offer a sense of intimacy, connection, and shared spiritual growth

Our professional ministry team, Rev. Haley and myself, extend this care by offering pastoral care and counseling, end of life support, rites of passage, and alleviate financial burdens for members through the Ministerial Discretionary Fund.

If you would like to join one or more of these teams – if you think you may have, as we spoke about this Sunday, a calling to this important ministry, please contact Sean (sean@foothillsuu.org). 

In a church our size, it can sometimes be hard to figure out how to access this care, and you can often wonder if they are meant for you. They are. Dropping by or calling the church office, sending an email to caring@foothillsuu.org or connecting directly with Sean (sean@foothillsuu.org) are the easiest ways to start the conversation. If you think you know a member who might need some support, please let us know in these ways, as well.

This month, our theme moves from covenant to healing.  It is our ministry of care where these two themes come together.  May our walk together be one where we deeply care for each other, healing ourselves, and our world.

Announcing Our New Assistant Minister!

We are thrilled to announce that the Assistant Minister Search Committee and the Rev. Gretchen Haley have enthusiastically selected Sean Neil-Barron to be our new Assistant Minister.

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Our Process
In January, the Assistant Minister Search Committee (in its earliest form) held two congregational forums to consider together what we sought in a new Assistant Minister. Important attributes included a calling to pastoral care, interest in small group ministry, enthusiasm for the use of technology in UU ministry, and complementarity with Gretchen’s ministry. We agreed that we would hire (not call) an Assistant Minister for a period of one year, renewable for a second year. After that we can review and decide what we want to do for following years.

There’s a Denomination-wide process for recruiting and hiring ministers which has a seasonal cycle tied to the credentialing process for UU Ministers through the UUA. We advertised through the UUA process and began receiving applications almost immediately.

At our January meeting, the Board authorized a Search Committee for the Assistant Minister. It included Bonnie Inscho, Tim Pearson, Sara Edwards, and Scott Denning. We began meeting in late January and eventually considered sixteen applicants from all over the US and Canada.

From these candidates, we unanimously chose to invite one to Fort Collins – Sean Neil-Barron – in May. We met with him over three days and offered him the job on May 22. We were overjoyed when he accepted our offer!

Sean’s Background and Ministry 
Sean recently completed his ministerial internship with the New England Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association. His responsibilities included working with more than 20 congregations in times of transition and conflict with a particular emphasis on congregational relevance in the 21st century. He also served as the project manager for FAITHIFY, the UU crowdfunding site – overseeing over a quarter of a million dollars being pledged to UU initiatives.

Sean is the Convener of Wellspring Boston, an entrepreneurial UU spiritual deepening initiative in the Boston Area and currently sits on the Board of Directors of UU Wellspring. He preaches regularly in Greater Boston and his writing has appeared in the UU World Magazine and on the UUA’s Worship Web. Sean’s most recent project is a podcast created in collaboration with UU Historian Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie called “The Pamphlet,” aimed at uncovering UUs hidden histories.

Sean received his Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School and also holds a degree in Conflict Studies and Theology from Saint Paul University in Ottawa. Growing up on Treaty 7 land in Calgary, Alberta, Canada—a place not unlike Foothills in its geography and beauty—Sean found Unitarian Universalism as a queer youth and quickly fell in love with a community that explored together questions that matter. Having felt a call from a young age, it wasn’t until he found our faith that he realized that ministry was the call he had always felt. He remains connected to his colleagues and friends in the Canadian Unitarian movement. Sean has served as an OWL Facilitator, been on staff at the UU Goldmine Youth Leadership School, and has presented workshops on conflict resolution, contemporary church, and sexuality throughout the lifespan.

Sean’s ministry seeks to build communities of spiritual depth by harnessing the transformative power of our congregations to be places of formation, wonder, and service; addressing the deep spiritual wounds of our time: division, shame, and alienation.

Sean and his partner Charles will be joining us later in the summer with their dog Dollie. They enjoy the outdoors, biking, cooking, and tasting their way through new cities.

About Sean and his ministry fit at Foothills, by the Assistant Minister Search Committee 
High on the list of qualities we sought in an assistant minister was the ability to effectively provide pastoral care. Sean has experience with pastoral care and considers it one of his strengths. He impressed us with his thoughtful responses on this topic and with a moving story about one of his pastoral care experiences. Sean has some great ideas about how pastoral care can be effective in larger congregations and he has a keen understanding of the differing pastoral needs that are present in church settings.

Sean is genuinely kind, considerate and caring. We all picked up on this in our multiple interactions with him. From the beginning Bonnie said, “I feel really comfortable with him,” and we all feel that way. He just gives off a comforting, kind energy.

He exhibits an ability to listen to what is being said, reframe and restate in a way that is particularly helpful. He is a deep listener, but that he also has a frame of reference and point-of-view. This will serve him well as he works to facilitate individuals and groups in a variety of settings.

Another thing we were looking for in an Asst. Minister was someone who could take on the role of further developing small group opportunities. Sean feels a call to build communities of spiritual depth, has a deep passion for developing adult spirituality, and has experience leading UU Wellspring and other groups. He clearly understands the importance of relationship building within spiritual groups and the congregation at large, with its potential for faith formation and life transformation.

Sean has been a proven leader is in congregational life and in his understanding of church governance. In his year at First Parish, Brookline, MA , he was charged with facilitating the updating of their policies and bylaws, which had not been updated to match the growth and changes in ministry over the past decade.Whether Sean is charged to help in that role at Foothills or not, his understanding of church governance and dynamics especially in times of transition, will no doubt be valuable to us.

Sean said he was drawn to our congregation because we are aspirational. He too is aspirational. You will soon see that he has a strong sense of vision. Part of his vision is to link the future with the past by building bridges between where we have been and where we will go. In this way he aspires to help UUs find relevance in the 21st century.

And speaking of bridges, Sean believes in bridging across age boundaries. When our team asked him how he would engage young adults and older congregants he told us that his goal would be to help create opportunities that would appeal to members across generations.

Sean’s work at Faithify has revolved around crowdfunding online. He will work on a viral social media campaign to collect UU stories. His hobbies include video games, “technology and gadgets,” and design theory. He even uses an AI personal assistant named “Amy.”

His groundedness in UU theology is evident. In our face-to-face conversations, we noted him bring UU beliefs and theology to the forefront in a number of different conversations. We appreciate his commitment to the UU beliefs and his ability to bring this point-of-view to bear in discussions related to being human and building community in the UU faith. He will add a great deal to our development as UU’s in the now and in the future.



Sean with the Search Committee after we’d made the invitation and he said yes.

We were struck, and we hope you will be struck, by the wisdom Sean exhibits — wisdom beyond his years. He has thought deeply about what it means to be a minister of a UU church. His theological insights and his genuine desire to lead our congregation on a spiritual journey convinced us that Sean is the right choice to be our assistant minister.

We read impressive testimonials from seven of Sean’s colleagues and as we prepared for our Skype and then in-person interviews, we were hopeful that we would see the qualities described: “commitment to our faith,” “instincts for congregations” “a natural minister,” and someone with “a maturity, self-awareness, and … understanding of the UU tradition that sets him apart.”

Rev. Sue Phillips, New England Region Lead for the UUA, wrote a very powerful and enthusiastic recommendation in support of Sean’s application. She wrote:

“Sean’s experience, wisdom, and commitment to Unitarian Universalism distinguish him not only from other young ministers just out of school, but from most ministers with many years of congregational experience … His instincts for congregations, how they work, and what they are capable of are outstanding for a person of any age. He is exactly the kind of ministerial candidate I would choose, combining as he does generationally astute vision with broad congregational experience that few older ministers can match. I have worked with hundreds of congregations and countless lay and ministerial leaders, and I can testify that Sean is among the most talented I’ve encountered.”

We saw these qualities and more. We felt in Sean’s presence that he is someone with innate and genuine inner wisdom – a “wise soul”. As the Rev. Sue Phillips described it, “What Sean has cannot be taught.” We think you will sense this too as you meet and work with him.

As Sean says in his video, there will be many opportunities in August and September to meet him and begin to get to know him. Look for info in the “Extra” and help us welcome our new minister as we begin this next new phase of our walk together at Foothills.

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Getting silly with the Search Committee, Sean, Sean’s partner Charles, and Gretchen’s kids Gracie & Josef

Our Coordinated Caring Team

When someone connected to our congregation has a concern, life transition, or something going on in their life, our hope is that we can connect with them in the spirit of our covenant, bringing a sense of a larger presence to those moments in life when it is so important not to feel alone.  Sometimes that “presence” is simply a phone call or a visit, sometimes it is a card from your friends at church; other times it is a ride to church, or a whole series of home cooked meals during a difficult time; and sometimes it is a combination of all of these things.

Over the past few years, our caring team has been expanding and developing to meet all the various needs for presence in our congregations, responding to the growing and changing size and needs of our community.   Here are some of the frequently asked questions and answers about our caring team.  Please let us know if you have a question about something not listed here!

In partnership, Jacqui Wallace, Kay Hood, Bonnie Inscho, Cam Elvheim, and Rev. Gretchen Haley – lead team members for Caring at Foothills 

How do you tell us about a concern, life transition, illness, injury, or something else going on, including a joy? 

  • We ask you to either call the church office at 493-5906 or email caring@foothillsuu.org, or complete the online form here: foothillsuu.org/joys-and-concerns/.
  • You might also go ahead and share about it in the Sunday Joys and Sorrows book, now placed for your privacy in the sanctuary by the sound booth window.
  • All of these will get routed to the On-Call Caring Team Member.

Who should tell us about someone’s concern? 

  • If you know about something going on in someone’s life and have a general sense that it is something the person would be fine with their church’s caring team knowing about, you are welcome to send a note or call us on their behalf, especially when they are not able.
  • Of course, we always welcome and encourage you to share about yourself, for yourself, as well!

Who receives the information when I share it with the church?

  • The information is always routed to our On-Call Caring Team Member who will reach out directly to the person experiencing the concern, expressing our congregation’s caring presence, as well as assessing other needs.
  • It is also always shared with Rev. Haley, and recorded onto our Caring Log so we can be sure to follow up and check in with you.

Who fills the On-Call Team Member role? How does that work? 

  • Our Parish Visitors team rotate in filling the On-Call role – every two weeks.  When it is their turn, they receive the notices of caring concerns, and reach out to the individual directly.  They also see if the individual could use meals, or rides, or a contact from a minister, and generally offer the caring presence on behalf of our congregation.
  • If the individual does need rides, meals, or other support, the On-Call person makes a referral to the lead for the particular area.

What is a Parish Visitor? 

  • A Parish Visitor is a church member who – after applying, interviewing, receiving a background check and proper training – visits with a church member who is either unable to get to church due to injury or illness, or who appreciates a little extra conversation and listening during a time of need from a fellow church member.
  • These Visitors work directly with Rev. Haley, meeting with her at least every-other-month for check-ins and direction.  They also keep Rev. Haley apprised of all of their visits, and work with her directly whenever particular issues may arise.
  • The Parish Visitor program started about 2 years ago, near the end of Rev. Salkin’s time with the congregation, and is a way to ensure that we are better able to reach out and walk with more of our large community.  It is also one of the best ways we express our covenant and our commitment to a shared ministry.
  • Our ministerial team is still always available for appointments for pastoral support.  Reach out to them directly to make an appointment to meet.

Who are the leads for the caring roles?

  • Kay Hood fills the lead role for our Parish Visitors, so when a new Visitor assignment is needed, she works with Rev. Haley to make that assignment.
  • Currently we are in need of a new lead for our meals team, although Jacqui Wallace has been filling in until we are able to fill this role.  This is an important yet not-too-time-consuming role of reaching out to a person in need, to their primary circle of community in the church, and to our regular volunteers who bring meals to those who need a meal, and sets up a meal coordination website for all of these folks to bring meals in a way that meets the needs of the individuals.
  • Currently we rely on an informal network to support our rides, as we recognize that we aren’t able to offer too many rides too often.  We do our best when we are able, and otherwise we help an individual to connect with other supports.
  • Kay Hood and Jacqui Wallace both help ensure that there is support for receptions for Memorial Services.

Is this the same as the “Caring Committee?” How is it different? 

  • While all the elements of the Caring Committee still exist, we have decided not to meet as a whole Committee on a regular basis – because we found that with the Parish Visitor program and our On-Call system, it was redundant.  Instead, people can just jump in and provide the support – no meeting required!
  • So if you know someone needs meals, instead of contacting a “committee,” just use our caring@foothillsuu.org email, or contact the office, and we will coordinate directly with the Meal team.

How can I sign up to help with meals when they are needed? 

How can I sign up to be a lead for either rides or meals? 

How can I sign up or learn more about the Parish Visitor role? 

What if I have other questions about the Caring Team or other elements of Foothills Pastoral Care support? 

Moving Forward Together

12247140_10153987859389156_6166450952576757111_nOver the past few weeks, there have been a lot of pictures of me up and around.  It’s been a little uncomfortable, I confess.  The process as a whole has been an interesting and important one, for all of us – sometimes uncomfortable sure, but also sometimes funny, sometimes exhilarating – and often filled with love and grace.
Still, I think the more accurate picture, the more helpful picture for us to lift up at this point is the one I see when I am looking out on Sunday: the whole wonderfully crowded sanctuary and social hall, filled with all of you in all the places you are in your lives, the stories I am aware of, the many I am not, the ways you are connected to each other, the ways you care for each other, your commitment to this church and our liberal religious faith, the questions we all have, the struggles and the triumphs, together. Our church and a successful ministry isn’t about any one of us, and definitely it isn’t me – it’s about us – all of us, together.  We are all in this together, all of us.
In these first few days since my call, I have begun to think about the work ahead, and what we will need to do, and when and how we’ll need to do it.  Over and over I come back to the message I offered the first Sunday of candidating week:

Imagine, it is our task to create an environment and the appropriate forums for it to be safe for any of us to speak honestly, about those things which matter most – about our fears, our hopes, and struggles…..Imagine it is our core task to make space for all the different metaphors, and language, and meaning-making any of us might engage along life’s journey….And imagine that in our Big Tent, rather than believing it is possible to hold this much diversity and maintain a perpetual sense of ease, imagine that it is our practice to be that ‘safe place where we can be uncomfortable.’ …..Imagine that central to anything we do is our Big Tent where we make space for all who welcome all.

As your new senior minister, this is my central commitment to you and to this congregation, that we continue to cultivate an environment where all are truly welcome – all those who are willing to practice with us this idea of welcoming all who welcome all.

To begin, I know that there were a number of you who hoped for a different outcome to my call. I’d like to hear from you.  I want to listen to your concerns and your fears, as well as your hopes and your dreams.  I’d invite you to write me a letter, or make an appointment – after Thanksgiving, perhaps.  I promise I will not take your vote personally or hold it against you – I will respect you – in this, and in all things, to come to your own conclusions.  That is what a free church must ultimately continue to affirm – a trust and a faith in the people to freely choose – and to respectfully disagree.  There is no coercion in covenant – choice is perpetual, and choice is powerful.

And just as importantly, for those who are excited about the outcome, I’d love to hear from you as well.  What inspires you, and how do you see yourself fitting in the journey ahead? And, what questions do you have? What ideas, hopes, needs?

Far beyond this moment, over time, any of us may disagree around small or big things.  If we are to do anything of vision or purpose, we are going to disagree.  That is ok! We can disagree and stay in relationship – that is the big and crazy idea behind “we need not think alike to love alike.”  Paraphrasing the Rev. Kirk Loadman-Copeland, we are not going to be like-minded.  Let us strive instead to be like-hearted.  Our hearts affirm that behind our differences, something more important connects us.  And so at any given time throughout our shared ministry that you find yourself disagreeing – let’s talk about it.  Let’s trust each other enough to assume good intent; and trust that we are all committed to what we understand as the good for this congregation.

In her Facebook post on Monday after the vote, Board member Gale Whitman reflected on the past 48 hours, and shared this hope: “Let’s work together to build a better tomorrow; the world needs us!” I couldn’t have said it better.  There are so many places in our world today where life is at risk, and all around us the earth itself is at risk – our world – and we – need us to work together in service of our shared affirmation that all are worthy of love and belonging, and we are all in this together.  We need all of us.  Let’s keep moving forward, together.

With love, and HUGE gratitude,


The Fabulous First Start-up Festival!

11990642_10207688678521946_3182699664064836605_nThanks to all who made our Water Communion and 1st Start-Up Festival such a fabulous time.   Church member Lynn Young wrote to the staff on Monday to let us know about her experience -her note is representative of many enthusiastic comments we got, so we want to share it here with all of you.

To the wonderful Sunday breakfast planning team:

Thank you for such a great experience!!  After such a long tradition of our “back-to-church-breakfast gatherings” in a park setting, I really wondered how it would work changing to our church setting.  But, you all made it happen, and with such ease and organization.  From starting with the meaningful water sharing ceremony and the vibrant singing and music, through a well-planned, breakfast offering from members to the final dunking of Board of Trustees, Carolyn and Eleanor in the dunk tank, it seemed everyone had a special time.  Having tables on the lawn, all under a covering made it possible for us to spread out, relax and enjoy the companionship of all our church friends.  My sincere thanks to all who had a hand in planning and helping with this event.  I am so thankful to be a part of this U-U community and family.   – Lynn Young

Thank you Lynn, and thanks everyone, for showing up and for making this event such a success.  It was great to see everyone at our church having such a good time, and connecting, and seeing us talk together about all the amazing stuff that we do at the church – and in a fun way.

With a core team of over 30 volunteers, the campus was filled with activities and engagement for all ages.  If you missed it, we hope to catch you next year with a new slate of engaging booths filled with information about our ministries and ways to connect across all ages and stages of life.


Water Communion service began at 9 with Eleanor VanDeusen and Jason Latta lighting the chalice.


The brief service led by Revs. Howell Lind and Gretchen Haley was filled with story and song


What’s a festival without a bouncy house?


Board President Jenn Powell with son Owen anticipating the start-up of the DUNKING!


David Edwards points the way (?) to the bike parking. Many thanks to the Climate Justice team for helping to make this a bike-friendly event.

Inspired by the "hobbit" maps, we wanted to make sure everyone knew about all the great stuff spread out all over the campus.

Inspired by the “hobbit” maps, we wanted to make sure everyone knew about all the great stuff spread out all over the campus.


The booths filling the east path way made up our “welcome walkway”


The Climate Justice team also made sure we were a reduced impact event – thanks to Cami and Spencer for setting up our recycling and compostable containers.


Shanna Henk and Kristina Ruff show off the awesome new Foothills t-shirts with a logo designed by church member Steve Sedam and inspired by our mission to further the reach of love in our lives, in Northern Colorado, and beyond. Shanna and Kristina were also handing out the new Lifespan RE catalogues – packed with programming for the year.


Anne Haro Sipes and Jane Everham staffed our ESL and One Village One Family tables along the Justice Journey, and church member Jeanne Kennedy was one of many who stopped to check out all the information.


Elizabeth Stanley staffs the Middle East Peace table along the Justice Journey.


LUUAuction! How clever Kay Williams and Peg MacMorris of our Auction Team!


Church member Bob Viscount pulled out all the stops for the Partner Church booth!


Church member Kay Hood was raffling a teddy bear on behalf of our Caring team.


David Levinson staffs the Climate Justice table along the Justice Journey and helps people log their carbon credits.


Carolyn Myers helps promote the Scrips and Grocery cards.


Karen Harder and Jack Zak engage Andy Vancil to “Guess the number of Jelly Beans in the Chalice” – while noting all about Membership By The Numbers at the Membership booth….

And look at all those numbers!

And look at all those numbers!


Church members – especially the under 18 set – were enthusiastic about sharing a vision for the church, which earned you a chance to try to dunk a board member at the Dunk Tank. Great visions from all ages!!


President Emeritus Rich Young was very game for the dunking!


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Board members Erin Hottenstein and Jenn Powell show off some more visions.


11949322_952280351495349_7723755905699114577_n   Dave Montanari solicited donations to encourage administrator Carolyn Myers to take the plunge – she caved, and down she went….Church member Loren Jones threw the “winning” ball.


With all the kids around, it was inevitable someone would also encourage Director of Religious Exploration Eleanor Van Deusen to get dunked….and down she went!

Many thanks to Lyndy Latta, Jen Iole, and Lenny Scovel for the great photos! Looking forward to seeing those from official event photographer Elijah Price!

Reporting in From General Assembly – Our 3 Take-Aways!

Foothlls at GA 2015Last week, a delegation of 14 Foothills members joined in for some or all of the 2015 UUA General Assembly in Portland Oregon.  This annual gathering of over 5,000 representatives from Unitarian Universalist congregations across the US includes worship, learning workshops, lectures, reports, and the business of the association (think: giant congregational meeting) – plus the often-best-part of connecting with UUs from across the country in informal ways over the course of 4 full days.

It was a wonderful General Assembly in the great city of Portland, and we hope to offer the congregation lots of ways to hear back from us about our take-aways.  However, to get us started, I asked everyone to send in their “top 3” things off the top of their head that they felt everyone should know based on their experiences.  So, we’ll start here with that list and then look for more in-depth info coming soon.  Most of the general parts of GA are captured on streaming video, so if you’re anxious to learn more sooner than that – go to UUA.org and search for General Assembly.

GA Banner 2015In no particular order, our assembled TOP 3 Take-Aways!

  1. From a graceful presentation by UU Buddhists comes the idea that when a contentious debate becomes too heated, ask the group for a couple of minutes of silence and then to join the dialogue in a more loving manner. This was practiced by the GA moderator in the final general session.
  2. The worship services were moving and restorative – especially the International Worship Service, with participation from several countries, and wonderful music; but also the CLF worship service and the Sunday morning worship service with the GA choir and a moving sermon.
  3. It was joyful to meet UUs from around the country and around the world.
  4. From a workshop on “Building Contemplative Practices”: Carrying the sacred into everything we do, bring a spirit of contemplation to our every day actions. “bring spirit to the work and make it holy.”
  5. Many rich, diverse sources of practices, music (Taize chanting, Sufi Zikur chants, Kirtan, Buddhist, Kundalini, Muslim chants) and collaboration for our Services(especially Vespers!).
  6. From a workshop on Non-Violent Communication (source:Marshal Rosenberg):
    1. All actions arise from (a beautiful) need
    2. When in conflict
      • Pause – Get yourself under control
      • Connect to your unmet needs(empathy for self)
      • Connect to the unmet needs of the other(empathy for other)
      • Seek solutions grounded in empathy
  7. From workshop on “branding” (speaking of millenials): people join a cause, not a club.
  8. From Kathleen Dean Moore – philosopher and author: A moral problem calls for a moral response and the church is an institution of moral affirmation. Our work is to set the moral context – we have an obligation to protect the earth and climate change is a failure of reverence, a betrayal of our children and an issue of justice (the poor of the earth are disproportionately affected adversely by the excesses of the richer).
  9. People I met have a positive impression of Foothills.  In particular, our work with small groups and Share the Plate projects – I think we will be seen as a resource.
  10. Building relationships and respect at the intersections of cultures: As we engage partners in the wider community, how do we advance our values of multicultural growth and witness in social justice work with those who may differ with us on important issues? After attending a fascinating multiculturalism workshop at GA in Portland, where we learned tools for advancing equality, I was having breakfast in a small logging and sawmill town café when news broke on Fox News of the marriage equality SCOTUS decision. I was struck by the irony of the situation when our pleasant meeting of strangers evolved into some tension as TV coverage sucked up the oxygen in the café, as contrasted with the jubilation I imagined among UUs in the Oregon Convention Center. The lesson and challenge for me is to keep trying, learning and exercising leadership to further our love and values in activities such as One Village One Family and Faith Family Hospitality with people of different faith traditions and values. Or just enjoying the experiences engaging with folks over breakfast at the local café. We can help “Get to Yes” with our shared interests and community partners, even when we have trouble agreeing on every important issue.
  11. From Alison Miller’s powerful sermon in the Sunday morning worship:  the stories we tell matter – they shape our vision of ourselves and how we feel hopeful or hopeless.  With any set of “facts”, we have a choice in how we construct that story and tell it to give the “story” its power.
  12. From the Berry Street Lecture by Sean Dennison, this question: “For whom does your heart break?”
  13. From a workshop on “Talking the Walk: Speaking Justice in the Language of our Faith”–the idea that we don’t check our reason at the door when we enter church, but we often check our spirituality at the door on our way out into the world (especially when we engage in social justice work). The workshop leaders then took us through an exercise to help us reframe our social justice commitments in language tied explicitly to our Unitarian Universalist faith.
  14. 150627_cornel_westFrom the Ware Lecture by Cornel West, the four questions from W.E.B. DuBois at the heart of the lecture” How shall integrity face oppression? What does honesty do in the face of deception? What does decency do in the face of insult? How does virtue meet brute force?
  15. From a workshop on “Habits of Humility and congregational teams as learning communities” –  A culture of humility is a culture where no one is the expert. There are 3 viruses that show up in our congregation:  1. Scoring – someone tries to be the smartest in the room; 2. Sneering – sarastic comments about others who “don’t get it”; and 3. Shaming – directly calling out people who “don’t get it.”
  16. From the same workshop – spiritual strength in the congregation – Have a commitment to learn together.This requires: Willingness to be vulnerable and a covenant to hold that tend space; trust in leaders, curiosity, openness to what is unseen an unknown, engagement with difference, and resilience.  While learning as a community we hear how other people learn new topics, everyone is a learner and a teacher, and we are multi-generational.
  17. From a workshop on “Leaderly leadership – Accountable Leadership” – The session was most powerful when Marlin Lavanhar spoke (also reference everything he shared in his Thursday Service of the Living Tradition sermon).  He shared that intentionality is what we do – who we put on our board, how we advertise, where we advertise – why are we doing this, is this the right person at the table? We need to increase people’s ability to sit with discomfort, while always making sure they will be beloved and safe, just not always comfortable.  Be aware how your intention can have a hard impact.  He shared how their congregation has transformed over the past 15 years, 71/2 years a mainly liberal white congregation, then merged with a Pentecostal congregation which how they have existed in the past 7.5 years. On Sundays they offer 3 different services: humanist, tradition, and “Unicostal” service.  Lastly: Love the stranger, love the other – doesn’t mean liking.  In the spirit of Loving Beyond Belief – welcome all who welcome all.  You do not need to like or believe what others believe or like them to love them.
  18. As the Foothills world turns, as the Foothills pendulum swings….Our family was attracted in 2001 to our Foothills community in part because of its intellectual past and then-present humanist perspectives. It was good to touch base at GA in Portland with the UU Humanists. These past few years at Foothills have been a transition with some interesting, yet uncomfortable changes. And although I still identify as a religious humanist, I also welcome our more “heart,” and “spiritual” communications while expanding our concepts of theological diversity in our Foothills community. As my support for a free pulpit in UU churches sometimes contrasts with my wincing when our heavier holy language feels like “fingernails on a chalkboard,” I maintain that our close relationships and sense of community will help us work through a new normal. Hopefully, as our ministerial searches continue, we will seek people with complementary skills and abilities who can serve our diverse community within our available resources, while realizing that trying to do so is a particularly difficult job.
  19. The Power of Foothills connections with the regions and the UUA – The Portland GA was the second I have attended, following the Salt Lake City GA in 2009. As we attended sessions, met old friends and made new ones, the value of our wider UU relationships was reaffirmed. We can learn much from our fellow congregations and ministers about how to make progress in social justice work, running our church organizations well (also known as “church governance” – not a scary phrase, by the way!), and strengthening our relationships in our Foothills community, Northern Colorado and the wider world. The process of growing into our future can be eased by building those relationships and drawing on lessons learned by our new friends who have already navigated many of these issues. Yes We Can!Photo/Nancy PierceFrom a workshop on “Congregational Polity for a Beyond Congregations Age” – we have been congregational in polity much longer than we have been liberal in theology.  Polity is the way churches are connected to each other, sets of beliefs, doctrines, and structures that hold local churches together.  Spirituality can be practiced alone; religion cannot. People no longer feel being claimed is important – membership is going down. Joining and covenanting is like wedding and marriage.  Joining and wedding happens once.  Covenanting and marriage is continuous.  A community that accepts an individual act as connect is creating a community of isolation – people want to be connected, but membership is not the only way to do that.  How do we do that? With covenant.  With the larger UU movement.
  20. From a session on adult faith formation – we need opportunities every Sunday for seekers to “drop in” and learn about the culture of the church.
  21. From the session on domestic violence I was reminded that one in four women have been or will be in their lifetime the victim of physical or sexual violence. I was asked to change practices in my congregation as a result of this fact. I concluded that we need to train our pastoral care volunteers on how to recognize indicators of victimization and how to respond appropriately and that a sermon on  what it feels like for women or men to be controlled by men in their home or job would be very helpful and could reach a broader audience than the pastoral team can identify. We were reminded that domestic violence is present in all congregations.
  22. hqdefaultI was quite taken with the energy and flow of the worship sessions, the great music with joined singing by all near 5,000 of us.  Also how much black spirituals seem to speak to so many of us in words and music and emotions—so fitting for these times   Also the great sermon by Rev. Allison Miller on Sunday morning.
  23. From a session on engaging church members along a continuum of involvement comes the idea of having ten volunteers each take one church member to coffee each month, twelve each during a year. During this time the volunteer learns what the member is involved in at the church and what they want to do more of. This is not a pledge visit, but instead purely a time to get to know more members in a deeper way, to engage each member more and to thank them for their past involvement. This simple act helps the membership team, staff and ministers to better know 120 members each year while helping members to feel heard, appreciated and wanted.
  24. “Let phones be smart…  We need to be wise and strive for integrity.”  From the Ware Lecture by Cornell West.  I was so struck with it that I pulled out a pen and piece of paper to write it down.
  25. From a session on Classism:  We need to confront classism in our own congregations before we can accomplish true justice work outside our congregations, because so much of the justice work we identify includes some kind of classism.  Class is not just how much money you have in the bank.  It is related to education level, employment, income, speech, color, immigration, etc., etc., etc.  People “pass’ for middle class to fit in.  Just like we work to become Welcoming Congregations to the GLBTQI community, we need to work to understand and become welcoming to class differences.
  26. From a session on Planned Giving:  This is often the only opportunity a parishioner has to make a large (in their own terms) gift, and can strengthen the bond between the individual and the church.  If you want congregants to include this final donation in their estate plans, you have to educate them, ask them, keep in touch, and recognize those who do in advance.
  27. From the Ware Lecture: We need to be a “Blues” people – which means not turning away from the pain or suffering of the world, but responding to it with love and hope.
  28. I think Cornel West’s major points on decency, integrity, honesty and virtue are worthy of discussion and a sermon here at home.  I am reading his book Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism.  I hope I can convince
    one of the book groups we belong to to read this book.
  29. I attended many of the climate change groups and was glad to see many other UUs ready to work and act on this most threatening of issues. And that it was one of the four actions issues chosen.
  30. Also several of the workshops gave focus to the corporate capitalist structure of power and control that we all live in, something many people UU or not, still feel uncomfortable about naming the elephant in the room.
  31. 150625_marlin_lavanharThe sermon from Marlin Lavanhar on Thursday night was maybe the most moving sermon I’ve ever heard from a Unitarian Universalist.  A few highlights: “most people… including most of us… (including me) are more afraid than we let on…If coming to church means putting on our Sunday face and hiding all of this from one another and presenting a façade of self-reliance (well, pardon me Mr. Emerson) but who wants to go to that church?”  “I’m willing to bet that most of us have something about ourselves that we would be scared to tell the people in our congregation… but that if we did tell and we found they still love and respect us, it would be incredibly healing for us and would free others to do the same. Now that sounds like a church I’d like to attend!” “But as I’ve begun to teach and preach from my mistakes, rather than always talking about my successes.”hile we’ve created a whole conference this year on the idea of discovering the “New Way”… I want to propose that it’s not a new way that we have to live into. It’s that we have to finally embody the fullness of the proposition which is the old way. We have yet to fully embrace the promise of our democratic, covenantal tradition.” YES YES YES