Envisioning Music Ministry at Foothills

A note from Our Music Visioning Team, submitted by member, Sue Sullivan

Last January, we heard many requests from members of our choir to take the time and the opportunity to look deeply at what we could ask for and aspire to in the way of music ministry at Foothills. Our former music director had been  here for a dozen years and the director before him served for a decade as well. As a result of these long tenures, it has been many years since this congregation has asked itself – in a deep and open-to-all possibilities way — how we could imagine music ministry manifesting at Foothills.

The Committee on Shared Ministry (which consists of Glenn Pearson, Sally Harris, Anne Hall, Herb Orrell and myself), as part of its on-going responsibility to gather effective and meaningful feedback about how Foothills is manifesting its various ministries and how we might unleash more courageous love in our community and beyond, has taken on the leadership of this task of exploring the wide range of possibilities for music to manifest in our faith and our community, and to listen deeply to what our music makers and our whole Foothills community would find meaningful, transformative, creative, and powerful.

To that end, the COSM convened a sub-task force (composed of myself and Herb, plus two non-COSM members, Gretchen O’Dell, Dave Montanari, and in partnership with Rev. Haley) are beginning a multi-step process of:

  • gathering feedback from Unitarian congregations and other churches known for their strong and innovative music ministries
  • reporting back to the congregation about the ideas and programming we discover in those interviews
  • asking members of the congregation as a whole to take a music visioning survey, which will include questions about what has been meaningful or transformative in our own experiences of music ministry at Foothills in the past and what new possibilities we might wish to explore in the future
  • holding small-group feedback circles for various groups within the church who make the music we experience, as well specific groups of people whose experience of music ministry we would like to understand more deeply
  • gathering up all that visioning and feedback and reporting back to the congregation as a whole what we heard and how that can be shaped into a vision of how music manifests as a ministry at Foothills in the coming years
  • and finally, writing a detailed job description of what sort of candidate would be the right kind of leader for this ministry in our church, including such details as part-time or full, choir director or music director or music minister.

We intend to post this position by December in order to begin a nationwide search through Unitarian Universalist circles and networks.  This would typically conclude around April with the start of the new person by mid-summer. We are most grateful and happy to have the musical leadership of Chris Reed as our Interim Music Director through next May as we conduct this search. Chris is eligible to apply for this position, and he will be working with Gretchen in December after the position is finalized, to discern if and how he sees this is a potential fit.

We are digging in right away to our first task, which is asking the music directors of congregations with nationally known music ministries to tell us about their music programs. We’ll ask what works and what doesn’t, what they love about it, how it relates to the rest of the church’s programming. We’ll ask how many different avenues are there for people to create music in their ministry and whether they use music as an outreach to the larger community. What instruments do they use and where do they find the pieces they perform? How do children and youth participate in music? How do people learn music in these churches? How does music turn up as a spiritual practice?

The congregations we will talk to include: All Souls Church in DC; All Souls Tulsa; Middle Collegiate Church in NYC; the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor; and First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque.

After we gather this feedback, we’ll report our findings back to you and craft a survey to help identify what you have found to be powerful and transformative in the past and what new possibilities you would like us to pursue musically. We will also hold small-group feedback circles to ask and listen to your experiences and hopes about music in our collective life, with both the makers of music in our church and those who experience it deeply and meaningfully.

We are very excited about this chance to be intentional, expansive, creative, and transformative as we re-vision music as a ministry and a spiritual practice here at Foothills Unitarian, and we look forward to hearing from you!

In partnership,
Sue Sullivan, on behalf of the Music Visioning Team

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Our 3rd Service Experiment: The results are in…

In February, we began our “3rd Service Experiment,” with an intent of trying out three Sunday morning services for 13 Sundays – through April.  The Board charged the staff team with moving forward with this experiment in December because they realized that 2 services could not accommodate the numbers of people who wanted to worship with us on Sunday morning.
Our goal for the three services was to learn as much as we could about what it would take to sustain 3 Sunday services (how hard would it be?!), how people would react to an earlier (or later) service, and whether or not it would indeed accomplish the goal of serving more people.
In the past few weeks, our Committee on Shared Ministry (Glenn Pearson, Margie Wagner, Sally Harris, Anne Hall, Sue Sullivan and Ward Sutton) have held a few feedback circles with various groups to help gather up some of this information we hoped to learn. These have provided us critical information as we begin to look ahead to the next steps for our worship services this summer and beyond.
If you weren’t able to attend one of these circles, I hope you will fill out this short survey about YOUR experience and lessons from the 3rd Service Experiment (By the end of April, please!).
We have two big pieces of news resulting from our lessons learned and our feedback so far.
First – much to our surprise – is that, instead of asking us to hurry up and be done with the three services – there is a shared desire to extend the three services through May 21st when our regular religious education classes will conclude. Anything sooner would disrupt our classes and our teachers too much.  Also, as a staff team, we have realized that a third service isn’t that hard – we actually like it! We like that it means more space for all who come, and that we can indeed serve more people.
Which brings us to the second insight – which is that for the period of February through this past Sunday, we are consistently serving nearly 40% more people than we did this time in any prior year.  Instead of seeing attendance plateau at our seating capacity, and then drop back down, it’s remaining steady, and growing.  Whereas previously we would see 200-300 adults on a Sunday, we are now routinely seeing between 350 and 450.  There are probably multiple reasons for this, but we can say with confidence that we are accommodating more people on Sunday morning, which was the goal.
Also, for the summer time, based on last year’s numbers we know that we need to have 2 services instead of 1. The summer time seems like an ideal time to offer our 8:00 service.
All of this means that, starting on Memorial Weekend and running through Labor Day, we’ll hold services at 8:00 and 9:30, with an extended fabulous social hour/community fun time at 10:30.
After Labor Day we will return to three services – and the times for these will be sorted out based on your feedback in the survey as well as through other efforts to collect feedback.
Thank you so much for your willingness to try out this experiment, and for making space for all who want to gather with us on Sundays. I know it has sometimes meant stepping out of your comfort zone, missing out on seeing some of your usual friends on Sundays, and changing around your routines.  Thank you for keeping your senses of humor in tact and for learning along with us so that we can keep serving our mission in these times when our church and our values are so needed, by so many.  33682878575_f8987089f2_k.jpg

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

 

Communications Update Oct. 2016

Version 4

Sean Neil-Barron, Assistant Minister

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.-George Bernard Shaw

You may have noticed that we have been making some changes recently in the area of communication. The Extra has been shrunk down, we have revived our online events calendar, and we have increased our use of testimonials. These experiments all aim to help us communicate more effectively in the age of information overload and I hope we are able to learn about the type, style, frequency, and medium that will work best for different segments of the congregation.

Big Changes & Rationale

The ‘Extra’

The biggest change so far has been the pairing down of the Extra. In truth, only 34% -39% of our email list opens the Extra on a given week, and just because it is opening doesn’t mean it was read. Instead of being the catch-all email covering almost everything going on in the church, the Extra content’s content now is more curated and focused to information that at least 80% of the congregation would/should be interested in — as well as information targeting folks who are new to the community. We hope to deliver you a shorter but denser Extra, so you will actually read it all. Let us know how we are doing.

The Online Events Calendar

We have revived the church’s online events calendar (http://foothillsuu.org/events) to be the central hub where all information regarding church events is placed. Additionally, you can now sort the church’s calendar based on event categories such as Adult Religious Education or Seniors Programs to see all the events in a given month that might relate to you! To submit a church event to the calendar head over to http://foothillsuu.org/communication-at-foothills/ and click the Event Calendar Submission Form. Our aim is that this calendar will become your first stop when you want to learn about what is going on at Foothills.

Getting The Word Out

Foothills is a large and busy community and it can be hard to get the word out even when the event has been promoted through all the channels. There is also a bit of confusion about WHO to contact if you want to spread the word. No more! If you have an event or opportunity that you want to be shared with the congregation, head over to http://foothillsuu.org/communication-at-foothills/ and click on the communication request form. Once you have filled out the form, Church Staff will get in contact with you about what next steps and promotional avenues you could use. We are beginning to use a more targeted information delivery mechanism, so we may have an option that you didn’t even know existed. This page also contains the Calendar Event Submission form, so it is your go-to place when you are trying to mobilize the congregation.  We will reach out to you so no need to email church staff about the event!

What to Expect

In the coming months, we will be continuing our experimentation with a few new channels. Expect to be invited to join a few demographic or interest based email lists to receive targeted information related to your interests (one of the reasons we asked for your birthdates as part of our database refresh), and we hope to see how we can use text messages more effectively, so have your phones at the ready. In addition, we hope to hold a few focus groups with different segments of the congregation to assess our communication effectiveness and what can be done to improve or hone our practices. Stay tuned and let us know how we are doing as we go along; we are not going to get everything right but we are trying, so please let us know.

Our Biggest Hope

Our biggest hope is that you will receive pertinent information through a method that fits your lifestyle (text message, snail mail, email, etc) leaving you feeling informed, able to participate in the life of the church, and equipped to take your faith out into the world. We are still learning about how to accomplish this, but it our intent for that to be the case, and we welcome your feedback as we move forward.